AN: Thanks for the response everyone. Real life has been getting in its licks lately and I haven't been as creative. Here's the next part and I hope it's been worth the wait. Thank you to everyone again.

Chapter 24

"Who was at the door Chlo?" Lois called from the bathroom.

"Clark. He said he had an errand to run and then he'd stop by and pick you up."

"What could Smallville possibly have to do now? I swear sometimes I think he wants me to think he's a dumb farmboy," Lois huffed as she opened the door, finally dressed.

"Woo boy there coz. You do want Clark to be alive to escort you to the event don't you."

"What'd'you mean?" Lois frowned while she smoothed down a non-existent crease in her emerald silk gown.

"I mean if you knock Clark out when he sees you, you're out a date."

Lois smirked half-heartedly, not wanting to admit that she actually cared what Clark thought of her dress. "Did you read over the directions I wrote out for Ella?"

"Yeah, and you didn't have to go to so much trouble," Chloe closed the laptop that was sitting on her legs.

"It's just a few pages of instructions," she shrugged.

"Lois, it's itemized with a table of contents. Since when did you start Martha Stewarting?"

"Since I realized that twenty-four hours in a day aren't nearly enough when you have an infant and a full time job," Lois said as she fit the back on her earring.

Ella snuffed and let loose a disgruntled noise drawing Lois to the side of the portable cradle. Wide blue eyes stared up at Lois as soon as she came into view, quieting with the assertion that she would be picked up. But Lois hesitated when the little girl reached an arm out and opened and closed her fist reflexively.

Chloe glanced over in time to see Lois eyeing Ella dubiously. "Aren't you going to pick her up?" Chloe frowned.

"I'll let you do that," Lois nodded to her cousin then turned back to Ella. "I love you to pieces Ella-girl but I'm not about to risk you spitting up on my dress." She grabbed the hand that was still stretched out straight at her and caressed a cubby porcelain cheek. "Have fun and be easy on your Aunt Chloe Ella….she's fragile," Lois whispered.

"I heard that," Chloe protested.

Lois merely smirked. Checking the clock on the hotel room television, Lois released a frustrated sigh, "Where the hell is Smallville?"

Chloe stood on her toes to look over the edge of the cradling holding Ella but quickly averted her eyes as soon as they caught the baby's. "He said he'd be back soon," she responded.

"Forget it; if I wait any longer we're going to be late. Tell him I went down to meet the car if you see him." Lois spun on her sleek heel, grabbed her wrap and clutch off the bed and sailed through the door.

"I hope you realize that Lois isn't gonna let you get away with anything when you get older," Chloe informed her young niece.

It took only seconds for Clark to source a chunk of coal large enough to produce a decently sized diamond – finding gold to set it into was not so easily done. Inspiration struck while he stared at the sparkling gem in his palm. A quick detour into an out of the way pawn shop found him with gold enough to be melted into a ring and setting. He glanced at a few of the rings that were displayed in the store to gather some idea of how he would manage to mold the metal into something Lois could wear on her finger.

For a few moments Clark contemplated the type of ring Lois would like wearing; he found himself consciously putting together a piece of jewelry that Lois would like but nothing she would love. It felt wrong somehow to present her with a ring that would only be accepted as part of the ruse they were portraying. In a snap decision he made it bigger and flashier than he thought she'd care for; with all the scrutiny it was likely to come under in the coming weeks, bigger was better than smaller.

Using his eyes, Clark cut away the diamond to let its shine show through. He did his best to shape the stone into a cushion cut, used the friction of his hands to polish it and placed it into the setting he'd prepared from the melted and molded white gold chains.

As soon as he was finished putting the ring together he sped back to the hotel and up the stairwell to ensure he didn't arrive late to pick his date up.

Lois was only two steps away from the hotel room when Clark appeared through the door to the stairs. She rolled her eyes at his slightly disheveled appearance and used the time she wasn't looking at him to appreciate just how amazing Clark Kent looked in a tux.

"We're gonna be late Smallville," Lois stopped in front of the bank of elevators to wait for him.

"Sorry, I had to go get…" Clark trailed off as he took in his date. "Wow…umm you look…wow." He stopped short a few feet from her and took in the sight. The dress was long and fitted in a classy elegance; there was a little bit of detailing at the straps and beneath the bust but nothing too flashy. Her hair fell around her shoulders in relaxed curls, framing a white gold pendant necklace around her neck. When she moved to face Clark fully his gaze was drawn to a modest yet significant portion of leg.

It all came together in a beautiful, sophisticated tease.

"Wow yourself Smallville," Lois smiled at his sudden verbal handicap. "You sure do embody the tall, dark and handsome look." She pressed the down button for the elevator moving her closer to him. "But you really have to stop get caught in those sudden wind tunnels. We don't live in Chicago." She ran her fingers through the front of his dark hair to bring it back to some semblance of order.

Clark's lips parted in an impish smile reminiscent of a little boy as Lois fretted over his hair. In her heels she was only a few inches shorter than he was and as she shifted closer he was equally distracted by the smell of her hair and the shape of her lips.

"There," Lois dropped her hand from his head, only to further fuss over doing up the button on his tux jacket.

"You look beautiful," he finally spoke softly. Clark's palm rested against her cheek to raise her lips back up to meet his own.


The elevator signaled its arrival to the lip-locked duo. They separated to find a middle aged couple waiting to disembark. Clark blushed and ducked his head while Lois smirked as the couple switched places with them in the lift. As soon as the doors closed to leave them alone Lois moved closer to Clark.

"Are you going to tell me what was so important you risked being late to do?" Lois asked while looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

"Right, I almost forgot," Clark said. He reached across Lois' body to hit the 'stop' button on the lift.

"Hey!" Lois protested.

"We're going to be getting a lot of attention tonight so I thought it'd be a good idea if you had an engagement ring. It's one less thing we'll have to explain," he shrugged as he reached into his pocket. "Here you go," he held the gleaming piece of jewelry out to her in a most unromantic display - exactly as he'd planned it.

"What the hell is that Smallville?!" Lois nearly shrieked at the sight before her.

"It's a ring," he answered simply, earning himself a glare from his date. "Yeah, I know it's a little gaudy and bigger than you'd-"

"That's an understatement if I've ever heard one. That rock's at least 5 carats…what, did you strike oil in the back 30 on the farm or something?" She implored with large eyes.

"I – ah – actually don't know how many carats it is. I – um inherited it," Clark shifted awkwardly, hoping she wouldn't ask too many more questions.

"Please tell me you don't have an uncle named Jeb," she quirked an eyebrow while still staring in wonder at the diamond and the prisms it was throwing off.

"What? An uncle named Jeb?" Clark frowned at her.

"Never-mind," she shook her head. "I don't think you should be giving out family heirlooms like this Smallville. I mean, I don't need a ring; lots of people don't give rings when they get engaged."

"Yeah, but I'm not one of them and anyone who knows me will know that too. My uncle Jack already said something about it."

Lois didn't look convinced.

"Seriously Lois, I want you to wear the ring. I get that it's probably not really your style but it's the best I could do on short notice."

Finally Lois conceded with a quick nod. "Alright, but if I lose this thing, remember that you're the one who insisted," she informed him.

Lois took the ring from him and slid it onto her finger. Immediately she felt a slight bit off kilter; she wasn't used to the weighty band and stone around her finger.

Clark pressed the 'stop' button again to resume the elevator.

"Just one question Smallville," Lois started, causing Clark to turn towards her. "Do you always walk around with hardware like this in your pocket?" She held up her hand to illustrate her point.

Clark was saved from answering by the parting of the elevator on the lobby level. He found himself hurrying to catch up as Lois bulldozed her way through the group of guests waiting to load the lift. He threw out a few half-hearted 'excuse me's' behind him, eventually catching up with his emerald clad companion at the front doors.

"Lois, we're not dressed for the hundred meter dash," Clark drawled.

"Well we don't have time to dawdle either. Of all the people who shouldn't be late it's the Senator's son and her chief-of-staff. I'm sure we'll have enough eyes on us as it is."

"Well that looks like our driver," he pointed to the dark suited man standing next to a black limo.

"Hey Clark, is this diamond real? Cause I feel like I should have a security detail or something."

Clark rolled his eyes, "Yes, it's real. And don't worry about security; I'm sure the Governor has that covered."

He took a few strides ahead to be able to greet the driver. Behind him Lois surreptitiously dragged the diamond along the glass door of the hotel as she walked by and turned back to see a large scratch in the glass. Having confirmed the ring was indeed real, she merely shook her head and smiled.

"And he just keeps getting weirder by the day," she whispered.

Fifteen minutes later the limo rolled to a stop in front of the Governor's Mansion. Clark turned to Lois, "Are you ready?" He adjusted the cuff on his tux.

"No, not really," she admitted truthfully, "but duty calls."

Their driver opened the door allowing Clark out in order to turn and offer his hand to Lois. A thin line of photographers met them on their way into the party but they were otherwise left unmolested. The Governor, his wife and a handful of other state representatives were near the entranceway to receive them before they were ushered into the ballroom where appetizers were beginning to circulate the room.

"I feel like everyone is staring at us," Lois muttered with clenched teeth for Clark's benefit.

"That's because most of them are," he answered warily.

"Lois honey, you look stunning," Martha grabbed the younger woman in a hug.

"Well thank you Senator. I did manage to keep my dress spit-up free," Lois joked, relaxing in the familiar company. "And I'm pretty sure you're the most attractive Senator in this country's history." Lois shifted away from her boss and closer to Clark.

"I'm feeling distinctly unappreciated," Jack came up behind Martha.

"Sorry Uncle Jack but I'll have to agree with Lois on this one – my mom is prettier than you," Clark piped in cheekily, "even if she's neglected to give me a hug." He feigned hurt.

"You look dashing Honey," Martha smiled brightly and shared a hug with her son.

When they broke apart Lois leaned in close to Clark's ear to whisper, "Momma's boy."

"Whoa," Martha raised both eyebrows. "That's new," she held up Lois' newly sparkling left hand. She looked toward Clark who appeared as though he was trying to tell her something.

"New to me at least," Lois smiled wide, conscious of Jack Jennings looking on. "I told Clark I didn't need an engagement ring but he insisted." The smile that didn't quite reach her eyes was turned toward Clark. She hoped that Martha didn't think she had pressured Clark into giving her a family heirloom.

"Nice to see someone's taking my advice. That's a beautiful ring for a beautiful girl. Congratulations you two." Jack clapped Clark on the back.

"I've got some rounds to make," Martha smiled at her children, making a note to question Clark about the ring Lois was sporting. There was obviously a part of that story that Clark hadn't told Lois.

"Red bow tie is Councilman Siegel from Metropolis. He has a lot of sway within state." Lois nodded toward the large man across the bathroom. "The guy in the tails and really bad comb-over is Congressman Richter – he's got a lot of clout on The Hill but talk to his wife; I'm pretty sure she's the brains in the outfit," Lois directed quietly to her boss. It was never too early in the Senatorial term for Martha to make strong ties.

"You're breaking my heart Lois," Jack shook his head, "where were you four years ago when I was settling into office?"

Clark wrapped his arm around Lois' shoulder in a gesture of pride.

"That's our table over there," Jack pointed, "they'll start serving soon."

Clark stayed by Lois' side during the meet and greet, making small talk with countless politicians, socialites and business men. Neither paid much attention when Lex and Lana arrived, the latter was eyeing the guests with cautious interest, scanning for a familiar face. The white confection she wore was a stark contrast to Lex's black tux but the eyes of the evening were not on them; it was two Kents and a Lane that commanded the room's attention.

Each course was peppered with speeches that Lois would complain about under her breath. Clark spent most of the time reminding himself not to smile because he shouldn't have been able to hear her disgruntled muttering. Halfway through the Governor's speech it became so difficult to ignore that Clark concocted a plan to distract both of them.

He casually draped his arm over the back of her chair and ever so slightly moved his hand so that the barest of his fingertips would graze her naked shoulder. At first contact she jumped; at second contact she stiffened; by the third delicate brush her nails were biting into her palm, her teeth had sunk deep in her lower lip and her heart beat just a little quicker than normal.

Clark avoided the glaring sideways glances she threw him, feigning devoted interest in what the Governor had to say. When she moved forward a mere inch, his fingertips followed her. He was insufferable and just as it seemed Lois had decided to endure no more, the speech ended and the hand Clark had implemented in his annoying distraction was engaged in a polite applause.

The speaker who followed was the last of the night and had no accompanying commentary from Lois. Martha Kent approached the podium with poise and purpose. She kept things short, succinct and relevant, stumbling only marginally when she recognized the vision and dedication of her husband.

When her time came to a close, dessert was served, the dance floor was cleared and the band started up in preparation of the evening's denouement. In a move that surprised Lois, Clark stood from his seat and held his hand out to Lois with a playful smile.

"What are you doing Smallville?" Lois eyed him speculatively.

"What does it look like? I'm asking you to dance," he answered her softly. "Well?" He prompted when she didn't move to take his hand.

Lois finally reached up and let Clark pull her to her feet. "Stay off my toes Smallville," she warned.

They moved onto the dance floor to join the other couples who had already been drawn in by the Sinatra inspired music. Clark pulled Lois tight against him, taking a moment to enjoy the feel of her soft tresses on the side of his face before they began to dance. Glancing over Clark's broad shoulder, Lois saw a few photographers snap pictures in their directions. As they moved around in their small spot on the dance floor, she caught a handful of other guests smiling in their direction; it was odd to be the center of so much attention but as far as she could tell most of the talk surrounding them was positive so she wasn't ready to complain.

"Your mom was great today," Lois aimed to fill the silence between them.

"She was," Clark agreed. "I always had faith that she could do it but seeing it confirmed was pretty amazing." He turned thoughtful, casting his eyes away from Lois'. "It makes me wonder what made her decide to give it all up and move to Smallville with my dad. Don't get me wrong, I think my Dad was one of the best people I'll ever know but….still," he trailed off, unable to finish the thought.

"Maybe she didn't see it as giving anything up," Lois said softly. "I'm as feminist as the next girl but I don't think it mandates you have to climb the corporate or political ladder; to me it's about having the right to choose. Your mom chose to stay at home for almost twenty years – I don't think she regrets the decision in the slightest but I also think she's reached a point where she's ready to move on to the next stage in her life. And she's great at this now, maybe the life she had in Smallville is what prepared her for her new position; maybe it was the only life that could prepare her."

"What about you?" Clark wondered aloud.

"What about me?"

"Could you see yourself leaving a promising career, your family and moving to a little town that doesn't even show up on most maps?" He asked her with an acute vulnerability.

"I don't think I can answer that objectively," Lois shook her head.

"I'm already getting the political response," he raised his eyebrows in jest.

"I mean that I moved to a little town that doesn't show up on any map I've seen and ended up finding a promising career and a family."

She said it matter-of-factly so as to cover the emotion the words would otherwise evoke. Clark didn't miss the warmth in her greens eyes however and smiled brightly to let her know that he was pleased and her tone didn't fool him in the least.

"May I cut in," Lana stared up at Clark with hopeful doe eyes.

Clark opened his mouth but shot a glance at Lois instead. She had pasted on a sickeningly sweet smile and stepped away from Clark.

"I was just going to step out to check in with Chloe anyway." She smiled through Clark's desperate stare, missing Lana zeroing in on the ring she now wore. "Enjoy your dance."

Spinning on her elegant heels, Lois navigated through the throng of dancers to the doors. Flipping open her phone, she hit the speed-dial for Chloe's cell.

"This isn't so bad," Chloe leaned over her text book to check on Ella. The baby was sucking on her soother contentedly while looking around her new surroundings.

"You know Ella, it'd serve my gossip needs much better if you could talk. I'm sure I'd get a whole lot more information about Lois and Clark's new 'thing' than I'll get from them." Ella waved her arms spastically. "I know it might not seem like it but you have no idea how lucky you are that Lucy left you in that alley. Having Clark and Lois looking out for you is a pretty awesome place to start out in," Chloe played with Ella's socked feet experimentally. "And you have me…at least until Lois finds out I'm still investigating Lucy. You understand don't you Ella. When you get older, you'll want to have answers right."

Ella continued to flail her arms excitedly and added a few jerky kicks to the performance. "Alright, how bout this, if you think it's a bad idea and I should just leave it alone, tell me right now." Chloe waited a beat then shrugged. "That's what I thought. So it's settled, I'll keep looking for Lucy and we'll just keep it between the two of us."

With no one around to see her, Chloe made a face of embarrassing proportions in hopes of drawing a smile from the baby girl. When nothing happened she resigned herself to failure. "I don't know what it is about you but you manage to reduce me to the likes of people I always thought looked like idiots…now I'm the idiot," she threw her hands up in disgust at herself.

Ella seemed to think that was funny enough to smile around her pacifier.

"Now you smile! And Lois said babies don't smile until they're older," she scoffed.

As soon as the words left her mouth she wrinkled her nose, "What's that smell?" She eyed the baby in her carrier who had resumed her movement. "You've gotta be kidding me; you couldn't wait until Lois and Clark get back!"

Plucking the baby from her seat, she laid her on the bed to change her diaper. As soon as she got it open she gasped, "Holy Hell! This cannot be sanitary."

With the mere tips of her fingers she went about cleaning up the overwhelming mess. Twenty minutes later Chloe was still working on the changing process and Ella was becoming cranky.

"Sorry, sorry," Chloe cried to the baby, "Lois made this look a whole lot easier this afternoon."

The diaper was finally in place and Ella's sleeper was back on but she was still upset. Chloe popped the pacifier, that had come out of Ella's mouth, back in and the girl quieted for a few moments. Until the pacifier was spit out and her sputtering cries resumed.

"Are you hungry?" Chloe asked the baby while picking her up very carefully. "We've gotta go downstairs to the bar to get your bottle heated up okay, so you've gotta calm down for a little bit so people don't think I'm torturing you."

Miraculously, Ella quieted. Chloe wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth so she donned her shoes, grabbed the bottle Lois had put in the hotel room's fridge and charged out the door.

In under an hour they were back in the room where Chloe was enjoying the quiet that a baby's full stomach brought. She booted up her laptop in an effort to get some school work done while the night was still relatively young. Before she could make it through the first few pages of notes her cell phone chirped.

"Hello, Chloe's House of Huggies; Chloe speaking," she answered.

"So coz, sounds like you and my girl are doing ok there."

"Well it hasn't turned into one of those 'When Babies Attack' specials," she replied, "so I'd count that as doing ok."

"Nice to know your expectations for Ella are so high," Lois turned around to lean against the foyer wall.

"She may be small but she could be dangerous," Chloe intoned dramatically.

"Right, all nine pounds of her; better sleep with one eye open tonight Chlo." Lois smiled at one of the guests who strode passed her. "Seriously though, is Ella okay? Did she eat all her dinner? You'll probably have to change her diaper before she goes down for the night. Don't give her the pacifier unless she won't settle."

"Lois!" Chloe stopped her, "I've got the baby-sitting bible. She's fine – she's lying in her bed right now. I slipped a little rum into her bottle so she'll be sleeping it off for a while."

"What!" Lois shrieked.

"Lois! I'm kidding! Geez, calm down, I'm not gonna get Ella sloshed. She ate all of her dinner and she even burped. I've got the stain on my shirt to prove it."

"Alright, I believe you. But don't joke about my baby Chloe; where she's concerned I tend to act first and ask questions later."

"You only do that where Ella's concerned?" Chloe was unconvinced.

"I should be back before Ella's next meal time. Don't be afraid to call – you know if she goes all OJ Simpson on you," she said sarcastically.

"Gee thanks."

"That's what I'm here for. I should get back though; I left Smallville dancing with Lana and he didn't seem too happy about it."

"Kay, I might be sleeping when you come in – I've got work tomorrow morning."

"Alright, thanks Chlo."

"Night Coz."

"Goodnight," Lois flipped the phone closed and stuffed it back into her purse. On her way back to the ballroom she was stopped by a haunting voice behind her.

"The young Mr. Kent is a very lucky man. You're a vision my dear."

Lois turned slowly in an effort to post-pone the undeniable sight of Lionel Luthor. "Mr. Luthor, I wasn't aware you were here tonight," Lois didn't bother pretending to smile.

"I couldn't miss Martha's ascension to greatness."

"Yeah, that sounds like your type of party," she muttered and watched with a wary eye as Lionel moved closer to her.

"I just wish Jonathan could see her now," he continued as though he hadn't heard her.

Lois bristled.

"Is there something you needed Mr. Luthor?" Lois leveled him with a steely look.

"I merely wanted the chance to congratulate you on your impending nuptials."

"That's very nice of you," she deadpanned.

"You know I met Clark on the first day he arrived in Smallville. I feel a little like he's a second son."

"That's funny, I thought you already had a second son," she shot back defensively.

Lionel clenched his teeth and pursed his lips. "Really Miss Lane, is that any way to treat a friend of the family?"

"Luthor's seem to have a very loose definition of friendship," she countered.

"Now, now Miss Lane, if my intensions weren't friendly, certain information regarding Clark would have already been made public," Lionel smiled around his threatening words.

Lois stilled, "What are you saying Lionel?" She dropped the formalities and took a step toward the man.

"Your fiancé has a lot of secrets Miss Lane and anyone who were to keep those secrets would be a friend. I would hate to think what would happen if those secrets were used against young Clark." Lois held Lionel's eye but said nothing. "You know, your predecessor couldn't withstand the strain of the Kent mysteries; surely you don't deign to relive Miss Lang's experience. You have more than just yourself to think of after all… I understand you decided on the name Ella. Charming."

"Stay away from my family," Lois warned. Her eyes flashed dark in her anger but her tone remained calm and controlled.

"That would hardly be friendly of me," he took a sip of his champagne. "But as a friend I thought it prudent for you and Clark to know that my son has not ceased in his efforts to uncover the truth himself. I love my son dearly but he is still young and impulsive: hardly one to be trusted with information of such a sensitive nature." He paused to gage a response from Lois but she remained impassive. "It's been a pleasure Miss Lane; have a wonderful evening." He smiled before moving passed her back into the ballroom.

Lois remained unmoved from her stop in the foyer for long minutes after. Lionel's subterfuge had not gone unnoticed; he knew whatever Clark was hiding. And to make matters worse, Lex was hot on the trail. The knot her stomach had been twining when Lionel first appeared pulled tight. She had no romanticized visions of a reformed Lionel Luthor; men like that hungered for power and information was the greatest power they could wield. But one point he made had value. He was older, patient, he would not do anything rash to tip his hand too early; however, Lex was another creature altogether.

They both threatened her family's safety and that was unacceptable.

Stopping a waiter on his way into the ballroom, Lois pulled a champagne glass off the serving tray and downed it in one. The warm bubbles succeeded in untying the knot in her stomach while simultaneously jolting her senses back into focus. She reminded herself that the night belong to Mrs. Kent. The Luthors could be dealt with another time. Straightening her back and squaring her shoulders, Lois marched back into the ballroom in search of her date.

"Your mom's speech was wonderful. She's going to make a great Senator Clark," Lana said softly.

"Yeah, she is," he agreed.

"How are you doing? I know none of this can be easy," she squeezed the hand that held hers during their dance.

"Actually, it's not much different. She was already working outside the farm at the Talon, now the hours are just a little longer and work's a bit further away." Clark shrugged, wanting to look away from the compassion he saw in Lana's eyes.

"That's good. But it wasn't what I was talking about. A lot has happened recently – between us and your dad. I guess I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I am," he nodded. "The farm feels different now and sometimes I walk out to the barn expecting to see my dad but I didn't really expect it to be any other way. With Lois and Ella living at the house now, things are different anyway. They bring an entirely new energy to the house," he smiled thinking about it.

Lana chose to ignore his last comment, worrying that again it was obvious Clark was putting Lois and that baby ahead of himself. It was something he was never forced to do when the two of them were together.

"I know most people don't know what you're going through but I do. Losing a parent is never easy and I know that no matter how many people try to tell you they understand – it takes someone who has gone through it who really connects. I'm here whenever you need me," she offered, knowing it was a bond with Clark that Lois couldn't manufacture.

"Thanks Lana," Clark finally said as he couldn't think of anything else. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Lana that Lois had lost her mother, though he was under the impression she already knew but he decided not to bother. She was trying to be a friend and didn't need her overture brushed aside. Furthermore, it felt wrong to share details of Lois' life with her. "That's very nice of you to offer."

"Clark, we've been friends since we were kids. Whether we're together right now or not, I hope you know I'll always be your friend." She stepped closer as their dance continued.

Clark stiffened infinitesimally and wondered why. Nothing she had said should have bothered him but something had triggered a subconscious reaction. Then it hit him that she had said they'd been friends since they were kids. That wasn't true. She barely even knew his name in ninth grade and they had never socialized together. It seemed Lana was reinventing history. But it wasn't the time or place to call her on the inaccuracy of her statement.

"And I hope you know that I'll always be your friend too Lana," he shot her a closed mouth smile.

"I hear you say the words…" Lana trailed off. "Friends talk Clark. Ever since you started helping Lois you've shut your friends out. You hardly ever come to the dorm anymore."

Clark thought back over the previous months and though he agreed that he didn't visit the dorm as often, she seemed to be forgetting that his avoidance had begun following their breakup. And he wasn't shutting his friends out; he was more open with Chloe than ever and even he and Lois weren't hiding from each other as much.

"I'm sorry I've made you feel that way," he worded carefully. "I guess we're all just growing up. We have different priorities now – I mean, you and Chloe have school and she's got the Planet; you've got Lex; I've got the farm and Ella and Lois Things couldn't stay the same forever," he shrugged.

"Speaking of Ella – has Lois decided what she's going to do about her?" Lana seized the opening.

Clark frowned, "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

"I know someone like Lois wouldn't be interested in actually raising a baby so I assumed that now that the baby's doing fine medically she would be looking for someone to adopt it."

Clark tensed and almost tripped over his feet but Lana didn't notice.

"You know, I'm sure Lex would be happy to help find a suitable family for her," she added. Lucy was turning out to be harder to locate than Lana had anticipated and it was always a good idea to have a plan B.

"Someone like Lois?" He wanted to know what she meant by that comment.

Lana tilted her head innocently. "Come on Clark, I know Lois is lots of fun but you can't honestly tell me you think she would be a good choice to raise that little girl. She was expelled from university because she was drinking and violent. Even Lois recognizes it – I mean why else would she come to you. She needed someone like you to do all the work, you're compassionate and responsible. Not exactly words that someone would use to describe Lois."

Clark bit the inside of his mouth to keep from saying something he would later regret. "If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's not to underestimate Lois Lane."

"I don't know what it is about Lois Clark, but it's like you're completely unwilling to listen to reason where she's concerned."

Indignation rose up within him, "When I actually hear reason, I'll start to listen."

"That's what I'm talking about Clark; she's changed you into someone unrecognizable. The Clark I know would never be so quick to dismiss my concerns," she shook her head in dismay.

"I'm not dismissing them. But Lana, you don't know Lois like I do and you have to realize that you might not know everything about me anymore – you never actually did. If I remember correctly that's one of the reasons we broke up."

"One of the reasons," Lana's sad eyes and softly spoke response was like a kick in the chest to Clark. He hadn't wanted to hurt her but she just wouldn't let it go.

"Yes," he lowered his gaze, "this is another one."

"Dancing?" Lana furrowed her brow.

"No, this arguing. Both of us talking and neither of us listening." Clark sighed, "I think it's going to take time for us to learn how to be friends."

"Excuse me you too," Martha stood next to the dancing pair. "Lana, you don't mind if I take my handsome son away from you?" She saw the relief and gratitude wash over said son's features.

"Of course not Mrs. Kent," Lana smiled at her. "Thank you for the dance Clark," she backed away slowly.

"You were looking a little strangled Honey," Martha took the younger woman's place.

"That's probably because I was feeling a little strangled," Clark rolled his eyes. "Thank you for the rescue."

"Where's Lois? I would have thought she'd have stolen you back by now," Martha smirked at him.

"She went to call Chloe and is probably spying from some corner and laughing at my misery."

"There was a time when you'd have passed up a dance with Lois in favour of Lana – in fact I believe you did just that on one occasion," Martha pointed out.

"That's feels like a lifetime ago. A lot of things were different then and I can't go back – I wouldn't want to," he revealed.

"That's what growth is all about," Martha's smile shined bright. "It's got little to do with age or height or years in school and everything to do with how you see yourself relative to the rest of the world."

"I'm starting to get that," he smiled impishly

"There was something I wanted to ask you about," Martha quirked an eyebrow. "Where exactly did you get that ring and why do I get the feeling that I'm supposed to know more about it than I do?"

Clark blushed and dropped his gaze. "I told Lois that it was a family ring and I thought that she should have something on her finger so that no one would ask too many questions tonight."

"So where did it really come from?"

"I made it," Clark answered. "What'd you think?"

"Well….it's pretty and very sparkly…" Martha eked out.

"Sparkly? You're a State Senator and the best you can come up with is 'sparkly'?" Clark teased.

"It's ummm," Martha searched for an adequate description.

"Hideous?" Clark provided with a smile.

"Ghastly," Martha nodded.

"That's what I was going for," he informed her. "Lois hates it and not surprisingly she's been getting gushing compliments on it all night."

"Speaking of Lois, there she is," Martha nodded over Clark's shoulder to where Lois was re-entering the ballroom. They danced around until Clark's eyes could land on her; Martha was left surprised and fascinated when a whisper of a smile played on his lips and his shoulders relaxed. They had been coiled tight during his dance with Lana and one look at Lois managed to strip that tension away. "She doesn't look too happy. I hope everything's alright with Chloe."

"If something was wrong she'd be upset and worried," Clark tried to keep a lock Lois' moving form while he and his mother danced, "that's her angry and frustrated face. Some waiter probably got in her way."

"It doesn't appear to be enough to keep Jack away," Martha chuckled as she watched Jack coax Lois out onto the dance floor.

Clark and Martha watched as Jack waltzed his partner over next to them. When the song ended he initiated the switch; Clark lead Lois away from the other dancers and back to their vacant table. They took the opportunity to have a few moments alone as much of the evening had been spent jumping from one cluster of small-talkers to another.

"How was Chloe making out?" Clark narrowed his eyes in scrutiny when Lois failed to respond. Instead she stared out at some absent point in the room lost in thought. "Hey," Clark ran his hand up her bare arm to get her attention, "what's on your mind?"

She turned toward him, warmed to find caring blue eyes affixed upon her. "Hmm," she hummed, "it's nothing really."

Clark leaned closer to her, letting his hand travel up her arm and under her hair to rest on the naked skin of her neck. "You're usually more convincing than that," he smirked at her, rubbing gentle circles on the spot his fingers lay. He made no further comment on the topic, letting her know that he wouldn't push.

"I had an unfortunate run in with newly reformed Luthor patriarch," she admitted and let her eyes flutter closed a moment to soak in the sensation of Clark's hand against her flesh. "I'd warn you that's he's up to something but that goes without saying." She played with the ring on her finger in an attempt to distract herself from the thoughts Clark's actions were evoking.

"Did he threaten you?" Clark stilled.

Opening her eyes to look at him, she shook her head. "No, not directly but majority of what he says could be construed as a veiled threat. Ignore me," she said dismissively, "any interaction with the Luthor kin leaves me seriously wanting a shower."

Clark eyes darkened at the thought; he swallowed twice in an effort to control his wayward thoughts. "How's Chloe doing?" He asked again.

"Fine. Watching for signs of homicidal baby activity," Lois answered absently, her focus once more on Clark's gently caress.


Rolling her eyes, she responded, "You don't want to know." They were silent for a moment, listening to the music thirty feet from them. "How was your dance with Lana?"

It was Clark's turn to roll his eyes, "You don't want to know," he echoed. But he knew his answer wasn't going to fly with Lois. "My mother had to come and rescue me."

Lois chuckled, "Poor Clarkie."

"That's okay, now you have to make it up to me," he smiled and leaned in close to her.

"Really? And how do you suppose I do that?" She inched forward until her forehead rested gently against his.

Clark's hand slipped from the back of her neck to cradle the side of her face in his palm. "Just like this," he whispered softly and caught her lips in a sweet kiss.

The kiss could have continued as a engaging exploration of one another regardless of their location had they not been interrupted by a throat being clear that bore the threads of bitterness.

"Sorry to interrupt your deep, meaningful conversation but Lana and I just wanted to say goodnight," Lex smirked around his dry greeting.

"Leaving already? What, do you turn back into a toad at midnight?" Lois shot him a look of annoyance for interrupting and for bothering to approach them at all.

"I think you've got your fairytales mixed up Lois. I guess that happens when you don't get to finish the entire year at university," Lex lobbed back the barb.

"Learning fairytales at university? What school did you go to Lex? College of Luthor Cheque Book? Oh wait that's right, you never did attend – you had Daddy grooming you for bigger and better things." Lois' expression remained passive.

"I wouldn't snare at nepotism Lois, it's what got you a job," his face hardened.

"Whatever helps you sleep at night," she shrugged and felt Clark's arm settle around her shoulders comfortably.

"That's some ring on your finger Lois," he turned his attention to Clark, "you didn't strike be as the type of man who would spring for such a showy piece."

"It's a family heirloom," Clark replied succinctly. He glanced at Lois with a smile and caught her eye. They were lost in one another until Lana finally spoke up.

"We should be going; Lex has to fly out for business in the morning." Her dark gaze seemed to sharpen on every point where Lois and Clark were touching.

"Goodnight," Lois smiled knowing they were on their way out.

"Goodnight Lex, Lana," Clark nodded at the both of them.

As she was walking to the door with Lex's hand on the small of her back, something in Lana urged her to chance a look behind her at the table with two lone occupants. The sight of Clark and Lois smiling around tiny kisses burned itself into her very soul, fanning the flames of her desire to extricate Clark from that woman's clutches.

"You want to get up and dance again?" Clark brushed a lock of hair out of Lois' face.

"As much fun as that sounds my feet have gone almost five hours in these shoes and I'll be lucky if I can walk out of here let alone dance," she grimaced for effect.

"I could always carry you," he waggled his eyebrows.

"Because what…we're not already getting enough attention?" She rolled her eyes.

"Fine then, but I'm banking this dance," he declared.

"Banking the dance?"

"Yep, I reserve the right to withdraw one dance from you at any time from this night on of my choosing," his explanation drew raised eyebrows from Lois.

"And I'm agreeing to this why?"

"Because you like me."

"That's being called into question, especially since that stunt you pulled tonight during the speeches," she made a small movement that could have been construed as a mock punch to his arm.

"Stunt? Me?" He pulled an innocent face but could sustain it for long.

"You're such a dork," she teased him.

"Is it dorky to tell you that I was really proud of you tonight," he glanced nervously at the large ring on her finger. "The way you knew who almost every was and knew exactly what to talk about and what not to talk about – it was amazing."

"Yeah, it is kinda dorky," Lois nodded and waited for his eyes to lift to hers, "but it's also kinda sweet." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Let's just hang out here and let people come to us – I don't feel like moving right now."

Clark's arm tightened around her shoulder, "Sounds great to me."


Please R&R if you get the chance.