The Best Bargain

By Christine Carr <carrcmh@yahoo.co.uk>

Rated PG

Submitted April 1999

Summary: In this, the mirror story to the author's "Counting the Ways," Lois traces the ups and downs of her relationship with Clark and marvels at how they managed to come through it all.

This story is the 'mirror' to Counting The Ways. That piece was written entirely from Clark's point of view, and, as I wrote it, I found myself wanting to explore Lois's thoughts, too. Any similarities between the two pieces are entirely intentional. (It's not possible to plagiarise oneself, is it?) Again, this takes place the morning after Ultra Woman. No plot, no angst, just unmitigated fluff.

A big thank you to Irene, who read through an earlier draft, and pointed out typos, words that needed translating into North American-speak, and my lack of commas. :)

The characters aren't mine, and I mean no harm by their use. The ideas probably aren't very new, either. However, I chose the words and the metaphors, so I hope that I can take some credit for that, at least.

Feedback is gratefully received at

carrcmh@yahoo.co.uk

The Best Bargain, a Lois and Clark vignette by Christine Carr

***

My true love hath my heart,

and I have his, By just exchange, one for the other given.

I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss:

There never was a better bargain driven.

(Philip Sidney, 1554-86)

***

It had not been an easy road to travel, but somehow Lois and Clark had reached their destination, a place called Happiness. Their souls cried out with the joy of being together. Having found one another, they defied any force to split them asunder.

In other words, they loved each other very much.

Lois sat at her desk with the phone cradled between her shoulder and her ear as she frantically made notes. The three headings she had started with ("Bribes", "Insider Dealing" and "Possible Intergang Connection?") were rapidly getting lost amidst the wealth of new information she was jotting down. This was going to be a great story!

Under normal circumstances, nothing could have distracted her from following the scent of such a major scandal. However, today was most definitely not normal.

As she wrote with her right hand, she gesticulated madly with her left. The still unfamiliar feel of her engagement ring called her attention to it again and again. It was only with determination that she kept enough of her mind free to follow the thread of the conversation, and to ask intelligent questions of her source. She knew that her gestures were bigger than normal, her happiness magnifying them, demanding that attention be drawn to her ring. She was, she realised, showing off, but she did not care.

This was fun!

The light danced off the diamond solitaire, and Lois, out of the corner of her eye, watched its shifting colours as she moved her hand. She smiled. It was a beautiful object in its own right, but Lois valued it infinitely more for what it stood for than for any monetary value it possessed.

Who would have imagined, when she had met Clark for the first time, that they would reach this point? Certainly not Lois. Mad Dog Lane had barely noticed him then, caught up as she was in her story. She had not had either the time or the inclination to be polite to the stranger in Perry's office, and she had made no attempt to see beyond the barest impressions she received of dark hair and glasses.

Lois was still ambitious and dedicated to her work, but the aggressive single-mindedness that had bordered perilously close on obsession had left her. Lois wondered how things could have become so bad that she had forgotten that there was more to life than work. How could she have forgotten the importance of friendship and love?

She had Clark to thank for saving her from a life where such things held no meaning. He had, over time, done much to temper the worst of her self-centred approach to her job, and she knew - because he had told her so - that no-one called her Mad Dog Lane anymore.

Lois could feel his eyes on her. There was something comforting about his scrutiny, almost as though, without even touching her, he held her in a fond embrace. How did he manage to convey so much feeling in just a look, she wondered, but then realised that she did not care how he did it, only that he could, and did.

As she terminated her call, she glanced across at him. Mitigated by time, but not vanquished, her familiar competitive edge burst to life, and she felt satisfaction that, even if he was intruding on her thoughts, he had not distracted her from her work as much as she had distracted him from his. It was a heady feeling, knowing that she had such a profound effect on him.

As much as she was flattered by his lapse in concentration, she nonetheless decided that it could not be allowed to pass without comment. She mouthed, low enough that no-one else would guess that she was talking to him, but loud enough that he could hear, "Quit staring at me and get on with your work, Kent!" Then she laughed with delight as she saw him sheepishly pick up his phone.

Lois glanced down at her notes and selected another number to call. The line connected, and a recorded voice at the other end announced, "You have reached the offices of Incendo Inc. All our operators are busy at present. Please hold the line, and someone will be with you shortly." Then the strains of a distorted version of Pachebel's Canon assaulted her ears.

Normally she would have been irritated to find herself put on hold, but today she was grateful for the luxury of having an excuse to let her thoughts drift away from the task in hand. The brief respite from her job gave her the freedom to think about the subjects that were uppermost in her mind: her engagement, and her fiancÚ.

FiancÚ, she thought. It was a wonderful word, perhaps the most wonderful word in the English language. It was almost as wonderful as he was.

She had had plenty of reasons back at the beginning for not wanting to be with Clark, though she was hard pressed to think of them now. She was honest enough to realise that her rationalisations had been as much masks for her own insecurities as anything else. She was not comfortable with that idea, of course. A bold, courageous, and indomitable reporter should never be stopped by fear, and, normally, of course, she was not. She thrived on adventure. However, fear at work and fear of love were two quite disparate things.

For almost as long as she could remember, Lois had thought of herself as being a romantic beneath the hard-bitten exterior she cultivated so carefully, and, while she would never have permitted her colleagues to suspect it, she enjoyed losing herself in tales of epic romance. Yet, the sensible and logical part of her mind had always told her that those types of stories were fantasies.

There had been a period when she had thought Lex Luthor was reality. He had dazzled her, flattered her, and admired her. Maybe he had even loved her in his own twisted way, though Lois was inclined to doubt it. Besides, Lois had thought at the time, if love was not part of the bargain, did it really matter? Love did not last. That was the message she had learned from her parents, with their arguments and their ugly divorce. Lex had offered the dream wedding and the trappings of romance without the need for any real kind of emotional commitment on her part. She had not expected to be happy with Lex. Just married.

And what did that say about her, she wondered. Had she become so cynical that she had ceased to believe in love? Had she given up on the idea that marriage could mean happy ever after?

Perhaps, for a while, that was precisely what she had done.

Superman had been the biggest fantasy of all, and one that she had clung to with a tenacity that had surprised her. What was it about him, she had wondered at the time, that made her forget her common sense? There had been the instantaneous attraction she had felt for him, of course, but that could not, on its own, explain it. After all, she had met other great and powerful men, and there had never been the same feeling of rightness about them, the same feeling of … connection.

When Superman had told her, in so many words, that there was no hope for them as a couple, she had felt her dreams vanish into mist and scatter on the winds, and she had run straight into Lex Luthor's open arms.

But the Lex she had known had not been real, either. He had been a mirage who had disappeared just as soon as she had found a new vantage point from which to observe him, as much of a fantasy in his own way as Superman had been.

The reality, of course, was that her fantasy man had been beside her all the time, weaving his way into her affections as a trusted confidante and friend.

And then something more.

When had her feelings for Clark begun to deepen, to broaden, to consume her?

She guessed the process had started soon after they had met, though it had happened so gradually that she could pinpoint no one time or event and say, it happened then. That was the moment.

The first time she had suspected that there might be something more between herself and Clark than just friends had been on the day she was to have married Luthor. She had stood in front of the mirror, trying on her new name for size. Lois Luthor. But, like a dress a size too small, it squeezed her, pinched her, and made her feel uncomfortable. Then she tried other variations. Lois Lane Luthor. Lois Luthor Lane. But neither of those fitted better than the first.

Then, as though she had discovered something unexpected on a previously unnoticed rack at the back of the store, she tried on Lois Lane Kent. There was something about it. It was not her style, but it flattered her. It was comfortable. She had suddenly thought to herself that she could get used to it with practice.

And moments later she had said, "I can't," instead of, "I do."

The weeks that had followed had been difficult. Before the wedding, Clark had said he wanted more than friendship from her, but, after Luthor's death, he had recanted his declaration of love, and she had been left confused by both her own feelings and the mixed signals he had been sending. Yet, somehow, their friendship had not only survived Luthor's onslaught, it had emerged even stronger than before as they endeavoured to regain the ground they had lost.

Lois had grown closer to Clark and, when he had tentatively asked her out, she had equally tentatively said yes.

With embarrassment, she remembered how their first evening out as more than friends had ended with her slamming the door in his face, scared at the implications of what a "great date" with Clark might actually mean in the greater scheme of things. Still, they had managed to resolve that … misunderstanding … just as they had managed to resolve so many others since.

She remembered the healing kiss the following day, the contact that had held so much promise. She had not wanted it to end. Her eyes had closed as she had lost herself in the moment and - then Clark was gone.

He had run from her, shouting Mayson Drake's name, screaming words of warning that were lost in an infernal explosion.

Lois had approached the wreckage of Mayson's car, and watched as Clark gently cradled the dying assistant district attorney who had loved him. With hindsight, Lois now knew that the days that followed had been hard for Clark as he had grappled with his feelings of guilt, guilt that he had not been the man that Mayson had thought, and guilt that he had not saved her.

All Lois had known at the time, however, was that Clark's reaction to Mayson's death shook her confidence in both him and in herself as little else could have done. He had become withdrawn, and Lois had begun to wonder whether his attachment to Mayson was as innocent as he had claimed.

Dan Scardino's appearance on the scene could not have come at a worse time.

What followed then had been a painful comedy of errors which had only been resolved when Lois had realised that she and Clark both wanted the same thing - to be together. All it required was that one of them should say something, and she realised that it was going to have to be her.

Finding the courage to tell him, though … That was hard.

Lois was proud that she had been the one to resolve the impasse that their relationship had reached, that she had been the one to take the initiative. Only a year before, she had given up on the idea of love and the hope of finding it for herself, yet she had faced up to her not inconsiderable fears and had gone after what - or perhaps that should be who - she wanted most. Not Dan. Not Superman. But Clark, the man who had been making her wonder if dreams really could come true, after all.

Even then, things had not gone smoothly because, soon afterwards, she had discovered something so unexpected about Clark that her faith had been shaken to its foundations once again. Yet, in all the strange moods and hurtful behaviour that had followed the disclosure that he was Superman, she never once doubted he loved her. It was not her faith in love, this time, that was harmed, but rather her faith in him.

In the end, of course, they had reached a new accord, and had begun to lay solid foundations upon which to build a future together.

All those arguments.

All those misunderstandings.

Yet, somehow, they had managed to reach this moment.

Despite all the knocks they had suffered, she could hold nothing against him, just as she knew he held nothing against her. They had each, in their own ways, hurt the other, but that was all in the past now. What mattered was what lay ahead.

Before Lois had met Clark, she had thought of loving someone as being akin to maintaining a profit and loss account. What you could afford to put into a relationship was determined by what you got out of it, and you budgeted to ensure that your emotional investment did not exceed what you could afford to lose.

Clark, however, had taught her by both words and deeds that love had nothing to do with accountancy. Instead, love was a gift to be given freely, with no strings attached. Clark did not ration his affections for her, and through his example she had learned to invest her whole being, heart and mind, in him. It had been a risky business, and certainly one which no banker would ever have condoned.

But the rewards were worth it.

Loving Clark, and being loved by him in return, was the best bargain she had ever made.

Lois rolled her eyes as Pachebel's Canon reached its climax, ended, and began again. Ruefully, she decided that, if she had to hear it for much longer, she would grow to hate that piece of music. She let her gaze wander across to Clark's desk. He was watching her, a look of tenderness on his face. They smiled at each other as their eyes locked and the world around them ceased to exist. Then she broke the moment as she dragged her eyes away, and she looked back down at the ring, revelling anew in the novelty of seeing it on her finger.

How had she got so lucky, she wondered, as to have him by her side? It was a rhetorical question. She did not need an answer: it was more than enough for her simply to know that he was there.

The curious sixth sense she seemed to be developing where Clark was concerned made her glance around at him once more, and she saw that he was on the alert, his head held high and to one side. The slightly distant look in his eyes and the concentration on his face told her all that she needed to know: he was listening to something only he could hear.

A silent question passed between them, and Clark glanced around, checking that nobody was watching, before he made a discreet gesture with his hand. She understood, of course. Superman was needed. "I'll cover," she said, under her breath, knowing that he would hear her.

He smiled gratefully as he rose from his chair, his hand reaching for the knot of his tie, and then he was gone. She leaned back and put her feet up on her desk as she idly wondered who needed him now.

A high pitched and slightly nasal voice suddenly erupted from the telephone receiver and intruded on her thoughts, making her jump in surprise. "Incendo Inc., good morning. Liz speaking. How may I help you?"

Lois sat bolt upright, and swung her feet back down onto the floor, all business once again. Without missing a beat, she picked up the necessary train of thought, reluctantly pushing Clark to one side. "I'd like to speak to the C.E.O., please, and don't … put me on hold." Then she shook her head and smiled to herself in resignation. Just for today she did not mind waiting, not when it meant that she could day-dream some more.

THE END