By Christine Carr <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted October 1999
Summary: In the aftermath of Mayson Drake's death, Lois and Clark find time to talk about their feelings in this rewrite of Resurrection's B-plot.
FEEDBACK: Comments welcome privately or via the fanfic mailing list
Lois's behaviour in Resurrection has bothered me for a long time. She stands by Clark at Mayson Drake's funeral, offering moral support, just as a best friend should. However, it is not long before she appears to put her own needs in front of Clark's. She doesn't subsequently ask how he is coping with Mayson's death — and having someone die in your arms must surely be traumatic — instead preferring to ask if she is, as she puts it, stale. Old news. Of course, the whole situation is made worse by the arrival of Dan Scardino…
But, what would have happened if Clark and Lois had found time in the episode to talk? Really talk?
Thanks, once again, go to Irene for reading this through, catching typos, and making helpful comments.
These characters are not mine, and I mean no harm by their use. This is for fun, guys!
"That must have been some chat for you to need to shower." Clark took a step backwards, putting more distance between himself and Lois. Then, in an automatic attempt to be polite, he said, "See you later," before he turned away. He headed down the corridor without looking back, the hurt he felt obvious in his body language.
"Clark?!" Lois cried after him, shocked simultaneously by the depth of the disappointment she'd seen etched on his face, the fact that he had jumped to such an unwarranted conclusion, and the words he'd uttered, wielded like a stiletto, designed to wound. She turned to face Dan Scardino and said softly, her voice betraying none of the anger she felt, "I think you'd better go."
"Okay. But I'm not going far," he replied. Did Lois imagine it, or was there a smug smile in his voice, as though he had taken satisfaction in besting her partner in their little territorial spat? Though incensed by the notion and by his behaviour, the tumult of her emotions left her powerless to tell him that she was not some spoil of war to be fought over.
Lois closed the door behind the DEA agent, her thoughts spinning around and around. Didn't Clark know her better than to suppose that she'd slept with Scardino? Didn't he trust her not to jump into bed with the first moderately attractive stranger who crossed her path?
Apparently, he didn't.
She padded barefoot across to the broom cupboard, careful to avoid the shards of broken ornament that were scattered across the floor. Then, with vicious jerky gestures, she set to work, clearing up the mess left by her scuffle with Scardino.
When she was done, and the dustpan had been emptied into the trash, Lois dragged her hands through her hair, a gesture borne of frustration. She was surprised to find them dampened by the action. Somehow she had forgotten that her hair was still wet: ironic, since that had been the catalyst that had triggered this latest misunderstanding.
The memory of Clark's expression when Dan Scardino had walked up behind her haunted Lois. A moment before, Clark had been animated and enthusiastic as he'd related his discoveries with regard to Stanley Gables, almost his usual self again. Lois closed her eyes and sank down onto the love seat that had been knocked over earlier, sadly thinking that she hadn't seen him look so at ease with himself since Mayson's funeral. No, she amended, since before that, even. She hadn't seen him look that relaxed since Mayson's death.
Lois had initially put his withdrawn moodiness down to the shock of having someone die in his arms. She, herself, had been badly shaken by the events of that evening; how much worse must it have been for Clark? After all, it had been he who had pulled Mayson from the car, he who had nursed her broken body, and he who had heard her last breath. Who could fail to be affected by that?
More than that, though, Clark had been much closer to Mayson that Lois had. It was no secret that she and Mayson had barely tolerated each other, whereas Clark, for some reason that Lois couldn't even begin to fathom, seemed to hold her in genuine regard.
Regard. Lois wondered whether that was all it was, the nagging doubts she'd been experiencing over the last week crowding in once more.
Instead of Clark's mood lightening as time passed, Lois had been forced to watch it deepen. The pall of sadness hanging over him forced her to ask herself some difficult questions. Had Clark and Mayson been more than just good friends? She hadn't thought so while Mayson was alive, but now she was beginning to wonder.
Lois had allowed a week to go by before she'd summoned up the courage to broach the topic with Clark. Thinking back on the previous evening, she realised that she'd handled the situation badly. With hindsight, her questions appeared self-centred, even to herself. *All right,* she admitted, *so I wanted to know where I stood, and I wanted to know how Clark feels about me. But I also wanted to know what Clark was thinking. I wanted to know how he was coping. I wanted to help him, if I could. Why couldn't I have been more direct, and just asked how he was doing? Why did I have to skirt around the subject, asking if Clark had lost interest in me? If I was — what was it I asked him? —"stale". That was it. "Old news."*
Lois sighed deeply. *I wonder what he would have told me if Dan hadn't arrived just then.*
Dan. There was another problem that needed addressing, and she wasn't even sure where to begin.
It had been bad enough that he'd stepped into their private conversation last night, destroying the intimate atmosphere she'd been creating, and along with it the chance for an exchange of confidences between herself and Clark. But how much worse, how much more damaging, had been his interruption tonight!
In her mind's eye she could see, once again, the look on Clark's face that had told her more eloquently than words could ever have done that he'd been badly hurt by the spectacle that had greeted him.
It would be easy, she realised, to take refuge in the anger she felt. Yes, he'd said something that had been calculated to hurt her, but he'd lashed out because he was in pain. And she, however, unwittingly, had been responsible for that.
*But it wasn't my fault,* she wailed silently. *I didn't do what you think I did, Clark! I wouldn't have done it. Not to you. Not to anyone, but especially not to you because you're too —*
Her mind shied away, reluctant to complete the thought.
Lois stood up abruptly and began pacing as she forced herself to continue. *Too, what? Too important to me? Too special?*
She'd been avoiding the question of how she felt about Clark for months now, ever since that whole fiasco with Luthor last year. Clark had told her then that he loved her, but just when she'd been about to admit that she might feel the same way, he'd recanted his declaration, and she'd missed the opportunity to tell him how her feelings had changed. She'd tried to tell him later, after he'd "died", but he'd fallen asleep on her, and again she'd lost both her chance and her courage.
For Lois, embarking on a relationship was like taking a walk along a cliff edge. It was both dangerous and oddly compelling at the same time. To one side lay a precipitous drop, down to a raging maelstrom of waves that promised to pull her under should she fall. To the other side lay flat land, safety and security. In the past, her relationships had left her teetering on the edge of the abyss: once she'd actually gone over the edge, only to be saved by thoughts of Clark. They'd caught her, and pulled her back to safety, saving her from a life with Luthor.
But she'd never yet had a relationship that guided her towards the grassy haven, away from the danger zone. Recently, she had been beginning to hope that Clark might be the one to give it to her, but she wasn't sure, and, until she was, she couldn't know whether pursuing a relationship with him was the best sort of bravery or the crassest form of stupidity.
Clark had never repeated his declaration of love, and, having been so effectively rebuffed the first time, Lois could hardly blame him for that. Although he'd subsequently taken back his words, Lois had often wondered whether he'd been totally honest with her when he'd done so. Certainly, his actions since then seemed, on occasion, to have been at odds with his words. He'd made a flimsy excuse to spend Christmas Eve with her, rather than going home to Smallville as had been his original intention; he'd changed his plans just to be with her. He'd asked her out on a date, too. Why would he have done that if he wasn't interested in her?
And why had she agreed to go out with him, unless she returned his feelings?
That was a good question, Lois thought.
Last week, as a prelude to their first kiss — and what a kiss that had been! — Clark had asked her why she had run back towards a nuclear explosion in an effort to save him when, just the day before, she'd said they could never see one another again. At the time, she'd just said that, "It doesn't make much sense, does it?"
Now, though, thinking about it, she came up with a better answer. *I went back for him because I went with my instincts, and I didn't give myself the chance to think about what I was doing. My instincts told me I should be with Clark.*
She shivered. Just a moment ago, she'd been thinking how Clark's actions were, perhaps, at odds with his words. Now she realised that hers were, too.
*What do my instincts tell me to do now?* The answer came easily. *They tell me to talk to him. To sort this out, once and for all. They tell me that… maybe… just maybe… I love him.*
She picked up the phone and dialled his number from memory. She heard the phone ring once… twice… Then she slammed the handset back into the cradle. "No," she muttered aloud, "some things are better done face to face." Then she rushed into her bedroom, rapidly getting dressed before she could change her mind, and doing her best to ignore an image of waves crashing against the rock face at her feet.
Clark put his weight onto his arms as he leaned against the balcony wall. He screwed his eyes tightly shut against his churning emotions and let his thoughts drift. He knew that the pain he was currently feeling was a consequence not so much of who, but of what he was. Because of his Kryptonian heritage, he could never confide fully in the people with whom he lived and worked; he was forced to bottle up his feelings, locking them out of sight. Usually he managed to contain them while he came to terms with them, but, sometimes, they fermented until the build up of tension became too much, and they exploded from deep within. Yet, even then, he usually managed to channel his outbursts in one particular direction. He feared the consequences of striking out physically, and so his anger was more normally vented in the form of softly spoken words, all the more powerful for their silent fury.
After such outbursts, which were mercifully rare, he hated himself. He remembered with pain the lead-lined robe crack he, as Superman, had once made to Lois as a case in point. The hurt he'd inflicted on her had been an ill- conceived consequence of his need to vent, rather than a coldly calculated attempt to hurt.
Tonight, his comment to Lois had been the first sign of the torrent that was to come. Now, in the privacy of his own apartment, his emotions, contained over the last week, came flooding forth, demanding release. He felt burdened by feelings of loss, sorrow and soul-destroying guilt.
Mayson's death had hit him hard. His friends and colleagues had done their best to offer what support they could, but they couldn't really understand what was going on. He couldn't tell them that, whatever feelings he'd had for Mayson — and they, in any case had been a jumble he'd never really understood himself — they were now overlain by guilt. Guilt that he had not saved her. Guilt that she had died in the arms of a stranger, a curious mix of two men, one that she'd loved, and the other that she'd despised. Guilt that he hadn't returned her feelings. Guilt that, even though he had never meant to, he had undoubtedly hurt her. Now that guilt, along with the effort to hide it away, was ripping him apart from the inside out.
The funeral had been well nigh unbearable, not just because that was the way of funerals, but because he had felt like a hypocrite. The whole affair had been depressing. Mayson's parents had been notable by their absence, and a good proportion of the mourners — Lois, Perry and Jimmy among them — were his colleagues, there to support him, rather than to pay their respects to the deceased. Who had the other mourners been, he wondered. Not friends, he reasoned. Had they been friends, he would have been pushed aside for someone who had known her better, or, at least, had known her longer. Whose idea had it been to cast him in the role of chief mourner, anyway?
Mayson, in death, had given up secrets that he would rather not have known. He began to see just how lonely she had been; that helped to explain the effort she had put into developing a relationship with him. And that, in turn, made him feel even worse.
*I should have told her from the beginning,* he thought, *that there was no future for us. I should have explained that I love Lois, and that anyone else could only ever be second best.*
But he hadn't. The attraction Mayson had felt for Clark Kent, and her forceful drive in pursuing him, had been intimidating and, he had to admit, curiously flattering. Was that why he had not discouraged her more? At the time, he'd rationalised his behaviour away on the grounds that spurning her advances would hurt her. Now, though, he was forced to question his motives; after all, hurt had been inevitable.
Morosely he wondered, why hadn't he put her straight? Because he was a coward, too used to keeping a secret to risk it by suggesting that there could be nothing between them? He'd come to understand Mayson well enough to know that she would have asked questions, pressing for answers that he couldn't have provided. Or was it because it flattered his ego to know that she was there, wanting him, when Lois seemed to be in two minds about pursuing a relationship?
It had been an enormous shock to his system when, at the end, Mayson had stumbled upon the truth about Superman. As she died, he had, for a moment, felt a profound sense of relief, knowing that his secret was safe once more. He had immediately quashed the feeling, horrified at himself for even entertaining it. And that, too, compounded the guilt he felt.
The phone began to ring inside the apartment, pulling Clark back to the present. He wondered what to do about it. Could he simply ignore it, or would that be irresponsible of him? He was grateful when it fell silent after just two rings, taking the need to make a decision out of his hands.
He sighed as his meandering thoughts reclaimed him.
Lois. There was another problem that needed addressing, and he wasn't even sure where he should begin.
She'd stood by him at the funeral, the supportive best friend she purported to be. But since?
He'd been horrified yesterday when she had asked him if he'd lost interest in her. Only then had he realised the extent of the damage his distancing, his unwillingness or inability to confide in her, was causing. He'd wanted to reassure her that his moods had been nothing to do with how he felt about her. He needed to explain that his feelings for her remained unchanged. Would always remain unchanged. It was just that —
But his explanation had been cut short by the arrival of Scardino, and, since then, matters had deteriorated further. Had his behaviour really been so bad that he'd pushed her into the arms of that… that…
He thought Lois had more sense. But then, she'd almost married Luthor, and what did that say about Lois's relationships with men?
He mentally chastised himself for allowing the thought to take form, but… just now… to find Scardino in her apartment, and Lois in her pyjamas, her hair dripping… Maybe the conclusions he'd drawn had been hasty ones, but what else was he supposed to think?
He sighed again, suddenly feeling tired, and more lonely that he'd ever done in his life. A week ago in the street as he'd kissed Lois, he had touched joy. The contrast between that sublime moment and his situation now was absolute.
He fleetingly considered flying out to Smallville to see his parents; they always supported him, and usually they found a way to cheer him, even when he was in one of his blackest moods. But he dismissed the idea; it was late, and they'd already be in bed. It wouldn't be fair to wake them when they'd have to be hard at work on the farm in a few hours time.
Then he thought about going on a patrol, but he abandoned that idea, too. He knew that nothing untoward was going on this evening. Going out would merely be doing busy-work, and he didn't have the enthusiasm for that tonight.
His introspection was suddenly cut short by a frantic banging on his front door and a voice yelling, "Clark! Clark? Are you in there?! Open up! I need to talk to you!"
Lois. Clark recognised her voice, her frantic heartbeat, and even her smell as it permeated his enhanced senses. For a moment he considered ignoring her, but ignoring Lois was like ignoring life itself. It couldn't be done. He reached for his glasses, and reluctantly went inside.
"What are you doing here?" Clark asked as he opened the door.
Lois ignored the coolness in his tone, barged past him, stalked down the steps, and stopped. Instead of standing safely in the middle of his living room, Lois felt as though she were high on a crumbling ledge, needing only one false move, or a gust of wind, to send her tumbling down into the ocean below. Careful to maintain her balance, she turned to face him, her arms crossed tightly against her body in defence against the conversation to come. "Clark," she said, "we need to talk."
The flatness of his voice ought to have put her off, but, instead, seemed to make her more determined to reach him. "What about?" she parroted in consternation. "About us. About you and me, and about what you think you saw back at my apartment."
Clark walked slowly after her, careful to keep his distance. Then he slumped down onto the sofa and stared up at her. In a monotone he said, "What I saw, Lois, was you, dressed for bed, hair dripping, and Scardino…" He trailed off. Then he said, more quietly, the hurt finally penetrating into his voice, "It's none of my business what you do with Scardino. I mean, it's not like we're exclusive or anything. We just had one date —"
"And it was a great date," interjected Lois.
Her words went unheeded as Clark continued, "But I'd hoped that…" He shook his head, as though he were trying to expel the remnants of whatever dreams he'd had for them.
Lois moved to sit at the other end of the couch, close enough to ease some of the tension that was building in the room. "Clark," she said again, "it wasn't what you think. I was drying my hair when I heard sounds in my apartment. I went to investigate, and it was Dan."
Lois nodded. "He'd broken in." She began to smile at the memory, and quickly strove to crush the quirk of her lips. However, she wasn't quite fast enough to hide her expression from Clark.
"What's so funny about that?" he asked, despite himself.
"Oh, nothing," Lois said. "Except his expression when I felled him with a sink plunger."
Clark raised his eyebrows.
Suddenly sombre, Lois said, "And that's more or less when you came in. I can see how you might have jumped to the conclusion you did, but I'd hoped you knew me better than that."
"So did I, but you have seemed interested in him, and I…" Clark trailed off and glanced away, unable to look her in the eye.
"And you, what?" prompted Lois.
"I've been shutting you out."
"Oh, so you are aware of that, then?" she said, an unexpected bite in her tone.
Clark nodded his head reluctantly. "I wanted to explain last night. I would have, if Scardino hadn't arrived."
Lois nodded. "So," she said, "explain now."
"Mayson. She…" Clark spoke reluctantly as though he had to struggle to get the words out.
"Did you love her, Clark?" Lois asked, impatient to get to the heart of the matter, and suddenly desperate to know the truth. There was no censure in Lois's voice, just genuine concern. "I didn't think that you did, but the way you've been since she died — withdrawn, not talking to me — I…"
"No, Lois. I didn't love her. I couldn't love her. There were things that we would never have been able to resolve." Suddenly restless, he stood up and started pacing, just as Lois had done earlier in her own apartment.
Then he stopped, and, this time, when he looked at her, his gaze was so intense that Lois gasped with the shock of it. The pain she saw on his face was heart-wrenching. She blinked nervously and wiped her hands on her thighs. Whatever was wrong, it was far more than a nascent relationship gone awry, and that realisation scared her.
"You told Scardino that I was the only person in Metropolis who didn't know Mayson loved me," said Clark.
Lois nodded. She remembered.
"You were wrong. I did know. I found out when we went for lunch that day. I heard her say it as I was leaving to… contact Superman for you, but I pretended that I hadn't. I didn't want to deal with it then, and I thought that we'd have time to sort it all out later." Clark was suddenly squatting in front of Lois, grasping her hands in his own as he continued, desperate to make her understand. "She asked me whether there was any future for us, and when I couldn't answer, she asked if it was because of you. She'd guessed the truth even though I couldn't bring myself to tell her…" Clark screwed his eyes closed. "I should have told her."
Without thinking, Lois gently withdrew her right hand from his grasp and raised it to his face, gently stroking his cheek with her fingers. Her touch shocked his eyes open, and she could see the unshed tears pooling there.
"And then," he said, gulping as he spoke, "when she was… You and I… We were kissing… and then… she was in my arms, and she was dying, and she…" He wrenched his hands away suddenly, standing back and turning away, unable to tell Lois the rest of it.
Lois rose to stand behind him. She put her hand on his shoulder, and was shocked as he flinched in response to her touch. Trying to comfort him, she said, "You couldn't have done anything differently. And Mayson… she died in the arms of the man she loved. That must have been some comfort to her. If it had been me, I —"
"No!" The word was wrenched from him, and he stepped out of her reach, refusing to be comforted. "You don't understand!"
"Then make me understand!" demanded Lois, suddenly angry, and wondering at her chosen course of action. She didn't *want* to hear this. She wanted to flee from the emotionally charged situation. She didn't *want* to be involved, and yet, despite her reluctance to continue with this — whatever this was — she stayed. "Tell me why this hurts you so much!"
Clark hung his head and whispered softly, "I can't."
Lois felt a surge of fury at his pig-headedness, at his refusal to open up to her when she was fighting her own demons to be there for him. *The least he could do,* she thought, *is to make this easy for me.* Then she caught sight of his fists clenching and unclenching with tension, and she knew that she had to get through to him.
"Clark," she tried again, more gently this time. "I don't know what the matter is, but something is wrong, and it's tearing you up inside. Talk to me, please? I'm here for you. You know that."
She watched as he seemed to shrink in on himself, the unbearable tension leaching from his body. He allowed himself to be guided back to the sofa where he sat down slowly, his head lowered.
Lois gingerly seated herself next to him and draped her arm across his hunched shoulders, trying to draw him closer to her. At least, this time, he didn't pull away from her touch. Rather, he seemed to ignore the contact. Still, Lois supposed that was progress of a sort.
"Tell me, Clark," she coaxed again. "Maybe I can help."
"No-one can help. If I tell you what really happened… I think… you might hate me. I think she must have, at the end."
"Clark?" whispered Lois, shocked both by his words and by the self-loathing in his tone. "Please, Clark… you've got to talk to me," she said, shaking him lightly in her one- armed hug.
He gulped. Swallowed. Then he nodded.
Lois realised, relieved, that she'd finally managed to wear down his resistance, and that, whatever he was going to force her to hear, it would be over soon, one way or the other.
Clark eased himself out of her embrace and twisted in the seat so that he was facing her.
"I guess I do need to talk to someone, and it makes sense that it should be you." He fell silent again, but when he next spoke, a few moments later, his voice was stronger, determined. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you for a long time, but the time just never seems right, somehow."
"And it does now?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No. But I'm not sure that there will ever be a right time for this. And Mayson…" Clark shook his head again. "I wasn't very honest with Mayson. About a lot of things. And I led her on, letting her believe that there was a chance for us, even when I knew that it was impossible."
"Because you didn't love her."
Clark nodded his agreement. "That was part of it, yes."
Part of it? Lois frowned, wondering what else there could have been. However, she didn't have time to puzzle over his words because Clark was still talking.
"I've only ever loved one woman, Lois, and I think you know who that is."
Lois nodded fractionally, hoping that she knew the answer. However, she wanted — needed — to hear him say it. She needed to be sure. In a small voice, she asked nervously, "And that woman is?"
"You." His voice was hushed, almost reverent, and also very, very scared.
Lois's lips parted in a small "o" of surprise. No, she decided, not surprise, because, despite all her doubts, deep down she'd known the truth of his feelings for a long time. Rather it was relief, intermixed with joy, and she realised that she felt the same way. This felt right.
"And that's what you wanted to tell me? I'm glad because, you see, I think I love —"
Clark raised his right hand, forestalling her. "No, Lois. Please don't say it. Not until I've finished. And only then, if…"
"If you mean it. You might change your mind after what I'm about to tell you." Clark tilted his head up toward the ceiling, gathering his strength for what was to come. "You see, Lois, just as I wasn't completely honest with Mayson, I've not been honest with you."
Lois frowned, unable to see where this was going. "You *don't* love me?" she asked, puzzled.
The doubt and confusion in Lois's voice focused his attention. His eyes bore into hers as he said vehemently, "Lois, you have to believe me when I tell you that I love you. I've loved you from the moment that we met. Never, never doubt that!"
"Then what… ?"
He looked away again as he began to talk, staring unseeingly into the middle distance. "I didn't… tell you everything about Mayson's death. This is difficult, Lois. Really difficult for me to say. But I… The way Mayson found out as she was dying. It can't have eased her passing, and it made me realise that, if there is ever to be any hope for us, you've got to know…"
"Know what? Clark, you're scaring me! Nothing can be so bad as you're implying! Can it?" Lois began to reach out as if to touch him, but she arrested her gesture before it was complete. She pulled her arms back, hugging them to herself instead.
"I don't know, Lois. You'll have to be the judge of that. But, remember, whatever happens, I do love you. I trust you. And I'll abide by whatever decision you make afterwards. If you want me out of your life, I'll leave. If you want to…" He shook his head, refusing to finish the thought.
He swallowed. Then he said, "Perhaps the easiest way is just for me to show you."
He took her right hand, and his touch sent a jolt of… something… through her body. He guided it towards the buttoned seam of his shirt. Then he eased her fingers between the buttons, allowing her to feel beneath.
Lois's eyes widened as her fingers touched skin-tight fabric instead of flesh. She raised her left hand towards the buttons, undid one, and peeked through the resultant gap.
The primary colours of the suit were muted by the shade cast by his street clothes, but she nonetheless could easily make out the blue of its body and the red and yellow of the lower angled corner of the famous S shield.
Was this his idea of a practical joke? She opened her mouth to ask, but then shut it again as she answered her own question. Of course it was no joke; Clark hadn't known that she was coming over. He couldn't have known to wear the suit under his clothes, and it wasn't something one would do on the off-chance. Still, she found herself doubting the evidence of her senses.
She lifted her head to look at his face. She was stunned to see trepidation there as he waited for her to do something, anything, and it dispelled the last of her doubts. Nobody could fake that much fear. "You," she said, "you're Superman." It was a statement, not a question.
A moment of jealous anger threatened to overwhelm Lois. Mayson had known this? She'd known something about which Clark had wilfully kept her in the dark? Keeping her voice carefully neutral, giving no sign of the hurt she felt at the unfairness of it all, Lois said, "And Mayson… She knew this?" Maybe, Lois thought desperately, she'd misunderstood him.
Again Clark nodded, shattering Lois's hope. "My shirt was ripped in the explosion, and she found out as I held her. She'd guessed that I'd been keeping something from her, but I think she just thought it was to do with my relationship with you.
"I told you that her last word was, 'Resurrection,' but what I didn't tell you was that, before that, she managed to say, 'So, that's what you've been hiding'. There's no doubt, Lois. She knew." Clark sighed. "Everyone thinks that Mayson died in the arms of the man she loved."
Lois nodded. She'd said as much herself just now, trying to offer Clark some measure of comfort. As he continued to talk, she began to see why he'd refused to be comforted and her anger dissipated almost as fast as it had developed.
"It wasn't really true, though, was it? She… didn't trust Superman. She made no secret of that. But I think her dislike went deeper than that. She would never have wanted an alien." His voice faded into a whisper as he spoke. "She could never have wanted me. Not the real me. And I couldn't explain… I couldn't tell her… and so she died, finding out that… everything she felt about me was a lie. That I was a lie."
Suddenly Clark's recent moodiness and the feelings of guilt he had been harbouring made sense to Lois.
She thought for a moment and realised that he had been wise to hold her back from saying that she loved him; this did make a difference, although it was too soon for her to say what that difference might be. She would have to think hard about the implications of what she had learned here tonight. However, that would have to wait. For now, it was his need that she had to address. He was in pain, and she had to do what she could to ease his suffering.
She gathered him into her arms, determinedly fighting her nervousness as she did so, knowing that, whatever happened afterwards, their relationship would be profoundly altered by what was happening now. Raw, he resisted her embrace for a moment before he allowed himself to relax into it. He lifted his arms, wrapping them around her slender body, and let himself be comforted at last.
Clark's breathing slowed as Lois rocked him gently, talking soft nonsense that neither of them would remember afterwards. His exhaustion pulled him into sleep and her movements became smaller as his weight grew heavy against her body. When she was sure he'd dropped off, Lois carefully disentangled herself from their embrace, easing him gently down onto the cushions. She looked down at him and noticed that his glasses had been pushed out of position by the cushions on which his face now rested. She tentatively reached out, removed and folded them, then carefully put them aside. Then she tip-toed into his bedroom, returning moments later with a blanket to spread over him. As she tucked it in place, she wondered whether he actually needed it. Probably not, she realised with a jolt. He was Superman, and Superman didn't feel cold.
*Clark* was *Superman.* That was going to take some getting used to! Lois suddenly realised that knowing and accepting the fact of Clark's double life were two very different things, and she wondered whether she would ever be able to reconcile the two sides of him.
She crouched beside him, gazing at him thoughtfully. Unable to stop herself, but feeling like a child stealing a forbidden treat, she reached out and gently brushed his drooping forelock away from his face. She frowned at her self-consciousness. She'd never felt that way around Clark before, and the feeling unnerved her.
She thought about leaving then, and running back to the sanctuary of her own apartment, but she found she wasn't ready to do that yet. Despite her disquieting new knowledge, the fact remained that he — both of him — had been her friend for a long time. She suspected, now that his storm of emotions were played out, that he would be all right, but she wanted to be sure. She would stay, just in case her friend needed her again.
Moving as quietly as she could, she went into the kitchen and fixed herself a drink, cursing gently as the kettle hissed and gurgled its way to boiling, and sighing with relief when she realised that he was deeply enough unconscious for the noise not to disturb him. Taking her mug with her to the dining table, she sat down.
In the silence of the apartment she could hear his even breathing and the creaking sounds of the building settling.
Now that the crisis was over, Lois had the luxury of time to think about what had just happened. To say that the evening hadn't turned out as she'd expected was something of an understatement. She'd known that Clark had been affected deeply by Mayson's death, but who could have guessed at the secrets he'd kept carefully hidden? Not just the obvious one, that he moonlighted as a superhero, though that had been startling enough, but that her quiet partner was capable of such depth of emotion.
She'd come to Clark's apartment, full of trepidation for the kind of reception she would receive. She'd expected to have to struggle to make him see things from her perspective, to make him understand what had really happened with Dan. Instead, he'd taken her version of events at face value. It belatedly crossed Lois's mind that Clark had trusted her to give an accurate account of the incident, not doubting her for a moment.
The emotionally charged atmosphere had been more than she'd bargained for, though, and, now that it was over, she realised just how fraught the whole thing had been. She'd barely had time to take stock of her own reactions while everything was happening, but now that she had time to reflect, she found herself shaking. She knew that she shied away from emotionally difficult situations, given half the chance, finding them more frightening than the men with guns and knives she encountered from time to time in her job. The threat of muggers on the streets of Metropolis was, to her, less scary than the thought of baring her soul to another, or having to witness another baring their soul to her.
Yet, that was what had just happened, and, relying on instinct, she'd survived the experience, surprising herself with her ability to cope. Now, though, she found herself questioning the wisdom of lavishing more care, beyond that required by the bonds of friendship, on Clark, Superman, or whoever the person across the room really was.
Lois took a tentative sip of the hot liquid, stared at the tabletop, and thought about what she'd learned this evening.
No longer could she doubt that he loved her; he'd made his feelings very plain. It was more her feelings for him that she questioned. His shocking revelation hadn't changed the way her heart had reached out towards him in his hour of need, but her head was now making her question the reality of who it was she'd thought she'd loved. She'd, just that evening, finally admitted to herself that she loved a guy called Clark, only to discover soon afterwards that the Clark she thought she'd known didn't really exist. She wondered why she wasn't angry at him for what he'd just put her through, or for lying to her for so long. After all, she reacted to every difficult situation with anger; it was her defensive way of dealing with anything that disturbed her equilibrium and the discovery that Clark was the most powerful man on Earth was certainly disturbing.
There had been a time, not so long ago, when Lois had dreamed about being loved by the being Cat Grant had once described as a god in a cape. But Lois had grown up a lot since then. Where once she had been attracted and fascinated by power — and that, she supposed, was what had attracted her to both Superman and Luthor — her almost-marriage had made her rethink her priorities. Power, on its own, no longer held any appeal for her. Over the last few months, her dreams had shifted towards the notion of a true partnership between equals, where love could be given and received without its posing a threat to her autonomy. Clark, her partner at work, could, she had begun to think, also become her partner for life.
Now, though, she wasn't so sure anymore, because, here she was, sitting in Clark's apartment, with the object of her abandoned fantasies lying not ten feet away. Yes, she admitted, Superman was certainly attractive, but he was not a man upon whom a woman could build a future.
Lois looked up and gazed across at the couch. She cocked her head to one side as she contemplated the sleeping man, and she was relieved to find that he looked quite unlike the Superman she had thought she'd known. Of course, he didn't look much like Clark, either. This, she supposed, was the real man, neither Clark, hiding behind glasses, nor Superman with his stern visage and slicked-back hair. He was so different like this. Without his glasses, and his face relaxed in sleep, he appeared younger than normal.
She could tell from his smooth forehead, free of worry lines, that he was resting peacefully. It was a peace that she had helped to bring about, and, despite all her doubts, she found herself being proud about that. A look of tenderness sprang on her face, and a half smile played around her mouth.
Then her gentle expression shifted into a wary frown as she wondered what the morning would bring. He'd passed into her possession his greatest secret, and she wondered how they were going to deal with that. His words earlier, and his promise to leave her if she so desired, cut deep, telling her that he expected her to reject him. He had so much self-doubt, she thought, surprised. Who would have imagined it? Superman was always so confident whenever he appeared, and Clark had always given her the impression of being at ease with himself, laid back, almost. How could she never have seen through the masks he wore, especially since she wore one of her own?
On the outside she was Mad Dog Lane, headstrong career woman, plunging headlong after stories, regardless of the cost and heedless of the consequences. On the inside she was quite different, though, possessed of a far gentler personality than that which she sought to portray, lest it be seen as a sign of weakness. She could trace the roots of her behaviour easily enough, back to a father whose expectations she had never been able to satisfy and to a handful of relationships that had left her reeling in their wake. But, her doubts were hers alone, and, over time, she'd become adept at hiding them from view. Only with Clark, for some reason, had she ever been able to unbend enough to allow a glimpse of the real person inside her hard exterior slip through.
Oh, yes, she knew all about wearing masks and disguises, and yet… she'd been blind to the disguises worn by her partner.
Where had his self-doubt come from, she wondered, remembering what he'd said about Mayson. "She would never have wanted an alien," he'd said. "She could never have wanted me. Not the real me." Then, chewing on her lip, she'd remembered Trask, and his paranoid pursuit of Superman; he'd almost killed both her and his parents in his haste to destroy what he'd perceived to be an alien threat. And what about the demonstrators who surfaced at the least provocation to denounce Superman's presence in the city, about Arianna Carlin's carefully orchestrated campaign of hatred?
Even those who claimed to support his activities often seemed to take him for granted, thinking only of what he could do for them, and never what they could do for him in return. More than once, Lois had felt like a voice lost in the wilderness as she tried to explain that it wasn't Superman's strength or powers that interested her, but his personality; what she'd once described as his innate goodness.
No wonder, she realised, he hid Superman away so carefully when he was the target of so much prejudice. Moreover, she had seen, first hand, how Superman's existence had, on more than one occasion, put those he loved in danger. *How does he cope,* she wondered, *day in and day out, dealing not only with that, but with the traumas of the things Superman sees and does? Seeing the greatest tragedies unfolding as he goes to rescue people from train wrecks, or earthquakes, or monsoons, or whoever the latest megalomaniac criminal is?*
The answer was, of course, he coped as best he could, and this evening had shown her that sometimes that just wasn't enough. He needed someone to be his strength when he was done being everyone else's, someone to ease away his doubts and pain, someone to love, and someone to love him. She'd been there for him tonight, but, she wondered, did she have the strength to do that, day in, day out. A relationship with Clark, she realised, would demand so much more from her than she'd ever expected, and she wondered if she had the strength to be his strength.
He'd promised her an out from this relationship, if she wanted to take it, and she knew that he was a man of his word.
She wondered, should she take it? Probably, if she were being sensible.
Would she take it? That was another question entirely, and one to which she had no answer. Then, unable to fight her fatigue anymore, she put her head down on her folded arms, fell asleep in moments, and dreamed of precipices.
Some time later, Clark stirred to find himself lying on his side, a blanket carefully spread over him. He felt more relaxed than he had in days. He had Lois to thank for that he decided, remembering their earlier conversation and the way she had subsequently held him and rocked him gently as he finally let go of all his pent-up emotions. Then, as Lois whispered soft inanities in his ear to soothe him further, he had found his eyelids drifting closed. The nights spent tossing and turning over the last week had finally caught up with him, and he had fallen asleep.
Where was Lois, anyway? Had she gone home? He stretched his senses outward and found his answer. He sat up to see her leaning across his dining table, one of his mugs, abandoned, in front of her. He imagined what must have happened: she had put him to bed as best as she could, then, deciding to keep an eye on him, she must have made herself a drink and sat down to keep her vigil. However, it seemed that the events of the evening had been too much for her, too, and, now, there she was, slumped in a position that could only give her a crick in her neck when she woke up.
*I love you, Lois,* he thought. *I'll always love you, no matter what.*
Deciding to repay her for her kindness, he rose as quietly as he could from the couch and crept over to her side. Then, oh so very gently, he lifted her up, cradling her against his chest, and carried her into his bedroom. He pulled back the covers and laid her out on top of his bed, then covered her up again. He gazed down at her fondly, then, unable to resist, he brushed the hair away from her face. Then he returned to the couch, still exhausted, and, calmed by the simple fact of her presence, slept soundly until it was almost dawn.
The grey light of the pre-dawn was edging into the apartment when Lois awoke. Disorientated, she wondered for a moment where she was. Then she recognised the blocky outlines of the furniture and realised that, not only was she still in Clark's apartment, she was in his bed, where only he could have placed her. Rolling over, she glanced at the luminous hands of the alarm clock. Four thirty-one, she noted. She wondered briefly what had woken her up at such an ungodly hour, then felt the insistent message from her bladder as it begged for release.
She crawled out from under the covers and frowned as she looked down at herself. The sweats she had thrown on last night in her hurry to come over to Clark's now had a clammy feel to them, the result of being slept in.
A few minutes later, as she quitted the bathroom, she heard a noise from the living area that told her Clark had also woken up. She stretched as she walked through the open doorway that led into the kitchen. Clark wordlessly held out a mug of steaming coffee for her, and she smiled as she took it from him, trying not to feel self-conscious about her early morning tousled look.
They sat at the table, silent, as they let the caffeine do its job, both unsure as to how to proceed.
Finally, Clark looked up from his coffee and gazed at Lois. "I… want to thank you," he said tentatively.
"What for?" Lois asked, startled by his words. She'd been expecting him to say something about his secret. After all, it had to be of some concern to him, hadn't it? She'd expected him to ask her not to tell anyone and not to write the Pulitzer prize winning story it could be… She hadn't expected unconditional gratitude. She had been judging him in the light of her past experiences, she realised; she'd been wrong to do so.
"For last night. For listening to me. For being there." He glanced away, apparently embarrassed. "You helped me more than you can imagine. Last night, for the first time since Mayson died, I slept peacefully. If I hadn't talked it through with you, I don't think that I could have done that."
"You're welcome," said Lois, surprising herself as she realised that she actually meant it.
They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence again, and Lois realised that Clark was waiting for her to take the initiative. She ducked her head, hiding her expression behind a curtain of hair, then said, "Clark, about last night…"
"Yes?" His voice was wary. Well, of course he was wary, she realised. He had every right to be, given the power that Lois now wielded over him.
"I thought about things for a long time after you'd gone to sleep and…" She pursed her lips. "I want you to know that, whatever happens between us, I'll always keep your secret safe."
He didn't react to that. There was no outpouring of relief, though how he could *not* be relieved was beyond her.
Brushing her hair back off her face, she took a good look at him. "Clark? Didn't you hear what I said? I said —"
"I heard you," he said. "And I appreciate it, but…"
"Lois, I trust you. You know that. I didn't really think that you would tell anyone about… me. After all, you didn't write about the kryptonite bullet, and…" He shook his head fractionally, then shrugged. "I'm more worried about what you want to do about… us."
"Oh," she said.
"I'm sorry," he said hurriedly. "I didn't mean to push you. And I know this must be a big adjustment for you to make, knowing that I'm… well, you know."
"Yeah," said Lois, blushing slightly. "That's a good word for it. Big."
"I promised you that I would leave, if that's what you wanted," Clark reminded her. "I meant it."
"And what do *you* want, Clark?" asked Lois, then she silently chastised herself for asking the question. She knew what he wanted; it was obvious. He wanted her.
Given that certainty, she was surprised that he seemed to give the matter careful consideration before he said softly, "I want you to be happy."
Her eyes widened fractionally in astonishment. *So,* thought Lois, *he's leaving the decision up to me.* The thought sent a shiver up her spine. All the other men she'd known had taken things from her, whether it had been her love, her trust, her stories, or even her job and friends. Clark, though, was different, and she was only just beginning to understand how different, from them all. She knew what he wanted for himself, but he was putting her needs and desires ahead of his own, and was leaving her to make decisions for their future.
Lois had no doubt that Clark would willingly accept anything that she gave him in a relationship, but she understood now that he would never take anything from her against her will. There was a reassurance to be found in the freedom that he offered her.
Her instincts came to her aid then, and she suddenly knew how to answer him. Gone were her doubts of the previous night, and gone was her confusion. For the first time in her life she felt truly loved, and she felt herself stepping back from the perilous cliff path, her feet fixed firmly on solid ground at last.
"Do you honestly think that I could be happy, knowing that I'd forced you to leave Metropolis because of me? Because I wouldn't. Clark, I know how much your life here means to you, how much the Planet means, too. And I know what you mean to me." Then, in a whisper that was barely audible to his superhearing, she muttered, "I love you."
Now she could see the relief she'd expected at her earlier assurance suffuse his face. He smiled at her, a truly joyous smile, and she understood that he had been more afraid to lose her than the had been to lose the rest of his life. "You mean that, Lois?"
They still had a huge amount to resolve, and she could see that they would have to make time to simply talk things through, but they'd already made a good start, all things told.
She nodded. "I know that we've got a lot to talk about. But, Clark, I do want to talk about it, and I do want to take that next step. I can't do that if you're not here." She was smiling at him now, and she knew that the warmth she saw in his eyes was reflected in her own.
Then, somehow, they were both rising from the table, and in perfectly synchronised movements, they moved clear of the furniture. His arms reached out to encircle her waist even as her own reached around his neck. He leaned down to meet her as she stood on tiptoe, raising her mouth to his.
Lois watched as Clark closed the apartment door behind them. A satisfied smile played around her mouth as she unconsciously raised her fingers to touch the lips that he had so recently caressed.
It hadn't been the most passionate kiss she'd ever experienced, she thought, but it had certainly been the most tender. It had been so much more than the transitory satisfaction of a physical desire; it had been a contract, she thought fancifully, between them. A silent promise for the future.
They walked down the steps, the important things lying unspoken, but not unheard, between them, as they discussed plans for the coming day.
"Do you want me to walk you home?" Clark asked.
"Yes. That would be nice. I need to shower and change, then we can get a start on investigating Gables."
A shadow detached itself from the darkness of a doorway across the street, heading in their direction. Lois and Clark warily watched as it coalesced into a recognisable form, then, in unison, they exclaimed, "Scardino!"
"What are you doing here?" Lois asked.
Scardino smiled ingratiatingly. "Well, Lois, I did say I wouldn't be far away. I was all set to sleep on your fire escape when I saw you leave your building. So I followed you here." His eyes narrowed as he looked at Clark. "What is this place, anyhow?" he asked.
Clark's forehead creased into a faint frown. "My apartment building. Why?"
Scardino's eyebrows lifted as his smile slipped, and he looked the two reporters up and down. Clark looked freshly turned out for the morning, but Lois… Lois's clothes had an almost slept-in look about them, and grey pouches bruised the skin around her eyes. Yet, despite all the signs of a sleepless night, there was an air of contentment about her that Scardino hadn't noticed before.
Lois's mouth quirked, fully aware of the thoughts that were crossing Scardino's mind. No matter that his suspicions were (almost) as groundless as Clark's had been less than twelve hours earlier, she had no desire, as she had done with Clark, to correct him.
Mischievously, and knowing full well how it would look, she pulled Clark's hand into her own, and said, "C'mon, *partner*. I need that shower *now*."
"Lois!" exclaimed Clark, embarrassed by her brazen behaviour.
Lois's smile widened as she realised that the sight of the blush that was creeping across Clark's face was only making matters worse for Scardino. She began to tug Clark along the street after her, then, as though it were an afterthought, she turned back to Scardino and said, "I take it we'll be seeing you later? To discuss the case?"
The expression on Scardino's face as he watched them leave, Lois thought, more than made up for all the trouble he'd caused over the last couple of days. She hoped that, somewhere, deep beneath his embarrassment, Clark was enjoying this payback as much as she was.