Just a Heartbeat Away

by Erin Klingler <erinklingler@cableone.net>

Rated: G

Submitted: January 2001

Summary: Set during the episode "Whine, Whine, Whine," Lois knows she and Clark are at a crossroads in their relationship, and that she needs to make up her mind between him and Dan. But with Clark's behavior so distressing, the decision is a difficult one.

I'd like to dedicate this story to my great friend, Kathy Brown, who, like me, misses the "older-style fics from the good old days." I don't think this is exactly the kind of story you were missing, Kathy, <g> but our little talk inspired me to write this one, anyway. No major angst, <g> no cliffhangers, no heart-in-the-throat drama…just a little jaunt back into my personal favorite: second season. I hope you guys like this one, even without those "big story" factors. :) Let me know if this pulls you out of your strike, Kathy. <wink>

A quick background on the story: First of all, this is *not* a Music Adaptation. I know many of you hate those, so I wanted to clarify that right away. <g> But in the episode "Whine, Whine, Whine," we got a marvelous, emotion-evoking song called "Old Love," by Eric Clapton. During that song, Lois and Clark were doing a lot of thinking about where they stood with each other in their relationship, and needed to make some life-altering decisions about where to go from there. This story further explores those emotional inner conflicts that we only got a hint of in the episode.

As always, any and all feedback welcome.


"He is such a *jerk*!" Lois seethed as she paced back and forth through her empty apartment in her nightgown, letting her tantrum run its course.

It wasn't the first time she'd been angry with Clark. After all, he seemed to have a special knack for riling her up in one way or another. But it seemed like the frequency with which he made her angry was increasing hourly. And at the moment, she had every reason to be angry.

She and Clark had met for lunch-to talk. She was tired of him running out on her, and she'd had enough. She could remember their conversation as if it had happened only moments before, because she'd been unable to quit replaying it over and over in her mind ever since:


"What?" he'd asked, confused, when she gave him a meaningful look across the table.

"Well?" she prompted.

"Well, what?"

"Time to talk," she insisted. She was tired of feeling like she was on the outside of this relationship looking in, without knowing or understanding why Clark was acting like he was. She forged on. "Clark, we were on a date, and you just disappeared and never came back!"

"Look, Lois, I—I'm not exactly sure what to say," he stuttered, suddenly seeming as if he were at a complete loss of words.

But she cut him off before he could give her more of the usual run around. "The truth," she demanded. "Look, I've come to the point with this—with *us*—that whatever the truth is, I need to hear it."

She noticed that partway through her sentence, his face took on that distant, faraway expression he seemed to get every single time they started to have a serious conversation lately, and her gut started to tighten. *Please, not again,* she'd pleaded silently.

But she watched in dismay as he shook his head apologetically and started to stand up, stumbling over his words. "Lois, I'm *really* sorry—"

"*Clark*…" she warned vehemently as he dropped his napkin onto the table, still apologizing. "Don't you do it!"

But her words didn't seem to have any effect on him, because he continued to rush off as if his pants were on fire.

Stunned and hurt, Lois sat alone at the table in dismay, at a complete loss as to what to do. But as the initial hurt started to wear off, her rising anger took over. When their waitress appeared, asking her for her pencil and paper to write Clark a vehement 'Forget it!' had felt like the thing to do. She was sick to death of him running out on her, and being treated as if her feelings and concerns weren't important enough for him to stick around to listen to. Well, enough was enough.


Even several hours after the afternoon's events, Lois' feelings of anger and hurt remained in full force. She stalked to the front door of her apartment, then quickly spun around and started to pace her way back across the living room.

"Why does he *do* that?" she exclaimed loudly. "Every single time I start to talk about us, he runs off like his coat's on fire! I hate it! How does he expect to have *any* kind of a serious relationship when he's always running off?"

Suddenly, she stopped pacing and her expression changing from anger to dismay. Maybe that was it. Maybe he *didn't* want to have a serious relationship! That would explain why he was always running off when things got serious, like today. She'd confronted him about him deserting her on their date, and he'd took off as fast as he could. And in the past when she'd tried to talk to him about her feelings, he'd made some ridiculous excuse and hightailed it out of there.

Did she see a pattern here, or was it all just in her mind? No, she was sure she was onto something. And all the signs pointed toward one thing. He was afraid of commitment.

*No, that can't be it,* Lois argued as she walked into her bedroom and dropped onto her bed. *There's got to be another reason why he's always running off. But what?*

After a few minutes of mulling over the whole mess in mind again and again, she wanted to throw her hands up in helpless frustration. *Lois, why are you torturing yourself like this?* she asked herself. *If Clark's going to be such a jerk, always running away from the idea of commitment, then good riddance!*

But even as she thought it, she knew she didn't believe it.

Clark had come into her life and broadsided her emotions. What had been her safe, cold, emotionless, work-oriented life and turned everything completely upside down. Without even realizing it, he had wormed his way into her life…and her heart. And now he was planning to back out?

*I don't think so!* she objected adamantly. *I don't give my heart to just anybody, and I'm not going to back down until…*

She paused. Until what? She couldn't make him do something he didn't want to do, just as he couldn't make *her* do something she didn't want to do. So what was she supposed to do? Play hard to get? No. She was sick to death of the game-playing thing. That's one of the things she loved most about Clark. He was real. He didn't pretend to be something he wasn't.

Or did he?

She just didn't know. He certainly seemed to be playing Jeckel and Hyde lately. Sometimes he seemed so thrilled that they were getting so serious, acting very doting, sincere and loving. Then other times, like this afternoon, he couldn't seem to get away from her fast enough.

Disgusted and hopelessly confused, Lois shook her head. There were just way too many mixed signals being thrown around. What was she supposed to believe?

And as if Clark's skittish behavior wasn't confusing enough, there was something else that was helping to confuse things even further.


Charming, exciting, *not*-afraid-of commitment, Dan. Completely the opposite of Clark, he actually seemed *willing* to make a commitment. He *wanted* to be with her, and had proved it by showing up for their dates, staying with her for the duration of those dates, and listening when she had something to say.

But he certainly wasn't perfect, either.

She remembered their fight just a few hours before over Dan's unwillingness to talk to her about what he was working on for the DEA. He argued that it was because he was afraid that if she knew too much, it could be dangerous for her. She argued that she could take care of herself. Their discussion had grown heated, and, finally tiring of being treated like a six year old who needed constant protection, she'd shoved her notebook into his chest and stormed away.

"What a perfect day I've had," she grumbled to herself. Then she heaved a heavy sigh. Whycouldn't relationships be easy? *Well, maybe not *easy*,* she corrected herself, *but easier. More cut and dried.* But she knew things in life rarely were. And here she was, faced with the attention of two men, both vying for her attention…but she had no idea who she should be with.

Feeling tormenting, she let out a groan of frustration and flopped backward onto the bed. "I'm tired of thinking!" she yelled out in exasperation. "I'm just going in circles with all this. Maybe after a good night's sleep, things will seem clearer."

Standing up from her bed, she pulled back the covers, climbed under and turned off the light. She took an experimental deep breath, trying to force herself to relax. She listened to the quiet around her, surprised that she couldn't even hear the footsteps of her noisy neighbor in the apartment above her. Everything was quiet, calm.

Except for her mind.

She just couldn't shut it off, no matter how hard she tried. And lying in bed doing nothing was only making her feel more restless and anxious. Realizing it was useless, she sat back up and flicked on the light. As she did, the phone sitting next to the lamp caught her eye.

*Maybe you should just call Clark,* the little voice in her head suggested.

But as quickly as it had come, she pushed the thought from her mind. *Forget it!* she objected stubbornly. *If anything, *he* should be calling *me*. He owes me an apology, big time.*

Trying to take her mind off her problems, she got out of bed and reached for the novel she'd started a few days ago, hoping that reading would distract her. But after a few minutes of reading the same paragraph over and over again, she realized that wasn't working either.

Slumping back down onto her bed, the phone seemed to be calling to her. *Just call him,* the voice in her head kept insisting. Tired of battling the voice, Lois finally gave in. *I'm sure there's a reason why he ran out on you today, if you'd just let him explain. You'll feel better after you talk to him. You always do.*

Having made up her mind, Lois picked up the phone and dialed Clark's number. But her knew-found confidence quickly disappeared when she heard the busy signal on the other end of the line. Unexpected tears sprang into her eyes, and she was surprised to realize how disappointed she was.

"Okay, that's it," she announced to her empty apartment. "I'm officially losing it. I've gotta get out of here before I go absolutely crazy. Maybe some fresh air will do me some good."

Hurrying to her closet, she slipped out of her nightgown, pulled on her oldest, most comfortable pair of jeans and a soft, flannel shirt, then put on her socks and shoes. Finally, she grabbed her keys from the kitchen counter and let herself out of apartment, eager to get out into the cool, night air.


Clark paced from one end of his apartment to the other, unable to force himself to relax. The look on Lois' face as he rushed away from the cafe table that afternoon had stuck with him all day and into the late hours of the night, tormenting him and cutting him clear through to his soul.

Nothing tortured him more than seeing Lois unhappy. Unless it was knowing that he'd been the cause of that unhappiness.

With a heavy sigh, Clark wandered over to the couch and sank down onto it. He laid his head back against the cushion and groaned inwardly. He'd really made a mess out of things. Instead of staying and listening to Lois' concerns about him running out on her during their date, he'd once again rushed off to answer a cry for help.

*But what about *her*?* he asked himself. *She'd been crying for help—help with the uneasiness she felt about their relationship, help with the concerns she had that maybe she wasn't important to him. And what did I do? I ignored her, and rushed off to help people I didn't even know. Shouldn't I be putting the people I love most, first in my life?*

The framed photograph of Lois and himself on the couch's end table caught his eye, and he reached for it, holding it gently before him. It was one of his favorites. Somebody had taken it at a Planet party, and he and Lois had been grinning at each other crazily, looking relaxed and happy.

He smiled wistfully. Things hadn't been perfect back then, but at least they'd been happy, and knew where they stood with each other: they were the best of friends. But now, they were even more. Well, at least they *had* been before their budding relationship had become complicated. Complicated by the arrival of one truly obnoxious man. A man named Dan Scardino.

Clark cursed under his breath. Scardino. What a jerk that guy was! What in the world did Lois see in him, anyway? He was pompous, arrogant, unpredictable…and he didn't deserve someone as wonderful as Lois. He didn't even understand her…the *real* her. Did he know how hurt she'd been by her past experiences with men? Had he rescued her countless times from certain death? Had he been there to hold and comfort her when she'd been hurt and humiliated by Lex Luthor? Had he comforted her and let her stay at his apartment when the Prankster had been trying to kill her? Had he been there for her when she'd been suspended from the Planet? Stood by her when her stories were axed and she was doubting her abilities as a reporter? No! *He'd* been there for her during all those times, and would continue to be there for her, through anything and everything she might go through in her lifetime. If only she'd let him…

Sighing deeply, he set the picture back down on the end table. *Why* did things have to be so darned complicated?!

Not that he was helping their relationship any by giving his lame excuses and rushing off whenever he heard cries for Super help, he realized. A secret identity had seemed like such a perfect solution when he'd first proposed it to his parents. But he'd had no idea that it would put his relationship with Lois teetering on the verge of ruin. It would solve so many problems if he could just bring himself to tell her the truth. Wasn't it about time to tell her the truth, anyway?

In the beginning, he hadn't wanted to reveal the truth because he wanted her to love him for *him*, not for the special powers he possessed. And now he knew she did. So what was stopping him? Fear? Insecurity? Self-doubt? It was true he'd never trusted anyone with his secret before, except for his parents, and the thought of admitting he wasn't like everyone else scared him. But if he was going to be spending the rest of his life with Lois, as he certainly hoped he would, she needed to know sooner or later.

So why not now, before his little disappearing acts caused her to send him packing? If he just explained to her that it wasn't a fear of commitment that was causing him to run off at the most inopportune times, but the inability to overlook human suffering when he knew he could help, wouldn't that solve the whole problem? She'd finally understand, and stop being angry with him.

"Yeah, right," he murmured out loud. "Then she'd have a whole new thing to be angry with me about."

The phone sitting on the end table next to the picture caught his attention, and the little voice inside his head started to nag at him. *Call her, Clark. You're not going to get anywhere with her if you don't talk to her, and at least *try* to smooth things over.*

He clenched and unclenched his fist, trying to get up the nerve to listen to the voice. Finally, before he could change his mind, he picked up the phone and dialed the number he knew by heart. His pulse raced as he waited, and his hands felt cold and clammy. But suddenly, the sound of the busy signal made his heart sink, and his frustration quickly returned. How could he straighten things out with her if he couldn't even reach her?

Letting his emotions get the better of him, he hung up the phone…hard. The receiver and base smashed into a dozen of pieces, and he looked down at the broken phone in his hands in disgust. *Terrific.*

As he dropped the demolished phone at his feet, he struggled to regain control. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this tense and unsettled. His stomach was all twisted up in knots, and his muddled emotions were preventing him from thinking clearly. Finally, he gave up. He wasn't going to solve anything by lying around his apartment and moping. There was only one thing that was going to help him at a time like this.

He needed to go flying.

Having made up his mind, he got up from the couch, spun into the Suit, and hurried out onto his balcony. Right then, the star-filled night sky had never looked more appealing.


After almost an hour of flying, Clark found himself flying in the direction of Lois' apartment, almost as if he were on autopilot. As he neared it, he spotted a familiar form on the sidewalk below, and his heart started to pound crazily. He'd recognize her anywhere. It was Lois.

As he neared, he noticed she was walking slowly toward her apartment building, her arms crossed and head down, eyes focused on the sidewalk in front of her. Her whole body language suggested she was feeling dejected and lonely.

His heart plummeted. He hated seeing Lois so unhappy and distraught, especially since it was probably because of what he'd done to her earlier that day. *You've got to fix things, Clark!* the little voice inside his head chimed in. *How can you possibly stand to see her so miserable?*

The answer was, he couldn't.

In a moment of weakness, he was all but ready to swoop down and tell her everything, and all but beg her to dump Dan and be with him—and only him—for the rest of their lives. But just as he started to swoop down to her, he spotted a figure sitting on her apartment steps, obviously waiting for someone, and his throat constricted.

It was Dan. And there could only be one person he was waiting for.

At almost the same time, Lois spotted Dan, too. "Hey," she greeted him in surprise as she started up the steps toward him. When Dan started to stand up, she motioned for him to remain sitting, and then sat down beside him.

"Terrific," Clark grumbled sourly. With disappointment rising in his throat, Clark landed unnoticed across the street and pressed himself into the deserted doorway of a building in order to give himself a direct view of the two sitting on the steps. Unable to help himself, he tuned his Superhearing in to their conversation and peered around the edge of the doorway at them. He watched as Dan shifted uncomfortably.

"I um, I thought about what I jerk I was," he heard Dan say. "I thought, giving the size of my jerkiness, maybe roses, maybe some jewelry, maybe a Leer jet…"

Clark rolled his eyes. Did this guy honestly think he was being charming? Then he heard Lois cut him off:

"We both overreacted."

Then Dan continued. "Um-I didn't bring you anything, Lois, because I don't want to dazzle you, I just want to be with you, so…can we…talk?"

Much to Clark's dismay, he saw Lois nod, then reach out to pat Dan's knee before standing up and gesturing to her apartment building's doors. "Sure," he heard her say. "Come on up."

Then, feeling as if he'd just been kicked in the stomach, Clark watched Dan eagerly get to his feet and follow Lois into her apartment building.

Unable to decide what he was more, angry or hurt, Clark stepped out from his hiding place and stared despairingly at the door as it swung shut behind them. In the ongoing battle for Lois' heart, it certainly seemed as if he was losing.

Not wanting anyone to see the tears shimmering in his eyes, he slowly drifted up into the night sky. If nothing else, maybe the sky could comfort him.


Lois latched the last lock on her apartment door, then turned and leaned up against it with a teary, frustrated sigh. In the quiet of her apartment, she listened to the sound of Dan's retreating footsteps, and wondered why she'd ever even gotten out of bed that morning.

Her walk hadn't helped her come to any conclusions, but at least she'd felt better and more relaxed by the time she'd returned to her apartment building…that was, until she saw Dan sitting on the front steps, obviously waiting for her. All at once, she'd tensed back up, and her uneasiness and indecision immediately came flooding back.

But he'd sounded so sincere in his apology that her defenses started to melt away, and she'd invited him up. They'd ended up talking for a good hour before he finally left, and they'd gotten a lot of things off their chests. Lois admitted that it really hurt her that he wasn't trusting her enough to talk to her about his work, and he'd listened carefully and was surprisingly sincere in his desire to work things out with her. But he couldn't help voicing his fears once again about putting her in the line of fire as far as his work was concerned, and possibly seeing her get hurt because of it. Admitting that his behavior earlier that day had probably been prompted by that fear, he assured her it was something he was willing to work on if it meant keeping her in his life.

By the time he'd stood up to leave, Lois was confused and frustrated. Obviously Dan wanted to work things out. But Lois didn't know if *she* wanted to. Yes, Dan was a good man. But then, so was Clark.

Dan or Clark. Clark or Dan. How could she possibly decide?

On the one hand, Dan was there for her. He stayed all the way through entire dates. He didn't rush off and never come back. She was actually able to finish an entire conversation with him. He made no pretenses about his desire to be with her, and wasn't afraid to tell her how he felt. He shared her passion for a high-energy lifestyle and was charming and exciting.

So what was stopping her from falling into his arms and living happily ever after with him? It only took her a heartbeat to answer her own question.

She didn't love him.

Unabated, tears began to slide down her cheeks. As wonderful, charming and exciting as Dan was, she just didn't love him. True, he was willing to lay his heart on the line and make a commitment to her that Clark obviously wasn't ready to, but she simply didn't feel about Dan the way he felt about her. As much as she wanted to be able to, she just couldn't.

Clark, on the other hand…

There was just something about Clark that she was drawn to, a way he had of making her feel special, loved and protected whenever she was around him…even when he was constantly running off and breaking her heart.

But the truth of the matter remained: one couldn't choose who they loved. Your heart loved who it loved, and there was no changing its mind, no matter how much one might want to.

What was she supposed to do, though, if she didn't love Dan, and Clark didn't want to make a commitment? Then she would be alone. Did she want that? The answer was a resounding 'no.' Now that she'd had a taste of what it was like to be in a loving relationship, she wouldn't ever *want* to return to those days when work was the only thing in her life, and deal with haunting loneliness, failed relationships, and her own cold facades.

So was she supposed to tell Dan that she couldn't be with him, and then, at the same time, let Clark go, since, with his fear of commitment, they might never be more than they were now? Or did she continue to fight for their relationship, forcing herself to be more patient with him, and hoping that he'd someday come around?

The thought of being without him pierced her clear to her soul. There was no way she could tell him 'goodbye,' and later see him with someone else. She would be devastated. So that left her one alternative: stick things out and just understand that Clark had an obvious fear of commitment.

But that didn't sit well with her, either. Why spend so much of time and energy involving herself in a relationship that was going nowhere? It was unfair to her, and unfair to Clark.

So where did that leave her?

*Maybe I should consider Dan as an option, after all,* she thought. *At least I know he's willing to make a commitment. At least I know where I stand with him, and how he feels about me. Who knows…maybe in time, I could grow to love him. He's nota bad guy. Actually, he's a great guy, and he has a lot to offer. Maybe the reason I can't seem to open my heart to him right now is because Clark has hold of it.* Wasn't a choice to be with Dan better than dragging things out with Clark, when their relationship may never go anywhere at all?

The dismal reality of her situation hit her, and her face started to crumple. The previously barely-checked tears finally started to spill down her cheeks. Her shoulders started to shake from the sobs beginning to surface, and she pushed off from the door and rushed into her bedroom, throwing herself across her bed.

An old song by Glenn Frey suddenly popped into her mind, and it solemnly seemed to fit her dilemma:

Your heart keeps sayin' it's just not fair But still you've gotta make up your mind

Are you gonna stay with the one who loves you Or are you going back to the one you love Someone's gonna cry when they learn they've lost you Someone's gonna thank the stars above

As the words faded away in her mind, Lois' sobs gained force, and her heart ached more than it ever had in her entire life.

"I wish somebody could just tell me what to do," she sobbed helplessly. "I can't choose right now. I just can't…"

Emotionally spent and hopelessly confused, she buried her face in her pillow and let the tears come, completely oblivious to the pair of eyes staring in at her in shock and dismay from the shadows outside her window.


Clark watched, horrified, as Lois hurried into her bedroom and collapsed onto her bed, sobbing. He floated in stunned silence, too shocked by the scene in front of him to move, to breathe.

After flying aimlessly over Metropolis, Clark had felt drawn to return to Lois' apartment, even though he kept telling himself he probably wouldn't like what he might see there. But still he'd been unable to stay away. He'd returned just in time to see Dan leaving, and had quickly pulled back into the shadows, making sure that he couldn't be seen from the street, spying on his competition in disgust.

'It figures,' he'd thought as he watched Dan walk away. 'I've spent the whole evening wallowing miserably about my situation with Lois, and I bet she hasn't thought about me for one second. Why would she, when she's got Dan falling all over her?

Still, he hadn't been able to stop himself from drifting up and slipping into the shadows outside her apartment window and looking in. But instead of seeing her moving about her apartment cheerfully after a visit with Dan, he'd watched as she pushed off from her apartment door, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and run into her bedroom where she threw herself down onto her bed, sobbing.

Now, as he floated outside her window and watched, his first instinct was to panic. Immediately, he envisioned the worst: that Dan had done something to hurt her physically.

His entire body tensed up and he launched into full protective mode. He was a heartbeat away from thundering off to find Dan and demanding to know what he'd done to her when the sound of Lois' voice stopped him. Even with his superhearing, he had to strain to hear her through the sound of her sobs.

"I wish somebody could just tell me what to do," he heard her sob helplessly. "I can't choose right now. I just can't…"

His jaw dropped open and his plan to fly off to confront Dan melted away. Suddenly, everything became clear. Dan hadn't hurt her. Obviously, they'd talked, as Dan had wanted, but instead of helping, what he'd had to say must've sent Lois reeling in her already sensitive, emotional state.

But as Clark watched her crying helplessly on her bed, he realized he didn't have anybody but himself to blame. *She wouldn't be so emotional if you hadn't been rushing off during those times when she wanted—no, *needed*—to talk to you. You and your thoughtless actions pushed her to Dan in the first place, and, because of that, she's been hurt, confused, and pushed to this emotional breaking point.*

As he continued to stare in through her window in shock, the little voice continued to nag at him. *Do something, Clark!* it insisted. *You can't just leave her like this!*

But after a tortured moment of indecision, he realized he didn't know what he *could* do. Yes, he'd caused this. But what if he *did* go swooping down and tell her the truth: that he was Superman, and that's why he'd been running off on her during so many conversations? She might very well forgive him. But would that really be a true test for letting her determine who she loved…who she wanted?

Even though she didn't seem to fall all over Superman any longer, there were still those times when he saw the look of adoration in her eyes whenever he stood before her as Superman. How would he ever know if she was loving him for *him*, or if the truth about his being Superman was what really made her decide to be with him?

No, this had to be her decision. As much as it hurt him, he knew he had to let her make her own mind—*before* he revealed himself to her. And until she did, he would have to be patient and not force himself on her. Giving her a little extra attention, and definitely trying harder to be there for her was a must. But when it came right down to it, she had to work this out for herself.

Her words kept echoing in his head: 'I can't choose…I can't choose…'

Clark swallowed hard past the lump in his throat and blinked back tears of his own. He knew the battle raging inside of her was between her mind and her heart, and in this case, there were no obvious answers. She had been hurt in relationships before, and he knew that her past was only making the battle more difficult.

As he drifted outside her window, hidden by the shadows of the night, he watched Lois' shoulders heaving from the sobs that racked her body. He was used to helping people when they were hurting, or in need of comfort. But this time, he knew he couldn't do anything to help her. As much as it was killing him to see her like this, he knew he needed to let this run its course, and let her make up her own mind, once and for all.

Suddenly, she rolled over in bed and reached for the bedside lamp, flicking the switch and drenching the room in darkness. His superhearing once again picked up the sound of her quiet, exhausted sobs as they resumed, and his heart ached like it never had before.

"Oh, Lois," he murmured, choked by his own barely-restrained tears. He wished with all his heart that she could receive the message going out to her from deep within the recesses of his own troubled soul. If he could do anything to take the hurt away, he would do it. But right now, he couldn't. Not this time. This was *her* battle.

With one last, tearful look into her darkened apartment, he whispered, "Lois, I'm here for you, and I always will be. No matter what you decide, one thing will never change. I'll always be just a heartbeat away."

And with that, he turned and launched himself into the velvety-black night sky.

~~ Fade back into Whine, Whine, Whine …