A/N: Hasn't had any sort of beta, so please forgive any small errors :o
I wanted to set this chapter after Lois' return, but before Clark sees what happened to Lois during her 3 weeks in the future. This this chapter is set post first kiss ;) During the 2 weeks she was out of town.
For me, writing this has been cathartic. I needed to exorcize the demons left by the arc of infinite stupidity. I hope that reading it does the same for you and is satisfying as far as tying up these plot holes. Oh...and Happy New Year!
Lois had been gone one week. He was giving her space – he hadn't called once.
Giving her space was driving him nuts.
Okay, well maybe he'd called once, just after he'd buried Jor-El. But she hadn't answered…though hanging up quickly after one ring probably didn't count. Could it be possible he was even more pathetic now then he'd ever been? There was just something about Lois…she'd always made him crazy. Around her there'd never been thoughts of destiny or responsibility; there'd never been regret or guilt. He'd never been afraid of scaring her or of offending her. With her he'd always said just what he wanted, with hardly any thoughts of censorship.
Is that why she freaked out and skipped town after he kissed her? He knew there were times over the years that he'd been less than friendly, and yes, he'd even been cruel, but Lois could handle it and she'd thrown her own well-aimed daggers. In fact, he'd come to expect the barbs…to need them.
No. That's not why she'd left town. She gave as good as she got…better. And their relationship had always been honest. Clark closed his eyes, leaning his palms against the tractor. As honest as it could be considering he lied to her everyday about The Blur.
Before he gave in to the urge to clench his fists too hard and puncture the old tractor with eight finger-sized holes, he released it and fished out another tool from the box behind him. He'd pulled it entirely apart and now had to put the damn thing back together….again.
Clark looked around the barn. His birth father had been here, stepped in the places his dad had walked. Something clenched in his gut when he thought of it – he'd missed Jor-El by so little. If only he'd been here…
'If wishes were horses, Smallville,' he could hear Lois say. God, when had she become a voice in his head? Clark blinked. A long time, he realized. A very long time.
He wondered what she'd say if he told her the truth about himself. He'd told her once, of course, in a timeline he'd changed, and apart from her initial skepticism – which still grated a little – she'd been incredible about it. Even when he'd told her the alien part.
And she'd still called him Smallville. Clark smiled a little. He used to hate it. Now…
But he couldn't tell her. Not ever. His secret had ruined the lives of everyone he'd cared for. But not Lois. Of all people, not Lois. It was the one thing he now understood he couldn't live with: harming Lois.
So he'd keep looking her in the eye everyday and lying. Even if she did think he was terrible at it. She knew, of course, that he was lying to her. She always knew, somehow. And yet, she'd been the only one who'd let him have it - 'keep the mystery, Smallville.' Even Chloe had done her share of digging for years before she found out his secret. But Lois had always trusted him, without needing to know. Why hadn't he realized that before? Maybe he had, but he just hadn't been paying attention.
With one hand, Clark flipped the tractor upside down, so he could work on the underside. Thoughts of Lois had always been…uncomfortable. He'd avoided them whenever possible. She'd turned up in Smallville at a very confusing time in his life – and she'd been immediately unlike anyone he'd ever known.
When he'd had no memories of his life on earth, no identity as Clark Kent, Lois found him in a field. Naked in a field, which she always enjoyed reminding him of. Clark felt a bubble of mirth rise up in his chest to explode in a chuckle that echoed around the lonely barn.
He remembered it – though it was still slightly hazy around the edges. She'd wrapped him in a red blanket and insisted he keep it on, despite his protesting. She badgered him into going to the hospital and though he could have knocked her away like a pesky fly, he hadn't. Instead, he'd let her drag him around.
He'd thought about why before, figuring he'd done so because he'd had nothing else to do as he waited for the 'sign,' and the world had been unfamiliar to him – it was still a strange memory to have, like a dream where the real isn't real anymore. But one memory was clear, like one crystallized moment: when he'd asked her who she was. And he definitely and deliberately had not thought about why before. Because there was a truth in there somewhere, one he hadn't been ready to face. Not for a long time. Of all the other people he'd come into contact with during those two days, he hadn't bothered to ask a single one of them for their name.
Clark's spanner hovered above the nut as something shifted inside him – like someone had finally turned on the lights. He knew he was in love with Lois. He'd never thought to question when or why. How seemed the more pressing issue when, only a few weeks ago, he'd stood in the rain with her in his arms. She'd looked up at him, and he'd brushed her hair from her eyes and wanted to kiss her. It was in that moment he'd felt his chest expand with her and was blindsided by the realization that he loved her.
Now he was blindsided by another: she'd been inside him all along, he just hadn't been ready to recognize her.
Chloe's words – 'You've had feelings for Lois since, like, the 1930's' – came back to him. Had everyone known? Even Oliver had understood, years before '…if I lived under the same roof with such a beautiful woman, I probably would have masked my feelings in sarcasm too.' Clark was starting to think this was just a little embarrassing. It was one of those times he wished he didn't have to have such a great memory.
He remembered the patiently waiting tractor and continued the work of rebuilding it. He should probably consider running a new coat of paint over it too, but there was something he liked about the chipped off green, the beat up look of the first tractor his dad had let him drive around the farm.
He jerked at the voice and then blinked at the backlit silhouette standing in the barn door, for a minute his mind went completely blank, before it rebooted.
She moved further into the barn so he could see her properly and he found himself resisting the urge to take a step away. He wanted to blame the feeling on the fact that she'd been poisonous to him not long ago, but his eyes were finally open and he couldn't close them again…he didn't want to.
"What are you doing here?"
She blinked and he immediately regretted the abruptness. He hadn't meant it to come out that way – he'd always been very careful to be gentle and calm around her – but she'd caught him completely unprepared, especially given his previous train of thought.
He remembered seeing Lois again after she'd disappeared. In the monorail he'd caught, with only inches and a plane of glass separating them. And seeing her, he'd felt the first true emotion he'd felt in the weeks she'd been gone, and it was pleasure; a fundamental joy.
Looking at Lana now, he remembered when she'd walked into this barn at Chloe's wedding after months away. What he'd felt then was pain, guilt, regret. Memories of Lana had never been simply pleasant, there'd always been strings. Now, as she smiled tentatively at him, all of that was gone. It had been gone for a while. When he looked at her now what he felt was affection. She was his high school sweet-heart. Memories of her had gone from painful to sweet. When he'd looked upon her photo a few weeks ago, he hadn't felt a sense of loss; instead there was the warmth of soft memories.
And he'd put the photo away in the album, with the rest of his childhood.
Clark snatched up the cloth to wipe his hands and stepped toward her. "I mean…I'm just surprised to see you."
She smiled uncertainly, her eyes wide. "Chloe told me you'd left."
"I know." She didn't need to know how he knew.
"I came by the farm to look for you."
"I wasn't staying here."
He could have elaborated, could have told her he'd lived at the Fortress, undertaking the training Jor-El had always requested of him, but he found he didn't want to.
"I knew you'd come back when I read your article in the Daily Planet."
He'd wondered. He'd thought perhaps Chloe has called her again. "What did you think?"
"You're a great reporter, Clark."
He smiled. "Not great. Good, but not great…yet."
It hadn't escaped his notice that she was keeping her distance. She tucked her hands into the back pockets of her jeans.
"So, now that you're back, you would have spoken to Chloe?"
He ducked his head slightly, still feeling guilty for abandoning Chloe the way he had – though he'd had little choice. He knew that under the same circumstances he'd be compelled to do the same. But he understood what Lana was asking him.
"About the suit? Yeah, she told me."
He could see her hesitate, unsure whether she should come closer and risk hurting him. So he decided to get it over with. They had to know one way or another. He closed the three meter space between them and had to admit he'd held his breath there for a second.
He nodded. "Looks like Dr Groll was right, the Kryptonite radiation is gone."
She smiled fully then, her nose crinkling up just as he remembered. He still found it adorable, but it was more an impartial observation. He found himself smiling genuinely in return. He'd grown up with this woman next door, watched her string flowers together to make daisy chain tiaras. It was natural for him to reach out and grip her hand with a comforting squeeze.
Her smile vanished and tears filled her eyes – an all too familiar sight as well – and she bounced into the air to cling to him, her arms around his neck. He held her that way, her feet dangling a few inches off the barn floor, for a moment, then bent, gently placing her feet back on the ground.
"I've missed you so much."
He smiled but found he couldn't say it back. The truth was, it was never Lana he wanted or missed, it was the 'idea' of her, or of the person he'd imagined her into being: perfect, sweet, saintly…innocent. She was none of those things. Maybe she never had been, or maybe the influence of his life; the force of his own personality had changed her, just as he had the power to change fate.
Now that he thought about it, it seemed to Clark that Lois was the only one who seemed unchanged and unaffected by him. Perhaps that was one of the reasons he'd felt compelled to linger around her – even in the days he'd claimed to want nothing more than to get rid of her. How else could he explain Guitar Hero weekends? He hated Guitar Hero. Almost as much as he'd pretended to hate her for all those years.
'How can someone with x-ray vision be so blind?' Lois had said that to him in a timeline that no longer was. It was a good question.
Clark reached up and gripped Lana's wrists, gently pulling them from around his neck. Her brows furrowed in concern and her eyes questioned. He used the cloth he still held as an excuse to distance himself a little. Absently scrubbing at his hands some more, he moved to the toolbox to dump the cloth into it.
Lana stepped around the tractor until it sat between them. "I would have come back sooner if I'd known you were back." Her tone was slightly accusatory.
"A lot's been happening." He wasn't sure himself, if it was an apology or simply a statement of fact.
Lana was nodding as if trying to figure it out too. He expected her to question him, to ask about what was happening, to demand answers as she always had, but she didn't.
"I thought…once you spoke to Chloe, found out about the suit, you might call."
Guilt rubbed at Clark. He should have at least made the effort to call, but in fact, Chloe had never mentioned her to him and he had never thought of Lana again since he'd left that rooftop in the rain, while Lois had still been gone.
"I'm sorry, Lana," he said. "I've just been…things are a little crazy right now."
She huffed a small laugh. "When aren't they for you?"
He acknowledged the truth of that with the wave of an arm and a nod.
"Did Chloe also tell you that…that the powers are gone too?" She asked.
"You know that never mattered to me."
"No. It mattered to me. I couldn't keep up with you any other way, Clark."
He didn't know what to say to that. "Why did you come back, then?"
She moved around the tractor to look up at him. "I want to try again, Clark. With Lex out of our lives forever…"
"Lana." He had to stop her. It wasn't fair to her not to. "It's been a long time and..."
"Not that long, Clark. A few months."
Had it really only been months? He supposed it had. It had only been several weeks after Lana left that Lois had disappeared...he hadn't thought of that before...he hadn't thought of much, except that Lois was gone. Lana was waiting expectantly for him to speak, her eyes wide and watery. How could he tell her that he'd lived through three weeks that had felt like an eternity?
"Things are different now," he said.
She gave him a long look before she took the breath to reply. "There's someone else." It was a statement not a question, but Clark nodded anyway.
She looked down at her feet a moment. But when she looked up at him again, she wore a small smile, even as her eyes swam. She took a few steps away from him, running a hand over the old tractor that had been a fixture on the farm since they'd been children.
"She must be very special."
"She is." He didn't want to hurt her, but he had to be honest with her.
To Clark's bewilderment, her smile only grew slightly wider as she gazed at him. "How long have you been in love with her?"
He gaped, he could feel himself doing it. He didn't know quite how to answer that, though. "A while."
She nodded slowly, thoughtfully, and let her eyes travel the barn, as though memorising every corner, before reaching him again.
"It's Lois, isn't it?" She asked, softly.
Clark could only stare. How could she…?
And then she quietly laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen Clark Kent quite so shocked."
"How…how did you know?"
She moved to him then, and laid a hand to his cheek. "Don't you remember, Clark? Five years ago? In the caves when you were telling me how much you hated her? I told you…"
"'The best ones always start that way.'" He did remember. "Why did you say that?"
She moved her hand from his cheek and took his hand as he'd done with hers earlier. "Because it's true. Because there was something in the way you two stood next to each other that day I first saw you after Paris. Because…" she sighed and ducked her head a moment. "Because I could always see something in you when Lois was around, something that wasn't there at any other time." She touched his shoulder briefly as she spoke. "Like the weight that you always seemed to carry was gone."
Clark stood stunned a moment. Lana was right. He did feel that way when he was with Lois; as though the weight on his shoulders was lifted. Or maybe it was more like the weight was shared, like she took some of it. When he was with Lois, he never felt alone.
"Does she know your secret?"
'What? Oh, um…no." He moved away, snatching up tools to replace in the box. He was uncomfortable talking about this with Lana. He was uncomfortable talking about this, period. "It's too dangerous."
"You should tell her Clark. Something tells me Lois can take it."
"I won't put her in danger like that." He stopped his clearing up and gazed back at Lana. Silent tears tracked down her face.
He engulfed her in his arms. "I'm sorry, Lana. I never meant to hurt you."
The apology wasn't meant for only this moment, but for all that came before. He was sorry that he'd caused her to abandon the normalcy she should have had. He'd always understood that she couldn't handle his life. But he'd been young and besotted by her.
He rocked her. "I'm so sorry."
She sniffed and pulled away, wiping at her eyes. "I should go."
"You don't have to leave. I could make coffee. You could tell me where you've been…"
"No Clark, I can't. I'll always be your friend, but I'm still not over you. I don't know if I ever will be." She smiled, but her lips trembled and tears continued to flow down her cheeks.
"You don't have to say anything. Deep down, I've always known I wasn't the one for you."
And deep down, so had he. "You'll always be important to me, Lana."
"I need to go." She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek and whispered, "Goodbye, Clark."
He watched Lana walk out of the barn, the sun setting beyond her.
He searched within himself. He was sorry that she was hurting, but he wasn't sorry to see her go. He knew he wouldn't miss her…he never had when she'd been gone. Maybe that's why when she'd returned last year, after months away, it had felt like she hadn't been gone at all. He'd thought at the time, that it was a sign that they should be together.
He'd been so wrong, so blinded...young and stupid.
Lois had left town a week ago now…and he ached to hear her voice. He wanted her to sit on the edge of his desk and tell him a story; he wanted her to swipe his coffee out of his hands or take the last maple donut from the box; he wanted her to cover his article in red ink; he wanted her to tell him to "saddle-up, Smallville" then drag him around the city; he wanted her to barge into his kitchen in the morning and eat handfuls of breakfast cereal straight from the box...
He wanted her to...he just wanted her. Needed her. To see her, to be near her.
He'd thought himself in love with Lana once – and he had been in a young, adolescent way – but what he felt for Lois was different, it was…more. So much more.
When Shelby nudged at his leg, Clark blinked, his hand instinctively moving to rest atop his dog's head. How long had he been staring out the barn door? The sun had set, and the stars were blinking into life in the darkening sky.
He knelt for Shelby. "Where'd she go, Shelby, huh? What do you think, should we call her again? Chloe says she needs space...well she has to come back eventually, right? At least to the Planet."
She'd probably call him slow or dimwitted, but he still couldn't figure out why she ran in the first place. He ruffled Shelby's coat. "We can wait."
Clark stood and went back to the tractor. He'd already put his tools away, and it was time he patrolled the city. He lifted it and carefully turned it the right side up again. Life was starting to make more sense to him.
He zipped upstairs to change into his Blur clothes and then speeded toward Metropolis. And if he veered from course a little to take a quick peek into the apartment above the Talon...well, who could blame him?
Lois was so...Lois!