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”To sleep, perchance to dream...”

Whether the Bard of Avon had in mind the kind of sleep we left Lois in after her nocturnal ponderings on the mysteries of life and her partner's place in it, only he could say -- if he were, and if he'd ever heard of L&C, and if...

Hmmm... on second thoughts, let's not bother him! biggrin

In any case, night has folded its wings over the Kent farm, and only the farm animals (if they were paying attention wink ) know what might or might not have happened between then and...


Now read on:

Morning came all too quickly for a woman who'd been awake until the wee small hours, and Lois' alarm clock was back home in Metropolis. The high-pitched beeps of her watch's alarm had been known to wake her in the past, but not so, this fine Kansas morning. It was not until, for the second time in as many days, a delectable smell wafted into her room and began to gently torment her nose -- and then, by association, her mouth and stomach -- with the promise of breakfast that her consciousness reasserted itself, however much this may have been resented by the rest of her.

A low "...urrghh..." might have been heard as she struggled to leave the horizontal position, but possibly only with super-hearing. The stomach growl which followed was rather louder.

Okay, okay, I'm getting up as fast as I can, she told her insistent belly, which declined to respond with anything other than a second, smaller but no less expressive gurgle.

She managed to throw back the bed-clothes and shuffle to the edge of the mattress, and then rolled off the bed and onto her feet in an oddly graceful manoeuvre that she had trained herself over the course of too many years of late nights and early mornings to be able to perform in a semi-conscious state. As usual, once on her feet, she swayed for a moment as the blood in her body re-arranged itself to deal with having to flow mostly vertically, and her consciousness finally fully rebooted itself.

She stumbled over to her bags and rooted around in the rucksack for her toiletry bag and some clothes. There was a short pause while she concluded that she wasn't quite feeling up to making decisions just yet, even minor ones. Eventually, she picked up the entire sack and carried it out of the room and into the bathroom; maybe she'd be able to work out what to wear once she'd washed.

Not too long thereafter, clean and awake -- and, she hoped, appropriately attired for Kansas in jeans and a favourite blouse that was not quite good enough to wear to the office any more -- Lois strolled downstairs, her nose and stomach arguing over which was leading the way, because the aroma that had woken her had only got stronger and more mouth-watering while she'd dressed.

An explosion of laughter greeted her at the door to the kitchen; her brows rose and she halted just outside to savour the happy sound. Then she heard Jonathan's voice -- incredulous, amazed, but also vastly entertained as he tried to describe something... something Clark had done earlier, it became apparent, some super-feat that he'd done... while helping with the farm chores?!

She couldn't help it; she giggled. Back to your roots, eh, Clark? And then she burst out laughing at the awful pun she'd made inadvertently. She rolled her eyes; it was beginning to look like it was going to be one of those mornings... Well, she couldn't lurk out here any more; whether or not the Kents knew she was there, Clark's hearing could hardly have missed her mirth -- always assuming that he hadn't already known that she was there.

She opened the door and made to go in, but paused on the threshold to regard the scene in front of her. There was Jonathan, telling his story, gesturing with his hands to indicate something that he couldn't quite believe, even thought he'd seen it with his own eyes; Martha was hanging on his every word, and her eyes were round with astonishment and getting bigger and bigger -- except for when she would dart a swift glance at Clark, during which they would narrow just a little; and the cause of all this was leaning up against the kitchen counter-top, a small, pleased and amused smile on his face, regarding the two people in front of him -- and, indeed, the kitchen, the morning, and quite possibly life -- with what could only be called delight...

...until he turned and saw her. Lois remembered watching him outside the Planet, the morning after they'd met, and how he'd changed from good-looking-but-dull to (Go on, Lois, admit it!) highly attractive when he'd seen her; well, that was nothing compared to this! Right now, here in this ordinary farmhouse, dressed as he was in the most everyday combination of jeans and a denim shirt, the man's appearance, demeanour and sheer joie de vivre were potentially lethal -- and Lois was prepared to wager that the vast majority of the female population of the Earth would die happy, just so long as he was looking at them like that as they went.

"Lois! Hi!" he called, smiling -- and the smile had been upgraded from million-candlepower to outshines-the-Sun. "Come on in. Jonathan and I just finished the morning chores."

For an instant, Lois was taken aback by the sheer power of the feelings his expression revealed -- and of the answering ones that he was rousing in her. Her instinctive reaction was to retreat, or to become aggressive, but something stopped her from bristling in self-defence as she would normally. Could it have been something to do with that connection between them, or was it something as simple as the fact that she didn't feel threatened by this man, and so his feelings towards her were not threatening, either? Or was it something else, something new that she was going to have to think about...

She almost groaned; she'd spent more time "thinking about" stuff like that since she met Clark than she had in the rest of her life! Self-reflection, particularly when it involved her emotions and messy things like relationships, was not her favourite activity by a long chalk, but knowing Clark kept meaning that she had to face the truth about some aspect of herself -- or him. She really ought to resent him for that, but she didn't... which was one more thing to think about -- but later.

For now, she decided to join in the fun. "You causing trouble again, Kent?" she joked, grinning wickedly. "Honestly, I can't take you anywhere..."

"Just as well I'm the one who usually takes you places, then," he replied smoothly, matching her grin with one of his own that was full of mischief.

Her stomach chose that moment to join the conversation, and Lois' mind raced to cover her embarrassment. "Yeah, well, you're not taking me anywhere this morning!" she shot back, "Not with that smell making me ravenous!" She faced Martha and assumed a beseeching expression that was only half-faked. "Martha, please tell me that breakfast's ready..."

Her hostess seemed to be having trouble speaking and, for a moment, Lois was almost on alert to offer first aid; but then she realised that Martha was trying to keep from laughing, and not succeeding all that well. Nor was the older woman's struggle to maintain a straight face helped by Clark's comment that, "You'd better feed her, Mo-- Martha. If there's one thing I've learned since meeting Lois, it's that you get between her and breakfast, and especially her first cup of coffee, at your peril!"

Lois snorted in disgust. "And whose fault is that, farm boy? Before I met you, I hardly ever ate breakfast! Then you come along with French croissants, kedgeree at the London Ritz, Australian crepes and iced chocolate... you've corrupted me!"

She raised her eyes heavenwards and delicately lifted one hand to her forehead, assuming a martyred expression while declaiming in the manner of a melodrama heroine, "Oh! Woe is me! Brought to such a pass by a smooth-talking villain and breakfast pastries. Ruined by the evil blandishments of my (sob) partner and dim sum from Hong Kong! How shall I ever face the world?"

The final question was rhetorical, but it wouldn't have mattered if it hadn't been. "The world", or the small part of it contained in the farmhouse kitchen, was having trouble facing Lois just then; Jonathan and Martha were both doubled over, almost helpless with laughter, and Clark was staring at her with a bemused expression on his face, as if to say, Who is this woman, and what has she done with my partner? He turned away after a second or two, obviously trying to avoid cracking up himself, and Lois was almost certain she heard a mutter along the lines of, "She says she can't take me anywhere...?"

She grinned wickedly as her hosts' laughter gradually wound down to chuckles and her partner faced her again with a expression that was part pained grimace, part fond exasperation -- but, somehow, with a strong undercurrent of humour and what could only be described as delight. Lois almost gasped, but managed, barely, to retain her self-control. He kept doing this to her; okay, they were playing, but it still amazed her that anybody-- any man -- could not only put up with being teased, but even seem to enjoy it! Clark appeared to have no trouble that way, though.

The game continued. Clark stepped over to the kitchen table and ostentatiously pulled out-- no, drew out; he was making too much of a production of it for the more formal word not to apply -- a chair for her. Her memory instantly flashed back to breakfast at the Ritz, and she realised that he was imitating (and quite well, too) the maitre d' who'd shown them to their table a week and a few hours ago. He said nothing, but the unspoken message was clear: Would Madam care to be seated for breakfast?

Madam would, and so she assumed as superior a manner as she could muster and sat down at the table with grace and dignity, or as much of that as she could assume under the circumstances -- which was, perhaps, less than she might have liked since she was wearing jeans rather than the formal dress her deportment demanded.

Clark, having seated her, gave up his maitre d' pose and flopped into another chair while the Kents began to serve breakfast. Lois wondered if she should offer to help, and was surprised that Clark hadn't offered, either, until she saw that Jonathan and Martha were moving about their kitchen with practised ease that no-one else could possibly duplicate; anyone trying would only get in the way. "Okay, so we'll wash up afterwards," she muttered to herself -- and was not surprised to see Clark nod firmly in agreement. That super-hearing of his could sure come in handy...

Breakfast was delicious -- and enormous! No wonder Clark is such a fan of a "good breakfast", Lois thought, if this is what he was used to as a kid! It took considerable effort after a meal of that size to force herself to get up from the table in order to clean up, but she was determined to do something, however small, to repay the Kents' hospitality. She was grateful when Clark appeared by her chair and helped her to her feet, and more so when he turned on that charm of his to politely but firmly over-ride Martha's protestations that she couldn't have guests doing the housework; these guests were going to do their fair share!

Of course, when Clark then switched into super-speed and proceeded to wash, dry and put away the dishes -- including the pots and pans and the coffee-maker -- in a matter of seconds, Lois wasn't sure if she should be still more grateful or resent having been deprived of her chance to help out!

She was distracted from thoughts along those lines by the sound of Jonathan laughing, much as he had been when she'd come in to the kitchen. She looked to see what was so funny, and had to stifle a giggle herself at the sight of Martha's astonished face.

"I told you," Jonathan said -- or was that gasped? -- between guffaws, "and you wouldn't believe me. Well, now you've seen him for yourself!"

"Oh... my..." said a stunned Martha in a remarkably small voice. Clark, who had resumed his position lounging against the kitchen counter, met her stare with an apologetic and rather shame-faced look that Lois recognised, having seen it herself quite a few times.

She was about to relieve the other woman's embarrassment by tossing a wise-crack at her partner when Jonathan had mercy on his wife and remarked, "Y'know, I couldn't help but think of what your great-grandmother would have said if she'd seen Clark in action today, Martha."

To Lois' surprise, Martha promptly snickered. "Oh, dear me, yes," she said, "She would not have approved..."

Lois, brows raised, looked at Clark for some inkling as to what the Kents were talking about. Clark returned the gaze, obviously equally bewildered. The older couple saw their bafflement and grinned at one another; then, Martha began to explain.

"My Great-grandmother MacKenzie was the matriarch of the Clan MacKenzie in Scotland. She was a real old tyrant, bossed everybody about -- including her great-grand-daughter and her 'Yankee upstart' of a husband when we went to see her just after we were married." Martha paused for a moment, and Jonathan gave a mock shudder -- or it might not have been faked.

"She was also one of those old-fashioned Scots who have very firm views on acceptable conduct on the Sabbath. You didn't laugh or whistle or sing on 'the Lord's day', nor did you do any work other than what was absolutely necessary -- unless you were a servant, and then you did what you were told! And whatever you did on Sunday, you took it seriously; the Sabbath was a day of rest, but you weren't supposed to enjoy it!"

"So you'd have earned her sternest disapproval, Clark," Jonathan joined in, "Zipping through the dishes -- and the morning chores -- the way you did, like it was the best game you'd played in years..." Clark ducked his head, blushing slightly, but the man who was almost his father only chuckled. "Now, don't you go getting all embarrassed about it. I know how you feel -- some things can be real satisfying when you come back to them after a long break." Clark could only nod in agreement.

"Now, old Mrs MacKenzie would have approved of your being willing to work hard, and even, maybe, that you enjoyed it -- but not on Sunday! Not to mention you and Lois making everybody laugh all the time -- oh, no, the pair of you'd have been on the receiving end of a real icy glare and one of her famous sniffs. That woman could put more expression into a sniff than anyone I've ever met..."

"Hey, icy glares don't bother Clark," Lois quipped. "Not when he can match 'em with his heat vision! And he can freeze things, too. Great-grandma would have been out-gunned."

Clark looked to the heavens in mock resignation while the Kents laughed.

"Which reminds me," Jonathan remarked, looking at his watch, "it is Sunday, and that means we'd better get ready for church, Martha." He tilted his head to one side in a gesture that was so reminiscent of Clark that Lois almost gasped. "Would you two like to come?"

"We'd like to," Clark replied in a solemn tone that revealed (to Lois) that he'd already thought about this, "but we'd better not. No-one here knows us, so we'd be a topic of conversation all over town -- and Trask is on his way, and we'd just as soon he didn't know we were here."

Lois was not that much of a churchgoer ordinarily, but it seemed like a natural part of being here with these people, somehow, and she could guess that their faith was important to the Kents -- which meant that respecting that was important. It was a real shame, then, that Clark was right; they shouldn't be seen with the Kents -- not yet, anyway.

"Maybe we could come for another visit after we've taken care of Trask -- next week, say?" she asked tentatively, and was rewarded with pleased smiles from her hosts.

"If you're coming back soon, maybe you should wait till next month, when the Corn Festival's on," Martha offered.

"Well, it's no hardship for me to come here," Clark replied -- and now, he was the hesitant one. " maybe we could... do both? If it wouldn't be too much of an imposition..."

The Kents' eyes met, and they both smiled. "Son," Jonathan said quietly, "you and Lois are welcome here any time. Just let us know when you're going to be out this way, or drop in when you can. We won't mind."

"Thanks..." Clark murmured, and Lois said the same, equally quietly.

Silence fell over the kitchen, full of unspoken words and emotions, but the foursome seemed content to let it be that way... until Jonathan looked at his watch again. "I hate to break this up," he said, "but we do need to get going if we're going to make it to church on time."

"Yeah, and we'd better start on our Trask hunt," Lois half-growled, suddenly annoyed with reality intruding on... on something that was quite extra-ordinary in her experience -- a haven of peace and contentment that she vowed would not be destroyed by Jason Trask's insane paranoia. "Come on, Clark, we need to make some plans."

Clark followed her out of the kitchen, smiling ever so slightly at the sudden reappearance of Mad Dog Lane, while the Kents headed upstairs to change.


Half an hour later, Lois and Clark were strolling along the main street of Smallville, ostensibly seeing the sights of the small town, such as they were, and doing a little window-shopping at the same time. In Lois' case, that was pretty much the truth; Clark, though, was not so much looking at the town around him as through it. His glasses were half-way down his nose, and his super-vision was roaming the neighbourhood, so to speak -- looking for Trask.

The trouble was, while they knew (or thought) that Trask and his troops were on their way, they didn't know anything else: how many of them there were, how they were coming, when they would arrive -- if they hadn't already -- or what precisely they intended to do when they got there. They knew what Trask was after, but that didn't help them predict how he'd go about getting it, which made it difficult to come up with a plan of action.

The most important thing was to find the bad guys, so that was what they were concentrating on at present. Given the head start Trask had had, it was rather surprising that he hadn't already reached Smallville -- if he hadn't, that is -- so they began their search in the town itself once Clark was certain that there was no-one anywhere near Shuster's Field or any of the neighbouring farms other than the people who lived there. He kept checking that area, especially around the Kent farm, every ten minutes or so, but so far, all he'd seen was people he "knew" -- that is, he'd known their counterparts, years before -- and most of those were on their way to church.

Lois had virtually nothing to do while Clark searched, but she wasn't finding the wait boring, somewhat to her surprise. Ordinarily, she considered small towns, especially farming towns, to be the very essence of tedium -- small town, small outlook, small minds, she had been heard to claim in the past -- but, despite its name, Smallville didn't live up to what she considered her expectations. She wondered why; could it be because this small town was where her partner had grown up -- well, almost? Was it as special as he was, even though it had never known him until now? Or was it just that she was curious to find out more about what had made him the man that he was?

For whatever reason, while they strolled, even as she kept her eyes open for trouble, Lois played tourist, wishing that she could do it for real, with a "native guide" who wasn't distracted by the need to look for psycho UFO freaks with a gun fetish. And she window-shopped, checking out the smaller shops rather than the chain stores; if the Kents were at all typical of this town, there might be stuff -- things made locally -- well worth a look, even for someone used to the big city.

And there was -- all sorts of things that she found, again to her surprise (or was it?) that she'd like to take a closer look at, especially handicrafts; had the shops been open, had there not been more important things to do, she reckoned that she'd be able to do all her Christmas shopping (three months early!) without walking more than a couple of hundred yards. The gifts would have been somewhat unusual, coming from her, but she thought that the intended recipients would like them.

There was even a rather nice dress in the window of the local Goodwill store -- a floral print on an unusual maroony-brown material, with a full, calf-length skirt and a surprisingly daring V-neck. It both was and wasn't the kind of thing you'd expect to see in a small town in Kansas -- which meant that it rather matched this small town in Kansas; like Smallville, there was more to that dress than met the eye. Lois was not normally one for second-hand clothing, but she decided that she'd have to remember to come back for it if she had a chance.

So, all in all, she found herself oddly liking this town, a place that she would have dismissed not so long ago -- maybe even the day before -- as a bucolic backwater. The people, or those few that the two reporters had met this morning, were pleasant enough. None of your pushy, impatient, in-your-face city dwellers here; even when encountering strangers, the inhabitants of Smallville were courteous and quietly welcoming.

Of course, they were also extremely curious about the newcomers in town, but that was inevitable; fortunately, their good manners (or those of the people Lois had met so far; she was certain that this town had its share of nosy gossips) extended to not buttonholing the strangers for a friendly but determined interrogation about everything to do with them, up to and including what they had for breakfast last Friday week -- not on Sunday, at least.

Even when Clark had suddenly stiffened, as if in alarm, Lois hadn't been too concerned. There was no-one visible who could be one of Trask's goons, and Clark had his glasses up, so it couldn't be something that he could see and she couldn't -- although he could have heard something, she supposed.

But he wasn't looking around in the way that he did when there was a job for Superman, so it couldn't be that... so what was the problem? All she could see was the same street and the same people that had been there a minute ago.

Well, when in doubt, ask. "What's wrong, Clark?" she whispered.

"Uh... nothing's really wrong, Lois," he replied, sounding a little embarrassed. "I was just... startled, that's all. See that woman over there -- the one with the baby?"

Lois looked, and saw someone whom she thought must be the woman Clark was referring to. She didn't look startling; she was blonde, wearing pretty much the same kind of clothes Lois was wearing, and her attention was focused on the baby, except when the man with her said something, when she would turn to look at him fondly. "Yeah -- so?"

"That's Lana -- this universe's version of her. The guy with her is Pete Ross, her husband. And I guess that's their baby..."

Lois took a second look at the woman, her eyes narrowing and her lips compressing unconsciously. So, this was the bully who'd caused him so much suffering with her threats of being dissected. This was the "friend" and "fiancée" who'd hidden her disgust at what Clark could do-- what Clark was -- behind a pretence of love and understanding. This was the woman who'd demanded that he be only an "ordinary man" when he was extra-ordinary, both in what he could do and simply in himself.

At this point, that annoying little voice in her head chose to pipe up with one of its oh-so-reasonable comments: No, she's not! That Lana is a universe away, left behind when Clark came here to make a new life for himself. This Lana is a complete stranger to him -- just the way you were!

Look at her, Lois. That woman there is totally wrapped up in her husband and child. She doesn't even know Clark exists -- unless she reads the online version of the Planet. She's certainly not going to make a play for him, and I don't think he's interested. Besides, why do you care?

Why, indeed? That question, while superficially easy to answer -- "Because I don't want my best friend to be hurt by her the way he was by the other one" -- had deeper connotations and, if truth be told, Lois wasn't prepared to consider them yet; and she was aware of that, as well as the fact that the superficial answer wasn't by any means the complete answer... but she didn't think she knew the complete answer. Not yet.

On which uncomfortable note, she tried to direct her attention to something else... and succeeded. A police car was cruising slowly up the street, and it drew to a halt alongside the two reporters. Actually, now that Lois could see it, the lettering on the side of the car said "Sheriff" -- well, that made sense for a Mid-west country town, she supposed. And, unless she was very much mistaken, that would be the sheriff himself... er, herself getting out of it.

And it was. The sheriff strolled slowly but purposefully around the car and leant on its side, the better to regard the strangers. "Howdy," she drawled, "Don't think I know you. Hope you don't mind my asking, but what brings you to Smallville?"


Sheriff, Sheriff, Sheriff... you're really going to regret asking that! evil Find out why (if you can't already guess biggrin ) and what she thinks about it all, next time -- next year, in fact! goofy

"Ping! Ping! Ping!" -- Mother Box