Summary: Clark and Lex run into a rising star from Metropolis.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: A few days after "Nicodemus." (spoilers up to that point).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@charter.net) and let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.




FIRST IMPRESSIONS



"Lex, you're crazy. Maddux was a better pitcher than Randy Johnson ever was." Clark shook his head as he followed his older friend out of the Talon. He had been surprised when Lex had turned the conversation to baseball, though he suspected Lex's motive was to get his mind off of the nastier consequences of the Nicodemus incident. Lana, Pete, and his father were all recuperating at home, and Lex had shown up abruptly and insisted that he take a break: his mother surprised him by thanking Lex and ordering Clark out of the house. The two of them had grabbed lunch in town, then headed over to the Talon to make sure things were running smoothly in Lana's absence. Lex had brought up baseball, and the discussion of who was the premier starting pitcher of the late 1990's quickly became lively.

"Clark, you have to look at the big picture." Lex grinned back at his friend and congratulated himself on having taken Clark's mind off of his problems. He continued, "Johnson is the great intimidator, Clark. Sure, it's nice having Maddux around for day in, day out excellence, but the fear of seeing some six foot ten monster coming in from the bullpen in the playoffs after having gone nine the day before and just knowing that he'll kick-oh hell, what's * she * doing here?"

Clark followed Lex's annoyed glare and turned to see a woman of medium height and slender build in her early twenties striding towards the two of them with a look of grim determination on her face. She wore a dark blue, immaculately tailored business suit. Her hair was black and cut to medium length, and her eyes were dark and intense. The teenager blinked in recognition, then turned to Lex and whispered, "Is that--?"

"The one and only," replied Lex sardonically, realizing quickly that Clark's connection with Chloe would probably let him recognize who the annoyance entering his life yet again was: she had already made her mark in Metropolis. He smiled broadly but coldly and called out, "So what brings the darling of the Metropolis press corps to Smallville, Ms. Lane?"

Lois Lane smiled and replied, "I needed a break from the pressure, Lex, and someone told me that spending time in the heartland would do wonders for my state of mind." She met his eyes coolly, and did not acknowledge the presence of Clark with so much as a twitch of body language as she added, "You seem to be doing better here than I would have suspected, Lex. Nice place to live and all that, but not exactly lively."

"Excitement is wherever you choose to find it, Lois: I'd have thought you'd have figured that out by now." Lex didn't bother to hide the dismissive edge in his voice as he replied to the veiled insult, then turned to Clark and added, "Clark Kent, meet Lois Lane: crusading reporter for the Daily Planet and graduate magna cum laude from Metropolis University the year before me. Lois, this is Clark Kent, my good friend and member of the Class of 2005 at Smallville High."

Lois turned and examined Clark minutely, and Clark exerted a great deal of effort not to squirm and blush under the scrutiny, succeeding for the most part. He extended his hand, and managed to deliver a firm but not painful handshake when Lois reached out and grasped his hand. He searched for words for a moment, then managed, "It's an honor to meet you, Ms. Lane. I've been reading your articles in the Daily Planet for months now."

Lois smiled politely in response to the compliment, then blinked as the name triggered a memory. She frowned and asked, "You're the one who pulled Lex out of the river when he ran off that bridge?"

Clark looked uncomfortable, and he glanced back at the quietly watching Lex for a moment before he turned back and replied hesitatingly, "Uh, yeah. I just happened to be there. No big deal." He expected Lex to interrupt and contradict him, but Lex remained silent; apparently, he was interested in Lois' reaction.

Lois was unmoved by Clark's nervousness. * Farm Boy Pulls Heir to Luthor Empire Out Of Creek, Has No Comment * She shivered inwardly at the thought of having to pry an interview out of one of these local dullards. She turned away from Clark and asked, "So, Lex. . .any comment about this weird local outbreak of temporary insanity a few days back? It was apparently quite the little uproar here in town, what with football season being over and everything."

"I'm sure you can pick up the particulars from one of the tabloid reporters in town, Lois. Given the odd incidents that have taken place here since the meteor strike back in '89, this place is becoming more popular than Roswell, New Mexico among the tinfoil hat crowd." Lex smiled again, then added, "Which is fine by me: it's good for the tourist trade. Now, if you'll excuse us, we were going to head over to the high school: Clark has to pick up some supplies at the newspaper office."

Lex turned, and Clark was about to follow when Lois called out, "What are you doing here, anyway? This isn't exactly the center of Luthor Corp., Lex. No matter what you make out of a fertilizer plant, it isn't going to attract much notice back in Metropolis. What's your father's game?"

Lex turned back, and there was open amusement in his voice as he replied, "Why ask me, Lois? I'm sure a well-regarded reporter such as yourself could easily obtain an interview with anyone you wanted, including Lionel Luthor. Besides, I have it on good authority that he reacts very well to the attentions of attractive young professional women. Give it your best shot, and let me know what you find out. Now, if you'll excuse me." He turned away again, and Clark followed.

Lois watched them start to leave and smiled inwardly. Lex had always been a tough nut to crack, but she had a few days until her next major assignment began, and she intended to spend them investigating the circumstances of Lex's exile to Smallville. Besides, the place was rather nice, as long as she didn't have to stay there indefinitely. She turned away, and had taken a step when she hit an uneven section of sidewalk. Her left heel snapped, and she began to fall awkwardly. Her eyes widened as she saw that there was a substantial amount of broken glass where she was due to land. . .

Lois blinked: she had ceased falling, and her visual perspective had changed. She was now looking at the window of a hardware store, and she could feel that a very strong pair of arms was cradling her. She sighed inwardly: * Oh, the humiliation. Lex will be holding this over my head forever. . .saving me from a nasty fall in public * On the other hand, she was feeling an odd sense of comfort from being held in this manner. The realization annoyed her, and she twisted abruptly towards her rescuer and began to snap, "Look here-!"

Lois stopped in mid-sentence, startled to see that it was Clark Kent holding her and protecting her from her appointment with the broken bottle. The teenager saw the confused look on the reporter's face, and his eyes narrowed in concern as he asked quietly, "Are you all right, Ms. Lane?"

Lois didn't reply: she was fascinated by the contrast from what she had perceived before when looking over the Smallville native. He seemed vibrant and focused, his attention completely on Lois, but his body language indicating that he was looking for other potential threats even as he carefully slipped her shoes off and placed her gently on a level, relatively clean section of sidewalk. She blinked again, and was astonished to see the same blandly inoffensive-looking farm boy she had met moments before looking at her as he asked again, "Are you all right?"

Lois nodded absently, then felt embarrassed for her earlier dismissal of the young man. She favored him with a genuine smile and replied, "I'm fine, thank you, though I'm never going to walk around here in a $100 pair of pumps again." Lex walked up, his expression a mixture of concern and amusement, and Lois quirked an eyebrow at him and commented, "Good thing your friend was slow to follow you, Lex, or I would have been discovering the wonders of Smallville medicine first hand." She turned back to Clark and added simply, "Thank you, Clark."

Lex smiled at Clark, and the younger man knew that Lex would be asking questions about this incident later. * At least no one was looking this way. . .covering forty feet of sidewalk in a quarter of a second tends to attract attention * Clark looked back at Lois, and replied calmly, "You're welcome, Ms. Lane."

Lois reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of flats, putting them on, all the while watching the young man who was apparently more than he seemed to be. She finished, then stepped forward and squeezed his arm, commenting, "When you save me from a fate worse than the Home and Garden column, you get to call me Lois, Clark. The next time you're in Metropolis, look me up: I'll give you a personal tour of the Daily Planet." Clark smiled, visibly thrilled, and the reporter felt a tingle of warmth that lasted until she turned and saw the irritated look on Lex's face. * Don't like me making nice with your new protégé, Lex? This is interesting * She winked at Clark, then turned to Lex and stated bluntly, "I'll be in town a few days, Lex. It might be worth your while to just tell me what I want to know, rather than having me have to dig it out."

"What fun would that be, Lois? The chase is the heart and soul of it all, for both of us." Lex's tone was openly amused: he had won this round, and Lois' reaction to Clark was interesting indeed.

Lois smiled coldly at Lex, then more warmly at Clark before turning and departing, gliding regally off into the distance. He saw that Clark was watching Lois go, and he scowled briefly before composing his features as Clark turned back. Changing the subject was definitely in order. He cleared his throat, then commented, "Now that the intermission is over, we can get back to discussing important matters, Clark. As I was saying, winning is about overwhelming your opponent, and intimidation is a crucial tool in-"

Clark listened to Lex's lecture, nodding occasionally as they walked back to his car. If Lex wanted to ignore what had just happened, he had no problem with it, as it would save him some difficult questions. He glanced back once more to the place where he had held Lois Lane in his arms, then dismissed it from his mind. After all, he had his end of the conversation to keep up, and the honor of Greg Maddux was at stake.



As before, comments are welcome and desired.