By Ultracape <Ultracape@aol.com>
Submitted October 1999
Summary: Oh, boy … Clark has done the unthinkable — he's won a bet with Lois! The stakes are an Italian dinner for two, so he's not very happy to be dragged by an annoyed Lois to a pizza joint! But are things what they seem?
Usual disclaimers. Please refer all comments to Ultracape@aol.com. Copyright (c) 1999 Ultracape
Pizza and beer — or diet soda, as the case may be — do not constitute a proper Italian meal, Clark brooded. Not that he didn't like pizza, but his sense of fair play had just taken a big bruising.
"Lois, the bet was for dinner. I won the bet. I want a *real* dinner," Clark protested, already acknowledging defeat as he caught Lois' triumphant smile before she turned her attention back to searching the Pizza Shack parking lot for a space to deposit her jeep.
"It's Italian, and it's food, and we're here after—" Suddenly, her voice took on the edge which signalled a call to arms. "Will you just look at that? There's no way the owner of that Corvette is handicapped. I hate it, I just hate it when people are so…" Her tirade stopped only momentarily. "The nerve of some people. Two spaces! I mean it, who do they think they are, taking two spaces when the lot is so crowded? And even if the lot weren't so— aaaah!"
Clark grabbed the steering wheel, yanking it into a sharp turn with almost-super speed. "Lois!" he yelled. "For God's sake! Look where you're going."
"Clark, what do you think you're doing?" Lois shouted angrily.
"I think I'm stopping you from ploughing into Inspector Henderson's new car. But, if you *want* to spend the rest of your natural life in traffic court—" Clark let go of the wheel and sat back with his hands held up open on either side of his face. "—far be it from me to stand between you and your millennium in court."
"If I wanted a back-seat driver…"
Super-hearing or no, that was all Clark could hear of Lois' mumbles as he caught himself falling into a sulk. He should have known this would turn into a disaster. Lois did not take defeat well. Hell, she just didn't take defeat at all. 'You don't win with her, you just postpone utter annihilation.'
And yet, that was part of what attracted him to her. No, attracted wasn't the word. Aroused — that was the word. She aroused him to the point of needing to plunge himself into the Arctic Ocean, repeatedly. Lois was indomitable, she was brilliant, she was beautiful, she was a force of nature stronger than himself, and she cared. She was fighting for truth and justice long before he had ever thought of settling in Metropolis and donning the tights and cape.
'So why can't she give just a little of her caring to me?' The answer was staring him in the face, as Luthor Industries' newest and best-selling fad product — a Superman-shaped pine-scented air freshener — swung, as if in effigy, from the jeep's rear-view mirror. "Luthor must be getting a real kick out of that one," Clark grunted to himself.
"Well, are you coming?"
Pulled out of his morose thoughts, Clark quickly exited the jeep and actually had to rush to catch up with Lois. He didn't need super-vision to see that the line for tables was long. 'Just the type of romantic dinner for two I've always dreamed of having with her,' he groused to himself. Invulnerable he may be, but it was amazing how he could experience the verisimilitude of indigestion through the emotional experience.
He didn't need super-hearing either, especially with all the kids screaming, ignoring the cooling slices of pizza in front of them. And, he admitted to himself, he was in a very bad mood, so everything seemed ten times worse than it really was.
"Lois, look, I hate waiting on line. I know I won the bet, but I'd consider it paid in full if you allow me take you to dinner. I know this great little restaurant across town…"
Lois turned and gave him a look that would have killed a normal man. As it was, Clark was driven to take a couple of steps back, stepping on the toes of the woman standing behind him. The screech of pain actually hurt his ears almost as much as the guilt hurt his psyche.
Lois barely gave him enough time to apologize to the lady. "Clark, I pay my debts," she said and turned her back to him, her pose out- freezing the Arctic winds which he was getting to know so well.
He couldn't win. He couldn't break even. He couldn't even get out of the game. He couldn't, even if he strained his hearing to its utmost, hear a semi-legitimate call for Superman. Not even the cats were co-operating by getting themselves stuck in trees tonight.
If he had lost the bet, then he, the proper Kansas gentleman that his mama brought up, would have taken Lois to a really nice quiet restaurant for a candle-lit dinner for two. Then, the two of them could talk about some of the feelings that they'd been dancing around— well, the feelings *he'd* been dancing around, anyway. Then, it was just possible that Lois might at least acknowledge that she was aware of him. 'In your dreams, Kent.' Well, anything was possible and Clark was nothing if not an optimist.
But no, he had won the bet and, in typical Lois Lane style, she managed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Or was it that he had pulled defeat from the jaws of victory? She'd already made him regret the day he had supposedly "won."
But a night with Lois was still a night with Lois, and that was better than a night spent alone dreaming about a night with Lois. Resigned to a very long evening, and determined never to 'win' anything from Lois again — except maybe her hand, someday — Clark stuck his hands in his pockets and remained silent.
"Paolo!" Clark looked up to see a man, tall, dark and *far* too handsome for Clark's liking, pull Lois into a bear hug and swing her around, just before he received a kiss from Lois that Clark would have died for.
Trouble was, he thought, he *was* dying for it. Clark felt so low right now, he could wear a top hat while walking under a snake. 'As if Lex Luthor and Superman weren't enough competition.'
"Clark." Lois grabbed Clark's arm and pulled him over. "Clark, I want you to meet Paolo. Paolo, Clark. Paolo is the manager of this Pizza Shack."
Reminding himself that Paolo had not done anything to deserve all the homicidal feelings Clark was dealing with right now, he pasted on his friendliest smile. "Pleased to meet you," Clark said as he held out his hand, using up his super-restraint so that he didn't crush all the man's metatarsals. Even at that, Paolo grimaced and rubbed at his fingers after Clark released his hand.
"Lois, Clark, come, I have a great table for you."
'At a Pizza Shack — a great table at Pizza Shack!' Clark's smile, still pasted on, hardened just a bit.
Paolo led them to a corner slightly isolated from the other tables by a wooden barrier. Clark dropped himself into the booth, which didn't appear to be any different than any of the other booths, even to super-senses, and watched as Lois and Paolo seemed intent on some sort of silent communication — which didn't include him.
"I'll bring you the special."
"Clark, Paolo's going to bring us the special. Where *are* you tonight?"
Clark looked around the restaurant. Wherever he was, he didn't want to be here. Okay, so he was with Lois, who was now falling in love with the manager of a Pizza Shack, who was going to serve them the house special. "Two choices of vegetable toppings and two choices of meat toppings?"
"No, Clark," Lois said coquettishly. "That's not the house special. Things aren't always what they seem."
Suddenly, an aroma wafted across the crowded room and gently enticed his nostrils. Clark sniffed appreciatively. He hadn't smelled anything like that since he had been invited to dine at the Borghese Palace in Rome on the last night of his tour through Italy.
Paolo came out of the kitchen carrying a tray with several covered dishes, none of which looked anything like they contained pizza. Clark reached for his glasses, tempted to peek at what the waiter carried, but Lois caught his hand and held it. She was looking into his eyes in a way, up until now, she had reserved for Superman.
The dishes were placed on the table, the covers removed, and Clark could swear he was smelling heaven. The plate held pasta — but not just any pasta. This was covered in a light sauce made from wine, mushroom and tomatoes which Clark had always loved but had never been able to reproduce himself. In fact, to his knowledge, there were only about three chefs in the world who had ever managed to get this sauce just right.
Other dishes appeared — lamb chops encrusted with herbs and chopped nuts in a demi-glaze; lobster and marsapone cheese ravioli; and mussels in wine sauce — each looking more tempting than the next.
Clark was stunned. Paolo disappeared into the crowd of kids and parents as Lois stuck her fork into the plate of pasta in front of Clark. She twirled up a small amount of spaghetti and fed it into Clark's open mouth.
Lois chuckled softly at the bewildered, almost intoxicated look on Clark's face. She reached across the table and gently pushed Clark's chin up. "Clark, you're supposed to chew."
Shaking himself out of the succession of shocks he'd just received, he suddenly realized that he had food in his mouth. Clark had never tasted anything so good in his life. He closed his eyes just savoring the sensations on his tongue.
Finally swallowing, he dabbed a napkin at his lips and stared at all the excellently prepared dishes. He knew that there was no restaurant in town which he could have afforded that offered anything like this. He didn't even know of one which he couldn't afford that had cuisine this good. "Lois— I… what's happening here?"
Lois smiled that smile at him again, and his heart did flip-flops. "Clark… well, you're… ah, well, you see…" Lois took a deep breath, stretching her blouse a bit, and Clark had to adjust his seat.
"Clark, you're a good friend to me. In fact, when I thought you were going to leave, during the heat wave, I realized that you're my *best* friend, the *only* best friend I've ever really had. I hadn't understood until then how much that friendship means to me."
"Your friendship means everything to me too, Lois."
She smiled at him, blushing just a bit, which only aroused him more. Clark's heart was beating so hard he couldn't speak, so he just kind of gestured towards the culinary delights on the table.
"I did a story on Paolo a few months before you came to Metropolis. At first, I thought it was just going to be another human-interest piece that Perry was palming off on me, but then I realized that Paolo had a secret identity."
"Him too?" Clark mumbled.
"What?" Lois looked confused.
"Ah, no— ah, go on with what you were saying."
Lois, still looked at him questioningly, but went on, "Paolo's family was killed in Italy when he was a child. However, they made sure that he'd be able to travel to the United States. Somehow, he put himself through school and became a cordon bleu chef. He's just managing this Pizza Shack until he can save up enough money to open his own restaurant.
"When you won the bet, I came here to ask Paolo to recommend the very best Italian restaurant I could take my very best friend to, not… not only to pay off a bet, but… to, to show you just how important you are to me. He— Paolo said, for such a good friend of mine, he would prepare the best meal in the world."
Clark could do nothing more than stare. He was her very best friend. *He* was! Not Paolo, not Lex Luthor, and not Superman. Up until now, he thought he was invisible to her, just someone to use or save her life, figuratively as well as literally. But Lois *did* care. She really did care, about him.
"Clark, say something."
He looked down at the food. It smelled out of this world, and *he* would know. "Lois, I… I don't know what to say. I love… ah, I love it. It's the best meal in the whole world."
"You like it," she said hopefully. "You really like it?"
'I love *you*,' he thought. "This pasta…" The way she had fed it to him, the taste, the look in her eyes, what she said to him… Clark felt his pants becoming very uncomfortable as his emotions whirled around.
"This pasta…?" Lois asked.
'You don't know what this pasta is doing to me,' he thought, and he knew he'd always associate pasta with this moment for the rest of his life — the moment Lois first acknowledged affection for him. "It's wonderful, Lois."
He took her hand and squeezed her fingers gently, wanting to do so much more. "But it has nothing to do with the taste." And then, more boldly than he'd ever been with her before: "It has to do with the company."