What You're Asking of Me

By Raconteur27 <raconteur27@yahoo.com>

Rated: PG

Submitted: April 2001

Summary: When friends start to drift apart, someone's got to step up and say the scary words.

This is a late season 1 vignette. I took liberties with Lois's birthday (considering it was never celebrated on the show, I felt free to do away with the fact that she's a Libra).

***

Lois put the Jeep in park and killed the ignition. She turned and looked at her passenger. "Well, here we are," she said.

Clark's slight smile did not reach his eyes. "Thanks for the ride, and happy birthday, Lois." He reached for his seatbelt just as Lois leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He looked up at her with a startled expression that was perhaps the first genuine reaction of his she'd seen in a while.

"I had fun tonight, Clark. Thank you."

"Me too," he said simply.

While she wouldn't have ever voluntarily entered a karaoke bar, she recognized that the thoughtfulness of her friends and colleagues who had been there with her was more than she deserved. Despite herself, she'd really had a good time.

She hadn't expected anyone other than Perry to remember her birthday. Her own father had completely forgotten, and her mother had taken the opportunity to remind her that she was another year older and still stubbornly alone. Her mother's nagging alternated however, with ruminations as to whether her older daughter had the right idea; if you didn't get attached to a man, he could never leave you, she had pointed out once or twice, or twenty times already. There was of course Lex, but Lois made a point of downplaying her relationship with the philanthropic billionaire when talking to her mother. She lacked the emotional stamina to deal with her mother regarding that issue. Even just thinking about it now was giving her something of a headache.

He began to open his door.

"Clark?"

"Yeah?" He stopped and turned back toward her.

"It's just that…" she started. Before, she never had to put effort into making conversation with Clark. Now, it was like pulling teeth. Why had things become so awkward between them? He'd been rather quiet as of late, as though something were bothering him. He hadn't been angry or nasty or irritable, or any of the other things that she was when she was upset. No, he was just…sullen. Whatever was bothering him wasn't something he'd felt like discussing with her. He had in fact, lamely skirted around the issue and claimed that nothing was wrong when she'd asked. She hadn't pressed the issue, but she wasn't fooled either.

A while back, she wouldn't have given it a second thought, but over the last few months, Clark had become her closest friend, and then suddenly, he was cool and distant, and it was only with her. Sure he wasn't as annoyingly cheerful as he had been before, but he was still friendly with Perry and Jimmy. With her, he was still polite, still brought her a cup of coffee just the way she liked it every morning, was still a great partner, still stuck up for her when she was trying to convince Perry to let her follow a questionable lead, but it just wasn't the same. She didn't feel like she could just drop by his apartment with a pizza and a movie anymore. He didn't suggest that they spend time away from work together, and though she almost always asked, he rarely accepted her offer to give him a ride home, claiming that he didn't mind walking and that it was out of her way.

He frustrated her. She had learned over the years that men were incredibly simple. They would do anything, say anything, and be anything to get whatever it was that they wanted, and what they wanted usually wasn't all that difficult to figure out either. So why was Clark any different and why did she suddenly care? Maybe it was because he was the first guy in a long time that she trusted farther than she could throw him. He was a little načve, and far too trusting, but he was a genuinely good person and the best friend she'd ever had, and the thought of losing that actually scared her.

She wished that she knew what was driving them apart. She wondered if it was Lex, and tried to dismiss the thought, but couldn't. For whatever reason, Clark seemed to actively dislike Lex. She couldn't figure out what would possibly make Clark who, unlike her, was never quick to judge others and dismiss them as lacking, and who never seemed to harbor negative emotions as strong as enmity, be repelled by Lex. It couldn't have been jealousy, could it? No, there was no reason for Clark to be jealous. Her dating Lex didn't prevent her from being friends with Clark, or at least, it shouldn't. Besides, Clark wasn't attracted to her, he'd said it himself, and his reaction, or lack thereof, to that pheromone spray was proof of that.

And that left her no closer to figuring out her friend's odd behavior.

"Lois?"

Startled out of her ruminations, she fumbled for the words to continue. "These last few weeks, I feel like I've been losing my best friend," she said at last.

"Me too," he replied quietly.

"Why, Clark? What happened to us?"

"It's getting late, Lois, and we're both tired, maybe we should talk about it tomorrow," he suggested.

"Fine." She bristled and turned away. "I'm trying to save our friendship, and you want me to take a rain check. Funny, I thought you'd care more about this."

"Lois, don't say that," he replied quietly, out of the corner of her eye she caught a pained expression on his face. "I do care, believe me, more than you know. Why don't you come inside, I'll make us some tea and we'll talk."

She nodded silently.

She took the warm mug of tea he handed her in both hands and sat down on the couch. He sat down, not as close as he might have not so long ago, but at least not at the opposite end, or on another piece of furniture entirely. She sipped her tea slowly. "Something's bothering you, Clark, and you won't talk to me about it. These days we don't talk much at all."

"We talk all the time. We spent hours yesterday arguing about the Sanders story."

"Yeah, but that was work. I mean about other stuff. We never talk about anything but our work."

"Are you admitting that there are things in life other than work?" he teased.

"Yes," she said. "You're the one who reminded me of that."

His smile died. "Lois, I'm sorry."

"Don't."

"Huh?"

"Don't be sorry, don't try to cheer me up, just please tell me what's wrong, Clark. I don't expect you to apologize for whatever it is that's caused us to drift apart, I just want to know why it is that you don't feel like you can talk to me. Have I done something wrong? Did I push you away?" She was leaving herself completely and totally vulnerable to him but she didn't care. She needed to know.

He shook his head sadly. "No, Lois. It's not you, or something you've done. It's me." He laughed humorlessly. "You couldn't push me away if you tried."

"Then what is it?"

He sighed and ran an agitated hand through his hair. "I don't know how to explain it."

"Just say it."

He shook his head slightly. "If I screw this up, I'll ruin everything."

"What if I told you that you couldn't get rid of me any easier than I could get rid of you?" she asked with a tremulous smile.

"You might want to hold off on that," he said, the tone of his voice one of defeat. He sighed again before continuing. Lois could tell that he was nervous. "I've tried not to let this affect us. I've tried to keep being your partner and your friend. I've tried to tell myself that it's enough, but it isn't. It's selfish and unfair of me, but I want more. I don't just want to be your partner at work and that guy you can watch movies and eat pizza with."

"But, but…you're not attracted to me," she stammered.

"Oh God, Lois, don't tell me you believe that."

"But the pheromone…it didn't affect you." She shook her head.

"I don't know why it didn't, but I know how I feel about you. And while I'm being totally honest, I might as well admit that I'm jealous."

"Jealous?"

"Of Lex, of course."

"Oh." She didn't know what else to say. Clark's stream of admissions had stolen away her ability to form a coherent thought.

"And however wrong, or stupid or chauvinistic it might have been, I was glad that you were with me and not him tonight. I know that I'm just one of half a dozen of your friends who were there, but that didn't matter, I got to spend time with you. I'm sorry if I've been distant, I just didn't know what else to do."

Lois opened her mouth to speak but again couldn't think of what to say. She didn't dare mention that she'd lied to Lex and told him that she was working late that night in order to get out of what would have no doubt been an extravagant and overdone evening. Somehow, she wasn't comfortable with the idea of spending her birthday with Lex, and she certainly wouldn't have invited him to go out with her and her coworkers. Lex would have been utterly bored and out of place. Then she would have ended up feeling guilty and would have had a miserable time. Pushing thoughts of Lex aside, she pondered Clark's words. She'd never entertained the notion of Clark being the jealous type. Then again, she hadn't exactly been dead on about guessing what was wrong. He couldn't be doing this to her. It wasn't fair. "I…I don't think I can be what you want me to be," she said at last.

"I know," he replied, looking downward.

"No, I don't think you do, Clark. You have to know that I do care about you. You're about the best person I know, and my best friend, and the only constant thing in my life. How am I supposed to risk that?" Her relationship with Clark was nothing if it wasn't hard to define. And she shouldn't have been so surprised by Clark's admission of being jealous. Even if she only admitted to herself, in the past she'd been struck by a sense of envy and possessiveness when women like Cat or Linda King threw themselves at Clark.

It wasn't fair, but she thought of Clark as *hers* in a way. In what way that was exactly was again not defined. She'd once told him that she loved him like a brother; she knew that wasn't quite true anymore. He wasn't a boyfriend, but that didn't mean that she wasn't worried about losing him. In fact she'd begun to worry a great deal as of late. She was worried that she'd lose those late night conversations on the phone and take out Chinese and card games on long stakeouts. She was worried that she might lose him to someone else and lose the right to expect a cup of coffee in the morning fixed just the way she liked it with a small dose of gentle teasing on the side, and the right to flirt innocently with him, and know that he wouldn't take it the wrong way. She was afraid of losing her best friend and all of the little things that made him such a wonderful person and a huge part of her life. Part of her acknowledged that the one who landed Clark would be the luckiest woman in the world. On occasion, that part would find itself considering the possibility of something beyond friendship with her partner. The other part seemed to know better. It knew that what she had with Clark was too precious to be risked. "Clark, things would change between us. Think about it, if we slept together, things could never be the same between us ever again. Is it worth it, risking our friendship for what, one hot and heavy month, two?

"Lois, I'm not saying I want to sleep with you. No, I mean, well not right away." He began to blush furiously. "I, uh, look, I'm just going to shut up now and hope that maybe you'll forget I said anything at all." He looked downward and avoided eye contact. An awkward moment of silence passed between them. "You have to know that that's not what I want," he said quietly.

"I know. You're asking for more. You're nothing like any man I've ever met. You don't just want my body, you want my heart as well."

He looked up to face her, his expression intense. "Lois, I want to be with you, I want to stop having to hide the way I feel about you, but I don't want anything that you don't want to give to me willingly. And if you don't feel about me the way I do about you, I'll understand, and I'll never bring it up again, but it won't change the way I feel."

She searched his eyes and wondered why she'd never noticed before the emotions, strong and unmistakable, written plainly on his face. "I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that wants to believe you, believe in the fairy tale and happily ever after. I'd trust you with my life, why shouldn't I trust you with my heart? It's because if I lost you, if I lost your friendship, if you left me, it would be a lot worse than dying." She bit back the emotions that roiled just beneath the surface. "That's why I need to know what you're expecting, and please, don't just tell me what you think I want to hear. It's tough enough trying to live up to other people's expectations when I know what they are."

"I…I…" His eyes searched hers as if seeking confirmation that this was really what she wanted.

"Please, just say it, Clark."

"I don't want some short-term fling, Lois; you mean too much to me. And yeah, I want the fairy tale and forever. I can't imagine being happy without you. It's scary to just lay it all on the line, but I'm going to go ahead and say it if you need me to." He took a deep breath as though drawing up all his courage. "You have my heart and my love and you always will. And while I can't promise you that everything will be perfect, and that it will all work out just right, I can promise you that I'll always be your friend."

"You mean that, don't you?" she asked, her voice small. She was humbled by his words.

He nodded silently and reached out a tentative hand. When she made no movement of retreat, he gently caressed her cheek and smiled a slight, wistful smile. Lois placed her hand on top of his and closed her eyes. She realized that he had left himself completely vulnerable and was allowing her to be the one in control at the moment. His offer of love was unconditional and it was hers to take if she was brave enough to take the next step. She knew better than to believe that there would be no possibility of getting hurt involved in being with Clark, but nothing worthwhile in life came without risk. Did she have to ask herself if being with him was worth the chance she would have to take, if it was worth risking her heart and hopes on a relationship with the most special man she'd ever known and one who could devastate her if it didn't work out? She already knew the answer.

Her eyes met his and held his gaze. "I'm asking for too much aren't I?" he asked quietly. She studied his expression, so earnest, open, and honest. She could see that with a simple word or gesture or look, she could break his heart. She saw in him vulnerability without weakness, something she would have considered contradictory not long ago, before she met Clark. He was asking her for her heart, something she'd guarded jealously, kept so well hidden that some may have speculated as to whether or not it actually existed. But what he was offering her was equally precious. He wasn't trying to dazzle her with promises of wealth or power. He couldn't offer her a castle in the clouds. He was giving her far more—love without conditions, without selfish expectations. And even if she couldn't give him what he was asking of her, his love was not ephemeral and capricious; it would not be rescinded.

"You're asking me for something I swore I would never give to anyone," she replied softly. She watched as he bit his lip and nodded slightly, the traces of longing and heartache visible on his face. "But maybe we could give it a try?" she whispered.

The look on his face changed quickly from thinly veiled disappointment to disbelief and finally pure and utter joy. She couldn't help but smile back. She knew she'd made the right decision.

THE END