By Lote <email@example.com>
Submitted: August 2001
Summary: A good friend of Clark's comes up with a plan to get Lois to notice him … she's going to pretend to be Clark's girlfriend!
Author's note: I'd like to thank my beta readers for their great help and of course to the people on the mbs. I'd also like to apologise to the Nigerians reading this. I know that Nigeria is not a monarchy. So let's just say that this is an alternate universe. Thanks.
The lift opened and the most beautiful and exotic lady ever imagined sauntered out. Every pair of eyes except for one followed her as she made her way towards his desk. Clark, who was busy talking on the phone, instinctively looked up as her shadow fell on him. The phone call was forgotten.
"Lainy, what …" His words were interrupted by her mouth descending on his for a hot, passionate kiss. Jaws dropped and silence fell upon the newsroom. Who could imagine the hack from Nowheresville could be kissing such a lady? Lois narrowed her eyes as she watched the lady called Lainy kiss her partner. She squashed the little voice in her head that was begging her to rip Lainy's hair out of her scalp.
"What in Memphis is going on out here?" Perry shouted as he strode out of his office. Suddenly, all motion came back as if the pause button had just been lifted. Everyone scuttled away as Lainy leisurely released Clark and winked at him.
"Errr…Perry, this is Princess Elana of Nigeria. Lainy, Perry White, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet," Clark said, a little flustered from the kiss.
"Mr. White, Clark has told me so much about you. I'm an Elvis fan, too," she cooed in her very British English, extending her hands.
"Charmed, Your Highness and welcome to the Daily Planet." Perry bowed and kissed her extended hand. "Perhaps you'll be more comfortable in my office."
As Perry maneuvered her into his office, Lois scrambled to Clark's side. "That's the Nigerian princess who taught you ballroom dancing? What is she doing here? If she's a princess, why aren't there any bodyguards? You've been keeping in contact with her? Why didn't you tell me anything?" she demanded.
"Yes. I don't know. Probably ditched them. Yes. It's not your business," Clark replied almost sarcastically.
Before she could respond, a loud "Lois! Clark! In here!" was heard from the direction of Perry's office. When they came in they found Lainy comfortably 'installed' in one of the seats. "Ah, good! Now, her Highness just told me that she's here to officiate at the opening of the exhibit from Nigeria at our museum. I want you two to cover the opening and her other activities while she's here."
"But Perry! We are investigative journalists," Lois tried to protest but Perry silenced her with a quelling look.
"Thank you, Mr. White. It's been a pleasure." Lainy smiled at him while threading her arm through Clark's. "You don't mind if I borrow Clark, do you?"
"No, not at all. Go on, Clark, you can have an early lunch."
"Thanks, Perry." Clark looked to Lois and said, "I forgot about Bobby Bigmouth. Could you call him back and find out about the tip he was talking about?"
"Fine. Have fun," she replied through gritted teeth, throwing a sidelong glance at Princess Elana. Lainy smiled at her in reply.
"If there's nothing else, Perry, I'll go and phone Bobby." Perry nodded and she left.
Eyes and whispers followed Lainy and Clark as they proceeded to enter the lift. Clark tried his best to shut out all the comments he was overhearing and remain impassive. As soon as the lift door was closed, Lainy gave out a laugh. "Clark, did you see all their faces? Now that's what I call a performance."
"Lainy," Clark sighed. "You are incorrigible, do you know that?" His barely suppressed grin widened. "Why are you here, really?"
"Didn't you hear Mr. White? I'm to officiate at the opening of the new exhibit," she said with an innocent look.
"Lainy, you know what I mean."
"Ok, I just wanted to do a favour for a friend. Your correspondence suggests that you've been mooning around Lois while she's ignoring you. So, think of this as a wake-up call. By the time this campaign finishes, she won't be ignoring you for long." She grinned evilly.
Clark strolled in, grinning. Obviously, his mind was somewhere else as he threaded his way through the newsroom. "About time you got here." Lois' comment brought him back to the present.
"Well, Lainy and I had a lot to catch up on. You know, besides officiating at the opening of the new exhibit, she's also here to represent her family in her brother's engagement party. Prince Mbatu, or Alex as he prefers to be called, is marrying his longtime girlfriend, whom he met while studying at Met U. Lainy's also going to be touring the orphanages in Metropolis since the care for orphans is her most passionate cause."
His voice faded as she gave in to the clamoring voices in her head. She couldn't get over the dreamy look on his face when he had entered the newsroom. He hadn't looked that happy in ages, even before she had started dating Lex. The only time he had been that happy was at the corn festival in Smallville. She didn't want to burst his bubble since she knew that he must be enjoying his friend's visit. However, she would keep an eye on 'Lainy'; she didn't trust the princess at all. Something about her rang false. Lois was not about to let anyone hurt Clark. He was too innocent and likely to be taken advantage of. The princess was not going to get her claws on him, that was for sure.
"Lois! Lois! Are you listening?" Clark's voice cut through her inner musings.
"What? Of course, I heard you. Discussing your precious princess's itinerary is not my idea of work."
"But, Lois, Perry gave us the assignment," Clark reminded her, feeling quite frustrated.
"Well, I don't know what Perry's thinking. Our talents are going to be wasted following your precious princess around," she shot back.
"First of all, she's not 'my' precious princess and second, Perry must have a good reason for doing this."
'A very good reason, since Lainy had managed to convince him to help with the campaign,' Clark mused. He wasn't too happy about Lainy's idea, but he'd go along with it if only to save Lois from the destructive path she had chosen. Dating Lex Luthor was definitely destructive in his mind. Of course, the side benefit of Lois seeing him in a new light sounded attractive. But then again, she'd kill him if she found out about this, or try to anyway.
"Well, what did Bobby want?" He tried to change the subject.
Lois became more animated as she launched into the tip that Bobby had given her. "He's expecting a ten-course meal for this one. There are some rumors of terrorist activities in Metropolis. Some of his mysterious friends spotted a couple of international terrorists belonging to the Liberation Forces yesterday. He doesn't know what they are targeting, but it's probably something big."
"And you aren't out there trying to find these terrorists? I'm shocked!" Clark teased her.
"I would have been out in the street if it hadn't been for my partner, who took an incredibly long lunch and came back mooning over a girl!" Lois snatched her purse and marched to the lift. "Well, are you coming?"
"Sheesh, what's with this word 'mooning'?" he grumbled softly. "I was not mooning," Clark said plaintively as he trailed behind his partner.
Clark opened the door to the lobby of the Lexor for Lois. Not that she appreciated it, of course.
"I can't believe that we wasted the entire afternoon on that stupid tip! My feet are aching. Bobby's not going to get another meal for a month, I'd say," Lois complained. "Your disappearing act didn't help either!" she added.
"Come on Lois. You should really be a little more professional. After all, not all tips pan out."
"But Bobby's tips are usually so reliable. And whose stupid idea was it to have dinner with the royal princess anyway? Are you sure she's a real princess, because I didn't know that Nigeria had any royalty," she finally voiced her real grouse.
"Of course I'm sure. I've known her family since I was 20. Alex and I used to go fishing together. Hmm, I've not seen him for quite a while. Stop fidgeting, Lois. You look good enough to be presented to royalty." He grinned at her.
She glared at him, though she had to admit her partner looked particularly debonair in the tux he was wearing. "I don't really care if I look presentable for two-bit royalty."
A throat cleared. "While we are little known outside our own country, I've not heard anyone describing us as two-bit before." The throat's owner, a striking young man, grinned to show that he hadn't taken any offense. In fact, he looked rather amused.
"Alex! It's good to finally see you. Lois, this is Prince Mbatu, Princess Elana's brother. Alex, my partner, Lois Lane." Clark shook his hand heartily.
"Your Highness, I'm sorry. It was rude of me. My only excuse is that it's been a roller coaster of a day for me," Lois said, very embarrassed at being overheard.
Alex bent over her hand and grinned again. "No offense taken, Ms. Lane, and I insist on being called Alex. Being 'highnessed' all the time wears my patience."
"Clark, Lainy didn't mention how beautiful your partner is." Alex addressed him next.
Clark grinned. "Lois does not appreciate people calling her beautiful. Now, if you had praised her on her Kerth award winning articles on the other hand, you might have made a lifelong friend." He took the opportunity to tease her.
Lois glared at him and turned to smile at Alex. "Don't listen to him. That's not true at all," she clarified, all the while wishing she could stamp on Clark's foot.
"Talking about Lainy, where is she? Are we going to meet your fianc‚e?" Clark decided to take the prudent way out.
"You know Lainy. She'll be primping, for you, of course." Alex winked at Clark. "As for Anna, yes, you'll meet her. Please come this way." He led them across the lobby of the Lexor while his bodyguards discreetly cleared the lift for them.
"Now, that's what I call a prince," Lois whispered to Clark as they followed him.
No sooner had they arrived at the penthouse than a small missile flung herself at Clark. Lois's eyebrows were raised as Clark and Lainy once again recreated the morning's scene. At least she told herself that Clark didn't look all that comfortable in the hussy's embrace. Her attention was so focused on the two that she was not aware of Alex's scrutiny of her. A secret smile crept onto his face for a moment before he once again masked his amusement. "Ok, you two, break it up. Lainy, what's Dad going to say if he heard about your behaviour?"
"Well, brother dearest, what is wrong with kissing my soon-to-be husband?" Lainy asked brazenly. If Lois had been drinking, she certainly would have choked.
"Clark, you haven't said anything at all about my appearance. And here I have devoted more than an hour to you," Lainy said, pouting.
Clark, who just wasn't comfortable with pretense, couldn't believe his ears. Trust Lainy to put him in this kind of situation.
"Lainy…" he started before Alex rescued him.
"Lainy, stop fishing for compliments. You know you look very nice. Ms. Lane, I apologise for my sister; being the only girl, she's rather pampered. Please don't write about their engagement yet. My parents have yet to approve. Of course, that'll not be such a difficult decision since Clark's not only well-loved by our family but also by our people."
Lois, who was still grasping at the concept of Clark marrying a princess, managed to recover in time. "Of course not, Alex. Besides, Clark and I are investigative reporters, not social columnists. Clark, Lainy, congratulations," she said, somewhat insincerely.
"Thank you so much, Lois. It means a great deal to Clark and me that you know. After all, you are his best friend," Lainy accepted. "Right, Clark?"
"Hm, oh, yes. Thanks, Lois." He smiled weakly. "Is Anna coming here or are we meeting her at the restaurant, Alex?" A diversionary tactic was necessary at this point.
Alex grinned at him, knowing how uncomfortable his old friend was. "Anna will meet us there. She made the reservation, said that it's a newly opened Italian restaurant. It wasn't easy to get a table but she pulled some strings."
"So, tell me more about her," Clark said, relieved to be off the hook. Alex extended his arm to Lois, and Lainy clung to Clark as they walked out of the penthouse. Anna was a topic dear to Alex, and he needed no urging to talk about her, with some comments from Lainy here and there.
Soon they were at the restaurant. Anna was waiting for them. An African-American lady with soulful eyes, she smiled brightly as she saw them coming out of the limo. "Have you waited long?" Alex asked her.
"Not at all. Lainy, you look wonderful!" Anna exclaimed.
"Thanks, Anna. You don't look too bad yourself." Lainy leaned to give her prospective sister-in-law a warm hug. Something clicked in Lois's mind. 'Now this is the real Elana', she thought. 'If so, then why the spoilt, arrogant act? Or is Lainy just jealous of Clark's relationship with me? After all, some people believe that different genders cannot be good friends without becoming lovers as well. Is she one of those? Clark shouldn't be saddled with such a person if that's the case.'
"Anna, let me introduce you to an old friend, Clark Kent. And this is his partner, Lois Lane," Alex introduced them.
"Lois Lane and Clark Kent. I've enjoyed your articles tremendously, especially the ones on Superman. Do you know him very well?" Anna, being a fan of the superhero, couldn't resist asking. If she only knew that three of the people around her were groaning in silence.
Being the only one who was glad of the question, Lois grinned and answered, "Yes. He's a great guy. Did you know that?"
The three co-conspirators exchanged looks as Lois and Anna proceeded to check on their reservation, all the while discussing the superhero. "I knew this was a bad idea," Clark groaned.
"Chin up, chum. It's not that bad; in fact, it could be worse. I've been observing her, and I'd say that she has some feelings for you," Alex tried to cheer up his friend.
"Yes, Clark. This is just a passing infatuation, I'm sure."
"I'm not. She's been in love with Superman ever since he appeared on the scene. Not even the feelings she has for Luthor can rival her feelings for Superman. I'm just an ordinary guy with no power and no money. What's to attract her?"
Lainy sighed. Her friend's lack of confidence in himself was one of the most annoying things about him, not that he had many annoying traits in the first place. "Clark, you can't give up now. It's still early in the campaign as yet. Trust me. Have I ever let you down?"
"No buts. Now come on. Anna and Lois will be wondering why we are not following them." Alex strode away. Clark sighed inwardly as he followed the two siblings. His friends had good intentions, but they didn't know Lois. They probably underestimated her stubbornness.
Inside the restaurant, Anna and Lois were too busy talking to wonder what was keeping the rest of their party. Lois found Anna to be a sweet but outspoken person, not easily bullied. Her opinion of the future princess rose as they continued to exchange opinions on various subjects. "So, are you rather close to Alex's family? I mean it must be quite an experience to marry into a royal family."
"I suppose it is. However, his family has been very supportive, especially Lainy. She's become like a sister; I'm happy about that, since I'm an only child," Anna replied shyly. She was a little awed being in the presence of one of her favorite reporters.
"Lainy? Clark has said little about her other than commenting that she taught him ballroom dancing. What is she like?" Lois smiled as she skillfully maneuvered the conversation.
"At a glance, you might think that she's an African bimbo. But that's not true, to the detriment of many who have sought to use her. She's as smart as a whip and very loyal to her friends. You really wouldn't want to offend them or her family, either. She'd tear you apart. Of course, if you are lucky enough to be her friend, you couldn't ask for a better one. Her parents praise her as a sweet and caring daughter."
"Alex mentioned that she's a little spoiled." Lois pressed on.
Anna started to frown but her expression soon cleared. "Ah, did he mention that in front of her? He was just teasing her, that's all."
Before she could elaborate further, the rest of the party arrived. Alex slipped into the chair beside Anna while Clark, gentleman that he was, helped Lainy with her chair. "Sorry, we were reminiscing so much that we forgot ourselves." Alex offered an explanation for their tardiness.
"No problem, sweetheart. Lois and I entertained ourselves just fine."
"So, shall we order?" Lainy asked.
For the rest of the meal, the conversation revolved around the exhibit and the engagement party. However, Lois was rather discomfited by the attention Lainy was giving to Clark. Didn't she have any morals flaunting her cleavage like that? And taking every opportunity to press herself against Clark, disgusting! The way Lainy managed to get Clark's promises to help out in both events made Lois grind her teeth. Why was Clark being so meek all of a sudden? This wasn't the behavior of the person who had tossed her into a garbage bin, nor was it the behavior of the person who had tricked her into exploring the sewage system.
In the comfort of her own apartment, Lois tried to make sense of the past day's events. It had been a strange day. First of all, her mild-mannered, almost na‹ve partner turned out not only to be well acquainted with a royal family but also was about to marry into the said family. Then, there was the contradictory prospective princess bride. The impression she gave was of a spoiled airhead. If she had had blonde hair, Lois would have figured her to be a bimbo. Yet, Anna had said that it wasn't true. Anna's claim was confirmed when they were discussing the exhibit. Lainy had acquitted herself well in the subsequent discussion on Nigerian culture and heritage. Clark had let it slip that she had a doctorate in sociology with a minor in anthropology.
What particularly disturbed Lois was Clark's behavior. Of all people, she knew how obliging he could be, but the way he was with Lainy really was too much, even for him. Another thing nagging her was the fact that he seemed rather unhappy about something. Could it be the 'engagement'? Had Lainy somehow bullied him into it? The undercurrents she sensed during the dinner did not help her unsettled mind either. Something was fishy, and she was just the person to find out.
Unfortunately, the night was too advanced for her to do anything. Oh well, she'd figure it out the next day. After all, didn't Perry assign her to do a series on Princess Elana? She grinned as she settled down to sleep.
Meanwhile, in a penthouse suite at the Lexor, the three co- conspirators were planning the next step of the campaign. "Clark, I think it would be a good idea for Lois to bring this Lex Luthor to the opening of the exhibition," Lainy said.
"No! Absolutely not! I agreed to this plan of yours only so that Lois would stop dating Lex." Clark quickly vetoed the idea.
"Exactly. What better way to get her to lose interest than to show him up for the creep he is," she drove home her point.
"How are you going to do that?" Alex asked curiously.
"I love surprises, so you'll just have to wait," she answered mischievously.
Clark suddenly stopped pacing as he heard sirens in the direction of the docks. "Look, got to go. Lainy, we can still quit this game, you know."
"No, we are not quitting. I made you a promise, remember? All right, go," she replied, seeing that he was rather distracted by something. He left, leaving the siblings alone.
"Alex, goodnight. I've got to get out of this ridiculous contraption that is masquerading as a dress."
"Goodnight." Alex leaned to give her a kiss on the cheek.
Morning found Lois looking through the Planet's archives on Foreign Affairs/World News, digging up all she could find on the Nigerian royal family.
"Lane! Where's your partner?" Perry bellowed from his office.
"I don't know, Perry. I'm not his keeper," she shouted back, as she glanced at Clark's empty desk. Just where was he? Usually he'd have been here early and bringing her coffee. Had he spent the night with Lainy? Lois had no idea why, but the notion didn't sit well with her at all. His behavior had been erratic since yesterday. Lainy was a bad influence, she concluded.
"You may not be his keeper, but you are supposed to be partners. When are the two of you going to work as a team?" Perry complained, emerging from his office.
"Not fair, Perry. We've produced a number of great articles, some of them are even Kerth material."
"You know what I always say, doncha?" Perry was about to say more when he caught sight of Clark coming down the ramp. "Kent! Have you any idea what time it is? You better have a good excuse," he greeted him.
"Better than good, Perry." Clark forced a cheerful smile as he made his way to his desk. "I've just got an exclusive from Superman regarding the earthquake in Japan."
"Well, what are you waiting for? The news doesn't write itself, now does it?" Perry remarked gruffly, somewhat appeased by the offer of an exclusive. "Now, don't forget that you are to write the series on Princess Elana."
"We're on it, Perry. I've just spent the morning doing background research. I'll update Clark as soon as he finishes the exclusive," Lois assured her editor. A 'hmp' was the only reply she received as Perry turned back to his office. She wasn't paying attention though, as she silently observed her partner. He looked tired and, surprisingly, sad. Her earlier thoughts of him spending the night with Lainy flew out of her mind as concern replaced it.
"Clark, what's wrong?" she asked, walking over to his desk.
"Nothing," he said curtly as he continued to type the article. She read over his shoulder, amazed at his ability to capture the emotions and atmosphere during and after the earthquake. It was as if he had been there himself.
"Stop reading over my shoulder!"
"Clark Kent! I don't understand you. Yesterday, you were almost on cloud nine and yet today, you come in looking so worn out. Why, did Lainy keep you up late last night?" she said, almost cattily. Her earlier suspicions arose once again, irritating her further. In a small, little corner of her mind, she questioned what it was about her partner that could influence her feelings so easily.
"What are you talking about?" Clark wasn't in the mood to deal with her. The loss of so many lives in the earthquake weighed heavily on his mind, even though he knew there was no way he could have saved them. He had done his best, but it hadn't been enough. "Look Lois, I've got to write this article. When I'm done, I'll help you, all right?" he snapped.
"Fine. I'll be in the conference room," she said, fuming.
Clark followed her with his eyes as she walked back to her desk. He wasn't up to talking to her, not when he couldn't tell her what was wrong. And he desperately wished that he could. Unfortunately, that would mean that he had to tell her his secret. This particular morning was definitely not the time to do so.
'The nerve of the man! I was just concerned for him, and he had to take that tone with me,' she thought. Taking her research materials to the conference room, she arranged them into arbitrary piles and started tackling them, one pile at a time. By lunchtime, she had nearly finished going through all the information she had. She finally realized that her partner had not even made an appearance. 'What's keeping him? I'm sure he would have finished the article a long time ago.'
She looked over at his desk, but he wasn't around. "Jimmy, where's Clark?" she asked the young man. Her irritation could well be heard in her voice.
"I think he took off a while ago, Lois. He didn't look too good, so Perry sent him home," Jimmy replied.
"Or perhaps, he's gone to play hooky with the princess, huh?" Ralph interrupted smugly.
Jimmy scowled at Ralph. "Clark's not like that. I'm sure there's nothing between them."
"What! How can you say that after that smoldering kiss?" Henry chipped in. "I nearly had to take a cold shower. Lucky guy."
"Lois, you had dinner with the princess and Clark. You tell these guys. Is there anything between Princess Elana and Clark?" Jimmy looked to Lois for support.
Lois hesitated. She would be lying if she denied that there was anything between Lainy and Clark. But she was reluctant to admit there was something either. Why, she couldn't say. 'At least,' she reasoned out, 'Their engagement is unofficial.'
She hesitated too long. Ralph was smirking as if her silence confirmed the rumors about Clark. Fortunately, Perry decided to step out of his office at that moment. "What are you all standing here for? Don't you have work to do?"
They all scattered, except for Lois. "Perry, is it true that Clark went home?"
"Yes, the guy seemed almost dead on his feet. I told him to go home."
Once again, her irritation disappeared to be replaced by concern. She remembered that he did look exhausted. That must have been the reason for his crankiness. Perhaps, she could go and check on him. It wasn't as if she hadn't dropped by his place before, she reasoned.
"I think I'll check on him, then. It's unusual for him to be ill."
"Go ahead, honey," Perry urged.
Before she could leave, her phone rang. "Lois Lane speaking. Oh, Lex."
On the other side, Lex Luthor signed his name on the document Mrs. Cox was holding. "Lois, my luncheon meeting was canceled. I was wondering if you'd like to have lunch with me," he greeted her.
"I'm sorry but I can't. Clark became ill suddenly, and I thought I'd go check on him."
"I'm sure that won't take too long. We'll go together and then leave for lunch."
"Sorry, Lex. It's not like Clark to get sick; he might need me there longer than a few minutes. Why don't we meet for dinner instead?" she tried to appease him. She wondered why she was turning down a great lunch in a posh restaurant for a man who had snapped at her. 'But he was ill, after all,' she reasoned.
"Oh, all right. Another thing, I received an invitation to the opening of the new Nigerian exhibit at the museum. Would you like to attend it with me?"
"Perry assigned Clark and me to cover the event. It wouldn't be right."
"Nonsense. It's even better this way. I get to escort one of the most beautiful ladies in Metropolis, and you get to cover your story. I'll pick you up tomorrow evening then." He sounded as if the matter was settled. She sighed and agreed.
On her way to Clark's place, she mentally reviewed the material she read that morning. She almost couldn't believe what she found. Though most of the articles were on the actual royal family themselves, there were some on their circles of friends and influential people surrounding them. What she did not expect was that Clark had been a part of both circles. He had been the one behind quite a few of their major human rights laws. For his brave rescue of the princess Elana from a kidnapping attempt, he was ennobled. Who would have thought that her partner was a noble? She could, however, believe the rescue, since she knew well what a Boy Scout he was.
Meanwhile, at Clark's apartment, the phone rang. "Hello. Yes, Perry. She did? That's good. I'll be ready. Thanks again for your help. Bye," Lainy said, grinning all the way. She looked in on Clark. He was in a deep sleep. If he knew what she was planning to do, he'd strangle her. However, she needed some uninterrupted time to talk to Lois, and what better scenario to do it than this.
Perry had called her earlier after he had sent Clark home, thinking that he would need a friend to cheer him up. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the viewpoint, Clark was asleep by the time she arrived. He had not moved an inch since. The doorbell rang, interrupting her thoughts. She hurried to open the door before it could ring a second time. She really did not wish for it to wake Clark up.
Lois was on the verge of pressing the bell again when the door opened.
"Lois! What a surprise. Shouldn't you be at work?"
"Lainy? What are you doing here?" Lois's shocked expression was genuine. She wasn't expecting to be greeted by Lainy. "Is Clark in?"
"Yes, but he's sleeping. Come on in," Lainy invited. "He hasn't moved since he came home."
"That's not like him. He's usually as healthy as a horse," Lois told her, wondering if Lainy had been in the apartment since the night before. Something akin to jealousy rose to choke her words.
"I know. That's why I'm quite worried. Would you like something to drink? I was about to make some tea," asked Lainy.
Lois, who'd like nothing better than to poke her head into the bedroom, nodded as she took a seat on the couch. She watched Lainy opening cabinet doors trying to find the cups and kettle. She took great satisfaction in the fact that Lainy didn't know her way around Clark's apartment. "Do you need my help?" she asked silkily.
"No, that's all right," Lainy answered. "I wonder what Clark did with his kettle. Doesn't he use a kettle at all?" she complained, rather perplexed.
"That's strange. How did he make all those cups of tea for me?" Lois got up to join the search. After looking everywhere, they still couldn't find it. "Never mind. Let's just drink the soda in the fridge," Lois finally said.
"Sure. I'll get them."
They settled themselves on the couch, their drinks in their hands. An awkward silence fell upon them. "So, when did he first propose to you?" Lois decided to take the plunge.
"He didn't," Lainy said honestly. "I proposed. Lois, you are his best friend, right?"
"Yes," replied Lois, wondering where this conversation was leading. She wasn't at all surprised that Lainy had done the proposing. What she was concerned with was why Clark said yes. Lainy wasn't his type. 'Then, who is his type?' asked the little voice in her head.
Lainy looked uncertain. "Could we go somewhere else to talk? I don't want to disturb Clark. Don't worry, he'll be fine alone for a while," she hastened to reassure Lois when she saw her frowning.
Lois didn't like to leave without looking in on Clark but Lainy seemed insistent. "Ok then. There's a caf‚ near here where we can get a decent cup of coffee and mouthwatering pastries."
Sitting comfortably at a corner table away from the busy traffic, Lainy resumed talking. "Did Clark tell you how he saved my life? A heroic rescue. I've been in love with him ever since."
"You were eighteen then, right?"
"Yes and Clark was twenty. He was on his summer vacation, at the time. My family was very grateful to him and invited him to spend the summer at our palace. A magical summer, indeed. I taught him ballroom dancing, among other things.
"Well, I wasn't the only one smitten by this witty and charming gentleman. Almost every lady in court was. Unfortunately, none of us managed to engage his attention. So I settled for his friendship. However, we made a promise at the time that if he was unmarried by the time he's thirty, we'll get married." Lainy sighed philosophically.
"He's not thirty yet. I guess he's changed his mind about reciprocating your love." Inexplicably, Lois felt as if she had lost something precious.
"Oh no. He did agree to marry me, but I've not secured his love yet. He has just given up on finding his true love. That's the reason I wanted to talk to you. You see, as his best friend, you are in a position to help me win his heart."
This time, Lois did choke on her coffee. "What? I don't understand how that's possible."
"My plan is to make him jealous. And then, when he comes to you for advice, you can get him to see that he needs to be more aggressive in courting me." Lainy smiled innocently.
Lois couldn't believe what she was hearing. She was about to refuse but changed her mind. It would be better for her to hear the plan first. "What's your plan? Mind you, Clark's no fool. You may not be able to make him jealous."
"Don't worry, he'll be jealous, all right. I've invited Lex Luthor to the exhibition opening since I know he's not one of Clark's favourite people. Flirting with Mr. Luthor will definitely get a rise out of Clark. Since Clark told me that you and Mr. Luthor are an item, I thought I'd give you advance warning. I'm not after Mr. Luthor."
'No, you are just after my best friend,' Lois thought grimly.
Lainy, who wasn't a mind reader no matter what some people thought, knew that the fish had just taken the bait. For the rest of the time, she alternated between gushing about Clark like a lovesick fool and exhorting Lois to help her win Clark.
Clark woke to a silent apartment. He wondered why he smelled Lois's and Lainy's perfumes in his home. Had they come and looked in on him? How did Lainy know he was home? But then, he knew she could ferret out information unlike anyone he'd met, except for Lois. He shouldn't be surprised. And Lois… he was quite nasty to her that morning, and in his tiredness, he had forgotten to let her know he was leaving. Was she mad at him? Was that why she came to see him? He felt a little guilty about the way he had treated her. She didn't deserve it. After coming in late and not helping her out with research, he had yelled at her because she had dared to be concerned about him. He decided that he would apologize to her the next day at work.
The sleep and the talk with his parents before that had done him good. His guilt at not being able to save some of the earthquake victims had eased significantly and he was feeling more recharged. Deciding to make some tea, he went to the kitchen. He took out a mug and filled it up with water. Then he focused a low intensity beam at the mug. Before long, the water was boiling and he immersed the tea bag in it. Sipping the tea, he made his way to the computer in his bedroom and then he sat down to some serious work.
Before he knew it, dusk had arrived. He emailed the piece on the budget cuts to the Education sector, assigned to him a few days back, to Perry. Cooking up a simple dish, he ate alone. A sense of loneliness overcame him. He wished that he was with Lois, right then.
Even though they almost always had take-out for dinner, the company and dinner conversation were worth it. He wondered if Lois would ever see him as more than a friend. It hurt to hear her gush about Superman or to see her dating Luthor. That was the reason why he had agreed to Lainy's plans. However, based on the previous day's experience and the subsequent discussion with the two royal siblings, he was beginning to doubt that the plan could work. Involving Luthor, albeit without his knowledge, was not the most brilliant idea Lainy had thought of. In fact, it was downright dangerous. Clark had no illusions regarding Luthor. Lex wanted Lois and would do anything to have her, including hurting others. Lainy just might be in over her head, this time. Perhaps he would not ask Lois to bring Luthor along as her escort. By the time the event had started, there was nothing Lainy could do to get Luthor into the picture. Clark felt better after having made that decision and went to carry out his nightly patrol.
The next morning at work, Clark took the opportunity to apologize to Lois. However, she waved his apologies away, saying that she understood how cranky a person could be when he was under the weather. She inquired rather diffidently about his health; whether he was up to covering the opening of the Nigerian exhibit. She tried to subtly encourage him not to attend. Clark was rather perplexed by her behavior since he had expected her to demand that he cover the opening by himself. After all, he hadn't helped her with the background work at all. He quickly reassured her that he was quite fit that day.
"Lois, as you know, Lainy wants me to help her out before the event starts. So I will not be going with you."
"It's all right. Actually, I'm going with Lex. He needed a date since he was invited." Lois smiled gently. She knew that Clark was not a fan of Lex.
"Luthor's invited?" Clark exclaimed, shocked. He had not expected Luthor to be invited.
"Of course. He is, after all, serving on the Museum Board of Directors."
Clark had no response to that. He groaned. He could see Lainy's hand in this; it would be just like her to hedge her bets. The event would turn into a nightmare, he was sure.
"Then I'll see you there."
"Clark," Lois started. "About Lainy… oh never mind. I'll see you later."
He nodded, wondering what exactly Lois had wanted to say. They both went about their work as Perry, the hard taskmaster that he was, bellowed commands and demanded results. As the day progressed, Clark had to slip away a number of times due to the demands of his second job. He hoped that Superman wasn't going to be needed that evening since he'd have his hands full trying to cope with Lainy, Lois and Luthor.
The only other strange thing that day was the way most of the guys behaved around him. Almost every time he turned around, some of them would be winking or smirking at him. A couple of the men from the mailroom even asked him what his secret was. One guy gave him a thumbs up on one of the return trips he made from being Superman. He had entirely no clue as to what was going on.
He did not realize, however, that someone was keeping track of his disappearances. Lois, who had been made painfully aware of her partner after the long talk with Lainy, — which, by the way, landed her into trouble with Perry — was watching Clark surreptitiously. She was curious each time he took off. In fact, she was a little suspicious. Was he disappearing to meet Lainy? But that couldn't be since she didn't see him near a phone at all.
She became very puzzled. Lainy had said that Clark wasn't emotionally involved with her yet, so if he was meeting Lainy, it would have been initiated by her. Since Lainy hadn't contacted him at all this morning, there was no particular reason for his disappearances. Then again, there had never been a reason for his disappearances. She thought back to the many times she had been utterly frustrated by his apparent lack of professionalism and his stupid excuses. Why was her partner always disappearing? Very strange.
Soon evening arrived, and he made his way to the main gallery of the museum, where the workers were making last minute adjustments to the exhibit, and the caterers were busy preparing the tables for the reception.
"Clark, there you are. What do you think?" Lainy greeted him, pointing to a case where an intricately designed spear was displayed.
"Fine." Clark dismissed the spear. "Lainy, you invited Lex Luthor, didn't you?"
"Of course, we agreed to do that, remember."
"I didn't agree to it. Lainy, you don't know what you are getting into. Lex Luthor is a ruthless, master criminal. He'd do just about anything to get what he wants, and he wants Lois. I don't want you to get hurt," Clark pleaded with her.
"Well, it's too late now. Besides what can he do to me? He's not likely to show his true colours in such a setting. Clark, you are a worry-wart. Relax, it'll be fine," Lainy assured him, "Now, come and help me out back here."
His superhearing kicked in. "Err, Lainy, I've to go. I forgot to bring my tux here. I'm sorry," he stammered out while extricating himself out of Lainy's grasp.
Lainy sighed. "All right, go on. But hurry back. There's still a lot more to be done."
He was gone in a flash.
The opening ceremony started without a hitch. Princess Elana was in her element as she gave her inspiring speech about the role museums play in preserving cultural traditions and educating the masses about them. She received a standing ovation as she stepped down from the podium.
"Well, did I do well, or did I?" she remarked cockily to Clark backstage.
His answer was to roll his eyes. A silky voice spoke out, "A very inspiring speech from a very beautiful lady. Your Highness, if I wasn't active in the Metropolis Museum Board of Directors before, I would be convinced to do so now."
They turned to see Luthor approaching them with Lois in tow. He bowed gracefully and kissed Lainy's hands. "You must be Mr. Luthor. You are highly praised by the president of the board for your numerous contributions to this museum. I was delighted when Lois told me that you had accepted the invitation," Lainy said coyly.
Lois and Clark stood to the side, seemingly forgotten. Lois stole a glance at Clark and found him tense. She did not really wish to cooperate with Lainy; the thought of Clark marrying Lainy made her jealous.
It wasn't that she disapproved of Lainy any longer. Her talk with Lainy had made her revise her opinion of the princess. Lainy was only being insecure of her place in Clark's life. Lois could relate to that; after all, she had done something similar to attract her father's attention and capture his affection. Still, she feared she would lose Clark if Lainy managed to secure his love. That was a prospect she was unprepared to face.
"Lex, I'm sure Her Highness has to mingle around. Why don't you give me a tour of the exhibit instead?" Lois sidled up to Lex.
Lainy threw her a surprised glance. 'What's Lois up to?' she thought. She thought she had Lois convinced to ensure Clark did not fall into her clutches. So why would she be jealous of Lex, instead?
Meanwhile, Clark was praying for patience. What he'd really like to do was to deck Luthor. First Lainy and then Lois were trying to gain the attention of the man. However, violence was not a solution in this case. He was granted a respite when Alex and Anna came forward to meet them.
"Hello. Lainy, nice speech. You were laying it a little thick though, don't you think?" Alex criticized good-naturedly. "Clark, Lois, glad to see you again."
Lainy pouted. "Well, Mr. Luthor doesn't think so? Do you?" she flirtingly asked Lex.
"Not at all, my dear. Prince Mbatu, it's a pleasure to meet you. I've just heard today that your government will be announcing on your appointment as the permanent Ambassador to the US. Congratulations," Luthor extended his hand to Alex.
"Yes, as the youngest prince, that's pretty much the only thing I'm good for," Alex joked at his own expense.
"Nonsense, darling," Anna defended him. "You have a natural diplomatic talent."
Just then, Clark heard an emergency transmission from an aircraft caught in a thunderstorm. 'Oh no. Not now, please,' he thought. There didn't seem to be any response to the transmission, and the situation seemed to be getting more critical. He knew he had to go rescue the plane, but how could he leave Lois and Lainy with Lex? "Excuse me. Perhaps you ladies would like to have a drink. I'll go and fetch them for you." He didn't wait for an answer but left immediately.
"Shouldn't he have asked us what drinks we wanted?" Anna asked, perplexed at Clark's behaviour.
"I assure you he'll come back without any drinks at all," Lois answered sarcastically, used to Clark's silly excuses for his disappearance.
"Why did you say that?" Lainy asked.
"When a situation gets tense, he always disappears."
Alex tilted his head a little, pondering the response from Lois. "Are you implying Clark's a coward? I've known him a long time, and he's not a coward. Besides, I can't imagine how our chatting is a tense situation," he spoke.
"Perhaps Mr. Kent has an unstable personality," Lex threw in his own opinion.
That earned him a glare from everyone in the group. Lois immediately defended her best friend. "That's not true. Clark's kind, dependable, honest, and well, a little na‹ve. Other than the na‹ve part, he's just like Superman! He definitely does not have an unstable personality."
She paled as something clicked in her mind. The fact of the various disappearances, which she had noted earlier in the day, suddenly coalesced into an interesting revelation. 'Oh my God! That's why he's always disappearing. And yesterday, he was sleeping like a log, not because he wasn't feeling well, but because he was exhausted after the earthquake.'
"Lois, are you all right?" Lex took her hands in his as he scrutinized her pale complexion. The others also expressed their concern.
"Perhaps you should sit down," Anna suggested.
"No, no. I'm fine. Just a little lightheaded. I didn't eat lunch today," Lois protested, her mind working furiously on the conclusion she had arrived at. "Clark! There you are," she said, spotting him.
Unaware of what was taking place back at the Metropolis Museum, Clark flew towards the thunderstorm. He could see that one of the engines of the plane on fire. A freezing blow from him stopped the fire completely. He immediately moved underneath the plane to support it and headed back to Metropolis. Leaving the plane at the Metropolis airport, he headed back to the museum.
Upon his arrival, he went to the sidebar to order up a few drinks for everyone. He then headed towards the small group at the side of the gallery. "Clark! There you are." He heard Lois call him. Looking up, he saw her pale face and Lex holding her hands. A spear of jealousy and concern went through him. He immediately rushed forward, thrusting the tray of drinks into Alex's hands. "Lois, what happened?"
"She just felt faint because she didn't have any lunch," Lainy said helpfully.
"I'll go get you some food. " Clark made to move off.
Lois stopped him by putting her hand on his arm. "I'll go with you. That way I can pick my own food."
"Since Lois is having her dinner, perhaps you could accompany me while I mingle around." Lainy jumped at the chance to separate Lois and Lex.
"Kent needn't do that. I could escort you, Lois," Lex told her.
"No, that's all right. Besides, I need to talk to Clark about work," Lois reassured him.
At the same time, Clark was trying to signal Lainy in order to protest against her keeping Luthor company. However, Lainy intentionally missed those signals.
"Come on Clark, I'm starving." Lois dragged him away from the group.
At the buffet table, Lois tried to get his attention. However, Clark was too worried about Lainy to notice. "Superman, stop following her around with your eyes like a lovesick fellow." That comment caught his attention as he stared back at Lois like a deer caught in the headlights. "Lois," he started.
"Don't worry. No one is around to hear us. After all, I only whispered it. And don't try to deny it, Superman." Lois glared at him. Her shock at learning his secret rapidly gave way to anger at being fooled for so long.
"Lois." He sighed. "I'm not going to deny being Superman. But this is not the time to talk about it. I know you are angry, but could we shelve this discussion till after this event is over?"
Lois nodded. She knew he was right. It did not mean however that her anger was appeased. "OK, but we'll definitely discuss this."
"Thank you. Right now, I'm worried about Lainy," he said, looking around.
"Of course, your precious fianc‚e. Does she know that you moonlight in tights?" she spat out, hurt that he was caring more about Lainy than her.
"Lois," he spoke in a warning tone. He knew she wasn't about to drop it until they had their talk. "Ok, let's get out of here and we can discuss it." He made up his mind. Lainy had Alex around. He'd stop her from getting into trouble, for a while anyway.
Exiting the museum, Lois hailed a cab. 'What are you doing? Since he's Superman, he should offer to fly us home,' the devilish voice in her head voiced out. 'Shut up! I'm not going to give him any advantage, right now,' Lois shot back as she remembered flying in Superman's arms…it was definitely a disadvantage for her to fly in 'his' arms again.
Meanwhile, Clark was quietly following her, his thoughts in turmoil. 'How did Lois find out? Why now? All she's going to see is Superman…Clark Kent is not even important…after all, that's what she's been calling me. Why couldn't she have found out later, when she is able to appreciate Clark Kent better?'
A cab stopped in front of them. After getting in, Lois immediately, and without consulting Clark, gave her address to the cabbie. The trip to her apartment was made in silence. The air was thick with tension. When the cab dropped them in front of her building, Lois immediately flung open the door and stalked into the building. Clark hurriedly paid the cab driver and followed her.
"Well, we're here. Now talk." She confronted him once they were in her apartment.
"Lois, what would you have me say? That I'm sorry to have kept it from you. Well, I'm not. First of all, this is a secret that involves people other than myself. Imagine if the criminals knew about my parents; they would be used against me for sure. Secondly, when was I supposed to have told you? At the beginning? You would have seen it as an opportunity for another Kerth. I can picture the headlines: 'Mild Mannered Reporter Is Superman'. Or should I have told you when we became friends? You were so infatuated with Superman that our partnership and friendship would have been affected. Even now, you are still obsessed with Superman.
"And recently, you were too busy dating Lex Luthor. If you had known, you could have unintentionally slipped and told him about it. And that scenario is unthinkable," he blurted out as his inner demons erupted.
Lois sat on the couch, unblinking. Her feelings were truly hurt. Did Clark think so little of her that he couldn't and wouldn't trust her? Did he really believe that she would have betrayed him to Lex? She tried to hold back her tears. He wasn't going to get the satisfaction of seeing Lois Lane cry.
"I guess that tells me all I have to know about our friendship," she said, the very picture of calmness.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.
"Well, you obviously don't trust me. And I can't trust you after you've been lying to me all this time. A friendship without trust will not work. I'm glad to know it this early, before my feelings get too serious," she replied. "Well, that's that. You can go now."
"What are you talking about, Lois? Of course I trust you," Clark exclaimed, alarmed at her reaction.
"Not from what you said, Clark. And not from your actions either. Never mind. Just go."
"Lois, what I meant was that there hadn't been any good time for me to tell you before. But that doesn't mean I'm not happy that you are finally in the know. In fact, it's a relief. Do you know how difficult it has been to keep this secret from you?"
"I'm sure it's not all that difficult. And you don't sound happy. In fact, you sound resentful."
Clark took a deep breath. He knew that the talk was not going very well; he had made things worse with his outburst. "Ok, Lois. Can we sit down and start over again? I'm sorry for my words earlier," he said sincerely.
She looked at him for such a long time that he almost squirmed. Her mind warred with her heart. On the one hand, he had made a fool of her by not letting her in on his secret. He had a point though, when he basically accused her of not being ready before this. On the other hand, it still felt like a betrayal by the one person she thought she knew very well, her best friend. But then again, the last few days, had shown her that she knew next to nothing about this complex man before her.
How could she have ever thought that he was a simple farmboy? No simple farmboy would travel around the globe, making friends all over the world. Lainy had told her of his friendship with the aborigines in Kalimantan and his support of the Chinese students who died in Tiananmen Square in '89. She had also spoken of his travels to famous countries and remote ones alike, where he had in some way or another influenced the lives of the people he had come in contact with.
It was no different with her. Who would have ever thought that she could work with a partner, much less form, so she had thought just this morning, a firm friendship with someone? He'd managed to get under her skin and break down the wall she had erected around her heart. She had to give him a chance.
"All right. Please." She gestured to the chair.
It was awkward but he decided to take the plunge. "Lois, I'm sure you have many questions to ask, so I'll let you ask them first."
She hesitated, trying to find a 'safe' question, before hitting on one. "From your earlier comments, I gather that your parents aren't from Krypton?"
"No, they found me in a little spaceship out in the fields. They brought me up and in all the things that matter, they are my parents. That's one of the reasons why I have tried to keep my abilities a secret — to protect them."
"So were you always Superman?"
"You mean, did I have my powers right from the start?" he asked, to which she nodded. "No, my powers became apparent only in my teens. Before that, I was only a very healthy child. I did not become Superman until I came to Metropolis, even though I've been using my powers surreptitiously for quite some time."
"What made you decide to become Superman then?"
"Even though I've been using my powers secretly to help others, I couldn't use it the way Superman can. Well, not without attracting media attention. That was something I wanted to avoid, because I didn't want to be considered a freak of nature. All I wanted was a normal life. Creating Superman helped me to achieve that. No one would ever imagine that Superman is actually a mild- mannered reporter, would they?"
"No, I suppose not. I didn't even think of it, though I'm close to both of you."
"You shouldn't blame yourself. After all, for the most part, I'm fast enough to give the impression that both Clark and Superman are around at the same time."
"That's the thing. Until today, I didn't piece together the fact that I've never seen the two of you together."
"How did you manage to discover the secret?" Clark asked, curious.
"Well, we were talking about your abrupt exit — I suppose you went out on a rescue…"
"…when I suddenly realized the reasons why. You're always giving me all those stupid excuses before you disappear. I mean, every time you disappear, Superman manages to appear somewhere else to do his heroic stuff," she said irreverently.
"Look, don't get me wrong. We both know you aren't stupid. But how did you manage to get the connection now and not before?"
"Blame it on your fianc‚e," she said, noticing his wince when she mentioned the word 'fianc‚e'. 'Ah,' she thought, misunderstanding the wince, 'At least, he's not really sure of the idea of marrying Lainy.'
"After the talk we had yesterday, she had almost convinced me that you were a god on Earth."
"Err, Lois, that's something else we need to talk about. But later," he interjected.
She nodded and then went on, "Yesterday, I was worried about you, and so I went over to your place. Lainy was there, too. To make a long story short, we had a good, long talk about you, as well as your relationship with her. Did you know that she was trying to use Lex to make you feel jealous?"
He shook his head. "No, but I'm not surprised."
"She spoke at length about your accomplishments, and how she was completely in love with you. However, she felt insecure because you never told her you loved her." She looked at him, trying to gauge his feelings for the princess. What she found reassured her that he did not have strong feelings for Lainy and encouraged her to add, "So, she wanted me to help her win your heart by advising you to pursue her harder. Not that I would have, since I don't think you should be forced into a relationship with someone for whom you don't have a strong feeling."
"Lois, just to deviate a bit, what did you mean when you said 'before my feelings become serious'?" His heart beat furiously, hoping against hope that she had some feelings for him.
Lois blushed. "Hmm, what did I mean? Well, the events of the last few days made me realize that I care for you more than I would for a friend, even a best friend," she said shyly. "I know it's too late for me to explore these feelings. You are engaged, albeit unofficially, so I guess it doesn't really matter."
"It does matter," Clark said, horrified that Lois was going to give up just like that. "It does matter. Because I love you."
"Clark, but what about Lainy?"
"Of course I love Lainy, but only as brother. I've been in love with you from the first time I saw you. It was the reason why I decided to stay in Metropolis and created Superman."
"So long?" She was having trouble grasping the concept of his loving her. "Then why did you accept Lainy's proposal?"
"Why did I what?" He was shocked. "Lainy told you that she proposed?"
She nodded. "Yes, and that you accepted it because you despaired at finding your true love."
"Lainy. I could strangle that kid." Clark got up and ran his hand through his hair. Lois grinned inwardly at the way her partner seemed offended by the 'unmacho' way his engagement had taken place.
"I guess we have to talk about the last few days," Clark finally said and he related the past few days' events to her.
Afterwards, they both sat back and were silent for a time. Then, Lois broke the silence with a laugh. "Clark, where did you ever find such outrageous friends?"
"I don't know. Are you mad?"
"I ought to be. But not at you. I think you are as much a victim as I am. But I'm disappointed in Perry."
"I really didn't know exactly what she planned. As for Perry, he was just concerned about your involvement with Luthor."
"About that, you know that it's not serious now, don't you? I guess I was flattered that the world's third richest man found me attractive. You never liked him, right?"
"I couldn't tell you earlier, but I know that he's a criminal. I can't prove it, but based on Superman's encounters with him, it is more than likely."
She fell into silence again. At long last, she stirred. "I guess it's something we need to look into. Lane and Kent's first Pulitzer prize, perhaps?"
"So does this mean that you are not going to demand a new partner?" Clark asked, still unsure of his status.
"Nope. I'm giving you another chance, buster. But you better not collaborate in such schemes anymore," she answered. Before he realized it, she dove in for a quick kiss. It was not a kiss between lovers, but it was definitely more than a kiss between friends. "I also demand that you help me figure out this thing that is between us."
Her bravado ended there. "Clark, I've not been in a serious relationship for a long time. The last time, Claude betrayed me. I know that you are sure that you love me. And I'm sure that I feel something for you. However, I can't say that I love you. Not yet. Could we take this slowly?" she asked hesitantly.
He took her into his arms and let her snuggle there. Whispering softly, he answered her. "We'll take it as slowly as you need, Lois. I'm not going to push you. I'm just glad that you are willing to give us a chance."
She snuggled closer, and the room became still. Unlike previously, the silence was a comfortable one.
Meanwhile, back at the gallery, Lainy was entertaining Luthor. She hoped that the two partners would not return from their 'food-hunt' to collect their respective dates. Lois' light- headedness was the perfect excuse to get the Lois and Clark together in a social setting. As for Lex Luthor, Lainy had his number. From Clark's narrations of Superman's and his own encounters with the guy, she knew this man loved playing the benevolent public figure. A healthy dose of praise and flirtation would do no harm.
She couldn't spot Lois and Clark anywhere as she looked around furtively. She inwardly sighed in relief as she thought, 'Huh, that dolt finally decided to take the opportunity given to him. I hope he doesn't mess it up."
"What is taking them so long?"
Lainy was brought out of her thoughts by Lex's complaint. She glanced at her companion. He looked rather irritated.
"Oh, they are probably eating. Never mind Mr. Luthor, they'll find us," she said placatingly. 'Eventually,' she added silently. "Look, there's Mr. Harrison. I'm sure you know that he heads the Metropolis Orphanage and Child Welfare Organization. I've been wanting to talk to him for quite some time. Do you mind if we go over, Mr. Luthor?" She turned on her charms as she steered him toward Mr. Harrison.
"Mr. Harrison, it's wonderful to meet you here," Lainy greeted him as she neared the man. "Mr. Luthor, this is Mr. Harrison from MOCWO. Mr. Harrison, I'm sure Mr. Luthor needs no introduction." Her brilliant smile could have probably lit up the whole room.
Mr. Harrison returned her smile and greeting. For about an hour, Lex Luthor was trapped between the two crusaders as he murmured grudgingly agreements on how appalling the state of child welfare was in Metropolis. To his evident surprise, he even pledged a million dollars to the betterment of orphanages in the Metropolis area.
He finally managed to get away by giving the excuse of trying to find his errant date. Lainy, who was enjoying her trick on poor Lex, became worried that he might find her friends — she regarded Lois as a friend, or a potential one — in a heated embrace or something. 'Pooh, Mr. Boy Scout would never dare do that!' her mind stated.
Knowing that Luthor would be very suspicious if she was not worried about Clark as well, she acted accordingly. "Yes, you are right, Mr. Luthor," she exclaimed. "It's been over an hour. Where could they be? Mr. Harrison, do excuse us."
"Of course, Your Highness. It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Mr. Luthor."
"Likewise," Lainy answered. Lex just gave a curt nod.
When at last they couldn't find Lois or Clark, Lex almost blew his top. "Where have they gone to? What has Mr. Kent done to my Lois?"
Lainy winced at the possessive tone. "I'm sure there's a perfect reason why they aren't here. Clark is supposed to cover this event, and I know he's not one to skip work without a real reason."
Just then, Alex showed up. He had seen Clark and Lois depart earlier and had been keeping an eye out for his sister. Given Clark's misgivings about Lex, he felt he should be around, just in case. "Hey, sis. Why are you two looking as if you are lost?"
"We're not lost. Lois and Clark are the ones who are lost."
"Oh, them. They approached me a while ago. It seemed that Lois had a gastric attack. Clark took her home. They couldn't find you in the crowd, so they let me know."
"There, you see," Lainy said to Luthor. "A perfectly good reason."
"Then I'd better go check on her," Luthor replied. He had a sneaking suspicion that things were not as they seemed. However, he couldn't accuse the royal siblings of lying.
Before Lainy or Alex could reply, a man wearing a turban approached Luthor and whispered in his ear. After, Lex turned to the siblings. "I apologize Your Highnesses. My man tells me that one of my business ventures needs my attention. Please, Prince Mbatu, send my regards to your lovely fianc‚e."
After he left, the two siblings visibly relaxed. "All right, Alex, what happened to our two lovebirds?"
"I wouldn't call them lovebirds. When they left, they both had thunderous looks on their faces. It was as if they were headed for a showdown. Well, who knows what happened. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Though I'd rather not deal with Lex Luthor again. He gives me the creeps. Where's Anna?"
"She's waiting for us outside. Shall we leave?"
Lainy nodded, and the siblings made their way out of the museum.
In Lois' apartment, the two 'more-than-friends-but-not-quite- lovers' were still in each other's embrace.
"I'd better leave. I need to check on Lainy. Hopefully, she hasn't gotten into too much trouble," Clark said.
"Hmm." Lois was too comfortable to move. "Do you need to?"
"Yes. I'll see you tomorrow, ok?" He smiled, watching her as she got up and stretched.
"Ok, tomorrow then."
She followed him to the door. This time, he was the one who initiated the kiss. "Goodnight."
Once he emerged from her building, he hailed a cab to take him to the Lexor. He found the two royal siblings waiting for him when he entered the penthouse suite. "Well, looks like my plan worked," Lainy said to Alex smugly.
"Hmm, yes. He looks nicely rumpled, and the lipstick is a dead giveaway." Alex couldn't help teasing Clark.
"Ok, you two," Clark said, wiping his mouth, "Don't you have better things to do?
"No, we don't. So what happened? Lex was not happy to find the two of you gone."
"Lainy, did he hurt you?" Clark was concerned.
"Don't worry. I managed to handle him just fine. So?"
"We talked and she admitted that she had some feelings for me."
"No, but you aren't getting the rest out of me." Clark grinned. "Oh by the way, I told her about your part in this. Knowing Lois, I'd expect something in return. Just to warn you."
"Clark! You weren't supposed to tell her anything," Lainy said, feeling rather panicky.
"After what you have put me through, you'd be happy to escape with that, young lady. Coming into my apartment without my permission, telling Lois a pack of lies about our pact to marry when I am thirty; need I say more?"
"Lainy, you didn't!" Alex was laughing so hard that the words came out garbled.
Lainy pouted. To appease her, Clark kissed her forehead. "Still, I owe you my thanks. If it weren't for you, things wouldn't have worked out this way."
"I'm glad you realize it," she said sulkily. "Both of you are coming to the engagement party?"
"We wouldn't miss it. Goodnight." Clark promised.
The day of the engagement party arrived. Clark suspected that Lois had something up her sleeve, but she wouldn't tell him. Their working relationship had not changed much since their talk. Their personal relationship, on the other hand, was growing by leaps and bounds. No longer did he have to conceal his departures from her. Her knowledge of his other job truly decreased the amount of misunderstandings between them. Furthermore, she was helping him by covering for him in those instances when he needed to leave in a hurry.
They had also been spending more time together outside work. Here too, her knowledge meant that he didn't need to limit himself in front of her. He flew them to Paris, Rome, Venice and many other cities for romantic dinners or lunches depending on the time zone. At home, he often went without glasses while she was there. She discovered the secret of making tea the Superman way. They had also been talking and discovering things about each other that they weren't aware of before.
The only dark cloud in their relationship was Lex Luthor. Even after Lois had broken up with him, Luthor being Luthor would not give up. Clark was worried that he might do something drastic. Other than that concern, he was very happy.
"Clark, are we going now?" Lois interrupted his musings.
"Yes. Lois, don't do anything to Lainy today, please?" Clark tried to get her promise.
"What makes you think I'd do something?"
"I know you, Lois. Remember that she had only good intentions, and the results are great, right?"
"Sure. Don't worry. I'm not going to do anything. Just the anticipation of my revenge should be enough punishment for her, don't you think?"
Clark was relieved, "Thanks, honey."
Lois stopped in her tracks. "What did you call me?"
"Uh, 'honey'?" he replied, uncertainly. "Lois, I'm sorry."
"Shh." She put her fingers against his lips, "I like it."
With that, she grinned and walked out of the apartment.
The man walked into the airport and approached the arrival board. Yes, the board display indicated that the flight he was meeting had arrived. Approaching the arrival gate, he scanned the passengers for the ones he was seeking.
What seemed like a two-ton truck barreled into him and he heard a little voice demanding to be carried. He scooped up the little boy, who was grinning a chocolaty smile up at him, and gave him a smacking kiss. The boy giggled. "Uncle Clark! Uncle Clark! Chocolate kiss!" the boy said excitedly.
"N'bui! Come back here!" A lady in her thirties, still capable of stunning any man around her, hurried over. "Clark! Thank god. I thought he was lost."
"Hello, Lainy. Don't worry, N'bui has great instincts, just like his mother," Clark said as he leaned down to give her a kiss in greeting. "Where's your husband?"
"There's some trouble up North and Dad wanted him to check it out. He's sorry not to be able to come. He sends his regards, by the way."
"I'm sorry, too. He'd have liked what Dad and I did to the farm."
"Have Alex and Anna arrived?"
"Nope, not yet. But then they'll be arriving from the embassy in Washington. Now N'bui, how'd you like to milk the cows?" Clark turned his attention back to the little boy who was squirming in his arms.
N'bui shook his head. "No. No. N'bui want ride horse."
"Okay, we can do that, too," Clark agreed, laughing.
"Lois is back at the farm. CJ is fussing because his first tooth is coming out."
"Ah, my friend, you have finally gotten your wish." Without waiting for an answer, since it was so obvious, she proceeded out of the airport.
Clark followed with N'bui. He recalled an incident that he had witnessed at the Metropolis Airport many years back of a father waiting patiently to be reunited with his family. Then, Clark had wished for a family of his own. Now, he had one; Lois and CJ were his family. He was blessed.
Lex paced up and down his penthouse office. Nigel stood in the shadows, waiting for his orders.
"How dare she! How dare she chose a nobody like him over me! She must be taught a lesson…no one, no one make Lex Luthor look like a fool." Luthor's face turned red at the thought of Lois and her insignificant little partner together.
"Yes, sir. May I suggest that I take care of your problem for you?"
"No Nigel. I don't want to kill Clark Kent." Luthor spat out the name like it was poison. "No, I want him to suffer for having the audacity to take what's mine. Yes…"
Nigel waited patiently as Luthor mulled the idea that was brewing in his head.
"Yes." Luthor seemed satisfied with whatever he was planning. "Come here, Nigel. This is what you must do." For the rest of the time, they discussed the plan.
The next morning, Lois found that her jeep wasn't working. That forced her to call for a cab since it was impossible to hail one at that time of the day. When her cab arrived, she got in and instructed the cabbie the way to the Daily Planet.
A few minutes later… "Cabbie, stop. Where are you going? This is not the way to the Daily Planet."
The cabbie turned and grinned evilly at her, "No, Ms. Lane. You are right, this is not the way to the Daily Planet. No, we are going to take you to your fianc‚."
Before she could react, he sprayed her with some thing and she felt herself drifting to sleep. "Nightie-night."
On waking up, she found herself in what seemed like her apartment. 'What a strange dream.' she thought out loud.
"What dream is that, my dear?" She turned to see Lex Luthor. A frown appeared on her forehead. She struggled to capture her scattered wits before giving up.
Giggling, she answered, "Oh, Lex. I dreamed that I was an ace- reporter who managed to be friends with a flying alien. Isn't it strange?"
"Yes, but don't worry your head about it, dear."
Back in Metropolis, a certain Superman looked high and low for Lois. Unfortunately, she was not to be found anywhere. Suspecting Lex Luthor behind this, he went to confront him only to find the billionaire dead. The note Luthor had left indicated that Lois' rejection had finally driven him to give up his life since she was his life.
No one ever saw Lois again. Clark Kent, devastated, was driven into the waiting arms of Princess Elana for comfort. They were married a few years later.