Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: April 2002
Summary: After her phone conversation with Clark in the episode "House of Luthor," Lois decides that she can't just let their friendship end like that.
Author's note: This story was a birthday present for my very good friend Kaethel. And, in the best traditions of birthday presents, I tried to reflect some of her tastes in this fic. First, it's set in one of her favourite eps, HoL. Second, the title is taken from a song — a frequent practice of Helene's. <g> And third, the song concerned is by one of her favourite groups, the Corrs.
Many, many thanks to Tracey for beta-reading this so thoroughly and for her enthusiastic encouragement, nagging and great suggestions. You're a star, Trace! :) Thanks, too, to Sarah for giving it a final going-over and for some blush-inducing encouragement. :)
All rights in the characters in this story belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros and anyone else who has any legal claim over them. No infringement of anyone's rights is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
*Don't say you love me, unless forever
Don't tell me you need me if you're not gonna stay
Don't give me this feeling; I'll only believe it
Make it real, or take it all away*
— From Don't Say You Love Me, by The Corrs; (c) 1997 The Corrs/Carole Bayer Sager
Sleep was an elusive quantity that night. An hour after ending her phone conversation with Clark, Lois's mind was still full of thoughts… and regrets.
That too-short phone call had been the first time she'd spoken to Clark in a couple of weeks. She'd hoped that by making the first move they might be able to rebuild their friendship; recapture the easy, caring relationship they'd had with each other for most of the past year.
Instead, she was left with the depressing certainty that their friendship was over.
It was nothing Clark had said… and yet it was everything he'd said. He'd seemed surprised to hear from her, but in a pleased way, which had made her heart lift. He'd hesitated several times in the conversation, though, and she knew that he'd been making an effort to find something to talk about — a far cry from times past when one of them would have come up with an excuse to call the other late at night and they'd talk away for well over half an hour before, reluctantly, they'd end the call. Lois was sure that Clark had enjoyed their late-night chats as much as she used to.
This had been so very different. It had been like one of those very awkward exchanges with an old friend, in which each gradually realises that they have nothing to say to the other.
How had things come to such a state between her and Clark?
Clark was her *friend*! He was her best friend — how was it that they couldn't even sustain a five-minute phone conversation any more?
He was her closest friend. For a year, they'd worked together, joked and argued together, spent time together, and he'd become the brother she'd never had and never realised she wanted.
He was special to her in a way that no-one else had ever been. He was just so *dependable* — reliable, solid, trustworthy, good fun and endlessly patient with her. Okay, he had his faults: he could be pretty stubborn at times, and there were occasions when he just seemed to disappear without explanation. And he had a jealous streak a mile wide. And *that* wasn't fair — after all, she'd told him that he'd always be her best friend, regardless of what happened with Lex. There was no reason for Clark to be jealous.
And yet he'd allowed Lex to come between them.
Why couldn't he be happy for her? She'd be happy for him if their positions were reversed; she was positive of that.
An image of Clark with Linda King flashed before Lois's eyes; she winced and brushed it away. That was different! She'd thought that Linda was stealing Clark as her *partner*! She wasn't interested in Clark in *that* way — she just wanted him as her partner and her best friend.
That was all. She wanted her best friend back.
Frustrated, upset and unable to sleep as the implications of that final-sounding phone call kept unravelling through her head, Lois sat up and snapped on the bedside light.
What had they talked about? They'd gone through the conversational motions: how are you? I'm fine; how are you? Great… And then Clark had given her a snippet of information about his life — Perry was coming to stay with him.
Perry was coming to stay with him? As that sank in, Lois realised that Perry hadn't told *her* that he was coming back to Metropolis to visit. Yet she'd known the Chief far longer than Clark.
How had she managed to get so cut off from all her friends?
But that was why she'd called Clark, wasn't it? To try to re-establish links with her friends. To try to get things with Clark back on a normal footing.
And she'd failed miserably. After only three minutes on the phone, he'd said he had to go. Okay, he'd said that he missed her… but only after she'd said it first. And even when he was telling her that he missed her, it had sounded as if he was saying goodbye.
Goodbye. To their friendship… to her.
But why? What had she done to him? Why *couldn't* he be happy for her? she demanded of the still night. She had a great new job — and although she felt sorry for Clark, who obviously hadn't found anything yet, she'd *offered* him a job, for heaven's sake! He could be working with her at LNN, if he hadn't been so stupidly stubborn and proud.
She was getting married, and not one of her friends had wished her well. Not one of her friends had accepted their invitations to the wedding.
Well, they could all just go…
A shuddering sob escaped Lois. She didn't *want* them all to desert her!
She'd known that Clark would need some time to get over her rejection of him. But that had been weeks ago. And she'd been very careful to let him down gently, to stress that he was important to her, that his friendship was very special to her. He had to have understood that.
So why was he being so distant?
She had to do something about Clark, Lois decided suddenly, throwing back the covers. He was too important to her; she couldn't let their friendship just drift away like some piece of flotsam after the shipwreck of the Planet. She'd lost so much else in her life over the past few weeks; losing Clark as well would simply be unbearable.
Okay, she was getting married, and Lex was pretty wonderful. But he wasn't her best friend. Not in the way that Clark was… had been.
Lex was cultured, intelligent, very kind and considerate… but he wasn't Clark.
There was only one thing for it, she admitted. She'd have to make the first move one more time. Late or not, she was going to have to go over to Clark's apartment and have this out with him. They were going to talk, and she was going to get her best friend back.
Clark rolled over in bed once more, but sleep still proved elusive. Echoing over and over in his mind, as if on a loop tape, were Lois's last words to him.
<I miss you>
He missed Lois too. So darned much.
She invaded his thoughts, every moment of every day. Her image floated before his eyes every morning as he got up. Her voice, her words resonated in his mind every time he tried to work on his novel or a freelance article. He could imagine her standing over him and arguing about the placement of a word, the emphasis in a paragraph, the inferences within an article.
He could feel her touching him: her hand on his arm, her palm against his chest. Her slender shoulders underneath his arm, on the rare occasions when he got to hug or hold her.
And he could see her smiling up at him; that broad, delighted grin of hers whenever a story came together, or that teasing smile when they shared a joke. Or the smile she'd started to give him in the mornings at work, when he brought her coffee over — she'd always make some sort of sarcastic remark, but the look she gave him at the same time had told him that she was kidding; that he was special to her.
He was special to her.
And yet she was marrying Lex Luthor.
Gritting his teeth, Clark sat up and, in a lightning-fast movement, punched his fist through the brick wall just behind his bed.
He sighed as he drew his hand back. Yet another repair job he'd have to do in the morning.
"Oh, Lois," he murmured on a soft sigh. How on earth was he going to get through the next few weeks, let alone the rest of his life, when he couldn't even get her out of his mind for long enough to let him sleep?
He wished she hadn't called him. He'd thought he was beginning to get over her. At least, he'd got to a point where he only thought of her about every five minutes, instead of every ten seconds. He'd been sure that he was getting used to being without her. And then, in one single three-minute phone call, the pain was back, worse than ever.
He'd lost her. And she was the one woman he had ever loved; the only woman he would ever love.
He should hate her. He should despise her. How could he still want someone as shallow as she'd proven herself to be?
She'd rejected him as Clark — he supposed that he should be grateful that at least she hadn't told him that she loved him as a friend. But she'd made it clear at the same time that it was Superman she wanted to hear declarations of love from. And she'd had the sheer hypocrisy to tell him, as Superman, that she'd love him even if he was an ordinary man. And then… then, when Superman had turned her down, she'd gone to Luthor.
Lex Luthor, a man she didn't even love. Lex Luthor, who was a criminal — a man who was evil incarnate.
And Lois thought he was the perfect husband for her.
Well, she deserved what she had coming to her, he thought bitterly, throwing back the covers and climbing out of bed to pad into the kitchen in search of some milk to heat. Sooner or later, she'd find out about the real Lex Luthor. There was no way that he'd be able to hide his true self from her indefinitely. And once his evil nature was revealed to her, she'd know how wrong she'd been. And what she'd thrown away…
He wanted to hate Lois. But he still loved her. And hearing her voice on the phone just now had been more painful than he could ever have imagined.
For a heart-stopping instant, he'd allowed himself to believe that she was calling to tell him that she'd broken off her engagement; that she'd seen Lex in his true colours and she didn't want to be anywhere near him ever again. That she'd realised how much she really cared for *him*, Clark, and that she wanted to see whether they could have something more than friendship.
He'd allowed himself to live in a fantasy world, just for that instant. And then the bubble had burst as she'd started to babble on about her wonderful job and her wonderful fiance.
And then she'd said that she missed him.
How could he possibly believe her, when the remedy for that was in her own hands? And when she'd hurt him more than he could bear by rejecting him and getting engaged to Lex Luthor?
Oh yeah, he just bet Lois was missing him; spending all her time with Lex Luthor, getting used to the idea that she'd soon be a very wealthy woman in her own right, with houses and apartments all over the world, a private jet to take her wherever she wanted, dripping with jewellery of every colour and description. He hoped she had a good lawyer, he thought cynically; with the sharks Lex Luthor had working for him, she'd need a watertight pre-nuptial agreement.
When would she have time to miss him?
<Lois, I love you so much…>
If there was any way of getting through to her, convincing her of what a colossal mistake she was making, he hadn't yet come up with it. He'd considered and discarded so many ideas: making one more attempt to talk to her; writing to her — pouring his heart out by letter; even having Superman talk to her, kidnapping her if necessary, if that was what it needed to make her stay put and listen. But all had been discarded. Lois had made it plain that she didn't want to hear any more from him about Luthor, and he was pretty sure that any letter from him would be dismissed with the same scorn that his spoken words had been.
As for using Superman… here Clark had baulked. It was bad enough that she'd rejected him in favour of his alter ego. But if she was willing to believe Superman where she'd doubted Clark… He simply couldn't face the thought of finding out whether that was the case. Not yet, anyway. Maybe, if things got really desperate…
Which they hadn't yet. Not really. After all, he told himself, rinsing out his glass, the wedding was still a couple of weeks away. And he was trying to find a way of proving that Lex Luthor wasn't the decent, honest businessman he pretended to be. All he needed was that one lead…
A sharp knock at the door jolted Clark out of his introspection. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was after one in the morning. Who on earth could be calling at this time of night?
There was only one person he knew who would come to his apartment in the middle of the night, demanding to be let in.
But it wouldn't be her. Not now. Lois had no desire to come anywhere near him; he knew that. If she had, she'd have been in contact long before tonight.
Then he looked through the door to see the identity of his visitor. It was Lois.
Clark's first impulse was not to answer. She'd think he was asleep and hadn't heard her knock, and she'd leave. But the thought of seeing Lois, spending some precious time with her, was too tempting. He zipped into the bedroom at Super- speed, delaying only long enough to pull on a T-shirt and his glasses, then hurried out to the door, all the time asking himself what his former partner could possibly want.
After all, it wasn't as if she could have simply come looking for the pleasure of his company, he told himself sardonically.
He'd answer the door, allowing himself one look at her, but he wouldn't let her in. She was out of his reach, and anyway, spending time with her would be too painful. Better to harden himself against her, hide his true feelings behind a veil of distance, and send her away before he weakened and allowed her to hurt him again.
Lois shivered a little, and raised her hand to knock again. Of course, it was the middle of the night, and Clark was probably asleep. She should have thought of that before rushing over here.
But then, that was her all over. Impetuous. Incapable of waiting, even just for a few hours. By the morning, she'd probably have lost her nerve and changed her mind about coming over to talk to Clark; she'd had to do it tonight. But if he wasn't going to answer the door…
Suddenly, the door was wrenched open and Clark stood in front of her.
His hair was dishevelled; he wore a crumpled T-shirt and a pair of sleep-shorts, and he looked like he hadn't shaved for at least a couple of days. But he was still *Clark*, her partner, and a wave of longing swept over her as she realised just how much she'd missed him.
She took a step forward, needing to touch him, to be swept into his arms for one of his patented Clark hugs…
…and stared, hurt, as he stepped backwards and out of her reach.
"What do you want, Lois?" he asked, his voice clipped and cool.
Her eyes widened and she shook her head, not understanding the signals he was sending her, the distance he seemed intent on putting between them. "Clark… I just wanted to talk… I know it's late, but I needed to see you, to sort things out between us… Like I said, I miss you."
"It's too late for that, Lois," he said, this time sounding sad rather than cold. "Just go home, please. There's nothing more for us to say to each other."
"You don't mean that, Clark!" she protested, shocked by his attitude. This was *Clark*. Her partner. Her friend. He couldn't possibly be the cold, distant man who was now trying to shut the door in her face.
"Goodbye, Lois," he said quietly, pushing the door over.
"No!" Lois hurled herself at the door, determined that Clark wasn't going to shut her out. She'd come to talk to him, and he was going to *listen*! "Clark Kent, don't you dare slam a door in my face!"
"Lois, go home," Clark repeated, sounding weary.
"I'm not going home! Look, you have a choice, Clark. You can let me in and talk to me, or you can shut the door and know that I'm going to sit outside on your doorstep until you do let me in. I'm *not* going away!"
The door opened again and Clark said, in grudging tones, "You'd better come in, then."
She followed him down the steps into his apartment; then he said, without looking at her, "If you're determined to talk, then give me a minute to put some jeans on." Without waiting for a reply, he went straight into his bedroom.
Only then did it dawn on her that her partner had been close to half-naked. She'd clearly got him out of bed, and the thin cotton shorts did nothing to disguise the shape of his muscular buttocks. His thighs and lower limbs clearly carried no unnecessary flesh, either. Not for the first time, Lois found herself forcibly confronted with the recognition that Clark was seriously attractive.
But so was Lex, she forced herself to remember. Lex was handsome, almost classically so. He also kept himself in good shape; she'd seen her fiance's private gym, and had even watched him fence one evening.
Clark was back before she had time to gather her thoughts properly. Standing several feet from her, he said abruptly, "Okay, you wanted to talk. So talk."
Hostility was one reaction she'd never expected from Clark. She'd thought that he'd have got over being rejected by now; he couldn't still be sulking, could he? That wasn't fair, she told herself immediately. She'd hurt his feelings, no doubt, and it was unfair to say that he was sulking, even if it was only to herself. After all, he'd told her he was in love with her; whether or not those were his real feelings or some sort of crush, she had no doubt that he meant it sincerely. And he *had* been hurt.
"Clark, we've been friends a long time," she said, deliberately moderating her tone so that she sounded calm and open to discussion. "I hate that we've come to a point where we're not even talking. That's why I'm here. I hoped that we could find a way to resolve things between us."
She thought he seemed momentarily surprised, but his overall demeanour didn't change. "What did you expect, Lois?" he asked wearily. "That things could go on as if that conversation we had the other week never happened? As if you're not getting married to the man I believe is the biggest criminal untried?"
Deciding to ignore Clark's repetition of his old allegations about Lex, Lois focused on the rest of his comment. "Yes, you told me how you feel about me, Clark. But I had to tell you how I feel, too. And I'm sorry, but I'm not in love with you. I just don't feel the same way about you. I hoped you'd understand that."
"Oh yeah, I understand that," Clark said coolly. "What I don't understand is why you seem think that I can just carry on being good old Clark, your best friend — or why I even should? I told you that I love you. I can't just stop loving you because you've told me that you don't love me back. It doesn't work that way, Lois. I can't go back to being your friend, even if I wanted to — and right now, I'm not sure I want to anyway."
He moved further away from her, leaning back against the apartment's internal wall; as he watched her, his expression was distant and unwelcoming.
"So… what? You're punishing me for rejecting you, is that it?" Lois demanded, stung by his words.
Clark sighed. "You really haven't a clue, have you? Look, there's no point in even having this conversation, Lois. You should go home."
Part of Lois wanted to turn around and storm out of Clark's apartment — after all, he'd made it very clear that she wasn't welcome, and he'd practically told her that he didn't even like her very much any more. So why should she stay and try to knock sense into him?
But the impulse to remain was stronger. Clark *was* special to her, and seeing him again reinforced that even more. They'd had their ups and downs over the past year, but there had been far more good times than bad. And he'd become necessary to her in a way she could never have imagined that another human being could. And she was miserable without him.
For all those reasons, she had to make the effort to show Clark that he was wrong. They could rebuild their friendship, despite his feelings for her and her engagement to someone else.
"I *want* to have this conversation!" she insisted quickly.
Clark ran a hand through his already-rumpled dark hair. "That assumes that I'm willing to have it with you," he said curtly. "I've told you, I'm not. Please, just go."
But there was a flash of something in his eyes which made Lois think that he wasn't as uninterested — or hostile — as he pretended. Besides, his apparent attitude didn't add up with what he'd said before.
He still loved her.
Which meant that he didn't — couldn't — want to throw their friendship away. Not if he cared for her.
"Clark," she said quietly. "Don't be like this. Please. I know you care for me. I care about you too, and I don't want to lose you."
"Lois, you want me as a friend. I told you, that's not enough for me any more," he said bitterly. "So unless you've come to tell me that you've broken off your engagement and you love me, I don't want to talk to you." He sighed, then began to turn away from her. "So please leave."
Lois could only stare at Clark in disbelief, as tears threatened to well up in her eyes.
Clark made himself look away from Lois. He'd always hated it when she cried — not that she cried often at all, but that was part of the problem. It was so rare that she allowed herself to give in to her emotions, so that when it did happen the sight cut him to the core.
He couldn't give in and let himself react; not this time. He'd been wrong to let her into his apartment — he'd known that even as she was pushing past him.
He loved Lois. But loving her didn't mean that he was willing to be her doormat; to let her walk all over him and still come back for more. She didn't love him, and she'd rejected him in favour of another man — and not just any man, but Lex Luthor. That was what he had to keep telling himself.
It just wasn't possible for him to be her friend any more. And it was completely unfair of her to demand it of him!
<Just go, Lois. Go. Please> he pleaded silently.
But then he felt hands on his shoulders, tugging at him, trying to pull him around. "Lois, please," he said raggedly. "I asked you to go!"
He turned to face her, and was confronted with tears streaming down her face. "Clark, don't do this," she jerked out, and her voice was thick with tortured emotion.
It was more than he could bear. With a stifled groan, he gathered Lois into his arms, pulling her to his chest and wrapping her tightly against him.
She emitted a stifled sob, then relaxed in his arms, clinging to him. And instantly, Clark was assailed with a rush of familiarity. It felt so good to hold her; she just felt so *right* in his arms.
But along with the sense of rightness came a wave of fierce desire, a desperate longing so intense that it was painful. Lois wasn't his. He had no right to hold her other than as a friend. Soon, he would have no right to hold her at all.
Being with her like this was too agonising to bear…
In a sudden movement, he pushed her from him and stepped back, breathing heavily. Ignoring the hurt and confusion in Lois's eyes, he fended her off as she would have tried to touch him again.
"I told you," he repeated harshly. "Please, just leave me alone."
"Clark, please!" she said raggedly. "I've lost so much in the last few weeks. I can't lose you too!"
"You already have," he said bitterly, and walked away from her into his bedroom.
Lois stared at the retreating back of her partner, tears streaming down her face. Clark couldn't be rejecting her! He just couldn't.
Not Clark. Not her best friend.
She knew that he'd be upset that she'd turned him down; of course she did. But he should have got over that by now, become accustomed to the situation, as she was. So why was he still holding on to his anger?
Was he punishing her for being with Lex?
Well, if he was, that wasn't fair! She had a right to date whoever she wanted — and to marry whoever she wanted. And Clark would just have to accept that. He didn't have the right to be jealous!
Her resolve hardening, she wiped her eyes with the back of one hand and took a deep breath. She wouldn't let him walk away from their friendship. It meant too much to her to let that happen.
She found Clark in his bedroom, seated on the bed and preparing to remove his jeans, it seemed. He glanced up as she entered, and sighed. "I hoped you'd just go home," he told her, sounding weary rather than cold this time.
"I can't just go home, Clark!" Lois exclaimed. "This means too much to me. *You* mean too much to me!"
He shook his head, not meeting her gaze. "Please, Lois. I've told you. It's too late. I can't be what you want me to be — not any more." The pain in his voice tore at her heartstrings.
"But why not? Clark, you're my best friend! I miss you so much…"
"And I miss you." The words almost seemed to be forced out of him. "But it's over, Lois. It was over when you turned me down and got engaged to someone else. Don't you understand?" he almost shouted at her. "I'm in *love* with you! How can you expect me to carry on being your friend as if nothing happened?"
Tears burning in her eyes, Lois choked out, "I never thought it would be like this!"
"Like what?" He was still not looking at her, but was there a note of concern in his voice?
"You — Perry — Jimmy — everyone! I've lost all of you! I didn't know that you'd all desert me just because I'm marrying Lex!" The betrayal of her friends was one of the most hurtful things about the past few weeks.
"Lois, *you* rejected *me*," he said quietly. "I think I'd have found it hard to carry on being your friend regardless. But once you decided to marry Luthor…"
Once she decided to marry Lex…
There were times, Lois mused bitterly, when she thought that if she'd known just how it would be, she'd never have accepted Lex's proposal. If she'd had any conception that her life as she knew it would be so completely torn away from her…
Looking at Clark again — the bleak misery in his expression, the way he was avoiding her gaze — Lois finally had to admit that she'd been completely wrong to assume that he could — or even should — have got over her rejection. Where his bitter anger earlier had failed to get through to her, his quiet resignation now told her everything she should have worked out before.
He was in love with her. She'd known that, but hadn't really allowed herself to understand what it meant. He was in love with her, and it was tearing him apart.
He wasn't punishing her for being with Lex; he was protecting himself in the only way he knew how: by staying away from her.
Being near her was painful to him.
Lois knew, then, that if she really cared about Clark, the right course of action would be to walk out the door of his apartment and never come back. She'd come here from purely selfish motives: *she* had wanted her friend back, without any regard for what Clark himself might have wanted or been able to bear.
She should leave.
She sat down next to him on the bed.
Clark closed his eyes in a brief moment of agony. He just couldn't seem to escape from her — even in his own bedroom. Why couldn't she understand how painful this was for him? What did she think he was made of? Stone?
"Lois, please," he said. "I can't do this."
"I'm sorry, Clark." Suddenly her voice sounded completely different — appalled, contrite, agonised — and he turned to look at her.
"I'm sorry that I didn't understand," she whispered, her dark eyes huge as she gazed at him. "How you felt, Clark. I had no idea… or, maybe, I just didn't want to see it. I was so selfish… all I could think about was what I wanted. I never once thought about what you needed."
He felt a muscle twitch in his jaw. "I wish things were different too, Lois," he said sadly after several moments. "But I can't help the way I feel. And I guess you can't help the way you feel, too. You don't love me, and you… you want to marry Luthor."
A strange, almost shocked, expression came over her face. "But I do love you, Clark," she choked out, sounding uncertain.
"Yeah." He couldn't help sounding bitter. "As a friend. I know."
Lois was silent, her gaze dropping to her lap. Again, Clark wished that she would just leave — and yet he was torn, for part of him wanted to hold on even to a tenuous connection with her, even though she was going to marry Lex Luthor.
After a long pause, which was rapidly becoming awkward, Clark couldn't hold back one question any longer. "Why *are* you marrying him, Lois?" he demanded harshly.
She gave a start. Her hands moved jerkily, and she seemed to seek any point in the room with her gaze — apart from Clark. "Do you know," she said at last, her voice shaky, "I'm not really sure."
She wasn't sure?!
Incredulous, and utterly furious, Clark pushed himself off the bed and strode rapidly to the other side of the room.
She'd turned him down, knowing that he was in love with her. She'd begged Superman to love her. And then she'd gone off and accepted Lex Luthor's proposal — a man everyone had told her was dangerous. In doing so, she'd hurt him more than anyone had ever done before. And she had no idea why she'd done it?
"Lois," he said carefully, once he felt sure that he could control his reactions. "It's none of my business, but… that doesn't sound like a good reason to marry someone."
"I know," she answered, still sounding shaken up. He didn't answer, looking down at his hands instead.
"It's not his money, Clark." Lois began to speak again, her voice low. "I know a lot of people think it is, but it was never that. It's… He's a very powerful man, Clark, and that attracted me. There's so much good he does, and can do."
Clark listened with growing anger and incredulity as she continued. "I know you've never liked Lex, Clark. But think of all he's done! All the jobs he provides, all the charities he assists — or even set up! — all the public- spirited projects he's involved in! He funds the Metropolis Children's Home annual outing from his own pocket. And he bought the Planet when it was in danger of going under. I know you didn't like what he did with it, but he's a businessman, Clark! He was trying to get the paper back into profit! Clark, he was Man of the Year, *every* year, before Superman came along. Doesn't that tell you something?"
<Yeah; that our fellow citizens are blind> Clark thought sardonically, but said nothing. He was forcing himself to listen to Lois, to try to understand, at least, what was going through her head. Even if he didn't like what he was hearing, if it helped him to see *why* then maybe he could get some closure from the end of their friendship…
"And this man, Clark, this amazing, *powerful*, attractive man, who could have every woman he wanted, actually wanted *me*," she continued, speaking jerkily. "I was so flattered, Clark — to be wanted by someone like that. And the places he took me to… the lavish, sweep-you-off-your- feet gestures… he *did* sweep me off my feet in a way."
She paused, swallowed, then continued. Clark simply listened, unable to say a word, but struck by the similarity in what she was saying to her relationship with Superman.
"It was like a fantasy second life, Clark. I'd go to work, do my job, work with you — and I still loved that, believe me! But then I'd go home and be swept off for a magical date somewhere — the theatre, an opening of some exhibition, a private screening of the latest movie, dinner in Paris! — and I fell into the fantasy. And then Lex asked me to marry him, and suddenly it was all real."
Lois took a deep breath, and Clark, unable to tear his gaze from her, thought that she didn't look remotely like a happily-engaged woman, looking forward to her forthcoming wedding.
"I didn't accept, Clark — not at first. I mean, the fantasy was great, but… well, you don't necessarily want fantasies to become reality. I liked my life as it was — I really wasn't sure that I wanted to change it as radically as that! And I knew that getting married to Lex would change it completely. But I didn't want to say no either — I didn't want to stop seeing him. And then the Planet was destroyed. And my life fell apart."
<So did everyone else's> Clark commented silently.
"And… well, something else didn't work out, and Lex was there, and it seemed that everything in my life which I'd thought I could count on was gone, and… I said yes."
Shifting sands under her feet… searching for security… Was it really as simple as that? Clark asked himself incredulously. Not once in Lois's explanation had she mentioned love. Oh, she'd said she was attracted to — no, not to Lex Luthor himself, but to his power and status. Not the man; just to the position he occupied.
Which reminded Clark again of Lois's attraction to Superman, which he'd also been very sure had nothing to do with the man beneath the Suit.
Was Lois just attracted to power and position? Or had her deep-rooted insecurity sent her running to the person who'd offered her what seemed to be a safe haven?
But then, he'd offered her a safe haven too. He'd told her that he loved her. Although, he mused, he hadn't offered her marriage — but something told him that she'd have rejected that too. She'd gone to Superman, but he'd turned her down.
So, cast adrift, she'd been left with Luthor.
Lois had fallen silent. Clark looked over at her again; she was still sitting on his bed, playing with the fringe of the blanket which was thrown over it. She was miserable, that much was obvious. And her misery clearly wasn't just due to the loss of a friend she'd only known for one year.
That was something which should have struck him sooner, had he not been wrapped up in his own despair and desire to make her leave. He'd wanted, he recognised now, to reject her as she'd rejected him.
His anger and resentment disappeared, to be replaced by concern for his best friend — his one-time best friend, he amended.
Why should Lois — a supposedly happily-engaged woman — care that one friendship had come to an end? What was so wrong with her life now that she would risk humiliation and rejection to talk to him? That she would face down his anger and bitterness, refusing to leave even though he made it clear that he didn't want her there? Why was her relationship with him so important to her that she desperately wanted to save it even though she was about to embark on a completely different life?
Was the fantasy turning sour now that it had become reality?
"And now?" he prompted gently, wondering whether he'd get the answer to his question; an answer he already suspected.
She raised her gaze to his, tears shimmering in her eyes. "Now… I didn't know it would be like this, Clark. I didn't know that I'd lose you. I…'m not sure that I really want to marry Lex. I… feel like I'm on a rollercoaster and I can't get off it."
Had she really said that? Lois instantly bit her lip and looked away from Clark again. What must he think of her? Only a short time ago, on the phone, she'd been telling him how wonderful everything was; how much she enjoyed her job, all the great things she and Lex were doing, and she'd implied how much she was looking forward to being married.
Would he think she was capricious? Never happy with her life? A stupid, pathetic idiot who wasn't worth bothering with?
But, to her surprise, he came back across the room to her, no longer seeming to want to maintain the distance he'd put between them. Dropping to his knees in front of her, he forced her to meet his gaze as he said quietly, "If you don't want to marry him, then don't."
She caught her breath, wanting — *longing* — for Clark to… oh, she didn't know what she wanted! To catch her up and take her away from the situation, to wave a magic wand and put everything back the way it was before the Planet ever got into financial difficulties, to become her best friend again, to make those painful words Superman had said to her never spoken… to assure her that she was loved, that she never had to doubt that ever again.
Instead, she said, "But… Clark, all the arrangements are made! The invitations have gone out; the cathedral's booked; everything!"
Even as he answered, she knew that her reasoning was incredibly flimsy. It wasn't a reason not to call off the wedding; it was nothing more than a stalling mechanism.
"Does that matter?" Clark questioned, raising one eyebrow. "The most important thing here is what you want. If you don't want to marry him, don't," he repeated.
"I…" Lois began, then faltered.
"What do you want?" Clark asked softly, reaching up to take her hands in his.
"I… don't kn…" Lois began, then trailed off, gazing down at her partner and one-time best friend, seeing the look of love and concern he was giving her. A look which was so familiar and, at the same time, so very welcome. And suddenly, she did know exactly what she wanted.
"I want you to kiss me," she said in a rush.
She could sense his withdrawal immediately. His hands tightened around hers very briefly before falling away, and his jaw clenched. "Why?" he asked roughly. "You want to compare notes?" Pointedly, he looked down at her engagement ring.
Compare Clark's kisses with Lex's? Never!
For the first time, Lois admitted to herself that she didn't even much like Lex's kisses. They were… nothing special. Unexciting, they failed to stir her in any way.
Completely unlike the time Clark had kissed her in the Lexor hotel when they'd been on assignment. Okay, it had served the sole purpose of preventing the maid from finding out what they were really up to, but that had been one heck of a kiss. For a moment, she'd been tempted to forget that this had been *work*, that Clark was her partner, and that kissing her partner had definitely not been on her agenda. That day, she'd discovered that her partner and friend had hidden depths… depths she'd stunned herself by realising that she wouldn't object to exploring.
That kiss, with Clark, had been almost as soul-stirring as that one time Superman had thrown caution to the wind and kissed her with demanding passion. Except that he'd been under the influence of a pheromone compound at the time.
How could she compare either man's kisses to Lex's? There was simply no comparison whatsoever.
No, that wasn't why she wanted Clark to kiss her.
"I just need to know," she told him awkwardly. "I… pretended that you meant nothing to me. That you were just a friend. And yet I miss you so much…"
"What are you saying?" Sounding tense, he stared at her.
What was she saying? Lois forced herself to examine the motives behind her crazy request. She wanted to know whether she'd made a terrible mistake — both in accepting Lex's proposal and, more important, in rejecting Clark; Clark, the most caring, genuinely decent man she'd ever met.
He'd told her that he loved her. She could still remember the sincere, longing expression on his face as he told her of his feelings for her — and then the devastated, shattered look when she'd told him that she just didn't feel that way about him.
And now, she knew what had really brought her over to Clark's apartment tonight. She knew why she'd really made that phone call. And she understood why she just hadn't been able to let go, even when Clark was telling her that he didn't want her in his life, couldn't bear to be in the same room with her.
She knew that she'd been wrong that day in Centennial Park.
"Just… shut up and kiss me," she choked out, past the lump in her throat which had returned all of a sudden.
Clark took her left hand in his, and with his free hand pointed to her engagement ring. "I can't do that," he told her quietly.
In a swift movement, Lois tugged the ring off her finger. Instantly, she felt a huge sense of freedom, which made her wonder why she'd ever accepted Lex's proposal. Just as Clark had asked her the same thing.
Clearly shocked, Clark stared back at her. He didn't say a word.
"You're right," she said, watching him hopefully, praying that he'd be happy with what she'd decided. "I shouldn't marry Lex. So I won't."
Clark rocked back on his heels, barely able to think coherently. What was she up to now? Was this for real? Or…
Heart thumping, he considered another possibility. Could she just be humouring him? Knowing that this was what he wanted to see, had she just done it so that he'd do what she wanted?
"Lois," he said roughly, his throat raw. "I want to kiss you. I can hardly deny that, since you know I'm in love with you. But if this is some sort of test… Lois, I won't even consider it unless you can swear to me that you're not going to tell me afterwards that you've thought about it and realised that you really want Luthor!"
To his surprise, she looked hurt at that. "I wouldn't do that to you, Clark! Though maybe I can see why you'd think it," she added in a low voice. "I've been pretty horrible to you lately."
She reached towards him, her hands seeking his; he allowed her to touch him. "Clark, I'm finally being honest with myself and admitting that I've been miserable over the last few weeks. I've lost all my friends… I lost you. And that hurt, Clark, almost more than I could bear! I pretended to be happy, pretended that working at LNN was what I wanted… but all the time I just wanted to be back at the Planet, and back with you."
She halted for a moment, and her hands clenched around his. "I was engaged, Clark, but I still missed you so much — and that's not a great thing to say about my fiance. Lex is… oh, I know you don't like him. I do… but he's not like you, and I'm never really as comfortable around him as I always was with you."
Lois stood up then, moving away from him to walk towards the window. "You know, Clark, there's something else which struck me about Lex the other day — at the time, I tried to ignore it and told myself that it was no big deal and that I shouldn't expect him to be like you that way…"
Lost by her train of thought, Clark asked, "Lois, what are you talking about?" He got to his feet and stood watching her.
"I was remembering some of the dangerous situations I've — *we've* been in as reporters. And it occurred to me that I've never felt scared in any of those situations when I've been with you. I always knew that you'd protect me — even if I didn't want to be protected. And then I realised that I've always known — or have for a long time — that if we were in real danger, you'd risk your life to protect me. Wouldn't you?" she asked softly.
Unable to lie, Clark nodded. "Yeah. I would."
"Yeah, I know," she repeated. "The thing is, I couldn't see Lex taking that kind of risk for me. And I couldn't help thinking that he couldn't love me the way he claims… the way you love me…" Her words trailed off, and as Clark watched her, she traced patterns on the window with one finger.
"I've never thought he loved you, Lois," Clark admitted. "If anything… I figured he saw you as some sort of trophy to add to his collection. And I just couldn't work out what you saw in him — I never thought it was the money."
She turned to face him again. "Clark… am I too late?" she asked forlornly, and he could see the shimmer of a fresh tear in her eye. "Do you just want me to go?"
He'd never been able to resist Lois when she was in need of comfort; in this case, his own interests were also affected. Clark gave her a helpless smile.
"If you're really serious about not marrying him… then I don't want you to go."
He didn't. He loved her too much to allow her to walk away from him ever again — and if he was reading her correctly, then there seemed to be a chance that she might feel the same way about him as he did about her. Maybe.
Even if she didn't, if she wasn't marrying Lex, then he could still hope for the future…
Lois took a step towards him. "I'm serious, I swear," she told him, her tone emphatic. "I… it almost feels like I've woken from some kind of nightmare. I know everything's still different — the Planet's gone, and you don't have a job, and nor will I once I tell Lex… but none of that matters. I just need to know that I haven't lost you."
Clark shook his head in rejection of the concept. "I'm not sure you ever could have. I love you too much to be able to walk away — I think I'd have waited until you'd actually married him before I gave up hope."
"Really?" She took another tentative step towards him, and he closed the distance between them.
"Really," he murmured softly, his hands curving over her shoulders. Somehow, he knew that the time was right to take the risk he hadn't dared try that day in Centennial Park. "Lois… if you weren't serious about wanting me to kiss you, you better say so now…"
"Please, kiss me." She leaned up, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Please…"
Clark lowered his head and covered her lips with his.
It was a kiss like none other she'd ever experienced. Not even Superman's kiss had affected her like this.
The first touch of Clark's lips on hers was tentative, but very quickly he became more confident, more in control and determined to win a response from her. His arms curved around her, tugging her closer to him, while his mouth tantalised her, his tongue teasing her and leaving her breathless.
How could she ever have considered marrying Lex Luthor? How could she ever have ignored just how much Clark meant to her? — and how attracted she was to him?
She'd been so wrong. She didn't love Clark like a brother. She didn't just regard him as a best friend.
She was in love with him.
Needing to breathe, she pulled slightly away from him. His gaze searched hers, his eyes showing concern… and worry. Lois bit her lip as she realised that Clark was afraid that she was going to reject him again.
"Clark, I love you!" she exclaimed hastily, needing to drive that look from his face. "I was so wrong… I never realised… you must think I'm so stupid!"
A smile brighter than a summer's day came over his beloved face. "That doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that we found out before it was too late."
"Can you forgive me for hurting you?" she asked, a lump in her throat again as she remembered everything she'd put Clark through.
His arms tightened around her again. "I guess it might be tough… I think I'm going to need lots of kisses and TLC to help me get over it," he murmured.
Lois choked on a laugh and thumped his arm, relieved that everything was going to be all right.
Okay, she had to talk to Lex yet and end their engagement, and she'd have to quit her job; there was no way that she'd want to work at LNN after breaking off the engagement, even if Lex was happy for her to carry on. And she and Clark would have to do some serious job-hunting — or, even better, they could try to re-open the Planet. She still suspected that there was something fishy about that explosion, not to mention the sudden financial difficulties which had started all the trouble.
But, for now, none of that mattered. She was here with Clark, and the only thing she wanted was for him to carry on kissing her.
Tomorrow was another day… this, though, was the start of the rest of their lives.
(c) Wendy Richards 2002