Well, ladies and gents, though even I sometime worried I'd never get this done, here it is! The last chapter to The Year of a Relationship! Hope you guys had as much fun reading it as I had writing it, and I hope at least one or two of you will stick with me as I move on to other things. So, speaking of, I think it's time for…
Stay tuned for the prologue to my next story: A World Without Lois Lane. What would the world – and Clark Kent – have been without Lois Lane? She's about to find out. December
"Clark Kent, I'm going to kill you!" Lois shrieked as ice-cold water trickled down the back of her shirt, chilling her skin. She'd been walking up to the front door of the apartment she shared with her husband when a snowball came out of the blue and caught her on the back of the head. When she'd turned to peer through the hazy light of dusk to determine who had thrown the offending object, she caught sight of her husband smirking at her.
Her soon-to-be-annihilated husband. Nobody picked a fight with Lois Lane and walked away unscathed.
Clark laughed at the indignant expression on her face and lobbed another snowball at her. This one caught her in the middle of her chest, and his smirk grew wider. "Is that so?" he taunted her, completely disregarding her threat.
"Oh, it's on, farmboy!" Lois called as she darted towards a car parked on the street. Using it as cover, she crouched low to the ground and scooped up snow in both her hands, packing it together as quickly as she could. Placing it aside, she made a few more as she peeked over the hood of the car. Clark was taking cover behind a tree, and his pile of ammunition was greater than hers. The cheater. "You gonna fight fair, Smallville?"
"Probably not!" he called back, and Lois chuckled. She knew he wasn't such a spoilsport that he'd use his powers to evade her hits, and it wasn't like she intended to fight fair herself.
Clutching one of the snowballs from her arsenal in her right hand, Lois held her breath and waited for Clark to look around the side of the tree before she struck. Lobbing her icy missile towards him, she laughed when it clipped his shoulder. Not bad, though she'd been going for the face.
Clark gave her an affronted look, and the fight began in earnest. Lois was laughing so hard that she was having a hard time restocking her diminishing supply of ammunition, and she realized that if she didn't do something soon, he was going to wipe the floor with her. Finally, she gave up the effort and charged towards him. What she'd lack in style she'd make up for in enthusiasm. No longer bothering to take the time to make actual snowballs, the fight degenerated into handfuls of snow thrown half-hazardly in each other's direction. The wet snow had long ago soaked through the opening in her coat and into her skin, but Lois didn't really notice the chill. She was about to attempt a full-frontal attack when she paused to duck a handful of snow thrown in her direction, slipped on a patch of ice, and fell to her knees.
Clark took advantage of the opportunity and tackled her around the waist, taking them both to the ground. He had her pinned, the heavy weight of his body stopping her from retaliating, and Lois let out a whoop of laughter.
"Give up?" he asked tauntingly.
"Not on your life," she retorted.
With raised eyebrows, he asked, "So what do you plan to do? I'm up here, and you're down there, and I think makes me the pretty clear winner. And I think I shouldn't let you up until you admit it too."
Lois glared up at him, but the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth belied her fierce expression. Blowing out a heavy sigh of disappointment, she said mournfully, "Typical. I should have known you'd equate winning with being on top."
She heard Clark's surprised snort of laughter only a few seconds before his hands managed to dive between the folds of her coat to attack her through the sweater she wore underneath. "Okay, Mrs. Kent, I'm afraid you're going to have to pay for that one!" he cried, but his words were almost drowned out by her shrieks of laughter at his tickling.
"I didn't mean it! I didn't mean it!" she managed to get enough air to profess loudly, and so he mercifully stopped tickling her, though he still didn't let her up. Breathing heavily, Lois scowled and decided to change tactics, playing upon his sympathy. "Ooof. Do you mind shifting positions at least? I'm kinda losing the ability to breathe, here."
"Liar," Clark contradicted her with a grin, but she caught the slight move he made to ensure that she really wasn't in danger of suffocation. Sadly, it still wasn't enough to allow her to get the upper hand. That was the problem with her relationship with Clark, she reflected; he knew her well enough to anticipate her most devious moves. He continued, "You just don't want to admit you lost."
"I didn't lose!" she retorted as she renewed her efforts to squirm out from under him.
"It looks that way to me!" he said tauntingly in return, not giving an inch. "And, believe me, I can wait here however long it takes until you admit it. Have I said how beautiful you look with snowflakes in your hair? I could happily stay here and look at you all night." He leaned down suddenly and brushed a kiss across her cheek. When he pulled away once more and saw the look on her face, he explained, "Snowflake."
"Fine, fine. I give up," she said in resignation, though she couldn't quite make her words come out with the inflection she was going for. When he looked at her the way he was now, she had a hard time even pretending to be surly.
"Promise?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at her suspiciously.
"Promise," she replied, but the moment Clark started to let her up, she grabbed a handful of snow and shoved it down the front of his shirt. It was the least he deserved; after all, it's not like the cold even affected him.
Of course, her kamikaze attack did nothing to end the snowball fight, and they continued the assault long after the last of the evening light had faded from the sky.
They called a truce only once it got so dark that it was hard to see and the temperature dropped until Lois was shivering. Still laughing, Clark escorted her inside, and she ran to change while he prepared her a cup of hot chocolate (complete with the mini marshmallows that she loved so much).
When Lois had finished drying off and had comfortably nestled on the couch within the folds of the huge down comforter she'd pilfered from their bed, she threw her legs over Clark's lap and burrowed farther into the blankets. Completely relaxed, she gazed thoughtfully into the fire crackling merrily in the fireplace, her reflections only interrupted when Clark cleared his throat.
"I know it's late, but I couldn't get this ready in time to give you it sooner. So now's a good a time as any, I suppose," Clark said as he reached under the sofa and pulled out a wrapped box, smiling over at her as he did so.
Looked at him in surprise as he handed over the brightly colored package, Lois tore into the wrapping with childish enthusiasm. When she pulled the lid off the box inside, she saw that it contained a photo album. It was thick; it had to have taken ages to track down all of the pictures and hours to compile them.
"Clark, it's…beautiful," she breathed as she cracked it open and started to look through the pages. She dimly registered Clark's movement as he moved closer to her and looked over her shoulder as she slowly turned the pages and gazed at the series of photographs. They seemed to have been put together more or less in chronological order; a visual record of the course of her relationship with Clark over the years they'd known each other.
Some of the pictures were amusing – particularly the ones on the first few pages, taken during the first couple of years after they'd met. Most of those were group shots and included either the rest of the Kent family or various friends they'd had at the time. There was one particularly nice shot of Lois standing next to Mr. Kent, smiling proudly into the camera; it looked like it was taken during her stint as his campaign manager. Another showed a whole group of people gathered around a table at the Talon, drinking coffee. Lois was sitting on one side of the table, next to Lana. Clark was on the other, Chloe beside him. They were all beaming at the camera, appearing to be genuinely happy. This, Lois realized, was somewhat unusual, as in most of the rest of the pictures on the first few pages, she and Clark both looked almost physically pained to be posing together. One in particular made her burst out in laughter. The two of them were smiling at the camera, but she would have bet the photo was taken in the midst of one of the many bickering arguments she and Clark had gotten into during their early years. She was smirking in self-satisfaction, and he was clearly gritting his teeth, only barely refraining from rolling his eyes for the few seconds Mrs. Kent had asked them to pose.
After a few pages, Lois came across a picture of her standing between Mrs. Kent and Clark. Everyone was smiling, but there was a slight tinge of sadness on their faces, as well. In the background, she could see the little red car she'd had in college, and she realized this was one of the photographs Mrs. Kent had taken the day Lois had moved to Metropolis.
She couldn't believe the effort Clark must have taken to gather all these images of the past the two of them had shared. He even had a few from the years they'd spent apart – photographs of college graduations and one of Lois standing next to Chloe and grinning like a lunatic on the day she got the job at the Daily Planet.
Lois felt her throat tighten as her husband's gift brought back so many memories, both good and bad. Images of her and Clark working together – candid shots Jimmy must have taken in the newsroom – that showed the obvious tension that had existed at first between the newly assigned partners. In a number of these early photographs, Clark had a very familiar long-suffering look on his face. Looking at these snapshots, Lois almost blushed with embarrassment when she remembered how she'd behaved to Clark when they first began to work together, but then came a series of images that made her so incredibly proud to have been allowed to work with the man next to her.
There were pictures of events big and small – of award ceremonies and evenings the two of them spent going blind staring at a computer screen, working on a story. One showed Lois proudly displaying the front-page article with her byline that scooped the story of the world's newest superhero. If only the girl in the photo knew what she knew now, she probably wouldn't have been self-satisfied that she'd managed to get the story without her partner's help. Another showed the two of them hugging tightly after one of their investigations had gone horribly wrong and Lois had thought she had lost her partner forever.
"Clark, I can't believe you kept these!" she murmured as she fingered the two ticket stubs to the botanical gardens that he'd carefully pasted at the bottom of one page.
With a soft smile, he replied, "Of course I did. I'd been waiting for that day for a long time. I went on the best date of my life, and the night we shared our first kiss. Did you think I was going to lose any memento of that evening?"
Lois chuckled at the memory. "Are you kidding? After the grace I displayed as I almost took the both of us out under that tree? I'm still amazed you didn't run screaming in the other direction," she joked with a grin.
"Yeah, well…I thought about it," he returned in the same tone, "But I was too busy worrying that I'd somehow blow the moment. I thought my nervousness would cause me to start floating three feet off the ground or suddenly lose control of my heat vision."
Lois laughed aloud. "Well, I have to say, setting me on fire would have definitely put a damper in our evening," she said as she looked down at the book in her lap once more.
"Where did you get all of these?" she asked in wonder as she looked at picture after picture. Some of them had to have been pilfered from the box under her bed, and some of them she recognized from being on display at the Kent Farmhouse. She smiled softly as she gently stroked a picture that Chloe had taken at Mrs. Kent's birthday party, shortly after the two of them had begun dating.
Before he could answer, she turned the page and saw a slip of paper pasted at the bottom. "What's this?" she asked as she carefully unfolded it; it was incredibly dog-eared and had clearly been handled so many times that the paper was almost transparent. She could barely read the words written inside:
Clark, I know you told me you'd drive me to the airport, but I didn't want to wake you. Don't worry; I'll give you a call once I get to Lucy's and let you know that I got there okay. About last night…don't worry so much about what the future has in store for the two of us. I told you once that I didn't think there was such a thing as fate, but I think now that I may have been wrong. I don't know if I was meant to do much in this world, but I do believe I was destined to love you. So how can anything that happens in the future be more important than that? I'll miss you, handsome. Be back before you know it. L.
About last night…don't worry so much about what the future has in store for the two of us. I told you once that I didn't think there was such a thing as fate, but I think now that I may have been wrong. I don't know if I was meant to do much in this world, but I do believe I was destined to love you. So how can anything that happens in the future be more important than that?
I'll miss you, handsome. Be back before you know it.
"It's…Clark, what…?" she began, looking at the man on the couch next to her.
Clearing his throat, Clark looked at her out of the corner of his eye as he answered the question she couldn't quite articulate. "You wrote that to me once, remember?"
"I remember," she replied. "It was just…I mean, it was a stupid little note I wrote while I was running out the door because you'd been so upset the night before. Why did you…I mean, I never thought you wouldn't have thrown it away."
Shrugging, he said, "I loved that note. When I woke up that morning and saw it on the pillow next to me, I…I had to have read it a hundred times. Maybe more. I put it in my wallet and read it every five minutes when I…when I stupidly pushed you away."
"Oh, Clark," she said softly as she leaned over and gave him a kiss.
Looking both a little embarrassed by his admission and saddened by the recollection of their breakup, he returned the gesture and then nodded at the book still lying open on her lap. "Anyway, you haven't finished looked at your gift."
Glancing down at the album once more, Lois gave her husband time to regain his composure as she turned the page. She grinned as she realized the next few pictures were taken the weekend they got engaged. Though he was smiling in all of the photos, she marveled at the slight changes in her husband that were only apparent once you looked at the images as a series. Only someone who knew him really well would probably be able to tell, but there was just something a little different about him in the ones taken in the latter part of the weekend. Clark looked like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He was a fraction more relaxed, his smile just a bit wider. She had rarely seen him look so…content.
She'd thought she'd known how much it had meant to him to be able to finally share his secret with her, but she hadn't realized just how subtly keeping it had affected him.
When she looked at the next two images, however, these thoughts were driven from her mind as she let out a surprised bark of laughter. "Clark!" she cried, her cheeks reddening. "I can't believe you put these in here! What if someone looks at this album?"
They were taken the morning the two of them had returned to Metropolis after their engagement. The first picture was one she'd taken of Clark standing in the kitchen of the first apartment they'd shared together. He was leaning against the counter and smirking at the camera with an expression that clearly said, "Come on. You know you think I'm sexy." The next showed her in the same kitchen a short while later. She was wearing the same shirt (and possibly nothing else, if the photo – and her memory – gave any indication), smirking at Clark over her shoulder as he took the picture. The look on her face gave a pretty clear suggestion as to what had transpired in the intervening time.
"You're a horrible, horrible man," she grumbled as her blush deepened. "I should never have told you what your plaid shirts do to me."
Clark chuckled. "Oh, I don't mind. I think I might go put one on now, in fact," he whispered suggestively in her ear, and she paused to punch him lightly on the shoulder.
"One of these days, I'm going to become immune, and then you'll lose any power you have over me. And then what are you going to do?" she challenged, but even as she said the words, she knew they would probably never be true. "Anyway, that's not going to work on me tonight, Mister. Consider it my revenge for earlier."
She watched as an exaggerated pout crossed his face, and she bit back a smile as she turned her attention back to the album on her lap, ignoring him for the moment. She flipped through the next few pages of the two of them at various stages of their engagement until, finally, she came to some of the photos of their wedding that Clark had included.
Even now, looking at the photos, Lois felt the almost overwhelming joy of that day. She doubted if she'd ever stop marveling at the fact that, with all the people in the world, the two of them had found each other. That he'd fallen in love with her and, even more remarkable, that she'd finally seen what had been staring her in the face all along was still something of a miracle.
He'd picked some of her favorite moments from that day to include – her, standing with both Chloe and Lucy before the ceremony, the kiss her father had brushed against her cheek as he gave her away, the hug she'd exchanged with Martha at the reception, the last dance she and Clark had shared.
Finally, on the last page, Lois saw a few pictures taken in the last couple of months with the first Thanksgiving and Christmas that she and Clark had spent as man and wife. The first made her laugh to remember when it was taken. Lois was jealously guarding Mrs. Kent's pumpkin pie, her arms extended in front of her to keep the plate out of Clark's reach as he tried to grab it from behind.
The last picture in the album was one of the two of them curled up on Mrs. Kent's couch, taking a nap together. The lights from the Christmas tree casting a colorful glow around the two of them as she snuggled against Clark's chest, her head on his shoulder.
Closing the book, Lois tried to find the words to tell her husband how much his thoughtfulness meant to her, but she was speechless. She couldn't have imagined a more perfect gift. Many of the pictures Clark had put in the album showed the obvious affection they now held for each other. Some of them made it clear that their relationship hadn't always been easy. But Lois loved all of them, because they reminded her that the love they had for one another hadn't happened in an instantaneous bolt of lightning. It had come upon them both so gradually that they hadn't even known their hearts were in danger until it was too late to do anything about it.
"So, do you like it?" Clark as softly as she stared in silence at the book in her hands for a while.
"It's…I don't even know what to say, Clark. It's amazing. Thank you," she said softly as she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss. "I can't believe you went through all that trouble. It must have taken forever to do all this."
"Well, I had some help in the form of numerous donations by our friends and family. But, if it's all the same to you, I'll take all the credit, thanks." As he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back against his chest, he asked teasingly, "So…what do you think? Looking back at all those pictures, it's almost hard to believe that you and I ended up together at all. We certainly didn't have the conventional courtship, did we?"
"Nah. I made you work for it pretty hard, didn't I?" Lois asked with a smirk, but she giggled when Clark made a scoffing sound behind her.
"I don't know if I'd say that. To my recollection, after our first date, it seemed like you were the one who practically flung yourself around my ankles and begged me to take you home with me."
"Oh, in your dreams, Smallville!" she retorted, elbowing him in the ribs. "You know you hit the jackpot the day I agreed to marry you."
"Yeah," he agreed softly. "I know."
"But you know what?" she asked, turning her head to look at him. "So did I." Then she Leaned forward, reacheing for her mug of rapidly cooling cocoa, and felt breeze past her cheek. When she turned to give Clark a curious look, she saw that was relaxing against the back of the couch, an innocent expression on his face. She'd have thought he didn't move at all, except that he was now wearing one of his old flannel plaid shirts. "So, Mrs. Kent…you were saying something about being able to resist me?" he challenged as he smirked at her.
Lois bit her lower lip and tried to keep her breathing even as she lied, "Yup. Not feeling a thing."
"So it won't bother you at all if we just sit here together and watch television for a while?" he asked as he stretched his legs out lazily, linking his hands behind his head as if he didn't have a care in the world.
"Nope," she replied, trying to force her attention to the images running across the screen. She was not going to cave to her husband's manipulation. Not that easily, at least. Still, she couldn't stop herself from shifting uncomfortably as she watched him out of the corner of her eye. She could tell she wasn't fooling him at all, however, when he smirked.
Well, two could play that game. Sure, he knew her weaknesses, but she also knew his. Standing, she feigned a lazy stretch and said, "Well, I think I'll turn in. Don't stay up too late." She almost laughed when she saw the flabbergasted look on his face, but then it slowly dissolved into one of anticipation. She could tell he knew she was up to something, but he didn't try to stop her.
Trying to maintain her air of nonchalance, she strolled to the bedroom, where she hurredly changed clothes. Stripping off her pajamas, she quickly pulled on the white dress shirt he'd been wearing earlier that day and then walked back into the living room. Now they'd see who couldn't resist whom. "You coming?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at him.
He grinned as he rose to his feet and strolled over to where she was standing. "You know, that's not exactly playing fair," he told her sternly as they reached for each other.
"What can I say? I fight dirty," she replied unrepentantly as she grabbed a handful of his shirt and tugged until his lips met hers. As the embrace continued, he bent and scooped her into his arms, carrying her back into the bedroom.
Later, as they lay in bed together Lois turned to glance at the clock. "12:30," she murmured through a yawn to the man beside her. "Happy New Year, Smallville."
Nuzzling her ear, he replied softly, "Happy New Year to you, Metropolis. Do you think there's any chance this year can be anywhere near as perfect as the last one?"
"Oh, I don't know, Clark," she replied as she linked her fingers in his and rested their hands against her stomach. Looking down at their entwined fingers, she smiled softly, almost secretly, as she murmured, "But I bet you'd be surprised."