By Kaylle <email@example.com>
Submitted December 2002
Summary: Lois and Clark are at a crossroads, and must decide — do they want all, or nothing?
Author's Note: What happens when you're without a real computer or TV for several days straight, with a song you don't even particularly like stuck in your head? Well, you do *something* to keep your sanity <g>. A big thank you to Kathy and Carol for beta-reading on very short notice.
*"You know I'd fight for you
But how can I fight someone who isn't even there?"*
She smiled faintly as he left to pursue his crisis. Her fingers rose absently to her lips, remembering the touch of his kiss there, and she closed her eyes.
Would it always be like this? A kiss goodbye as he went on his way, his mind on greater things? Not for the first time, she felt a twinge of doubt.
"You chose this," she reminded herself aloud, a little louder than she'd intended. "You chose it," she repeated, softer now. She'd known what she was accepting, the good and the bad. Was it still what she wanted?
She frowned a little, following his footsteps out the door.
Clark made a face, crumpled the sheet of paper, and tossed it away How did Lois do it? He'd been attempting to write— or at least *start*— his novel for weeks now. Lois seemed to have no difficulty writing, although he'd yet to see the product of her labor. But every time he sat down to work, all he could think about was her.
<And now you're doing it again,> he thought ruefully.
He sighed, sitting back in his chair and rubbing his eyes. He missed her. As angry and hurt and rejected as he felt, he missed her so much. He hadn't realized how much he'd grown to need her over the last year. But she'd made her choices, and so had he.
His gaze fell on the typewriter before him, on loan from Perry 'for inspiration.' His writing wasn't really any further along than it had been when he started. He was simply chipping away at his savings by staying in his apartment unemployed. Without her, without the Planet, there was nothing left of the life he'd struggled to build for himself. Nothing to hold him in Metropolis any longer. Perhaps it was time to move on, as he always had before.
Something in him recoiled at the thought, and though he didn't like to admit it, Clark knew it was only Lois that kept him here. Some irrational hope that she'd walk through that door, let him hold her, assure him that she'd made a terrible mistake. That it was him she wanted. Not Luthor, and not Superman.
Superman. He laughed bitterly. If she turned away from Luthor, it would only be to pine for her hero. Clark himself was a distant third in her affections, second even to his own creation. Some nights, remembering, he thought he hated her.
But it didn't last. It couldn't. Not when his heart was filled with her, when her face and the scent of her perfume filtered through even into his dreams. When all he'd ever wanted was to see her look at Clark the way she looked at Superman.
He sighed again, tiredly and sadly. Threading another sheet of paper into the typewriter, he tried to begin again.
There came a knock on the door.
Clark turned and scanned the other side. Lois stood on the front step, her hands twisting nervously in front of her. She looked uneasy, and despite his own discomfort he moved inexorably to the door to let her in.
"Lois," he said simply as she entered, not sure what greeting was appropriate. They hadn't seen each other since Perry's retirement party, and their conversation there had been unpleasant, to say the least.
"Clark," she replied, apparently equally hesitant. "I— I was in the neighborhood and I thought I'd stop by," she explained, her words rushed. "I thought maybe we could talk."
"Come on in," he agreed, gesturing her down the stairs. "I'll make some coffee."
Lois nodded absently and took a seat on the edge of the couch. She was quiet as he moved through the kitchen. "Having problems with the novel?" she asked at last.
He glanced back, following her gaze to the haphazard mess of paper balls scattered on the desk. "A little," he admitted, embarrassed. "I guess I'm having trouble focusing."
Lois nodded. "A lot has happened… It'll take us all a while to settle down to a routine again."
He frowned, wondering what sort of routine he could find without her in it. His gaze fell on the crumpled pile of discarded pages, and he shook his head. "How's life at LNN?" he asked, more out of a sense of etiquette than a desire to hear about her life at Luthor's network.
She didn't seem to want to talk about it either. "Good, good," she replied, falling silent once more.
Clark returned from the kitchen with two mugs and seated himself across from her. Careful to keep any inflection from his voice, he asked, "And the wedding plans are going well?" She hesitated, and he flinched from the rush of emotions that went through him, hope and fear and bitterness all at once.
"Clark," she said slowly, "I've really missed you."
"I've missed you, too."
"And I guess I missed being able to talk to you about, well, anything." She smiled a little. "You were always there for me, even when I didn't want you to be."
He watched her in silence, unsure of where she was going.
"And I know how you feel about my marrying Lex. I didn't come here for a lecture. I just… I guess I wanted someone to talk to, to know that you're listening and you care."
It was on the tip of his tongue to say he'd always cared, but he found he couldn't say it. Not now. He nodded. She studied his face for a moment, as if expecting a stronger response; at last she looked away. "I guess it's not fair of me," she conceded softly. "I know I… I know how things are. Between us. How you— well, you know what you said," she finished miserably. "And I'm sorry…"
He rose, turning angrily away. "Sorry for what, Lois? Sorry you don't love me? Sorry Superman doesn't love you? Sorry your fairy-tale wedding isn't turning out how you planned?"
She flinched at the words, but she didn't strike back or stalk out as he'd expected. "Clark," she said softly, brokenly, and he turned back. She was still seated at the edge of the couch, eyes wide and shining. "Clark, I— you're my best friend. Please."
With a sigh he sat back down. "I'm sorry," he said resignedly. "That was— cruel of me."
She looked down, hands fidgeting in her lap. After a moment, she said quietly, "I guess you talked to Superman."
He frowned; he didn't want her thinking Clark and Superman talked about her behind her back. "Not really," he answered. "You *did* ask me to find him for you. I guess I knew what you wanted."
She shook her head. "I should never have asked you to do that. Not after…"
"No," he agreed, but there was no malice or accusation in his voice. Only a dull sense of pain.
"Anyway," she said, wiping her eyes, "you were right. He doesn't love me. I'm not even sure he likes me anymore."
Clark recalled their meeting, the brusque front he'd worn to hide the hurt. The cruel things he'd said, unable to think of anything beyond the pain. "I'm sure that's not true," he said.
"He said I didn't know him well enough," she continued, her voice quavering. "But I do! I've known him for almost a year now. And I— I've been his friend…" She dropped her eyes. "I just— I love him, Clark, I really do. And he doesn't want me," she finished softly.
"Lois," he protested, unable to confirm or deny what she'd said. He moved to sit beside her, pulled her close and wrapped his arms about her shoulders. She shuddered against him as she cried, and he tried not to think about the way she felt in his embrace, the soft, warm curve of her body. Tried not to remember that she was crying out her broken heart— a heart he himself had broken. And that she had broken his.
"I'm sorry," she said at last, pulling away, wiping awkwardly at her eyes. "I'm sorry, Clark, I know you don't want to hear this. It wasn't fair of me to come to you." She rose to her feet, moving quickly to the door. "I should go."
"Did you love him?"
He'd surprised even himself. When Lois turned back, he hadn't moved, wasn't even looking at her, He was staring resignedly, tiredly at her empty place on the sofa. "S- Superman?" she stammered.
"No," he replied. "Luthor."
Unbidden, her fingers rose again to her lips. "I'm marrying him."
He shook his head. "That's not what I asked."
"I— it's none of your business," she said, but the attempt was half-hearted.
Clark looked up at her then and spread his hands wide. "Hey, Lois, you wanted to talk. I didn't ask you to come."
She closed her eyes. He was right. He deserved the truth, if nothing else. "I— No," she reluctantly admitted at last. "I don't think I do. Not really."
"But you're marrying him." His voice was flat and empty, no insinuation in his tone, no scorn or anger or pity.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I am."
She hesitated, as if putting her feelings into words at last meant she couldn't deny them any longer. "Superman didn't want me," she whispered. "Lex did."
Clark sighed, his eyes closed. "Did I mean so little to you, then?"
Lois winced. She couldn't say the implication hadn't occurred to her. "It's not that, Clark," she started, but for the life of her she couldn't explain herself. He waved a hand to stop her.
"I can't do this anymore, Lois. I can't go halfway with you. You know what? You made your choice. I mean, really, how can I compete with either of them? A superhero and the third-richest man in the world, even if the one's a cardboard cutout and the other's a criminal?" He gave a short laugh. "I can't even believe I tried." He got to his feet. "And, really, if that's all you wanted, Lois, I don't know why I bothered."
She paled. "Clark—" she started again, but he cut her off.
"You should go," he continued as if she hadn't spoken. "Go back to him." He ushered her quickly back up the stairs and opened the door. "I don't think we have anything more to say," he finished, pressing her gently but firmly into the hallway. "Goodbye, Lois."
"Clark," she protested, but the door swung closed and he was gone.
He watched her as Perry led her from the church. She was crying a little, half-dazed, and Perry put his arm around her. She was obviously in shock; her wedding had been ruined. She was mumbling something through her tears, and Perry was trying to reassure her. Weakened as he was, he couldn't hear what they were saying, but the distraught pain in her expression was visible even at this distance.
She hadn't changed her mind, then.
She had admitted she did not love the man. But the pain and regret in her eyes confirmed to him that she'd still wanted to marry Lex Luthor. Perhaps the promise of the life he could give her had been substitute enough for love.
Above the sounds of reporters' questions and photographers' cameras, he heard her call his name quite clearly. "Where's Clark?" She needed him. She needed her best friend. In the past, he'd have gathered her close to him, wrapped his arms tight around her and let her sob out her pain against his shoulder. Now, he couldn't go to her. He couldn't do it.
She scanned the crowd for him, desperate, but he was well hidden. Perry was saying something else, and she raised a hand to her face. His arm tightened around her shoulder, pulling her into an awkward embrace.
She wasn't injured; Luthor hadn't hurt her or taken her hostage in all the chaos. Physically, she would be okay. Clark knew that now. For him, that was enough. It had to be.
He turned away from her, and disappeared into the crowd.
The telephone shrilled once more and reluctantly he reached for it. "Hello?"
There was a moment of silence, and then she said, "I was frightened of you."
Clark closed his eyes. He'd known it was her even before he answered. He didn't want to talk to her. "What?"
"I was frightened," she said again, softly.
Tiredly, he ran a hand through his hair. "Look, Lois, I don't really want to play tonight."
"Then talk to me, Clark," she replied insistently. "Please."
"There's nothing to say."
"There's everything to say! What are you so afraid of, Clark, that you can't even talk to me?"
"Fine," he said at last, too weary of arguing. "You want to talk, I'll be here waiting."
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes," she agreed, and hung up the phone.
She'd called him for days. Most of the time he hadn't answered, and when he did it was only to tell her, politely but firmly, that he didn't want to talk about it. As time went by the anger had softened from his voice, leaving only resignation and sorrow. But still he'd refused her.
She'd had a lot of time to think these last five days since the failed wedding. Time to evaluate and reevaluate the things she'd said and done. And regardless of everything else around them, Clark was her best friend, and she'd hurt him. She needed to understand why she'd done it.
Now, she thought she knew.
The truth wasn't easy, wasn't what she wanted. But there it was, and now that she understood it, she couldn't deny it any longer. Climbing the stairs to Clark's apartment, she drew a deep breath. She knocked once and after a moment he opened the door.
"Hi," she said, suddenly shy.
"Hi," he replied. His eyes seemed darker than before, shadowed, and he didn't smile as she moved past him in the doorway.
"You, ah, asked if you meant so little to me," she said, unwilling to waste time on pleasantries.
He did not speak or nod, but his eyes were on her as he followed her down into the living room.
"And I should have told you then, but I didn't really understand until now," she continued, pacing slowly through the room. "But the truth was, you meant more than either one of them. And that made you the easiest to lose."
Clark made a face. "That doesn't make any sense."
She smiled a little. "I know it doesn't. But it's the truth."
"Lois," he warned.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'll try to explain.
"I loved Superman," she started tentatively, knowing he didn't want to hear it again but hoping he'd let her finish. "I really cared for him. But he was right, Clark, I didn't really know him at all. I don't know what he likes, or where he lives, or what he does when he's not at an emergency. I don't even know his name," she finished softly. "Superman. I named him that, because I didn't know.
"What I did know was that he was honest and just and caring," she continued, still pacing slowly through the room. He couldn't hurt me the way other people— other loves— hurt me in the past. It wasn't in his nature. And I was never close enough to him to let him hurt me, even if he would have. So he was doubly safe."
Clark was watching her carefully, but he seemed to have accepted her explanation so far. Drawing a breath, she pressed on. "Now, Lex is a different story. I admit I misjudged him. But besides that, I didn't care for him. Not in any way that mattered. Maybe you were right, maybe I am shallow. Or maybe I just wanted stability now that the Planet is gone, and Lex seemed the most likely man to offer it. But in his own way, Lex was safe, too. He had no power over me. He couldn't hurt me if I didn't love him."
"You'd marry him for that? Because he couldn't hurt you?" Clark asked, surprised and dismayed that she could have such a dark, bleak outlook on love.
"No," she said softly, looking away. "I thought I could."
"Lois," he frowned. "I saw you after the wedding. You were… upset," he said at last, struggling for the word.
"I said no," she continued, as if he hadn't spoken.
"I said no," she repeated. "I told him I couldn't marry him."
He blinked in surprise. "Why?"
She studied his expression for a moment, and then her eyes slid away. "I didn't love him," she said carefully. As if there were something more she could have said. "And of course I was upset, Clark," she continued. "No matter what I said or did, I didn't expect him to be a criminal! I didn't expect him to be arrested right there at the wedding! I was in shock," she finished softly. "And if you saw me and didn't realize that, you were only seeing what you wanted to see."
He sighed. "Lois, what was I supposed to think?"
"You knew I didn't love him," she replied. "I told you that. I was only marrying him because he was safe."
"Which is a terrible reason to marry anyone," he started insistently, but he stopped himself. He had no right to judge the choices she'd made.
She turned to look at him for a long moment, as if waiting out his anger. "But you, Clark," she whispered at last, "you weren't safe at all."
His breath caught, shock and hope stilling it in his throat. Daring to believe he might understand her, he took a step closer. "Lois…"
Instinctively she backed away, her hands rising defensively before her. "You're my best friend," she said, and he wasn't sure if it was an explanation or a warning reminder. "You've always been there for me," she continued when he didn't approach her again. "Encouraging, reassuring, listening. I value your judgment. I valued our partnership. I've told you things I've never willingly shared with anyone." She shook her head. "I've given you every secret I have. And in your hands they became weapons, whether you used them or not."
"You know I wouldn't do that to you," he protested immediately, disappointment burning in his chest. He'd misunderstood her.
Lois tipped her head to the side. "Maybe not," she conceded. "But you're not perfect, Clark. We all get angry, say things we don't mean."
He dropped his gaze. He *had* said some hurtful things the last time they'd talked. No matter how true they'd been, or how much she'd deserved them, he regretted being deliberately cruel.
"You knew me, Clark," she continued softly. "You understood me better than I wanted you to. If you wanted to hurt me, you could. Easily."
She was coming slowly closer now, and he tried to stay immobile, not wanting to spook her again. "And I guess I *did * always know how you felt about me," she admitted. "I mean, I suspected it, at least. But you were my friend, Clark. To risk that on some physical attraction, and lose it, would have hurt too much."
He understood that; it was why he'd never said anything. But she hadn't simply ignored whatever feelings she might have, she'd acted in deliberate defiance of them. "Better to throw the friendship away all together?" he asked pointedly.
She looked away. "I know, it doesn't make much sense."
"Lois," he said, "what I feel for you isn't just a physical attraction." He hesitated, and then concluded softly, "I don't know what you're feeling."
She looked solemnly at him, stepping close, her hands coming to rest on his chest. "I do care for you, Clark," she assured him. "And I— I *am* attracted," she admitted, her eyes watching the path of her fingers as they spread against the cotton of his shirt. "I don't know what that adds up to, but it's not what you want from me."
His hands rose to cover hers. "Let me decide what it is I want," he insisted. "I can be patient—"
She'd spoken so quietly he wouldn't have heard her at all with human hearing. "Lois," he began.
"No, Clark, don't you see? All those reasons, they're still true now. And if I— if we— if I let myself fall in love with you, you'd be that much more dangerous."
His arms moved around her, pulling her tight to him. "I'd be with you," he said softly. "You wouldn't be falling alone."
She nodded mutely, unconvinced. "You have to trust me, Lois," he continued quietly. "I know how hard that is, believe me. But it's part of being friends, even without a more serious relationship to consider. You have to accept that I don't want to hurt you. Can you trust me?"
"I don't know why you'd want me anyway," she protested. "Superman and Luthor's castoff."
"Hey," he said sharply, pulling back to look her in the eye. "Don't say that. You are not anyone's 'castoff,' do you hear me? Besides, I thought you were going to let me decide what I wanted." He cupped a hand gently under her chin. "And what I want is you," he said softly. "Not as a friend, and not as a… an attraction. I want everything you can give me. And I'll wait as long as you need, Lois, I can give you time. I just— I can't walk away from you again. Not now and not ever. So I guess what I need to know is, what do *you* want?"
Lois looked up at him with shining eyes. She'd come here to explain, to apologize, to plead. Instead he'd accepted her without question and laid himself out for her a second time. He was watching her expectantly now, and though he tried to hide it, she could feel his tension.
"I don't know," she admitted in a whisper, but she stretched up to brush her lips lightly over his. The contact was as faint as it was fleeting, but she knew nonetheless that it was a mistake. She'd always known. They couldn't go halfway. It wasn't fair of her to ask it of him, and it wasn't what she wanted.
<All or nothing…>
With a tiny sound, she pressed forward again, let herself kiss him properly, fully. He hesitated at first, not wanting to push her, but in a moment his hands moved carefully to the small of her back, pulling her to him in an embrace that was more loving than passionate. Lois let her arms twine around his neck, her heart speeding in her chest, her mind and body reeling at the wash of emotion filling her. She'd never felt anything so powerful, so warm and vibrant and beautiful, and the wake of it left her gasping.
Was that love, then? That heavy sweep of sensation that assailed her when his lips met hers? Or the unexpected knowledge that he meant more to her in this moment than anyone ever had? The sudden rush of protective tenderness that rose in her when he whispered her name, desperately, disbelieving? She wasn't sure, but when at last he pulled away to look at her, she heard herself answering him, heard her voice small but sure. "Yes, Clark…"
"Yes?" he repeated tentatively, his eyes still faintly clouded with emotion. "Yes what, Lois?"
She smiled a little, hesitant. "Yes, I trust you," she said softly.
He smiled at her then, gently, warmly. "You said you'd give me time," she continued. "I— I want to try. Being together, I mean." She spread her hand over his chest once more, shyly dropping her gaze. "I don't know for sure what will happen," she warned. "I don't really know how I feel yet. I do know you're my best friend. And I know I've never felt this way before," she admitted, "the way I feel when you touch me… I don't know what that means."
"It means we'll take things slowly," he said. "As slowly as it takes, until we're both comfortable. Believe me, I've never felt anything like that, either," he confided, one hand cupping her cheek. "But I'd like to try it again sometime," he said, his grin teasing now.
She smiled a little as well, the tension of the moment finally lifting. "Well, we'll have to see what we can do about that," she replied.
He pulled her close again, wrapping his arms around her the way he'd done countless times before, as partners, as friends. The way he hoped to do countless times in the future, as something closer. "Yes, we will," he assured her. "Together."
"Mmm," she said, laying her head on his shoulder. "That sounds so nice…"
The song in question is All or Nothing, performed by O-Town and written by Steve Mac and Wayne Hunter.