“You didn’t? But the way Martha talks…”
“Oh, that’s wishful thinking,” Lana sighed aggravatedly. She turned to face Lois instead of looking out across the fields. “Look, Lois. I was a stupid teenager. I was every stereotype you can imagine for a pretty girl; I was the head cheerleader, I was friends with all the popular girls, and I dated the quarterback. Basically I did everything everyone expected me to do. Including snub the kids who weren’t popular, and that included Clark. He was shy – well, now I know why. He couldn’t really get into sports, because he’d give himself away kicking a field goal into Canada or something. And my boyfriend hated him.”
“Brad was a jock, and an arrogant, pushy jerk. Back then, Clark was ten times the man Brad would ever be – and I saw it, but I wouldn’t let myself think it. I was too busy worrying about my little clique, and keeping my head cheerleader spot. I think Brad sort of guessed that I liked Clark, at least a little, because he was always picking on him. And Clark never fought back. How could he? He could’ve killed Brad accidentally in a fight. So he got the reputation of being a bit of a coward, too.”
Lana dropped her gaze for a moment, then forced herself to meet Lois’ eyes. “Everyone knew he had a crush on me, though. That was half the reason Brad picked on him. Not that Clark was ever a pest about it; he just had this mournful puppy-eyed look…” She trailed off as Lois chuckled in recognition, then continued with a slightly lighter heart. “Anyway, Jonathan Kent died our senior year, and Clark left town right after graduation. I got enough sense to realize that Brad wasn’t going anywhere, and I wound up getting involved with Don while I was in college. So Clark and I were never together, but just about everyone in town wishes we’d date. Not many people leave and make good on it – not just leave for another little town, or a city nearby. Clark and I are about the only ones in our generation who left and went east. He went to Metropolis, and I’ve been living in Gotham, two of the biggest cities in the country. People just think we’d make a good match.”
She smiled with amusement, and added, “But then, they don’t realize that sometimes what you need in life isn’t someone just like you. Sometimes what you need is someone very different – say, a citybred spitfire Army-brat Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter.”
Lois laughed; that was a fairly succinct description, and yet Lana made it sound flattering. “Well, rest assured that he’s always thought highly of you, okay? I’ve heard more than a little bit about The Little Girl Back Home over the years. I’m glad you turned out much more interesting than he made you sound.” Her eyes twinkled with deviltry as she grinned at her. “So, I take you approve of us?”
“Would I be here if I didn’t?” Lana countered. “Of course I approve. I’m not as blind as I was back then. I can see you two are utterly, madly in love – and more than that, you’re willing to fight for each other and for the twins. You’re both absolutely committed.”
The door opened behind them, and Lois replied casually, “I ought to be committed, to a mental institution that is. Never figured on hooking up with a farm boy.”
Clark came up behind her and rumpled her hair affectionately as Martha led the twins past them and down to the yard. “I love you, too, Lois.” He was carrying two mugs of coffee in his other hand, and offered one to Lois, handing Lana the other.
Both women thanked him, but Lois rose up on her toes to kiss him quickly while Martha’s back was turned. “Now scram,” she said, hazel eyes dancing with mischief. “This is girl talk.”
He followed Martha and the twins as they led the goat into the barn, Jason and Kala full of questions about life on a farm. Lana and Lois watched them go, Lois with an affectionate sigh, Lana with a wistful one. “No, I wouldn’t even try to steal him from you,” Lana said softly. “But I do envy you, Lois.”
Lois grinned slightly. “So if you’re not stealing Clark, it must be Richard, right?”
The other woman’s blush was all the answer she needed, and Lois chuckled. “Lana, it’s okay. Really. I’m the one that told him to call you, that night when he showed up at your hotel.”
“And we wound up in the newspaper,” Lana muttered. “Dear God. Do you have any idea how much grief Kay’s given me over that? She thinks she’s my mother instead of my assistant.”
“So quit acting ashamed about it,” Lois opined. “Lana, what’s wrong with liking a man and going out with him?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe the fact that two weeks ago I was giving him relationship advice pertaining to his fiancée – you,” Lana replied. “I’ve just never gotten involved with someone so fast. Every time I turn around, I’m breaking my own rules over him…”
“Yeah, I know that feeling,” Lois said. “My motto used to be ‘I never miss a deadline, I never let anyone else get to the scene first, and I never sleep with anyone I work with.’ Richard’s really good at making you break the rules. Devious, charming devil that he is.”
Lana turned to face her, green eyes serious now. “You’re sure it doesn’t bother you? Lois, the very last thing I want is to make an enemy of you.”
Hazel eyes rolled. “Dear God, what do I have to do, give you an engraved invitation? Lana! All I want is for Richard to be happy, and quite frankly, you’ll make him happier than I ever could. You have my blessing, okay? Go for it. Geez.”
The redhead couldn’t help laughing. “Okay, okay, I can take a hint! That’s all I needed to hear.”
“Good, because I’m getting sick of telling him I don’t mind him asking you out,” Lois replied tartly. “I feel like I’m some kind of demented matchmaker here.”
“Well, it does sort of feel meant-to-be,” Lana admitted. “Which is half the reason I’m fighting it. Experience has taught me to be leery of Princes Charming, as well as anything that seems too good to be true.”
“Richard snores,” Lois said. “And he’s a smart man, but he can’t figure out how to put the cap back on the freakin’ toothpaste. He loves old horror movies and he’ll stay up ‘til four o’clock in the morning to watch anything with Margot Kidder in it. He also thinks it’s incredibly funny to run around the house barefoot in the winter, and then stick his cold frikkin’ toes into the backs of yours knees when he comes to bed. Trust me, Lana, Richard’s not some impossibly perfect fairytale prince.”
“Close enough for me,” Lana said, and grinned. “We’re going to have to work on that toothpaste thing, though. That’ll drive me nuts.”
“I just bought the glacier mint flavored stuff for me, and the regular for him,” Lois said. “That way my toothpaste never got all dried out and gross.”
The two women looked at each other, each half-smiling as they realized the absurdity of their situation. A week ago, they had been fighting for their lives against a madman and rescuing a superhero. Right this moment and right in front of them, the world’s defender was walking out of the barn with the two secret heirs to his Kryptonian legacy. And what were they talking about? Toothpaste.
Clark and the twins both looked at them like they were crazy when Lois and Lana started cracking up for no apparent reason. Their laughter faded into a shared smile.
They just looked at each other steadily, each appraising the other as women are so prone to do. She’s a looker, Lana thought with a grin, but I’m not too shabby, either. I can still wear fit into my high school cheerleading uniform, if I wanted to. “You know, I’m very glad we aren’t rivals, for either of their affections,” Lana said after a moment.
She met Lana’s thoughtful gaze, guessing what was in the other woman’s mind. Lois grinned lazily, leaning against the railing a little further. “So am I, considering that I’ve had two kids and I can still wear the skirts I wore when I was twenty-five – even the white one with the split up the side. It wouldn’t be fair to either of these men to make them choose.”
Lana laughed again. “Yes, well, I can wear the jeans I wore in high school, even if they’re hopefully out of fashion. All else being equal, Lois, I hate to tell you this, but red hair trumps everything.”
Her tone was teasing, and Lois snorted in amusement. “Oh, really? Ask Clark.”
“I’d rather ask Richard,” Lana retorted, and both of them started laughing again. It was nearly impossible not to – this was one of the strangest conversations either one had ever had, playfully taunting when not too long ago, they’d considered each other potential rivals of the bitterest sort.
“Well, he’s always had a thing for redheads,” Lois said casually, still chuckling.
“I’ll be sure to remember that,” Lana replied, eyebrows arching up for a moment.
That started Lois laughing again. “Never thought I’d hear you say something like that without blushing, Lana.”
“Remember, Lois, I’m the one who left town and made good in the big city,” Lana said. “Just because I’m a good old-fashioned small-town girl doesn’t mean I don’t have a brain or a spine.”
“I never said that,” Lois said quickly.
“No, but it wouldn’t surprise me if people thought it,” Lana replied. “Even you, before you knew me well enough.”
Lois sighed and rolled her eyes. “The worst I ever said or thought of calling you was ‘cheerleader,’ and that’s accurate. Richard wouldn’t have left me for an idiot.”
The redhead winced again at those words, and Lois leveled a glare at her. “Would you stop? You’re not a thief! You’re not a homewrecker, either. I’m totally okay with it. Go on, you and Richard are great for each other – be happy and quit flinching every time I mention the fact that he’s my ex.” The reporter sighed, and added, “It’s not that I never loved him – I still do love him, and I always will. Richard’s very important to me, and he’s always going to be a part of my life because of the twins. But you’ll make him happier than I ever could.”
“And you’re absolutely sure you’re not bitter about that? Not even a little?” Lana asked. “Because Lois, I know if he and I are together, you and Clark and your kids are always going to be a part of our lives. I admire you – I wouldn’t have lived my life the way you’ve lived yours, but I admire your determination and your courage.”
“Our lives?” Lois asked gently. “Seems like you’ve already made the decision, Lana. Besides, what right do I have to be bitter?”
“I did say ‘if’,” Lana told her, but softly. “Fine, then. If you’re sure you’re all right with Richard and me – absolutely and totally sure – then I’ll take you at your word.” She held out her hand and smiled. “Friends?”
Relieved, Lois shook on it. “Friends.” However, she couldn’t resist adding with a teasing grin, “But if Richard finally starts to get on your nerves, don’t you come looking for Clark.”
“Women screaming in surround-sound from your darkened living room at three in the morning,” Lois said warningly. “Let’s see how happy you are about all this next Halloween, when the movie marathons go on 24/7 for two weeks straight.”
Martha carefully showed the twins how to toss a handful of scratch feed so that it scattered in an arc, which kept the chickens from fighting over it. She knew this feeling of blissful contentment that had settled over her – she’d felt it before, when Clark had toddled up to her from that spacecraft and held his arms out, hoping to be picked up. She had known she couldn’t have a child, but she had prayed for one anyway, and her prayers had been answered in that little miracle from the stars. Now he had brought her two more miracles, all unlooked-for, the grandchildren she’d assumed she would never have.
As human as Clark had appeared to be, Martha had always known in the back of her mind that he was anything but. It just didn’t matter to her; he was her son by upbringing, alien birth notwithstanding, and she had always believed in the power of nurture over nature. But knowing what he was, she had never expected him to become a father, and her own delight in the twins was magnified by his obvious love for his new role in life.
In that mood, she would have found love in her heart for the twins’ mother even if she had been a two-headed ogre. A prickly temper, a sharp tongue, and the occasional cigarette were so easily forgiven that they might not have been problems in the first place. Martha glanced over her shoulder at the back porch, where Lois and Lana remained, watching the twins and sipping their coffee. She offered both women a fond smile, and got the same in return.
“Grandma?” Kala asked. “Can I pet a chicken?”
“Sure, sweetheart,” her grandmother told her. “But don’t scare them. Here, I’ll hold her, you just pet her gently…” With those words, she carefully gathered up the oldest hen in the flock. The bird clucked slowly, but didn’t struggle; she had been handled often as a chick, and had no fear of people. She was also particularly calm, and merely turned to look at the little girl who tentatively stroked her feathers.
Jason petted the hen, too, but he was more interested in exploring. “Are we allowed to go for a walk?” he asked.
“Better take your father with you,” Martha said. “At least until you know your way around the property. Clark…?”
He had been hanging back, watching them together, his heart so full of love and relief that it ached. Now he came forward, smiling at the twins. “I’ve got a better idea,” he said. “It’s chilly out. How would you two like to go for a flight to warm up?”
Two sets of eyes, one blue as his own, the other hazel like her mother’s, brightened as his suggestion. “Can we? Can we really, please?” Jason and Kala pleaded in unison, and Clark laughed.
Lois was near enough to hear them, and she waved indulgently. “Go ahead,” she said. “But look out, Clark. They’re going to pester you for a flight every chance they get. Thank God no one’s at the Pioneer Center to see you guys. ”
His broad grin told her that was no problem at all, and lifting them both up, he took a quick look around with his x-ray vision to make sure no one happened to be nearby. Then he was gone, soaring into the heavens, and the three women who loved him – mother, lover, and oldest friend – watched him go with identical smiles.
After a moment of silence, Lana said quietly, “That is … amazing. Does he always just…?”
“Yes,” Martha and Lois replied in unison. Martha added with a chuckle, “It’s pretty impressive if you’ve never seen it, but for a while I was more used to watching him fly away from lectures.”
Shaking her head, Lana said, “All right, that’s about as much as my mind can hold on any given day. I’m still getting used to the notion that the boy who sat behind me in fourth grade is Superman.”
“You think that’s amazing, try watching him dive off the Daily Planet roof and then swoop back up and hover,” Lois said. “Even better, try being with him, the showoff.”
Lana shivered. “No thanks. If I’m going to indulge in aerial hijinks, I think I’d rather be safely buckled in.” A thought occurred to her, and she glanced upward. “Strange that the twins aren’t scared at all…”
“Oh, trust me, they’re fine,” Lois said casually. “Of course, they’ve never fallen a couple thousand feet because he lost his grip. And they had better not ever. I’ll kill him.”
“He was pretty traumatized by that,” Martha said. “Poor boy, he told me he couldn’t believe he dropped you.”
Lois’ lip curled in amusement. “After the catch, you couldn’t tell he was traumatized. Obviously his grip’s gotten a lot better over the years.”
Martha just smiled. “Lois, you do realize you’re the first person he ever flew with, right?”
The reporter hadn’t known, and she perked up. “Really?”
“Come on inside, ladies,” Martha said. “Lana, I know you want to give your mother a chance to settle down before you head home. We might as well have some hot chocolate and trade stories about my son.”
Lois was delighted to have an in-law – prospective in-law, Geez, I’m worse than Lucy – who would actually give her information other than how unsuitable she was for the Last Son of Krypton. Lana, however, chuckled. “That poor man. Then again, he should have known it would happen eventually. The three women who know him best are sharing information.”
Clark touched down gently an hour later. Jason and Kala were profoundly relaxed but still alert, both of them practically glowing with health and happiness. The moment he set them down, the twins stretched like a pair of cats and then trotted off toward the house. Was it his imagination, or did they both move more surely now?
He didn’t have much time to think on it. The three women were just walking out of the house as the twins headed in, and Lois kissed both children affectionately while they chattered excitedly about everything they’d seen.
“An’ we flew over Africa, an’ it was so dark! An’ Kala wanted to get a meerkat but Daddy said no, they were all sleepin’, and then we went over the ocean and we saw a whale,” Jason said.
Lois ruffled his hair and kissed her daughter twice. “Kala, the meerkats don’t want to leave their families. Especially not at night – they’d be scared. Besides, Captain Jack would be jealous.”
“Yeah,” Kala said, perking up. “I like ferrets, too. Captain Jack was the best birthday present ever.”
“Nuh-uh, Ignatius is cooler,” Jason protested, provoking a long-suffering sigh from his sister.
“You got her a ferret?” Martha muttered in surprised tones.
“Perry White got her the weasel, not me,” Lois murmured, pressing her palms to her eyes.
“And what is Ignatius?”
“God, don’t make me say it,” Lois sighed, hiding her face in her hands. “He’s an archeological experiment gone bad.”
“Oh, that’s Jason’s iguana, Ma,” Clark said as if Lois had never spoken.
“Iguana?” The older woman turned to look speculatively at Lois, who held her hands up.
“I had nothing to do with it,” Lois said. “Blame my boss-slash-father-figure.”
“Aren’t lizards sort of delicate?” Lana asked. “I heard they’re hard to take care of.”
“You couldn’t kill Gazeera with an ax,” Lois replied under her breath, deadpan. “Trust me, I’ve tried.”
“Mommy!” Jason, suddenly understanding that Gazeera’s honor was being tarnished, turned an affronted look on his mother while the other adults laughed.
After a moment, Lana glanced at her watch and frowned. “I hate to say this, but I need to go. Eventually my mother’s going to realize I didn’t come straight home.”
“What are you, twelve?” Lois growled.
“I’ll give you a ride there,” Martha said, but she glanced wistfully at the twins. “At least Annette won’t start anything while I’m there.”
Lois looked up at Clark, then back down at the twins. She had missed them powerfully, but Martha had six years to make up for. An hour or so couldn’t hurt. “Take the munchkins with you, if you think it’ll help,” she suggested. “I think it’s safe to say she’ll take one look at them and know. Kala’s eyes, especially.”
The older woman beamed. Lois had to smile back just from the sheer warmth in that look. “Yes, I think that would be a help, Lois. Thank you.” The younger woman only nodded. “Jason, Kala, would you like to ride with us?”
After glancing at their parents for confirmation, the twins readily agreed. They demanded another hug and a kiss from Lois and Clark before they left, however. “Are we gonna see cows and horses?” Jason asked as Martha helped him into the cab of the old pickup truck.
“And turkeys?” Kala added hopefully.
Clark slid his arm around Lois’ waist, and they waved as Martha drove off. Instinctively, Lois wrapped her arms over his. “Well, at least that’ll put that rumor to rest,” Clark sighed, his chin on top of her head.
“You sure nobody in her family has hazel eyes? Not even way back?” Lois mocked, laughter clear in her voice.
“I’m sure Annette Lang got a complete description of you yesterday,” Clark told her, hugging her close to him. “Including your hair and eyes. If that doesn’t make it obvious who their mother really is, just let Kala open her mouth.”
Lois had to lean against him, she laughed so hard. “You’re learning, Kent.”
He just held her for a moment, kissing her hair and smiling. “Did you and Lana get everything straightened out?” he asked. “I tried not to overhear, but you two were talking for a while.”
“Yes, we did,” Lois said sardonically, a wry expression on her face. “We’re dueling at dawn to decide which of us gets to keep both men. That reminds me, gotta clean my gun…”
“Lois,” Clark said, tickling her ribs. “Stop being silly.”
“No, Kal-El, you won’t have to break up a catfight anytime soon,” Lois said with playful aggravation, swatting at his hand. “I’m happy for her and Richard, and she’s happy for us. He’ll finally get what he always wanted; you and I can finally have each other…”
“And Lana will finally have someone worthy of her,” Clark added. “If Richard was any less than who he is, I’d have my reservations. But seeing how things stand, I’m glad for them. I just hope he realizes that Lana won’t jump headfirst into this.”
“If he doesn’t, he’ll learn,” the dark-haired woman opined. “It took him a long time to win me, Kal-El. I was still holding on to your memory even three years later. Besides, I think Lana might just surprise us. The only thing that’s been holding her back so far seems to be the fear that I’d consider it theft.”
“Hmm,” Clark murmured, noncommittally. “Well, since we’ve been left completely alone for the first time in how long, would you like a tour of the farm? I need to make sure there’s nothing around that the twins can hurt themselves on.”
“D’ya think Martha turned the surveillance cameras on?” Lois said with a snicker. “I’m surprised she did leave us here alone.”
She has to leave us alone at some point if she wants more grandchildren, Clark thought, and bit his lip. That was not a thought he needed to entertain. “C’mon. I’m mostly worried about the barn – there are rakes and pitchforks in there. Not to mention, there used to be a rope swing up in the hayloft, and with what you’ve said about Kala and climbing…”
Lois shuddered as they reluctantly broke apart. “A rope swing? God, those are dangerous.”
“How do you think I learned to fly?” Clark said with a grin, holding her hand as they moved away from the house. “The first time was an accident, but after that I’d jump off the swing on purpose to get myself airborne. For a while I couldn’t consciously control it, and I had to be falling in order for the flight to kick in.”
The dark-haired woman couldn’t help shaking her head. “Now that’s a mental image,” she teased.
Clark led her into the barn, his superior sight easily picking out potential hazards. He’d never realized just how dangerous farm tools could be – good Lord, there was even a scythe on the wall! Suppressing a shiver, Clark gathered it up along with everything else that had a point or an edge, and looked around for a good place to put it all. The loft. I doubt the twins will actually get up there, and if I have to, I can pull the ladder off the wall. That’ll be safest.
“Wait here for a sec, Lois,” he said, and flew up to the loft. It was just as he remembered it, a dim space redolent of hay. Instead of baling the stuff, the Kents had always stored loose hay up here, simply forking it down to the livestock below when necessary. Now it was piled to twice Clark’s height in the center of the loft.
That was the spot to aim for when you jumped off the rope swing. As a kid, it had been exhilarating fun, all the more so for being absolutely forbidden. He’d swing out over nothingness, a seventy-foot fall to barn floor below him, and then the rope would tighten and whisk him back in over the safety of the hay.
Now, as a father, it horrified him. I’ve got to take that rope down anyway, and the only safe place to keep these tools is up among the rafters. He flew up again, first securing the tools close to the wall, and then walking easily out along the central beam toward the rope.
Clark was pulling it up, hand over hand, when he heard Lois’ voice. “Jesus. And I thought the one I broke my arm falling off was scary – Clark, if you’d fallen from that, you’d break your neck.”
“Not me,” he replied, turning to look and grinning to see that Lois had climbed the ladder into the loft just beneath him. “But anyone else … that’s why I’m taking it down. It’s better not to have the temptation.”
He untied the heavy rope and coiled it, stepping lightly off the beam and floating down to Lois as if he weighed no more than the motes of dust in the dim air around them.
“The crazy things you country people do for fun,” Lois muttered, shaking her head. She was over at the edge of the mounded hay, and he smiled wickedly. He could smell her perfume from here, and they were, after all, entirely alone…
“We crazy country people can think of a lot more to do in a hayloft than just risk our necks on a rope swing,” Clark said, tossing the rope down through the opening behind Lois.
“Like you have any experience with that,” Lois teased back, her eyes bright.
“You’re right, I don’t,” he bantered. “Want to change that?”
Lois blinked in surprise, and Clark started to blush. Had he really been that bold? But before he could stammer an apology, her expression became amused and very knowing. “I never did either, not in a hayloft, anyway,” Lois purred, coming toward him. “Never knew why a hayloft, of all places. But I’m sure you could show me…”
I haven’t even really had too many chances to just kiss her, and I miss that. I miss it a lot. We can always stop… Telling himself that, Clark took Lois’ hands and brought her with him to where the hay was deepest. It held them up, surrounding them in its soft, grassy scent as they sat down together. Clark leaned in to kiss her…
And Lois started giggling. “Dear God,” she muttered, hiding her face in her hands. “After all the grand pageantry of whisking me off to bed in the Fortress all those years ago, this is what we’ve come back to. Making out in a hayloft in Kansas like a couple of teenagers. Oh, Geez…”
Clark just looked at her with a half-smile playing over his lips. “Lois, I think we both know you love the man as much as the hero,” he said quietly. When she stopped her nervous laughter and met his eyes, he added, “Now’s your chance to prove it.”
One last little half-laugh. “You’re awfully sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Only when it comes to you,” he told her, and kissed her.
That impulsive little kiss surprised them both. Clark hadn’t let himself think too much about it; he would get nervous as he always did with her. Her lips were so soft beneath his, the brush of her hair against his face, her swift gasp lost in the kiss. The faint scent of her hair, her perfume, her skin, overlying the sweet hay… Lois. Here, she was really here, with him. Really his, finally his to hold, to kiss, to love. Very quickly, the world narrowed to himself and Lois, the way her arms slid around his neck, those delicate hands burrowed into his hair, the sudden intense pressure of her lips when she returned the kiss gladly. It was as it had always been; even more so. Lost in her, lost in everything about her…
The last sane bit of his mind warned him, Better listen for the truck. It doesn’t take all that long to get to town and back, and Ma might never trust you two again if she catches you up here the first time you’re alone…