By Kaethel <Kaethel@wanadoo.fr>
Submitted April 2001
Summary: Being presented with his first Kerth Award made it a magical night for Clark, but little did he know that the evening wasn't over yet, and that a much more exciting prize was awaiting him, on a walk back to Lois' apartment — a walk that would transform their relationship in more ways than he could ever have dreamt of.
A few weeks ago, during the Kerth rehearsal and irc tutorial, a little segment of dialogue from Wall of Sound was being played every so often; it was this little scene in the very beginning of the show, where Lois asks Clark to be her date at the Kerth Awards' ceremony. Hearing it every now and then made me wonder why neither Clark nor Lois had seen anything more to it than a friendly date, and now, here's this little piece of fluff as a result. ;) Of course, I wanted to post it to the MBs and fanfic list on the night of our very own Kerth Awards Ceremony, of all nights…just because <g>, and thanks to my terrific beta- readers Wendy and LabRat, I was able to get it ready in time. :) Guys, your edits, suggestions and support have been immensely helpful, thanks so much! :) Also a big thank you to the FoLCs on the boards and the fanfic list for their kind words about it, and to Sarah Murray for GEing it. :)
All usual disclaimers apply. 'Sweet Surrender' is a song by Sarah McLachlan, the title of which I borrowed for this story — no copyright infringment intended.
Feedback is very welcome, as ever, at Kaethel@wanadoo.fr. :)
Lois watched Perry almost run for the car where Alice was — apparently impatiently — waiting for him, and she couldn't help but laugh at her editor's eagerness, still shaking her head in bewilderment as she returned her attention to her partner. They slowly progressed through the crowd of reporters milling on the sidewalk, one by one leaving for the night, after accolades and congratulations to the winners, and offers of comfort to those who were coming back empty-handed.
"So, how did I rate as a date?" she enquired as she linked her arm through Clark's and they walked down the convention centre's stairs.
"Oh! *A* plus," was his enthusiastic answer.
"I hung on your arm decoratively?" She leaned just a tad more heavily against him, joining action to her words and beaming up at him.
He nodded wholeheartedly. "You did."
"Fawned appropriately?" She giggled, the reminiscence of how much it would have bothered her to openly admit her admiration of him now such a faraway memory.
"And just faded into the background during your big moment?" Her voice dropped to a seductive whisper as she teased him, revelling in this moment of leisure with him, where they could simply loosen up and enjoy each other's company, off all work- related hooks.
"You were *beautiful* yet invisible."
"Hmmm…make me go through another night like that and I'll *rip* out your spleen," she threatened in a fit of laughter, ignoring the warmth that had bubbled through her at his compliment.
"Okay, fair enough." Clark laughed with her, his relaxed demeanour reminding her of the one and only time when she'd seen him this comfortable, when they'd been hanging out at the Smallville Corn Festival the previous year.
She released his arm to readjust the strap of her dress, feeling a small and unexpected sense of loss as she did so, but suddenly shy, a little awkward about getting any nearer and closing the distance between them.
Clark held up his award in front of him, reclaiming her attention again as he attentively observed the modern design of the artistic piece of glass. "It's…smaller than I thought."
"And not quite as shiny close up," she added, shrugging. "You know, you win a few of these, you find out they don't mean that much."
Clark turned towards her, a surprised expression on his face upon hearing her words, probably unable to believe that she, of all people, was denigrating the value of an award she'd seemed to so dearly wish for only days earlier.
"A quick rush, a few pats on the back, and then you're back on the beat, only as good as your next story," she clarified matter-of-factly. And it was the truth, actually. As much as it had always overwhelmed her to win that kind of recognition for the quality of her work, she always moved on pretty quickly to concentrate on her next assignment, throwing herself into it and never resting on her laurels.
"Where do you think I should keep it?"
"I'm the wrong person to ask," she replied with a grimace. "I keep mine at the bottom of a closet."
She started to walk again without waiting for his reaction, smiling inwardly as she thought about her little white lie. Well, half-lie. She actually *did* keep them at the bottom of her bookshelf. She just…removed the books hiding them every now and then, turned on the lighting she'd set for them, and remembered the fond memories that went with her three awards whenever she needed a little boost to regain some confidence.
Clark quickly caught up with her, and she reflexively linked her arm through his again, pressing her side against him and breathing in the soft evening breeze. The fading noise from the convention centre's crowd behind them was still buzzing in her ears, the reporters who'd attended the ceremony were being driven away in cabs or personal cars, and their laughter died in the gentle wind of this beautiful spring night.
She felt incredibly well, just walking like that, with her partner and best friend, aware of his quiet strength at her side, wrapping her fingers around his jacket's sleeve, itching to slide them lower where his hand disappeared into the soft material, suddenly needing more direct contact with him.
The realisation of her desire took her aback, and she vaguely debated whether she should be scared or thrilled by her unexpected thoughts, but the worry was soon forgotten as Clark let out a deep sigh of satisfaction and returned his attention to her after waving Perry goodbye. He shifted to look at her, a smile on his face, the bright lights of the convention centre's neon sign still dancing in his eyes, sparks of pure joy and unrestrained happiness radiating in those molten depths.
Boy, did he look good in a tuxedo! When he'd picked her up earlier that evening, she hadn't been able to do anything but stare as she'd opened the door and come face to face with him. It had been fortunate that she'd found something else to focus on, in the shape of the beautiful bouquet of white roses that he'd brought to her in sign of their renewed, strengthened friendship, or she would still have her gaze fixed on him right now.
Black suited him, that she already knew, but she didn't remember ever being that dazed by the view of him in such an outfit — although somewhere in the back of her mind a little voice was reminding her of the White Orchid Ball, where she'd had to resort to cynicism to keep herself safe from the impression he was making on her.
She inwardly shook her head, wondering why on earth she'd been so defensive towards him in the first weeks of their partnership. But actually, the answer to that one was easy. Clark had made her change, and for the better. He'd shown her that the world wasn't a place populated with morons and untrustworthy, testosterone-driven males. He'd taught her to open herself up to others, and to trust again. He'd been the best friend she'd ever had, someone she could always rely on, someone who understood and respected her.
And maybe a little more than that, a careful thought tiptoed into her mind, setting a sensation of warmth and security over her. She didn't feel threatened by Clark, neither as a friend, nor as…more.
She briefly wondered where the thought had come from, but shook it from her mind before it had time to settle there. She felt simply content to be with him tonight and share this important moment of his professional life with him.
She was still ashamed of her attitude towards him when she'd learned about his nomination, and was immensely grateful to him for being so incredibly understanding about it. He hadn't taken advantage of her apology to him to talk down to her; he'd forgiven her for her thoughtlessness in a way that still amazed her, and despite the fact that she hadn't participated in the ceremony per se this year, she'd very much enjoyed it. Her heart rate had increased when Clark's category had been up, as much as if she'd been the one whose story was nominated.
And when his name had been announced as the winner, and he'd got up from his seat, visibly completely taken aback, she'd hugged him tight, feeling as happy as if it had been her who'd been awarded, and whispered her congratulations into his ear before planting a soft kiss on his cheek.
She'd watched him navigate around the chairs and tables scattering the large room's floor, stumbling onto the stage and shaking the presenter's hand as the entire room applauded his prize, and she'd been very proud of him.
But what had moved her the most had been the thanks he'd given. She'd felt the back of her knees weaken as she'd heard him dedicate the Kerth — his very first journalism award — to her, even telling the crowd of reporters gathered for the event that Lois Lane had taught him his job, and he'd never be thankful enough to her for that. Tears had prickled at the corners of her eyes upon hearing his words, especially when she'd seen his gaze search for her in the crowd before he'd given a final thank you and returned to their table.
At first, she'd tried to hide her emotions from him, but he'd gathered her in his arms again, and she'd melted in his embrace, laughing and crying at the same time, and above all, feeling extremely content and happy.
Just like now.
She leaned her head against his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around her bare shoulders, pulling her closer. They exchanged a careful look, and she detected something in his gaze that he'd never let her see before. A certain self- assurance mingling with a silent question, to which she replied by lifting her arm to grab his hand and lace her fingers with his.
No word was needed as they kept walking in comfortable silence, getting used to the new kind of closeness they were sliding into, without any awkwardness or apprehension from either of them.
It just felt right to be close to Clark like that, to feel the warmth of his skin where it touched hers, with an awareness that threatened to overwhelm her.
Their steps guided them through the deserted streets of the residential area where Lois lived, away from the noisy crowds of this warm Saturday night, enclosing them in a universe where nothing else mattered but each other, and this new sensation of intimacy, this new step in their friendship that both of them were aware of, but that neither of them wanted to openly acknowledge, for fear of breaking the spell.
From time to time, Lois would lift her head from where it was resting on Clark's shoulder, to take a look at her partner's face through the lights and shades provided by the clear, starlit sky above them, and he'd smile down at her, squeezing her hand in a reassuring gesture.
And slowly, progressively, all of her previous insecurities lifted off, shrinking into old memories that she didn't wish to hang onto. Tonight, there was just Clark and her, and none of the hurt and deceit haunting her past could overpower her dawning feelings for him. She cared for him, she trusted him too much to raise the walls between them again.
She bit her lip in a nervous gesture as they walked around the corner of the street where she lived, and approached the dimly lit stairs leading up to her apartment building. She felt Clark's hold on her hand tighten, and understood that they were coming to a turning point in their relationship.
Tonight, after the closeness they'd reached during the ceremony, and moreover, during their silent but meaningful walk back home, their strong, solid friendship had seemed to slide into something more fragile and uncertain. And yet, it looked to her as if she'd been hiding herself from the truth of her relationship with Clark for months. If the Luthor fiasco was an episode of her life she'd rather forget, it had at least made her aware of how much her best friend meant to her, and if it hadn't been for Clark's retraction of his feelings for her, just when she'd been about to tell him she'd changed her mind about not being romantically attracted to him, then they could be living something wonderful right now.
But wasn't that what was about to happen, right now?
Her stomach tightened as much in anticipation as apprehension, as she finally considered the possible consequences, which she'd been ignoring until then. If it didn't work between them, she doubted their friendship would survive, and their professional partnership would simply die of natural death as a result.
Tonight had been really special, for Clark as much as for her, if she went by the loving dimension that had snuck its way into his gestures towards her, but tomorrow? What if, in the cold light of the day, they discovered that they'd made a mistake, that what they'd thought was real was just a passing attraction, a little harmless fling of the moment?
Except that to them, it *would* be harmful. It would destroy their entire relationship, raise a definitive barrier between them. Any of their gestures of intimate friendship would be interpreted and analysed as a consequence of what had happened, and neither of them would be able to live with that.
There was too much at risk.
Too much to lose.
They halted at the bottom of the stairs, and Clark's hand slipped out of her grasp, his fingers brushing her nape, sending ripples of desire through her, and her stubbornness wavered.
He had lowered his eyes, refusing to meet her gaze, probably waiting for her to take the first step. Or close the symbolic door between them and move on. He was giving her a choice, actually. Either she took the risk, in which case she knew there was no turning back, or she let her insecurities get the better of her, and let the morning's rain wash away any hint of further intimacy that could have existed between them throughout the evening. It was up to her.
She wished that they could talk, that they wouldn't jump into anything without being completely sure of the outcome, that the decisions they took wouldn't be regretted as soon as they'd been taken. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't hesitate at all to invite him in for coffee, and they would talk things out. Even in veiled terms, without broaching the actual topic of their relationship, they could probably sort out whatever problems could come out of it.
Her confidence wobbled a little as she considered the other side of the coin. If she let him in, she'd find herself alone in her apartment, in the middle of the night, with a man she was suddenly very much attracted to.
It was the tux, she reasoned as she tried to get a grip on the confusion prevailing in her mind. The power of the tux, as Perry had defined so well when he'd explained his wife's need to rip it off him as soon as they got home. Just that. Power of his tuxedo, nothing more to read in it. Uh uh. So the only thing she had to do was to ask him to take it off and -
Her thoughts stopped short and she briefly closed her eyes to regain some control over her suddenly erratic breathing. The image that had floated in her mind was definitely *not* what she needed to keep a clear head about this. It was better for him to keep the pants, shirt and jacket. Much safer that way.
Clark's soft voice broke through her thoughts, making her lose the semblance of emotional balance she seemed to have regained. The hesitation on his face was enough to tell her that he'd very much perceived the change between them, and was waiting for her verdict. She wasn't surprised that he wasn't trying to push her into anything, considering how she'd turned him down the one and only time that he'd confessed his feelings to her. And even if he'd taken back his declaration of love, there had always been something about his attitude that bugged her, something that made her less than convinced that he hadn't meant what he'd told her before her engagement to Lex.
Somehow, it was a reassurance to her to know that he still hadn't changed his mind, that he'd been consistent in his feelings if not in his words. At that time, she hadn't been ready to face what he had to tell her, and what it meant for their relationship; maybe he'd understood that and had retracted his declaration to save their friendship at a decisive moment, where everything in their lives had been turned upside down, and the only anchor they had was the stability of their relationship.
Now, Luthor wasn't a shadow between them any more, the Planet was back on its feet, and their friendship had grown stronger over the months that had followed her almost-wedding.
Clark had been at her side all that time, never pressuring her into talking about it until she'd been ready to deal with it, bringing her the reassurance she needed, listening to her as she'd cried herself out in the cradle of his arms, holding her tight and stroking her back soothingly until she fell asleep, cuddled against him, and he could tuck her into bed. He'd let her crash at his place many nights, sleeping on the couch and giving her his bed, being at her side within a second when she woke up from a nightmare, panting and drenched in sweat; on the many occurrences it had happened, he'd held her close, murmuring calming words into her ear, and simply being there for her during those moments of her life when she'd needed him most.
He shuffled his feet, visibly reluctant to say goodnight and leave now, and she took a deep breath, knowing that whatever happened between them, tonight or later, would never ruin anything between them.
"Would you…would you like to come in? For a moment?" she asked timidly, feeling the back of her knees weaken as his head shot up and he looked directly into her eyes.
He nodded slowly, almost automatically, and she turned away from him, walking up the steps to the front door, happy for the opportunity it offered her to compose herself, and certain of only one thing: she had no idea what she was getting herself into.
Clark followed Lois through the corridors leading to her apartment, a growing apprehension increasing the tension that had been building in his belly as they'd walked away from the convention centre, finding themselves isolated from the crowds, and now about to be alone, facing each other.
Maybe accepting Lois's invitation hadn't been such a good idea. Maybe he could just find some excuse, murmur an apology, and go home.
They were on an edge, right now. If he hadn't interpreted her asking him to be her date at the Kerths a few days ago as anything more than an evening of fun and celebration between two friends, the way her fingers had been entwined with his, the way she'd looked at him, the way she'd asked him to come in held the promise of a new dimension to their relationship.
What he'd always longed for was at his feet, finally within reach, after all those months of hopelessness when he'd tried — and failed — to convince himself that there would ever be anything between Lois and himself. And now, they very well might be about to walk over that implicit line that they'd drawn in the sand ever since they'd known each other.
But as they entered her apartment and he heard her tell him to make himself comfortable while she made some coffee, he knew he couldn't stay behind that threshold, that his dearest wish was about to happen, and despite the certain amount of nervousness that had appeared in their reactions to each other this evening, he didn't want to change his attitude. Any amount of awkwardness could emerge between them, now, if he behaved differently, and Lois could draw any conclusion out of it, which would be more likely to scare her than reassure her.
So he followed her to the kitchen area, like he'd done on the many evenings they'd spent together at her place, working late on a story, outlining the plans of a stakeout, or even having a relaxing evening between friends.
He couldn't get tired of watching her, secretly admiring the way her long, black dress clung to her body, showing off her slender waist and emphasising her delicate curves. Her hair was tied in a sophisticated way, its curls intertwined in a complicated pattern behind her head, and dark tendrils were brushing against her neck, making him want to reach out and run his finger on her silken skin, or better yet, graze his lips on the soft warmth of her nape, feel her shiver in response -
"Here you are," Lois exclaimed as she thrust a mug of hot coffee between his hands. He blushed at the direction his thoughts had been taking him, but she seemed oblivious to his discomfort, or maybe she purposefully ignored it as she tidied various objects on her kitchen counter.
"Thanks," he murmured, taking a careful sip at the scalding liquid, losing himself in his thoughts as he tried to find a way to ease the charged atmosphere between them.
Lois was busying herself around the kitchen, her attention focused on anything but him, and he knew she was avoiding his gaze. Maybe she was already regretting the signs she'd given him tonight. Or maybe there hadn't been any sign and he'd been imagining them.
No. He refused to believe that the looks they'd exchanged hadn't meant anything special to her, that the emotion he'd seen in her eyes as he'd hugged her, after having received his award, had been faked. She really cared for him, and on a deeper level than she had ever wanted to admit. And, he reminded himself with a sigh of satisfaction, *she* had practically asked him out before the nominations had been revealed. She'd talked about him as her *date* — her word, not his. At that time, he'd refused to read anything more in her offer than a strictly platonic, *friendly* evening out.
But now, he wasn't so sure.
Everything seemed to have changed between them during the course of one evening, and they were treading onto uncharted territory. However, the familiar surroundings of their friendship were still there to guide the careful steps they were taking towards the unknown, and he wanted to hang onto them as much as she probably did.
"So, will you show me where you keep them?" he inquired, more to break through the tight silence between them than for the purpose of obtaining an answer.
"Huh? What?" She looked completely taken aback by his question, and it was only when he nodded towards his Kerth, which he'd deposited on the coffee table earlier, that his query seemed to register, and she took on an embarrassed expression.
"What's wrong, Lois, you forgot where you keep them?" he teased her gently, setting his mug on the table and leaning against the kitchen counter, crossing his arms and throwing her a challenging stare.
She merely responded with a growl and waved in the general direction of bookshelf protected by a set of glass doors.
"In there?" Clark asked, leaving his comfortable position and approaching the piece of furniture in question with a measured step. But just as he was about to reach for the door-handle, he was blocked in his progress by a slim, feminine body.
Lois had slid herself in front of him, stopping him before he had time to get any further. "Ooooh, nonononono, Kent. I don't think so," she said, shaking her head in a forbidding manner.
"Why, Lois, are you too modest to show them to me?" he smirked, placing his hands on either sides of the bookshelf, therefore effectively blocking any way out that she could have.
"Don't even think about…" She trailed off, her smile disappearing off her face, and she swallowed hard. She hadn't realised how close to her he'd been standing, until she'd felt his soft breath caressing the skin of her face. The heat radiating from his body was overwhelming her, clouding her thoughts, fogging her brain, and she couldn't focus on anything but him.
A few seconds of distraction, her rush to the closet to protect the little secret compartment where she carefully kept her awards, and there she was, her bare back pressed against the cold glass of the door, and Clark's body mere inches away.
Yet she didn't feel threatened. There was nothing predatory in his gaze, nothing but her Clark, the best friend she'd known for over a year, and whom she trusted with her very life.
Nothing more to it…
…except maybe the little spark that she caught in his darkened eyes as his laughing expression was replaced by a more serious one, probably because he, too, had noticed the inextricable position he'd put them in.
They remained completely still for a few seconds, not even daring to breathe as each took in the situation, their eyes locked and unable to look away, until Clark heaved a sigh and slowly removed his arms from where they were leaning on the wooden structure of the shelf, freeing her from the half- embrace he'd been enclosing her in.
But Lois caught his hands in hers on a sudden impulse, refusing to let him withdraw from her that easily. Something beyond her own understanding made her averse to going back to the undefined situation they'd reached tonight. "Clark," she whispered, her voice hoarse as she pronounced his name.
"Lois, I —"
But she didn't want to hear any of it. Whatever apology he would come up with would ease them back into the comfortable friendship they'd shared until then, and even if the prospect was a lot less scary than what she was about to throw them into, she was too tired of fighting her attraction to him to back off.
She didn't give him time to finish his second word, silencing him instead as she launched herself at him, devouring his lips in a hungry, desperate kiss, any insecurity she had left shattering as she let herself be swept away by the sensation of his mouth on hers.
And when he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer and deepening the encounter, she knew that she'd made the right choice.