A/N: PPJC is still on the books, friends. Life just preoccupied my *everything* for a while. I had to do something to get the muse juice flowing again, so here you have it.
This is a two-parter. Short and sweet, because that was what PPJC was supposed to be. *cough*fail*cough* But who's complaining? Lola will be taking the stage again too, but for now, feast ye on these mere morsels and be happy! Kidding. As always, I am merely the vessel. The muse demands and I write. I hope you enjoy.
I'd like to publicly blame... er, I mean, thank my pal Marcy for dragging me kicking and screaming out of retirement. She greenlit this mini-fic, so if you have problems (or rotten tomatoes), take them up with her. I, on the other hand, will humbly accept accolades (and cake).
Beginning to End
a.k.a. "Exercises in Awakening Muses"
I. The Beginning
The first time he met her was when he was twelve years old.
Up until that point, his childhood had been a painful one—physically. Every time he fell down, he broke a bone. The slightest knock into a table or a wall would result in deep ugly bruising. His vision constantly blurred and he had ear infections almost like clockwork. Eventually, someone had made the decision that it was too risky for him to go to school (he was a liability), so he didn't.
The doctors never had a clue what was wrong with him. Even the specialists—the fancy titled ones that they visited in the big city that required a three hour drive to get to—had no clue what to do. He'd seen his mom and dad exchange worried glances over his head enough times to realize that they knew something more and were silently debating whether or not to tell him too. He figured that hidden in those silent conversations was the knowledge that he was going to die. He grew to fear those anxious looks and prayed that they would never tell him.
So, he tried to be upbeat as he dealt with the nausea and the bone casts. Tried to ignore the embarrassment of the days when he was too weak to get out of bed and ended up wetting it instead.
Trips away from the farm were special occasions (as Mom and Dad billed them), and even though they were meant to break up his routine of always staying on the farm, he hated them. He hated the stares that his leg braces and walking canes attracted, and he hated that kids his age pointed. His was a life without friends.
His mom was not a teacher, but she'd become one for him. She went to the school to get the lesson plans for each semester, and together they studied—making sure he would be on track with everyone else when it was time for him to go back ('into the population,' he would jokingly say). He didn't believe it would ever happen, but played along anyway. Even though he was but a child, he knew with sage understanding that the schooling thing wasn't the only sacrifice his parents made for him, and he loved them all the more for it.
He stayed home and tolerated the pain—the pain of his mushy bones, the pain of his tortured soul, and the pain of his parents' foreboding knowledge—and found escape through reading. He read everything he could get his hands on. Scout, Jem, and Boo became his friends. They taught him about justice. Charlotte and Wilbur unveiled the mysteries of love.
That was his life. Isolated, maybe. Lonely, most likely. Scary, absolutely. But it was what he'd come to expect.
So the day she showed up shook it all up.
He'd been sitting outside on the back porch reading that day, and when his mom came out to tell him a friend had come to visit, he'd figured it was a friend of hers and thought nothing of it. But then, a little girl with brown hair had ducked around his mother's frame and plopped down on his blanket with him. He'd shot his mother a questioning glance, but she had simply smiled and gone back inside.
The happy voice and snap of fingers brought his attention back from where he'd been staring after his mother. The girl was grinning at him and she was… well, bouncy. Like she had a hard time sitting still.
"Um…" He swallowed. "Hi."
She laughed and he remembered thinking that it was like music. In fact, in his memories, everything she did seemed to have a soundtrack to it.
He'd swallowed again, uncomfortable with the way she was staring at him, seemingly cataloging everything about him away in her head, and just when he'd been ready to crawl away (because that would be the fastest retreat), she'd nodded and grinned widely. He remembered that the urge to flee had instantly gone away.
"Clark. Yeah, I know."
Surprised, he hadn't known what to say. "Oh." He was curious about what she knew—about how she knew what she knew—but then he looked down at his bruised legs (a cast on the lower half of the right one) and felt inexplicably tired.
"You know Pete Ross?" she'd asked, completely unaware of his inner turmoil. "I punched him."
He'd looked up, blinking at her and at the way the sun seemed to be right behind her head. "You… punched him?" He knew Pete. Pete had been his first friend in Kindergarten, but they hadn't talked since he'd been taken out of school in the middle of First Grade.
The girl—Lois, he'd remembered she'd said—kicked off her shoes and reclined, bearing her weight on her elbows. "Yeah. He was being a jerk." Before he could think to ask what Pete had done, she'd continued, "Got me suspended, though. I'm not supposed to use Krav techniques on underprepared combatants but he had it coming, you know?"
He didn't, but he found himself nodding anyway. She shrugged and crossed her legs, totally relaxed in his space, and gazed out at the sky. "He shouldn't have said that about you," he heard her mutter, and finally finding his own voice, he asked, "Said what?"
"Huh?" She had looked surprised that he'd heard her, as if shocked to have said it aloud—something he later learned was a bad habit (censuring tirades not one of her best skills)—and then she smirked sheepishly. "It doesn't matter. He just shouldn't have said it."
"Why would you defend me?"
His curiosity had morphed into confusion with her answer: "Because I'm your best friend."
Succinct, to the point, and delivered as if it should have been obvious. Lois, he'd later decide, sometimes had trouble forgiving people that didn't see the world in the same way as she did.
But back then, he didn't know her yet. In fact, they had just met, so he'd needed clarification. "Wha… How am I your be… Why?"
She had then looked at him as if he were slow to the start of the race. "Because everybody should have one."
She came by every day after that, regaling him with tales of the kids at school (once she had been allowed to go back, that is). He didn't know if half of the stuff she told him was true, but he enjoyed hearing it nonetheless. He'd learned that she was a military kid and that she'd lived in five different countries over her eleven years of life (she always said that the U.S. didn't count). He'd also learned that her mom had died and that up until a few months prior, she had travelled with her dad while her younger sister went to boarding school. He didn't tell her then, but he was really grateful that Fort Avelson was so close.
He found out other things about her as well. Where he liked to read the words of others, she liked to make things up. In between her embellished recollections of the goings and comings of people in the small ("backwards" she always added) town of Smallville, Kansas, she filled their days with stories of light sabers and trolls and bad guys. She'd even started a series of stories that included the two of them as the protagonists which she called 'The New Adventures of Lois and Clark.'
When he'd asked why she used 'New,' she had just shrugged in her normal affable way and explained that the title needed an adjective and that 'exciting was lame.' Even though he was always really good at remembering things, he was always amazed at how she kept up with the details of their imaginary wheelings and dealings.
She'd taught him what little she knew of the native languages of the places she'd lived. Unfortunately, what it all amounted to was him being able to either ask for help finding a bathroom or cussing a cabbie out in five different languages (she blamed her lack of fluency on having always gone to American Embassy schools).
She never minded that he was sickly. If he was in the midst of one of his episodes, she would just patiently wait until he was cleaned up. Somehow, she made it all less embarrassing and even tolerable.
His bedroom was a converted room on the lower level (stairs weren't really his friends) and occasionally they'd have Dad pitch a tent in the middle of his floor for their overnights. The stories that Lois would tell on those nights were darker and scarier, but he never had trouble sleeping when she was tucked in the sleeping bag next to his.
One weekend when she had invited herself to dinner (his mom never minded), she had forced him to take a walk around the farm. Finding themselves in the barn, she'd peered up at the unused loft area.
"That would make a kickass club house!"
When she'd gone on to detail how the space could be built out, he couldn't help but to silently agree. Apparently, his mute nods hadn't satisfied her though.
"It's just… high," he'd answered, reluctantly.
"Don't tell me that you're scared of heights," she'd sighed, and even though he was, he'd denied it, shaking his head vehemently. He didn't want her to add yet another of his ailments to his list of pathetic-ness, so he'd fallen back on one of the more obvious ones.
"My legs don't work so well," he'd redirected, pointing toward the ladder. She'd crossed her arms then, gazing up at the ladder and the loft for a while before turning back to look at him. "We'll work on it."
And they had. With Lois at his side (and often behind him with the proverbial prodding iron), he'd begun concentrating a little harder, walking a little further, and standing a little taller. And in the evenings, she'd be there, massaging his aching legs as he read one his favorite books aloud.
One day, he'd paused from reading long enough to notice the glance shared between his parents. They didn't seem as anxious anymore, and he was glad. Before, he just didn't want to die. Right then, he really wanted to live.
Those first two years had been great. From Lois he'd learned about childhood—about laughing at candy wrapper jokes and laying in grass fields with fluffy dandelion seeds caught up in the winds. She'd taught him about strength—about being okay with who you were regardless of what else was going on. And she'd taught him about friendship—about how it didn't ask for anything but gave everything.
It wasn't until she came by on the last day (fittingly) of summer to say that she was moving again, that he realized that she'd also taught him about love.
* End Part I *