Another disaster that needed Superman's attention. This one, a tsunami in the Philippines. Luckily the emergency warning system had worked and most of the coastal areas had been evacuated but there were still people stranded and in danger because the roads were washed away. He spent several hours rescuing families from hilltops and delivering medical supplies and food to villages cut off by the lack of roads. Then he started clearing roads so that relief trucks could get through.
He was utterly exhausted by the time he got back to the farmhouse, exhausted in body and soul. Physical exhaustion didn't happen very often but he hadn't slept since before finding his mother dead and even Superman needed some sleep.
He took a hot shower to get the mud and filth off and slipped into sleep shorts and a t-shirt. He found he was actually too tired to fall asleep and so he went down to the living room and settled in on the sofa. AMC was running Anatomy of a Murder. Not one of his favorites but it would probably relax him enough to get some sleep.
He finally fell asleep thinking 'Michigan doesn't connect to Canada that way…'
Lois drove up to the farmhouse, and hobbled up to the door, bag and casserole dish in hand. She had expected the unlocked door – small town naivety – but she was very surprised to see Clark camped out on the couch. A blanket wrapped around his waist and a wet spot on the couch marking where his hair was drying, he looked curiously blank, as though exhaustion had caused all of his muscles to totally relax.
She had been planning to sleep on the couch herself, not wanting to intrude any more than she had to. Now, though, left without a couch to sleep on, she was faced with either having to return to her car or climbing the stairs, un-chaperoned, to find a suitable bed.
Her curiosity, and her aversion to sleeping in cars, overwhelmed her and she started up the narrow stairs. The first door she came upon was obviously the master bedroom; a large oak bed took up most of the room, and boxes covered the floor.
She continued down the hall and placed her hand on the next door. It was slightly open, but she hesitated before entering.
She couldn't help it. A smile spread over her face as she saw the room, the bed unmade, the red comforter rumpled and revealing plaid sheets underneath. There was a mahogany desk in one corner, his work laptop set up, framed pictures collecting dust. A football jersey hung from the open closet door. Looking inside, she noted the abundance of plaid button up shirts.
Putting down her bag, she stared dumbly at the casserole dish. She darted downstairs quickly to put it in the fridge, noting that the prediction that it would be barren was absolutely correct. On the way back upstairs, she saw that there was one more room at the end of the hall.
It was a bathroom, and she inhaled sharply when she saw the state of it.
There was mud everywhere – on the floor, the walls of the shower, on the pair of boots, which had been hastily removed, on the red and blue suit thrown haphazardly on the counter.
Her hands shook as she reached out to it. It didn't feel like she remembered: warm and smooth to the touch. It was cold without a person in it, limp and without meaning. Just a spandex suit, really.
Just a spandex suit.
It had blinded her. It blinded everyone, really. The whole world looked at him and saw a God, wrapped in this spandex suit. That same world looked at Clark Kent and they saw, if they ever saw, a simple man, farm boy, the less impressive of the infamous Daily Planet duo.
Her fist filled with mud and fabric, she felt her fear and doubt wash away. Because this was just a suit. The man under it was exactly the same.
Clark awoke to sunlight coming through the east windows and the sound of someone puttering around the kitchen. He must have been more tired than he realized to spend all night on the sofa, not to mention not hearing someone come into the house.
The heartbeat seemed uncannily familiar. Lois? He hurriedly found where he'd left his glasses and shoved them onto his face.
She appeared in the kitchen doorway wearing jeans and a t-shirt that read 'I (heart) the Big Apricot'. "You're awake. I thought farm boys were early risers."
"Lois… what are…?" He wrapped the quilt more tightly around himself.
"I've got coffee going and I collected some eggs and you had bread in the freezer so we can have eggs and toast for breakfast unless you want me to warm up the casserole Maisie sent over."
"Lois, what are you doing here?" Clark managed to get out.
She shrugged. "Perry told me what happened and that you were planning on leaving the Planet for good, this time. So I flew out…. That's what friends do. They help each other." She made it sound so reasonable. "So here I am. You were fast asleep when I got here. I didn't want to wake you."
'Perry told me what happened,' she had said. But she hadn't mentioned Superman. After all the clues he'd left, she still hadn't made the connection? It was just possible that the block he'd put on her memories of their time together had been more powerful than he'd thought. It was just possible that she would never be able to realize that Superman and Clark Kent were the same person.
Or maybe she was just trying to make him feel better by ignoring the superhero. He was afraid to find out.
"You went and collected eggs?" he asked, focusing on what she had said earlier.
"Don't sound so surprised," Lois told him. "I may be a city girl but I grew up all over the world. I know about chickens."
Clark just stared at her a long moment. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Lois Lane?" he asked. The Lois he knew would never have admitted knowing anything about livestock or farms.
She laughed. "Just another side of me you didn't know about, Smallville. Sometimes, people can surprise you. But if you tell anybody at the Planet, I swear I'll kill you."
"Who'd believe me?" he asked.
"Exactly," she agreed with a smile. She jerked her head toward the kitchen. "How do you want your eggs?"
"Um, scrambled is fine," he managed to get out. "Let me just get some clothes on, okay?"
Lois heaved a silent sigh of relief that Clark was accepting her presence here in Smallville as she broke the fresh eggs into the bowl and began to whisk them into a yellow froth. She wasn't a diva in the kitchen, but over the years since Jason's birth she had mastered a few dishes that didn't have chocolate as the main ingredient. Scrambled eggs was one, stir-fry was another.
Before Richard left he had done much of the cooking. On her nights it had been take-away. Since Richard's departure, she had been working on increasing her kitchen repertoire.
She heard the floor creak and looked over to see Clark standing in the kitchen doorway dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. It suited him and he looked more relaxed than she ever remembered seeing him. As Superman, he was tall and majestic, always in control. In the newsroom, he was a master of words who could hardly make himself heard. But here, he was simply Clark Kent, Martha Kent's dutiful, and now grieving, son who had made good in the big city.
"Eggs are almost ready," Lois told him.
He nodded, poured himself a mug of coffee and sat at the worn kitchen table.
"When's the funeral?" she asked.
"At three," Clark told her. "Everything's been handled. Turns out after Mom had her first attack, she and Pastor Linquist sat down and planned everything out for… She didn't want me or Ben to have to worry about it."
Lois had been tending the eggs in the old cast iron skillet but she turned to look back at him when she heard his voice crack. His shoulders were shaking. She set the skillet on a cold burner then stepped over to him, rubbing his shoulders the way she did Jason's when he had a bad day at school.
"Clark, your mom was a very wise and thoughtful woman," Lois said softy. "She didn't want you, or Ben, to have to be making these sorts of decisions while you were still in shock. And I bet she knew that you'd be beating yourself up for not being able to do more, for not being there with her, for being stuck halfway across the country when it happened."
She moved around to look at his face. He was trying to blink away tears, but water had already collected on the bottoms of his glasses frames.
"Clark, I know you don't believe it. But there's nothing you could have done," she told him, hoping he would hear her. "And there are a couple other things I do know. I know she wanted you to go on with your life and be happy and I know you shouldn't be making any major decisions right now."
"A little late for that," Clark mumbled, wiping his face. He pulled his glasses off but lowered his face as he cleaned his glasses on the hem of his shirt. She wondered how she could possibly have missed it all this time. The same profile, the same strong jaw. Did the primary coloured suit really make such a difference?
"Perry hasn't accepted your resignation," Lois told him. "He put you on compassionate leave."
"Why?" His glasses were back on his face.
"Because I asked him to," Lois said simply. She sat down in the chair closest to him. "Clark, I need you to listen to me. I mean really hear me. You're my friend and I don't have very many people I can actually call friends."
Clark opened his mouth as if to protest and she put a finger on his lips to hush him.
"You've been a good friend and God knows I haven't been a very good one back," she continued. "Maybe I missed that day in school, I don't know… But when Jason and I were dealing with Richard leaving, you were there getting Jason from school, taking him to ball games with Jimmy, making sure we all got fed. You stepped in to help when we needed it. And now it's my turn.
"I admit to having selfish reasons too. Jason thinks you're the greatest and I like having you around even if I don't show it."
"Lois, you only notice me when you're waiting for your coffee," Clark said indignantly.
"That's where you're wrong, Clark," she said. "The night before last I found out something pretty big, and the person I looked for yesterday morning to talk to about it was you and you weren't there. And believe me, I wanted you there." A mischievous grin crossed her face as she remembered the thought she'd had that morning. "You're my favourite person to abuse, you know. Not many people would put up with me the way you have. My dad used to say I'd try the patience of Job."
He was silent for a long moment, staring into his half-empty mug.
"Lois, you can campaign for the existence of a weird, abusive friendship between us all you want, but when I tried to say good-bye six years ago, you acted like you didn't even hear me," he finally said. His voice was so low and loaded with something that might have been hurt; it might also have been anger.
She sighed. After baring her soul, they were back to that. He still thought that six years before she hadn't cared enough to notice he'd cleared out his desk. And she found herself wondering why she hadn't noticed her best friend leaving her. "Clark, I may not have heard you say good-bye six years ago. Maybe I simply wasn't expecting you to really go. Or maybe it took you being gone for me to realize how much I missed having you around."
"You never mentioned me to Richard."
"I never mentioned a lot of things to Richard."
"And you didn't seem to care that much when I came back."
"You'd been gone a long time and…" '…and it seemed like you didn't want to be my friend again,' the thought came. Aloud she continued: "You might have come back with a Filipino bride and a couple bambinos. And Richard was there."
"Richard isn't here." She said it simply. She looked over at the skillet of eggs still sitting on the cold burner. "The eggs are cold. Do you want me to warm them up in the microwave? Or maybe just make sandwiches."
They ate their egg and toast sandwiches in silence. Clark studied his companion surreptitiously between bites. He'd seen her in jeans and a t-shirt before, on weekends when he and Jimmy came to pick up Jason for a Saturday outing. But she looked different, somehow. More relaxed, more… more like the Lois he knew before, the Lois who had actually realized who he was, the Lois whose passion for truth was only equaled by her passion for Superman.
'Richard isn't here,' she had said, but he wasn't sure what meant. Richard had left nearly a year ago. Clark had tried to not listen in on their arguments, but it had been hard not to sometimes, especially when Jason was left crying. Richard was a good man, a caring man, but he hadn't been able to handle the fact that Lois cared for Superman and Jason was Superman's son.
Clark had spent quite a number of nights trying to comfort Jason when the yelling at home got to be too much. Clark wasn't sure if Lois knew how often Superman had taken Jason White for short flights around the city.
"What did you mean when you said, 'Richard isn't here'?" he finally asked.
"Exactly what I said," Lois said. "Frankly I'm surprised he stayed as long as he did after he found out about Jason. Richard was a good man, but he couldn't handle coming in second. And thinking I'd lied to him about it… It was ugly there for a while."
"I know," Clark said. He got up and refilled their coffees. It gave him something to do and he needed to be doing something, anything. He went back to the counter and stared out the window at the fields beyond.
"I know you know," Lois said quietly. "Hell, Richard was upset with me at the end because you seemed to know me better than he did and you'd been gone for more than five years. He hadn't realized what a harridan I could be. Five years together and he didn't know me at all."
"And you don't know me," Clark pointed out quietly.
"Maybe I know more than you think," she said, coming to stand beside him to look out the window. "Do you know what the biggest problem with the invisible man is?"
"No, what?" Clark asked, wondering at the change of subject. The sudden jump was so Lois.
Lois looked up at him, studying his face as though she was trying to figure out something.
He cleared his throat nervously. "What's the biggest problem with the invisible man?" he prompted.
"He's invisible," she said as though the answer was obvious. "The people around him never know if he's there or not and pretty soon they forget he could be there, or should be. They look right through him because he's invisible. It's a great trick if you're a detective or a snoop – nobody knows he's there. It's not so great for interpersonal relationships. I mean, how do you get close to someone who refuses to take off their cloak of invisibility?"
Is that what she thought of him? That he was invisible?
"I was only invisible to you, Lois," he said.
"Clark, if I took a poll of the bullpen, I guarantee only two people there could tell me that the color of your eyes is the same as Jason's. Two people could tell me that you get your ties from thrift shops, and that you deliberately buy off the rack suits and don't get them tailored. Maybe one of them could tell me you like your coffee with two creams and three sugars and you prefer whole milk lattes over mochas."
"Lois, why are you here?" he asked. He had thought – no, hoped – he'd make a clean break. He would leave the Planet and Metropolis, stay a short time in Smallville and start over somewhere away from the heartbreak that was Lois Lane.
"I told you I had selfish reasons," she said. "Last year Richard left. That hurt me, but not as much as it hurt Jason. His daddy walked out on him. I'm not going to let you walk out on him, too. I told Perry I wasn't coming back without you and I meant it."
"I wasn't planning…" he began.
"You weren't planning what? Walking out on Jason?" she demanded. "And how were you planning on being there for him if you're off gallivanting around the world? How were you planning on taking him to ball games or movies or dinner if you're not there?"
"Lois, I'm not who you think I am," Clark said softly. His coffee was cold but he didn't want to use his heat vision to warm it up. He grimaced and set the mug on the counter.
"You are Clark Joseph Kent, adopted son of Jonathan and Martha Kent," she responded. "You're six-four, about two-hundred twenty pounds, blue eyes, black hair, and you trip over the pattern in linoleum – which is kind of odd considering you played quarterback in high school and they're not generally klutzes. You were raised on a Kansas farm and you're an inveterate do-gooder and crusader from a long line of do-gooders and crusaders. If you weren't a reporter, you'd be a cop or a fireman."
She paused and he stared at her, not sure of what he was supposed to make of her observations or conclusions.
She went on, apparently oblivious to his confusion. "You pretend to be a coward, but I've never seen you back down from a real fight, even when you probably should have, even when Perry told you to drop it. I'd wondered where Jason got his stubborn streak. God knows it wasn't from my side of the family."
His gut clenched as he realized what she had said. "You think I'm Jason's…" And for a second, he was sure that she knew who he was. She had to, because otherwise, why would she think—
She shrugged. "I don't actually remember doing the deed, except in dreams," she said. Her voice was low, as though she was avoiding having to actually say it aloud. "I told everyone I'd gotten drunk and hooked up with some guy I didn't know the name of. It was better than letting people think I'd seduced you and ran you off, or that I'd finally gotten my claws into Superman and it didn't work out."
Clark simply stared at her, frozen in horror. "Is that what you think really happened?" he finally got out, unable to tell which of the two proffered scenarios she believed was true.
"I don't really know what happened, Clark, except that you saying goodbye was just one of things I didn't notice around that time. Like three days missing from my memory; I didn't even realize it until I found out I was pregnant."
Clark found himself gaping at her and snapped his mouth shut. She sounded sad and bitter – even worse, if possible, than she had sounded when she and Richard had decided to split up.
"Why didn't you say anything before now?" he asked.
"Because until yesterday, I hadn't realized exactly how badly I'd screwed things up," she said. "I don't blame you if you think I'm shallow and self-centered. God knows it's the truth. Introspection has never been one of my strong points."
"And what happened yesterday?" he asked. He was almost afraid to hear her answer.
"I needed to you to be there, but you weren't because you needed me to be there and you didn't think I could. You didn't think I was capable of caring." She had turned away from him and her shoulders were shaking. He realized abruptly that she was crying and she didn't want him to know.
"Lois, I'm sorry, but so many things were out of control yesterday," Clark said, placing his hands on her shoulders. At least she didn't flinch away from his touch. "They still are. Out of control, I mean."
"Clark, just promise me you won't do anything… undoable… until things are back in control?"
"I don't know if things will ever get back under control."
She turned to look at him, her face wet with streaks of tears. "They will. You've had a terrible loss but over time things will get easier. The hurt will never completely go away, but it will get easier. Just don't shut out the people who want to help."
"She's right, you know," Ben Hubbard's voice intruded. The heavy set man was standing in the doorway. Clark hadn't even realized someone had driven up, much less actually walked in the house. He was in worse shape than he thought. How soon would it be before he made a similar mistake of inattention while on a rescue? How soon before people noticed that Superman wasn't himself?
"I just wanted to see if you needed anything but your phone's off the hook," Ben said. He nodded to Lois. "Miss Lane. Sheriff Harris said you were in town. Frankly we weren't expecting anybody from back east."
"Well, considering how often Clark's been there for me, I figure it's time I returned the favor," Lois said.
Clark found himself gaping at her again. She wiped the wetness from her face and gave him a crooked smile. "Did you really think I didn't notice how often you ended up taking care of Jason because of all the crap going on with me and Richard? Or how often you covered for me with Perry?"
"You knew about that?" Clark asked. He'd lost count of how many times he had lied to Perry about where she was because she had to deal with some emergency with either Richard or Jason. He assumed she didn't know or care. Apparently he'd been wrong.
"I should probably go get cleaned up," Lois said.
Clark just nodded. He'd cleaned up the bathroom at superspeed before coming down for breakfast. But had she seen the condition he'd left the bathroom in when he'd come back last night? He'd been too exhausted after his shower to clean it up when he had finished scrubbing the mud off of himself. But if she had seen it, then…
"Lois, why are you here?" he asked once again. She was almost to the stairs.
"Is it so unbelievable that I'm worried about you?" she asked, climbing the stairs without looking back.
Clark heard a deep chuckle coming from Ben. "So that's your little red head girl?" Ben asked.
"What?" Clark suddenly wondered if Ben was getting senile. Lois's hair was brown. Then the reference clicked in. "Oh, I always figured Lois as being more like Lucy."
Ben chuckled again. "Well, you had to wonder why Charlie Brown always came back for more abuse." The older man studied him. "How are you doing, son?"
Clark opened his mouth to protest Ben calling him 'son' but decided against it. Ben had been Mom's companion and confidante for nearly seven years. They had even talked about getting married and moving away from Smallville, but they had decided against it when Clark came back from his fool's errand.
"I'm…" Clark began. "I don't know. I don't know how I'm doing. I go along fine and then…"
"And then the bottom falls out?" Ben asked gently.
"Son, I know you don't want to hear any advice from an old man like me," Ben said. "But don't do anything right now you're going to regret down the road."
"Like selling the farm?" Clark asked. "Mom was going to, so why shouldn't I?"
"That was before you came back and she realized there might be a chance of grandkids," Ben said. They had moved into the living room and Ben nodded to the photo of Lois and Jason on the mantle. "This isn't a bad place to raise a family and you can always do what Martha did, lease out the acreage to Wayne or Jim."
Clark could hear the shower running upstairs. But the running water didn't cover the sounds of her crying.