Lois and Clark had arrived back at the farmhouse just in time for supper. Ben was there ahead of them, helping Martha in the kitchen, and the savory scents drifting from the oven made Lois’ stomach growl in spite of the giant cheeseburger she’d eaten earlier. The meal would be ready in moments, and the two reporters set the table quickly. The older couple carried out the plates and everyone sat down to dinner. Even Ben’s beagle Barkley and Martha’s Border collie Shelby; both old dogs curled up under the table in hopes of a tidbit.
Under those circumstances, neither Martha nor Lois was exactly looking for a confrontation. But when Lois greeted her with a stiffly polite, “Dinner smells wonderful, Mrs. Kent,” the older woman took the hint. During the meal, they were very civil to each other. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Clark and Ben luring them both into conversation, the only words spoken between them might have been “Please pass the salt.”
Afterward, lingering over coffee, Martha’s eyes searched Lois’ hazel ones intently. Lois met her gaze, level and unashamed, waiting for something she could sense but not decipher. Something was on Martha’s mind; she had the look of someone with an entire planned speech on the tip of her tongue, but whatever it was she hadn’t spoken of it yet. Lois answered Clark or Ben when they spoke to her, turning to either of them with a fond smile, but always turned back to regarding Martha. It wasn’t challenge that the older woman saw in Lois’ eyes, just readiness.
“Strange weather we’re having,” Clark commented, glancing out the dining room window. “It’s awfully warm for November.”
Ben turned to look over his own shoulder. The sun was setting outside, and the sky above was cloudless, turning to a deep sapphire blue. “It’ll get colder quick when it does,” he said. “Indian summers in these parts never last very long. Probably snow before the month is out.”
“Lois, I owe you an apology,” Martha said, cutting off any further meteorological observations. “I was rude to you this morning, and I had no right to be.”
Well, that was about the last thing Lois expected to hear, especially delivered so quietly. For a long moment, she said nothing, just watching Martha’s face and trying to gauge her motives. Tension hummed in the air as the silence spun out.
Martha watched her just as closely, her expression betraying nothing. No way for Lois to tell if this was a sincere and heartfelt apology, or simply something to appease the two men. Lois couldn’t say it was all right – it wasn’t. But she didn’t feel like telling Martha that she had expected to be treated like that from the moment she arrived.
When in doubt, stick with the truth. “I really don’t know what to say, Mrs. Kent.” The tone was completely even, and as guarded as Martha’s face had been.
The older woman blinked. “Hmm. I am sorry, you know. Both of these men have been chivvying me to make up to you – and I’m sure Clark’s done the same to you…”
“That’s why,” Lois interrupted. “It’s nothing to do with the two of them. It’s between the two of us.”
“I know,” Martha replied, a trifle quickly, annoyed at being cut off. But she smoothed out her voice to finish. “I believe we know enough about each other, Ms. Lane, to know that neither of us going to pretend to be all smiles just for the sake of these men – no matter how much we love them. Wild horses couldn’t make me apologize to you if I didn’t believe I was in the wrong, and wanted to make amends.” With that, she rose from the table gracefully, taking her coffee cup into the kitchen.
Lois bit her lip, barely noticing the wide-eyed looks from the two men, and muttered under her breath, “That goes for both of us.” Then she got up, planning to follow Martha and have this out once and for all, but Clark caught her arm gently. The stormy look on Lois’ face said all that needed to be said. She was ready for this to be over, no matter how it turned out.
“Lois, please,” he whispered, leading her gently into the living room. “She knows that.”
“If she has a problem with me, she needs to bring it to me. She needs to say it to my face,” Lois growled as she glared toward the other room. Ben had gone to the kitchen with her plate and Clark’s.
“Please don’t fight,” Clark practically begged. “Lois, I love you, and I love her too. She’s my mother – you’re the love of my life. I can’t bear it if the two of you fight!”
“Yes, but I can’t bring our kids out here if she’s going to act like this,” Lois hissed, trying to make him understand. Crossing her arms and taking a deep breath, she went on. “Kal-El, I miss them. I want them to see you – hell, I want them to see her, if she’ll be civil to them. Jason and Kala are pretty damned perceptive. I don’t want to fight with her; I want this over and done with, one way or another. If she and I are being frosty to each other, they’ll know.”
He caught her shoulders, kissing her forehead. “I know, love, I know. You’re going to have to talk to her. Just… Lois, you’re brilliant, you’re strong, you’re…”
“You’re trying to get me to not freak out,” she interjected, a sardonic eyebrow ticking up. “You always pull this flattery nonsense when you’re trying to calm me down.”
“The twins aren’t the only ones who are perceptive.” He smiled wryly. “You’re a whole lot more than anyone out here bargained for, Lois. Just, please, don’t turn Mad Dog Lane loose on my mom. Please?”
“I. Don’t. Want to.” Lois ground the words out slowly, throwing her arms up in exasperation. Why is it that men never understand female behavior in the slightest, not even him? “I’m just tired of beating around the bush, that’s all. I’m over it; I’m done being a scared little mouse. I just want to get this over with so I can enjoy being here with you – and possibly the twins. If your mother and I are going to hate each other let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way!”
He could only hold her, praying with all his might for the two women to resolve their differences. “Lois, I love you. I love you so much. Ma can’t hate you; once she gets used to you…”
Lois’ short, bitter laugh cut him off, making her look away. “Used to me, huh? Yeah, that’s exactly what I want. And what the twins will need. Used to me. Sure.”
“At least she’ll be out of the house,” he started to say, then hushed, turning to look toward the kitchen with a frown.
“What is it?” Lois asked.
“Ma usually goes to bridge on Thursday nights,” he said, half distracted. “Ben was just telling her to call him when she gets home, and she told him she’s staying in.”
Lois swore under her breath, her hands clenching in Clark’s shirt. “Dammit! She’s chaperoning us, Clark! Like we can’t be trusted alone for an entire evening. Good heavens” - she made a sheer mockery of the word – “we might ending up having sex – oh, wait, that already happened. See our six-year-old twins that she’s very clearly pointed out. Jeez! And she said something about my tact.”
Clark hushed her, massaging her shoulders in a vain attempt to knead the tension out of them. “It’ll be all right,” he said. “It’s just rude to go out and leave your company sitting at home. We’ll have some time to ourselves…”
But Lois somehow doubted it would be as easy as he made it sound.
Lois had had enough. She had spent the last couple of hours watching television in the living room while Martha retired to her room to rest, leaving her uncomfortable and constantly alert for the older woman. Clark had gone out on an emergency; she saw him on the news, using his heat vision to melt the ice that had caused a twenty-car pileup on a bridge in Canada. Evacuating the injured passengers took him awhile, during which Lois began to grow increasingly bored.
By the time he got back, it was eight o’clock. Still quite early by Lois’ standards, but not by those of Smallville residents, apparently. Martha bid them both a good night, getting a confused look from Clark.
“Something wrong?” Lois murmured, looking over the couch at her retreating form.
“Ma always goes to bed at nine,” he replied. “I guess … I guess she’s giving us a chance to talk. Or maybe getting up in the middle of the night last night wore her out more than she let on.”
“Hmm,” was all Lois would say. She cuddled closer against Clark’s side, breathing in his scent, his arm around her shoulders. Resting her forehead against his jaw, she thought of just how surreal things felt even now. It seemed impossible even now that she was here, that they really were together, that she could be this close to him without giving away the secret. To know that he really was hers. That they really had nothing to hide. It had taken nine years to get here, a long and painful journey from the moment they met to this one, but they had made it.
His most recent rescue came on the news again, and they talked about it in a desultory fashion. This was yet another new experience: talking to him more intimately than ever before after a rescue. There was nothing of reporting in this discussion, as informal as their interviews had always been, as more of understanding exactly what kind of effect it had on both sides of his life. And by proxy, hers now, as well. But this was also more about spending time together than anything else, and the talk drifted along lazily.
Still, Lois couldn’t relax, not even when she leaned against his side with his steady heartbeat to soothe her. The day’s trials had worn her nerves thin, and not even the nearness of the man she loved could cure that. Furthermore, she hadn’t spoken to the twins that day, and the lack of them was a gnawing ache in her heart. The most recent confrontation between herself and Martha over dinner had been left unfinished, and that nibbled at Lois’ composure as well. Impatience, loneliness, and the pure exhaustion of having been up since dawn on four hours’ sleep combined to make Lois both restless and tired.
There was one sure remedy for that, and she hadn’t brought it with her. The turmoil of her life the last week or so had prevented Lois from going back to Dr. Saavikam for more sleeping pills, and she’d used the last of her Tylenol PM that night at the hotel. By the time she drove far enough to find a drugstore open at this hour, she would either be asleep behind the wheel or it would be morning. And getting picked up by the local cops for dozing would just enhance the gossip.
But Lois did have one trick left up her sleeve, although it meant cutting their evening short. Well, it’s either that or insomnia. And it’s not as if he won’t be here in the morning. It was amazing the comfort thinking that gave her. She yawned, not having to fake it in the least, and let Clark talk her into going to bed early. They made their way upstairs, turning out the lights in the living room as they went, hands clasped. But after they kissed at the door to her room – only a soft brush of lips, both of them eyeing Martha’s door warily – Lois didn’t get ready for bed. Instead she waited somewhat guiltily, fully dressed, sitting on the edge of her bed and listening. I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s the absolute last thing I should be doing, but…
Clark took sleep where he could get it, and Lois could hear him moving around his room. By the time he had settled down and she was fairly certain he slept, or had at least settled in for the night, she could almost have fallen asleep sitting up. But in spite of her gritty eyes and bone-tiredness, her mind was still whirling and she still felt off-balance. The tension in her legs and back were growing by the moment. Not to mention, this was an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar town, with an unfamiliar and unfriendly woman in the room next door, a situation that was the diametric opposite of restful.
Lois knew of one way to make her jangling nerves settle down, and she set out to accomplish her goal. She tiptoed downstairs barefoot, carrying her boots. The other hand was in her pocket, making sure her keys didn’t jingle as she moved through the darkened house. It really didn’t help that she hadn’t been here long enough to really know the layout of her path. Just one misstep, bumping into something just a bit too hard, and Clark would be awake and she’d never hear the end of it.
Slowly, Lois made her way to the front door. She quietly put her boots on, took her coat from the coat rack nearby, and eased the door open, slipping outside, the door only open a crack. The nighttime temperature gave the lie to Ben’s comments on the weather; the air had a sharp bite, and the wind was starting to pick up. Winter was well on its way here in Kansas.
No matter. She wouldn’t be outside for long. Lois eased down the steps and across the dooryard to her car. What she wanted had been thrust, half-subconsciously, into the glove box. Until earlier, she had forgotten that she had shoved them there when she had fond them still in her purse at the airport. Out of sight, out of mind. At a moment like this, she realized that maybe she had subconsciously suspected that she’d need them. Good thing she hadn’t thrown them away outside the concourse the way she had planned originally. Taking her prize, she returned to the tall evergreen bushes planted on each side of the front steps. The shrubbery would conceal her if Clark happened to glance outside; she didn’t want him to see this.
Furtively, Lois shook a cigarette from the half-empty, crumpled pack. These were getting quite stale, but they were still smokable. Oh, thank God… She slipped the filter between her lips and lit up, inhaling with her eyes narrowed. As soon as we leave town, I’m quitting. This time for good. No last minute changes of heart. Quit. Period. But God, this is exactly what I need right now…
Nicotine began to percolate through her system, pulling a sigh from Lois as the tension started to release its now-iron grip. The familiar ritual of smoking soothed her more than the drug itself, even if performed while huddled in the shrubs like a sniper in enemy territory with a cold wind finding its way down the neck of her coat. Lois began to relax, really and truly relax, for the first time since seeing Martha Kent in the doorway. The date and the movie and the race had distracted her from her tension; this eased it, at last.
At least it did, right up until the front door opened. Lois froze, praying that whichever of them had come outside couldn’t see her. This would be hard to explain to Martha, but Clark would smell the smoke and understand all too well. Lois bit her lip at this thought, knowing full-well that it was one topic that he and Richard agree totally on. Oh, he’d understand, and give her that slightly disappointed look that always made her feel terrible…
A long moment, and then the front door closed again. Lois sighed with relief, but that was short-lived as she heard the lock click. “Dammit,” she hissed, standing upright without a thought of the cigarette in her hand, smacking her herself in the forehead. “Idiot!” Good luck sneaking back in now, Lane! You didn’t bring your lock picks – better hope there’s a window open. Either that, or chuck pebbles at Clark’s window and have to explain to him why you’re out here. Or you could sleep in the car … and have to explain that in the morning. Shit! And all because you wanted a cigarette. Goddamn things’ll be the death of you yet!
Before Lois could start looking for an unobtrusive way to break in, however, she heard an unexpected voice from the other side of the bush she was hiding beside.
“It’s all right,” Martha Kent whispered. “I’ve got my keys.”
Lois froze, clenching her teeth over the startled and very profane exclamation that she would’ve made if she had been anywhere other than here. A dozen questions flitted through her mind: How long have you been standing there? Why are you creeping around your own front yard? When were you going to let me know I wasn’t out here alone? But mostly, Do you want to give me a freakin’ coronary, woman?!
Luckily, none of that made it out of her mouth. All Lois said, her tone neutral, was, “Mrs. Kent. What a surprise.”
“I’m sorry if I startled you,” Martha said quietly, coming toward her and flipping her cell phone closed. “I came out here to send Ben a text message – we usually call each other every night, but I don’t want to intrude on Clark. He can’t help overhearing sometimes.”
Lois nodded, feeling startled amusement at the thought of the two of them sending one another text messages in spite of her state of mind. Here was her perfect opportunity for the confrontation she’d been expecting all evening. Martha was just watching her, not making any move toward the front door. She felt the same tension that Lois did, and the younger woman guessed Martha was just as ready to have it out once and for all.
But Lois hadn’t started all of this – she had tried to be as polite and proper as she could from the moment she arrived, with the exception of one little slip-up. She had gotten up at a positively unholy hour this morning just to try to make a good impression – and that had backfired. It was Martha who had snapped at her, Martha who had begun hostilities. So it would be Martha who could make the first move. “If there’s something you want to say to me, Mrs. Kent, then say it already.”
Martha bristled slightly, then covered her reaction. “I… Thank you for being so circumspect tonight. It was very polite of you.”
“That wasn’t being polite, Mrs. Kent. That was being completely honest. I have absolutely no idea what to say to you. And, for his sake,” –she jerked her chin in the direction of the house- “I’m trying to say as little as possible.”
“I wasn’t talking about that,” Martha said. “I meant in how you’ve acted around Clark. The two of you have been behaving as if you’re not much more than friends, and I appreciate the consideration…”
That was the wrong thing to say, made obvious by the way the younger woman’s eyes flared. “I am not going to seduce your son under your roof,” Lois ground out, desperate not to lose her temper. “I’ll have you know we’ve barely done more than kiss since he came back – and not even had much of a chance to do that! We’ve been far too busy trying not to get killed to fool around. And in your house? My mother raised me better than that! And I’d like to think your son was raised better, too.”
“So would I,” Martha replied coolly.
“You could’ve gone to bridge night,” Lois said through gritted teeth, telling herself not to rise to the bait. She took a slow breath in through her nose and let it out a little at a time. Keep your mouth shut, Lane, and think about the twins. You have to at least try to get along with her for their sake.
“And leave a guest at home her first evening here?” The older woman seemed a bit taken aback. She lived by a set of traditions that city life had long forgotten, which included making the best dinner possible for a guest. “That would be unforgivably rude – my bridge group already found a substitute as soon as they heard I had company. Besides, I’ve played bridge with them most every Thursday for the last twenty years. It’s not as if I’m going to miss anything…”
“Which is precisely why you should’ve gone,” Lois retorted, all too aware of how the situation looked. “They’ll spend the whole night talking about how you had to stay home and hover over ‘that Eastern woman’, defending your son’s virtue. You’re making me look like the kind of woman who can’t be trusted around a man!”
A swift blaze of anger in Martha’s expression, of guilty embarrassment, just as quickly tamped down. “I’m doing no such thing, Ms. Lane. I’m just trying to be a good hostess…” And seeing the bright flare of resentment in Lois’ eyes, she added, “Which I wasn’t this morning. I am sorry – I don’t know how to say that so you’ll believe it. I’m just not used to people who blaspheme before noon.”
Lois’ hazel eyes narrowed, rolling her eyes in annoyance. Did this woman have to misunderstand everything? “And I’m not used to people whose dogs howl at me before the sun is completely up! I’m sorry! I apologized this morning – I was mortified, didn’t you see my face?! I didn’t even know you had a dog. I only met the Border collie at dinner tonight, and nobody told me about freakin’ Barkley!”
“Barkley’s a blamed fool,” Martha shot back. “He startled all of us, which is half the reason I snapped at you!”
“No, you snapped because Ben made it sound like you actually approved of me,” Lois snapped. “God forbid your boyfriend should have a kind word for the scarlet woman, much less imply that you were a fan!”
Martha’s sudden blush told Lois how very close she’d hit to the truth. “Well forgive me if you aren’t exactly what I had in mind–” she began, and cut herself off abruptly.
So what the hell else is new? The hurt, angry thought called up a swarm of others. I’m not good enough for you, I wasn’t good enough for Sylvia White, and I most definitely wasn’t good enough for Jor-El. I wasn’t even good enough for my own father… Then Lois squared her jaw, her eyes stinging, and said forcefully, “Well excuse me if I’m not Lana Lang! I may not be good enough for you, Mrs. Kent, but I’m good enough for your son. And I’m good enough for our twins. If need be, that’s enough for me.”
I’m through proving myself was the unspoken ending, but Martha heard it. She was further taken aback by the remark about Lana; she’d been hoping for quite some time that the divorcee would run into Clark again. He and Lana had so much in common; they seemed perfect for each other…
Well, Lois had made her point – Clark had made his choice. And it was one Martha had never expected. Realizing that she knew so little about the kinds of choices he would make – and realizing once and for all that he would make those choices instead of letting her guide him – made Martha defensive. Being told off by this foul-mouthed citybred hedonist didn’t help her mood any. Rallying, Martha took a step toward Lois and spat, “Speaking of the twins, how come you hid my grandchildren from me?”
Then it was Lois’ turn to stare in open-mouthed shock.