Okay, all. Got the chappie back from B just as I was going to get in bed. Be back later once I have at least five hours in me. Please, start without me. I insist!
Now, ladies and Brian, might I present...
Good Lord, it sounds like a herd of wild elephants tap-dancing, was Martha’s first confused thought on waking. The thumping and scrambling down the stairs was followed by the front door creaking in protest as it was flung open. Clark, Martha thought with a sleepy smile. He hadn’t been that noisy in a long time; it reminded her of his clumsy adolescence…
She didn’t hear the door close again, and that was unusual. Then again, even when he’d had to leave the house at night for an emergency, Clark was considerate enough to be quiet about it. He could fly to the door without ever touching down. So why the ruckus just now?
A curious question, and one Martha decided to explore. She had trouble falling back asleep these days, so she might as well pull on a robe and go downstairs. Besides, the front door was standing open.
Martha didn’t need to turn on any lights to find her way downstairs silently. But light flooded into the living room from the open door, and she frowned. It was downright odd of Clark to wake her up like this, and then leave the door open and the light on. Something far out of the ordinary had to have occurred…
The sight that met Martha’s eyes was certainly strange enough. Clark was standing in the yard, his back to her, and a red Mustang was parked in the drive. What on earth? Martha scowled, until she took in her son’s posture. Head down, arms in front of him – and then she saw a woman’s hands clasped around the back of his neck.
She’d seen Lois Lane before, but not until that moment realized how much taller and broader Clark was. A slight smile curved Martha’s lips – so she had come here after him, been brave enough and in love enough to drive out to the middle of nowhere after her man. Uninvited, no less. It was really very sweet.
The pair of them were laughing softly, and Martha just barely heard her son whisper, “For keeps.” That was when she cleared her throat, making them both turn around wide-eyed.
Seeing the mother of her grandkids at close range for the first time, Martha took stock of her quickly. Lois Lane was a full head shorter than Clark, and delicately built. Bright hazel eyes, wavy black hair, striking features, and an expression of pure terror.
Clark smiled sheepishly, still too delighted by Lois’ presence to worry overmuch about the introduction. “Oh, Ma, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“It’s all right, son,” Martha told him. “Lois Lane, I presume?”
The raven-haired woman blushed scarlet. “Yes, ma’am – Mrs. Kent. I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up. I just wanted to let Clark know I was here. I’ll go into town and get a room…”
Martha chuckled. “My dear, we only have one motel in Smallville, and there’s no one at the front desk after nine o’clock. Besides, there isn’t much point in staying in town. We have a guest room, and I’d think you would spend most of your time out here with Clark, anyway.” The hint of amusement in her otherwise factual tone didn’t seem to relax Lois at all, perhaps because the younger woman knew Martha was still a bit guarded about her.
Clark had slipped his arm around her waist, Lois sheltering against his side while he looked up worriedly at his mother. In his gaze Martha read his desperate hope that she would like Lois, that the two women he loved best would learn to love each other as well. The jury’s still out, son, Martha thought to herself, but she softened her expression slightly. “Come on in, Ms. Lane. You’re welcome to stay with us. Clark, honey, get Ms. Lane’s luggage in, and then grab some extra blankets down from the linen closet.”
“It’s okay, it can wait ‘til morning,” Lois said quickly, but Clark just grinned and shook his head at her. The keys were still in the ignition, and it only took a few seconds for him to open the trunk and get Lois’ bags.
Lois had to follow his mother in and upstairs while he stopped to get the blankets from the linen closet. Martha’s ulterior motive quickly became clear; of the three spare rooms available, she took Lois to the one next to her own and furthest from Clark’s, surely the opposite of the choice her son would have made. A set of sheets were stored in the dresser drawer, and Lois scurried to help Martha make up the bed. “Please, Mrs. Kent, you don’t have to go through all this trouble for me,” she said, hating how pathetically needy for approval she sounded.
“It’s all right, Ms. Lane, you’re a guest,” Martha insisted.
“If I’m a guest, then please, it’s Lois,” she replied.
Martha pulled the corner of the top sheet straight and held out her hand across the bed. “Martha. Pleased to meet you, Lois.”
Lois shook her hand awkwardly, having to stretch a bit across the bed, and then Clark walked in with her luggage and two thick blankets. The look Lois gave him said Help me loud and clear, and he couldn’t help chuckling. “Ma, Lois, it’s awfully late, and I’m sure Lois has had a long flight and a longer drive. Shouldn’t we all go back to bed and we’ll talk over coffee in the morning?”
Hazel eyes met his pleadingly. They had only just seen each other again… Then she saw him wink at her, very quickly. “That’s probably a good idea,” Lois said. “Martha, I’m terribly sorry for waking you up at this hour.”
“Dear girl, at my age I wake up in the middle of the night all by myself,” Martha told her. “And it wasn’t you that woke me, it was Clark making as much noise as half a dozen bowling balls bouncing down the stairs.”
“Sorry, Ma,” he said.
Martha chuckled. “All right, children. Good night, and I’ll see you both in the morning.” But she didn’t leave just yet, standing right outside the door and clearly waiting for Clark to come with her.
He winked at Lois again as he said good night, slipping his cell phone partially out of his front pocket and putting his finger over his lips. Lois grinned in understanding. “Good night, Martha. Good night, Clark.” The moment her door closed, she took out her cell phone and turned the ringer off.
Evidently Martha wanted to talk to Clark for a few more minutes, because he didn’t call right away. It gave Lois time to get ready for bed and curl up under the warm blankets, so when her phone’s screen flashed she picked it up quickly. “Hello,” she whispered, burrowing down under the covers.
“Hi,” he whispered back, and Lois could hear the smile in his voice. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“I’d say me, too, but I’m starting to second-guess my intelligence,” Lois muttered. The whole ride from Kansas City she had been praying that she could manage to save herself from being face to face with his mother until the next morning. Her sigh was heavy. “I seemed to have made a better first impression on you back in the day.”
“Oh, Lois. Are you really as scared as you looked?”
“Yes,” she hissed into the phone. “This is your mother, Kal-El. And I know she means more to you than Jor-El ever will; she’s a larger part of your life. She determines whether the next thirty or so years of our lives are heaven or hell. Not to mention her reaction to the twins – which, I get the feeling, might be part of the problem.”
“She’s not terribly happy with me,” Clark said. “Ma hasn’t been making a huge deal of it, but I know she’s not pleased.”
Which is what I’ve been worried about for a while now, Lois thought with a stab of guilt. But that emotion didn’t sit very well with her anymore, especially not where the twins were involved. “What does she expect us to do, turn back time or something?” Lois groused in frustration, and Clark had to chuckle softly.
“I wouldn’t, you know,” he told her. “I wouldn’t want to lose that night. Or Jason and Kala. But if we had it all to do over again, knowing what we know now, I think I would’ve left you your memories. And I would’ve stayed here.”
“Damn right you would’ve,” Lois said quickly. “Because I wouldn’t have even let you consider it.”
“That’s my Lois,” Clark chuckled, “protecting me from my own stupidity practically since the day we met.”
“Oh, stop,” she sighed. “I have never called you stupid.”
“No, you haven’t,” he replied. “But fiddling with your memory and then leaving without telling you turned out to be pretty stupid decisions.”
“It wasn’t stupid, you were trying to spare my feelings,” Lois said, finding herself arguing his point.
“Yes, well, I went about it badly.”
He could almost hear her shrug. “We’ve been over that already and it’s over. We both made mistakes. And thank you for dropping the use of the s-word. I’ve heard that enough from your daughter in the last year. Last year’s was random because she heard one of the interns use it as an adjective. Had blonde hair with blue streaks. Kala thought she was the most amazing thing in the world.”
Clark smiled. “Kala’s a handful, isn’t she?”
“You have no idea,” Lois groaned, laughing as she thought of their daughter’s many misadventures. “Some of the things she’s pulled over the years... It’s a good thing she’s adorable, or I would’ve sold her on eBay. Special Deal. Rare Half-blood Kryptonian to the highest bidder.”
“Lois!” Clark almost forgot to keep his voice down. “You’d never do such a thing, and you know it.”
“Yeah, I’ll remind you that you said that when you’ve had thank the nice firemen for getting her down out of the tree,” Lois retorted. “I haven’t told you yet about the time–”
Just then, Lois thought she heard a floorboard creak in Martha’s room. “I think your mom’s up,” she whispered, not realizing just how much they sounded like a pair of teenagers. “We’d better go before she hears us.”
“Yeah,” he whispered back. “See you in the morning, Lois. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she replied with utter sincerity, and hung up the phone with clear reluctance, placing it on the nightstand to the side of the bed. It was amazing how far away two doors down seemed in this kind of circumstances. Eyes falling longingly on the dark wood of her own door, she thought with feeling, I miss you already.
Oh, stop it. Mama Kent is likely on guard for her baby boy. He’ll be there in the morning; it’s not like he’s going anywhere. Stop acting like a starry-eyed girl and get some rest. With a sigh of annoyance at herself, Lois nestled down into the covers and stared at the ceiling, utterly convinced that she’d be wide awake for hours in this unfamiliar place. It was like that her first night anywhere she’d never been…
She’d barely had time to roll over onto her belly before Lois was sound asleep.
Richard was having a dream in which he was at the beach, trying to build a sandcastle. But every time he turned to pick up more sand, a wave would rush in and destroy his work. Then a fish swam up and grabbed his foot, trying to swim off with it…
He woke, muzzy-headed, and realized that Jason had hold of his toe and was shaking it. “Daddy?” the little boy whispered.
Sitting up, Richard winced at the stiffness in his back. Perry’s couch wasn’t terribly comfortable. “Son? Why are you awake at…” He glanced at the clock, eyes widening. “…two o’clock in the morning?”
“Had a bad dream,” Jason said matter-of-factly. “Kala woke me up, but now I’m thirsty. Can I have a drink of water?”
“Sure,” Richard told him, ruffling his hair. He wouldn’t let himself scowl; these nightmares weren’t unexpected, considering what Jason and Kala had been through, but the way the twins had taken to resolving them struck him as odd. Neither child ever came to their parents for reassurance when their dreams turned vicious, not since the kidnapping. Instead they comforted each other, and almost seemed reluctant to talk about the nightmares.
Richard padded into the kitchen and got a small glass of water for Jason. While the boy sipped it, Richard knelt beside him, looking levelly into Jason’s amazingly blue eyes. “Jason, you know if you have a bad dream, you can come get Mommy or me or Uncle Perry, right? We’re all pretty good at chasing the dream-beasties away.”
The expression on Jason’s face was too serious for a six-year-old. “Uh-huh. But this dream was about somethin’ real.”
“About Lex Luthor?” Richard’s heart sank.
Jason scowled, his brows drawing together. “He’s a bad man. He hit Kala! He tried t’ hurt Superman, too!”
“He is a bad man,” Richard said. “And you know what happens to bad people, right?”
“They always get what’s coming to them,” Jason replied. He and Kala had been taught from an early age that you get back what you give out, and people who did bad things would always – always – have to face the consequences of their actions.
“That’s right,” Richard said. “Bad people mess themselves up, and they get caught, and then they’re punished. Besides, Luthor didn’t get what he wanted, did he? You and Kala are okay, your mommy’s okay, and Superman’s fine, too. Luthor’s ugly island is floating out in space somewhere, and the bad guy lost. So he won’t come mess with us again, not after he got beat so badly this time.”
“He’d better not,” Jason said darkly. “Nobody hurts Kala or Mommy. Not ever.”
Richard smiled and kissed his forehead. The sentiment would’ve been quite cute, if it hadn’t come from a child capable of throwing a grand piano. “C’mon, tiger, let’s get you back in bed. You’ve got school tomorrow.”
“When’s Mommy coming home?” Jason asked.
Richard didn’t let himself wince. He’d told them Mommy had business in Kansas, which was true in a way. It was just that her business was for herself and the twins instead of for the paper. “I’m not sure, Jason. A couple of days at the most.”
Jason nodded sleepily. Normally, an answer that vague wouldn’t have satisfied him, but it was very late. Richard tucked him back into bed, kissed both kids, and went back downstairs thoughtfully.
Lois had called him yesterday afternoon, and he’d heard the decision in her voice before she even asked him if he could keep the twins a little longer. She was going to Smallville, going after Clark, and Richard fully supported her. She had also told him that she would be back in two days, or would be sending for the twins. He didn’t mind that, either, especially when Lois was careful to reassure him that she wouldn’t keep the kids in Kansas for more than a few days. Not because missing a few days of kindergarten was so critical, but because she didn’t want Richard to think she was trying to keep them from him.
He knew better, now, and told her so. Telling her he trusted her seemed to prompt a rush of confidence from Lois, as well. Her voice had dropped as she admitted that she was nervous. Richard had chuckled then, and he laughed softly now to remember what he’d told her. “You attacked Lex Luthor and rescued Superman, Lois. Why be afraid of a sweet little old lady in Kansas?”
Early the next morning, Ben arrived at the Kent farm. He noticed the red Mustang parked in the drive and wondered who could be over visiting. Clark hadn’t rented a car when he and Martha had come in three days ago; Ben had met them at the airport and driven them home. So who could the Mustang belong to?
Ben’s curiosity got sidetracked by Barkley, his elderly beagle. At fifteen, Barkley was too old to jump down from the truck, but he was standing in the seat sniffing industriously. Ben carried him to the porch and set him down, where Barkley sniffed deeply at the welcome mat and made low chuffing noises. “Hush, Barkley,” Ben said affectionately. The soft grunting noises the dog was making now indicated something interesting on the mat, perhaps a chipmunk that had scampered across the porch.
The door was unlocked, and Ben stepped inside, automatically smiling at the thought of seeing Martha. She truly was the delight of his days, and over the past six years Ben had come to understand why Jonathan Kent was always such a happy man.
His smile lasted even though the first person he saw that morning was Clark, the younger man still not entirely pleased to see him. “Good morning, Clark,” Ben said as he stepped into the kitchen. Ben met Clark’s eyes, then his gaze slid past the boy to his mother, frying bacon at the stovetop. “Morning, Martha.”
“Morning, Ben,” she replied warmly, smiling at him over her shoulder. Clark also returned the salutation, but he was merely polite.
“Breakfast smells good,” Ben commented, touching Martha’s shoulder lightly.
She elbowed him gently. “You’d say that no matter what, Ben Hubbard. You’re just trying to cadge a free meal.”
“No, I’m here for the company, not the food,” he replied. “Even though your cooking is delicious.”
“I’m going to feed the chickens,” Clark muttered.
Martha sighed and rolled her eyes as the door closed behind him. She glanced at Ben and they both chuckled, then Ben leaned in for a quick kiss.
“Say, I meant to ask…” Ben began, but he was cut off by Barkley’s hoarse, bawling howl.
The sound was incredibly loud indoors, seeming to belong to a much larger dog, but it was unmistakably the bay of a hunting hound. Martha and Ben both jumped, startled in spite of the fact that Barkley lived up to his name on a regular basis.
What surprised Ben even more was the feminine shriek of surprise that followed Barkley’s howl. “Holy SHIT!” the unknown woman screamed, sending two sets of gray eyebrows skyward.
Barkley got his breath back and bawled again, louder than before. Ben scrambled to get his dog, he and Martha yelling, “Shut up, Barkley!” at the same time. The back door slammed as Clark rushed in, evidently having heard the howl or the scream.
Ben found a dark-haired woman clutching the banister, one hand clasped over her mouth in mortification. Barkley was standing at the bottom of the steps, looking near-sightedly up at the stranger and grunting as he tried to catch his breath. His master picked him up before he could bay again, and then turned to regard the newcomer.
She was striking, a little too much stubbornness in the curve of her jaw and a little too much fire in her hazel eyes for the conventional notion of pretty. But beautiful, slim, and at the moment, caught between shock and shame. “I’m so sorry,” she started to say.
Barkley howled again at the sound of her voice, and Ben jiggled him slightly. “Shut up, you old hound,” he said sternly. “No fault of yours, miss, he barks at everyone he doesn’t know. Half the people he does know, too, until he can smell them – he’s getting senile in his old age.”
“That’s dog’s not senile, he’s just out of his mind and always has been,” Martha muttered darkly. She quickly shoved a dog biscuit in front of Barkley’s nose, and after fumbling for it a bit, the beagle snapped up the treat, spraying crumbs all over Ben’s sweater.
“Give him a break, Martha, he’s half-blind and stone deaf,” Ben scolded her. “Barkley’s fifteen years old, in dog years that’s…”
“Dead,” Martha retorted. “Which is what he’ll be if he ever waters my newel post again.”
“Good Lord, woman, that was a year ago!”
Clark had come in while they were talking, took one glance at the situation, and hurried into the kitchen. He came back out just as Lois reached the landing, and slid a fresh cup of coffee into her hands.
By that time, Barkley had finished slobbering up the crumbs from Ben’s sleeve, and he stretched his neck in Lois’ direction. She patted his graying head tentatively while he sniffed at her hand, and then he relaxed. While Barkley wagged his tail and looked vaguely up at Lois, Clark murmured, “Welcome to breakfast, chez Kent.”
Lois snickered softly, rumpling the dog’s ears and sipping her coffee. Before she could reply, Ben had turned his attention back to her. “I am sorry about Barkley, miss. Pleased to meet you, I’m Ben Hubbard.” He had to set Barkley down to shake her hand, and the dog began to sniff slowly and thoroughly at Lois’ jeans.
“Lois Lane,” she replied, shaking his hand and smiling warmly. At least someone was glad to see her this morning.
The name came as something of a shock. “Lois Lane? The reporter?”
“Yes,” she replied, looking questioningly at him.
“Martha, why didn’t you tell me?” Ben asked, then looked back at Lois. “Martha’s a big fan of yours, Miss Lane. She has just about every article you ever wrote. I’m proud of you for winning the Pulitzer, too – people needed a kick in the seat of the pants. They should’ve been trying to help each other instead of complaining because Superman was gone.”
Lois’ eyes had gone wide with startled pleasure; no one else had realized how the infamous editorial had been intended. She chuckled, her smile widening. “Thank God someone got it! Most people back home tended to think I was just angry at him.” Clark’s gaze had gone thoughtful while he recalled the exact wording of the article.
Martha was giving Ben a cool, steady look, which no one noticed. “Actually, Ben, Clark’s an even bigger fan than I am.”
“That’s right, he works at the same paper,” Ben remembered.
“And they’ve got two kids together,” Martha added casually. All the blood drained from Lois’ face as the older woman continued, “Twins, about six years old now, right?”
Absolute silence, during which Lois seemed to shrink into herself, and Clark turned to look at Martha in disbelief. Only Ben saw the flicker of dismay in Martha’s eyes, but instead of taking back the remark she just regarded Lois calmly. It was left to Clark to say quietly, “I just found out recently, when I came back from my trip. Lois had no way to get in touch with me while I was traveling.”
“Well, that must’ve been a surprise,” Ben said, trying to act as if finding out you had an unexpected pair of kindergarteners wasn’t shocking in the least.
“You have no idea,” Lois said shakily. She had never even seen the comment coming. Not to mention the fact that it hurt to know for sure exactly how much she had wanted the older woman’s approval. And just how unlikely it was looking.
Just then, the scent of scorched meat reached all of them. “Darn!” Martha exclaimed, hurrying into the kitchen to deal with the burning bacon. Ben followed her, leaving Lois with Clark. He tried to give them both a friendly, reassuring smile as he left.
Martha was muttering under her breath as she scraped the burned bacon out of the skillet. Ben walked up to her and stood there with his arms crossed, Barkley waddling arthritically along behind him. “Martha Clark Kent, what on earth has gotten into you?”She raised an eyebrow at him, but Ben wasn’t as easily put off as her son. After a moment, she sighed. “Ben, I’m not accustomed to that kind of language being used in this house.”
“I don’t think she meant to say it,” he replied. “Did you see the poor girl’s face? Besides, that isn’t all. You’re not catty enough to make a remark like that just to get back at her for a little profanity.”
“A little profanity, is it? And in the Lord’s name?” Martha huffed, putting the skillet back on the stove. “Well, Ben, I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled to have the mother of my illegitimate grandchildren – neither of whom I’ve never met or even heard of before the last few months – turn up at my house in the middle of the night unannounced.”
“Did she say why, Martha?” Ben asked, leaning against the counter.
“Clark told me he told her he was leaving Metropolis to let her think about things,” Martha said, her back to him as she started frying eggs. “She was engaged to another man, up until last week, I’ll have you know. He wanted her to have some time to be sure, and I guess she made up her mind enough to come after him.”
Ben heard the faint reluctance in Martha’s tone. On some level, she admired the Lane girl for having the chutzpah to come out here. But something else still bothered her, and Ben figured he knew what it was: the children. For the moment, he said, “Awfully romantic of her to come out to the middle of nowhere after her man, don’t you think?”
Martha just huffed, muttering at Barkley to shoo when the dog started sniffing at the burned bacon in the trash. Ben continued, “She must really love Clark to have made up her mind this fast. If it was you and Jonathan, don’t you think you would’ve done the same? No matter if it was halfway across the country, in the middle of the night, or if his mother was potentially hostile.”
Her shoulders slumped as she sighed heavily. How could she argue against that way of thinking? “I might have done it for Jonathan,” Martha said. “I might do something just as foolish for you, Ben.”
“So you see…” he began, but was interrupted by Clark stalking into the room alone.
It was easy to forget how tall Clark was, and how much muscle was on that broad-shouldered frame. The man was so unassuming that most folks took his sheer size for granted. But not now. Now the thunderous look he was giving Martha made him seem every inch of his six-foot-four.
Before Clark could say a word, they heard the front door open and close again, followed by the Mustang starting up and driving off. Martha’s eyes went wide, and she said in startled tones, “She’s not leaving, is she?”
“No, Ma, she’s not,” Clark said steadily. “But if you want me to go back home and take her with me, I will.”
Ben kept silent and out of the way; he’d never heard that kind of steel in the young man’s voice before. Please, Martha, don’t say anything foolish. Don’t make the boy choose between you and the woman he loves.
He had never seen Martha look so defeated. “Son … I remember when this was home.”
“Not anymore,” Clark told her quietly. The hurt in his voice was clear. “Not if I’m not welcome here – and if she isn’t welcome, neither am I.”
Martha moved the skillet off the hot burner and faced her son squarely. “Clark, Lois is welcome here. And so are your twins. I just … I was a little disconcerted by her language.”
“Lois worked her way up the ranks in the newspaper, Ma,” Clark said. “At the time she only had two choices: be one of the old boys, or be one of their secretaries. So she takes her coffee black, she smokes, she can knock down shots of vodka, and she talks like one of the guys, too. Not to mention, her father was military; she’d heard her share of salty language at home, too. It’s a part of who she is, but not all she is.”
“That doesn’t excuse…” Martha started stiffly.
“And Barkley scared the daylights out of her,” Ben added. “Out of all of us, really. Martha, she was horrified at herself for having said it in your hearing. The poor girl’s trying to make a good impression…”
“That’s the only reason Lois was awake at this hour,” Clark confirmed. “She knows you and I are early risers, Ma. Lois is a night owl. She gets up early enough to get to work, but on weekends she sleeps in if she can. And last night she drove two hours from the airport after a five-hour flight. I’ll guarantee you she was trying to impress you by getting up at dawn on so little sleep.”
Martha sighed with frustration. Ben wisely collected his beagle and took himself out of the conversation, leaving mother and son alone to talk about the real problems.
Lois drove aimlessly, torn between anger and shame and heartbreak. How in the hell could I have screwed that up so bad, so fast? She wasn’t sure whether to be furious with herself, or angry at Martha Kent, who seemed all too eager to judge her.
For the first time in a long time, the General’s Daughter rose up, not necessarily trying to be hurtful, but giving her a calm wake-up call. What kind of idiot were you for coming here? It was fine when you were in the city. It was just you and him, and no one else’s opinion mattered. But out here? You’re dreaming, Lois. Never happen. The Good Boys aren’t supposed to be with Girls Like You, in a mother’s eyes. And one that you can have kids with before you marry? Hah! You should have known better, Lane. Reality check. Go home and wait for him. And just pray that everyone eventually forgets this trip. Just be glad you got the man and make sure he never has to choose.
No, none of that was right. Or was it? Was there no way to fix this situation? “Dammit, why does everyone’s parents hate me?” Lois growled, glaring at her reflection in the rearview mirror. Well, that wasn’t entirely true; Richard’s father had been fond of her, but he had always bowed to his wife’s opinion, and Sylvia had never missed an opportunity to harp about Lois. Either she was bold as brass or much too opinionated for a lady or too much like a boy or… Lois had taken pains to behave around her, but to no real avail. His mother’s opposition had been set in stone, though, the moment that Lois insisted – and not quite politely – that Sylvia’s dogs be locked up while the twins visited. One ‘playful’ nip on Jason’s ankle was one too many for the reporter, and Sylvia had never forgiven her putting her foot down.
With Clark’s parents, though, Lois had fared even worse. Jor-El considered her a lower life form that distracted his son from his mission, and now Mrs. Kent… Lois was surprised to suddenly blink tears of frustration out of her eyes. I didn’t want to come bursting in at midnight, I didn’t mean to swear this morning, I wanted her to like me. I know how much Clark loves his mom, and I could’ve dealt with Jor-El’s bullshit if she would back me up. I guess that was too much to hope.
She’d been driving past fields of winter wheat, and finally came to a crossroads. There was a gas station on one corner, and some shelves next to it that were probably part of a produce stand during the summer. Lois pulled in at the pump and started searching through her purse for her wallet.
“Fill ‘er up, ma’am?” The voice outside her window startled Lois, and she looked up into a friendly smile. The station attendant was a wiry older man, and at her blank look he added, “Be glad to wash your windows and check your oil, if’n you’ll pop the hood.”
Understanding dawned. Lois hadn’t seen a full-service gas station in a very long time, but she welcomed the extra attention. “Yes, thank you,” she replied, opening the hood. “I’m going to go inside for a minute. Nothing to eat this morning. What kinds of breakfast foods do you have?”
“Lotta junk only kids ‘n’ tourists eat,” the older man replied with a smile. “But the sausage biscuits ‘r pretty good. Make sure you heat ‘em up; microwave’s in the back. Coffee’s fresh, too.”
“Thanks.” Lois took his advice once inside, getting the largest coffee cup available and dosing it with sugar. That, and two biscuits, would be breakfast. No one was behind the counter, so she walked back to her car, only to see that she was no longer the only customer.
An old Camaro had pulled up across from her Mustang, and four teenage boys were clustered around it. The older man looked up from his work to nod in response to one of them, and that boy started filling up the Camaro’s tank.
The oldest of the four, a tousled blond who wore his shirt collar turned up, was looking with interest at the red Mustang. “Your car, ma’am?” he asked.
Another thing Lois wasn’t quite used to: polite conversation from a kid who looked like he spent recess smoking behind the gym. Then again, back when she was their age, hadn’t she been the same way? “Yes,” she replied, glancing at his curiously, then gave an approving nod. “Nice Camaro. Custom exhaust?”
He grinned broadly. “Yup. Did it myself. Dad’s a mechanic, he shows me stuff. That Mustang looks like a sweet ride. What kind of engine you got in it?”
“Stock,” Lois replied with a little shrug. A little white lie never hurt anyone. Especially when they didn’t have to know any better. “I’ve only had it two days, though.”
The kid ambled over to peek under the hood. Lois went to stand beside him, still sipping her coffee and nibbling on the sausage biscuit, which was pretty good. She saw his eyes flick away from the engine, lighting quickly on her jeans-clad legs and traveling up to her raven hair. The glance was so brief that she nearly missed it, but Lois couldn’t help her grin. I may not have any luck with midwestern grandmothers, but I can still charm the daylights out of anything male. And this time it was the last thing on my mind. It felt good to be appreciated, even by a kid who was more entranced by the car than by her. And the mood I’m in right now… If I was ten years younger and hadn’t met Kal-El, kid…
He leaned back with a grave sigh as the gas station attendant finished topping up Lois’ coolant. “Nice car, but it’d never beat mine on the road,” he said sadly. “Maybe when you’ve had a chance to work on it some… I mean, stock, it’ll do about one-forty. Now if you hooked it up with nitro and put in some custom exhaust…”
“That’d give me more horsepower, yes,” Lois said knowledgably, one brow arched. She knew she shouldn’t jerk the chain of someone that much younger, but it was just too easy. Unable to resist, she added with a serious expression that was ruined by looking the kid in the eyes. “But it’s not how much power you have under the hood that wins the race, you know. It’s how well you can handle it.”
His eyebrows went up slightly, and his three friends snickered. “She got you,” one of them teased. “Walked right into that!”
“You’re right, Miss…?”
“Lane. And it’s Ms., not Miss. I prefer not to sound like my great-aunt Tessie.”
“Ms. Lane,” the boy said, offering his hand. When she grinned and shook it, he continued, “I’m Wade Carmichael. And you’re right – cars don’t win races, drivers do. If you’re ever out on state road 63, I wouldn’t mind having some competition.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Wade,” Lois said. Little did the kid know, he’d managed to restore her confidence and her good mood. And after paying the attendant and thanking him as well, she got back into her car feeling considerably better than she had that morning.
As she drove off, Lois thought about her current situation with a little more equanimity. I should’ve known Clark’s mother wouldn’t be delighted to meet the Corrupter of Innocence who seduced her son and then presented him with a pair of out-of-wedlock twins. Really, what right did I have to expect her to welcome me into the family?
Her hands tightened slightly on the steering wheel. No, my mistake was in coming out here scared and needy, crawling to Martha Kent with my tail between my legs. I’ve been acting like I did something wrong. No wonder she’s treated me as the fallen woman – I practically sewed the scarlet letter on myself! Somewhere in the back of her mind she heard a dry chuckle; the General’s Daughter was pleased that her little pep talk about Good Boys and the girls they should be with had had the desired effect.
But don’t screw this up, the Romantic said quickly, the interior voice wincing. Please, please, don’t go back there and tear the poor woman’s head off. This is his mother, the twins’ grandmother, you have to get along with her!
“We have to get along with each other,” Lois muttered aloud, a spark of that old determination in her eye. “And that’s as much her job as mine. Respect is a two-way street. She’s so worried about me being worthy of her precious little boy, let’s see if she’s ready to prove she’s worthy of being my kids’ grandma.”
Both of her alter egos went silent at that, one radiating smug satisfaction, the other nervous. Lois’ lips curved up in a smile as she turned onto the highway, ready to burn off a little frustration. Look out, Mrs. Kent. You’re about to meet the real Lois Lane, the one your son fell in love with. And she doesn’t have a lot in common with the nervous little mouse you met last night.
After Ben sidled out the door, Martha and Clark just looked at each other for a long time. The expression on his face was unfamiliar to her, a steady, sober kind of sternness. It was even a little frightening, actually. As if a stranger stood before her instead of the boy she’d loved and raised.
And that’s the difference, Martha reflected. This isn’t my little boy, this is the man he grew up into. I’ve been told all parents have trouble seeing that.
Clark returned her gaze, even though he was sick at heart. He would not be forced to choose between his mother and Lois. The two women were going to have to learn to deal with each other, not just for his sake, but for the twins’. Clark wouldn’t deprive Jason and Kala of one of their grandmothers, either. They had already missed meeting Jonathan Kent and Sam Lane, and they would only have the holograms of Lara and Jor-El. Life is too short to waste quarreling with each other, Clark thought. “Ma…” he began.
“Son…” Martha said, and both of them hesitated. She sighed. “Clark, I’m sorry I snapped at her.”
“So am I,” Clark said. “Ma, Jor-El had plenty to say about her, and why she wasn’t good enough for me. Lois heard it all. She knows perfectly well that she’s not the average midwestern mom’s ideal daughter-in-law…”
“She’s not my daughter-in-law. Yet.”
“Maybe not ever,” Clark retorted. “Lois… Lois is pretty gun-shy on the topic of marriage. Her parents’ relationship wasn’t like yours with Pa. I’m not sure whether it’s totally true – Ella Lane doesn’t strike me as the kind of woman who could be cowed – but Lois thinks of marriage as a shackle that can’t be escaped.”
“So she believes in having kids out of wedlock, but not in divorce?” Martha asked speculatively.
“We didn’t mean to have kids,” Clark said, and there was an edge in his tone that she’d never imagined possible. It dawned on Martha then that Clark had never brought a woman home to meet her – never even spoken seriously of one except Lois. Childhood infatuations didn’t count; not that he’d acted on those feelings, either.
But Martha wasn’t one to back down, either. “Clark, don’t try and tell me she got pregnant by accident,” she said, keeping her voice level. “She made a choice.”
“She wasn’t the only one,” Clark retorted. “Ma, we didn’t even know it was possible. I’m from another planet. There was no reason to suspect that she could get pregnant.”
Clark had had enough. When he’d first mentioned the possibility of the twins being his, Martha had been stern, but quickly forgiving. She seemed to bear more of a grudge against Lois, though, as if that night had been Lois’ fault. Entirely her fault. Clark decided to disabuse her of that notion. “Ma. If anyone’s to blame, it’s me, not Lois.”
Martha blinked, and he could see her marshaling an argument, so he cut her off even though he winced inwardly at the thought of what he was about to say. “Lois didn’t seduce me, Ma. I started it. If anyone was seduced, it was her.”