A/N: Follows Spring Comes After Winter


Love is to the heart what the summer is to the farmer's year. It brings to harvest all the loveliest flowers of the soul.
Billy Graham
American Evangelist (1918 - )

After winter comes the summer. After night comes the dawn. And after every storm, there comes clear, open skies.
Samuel Rutherford
Scottish Theologian (1600? – 1661)

"But I don't want to go to Smallville," six-year-old Jason Lane complained. His mother Lois Lane, Pulitzer winning reporter for the Daily Planet, shook her head and opened another dresser drawer, pulling out socks and underwear to go into his suitcase.

"Why can't Grandma Martha visit us here?" He handed his mother the folded up shirts and pants she had laid out on his bed.

"Well, there's a bunch of reasons," Lois explained. "Clark is writing an article about Smallville and then Grandma wants all her friends there to meet you and me since we're a family now."

"Why do we have to take a stupid ol' airplane? Why can't Superman fly us there?"

"Jason, we've been over this before," Clark Kent said from the doorway. Lois looked up, surprised. She hadn't heard him come in, but then she rarely heard him coming back to the house after he'd been out as Superman.

"We don't want anybody to know Superman has a special relationship to you and your mom," Clark continued. "It's too dangerous."

"People like Ralph and Cat would start thinking that I want to be with Superman instead of Clark," Lois added.

"That's silly," Jason commented with a grimace. Lois snapped Jason's suitcase shut and handed it to her husband of ten weeks and two days.

"Yes, that's silly," Clark agreed. He led the way down stairs to where Lois had already stacked her luggage as well as his.

"How did it go?" Lois asked quietly. He'd run off to handle an emergency while they were packing.

"Multiple car smashup on Ordway. A semi tried to avoid a stalled car, jackknifed, caught a van. The rest were just fender-benders, but it was still a mess."

"How many…?"

"Five. Everyone in the van, two adults, three kids. It looked like they were getting ready to start their vacation. I've already sent the story off."

He looked so forlorn. Failed rescues did that to him, adding to his sense of failure as he tried to make up for having been absent from Earth for nearly six years. And she knew it was so much worse when in involved kids.

"You did everything you could," she assured him and gave him a kiss. "You always do."

There was a sound of disgust behind her and she turned to see Jason standing on the stairs, watching them with open annoyance. Lois had thought - correction hoped - that Jason would quickly come to terms with the fact that his long missing biological father was now married to his mother, even though they hadn't changed Jason's last name to 'Kent' yet. Metropolis family court had recommended waiting a year before going through the paperwork for Clark to adopt his own son. Despite that, she had hoped they would miraculously morph into a real family.

It hadn't happened. Jason liked Clark as an 'uncle,' as a 'friend,' even as a baby-sitter. But after six months of living in a single parent family, trying to come to terms with the death of Richard White, the only 'daddy' he'd ever known, Jason hadn't taken to the idea of sharing his mother with anybody. That included Superman. The fact that she and Clark had eloped on the spur of the moment while on an assignment hadn't helped matters, nor had the recent times Clark missed school events due both of his jobs.

Lois sighed, giving Clark an apologetic look as she held out her hand to her son. "Come along, munchkin. We've got a plane to catch."

-O-O-O-

The plane ride to Wichita was a quiet one. There was almost no turbulence and Clark was glad of that. He'd flown commercial more than once, but he still didn't find it comfortable. There was something unnerving about flying in a machine that common sense said shouldn't work. This from a man who flies without an airplane.

Jason played with his Gameboy. Lois had brought along several books she hadn't had time to read at home. Clark was finishing the outline of what he planned for his article, assuming everything came together as he hoped. Perry had asked for a piece revisiting one Clark had written years before on the 'Poisoning of America – private property rights versus the public good.' The original article had been well received and he planned for this one to cover genetically modified organisms and patented life-forms.

Perry had agreed that the microcosm represented by a small Kansas town was the perfect backdrop when he wrote the first article. This time Clark admitted to ulterior motives for suggesting a trip to Smallville, especially with Lois asking for vacation days so she and Jason could accompany him.

It was going to be hard, seeing his old friends and classmates after so many years. Clark wasn't sure what his mother had told people about his relationship to Lois and her son. His son. Jason Lane.

"How did we rate a commuter plane to take us half-way across the state?" Lois wondered aloud as they boarded the plane that would take them from Mid-Continental Airport in Wichita to Smallville Municipal.

"I have friends in odd places," Clark told her with a grin.

She gave him one of her famous 'Lane glowers' that made criminals quail, politicians cower, police run for cover, and even Superman quake in his boots.

"I went to school with the pilot's brother," Clark explained. "She's heading home for a visit and so we're hitching a ride. All completely above board, even though I did promise to write something up on how urban sprawl and government greed is damaging non-commercial and small commercial aviation."

"Perry will love it," Lois commented. Clark wasn't sure if she was being sarcastic or not. She grinned at him. "Seriously, you know how Perry loves it when you go into 'crusader mode.' I think it reminds him of the old days of the crusading press."

-O-O-O-

"Grandma!" Jason yelled as he got out of the rental car and ran toward the Kent farmhouse. The door opened onto the porch and Martha Kent walked out, wiping her hands on a towel. Her worn face broke into a smile as she caught sight of her grandson. Lois got out of the car more slowly, going to the trunk to get their luggage. An emergency had called Clark away just as they were leaving the airport. There was no telling when he'd be back. An oil tanker had run around in a storm on the Oregon coast.

Shelby the old golden retriever trotted out to greet the newcomers. He woofed cheerfully as he caught scent of Jason, who squealed at the dog's attention. Lois crouched down and scratched the dog's ears before making her way to the house, luggage in hand.

"I figure you and Clark will stay in my room and Jason will sleep in Clark's old room," Martha stated cheerfully, ushering them into the house and closing the screen door to keep Shelby out.

"Martha, you don't have to go to all this trouble," Lois assured her. "Besides, where will you be sleeping?"

"Over at Ben's," Martha explained. She checked her watch. "In fact, Ben wanted to know if Jason wants to come over to his place and watch the game with him and the other grandkids. The As are playing the Monarchs. Starts a little after six."

The screen door opened and Clark walked in. His expression was clear. It must have been a good rescue.

"Hi, Mom," he greeted, giving his mother a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Jason?" Lois asked. "Do you want to visit Ben and Martha over at his house and watch the game with them?"

"But what will you be doing?" Jason asked.

Martha smiled. "I thought your mom and dad might like to visit some his friends in town." She turned to Clark. "There's usually a bunch of your old friends down at the pizza joint on Fridays."

"Jason?" Clark asked.

Jason pouted a little but finally nodded. "You won't forget me, will you?"

"Jason!" Martha exclaimed.

"It's okay, Mom," Clark said. "So far in the past two months I've managed to miss a parent-teacher conference, a school concert, and his kindergarten graduation, not to mention being late picking him up after daycare at least once a week for the past nine weeks."

"Oh, Clark." He didn't have to be Superman to hear the disappointment in his mother's voice.

"Yeah, I've been battin' a thousand recently," Clark admitted with a sigh. "It hasn't been an easy transition."

Martha patted his arm. "Oh honey… it's never easy being a parent, even when you've been there the whole time. And I won't lie and tell you it gets easier, because it doesn't and it's damned hard work to boot. But I think you've already figured that part out."

-O-O-O-

Lois and Clark dropped Martha and Jason off at Ben Hubbard's place. Actually, it was Ben's oldest son's house now. Lois recalled Clark telling her that Ben had turned the farm over to son Jim when Ben decided to move to Montana with Martha Kent eight months before. Those plans fell through when the people who bought the Kent farm backed out of the deal.

It had all worked out, though. The sale had been on a contract, which made it a little easier for Martha to get the property back. One of the co-ops was now leasing the farmland for a good price. She and Ben might not move to Montana, but they would be able to vacation there. Lois knew that the idea of losing his childhood home had bothered Clark far more than he ever wanted to admit.

"You be good for Grandma Martha, okay?" Lois said as Jason got out of the car. He simply nodded as he followed his grandmother into the house.

"You don't really think he's afraid we're going to just go away and forget him, do you?" Clark asked.

"What I think he's afraid of is something bad happening and him getting lost in the shuffle," Lois told him. "He's also doing a lot of testing. Whether us being together means he's being left out, see what the limits are."

"I'm not doing a very good job," Clark observed. "The people at his school think I'm a flake, and they're right. I'm not exactly reliable. What sort of example am I setting when I end up half-an-hour or more late picking him up from school or daycare?"

"Clark, Jason understands why you're late," Lois assured him. "It's not like I was never late picking him up. It might hurt a little knowing both your jobs seem more important than he is." He opened his mouth to protest but she held up her hand. "He knows it's not really true, but it does look like it sometimes. And he can't tell his friends or his teachers the real reason you run late so often, so he has to suck it up when they say things."

"Including when they call me 'Mister Lane.' I'm trying to do better," Clark assured her. "But sometimes it feels like it's an uphill battle. Worse, I think he really does hate me for trying to take Richard's place."

"This from the man who almost single-handedly saved Metropolis, if not the world, twice in less than two weeks? Both times after being seriously injured?"

"Yeah well, saving the world is easy compared to getting on the good side of a six-year-old."

"Tell me about it." Lois managed a chuckle. "But it's better that he's acting out and testing us than trying to be 'little mister perfect.' It means he's not afraid of you. And that's a very good thing."

"He may not be afraid of me," Clark said. "But I'm not sure if he respects me, and I know he doesn't listen to me."

Lois sighed. "That's something we need to work on. Together."

-O-O-O-

Smallville was exactly what the name implied, although Clark had explained that the name came not from its size, but that the town had been founded on the banks of the Elbow River sometime in the 1840's by a trader named Ezra Small. The county had been named after an early Kansas politician, Mirriam Lowell, a Civil War veteran. The Kent family had been a presence in the area since just after the Civil War. Not just farmers, but law enforcement, newspaper publishing, even a bank robber.

Clark pulled the car into a space in the parking lot next to a wooden building just off the main street. The red paint was faded, but a sign reading 'Harris Feed and Implement' could still be made out on the side of the building. The parking lot was nearly full. A white SUV with sheriff's department markings was parked near the exit.

"The Pizza Joint," Clark announced. Lois smiled as she read the sign on the front of the building and realized that really was the name of the place. They walked up a short flight of wooden steps onto the wide porch in the front of the building. The inside of the restaurant smelled of bread, pizza and beer. The floors were scuffed pine and the air was filled with laughter. A jukebox in the corner was playing oldies.

Several young children about Jason's age or younger were crowded around vintage video arcade games, urging each other on as they knelt on chairs to reach the controls. Older kids wearing Little League uniforms sat at tables with thirty-something couples.

Their arrival elicited bored glances from most of the patrons who looked up to identify the newcomers, then went back to their own conversations.

"Clark?" a woman's voice called out from a large corner table with several couples seated at it. "Clark Kent!"

Clark looked around to locate the voice. "Rachel?"

A tall blonde woman in a khaki uniform stood up and beckoned them to join her and her party. She pulled Clark into a hug when he got close enough, ignoring Lois's scrutiny. The shoulder patches on the woman's uniform indicated she was with the Lowell County sheriff's department. The radio, weapon and handcuffs on her web belt added weight to that observation. There was a khaki campaign hat sitting on the table.

"Long time no see," Rachel said with a grin, standing back to look Clark over. "You're lookin' pretty good for somebody who took four slugs eight months ago."

"I was lucky," Clark said, ducking his head. Lois could see the faint flush as it climbed into his face. "I never did get a chance to thank you for helping out my mom and Ben."

"Hey, what are friends for?" Rachel asked. "But you are going to fill me in on what was going on, aren't you?"

"How does coffee tomorrow sound?" Clark asked.

"Works for me," Rachel agreed. She looked over at Lois, apparently noticing her for the first time. "You must be Lois. Martha mentioned he finally got himself hitched. Congratulations."

"Thank you," Lois said. "You must be Sheriff Harris."

Rachel nodded, grinning. She stretched up and kissed Clark on the cheek. "She's a smart one. You're one lucky guy. You'd better keep her," she whispered loudly enough for Lois to hear.

"I plan to," Clark agreed. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Rachel grabbed the hat off the table, put it on and strode out of the restaurant.

"Old girlfriend?" Lois wondered aloud.

"Old friend," Clark corrected. "Although we did go to the senior prom together after both of our dates bombed out on us. Mine ended up in the hospital with severe poison ivy and I never did hear what his excuse was for staying home that night."

"The way I hear it, they both had poison ivy," one of the men at the table said. He was heavy set and balding, a typical high school athlete who couldn't keep the weight off once he stopped exercising hard every day. "I'm Chuck Barstow and this is Adam Rainor and his current girl friend Cleo, and over there is Dave Mitchell and his wife, Elena. The ugly guy in the corner is Ed Griffin with his wife Anny." Chuck gestured to the deeply tanned, bored looking woman beside him. "My wife, Mara."

"Chuck, Dave, Ed, and I all played football together," Clark explained to Lois as they sat down opposite Chuck and his wife. "This is Lois," he added.

Chuck eyed Clark. "How long has it been since you've been to Smallville?"

"About seven years since I've been to Smallville proper. The ten-year high school reunion," Clark told him. "I was at the farm last September, after I got back from overseas, but I didn't come into town."

Chuck turned his wife. "This is the guy who threw the Hail Mary pass for the touchdown that won us the state championship our senior year. Probably the best wide receiver the Crows ever had."

Mara raised one eyebrow, eying Clark. He shifted uncomfortably at her gaze.

"The Crows?" Lois murmured, amused.

Clark nodded. "I played quarterback and wide receiver. I was pretty good."

"I'll bet. Your trophies and awards are coming back with us, you know," Lois told him.

Clark just shook his head. Lois knew she would get her way. But she also knew that he still felt the awards didn't really belong to him. They belonged to someone who didn't exist any more. Someone who died nearly seven years ago on a futile trip to find his roots.

"I still don't get why you turned down a full football scholarship to Kansas State," Chuck said, oblivious to the muted conversation between Lois and Clark.

"There were other things I had to do before heading off to college," Clark explained without elaborating.

A waitress who looked like she wasn't more than a teenager came by and took their order. She returned a few moments later with two beers.

"So, what do you do?" Mara asked.

Dave chuckled. "You don't read the Daily Planet, do you? Clark here is one of their hot shot reporters." He looked over at Lois. "So I'm going to assume you're the famous Lois Lane."

Lois nodded acknowledgment. "That's me."

The light seemed to go on for Mara. "You're the one who writes all that stuff about Superman."

"Yes."

Anny leaned over conspiratorially. "Is he really as cute as his pictures?" she asked, giggling.

Lois glanced over to see Clark staring down into his beer. "He's tall and very cute," Lois said with a chuckle.

"What's he really like? I mean, is he really as human… I mean, is he really a man under there?"

Clark had his beer glass up to his mouth when he started sputtering, nearly dropping the glass. Lois slapped him hard in the middle of the back as though he were choking. He set down the glass, giving Anny a dirty look before schooling his expression back to his usual genial, mildly curious, 'Clark' face.

Lois chuckled. "Um, I was told by one of the nurses at the hospital, after he fell from the sky, that he looked completely human and normal in all particulars. So I assume the answer to your question is 'yes.'"

Mara shuddered delicately. "I can't imagine having his hands… I mean, no matter how human he looks, he's really an alien. How do you know what he's really like?"

"I know he cares about people," Lois said. "I know he puts his life on the line just like a cop or fireman every time he goes out on a rescue, when he helps during earthquakes, and storms, and accidents. I know he's a lot more human than most of us want to believe. I know I'm proud that he considers me and Clark his friends." As she spoke, she placed one of her hands over Clark's and gave his hand a squeeze of support. He gave her a little smile.

Their pizza arrived – a veggie special with spinach, olives and mushrooms. The crust was crisper than Lois normally liked, but it had good flavor. "So, tell me what Clark was like in high school…"

-O-O-O-

"So, your first impressions of Smallville?" Clark asked as they drove to pick Jason up from Ben's house.

"They don't let 'em out much, do they?" Lois said with a chuckle.

After a moment, Clark joined her, laughing about the conversations with the group. He hadn't realized exactly how much he had changed in the seventeen years since high school. He was a stranger here now. He was the one who'd managed to make it in the big city, the one who'd gone off to see the world. The one who was different, not because he was an alien, but that he had wanted to do more than just run a farm in Kansas.

The others hadn't really changed much. Dave had changed the most – four years overseas in the military did that. Dave came back with a Polish wife to run the family farm and seemed content with that. Chuck was a regional manager for the farm co-op based out of Wichita and his wife was in advertising at the same company. Adam was the manager of the local McDonalds. Ed and Anny were both teachers in the local schools. And even though he and Lois should have had things in common with Ed and Anny, even they seemed insular, uninterested in what was going on in the rest of the world.

"It's a nice place to visit," Lois added. "And it's a definite change from Metropolis. Must be nice, not having to worry about crime or corruption, whether some super villain is going to end the world."

"Instead you worry about whether the economy's going to be good enough for you to sell your crops at a high enough prices for you to pay off the loans you had to take out to make ends meet the year before. Whether or not the agro-giant across the border is going to contaminate your crops with GMO, making your crops un-sellable overseas. At least corruption's only a minor issue. It's hard to be very corrupt when everybody knows the mayor's brother runs the local construction company. And the last death by violence in Lowell County was Jason Trask and that was ten, eleven, years ago."

"I still can't believe what Anny asked," Lois said. "I honestly thought you were choking there for a minute. And Mara… I mean, how bigoted can you get?"

"Well, bigotry based on color and sexual preferences are politically incorrect even in rural Kansas," Clark reminded her. "When you get rid of those all you have left are religion and national origin. And let's face it. Krypton is a pretty strange national origin."

He pulled the car to a stop in front of Ben's house. Jim Hubbard was standing on the porch waiting for them. Jason was asleep on the porch swing. Martha was sitting beside him, pillowing his head on her lap. Jason's thumb was in his mouth. Clark's heart sank as he saw the grim expression on Jim's face and the resigned one on his mother's.

"Why do I have the feeling that tonight did not go well?" Lois said as she climbed out of the car. "What happened?" Resignation colored her voice.

Jim spoke first, cutting Martha off. "You might try teaching your kid a little discipline," he started. "If he was mine I'd take a strap to him."

"Then I guess it's a good thing he's not yours," Clark said quietly as he mounted the steps to the porch and went to the swing. He gently picked Jason up. The little boy stirred, snuggling against the warmth of Clark's shoulder.

"What happened?" Clark asked, looking pointedly at his mother.

"He was doing fine," Martha said. "But when the game was over the other kids wanted to watch a movie. I thought they were going to watch a Disney DVD." She frowned at Jim then went on. "The grownups were in the kitchen. Ben and I didn't realize until it was too late that the kids had turned on a movie that was not appropriate. It opened with a graphically violent murder. Jason had a melt-down. It got a little out of hand."

"A little out of hand?" Jim asked in obvious disbelief. "Martha, you saw what happened. That kid has a serious problem."

In the darkness Jim didn't see the glower on Lois's face, or her clenched fists.

"Um, Jim," Clark began in an attempt to defuse the situation. "We don't let Jason watch violent movies or TV shows. We don't even let him watch the news all that much."

He saw Jim grimace and mouth the word 'wimp.'

Clark hefted Jason higher on his shoulder so he could stand straighter. "Jim, in case my mom or Ben didn't tell you… Jason was there when his father was gunned down in cold blood. He was there and he saw it happen. That was only eight months ago. Now, tell me again why a kid who wakes up screaming because he's witnessed things that trained soldiers would have trouble dealing with deserves to get beaten?" Clark tried to keep his voice low, calm, to keep from waking Jason up. He didn't quite succeed.

Jason stirred. "Mommy?"

Jason was too heavy for her to pick up and carry any more, but she put her hand on his back to sooth him back to sleep. "I'm right here, honey. Clark and I are right here."

"I'm sorry," Jason murmured before closing his eyes.

"I know munchkin," Lois told her son.

"Why didn't you call us?" Clark asked his mother softly. "We both had our cell phones with us."

"It started so suddenly," Martha began equally softly. "And it was over almost as fast… I just wasn't expecting him to be quite so strong. He takes after you quite a bit."

-O-O-O-

Jason was sound asleep before they made it back to the Kent farmhouse. Jason even slept through Clark getting him undressed and into his favorite Superman pajamas. The little boy roused just a little when Clark started to pull the sheet up. It was already too warm for a blanket.

"I'm sorry," Jason mumbled once more, his eyes still closed.

"I know," Clark said softly, giving him a goodnight kiss on the forehead. Clark straightened up and turned to find Lois standing in the doorway watching them.

She held out her hand to Clark and led him into the other bedroom. "It'll be better tomorrow," she promised. "He won't be as tired. It's been an awfully long day for him."

"It's been a long day for all of us," Clark told her.

"I'm not at tired as I should be," Lois told him.

"Maybe some herbal tea will help," Clark said, following her down the stairs to the main floor. "I'm sure Mom has some." He searched the cabinets without opening the doors and found what he was looking for, a box of 'Sleepytime' tea. He heated up the tea kettle and set the tea bags to steep in a glass measuring cup.

"Iced tea," he explained at Lois's quirked eyebrow. He watched his wife walk over to the shelf where his mother had set his awards and trophies. He had to admit, it was quite an impressive collection.

"You know, I didn't realize until now…" she began. "Except for your writing awards, every single trophy you have is for a team sport. Football, basketball, soccer, baseball. No tennis, no track, nothing individual except MVP."

"It's easier not to be noticed if you're part of a group," Clark explained. "Plus, I've never really felt the need to show off, to excel physically, even before I got my abilities. I can't use those to do a good job writing…"

"So it's a level playing field?" Lois asked. She followed Clark back into the kitchen and sat at the worn table while he pulled out the teabags and chilled the tea with a quick blast of cold breath. He poured the tea into two tall glasses and added ice cubes before handing one of the glasses to her. He sat down opposite her at the table.

"Yeah, I guess so," Clark said. "I haven't really thought about it. I know I have a pretty high IQ, but so do a lot of other people, so I can compete without giving anything else away. But with sports… it didn't matter if I was faster, or smarter, or if I lived on a farm, or brought my lunch to school, or didn't wear the newest style of shoes… It didn't matter which one of us scored, whether somebody was a star or not. It didn't even matter much if we won or lost. What mattered was working to reach the same goal, and that we all did what we could to get there."

"Everybody around here seems to think you're some sort of football hero," Lois pointed out.

"It's a small town, and that was the first time in about thirty years Smallville even made it into the playoffs," Clark explained. "And we won the state championship… We probably shouldn't have… But it was so nice seeing how happy everybody was for all of us."

"But your six-year-old son gets Cs and Ds in gym," Lois reminded him.

"He's only six years old. I'd rather he did well on his academics," Clark said. "So long as he does his best, I really don't care what a gym teacher or anybody else says. It'll come soon enough that he has to worry less about scoring than hurting his opponents or teammates."

"Maybe you need to let him know that."

-O-O-O-

"The living room looked nearly demolished," Clark told Lois the next morning after breakfast. Jason was outside, chasing Shelby around the barnyard. "But I don't think there was any real damage except for a lamp and one of Jim's trophies. But somehow I don't think Jason'll be invited over to Ben's house for a long time, if ever," he added.

"Small loss," Lois commented. "I like Ben, but I'm not so sure about Jim and his wife. They seem a little…"

"Redneck?" Clark asked. He shrugged. "Yeah. I don't remember Jim being like that, but it's been a long time since I've seen him." He sighed. "I asked Ben about what happened, too. It wasn't just the movie. One of Jim's buddies came over to watch the game and they were telling Jason and the other kids what a big 'sports star' I was in high school and what sorts of things Jason was going to have to live up to. It was all bull, but Jason didn't know that. Ben also said the other kids had been picking on Jason while Mom wasn't looking. They were telling Jason if I was his real father, if I wanted to be his father, he'd have my name, not yours. One of the older kids used the word 'bastard.' Ben did try to step in and stop it, but the murder in the movie was just a last straw."

"Oh God, what a nightmare. I wonder if that's one of the problems he was having at school," Lois said. "Other kids wondering why we haven't changed his name."

"Maybe. I don't know." Clark finished putting the breakfast dishes away then he took her into his arms. "Doctor Ricco warned us there would be set-backs. I'm thinking maybe bringing Jason here wasn't such a good idea. Maybe we should have waited before exposing him to this many new people."

"Clark, we can't let this sort of thing rule our lives," Lois told him. "We have to work through it and go on. This is still new for all of us."

She looked out the screen door to watch Jason. Shelby had gotten tired and was lying on the porch. Jason was in the middle of the dirt yard pretending he could fly. "One of these days he's going to take off," Lois commented. "Then look out world."

"Not to worry," Clark told her. "I didn't discover I could levitate until I was about sixteen. I couldn't really fly until I was out of high school."

"That's nice to know," Lois said. "At least I don't have to worry about that for a while, but you do need to talk to Jason about this whole sports star thing going on around here."

"I will… There may be time before the party."

"When's it start?"

"About one," Clark answered. "There's a nice park down by the river, not far from the high school… I told Rachel I'd stop by and fill her in on what has going on when the FBI was allegedly after my mom and Ben. Do you want to come along?"

She shook her head. "I'll stay here with Jason."

"I'll leave the car here for you," Clark offered.

"Won't Rachel notice you showing up in town without a car?"

"I doubt it," Clark said. "And if she does… I used to jog home from school all the time."

-O-O-O-

Clark spotted Rachel sitting in the café near city hall as he flew over the building. He was high enough that it was unlikely he'd be spotted. Superman flew. Guys in jeans and plaid shirts didn't. He came to earth in the alley behind the restaurant.

Clark saw Rachel look up and smile as he walked in. Rachel waved to the waitress at the counter and she poured a cup of coffee and brought it over to Rachel's table.

"Where's Maisie?" Clark wondered aloud. Maisie McAllister was practically a fixture in the café. Even when Clark was small, Maisie had been running the restaurant. She'd always had a kind word and sympathetic ear for the kids around town.

"Helping your mom getting things ready for the party, I expect," Rachel replied. "So, I hear your little guy had a rough time over at the Hubbard's last night," Rachel began.

"You don't miss much, do you?" Clark observed.

Rachel shook her head. "Heck no," she said. "You were going to tell me what was going on with those guys who scared Ben and your mom last October."

"Actually, we're still not completely sure what was going on," Clark admitted as he added cream and sugar to his coffee. "The FBI identified who it was that picked them up and said they suspected them of being part of an organization Richard and I were looking into it as part of an investigation in Metropolis. But beyond that…"

"Was it some sort of intimidation tactic?" Rachel asked.

"That's what the FBI office in Metropolis thinks," Clark admitted. "Harass Mom and Ben to scare me and Richard into dropping the investigation or scare me into doing something they could come after me for. They obviously didn't realize how 'self-sufficient' Martha Kent really is or that small town cops don't automatically roll over and play dead at the first sign of an FBI badge."

Rachel studied Clark's face for a long moment. "There's more, isn't there? The people who shot you and killed White…?"

Clark nodded. "Officially Richard was killed by Lex Luthor, the madman that did all that damage to Metropolis and tried to kill Superman. The slugs they pulled out of me came from the same gun that killed Richard, and Luthor shot me in front of witnesses. Case closed."

"But unofficially?"

"Unofficially, the organization we were after is still around, in some form," Clark told her. "They're still dangerous."

"I'll keep an eye out for anything suspicious and I'll pass the warning along to Chief Parker, too," Rachel promised.

"Thanks, Rache," Clark said. He hadn't realized until he'd started talking about it with Rachel how much the incident with Ben and his mom had bothered him. It felt good to have someone who could keep an eye out for trouble when he wasn't around.

"By the way," Rachel said with a faint sigh. "Lana's in town. I saw her breeze through this morning in a rental car."

"Isn't she living in Paris or London these days?" Clark asked.

Rachel nodded. "Moved to Paris with her kid right after she divorced Pete. Doin' pretty well there from what I hear."

"Lois is going to be so thrilled," Clark commented with more than a touch of sarcasm.

Rachel simply chuckled.

-O-O-O-

Clark was back from town in plenty of time to get changed into slacks and a sports coat. Not that he needed much time. Lois knew he could change clothes in the blink of an eye.

It was only a ten minute drive from the Kent farm to Riverbend Park, where Martha had arranged a belated wedding reception for them. Lois had been told it was going to be potluck and was glad she hadn't been asked to bring anything. She had a suspicion she and Clark would never live it down if it were found out that Clark's new wife could burn water. Oh, she wasn't nearly as bad in the kitchen as she had been when Jason was first born, but her personal cookbook was still made up of the phone numbers to take-away places.

The car rounded a copse of trees and Lois caught sight of the 'reception' party. A large banner had been hung from the covered cooking area. It read 'Congratulations Lois and Clark.'

A large crowd was already present, and Lois could see Martha, dressed smartly in a beige suit, bustling around, obviously in charge. The weather was perfect. Not too hot, only slightly overcast. Brightly colored balloons decorated the tables. An awning had been set up over two of the tables and under it was a simple wedding cake.

Lois's mind went back to the reception her mother had thrown them a week after their return from Napa. That party had been a major production. Even though Lois had tried to reject nearly all of her mother's suggestions it had fallen on deaf ears. It was Ellen Lane's show from start to finish. Both she and Clark been miserable, even though Clark, gentleman that he was, refused to admit it.

Lois decided she was going to enjoy this party a lot more. Even if she only knew a handful of people here, at least these were Clark's friends and acquaintances. People he and Martha knew and didn't need to impress, with the possible exception of Lana Lang, Clark's high school 'sweetheart'.

Lois and Clark waved to Martha as they crossed the gravel parking lot to the grassy picnic area. Jason walked between them, holding their hands.

Lois noticed a small playground close by with several other children playing on the climbing structure. She pointed it out to her son, who took off running.

"Jason," Clark called. "Stay away from the river, okay?"

Jason simply nodded as he started for the climbing structure. Lois looked out past the green of the park to the river Clark had warned Jason about. It wasn't especially large, but it was deep and wide enough for boating, as evidenced by the teenagers waterskiing behind a powerboat. Waterskiing in Kansas? Whodathunk it?

"Show time," Clark murmured as he took Lois's hand and headed toward his mother and Ben in the midst of the gathering.

-O-O-O-

Clark had forgotten how 'small town' Smallville really was. The disconnect he'd felt at the Pizza Joint the night before was finally dissipating. This was the Smallville he remembered.

They'd been introduced to what felt like half the town. Clark knew it wasn't, but he'd been surprised by the turn-out nonetheless. Mayor Hatcher had shown up, along with Police Chief Parker. Sheriff Harris was around somewhere as well as John Fordman, the sheriff before Rachel. Senator Pete Ross was there as was Brandon Blakely. Blakely was a few years younger than Clark and was a well-respected DC attorney.

"I keep expecting to hear the dirt on you," Lois commented.

"With Clark what you see is what you get," Maisie from the café told her with a grin. Maisie reached up and kissed Clark on the cheek, chuckling. "Ya done good, kid. Now, don't be such a stranger." Clark felt his cheeks grow warm as Lois laughed.

"Clark!" a woman's voice called out to them. Clark looked over to see a perfectly coiffed blonde woman wearing sunglasses, a designer sundress, and heeled sandals striding over to them across the grass. Lana. She stepped close to him, blowing air kisses across both his sides of his face. From a distance she looked much like he remembered her from school. Closer inspection showed a hardness of expression he didn't recall and didn't much like.

"Hello Lana," he said. He turned to Lois. "Lana Lang, my wife Lois Lane."

Lana stepped back and eyed Lois critically. "Lois Lane? Aren't you the one who wrote that editorial a couple years ago about Superman?"

"I've written a lot of things about Superman," Lois responded. Clark could hear Lois's heart rate go up, the slight hitch in her breath as she responded to Lana. "Which one were you referring to?"

"Wasn't there one about not needing him?" Lana asked. There was something decidedly unpleasant in Lana's expression.

"Lois won a Pulitzer for that one," Clark said in an attempt to ward Lois off. He had a sudden picture in his mind of a black cat hissing at a blonde one, claws out, back arched, tail held straight and puffed. He put his arm around her and pulled her close.

Lana arched an eyebrow at his obviously possessive move then schooled her expression into something more neutral. "Your mom said the two of you eloped suddenly." She gave Clark a curious look. "I never realized you were so – impulsive." She turned to Lois. "We have to get together sometime and share 'Clark' stories."

"Sounds fun," Lois commented, but there was a definite sarcastic undertone in her voice. "Nice meeting you."

"Ta ta." Lana waved nonchalantly as turned and walked away.

"I could very easily come to hate her, you know," Lois commented as soon as Lana was out of earshot.

"She's not work the effort," Clark told her.

"You dated her?" Lois wasn't trying to hide her surprise.

"Well, looking back I think it was more her idea, really," Clark said. "She… well, dating the star quarterback suited her."

"But you ended up going to the prom with Rachel," Lois pointed out.

"Yeah," Clark said. "Lana and I had actually broken up a couple days before. I had told her that I'd decided to leave Smallville right after graduation. There were things I needed to do and they didn't suit Lana's plans for me and her. She told me she didn't want anyone to know until after the prom. It was too embarrassing, she said. Then she came down with poison ivy and so did the son of the bank president, in places where a clothed person wouldn't get poison ivy."

"You knew the details?"

"So did Rachel," Clark said. "It's a very small town. He's in prison for embezzlement, and you've met Lana."

"Maybe I should feel sorry for her," Lois commented.

"Maybe," Clark said. "But I gave that up a long time ago. It's hard to feel sorry for someone who blames everyone else for their problems, but keeps repeating their mistakes."

"Time to cut the cake," Martha announced loud enough to be heard over the crowd. Clark was glad to drop the subject of Lana Lang as he led Lois over to the table with the cake. Lana left a bad taste in his mouth.

He saw Lois scanning the crowd, looking for Jason. The boy had been ducking in and out of the crowd with several other kids his age playing and sampling the food that had been brought for the potluck. Jason knew what he was allowed to eat and was good at staying away from the food that bothered him. With this many adults around – most of them parents – it was unlikely he could get into too much trouble.

"Jason!" Lois yelled. Clark focused his hearing on finding his son's heartbeat. Jason was beyond the trees on the bank of the river, near the wooden pier. He was climbing into a small boat with two other children, a boy and girl Clark didn't recognize. Then he heard the motorboat making a turn. One of the skiers caught the little boat then hit the water screaming. The little wooden boat overturned. Jason and the girl were thrown into the water but he didn't see the other boy. Correction – the missing child was beneath the overturned boat.

Clark acted without really thinking. "Call rescue!" he yelled at Lois, who seemed momentarily frozen as he ran toward the trees, throwing off his jacket. Jason was in the water with the girl. Both appeared frightened but unharmed as they made their way to shore. The motorboat was stopped dead in the water, the teenage driver looking for something in the river, eyes wide in horror. Clark spotted what the teenager was looking for – the skier who had fallen.

Clark dove into the water, pushing the small boat away. The trapped child was badly hurt – fractured skull, broken ribs, internal injuries as well as water in his lungs. Clark cradled the boy against his body as he made his way to the pier. A thirty-something woman was standing on the pier screaming: "Billy! Oh my God, Billy!"

There was more splashing in the water and he looked up to see Lois and several men wading toward them. Clark set the boy down on the small wooden pier. "Skull fracture, broken ribs," Clark murmured to Lois before diving into the water again after the fallen skier.

The fallen teenager in the deepest part of the river. She wasn't moving and her right leg was bent in an unnatural angle. Again, he cradled the injured person against his body, using his chest as a backboard as he swam on his back toward the pier and the rescue team that he'd heard arriving. Then, the rescue team was in the water beside him, transferring the teen onto a backboard and then pulling her from the water as they began resuscitation.

"Clark, are you okay?" Rachel asked. He looked up to see her standing beside Lois and Jason. Lana was standing some distance away, watching. He nodded to Rachel, brushing his wet hair out of his eyes. He realized he had no idea where his glasses had disappeared to.

"Jason, are you okay?" he managed to ask, making a show of catching his breath as he stood up and waded out of the river. He wasn't sure how long he'd been under the water. Hopefully not long enough to raise questions.

Jason watched him, wide-eyed, soaking wet with tears running down his face. "I'm sorry…"

"Jason, the accident wasn't your fault. But I told you not to go near the river," Clark said. "And you did it anyway. That could have been you they're putting in the ambulance."

Lois crouched down next to Jason. "Jason. Your father and I have been trying to take this slow and easy and I know it's been hard. But when he tells you something, that's me talking too. Understand?"

Clark caught the confusion that crossed Rachel's face as she watched Lois and Jason. Mom hasn't told anyone that Jason really is mine? Rachel gave Clark a questioning look and he nodded. "I didn't know until I came back to the States," he said quietly. Rachel nodded in understanding.

Jason was crying harder. "Last night the other kids called me a baby and they said Clark was a big sports guy and he wouldn't want to be around a baby and then he's gone all the time and forgets to get me from school so he doesn't really want to be my daddy 'cause I'm such a baby."

Clark scooped Jason into his arms. "Jason, nothing is going to change the fact that you are my son and I love you. I'm sorry that work gets in the way sometimes. I'm new to this father thing, you know. You gotta cut me some slack here," Clark said, trying to keep his tone light. Jason was still sniffling, brushing his tears away.

"But if you really want to be my daddy, why don't I have your name?" Jason asked.

"Your mommy and I were told it would be better to wait," Clark said. "But we don't have to. You can be Jason Kent starting right now, if you want."

"Then everybody will know you're really my daddy," Jason stated, rubbing his hand under his nose. "And you're not embarrassed that I'm a baby and not a big sports guy."

"Jason, I would be proud for everybody to know I'm your daddy," Clark said. "And I don't think you're a baby at all and being a big sports guy isn't as important as other people think."

"Okay, Dad," Jason said, hugging Clark's neck.

He called me 'Dad'. Maybe it's going to be okay after all.

In the crowd Clark saw Lana Lang give him an undecipherable look before she turned and walked away.


A/N: The Pizza Joint was first introduced by Caroline FKAK in the L&CtNAoS story If I Were You.

The ball game is between the Oakland As and the Metropolis Monarchs.