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Burying the Lede

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Sorry no new pictures of Nellie this weekend, off doing the campus tour thing

Same. We can trade notes on Sunday :)

Lois had been looking forward to college since she was nine, and realized it meant she would get to pick where she lived for four years straight.  In some ways, that was less of an issue now that her parents had settled in Metropolis and her top pick was Met U. But now she had a purpose in going to college. She'd been thrilled to discover that Met U's journalism department was one of the top in the nation; leaving the Daily Planet behind to go out to National City for four years just seemed impossible.

“Mr. White hasn't actually offered you a job,” Lucy pointed out over breakfast. “So you might as well apply to other places.”

“He doesn't need to offer me a job, I already have a job.”

“In the teen section.”

Lois rolled her eyes, but her father made an agreeable noise behind his paper. “Your sister has a point.”

She opened her mouth to argue but her dad kept going. “I'm not saying Mr. White hasn't given you a unique opportunity, but you should keep all of your options open. Met U is a great school for lots of things.”

“Including journalism,” Lois said, snapping the lid on her Daily Planet travel mug. “I'll see you guys tomorrow.”

“Are you sure you don't want a ride? Or for one of us to go with you?”

“I'm fine, mom, the campus is right by the subway.”

*

“Hi everyone, I’m Abby, your tour guide today. I’m a sophomore here at Met U, pre-med, and I’m originally from Georgia. How many of you guys are from out of state?”

Lois looked around as about half the group of prospective students and their parents raised their hands.

“Great! Thanks for coming all this way. Now, who wants to start the introductions?”  

A tall guy with thick glasses and a plaid shirt raised his hand. Lois wondered how long he'd have to wait to be able to grow a beard and get hipster bingo.

She ended up just going with the basics, when the circle finally came to her. “I’m Lois, I’m from about six stops away on the subway and I want to major in journalism.”

Abby gave her a bright smile and moved on to the next kid, visiting from Central City, before the introductions were finally completed.

“So obviously this is the student union. The help desk is right over there, and my go to coffee spot is around the corner, but I’ll show you that a little later. First, lets keep the parents happy and show you guys the library.”

 

The library was impressive, with wide windows letting natural light spill over the banks of computers and study tables. Their guide encouraged them to look around, and that's how Lois found herself by the study cubicles against the windows, wondering how much time was actually spent working at a table like this versus staring out the window at the sidewalks below.

It was quiet, so it wasn't hard for her to make out the low threatening tone coming from the stacks behind her. She casually walked over to the shelf, as though she was casually looking up comets so she could listen in better.

"-you owe us. Don't think you're going to get away with it."

“It's just not safe -”

“You know what else won't be safe?”

She removed the largest book on the shelf - a dry looking tome about meteorites - so she could try to get a look at the guy.

"Hey, Lois, right?"

She fumbled with the book and tried to school her face into one that didn't look actively annoyed at being interrupted.  The only thing that made that possible was seeing a nervous looking person dodge quickly out of the aisle. At least she wasn't the only one interrupted.

"Yes?" It was the hot lumberjack from her tour group. She didn't actually remember his name, just that he was one of the other students touring without being saddled down with a parent. And he was from one of the states she did her best to sleep through whenever they had to move.

"Uh," Nebraska hesitated. "You're from Metropolis, right?"

She felt a little twinge of pride. After so many years of being the one new kid from nowhere, she was finally from a place. A great place. "More or less."

Nebraska fiddled with his glasses, "I'm -"

One of the dads from the group poked his head down the aisle. "Hey guys, we're moving on, you don't want to get left behind."

"Oh, thanks, sir."

Lois tried not to roll her eyes at the 'sir', maybe he was an Army brat, too.

The next stop was the state of the art fitness center, but since Lois didn't particularly care about working out, beyond making sure she could chase after a lead, she let her mind wander back to what she overheard in the library.

Someone was pressuring someone else into doing something they didn't want to do. Maybe even threatening them. If only she hadn't been interrupted by that guy.

Lois looked up to see if Nebraska was enraptured by the weight machines - he had to be, with arms like those - but when she glanced at him, she caught him staring at her.

He gave a little wave and smiled. It was a really nice smile, and Lois dropped her hand to the pocket her phone was in, thinking guiltily of SmallvilleGuy. It wasn’t like she’d never noticed other guys at school, Devin and Dante were both easy on the eyes, but there was just something about this guy.

“This is the smoothie bar you can hit after your workout, or any time! No one’s going to check!” The tour guide chirped. “Feel free to get a snack now before we continue.”

Lois wasn't thirsty, so she waited by the bulletin board listing the month’s schedule of group classes, kickboxing sounded promising, but 7am did not.

A familiar voice drifted over to her between whirs of the blender. “He’ll get us the stuff.”

She casually leaned away from the counter and tilted her head like she was considering vinyasa at 4 or barre burn at 5.

“He better, the whole team is counting on him. And you.”

Apparently she looked too casual, because Nebraska came up beside her. When he opened his mouth to say something, Lois slapped her hand over it to keep him from interrupting again. His eyes widened in surprise behind his thick framed glasses, and she couldn't help noticing his lips soft against her palm, which she quickly pulled back and wiped against her leg.

This guy had the worst timing.

In his defense, he waited quietly while she glanced around and strained to hear more, but the speakers were gone. Not cursing was an effort. It was possible she was overreacting, but Perry always said she had a nose for news, and this had that stench all over it.

“Was I interrupting something?”

“What? No. I. Maybe.” Lois hated feeling flustered. “I’ve gotta go. To the bathroom.”

She thought she could feel him watching her walk away, but refused to look back.

She didn't actually have to pee, so she took a minute to transcribe what she’d heard and briefly thought about texting SmallvilleGuy, or maybe Maddy. In the end, she just put her phone back into her pocket and headed back out to the group.

 

The science building looked like something out of Star Trek, inside and out. Way nicer, she thought, than the abandoned warehouse Cadmus was using. Maybe it was the thought of Cadmus that put her on alert, as they moved from the lecture halls into the labs, but either way, she couldn’t help but notice someone working at a table near the back. Even from the doorway she could see the way his hands were trembling, and Lois wasn’t going to be changing her major any time soon, but she was pretty sure that the shakes didn’t usually mix well with chemicals and open flames.

“Hey, Lance!” Abby greeted him. Lois tried not to wince as Lance fumbled with one of the beakers in front of him. “Working on anything cool?”

“Um, no? Nothing that would interest your group, Abby.”

If she hadn’t been constantly replaying the conversations she’d heard earlier, Lois wouldn’t have recognized his reedy voice. This was the guy from the library, and he looked even more shaken up now than he had sounded a few hours ago.

“Are you sure?” one of the moms piped up. Lois wanted to hug her. “I’m a biochemist myself, and you’ve got an interesting collection of supplies there.”

Lance paled and coughed. “It’s just homework. And I should really get back to it.”

“Of course! Sorry to interrupt,” Abby said, ushering them on. “I bet the physics department has some cool projects to show off.”

Lois hung back and took a few shots of the lab with her phone, making sure Lance was busy with his project again before she snapped several angles on his supplies and a couple of his face. There probably weren’t that many Lances at Met U, but the photos would help just in case.

She wasn’t expected to find Nebraska watching her as she pocketed her phone again and hurried after the group.

“So what was that about?” he asked.

“What was what about?” She hated getting caught, but at least it wasn’t Lance that had caught her. Or whoever was making him so skittish.

“Your uh, candid photography.”

“Nothing,” she lied. “Just wondering about the lab materials here on campus.”

“Oh yeah? Are you going to write an expose?” His tone was teasing, and his smile was kind, but she still bristled.

“Maybe. I am actually a reporter. With the Daily Planet.”

He smiled again, which was the opposite of what she expected, and his voice went soft, "I know. I'm -"

A pair of students wandered behind him, and Nebraska went quiet for a second. "I'm a fan of your work."

"Oh." Lois tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "Well, it's nice to meet a fan."

She tried not to cringe because that could have sounded more stuck up and awkward, but it would have been hard. Nebraska smiled, and it was practically a toothpaste commercial.  

"We should get back to the group, Nebraska,” Lois said, when it looked like he was about to say something else.

"Actually I’m from Kansas," he called after her as she began to walk away.

The physics majors were eager to show off their different projects, so it was easy to steal a moment to text Devin a picture of Lance and see if he could track down anything about him, even if she got back a teasing Maddy says try not get a file at a school you don’t even attend yet. She thought about texting SmallvilleGuy to see how his tour was going, but decided to wait until dinner. Instead, she sidled up along the biochemist who has spoken in the chemistry labs.

“So what kind of stuff was that guy working with back there?”

“Hmm?” she asked, looking away from the self-propelling vehicle currently self-propelling its way into a wall.

“In the chem lab, you said you recognized the materials that student was using? I’m just fascinated by the differences in what you get to do in college compared to high school.”

“Oh that! Honestly, I don’t remember getting to play with mitochondrial enhancers in undergrad, either. Especially not with ferrobromides and without supervision! That must be one excellent student.”

“I guess Met U really believes in the hands on approach,” Lois said with a smile.

“Just so long as no one goes growing an extra hand.”

The self-propelling vehicle had given up on the wall and was now chasing poor Abby around the room. “Um, guys, why don’t we head to the dining hall for a break?”

 

Unfortunately, there was only so much research she could do of chemicals she'd never heard of before on her phone, the Google results were for a bunch of academic journals or sketchy looking drug sites, so she sent out the word to the rest of the staff. Can anyone find anything about mitochondrial enhancers in conjunction with ferrobromides?

James came back the fastest. Isn't that the stuff that's banned like everywhere?

Banned how?

A bunch of track and field stars were busted for using it at the last Olympics. Lots of stories of weird side effects.

That did match up with the grow an extra hand comment. Lois had assumed it was a joke, but maybe it was the kind based in fact. She wished she had her laptop, and could search Strange Skies for any sort of reports.

"You should probably eat something."

"Excuse me?"

Nebraska smiled, and nudged a packet of salt and pepper chips at her. Her favorite, although there was no way he could have known that. "We're heading out to watch the football team practice, and I don't think they run concessions for that, so you should probably eat something while we're here."

"Oh, yeah. Right. Uh, thanks."

"No problem. So what's so interesting on your phone?"

"Just texting with some friends."

“Anything interesting?”

“We’re still trying to figure that out.”

Her phone buzzed again, Maddy had tracked down Lance on social media, complete with an email address, lance.matthews7@metropolis.edu. Perfect.

 

"Now you can get the student season ticket package to see our Bulldogs play, but you probably won't get this close to the field unless you're on the team, or in the marching band."

On the whole, the parents seemed more in awe of the stadium than most of the kids in the group, but a couple looked pretty excited. Lois took a few pictures for her dad, he'd probably like it, too. Her mom would want to know about the basketball team, but that wasn't on the agenda. Which was fine with Lois, because while sports could be fun to watch, watching people practice was far less so.

The only interesting thing was the confused look Nebraska was giving the guy barking at his teammates over by the sled. "You can't just half ass this! This team is counting on you!"

Lois stared, she'd heard that before, in the fitness center. Or was it the library? That wasn't important. What was important was that number 76 sounded an awful lot like the guy who'd been threatening Lance earlier. Threatening him into working on a side project in the lab on a Saturday afternoon, with substances that had been banned in the Olympics and probably elsewhere.

She switched over to the notes app on her phone and started typing as quickly as she could.

“His name is Joe McCoy.”

“Excuse me?”

Nebraska looked up from his phone, “Number seventy six. He was the one you were following today, right?”

“I wasn't following. Wait, how did you…?”

“I overheard some things.”

Lois wasn’t sure about that but, “Can I quote you on that?”

“Absolutely.”

Football practice was wrapping up on the field and Abby was getting the group together again, but Lois wasn't paying much attention because -

“Hey, isn't that the guy from the lab?” Nebraska had seen him, too.

Lois rose from her seat. “I have to follow them.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” She didn't want to deal with any distractions.

“Come on, Lance is moving.”

But apparently she didn't have much of a choice.

No one noticed them slipping away from the group and down the tunnel to the locker room behind Lance.

The team and coaches were headed to the locker room, but Lance split off and headed into the weight room. Lois was ready to follow him, but Nebraska put his hand up.

“Finally,” McCoy said. “What took you so long?”

She fumbled with her phone to get it into the recording setting, and held it up against the space where the door was still ajar.

“I had to wait for the lab to be empty to get the mitochondrial enhanc-”

“Whatever, just hand it over.”

“I don't know how much more of this I can make, Dr Farmer is going to notice it missing eventually.”

“You’ll just have to find some more sources, won't you? If you know what's good for you.”

Lois could practically hear Lance gulp. “I’ll try, I swear I’ll try.”

There was a scuffling noise, and Nebraska -- who had been staring intently at the door, like that would help him hear better -- suddenly moved forward and opened the door.

McCoy had Lance by the shirt and was looming over him. Lois stepped out in front, her phone forward and still recording. “So, Joe McCoy, what leverage have you been using on Lance here to get him to illegally synthesize pseudo-thetabuterol for you? How many of your teammates are also using the drug?”

McCoy turned on Lance, “Matthews, did you do this?”

“No! I’ve never -”

“Let him go,” Nebraska said, sounding surprisingly menacing for someone with glasses like his.

“Oh you want a piece of me, four eyes?”

McCoy let Lance go, and Lois didn't try to stop him as he ran out of the room. She could find him later.

Nebraska held firm, and Lois stayed by his side. “Have you seen what those kinds of drugs do to people? They’re banned for a reason.”

“They make me strong, I’ll be happy to show you.”

Lois watched in horror as McCoy shoved the six foot tall rack of weights right over them, and went running from the room. Coward, she thought, aware it might be her final thought ever. Nebraska moved to shield her body with his, which was sweet, but wasn't going to do anything when they get crushed to death.

"Nebraska, why haven't we been crushed to death?" Lois asked, even though the words were a little muffled with her face tucked against his bicep.

"I told you, Lois. I'm from Kansas."

"Physics doesn't work differently just beca-"

"Smallville, specifically."

She was already gaping before he casually pushed back against the weight rack and sent it flying back. The clanging of the metal could have been the gong going off in her brain as she tried to piece it all together.

"Wait. You're? But you. Why didn't you..." Lois glanced at the rack and weights now scattered across the room. "How did you do that?"

"Did you want to have this conversation now, or did you want to try to catch that guy?"

She did still need a quote. "Fine, but we're still talking later."

"Any time." This time when he smiled, Lois didn't fight the way her stomach kind of swooped, or feel guilty at all.

"Well let's get to it, Smallville."

 

The editor of the Met U paper was more than willing to let Lois borrow their facilities so she could type up the story in exchange for a heads up on the breaking news; but it was hard to focus on the screen in front of her with Clark in her peripheral vision, chatting with the photo editor. She had a running list of the questions she wanted to ask him, and a bunch of confusing feelings that were interfering with her writing flow.

When she finally sent the story off to Devin it was a relief, but she couldn't help feeling apprehensive as she pushed away from the desk. Clark smiled at her approach, and waited while she said her goodbyes and thank yous.

“Maybe next year one of those desks will be yours,” Jenna said.

 

Neither of them said anything as they left the communications building, until Lois finally blurted out, “Were you ever going to say anything?”

Clark had the decency to look sheepish, and scratched behind his ear. “Believe it or not, I had a whole plan.”

“So you weren’t just going to follow me around all weekend and never mention that we’ve been,” Lois paused briefly before barreling on, “talking for almost three years now?”
“No! I wanted to tell you when we were doing introductions, and then in the library, but there never seemed to be a good time. And then you were busy unraveling an experimental drug ring.”

She could feel her cheeks turning faintly red. “I just thought you were a fan. You said you were a fan -”

Clark stopped walking and took her hand. “Lois, I am your biggest fan.”

“Oh.”

He slowly tilted his head down to hers, and it was so easy to lift her lips to meet his. They were just as soft as she'd noticed earlier, and her stomach flipped happily.

When they broke apart, she couldn’t help noticing again how tall he was, maybe as tall as his avatar in Worlds. “You made your character look like you. I should have recognized you.”

“Well, I mean, I’m not actually green. I can see how that might have thrown you.”

Lois snorted, “I’m not an elf princess, I shouldn’t have expected you to be a friendly alien.”

“Oh. Well, about that.”