Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: May 2002
Summary: An alternative take on the ending of the episode "Target: Jimmy Olsen," which assumes that the original script for that episode was actually filmed, and Lois dumped Clark for Dan Scardino. Is all at an end for our favourite couple?
This story was inspired by a discussion on the message boards about the original script for Target Jimmy Olsen, in which, according to 'old-timer' FoLCs, TPTB committed 'character assassination' on Lois by having her dump Clark to go out with Dan. Once I'd read the original script and seen the differences, I thought it might be interesting to see how things could have worked out had the episode actually gone that way. It's worth pointing out, incidentally, that apart from the other elements of difference the original script also had Clark running out on Lois during their stakeout for no reason at all; there was no Superman emergency.
Many, many thanks to one of the very best beta-readers in the business, Kaethel, for her helpful, insightful and downright hilarious comments on the final draft of the story. One of these days I might even upload a story full of Kaethel's editing comments — they're far more entertaining than the story!
All rights in characters in this story belong to those who own them, notably DC Comics, Warner Bros, December 3rd Productions and anyone else legally entitled to them. No infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
"Boy, that guy's sure got a way with women."
Clark glanced up to see another newsroom colleague watching Lois go up to Scardino; the detective was grinning and obviously flirting, while Lois was smiling and clearly encouraging him. Then the two turned together and headed for the exit.
"Yeah," Clark said softly, bitterly. "And he just got away with mine."
Even though he was at his desk in the busy newsroom, Clark couldn't help feeling as though he was completely alone.
He might as well have been. Everything in the world which mattered to him was now lost to him; at least, that was how he felt. In the past half-hour, everything had changed completely, and he'd gone from a man in love and dating the woman he wanted most in the world to a man who'd just seen her dump him and leave with another man.
Lois wasn't his girlfriend any more. It was all over between them, and she was dating Dan Scardino.
She'd barely even been his girlfriend at all, really — they'd had one proper date, a kiss, and some unsatisfactory, interrupted conversations about where their relationship was going. But she *had* agreed to go out with him. She'd kissed him willingly. And he'd thought that meant that they both wanted the same thing: they both thought of themselves as a couple.
The fact that he'd been able to see it coming hadn't made it any easier to handle — and anyway, he'd hoped that Lois's feelings for him were stronger than that. He'd — foolishly — imagined that she wouldn't be tempted away by some brash cartoon-cop from Washington, a showy, grinning idiot who kept buying her stupid presents in a very obvious attempt to impress her. No, he'd thought; Lois has more sense than that. She was too cynical to admire a man like that. Lois, he'd thought, respected more important characteristics in a man: traits such as loyalty, reliability, the fact that he'd shown he could be trusted over a long period of time.
<You forgot Lex Luthor, didn't you?> a little voice taunted him. <What did she see in Luthor? None of those criteria. Excitement. The fact that he could afford to take her anywhere; buy her anything. He'd swept her off her feet>
But Clark had thought that Lois's reaction to the Luthor engagement fiasco was to change her attitude towards men. She'd always been insecure and sceptical about any man's interest in her, but after Luthor, he was sure, she'd been more determined not to go out with anyone who wasn't able to prove that he could be trusted.
And *he*, Clark, had shown her time and time again, over almost two years, that he could be trusted. And she'd agreed to go out with him. They'd become a couple — or so he thought. And now she'd just tossed all that aside — tossed *him* aside, like yesterday's newspaper, and left him crumpled and torn in the trash-can without even a backward glance.
<You told her 'okay'> he reminded himself.
What else could he have done? he asked himself bitterly. She'd have dated Scardino anyway. Or, if she'd listened to him, allowed a plea from him to sway her, she'd always have blamed him for holding her back. As she'd said, the question would always have been there in her mind. So what kind of relationship would they have had, with that between them?
He'd had to let her go. He'd had no choice.
But his outward compliance in the matter didn't make it any easier to bear.
Staring unseeingly at his monitor, Clark thought back to a conversation he'd overheard the previous day. He'd been looking for Lois, and had then seen her talking with the new intern, Sarah — a psychology major, as she'd told everyone within sight, before she tried to analyse them. Lois, for the first time, had been looking interested in whatever Sarah was saying, and Clark hadn't been able to resist listening in. Only for a second, he'd assured himself. But then he hadn't been able to stop, so horrified had he been at what he'd heard.
Of course, he reminded himself, the saying went that eavesdroppers never heard anything good about themselves. And he'd probably deserved to get a metaphorical slap in the face for listening in. But what he'd actually heard had been far worse.
Lois had been in mid-speech. "…we kissed. That was better than great," he'd heard, and been pleased. But her next words had brought him back down to earth with a thump. "But now it's like we're in some kind of holding pattern… nothing's moving forward."
Nothing was moving forward? Well, that was true, Clark had thought. And it was a relief to hear that Lois felt the same way; he'd been beginning to wonder if he was the only one to be feeling a sense of frustration at their apparently-stalled relationship. He'd wanted to move it forward, but hadn't been sure if Lois was ready; he hadn't wanted to push her, but equally he hadn't been sure exactly what she might have expected of him. The occasional date? An open declaration that they were going steady? Or was that something they would just gradually acknowledge over time? Did she want more than that? Or, he'd wondered, had she been content with things the way they were?
But hadn't some of it been his own fault? Clark bit his lip now as he remembered that bleak period after Mayson's murder, when he'd been wrapped up in his own grief and guilt. He'd blamed himself for not being quick enough to save her. And, of course, that wasn't something he could have talked to Lois about. So he'd practically ignored her for almost a week. And by the time he'd tried to pick up the threads of their relationship again, Agent Sardine had been on the scene and already muscling in.
But he'd *tried* to put things right! Clark argued. Lois had to have seen that. He'd tried to arrange another date — he'd asked her to see a movie with him. He'd taken her to lunch at least once, and he was positive that he'd made it clear that he was still interested.
But was she?
Sarah's next words came back to him, filling him with further misery.
"And now this Scardino is looking pretty good."
At least Lois hadn't instantly agreed, Clark recalled. That had been an encouraging sign, one which had led him to think that she was probably right in assuming that she couldn't really be interested in the undercover cop.
And then Sarah had continued to dig his grave.
"Lois, it's classic. Psych 101. Look, Clark's a terrific guy, anyone could see that. But he's kind of like a rowboat."
<A rowboat?> he'd thought, dumbfounded, and Lois had echoed his question aloud.
"Yeah," Sarah had continued. "You feel secure, you know you'll get across the lake safely, but it's not an exciting trip. Scardino, on the other hand, is a speedboat. Fast, sleek, a wild ride."
He wasn't exciting? Scardino was 'a wild ride'? Furious, Clark had almost stormed across the newsroom there and then, an almost uncontrollable urge to show Lois just how exciting he *could* be tugging at him. But he'd restrained himself. First, how could he have explained overhearing the conversation? Second, he knew Lois — or so he'd thought. She wasn't impressed with strong-arm, macho tactics… or so he'd thought.
So he'd stayed where he was, consumed with bitter fury, and had watched Lois's reaction to being told that he was boring and that Scardino was thrilling to be with. To his dismay, she hadn't contradicted Sarah. She hadn't insisted that he *was* exciting. She hadn't said anything.
Sure, Sarah had then added a cautionary note, telling Lois, "But there's also a better chance of capsizing."
Yeah. More chance that Scardino would let her down; that it would all end in tears. Surely that would bring Lois to her senses, he'd thought.
But it hadn't. Instead, she'd looked impressed. "You're good," she'd told Sarah. "You're really good."
He'd interrupted their conversation soon after, figuring that enough damage had been done. But he hadn't stopped it soon enough, it seemed. Lois's actions just now, and the way she'd justified them to him, made it clear that Sarah's amateur psychology had taken root.
Again, it had started — for Clark — with an overheard conversation. Scardino, again muscling in on *his* territory, had grabbed the opportunity to ask Lois out once more, although in a roundabout way.
"It would be hard for you to date a guy who got you kicked out of your apartment," the detective had said, grinning. Clark had stilled, waiting for Lois to tell him to butt out, that she was already in a relationship.
Her smile had faded, and she'd just said, "Daniel…"
Inspector Gadget had obviously heard the regret in her tone just as clearly as the more obvious warning off. He'd assumed a sympathetic tone, saying, "I know. Kent. We've been down this road before." He'd paused, then added, in a tone which had made Clark want to punch him, "Lois, I know this is difficult for you. And I wouldn't push it if I didn't think we might have something."
Again, Clark had waited for Lois to utter a polite dismissal, or even better, to get angry at the man's persistence. But she'd just grimaced and said, "I know, I know…"
And, of course, that had given Scardino the opportunity he'd been waiting for. Smiling again, a smile of patent insincerity in Clark's opinion, the interfering grinning manic had said, "Look, if you and Kent are supposed to be, we'll know it and we'll walk away friends. But if _we're_ supposed to be…" Trailing off cleverly at exactly the right moment, he'd waited for Lois's reaction. She'd just looked at him, then taken a deep breath…
…and walked straight over to his — Clark's — desk.
Clark had known what she was going to say even before she'd started. Unable to hide his feelings, he'd folded his arms and stared at her coolly as she'd approached him.
Now, remembering, he relived the painful conversation once again.
"Clark…" Lois had begun, hesitantly; he'd been able to see the uncertainty in her eyes. Uncertainty about how to approach him, he'd understood; not because she wasn't sure whether she was doing the right thing.
He'd decided to spare her the effort — and spare him the agony of hearing her say the words. "You're going to go out with Scardino, aren't you?" he'd accused directly.
She'd been silent for an uncomfortable few moments, until Clark had felt compelled to speak again. The words felt like bile in his mouth, but he'd had to say them. He'd accepted, in that moment, that he didn't want to keep Lois with him on sufferance. If he'd said he objected, he might have been able to persuade her, but neither of them would have been able to forget what had almost happened.
"Look, if that's what you want to do, do it," he'd said shortly.
She'd hesitated again, then — clearly feeling guilty — had attempted to justify her actions. "Clark… you know me. I could never live with a 'what if' hanging over my head," she'd said, almost aggressively. "I think I owe it to myself and our relationship to find out."
<Oh yeah> Clark thought to himself now. <Like you're doing *me* a favour by dating Chuckles the Clown!>
He'd simply stared at her without comment; she'd looked back at him, her expression combined guilt and longing… longing, not for him, but for the man who stood over by the coffee-machine waiting for her.
Wanting an end to the painful conversation, Clark had broken eye contact. "Okay," he'd said shortly, then pretended to get back to his work.
And that had been it; that brief, public exchange had ended their fledgling relationship, and left him devastated.
Suddenly, he couldn't bear to sit in the newsroom any longer. Barely waiting to shut down his computer, Clark grabbed his jacket and headed for the stairwell. Less than a minute later, he was airborne.
"… so anyway, it's all over now," Clark finished. "And… I think it's time to move on."
"What do you mean, move on?" Martha asked, getting up and refilling his coffee. "Find someone else, you mean? But rebound relationships aren't —"
"No, that's not what I mean," Clark interrupted, correcting her. "I love Lois. If I can't have her, I don't… No," he said, letting the other thought trail off. "If I've lost Lois, I've lost my reason for staying in Metropolis. I'm going to tell Perry I'm resigning."
"Clark!" Martha exclaimed, sounding shocked. "Isn't that a bit of an over-reaction?"
"How can you say that, Mom?" he argued, hurt. "I love Lois. I… I just *can't* go on working with her day after day knowing she's with Scardino… remembering what it was like for us… I have to leave."
His mother gave him a sympathetic look, covering his hand with hers. "Oh, honey, I know how you feel. But I don't think you should rush into anything. Give it some time and see what happens first."
"She's dating Scardino," he said bitterly. "They went off together half an hour ago."
"But she didn't say she wanted to end your relationship, did she?" Martha asked.
Clark sighed, then shook his head. "Not exactly, Mom, but how else am I supposed to interpret it? She said she wanted to date Scardino. Now, either she was asking my permission to two-time me, or she was dumping me."
"Did you get any impression before today that she wanted out of the relationship?" Martha asked gently. "How has she been when you've been alone together? How has she acted?"
"She thinks I'm boring, and that we weren't going anywhere," he answered sullenly.
"No," his mother corrected. "This Sarah compared you to something dull and slow. Lois didn't agree, you said."
"She didn't disagree," he muttered.
"She didn't say she agreed. But she did say that your relationship wasn't moving forward. Has she said that to you at all?"
Clark sighed. "I guess… I mean, about a week ago, not long after Mayson died. We were in her apartment… she asked if she was yesterday's news. I didn't know what to say to her. I mean, I was still coming to terms with Mayson being killed like that, and she had to understand that. And anyway, only a few days later I'd asked her to go to the movies — and then Scarface showed up and asked her out. She didn't exactly act like she wanted to be with me right then," he muttered irritably.
"And since then?"
He sighed again, running one hand through his hair. "We started to talk about it on a stakeout a couple of nights ago. Well, she started it, I guess. Umm… she said something about it being weird — *cosmic*, I think she said — that the first time we spent an evening together since our date was a stakeout. Then she said that maybe that meant that it — us — wasn't supposed to happen. Or maybe that I just didn't want it to happen." He pulled a face. "She wasn't making any sense. I mean, she has to know how much I want to be with her! So I suggested getting takeout."
"You did *what*?" Martha sounded incredulous.
Clark looked at her, puzzled. "Well, she was babbling and not really making any kind of sense, and she always gets like that when she's hungry, so…"
"Sounds like she was making plenty of sense to me," Martha said. "Oh, Clark, can't you see it?"
"See what?" He stared at her blankly.
"Clark, you left that poor girl hanging for weeks after your date, not knowing whether you still wanted to go out with her or not. And every time she tried to get you to talk about it, you changed the subject. Or worse, ran off on her like a coward, Clark! She probably hadn't the slightest idea of where she stood with you! I'd bet she thought you'd gone off her." Martha sighed, then added, "Okay, so what happened when you came back?"
Clark shrugged helplessly. "I didn't get back straight away. Superman was needed…" He broke off, guiltily remembering the 'emergency' he'd been tied up with. Getting teenagers to clean graffiti off a wall… it hadn't exactly been life-threatening stuff. His mother had been right — he'd been avoiding having to talk about what was happening with their relationship. Particularly that night; as soon as Lois had started to suggest that the two of them simply might not be meant to be, the memory of her conversation with Sarah had come back to him and he'd frozen. The takeout had been an excuse. He'd just wanted to get out of there before Lois started to tell him that she wanted something fast: a wild ride.
Martha sighed again. "Okay, so Lois was waiting around for you, wondering why you were taking so long. But then?"
Clark closed his eyes briefly, simultaneously clenching his fists. "Scardino was with her. And they were looking *very* cosy together. He'd even brought *wine*, Mom! I'd bet anything he was hanging around watching us, waiting to make his move. I made him leave, but…" He shrugged again. "Well, the mood was broken."
"So you didn't talk about your relationship?"
Clark shook his head, then remembered Lois's question to him. She'd asked whether he'd like to continue the conversation they'd been having, but he'd just given her a flat no.
"Not then. Not after seeing her with him… the way he'd just muscled in yet again, flirting with her, paying her compliments… I couldn't," he muttered.
Martha grimaced. "So you didn't tell her how you feel. And you can't see why Lois agreed to go out with this Dan."
"Of course I can't!" Clark exclaimed. "I *love* her! I'm not just looking for a good time — and I respect her a heck of a lot better than he does. He hasn't even told her what he's still doing in Metropolis. At least she knows that I've never hidden stuff from her."
Martha's raised eyebrow was her only response.
Clark flushed. "Well, apart from that. Anyway, are you suggesting that you *can* understand why she's dumped me for that — that clown?!"
"I can," his mother said. "It's perfectly simple, Clark: you never let her know where she stood with you, and you kept avoiding the subject or running away any time she wanted to talk about it. I'm just amazed she waited so long."
He caught his breath. When his mother put it like that…
"So what do I do now?" he asked miserably.
"Try telling her how you feel," she said gently. "It's the only thing you can do, honey. And if she still doesn't want to know — well, at least you'll have tried."
Lois climbed out of the cab, Dan beside her, and she hesitated before nodding in response to his question as to whether he should pay it off. It would be rude to send him away immediately; she could offer him coffee, at least.
He stood on the pavement beside her, his head cocked to one side. "Lois, I had a good time tonight," he said, smiling wistfully.
So he knew. She heaved a silent sigh of relief. "I did too, Dan, but…"
"But it's just not gonna work for you. I know," he finished for her.
She shook her head. "It's not you, Dan, it's…"
"No, it's not you," he told her, giving her a lop-sided smile. "It's Kent. Isn't it?"
"Yeah," she told him, relieved that he understood.
She hadn't been able to stop thinking about Clark all evening. She'd enjoyed Dan's company, of course, but as she'd sat opposite him in the restaurant she hadn't been able to help remembering a night a few weeks earlier, in a different restaurant, with a different man.
That had been a magical evening… they'd talked, laughed, learned things about each other, and she could've sworn that they were a couple in love. That had scared her, and she'd behaved stupidly once he'd walked her back to her apartment. But she'd made up for it the following day, and that kiss had been soul-shattering.
She'd been convinced that Clark felt the same way about her as she was swiftly realising she felt about him. But, as the intervening weeks had passed without any attempt on his part to pursue the relationship, or even to talk about it, the hope and the joy she'd felt had slowly withered inside her. Desperate, she'd made excuses for Clark: Mayson had been a friend; he was visibly upset by her death and he needed time to recover.
He had to have known that Mayson was in love with him, and he might have felt awkward about pursuing a relationship with another woman so soon after. But, as the days had turned into weeks with no alteration in his attitude and a continuing refusal to discuss their relationship, she'd had to admit defeat. His abandonment of her during the stakeout a couple of nights ago — the excuse of getting takeout too thin to be believed, especially as he'd been gone for almost an hour — had been the final straw.
She'd had to accept the truth. He was no longer interested.
And it was time to move on. Dan had come into her life at just the right moment.
But Dan wasn't Clark, and she hadn't been able to shake off the feeling, the whole evening, that she was with the wrong man.
What was worse was the fact that the expression on Clark's face when she'd come to tell him that she wanted to date Dan was still haunting her. He'd looked devastated.
Which was very weird — inexplicable, in fact, considering that he hadn't bothered to make the effort to ask her not to date Dan. If he'd given her one sign that he cared for her, and that he actually wanted to be with her as opposed to just not wanting her to be with someone else, she'd have told Dan to get lost in a heartbeat.
But all Clark had said was, "Okay."
She could date Dan with his blessing.
It was obvious. Clark wasn't interested in her any more the way she was in him. Maybe he never had been. Or maybe she'd managed to scare him away, the way she'd done with every other decent guy to cross her path. He'd got tired of her neediness. Or maybe she didn't kiss expertly enough for him.
Whatever it was, he didn't want her any more.
So she *should* go out with Dan. She *should* try to build a relationship with him instead.
Except that she couldn't stop thinking about Clark.
"I'm sorry, Dan," she said softly.
He shrugged. "So am I," he said regretfully. "I think we could have been good together. I wish I'd met you before he did."
"I'm sorry," she said again, genuinely regretting that she was unable to give Dan what he so clearly wanted. He might have been good for her. Or he might not. In the end, it didn't really matter; she wasn't in love with him, and probably wouldn't have fallen in love with him even if Clark hadn't been a factor.
"You win some, you lose some," Dan said, though she could tell that he wasn't taking it as light-heartedly as his words suggested. He took a step towards her. "I'm going to go in a minute. But — as it's going to be the only chance I get — I want to kiss you. Just once."
There was no harm in that, Lois supposed. She took a step towards Dan and rested one hand on his shoulder. His head descended and his lips brushed lightly over hers, then covered her mouth in a firm, confident kiss.
His mom was right. Clark could see it now, and he'd been such an *idiot*! Of course Lois hadn't known where she stood with him. Of course she'd thought he was avoiding the issue. Seen from her perspective, of course his behaviour gave that impression. And, if he was honest, some of his behaviour had stemmed from nervousness, a lack of willingness to talk to her and tell her how he felt.
So, in the circumstances, he only had himself to blame that she'd dumped him for Dan.
Oh, sure, he was still hurt that she considered him boring, unexciting… but maybe he needed to show her that he wasn't.
But first, he had to talk to her. Persuade her to listen to him, and this time put his cards on the table. He had to take some risks if he wanted this to work, and the biggest risk of all was telling Lois how much she meant to him.
They both had a day off tomorrow; maybe he should call her and ask her to have breakfast with him. He pondered that idea as he flew back to Metropolis; but somehow he found himself hovering over Carter Avenue instead of Clinton St.
Lois's apartment was in darkness; she wasn't in. Still out with Scardino, he mused dejectedly.
He should go home. He could call her and leave a message on her machine. Tell her that he thought they should talk — that he'd like to talk to her.
Yet he found himself landing around the corner, and then crossing the street to a point at which he could see her apartment building without being seen himself. He'd just give it a minute or two, to see if she came home.
He watched as a cab drew up a mere couple of minutes later. It drove off immediately, once its passengers had been disgorged.
<She's going to invite him up…> he realised, his heart sinking as the possible implications of that sank in. Clark was very tempted to use his abilities to listen to their conversation, but he held firm. Twice already he'd eavesdropped on a conversation Lois was having, and twice he'd regretted it. And it wasn't fair to Lois; nor was it honourable. So he simply watched them, telling himself that as soon as they went inside he'd go home.
Unable to tear his gaze from Lois, he continued to watch her as he waited, his hands shoved in his pockets.
And then felt his world fall apart as she reached up to kiss Inspector Gadget.
Lois allowed Dan to break the kiss; she'd already hurt him by not being interested in him the way he was in her, and she didn't want to add to it by pulling away from him. He'd got the message; he knew where he stood, and he'd accepted it.
Slowly, he drew back, giving her a rueful smile. "It's just not working, huh?" Not giving her time to answer him, he continued, "I can't tell you how much I wish things were different, Lois. You're the first woman I've felt anything for since Jenna… but that's the way life goes sometimes."
He stepped back from her, adding, "I'm going to request a transfer back to Washington tomorrow, Lois. I should be out of your hair in a day, two at most."
"I'm sorry, Dan," Lois said again, her own voice regretful. "I like you, a lot. I think we could have been good friends."
"Yeah, but I had to complicate it by wanting more," he said, shaking his head. "Lois, I couldn't settle for friendship with you."
Dan raised one hand in farewell, then turned and walked off down the street.
Lois stood and watched him for a couple of minutes, until he'd turned the corner and disappeared out of sight. Then she turned to go into her apartment building… but a movement across the street caught her attention. It was dark, and the street-lights didn't illuminate that area particularly well, so she couldn't be sure what she'd seen. But it looked to her as if someone was lurking in the shadow of a doorway.
Her cellphone in her hand, she crossed the road swiftly, determined to find out who was there and why. Most likely a burglar, she thought, scoping out the apartment buildings to see which had the weakest security systems.
She walked as if she was heading for a building just up the street from the one where she'd seen the movement, but out of the corner of her eye she kept a close watch on the doorway concerned. There were no further movements — but then, suddenly, a car passed by and, as its headlights illuminated the entrance-way, she saw something glinting in the brief flash of light.
Spectacle-frames, she realised. There was definitely someone there. And he — or she — didn't live there, otherwise whoever it was would have gone into the apartment by now. She quickened her steps and reached the bottom step of the building.
"Okay, I know you're there. You might as well come out. And don't try anything — I'm armed," she called threateningly. Okay, she didn't have a gun, but this intruder didn't know that. And the element of surprise would work in her favour anyway.
She heard a sigh, and then a faintly impatient, and very familiar, voice replied, "Since when have you carried a gun, Lois?"
"Clark! What the heck are you doing here?" she demanded, incredulous; then, as his location and what he could have been doing sank in, she added angrily, "Were you *spying* on me?! And Dan?"
Clark emerged from the shadows, dressed in a black leather jacket and dark jeans; his hair looked ruffled, and his expression was unreadable. "I wasn't spying," he said abruptly. "I wanted to talk to you, so I came over — you weren't here, so I was going to wait, and then I saw you getting out of that cab with Scardino." Dan's name was said with a note of something approaching venom, which surprised Lois and made her wonder whether she'd been wrong in assuming that Clark didn't care about the situation. That sounded very much as if he was jealous.
"I didn't want to see him," Clark continued. "So I hid over here to wait until he'd gone."
"Oh?" Lois's voice was deliberately sceptical. "And you didn't show yourself as soon as he'd left? Come to that, why wait? How did you know I wasn't going to invite him in?"
Clark's shoulders slumped, and again she was puzzled at his reaction. He seemed… defeated, and it simply didn't add up. Not when put together with his behaviour over the past few weeks.
"I didn't know," he said wearily. "I thought you had when the cab drove away. By that time I didn't want either of you to see me here — that's why I was hiding. I was waiting for you to go in." He walked past her then, onto the pavement. "I'm sorry I gave you the impression I was spying on you, Lois. Goodnight."
"Wait — where are you going?" she demanded, not finished with him yet. None of this added up, and she wanted some answers to several questions. Plus, if she was right about her interpretation of his reaction, it seemed as if telling him that she and Dan weren't an item might be a good idea…
"I'm going home," he told her, in a tone of voice which didn't invite argument. "Coming here was obviously a mistake, Lois. I'm sorry I bothered you. Now that I know you and Scardino are… *involved* -" he invested the word with a sardonic tone Lois hated " — I won't invade your privacy again."
She stared at him in disbelief. She'd offered him an opening, a chance to talk — which was what he'd claimed he'd wanted in the first place — and, like the stupid, dumb lunkhead he could be on occasion, he hadn't taken it. Instead, he'd decided to be unpleasant — something Clark rarely was, but when he did turn nasty, it wasn't a pretty sight. Flushing, she remembered the last time he'd been this sarcastic; it had been late one night a week or so ago, the night Dan had slept on her fire escape. Clark had arrived with breakfast, seen Lois damp from the shower and Dan emerging from behind her, and he'd lashed out.
"Must have been some talk if you needed a shower," he'd said coldly, and had turned and walked away.
Didn't he *trust* her? she asked herself now. She'd *never* encouraged Dan; not until she'd been sure that Clark wasn't interested. Yet then, and again now, he was acting like some jealous lover — or would-be lover, she amended. That would be flattering, given her feelings for Clark, except that he'd had the opportunity to have her in his life, and he'd thrown it away with apparent unconcern.
There was no explanation for his current behaviour… other than that he was being a dog in the manger. And Lois had no intention of letting Clark behave like that with her. He'd rejected her — well, it was over between them, and that was that. It was time they reset their relationship to that of partners, and no more.
It was too late, she knew, for them even to salvage their friendship. It was going to hurt too much even to work with him as a partner, much less pretend to be able to resume a friendship which, until very recently, had been the most precious thing in her life. Until she'd been offered the dream of more, with Clark; of having the man she'd admitted that she loved love her in return.
That dream now lay in pieces at her feet, shattered by Clark's indifference; by the knowledge that he didn't want her the way she wanted him.
Not waiting to watch him walk away, she crossed the street and marched straight into her building and upstairs. Once in her apartment, she went straight to her bedroom and collapsed on the bed, tears streaming down her face.
Clark spent the night alternating between defeatism, telling himself that it was too late to salvage anything with Lois because she was in love with Scardino, and trying to persuade himself that all he needed to do was, as his mother had said, *tell* her how he felt about her.
But what was the point of telling her? he argued with himself. She'd told him herself that she 'couldn't live with a what if hanging over her' — she'd practically been asking his permission to dump him for the undercover cop! And he'd seen her tonight — she'd been kissing Scardino, clinging onto the guy as if she'd fall over without his support. And then when the interfering cop had left, she'd stood watching him walk away as if she couldn't bear to let him out of her sight.
It was obvious. Lois was in love with Agent Fishface.
And she thought *he* was boring.
So what was he doing staying in Metropolis? He should just get the heck out of town; start again somewhere else. There was nothing here for him any more.
And yet he kept coming back to the same answer. Lois was here.
Where Lois was, so was his heart.
How could he move away, knowing that he'd be leaving his heart behind?
But how could he stay and watch her date another man? See her fall in love with another man? Marry him, even?
<She's not married to him yet. She might not be in love with him yet. There's still hope> a tiny voice inside kept saying to him.
Slim to no hope, he insisted bleakly as he paced his bedroom, unable to contemplate sleep. Then, tired of the four walls of his apartment, he spun into the Spandex and in under a second was shooting straight upwards, towards the crescent moon which hung over the city.
Flying, a pastime which normally relaxed and invigorated Clark, wasn't helping much tonight, he realised after about an hour. Even though he'd finally given up on the Metropolis sky and headed south, where he was getting plenty of sunlight, he couldn't stop his thoughts from drifting back over the course of the day. The worst moment, the kiss, replayed itself over and over in his memory, until he wanted to find Daniel Scardino and wipe him off the face of the earth.
In slow motion, he saw Lois step closer to the cop. In slow motion, he saw her reach one hand around Scardino's neck and tilt her head up towards him. And, in painfully slow motion, he saw Scardino's head come down and his lips meet Lois's.
Clark screamed in agony, a tortured yell of denial, and the sound shattered the stillness of the night sky.
By four in the morning, Lois had given up trying to sleep. Pulling on an old dressing-gown, she padded into the kitchen and heated some milk for hot chocolate. Cupping the mug between her palms, she went over to the window and stared out into the night sky, her thoughts in upheaval.
It was all about Clark. Her partner, her erstwhile best friend, and — so briefly — her boyfriend. She just couldn't get him out of her mind. His final words to her, spoken in that horrible sarcastic tone, replayed over and over inside her brain until she wanted to scream.
So much for his promise to her that, whatever happened between them, they would always stay friends.
Clearly, it was all over between her and Clark; he'd made that more than obvious by his recent attitude. And yet that didn't explain his manner earlier. He'd actually looked, and sounded, *jealous* when he'd talked about her and Dan. But that couldn't be true — well, not in the sense that he wanted her for himself.
Gazing unseeingly out at the starless sky, Lois tried to piece together what she knew about Clark's interest where she was concerned. He'd been the one to ask her out in the first place, which should have been an indication that he was attracted to her and that he wanted their relationship to be closer. And yet it had been Clark who, after their first date had needed to be postponed, had stalled in suggesting alternative arrangements. Lois had needed to prompt him — and there had been that evening at the Planet when she'd actually poured out her heart to him, and he'd run off while she'd practically been mid-sentence. That wasn't the behaviour of someone who wanted to be with her.
And nor was his behaviour since their date. Especially today, making it clear that he didn't care if she dated someone else. His manner had been curt, his attitude clearly of someone who wasn't interested in discussing anything. Even when she'd given him the opportunity to prove to her that he still wanted her, he hadn't seemed to care.
She'd admitted to herself, a short while ago while still tossing and turning, that when she'd given Clark what was practically an ultimatum concerning Dan she'd really been testing him. Maybe what she'd said had been cruel — but, on the other hand, so had Clark's almost complete ignoring of her and avoidance of any discussion of their relationship over the past couple of weeks. As a result, she'd figured that some sort of ultimatum had been the only way to get through to him. She'd hoped that he'd tell her that he didn't want her to date Dan, regardless of whether she wanted to know what it'd be like. She'd wanted him to fight for her: to stand up and tell her that it was him or Dan; that she had to choose.
But he hadn't. Instead, he'd simply said, dismissively, "Okay." It clearly hadn't mattered to him.
Which meant that she should just forget about Clark.
And yet she couldn't.
Every time she closed her eyes, an image of her partner swam before them. Images of him as he'd been a bare few hours ago conflicted with memories of their first kiss, a kiss that had made her senses swim dangerously. A kiss which had quite simply been the most exciting, the most erotic experience of her life.
How could she forget that? How could she possibly hate the man who'd made her feel like that? Who'd given her back her faith in herself as an attractive and desirable woman, capable of feeling desire for someone else?
And yet how could she go back to being merely his friend?
As dawn began to break, an hour or so later, Lois was nowhere closer to a solution. But one thing was becoming clear to her.
Over the past two years, one person had become vital to her happiness.
No matter that she now wanted more from Clark, she couldn't face the thought of losing her best friend. No matter how painful it would be to work with him, to spend time with him, knowing that she wanted more, she knew she'd get over it in time. Losing Clark as a boyfriend was devastating, but it would be far, far worse if she also lost the best friend she'd ever had.
Yet more images were flooding through her mind: hugging Clark in Smallville after Jason Trask had almost killed him; Clark hugging her and holding her close to him after he'd saved her life a year ago in her apartment; going to the Kerths with Clark as her partner; how much she'd missed Clark when she'd made the stupidest decision of her life and agreed to marry Lex Luthor — and, even worse, how much she'd known that she'd miss him for the rest of her life on that bleak, dreadful night when he'd been killed.
No; she couldn't lose Clark's friendship.
No matter how humiliating it was in the short term, she had to talk to him; to get him to see that their friendship was far too valuable to throw away simply because they'd tried and failed at a romantic relationship.
She drifted towards the phone, reaching to pick up the receiver and dial, but then common sense reasserted itself. It was shortly after five am, and neither she nor Clark were working in the morning. He wouldn't thank her for waking him up.
Yawning, she decided to try to get a couple of hours' sleep and call Clark later.
Clark finally returned to his apartment shortly after eight am, having responded to several calls for help as Superman. The first thing he saw as he walked through the living-room was the photo of himself and Lois at the Kerths. Picking it up, he stared at the two of them together.
They looked so close; they looked like a couple.
And, for a bare couple of weeks, they had been a couple.
How could he have lost her so quickly? He'd been stupid, that he knew. But if Daniel Scardino hadn't arrived on the scene he and Lois would still be together.
Or would they? Lois had shown by her actions that she didn't want to be with him, he thought. But then he remembered what his mom had made him see; that Lois had tried to get him to address their relationship, and he'd avoided the issue.
So maybe the real catalyst for Lois dumping him wasn't Scardino…
…which might mean that he had a chance of winning her back…
Sighing, he replaced the photograph on the shelf. Maybe he did. Or maybe it was too late. He'd decided last night that he owed it to himself and to Lois to try putting things right. It hadn't gone well. But, in retrospect, the time and circumstances hadn't been right.
So maybe he should try again.
Clark took a deep breath and glanced at his watch. No time like the present; strike while the iron's hot, and all that, he decided.
One brief shower and quick change later, he was walking purposefully out of his apartment.
The phone rang as Lois was finishing dressing. Answering it, she propped the receiver under her chin while she buttoned her jeans.
"Uh… hi, Lois. It's me," Clark's voice came uncertainly over the line.
"Lois, I… I hate the way we left things last night," he said hesitantly. "And regardless of whatever else happens between us, I really don't want to lose your friendship. So… I wondered if we could talk?"
Clark felt the same way as she did! Relieved, Lois grabbed the receiver and said softly, "I'm glad you called, Clark. I don't want to lose you as a friend either."
She thought she heard a soft sigh. Then he asked, "How about if I come over now? I can bring breakfast…?"
"Sounds good to me. I'll expect you when? Half an hour?"
"Uh…" He sounded nervous. "Well, actually, I'm downstairs. Outside your building — using my cellphone. Can I come up?"
That was a good sign, Lois thought… or was it? Well, it sounded at least as if he was anxious for them to stay friends. Which was good. It was what she wanted, wasn't it? "Yeah, come on up," she told him, and hurried into the other room to let him in.
Clark knocked somewhat nervously on Lois's door. He was feeling a little reassured that she'd agreed to see him, instead of yelling at him over the phone and making it clear that his behaviour last night was unforgivable. Not that he could have blamed her if she had. He *had* been spying on her. It didn't make it any better that he hadn't actually used his powers to overhear their conversation; he'd still been hiding, watching Lois with Dan.
She opened the door and invited him in. To his surprise, she looked tired; there were shadows under her eyes and she had an aura of… weariness? sadness? He wasn't sure.
But, now that he was here, he hadn't the faintest idea how to start the conversation he'd been rehearsing for the last couple of hours. Just seeing Lois again had sent his brain into a spin, sending it somewhere in outer space from whence it seemed unlikely to return in the near future. His gaze dropped, and he stared at the floor.
All he could think of was Lois kissing Scardino the night before. And all he wanted to do was rush across to her, seize her, and kiss her with all of the pent-up passion inside him. It would prove to her that he loved her; that he wanted her — and that he could be spontaneous and exciting. Wouldn't it?
It could also get him thrown out without the opportunity to say what he'd come to say — to plead with her to give him another chance.
"Umm… Clark? You wanted to talk?" Lois prompted pointedly, and he looked at her again.
She reached for the paper bags in his hand. "Croissants?" Her mouth curved into a smile. "How do you always manage to find these great places… Mmm, this is *delicious*" she exclaimed in a muffled voice.
Clark smiled, the familiar reactions relaxing him a little. "Well, you know, I can't give away all my secrets," he teased her.
Lois paused and looked at him. "I just wish you'd let me in on some of them," she whispered, sinking onto one of the sofas. "You keep shutting me out, Clark, and I don't know what I've done wrong."
Sighing, he joined her on the couch, thankful that she'd unwittingly given him an opening. "You've done nothing wrong, Lois. It's me… I keep making mistakes, and I don't know how to put them right."
"Mistakes?" He noticed that her face had paled. "Like… asking me out?"
"No!" he exclaimed instantly. "Like… everything I did since." He hesitated, then reminded himself that he had to be honest. Even if he had lost his chance with her, even if she was in love with Dan and even if all he could hope for from her was friendship, he had to explain his actions to her and tell her that he was sorry.
"Lois, I wanted this — you and me — so badly that I was terrified of screwing up. And yet it seemed like the harder I tried *not* to screw up… the more I did mess up," he said intently. Taking a deep breath, he added, "I only figured out yesterday just how much I'd messed it all up — when you dumped me for Daniel Scardino."
He heard Lois catch her breath. Then she said, sounding incredulous, "*I* dumped *you*? Clark, you'd already dumped me! You practically ignored me for weeks! Then yesterday you said it was okay if I dated Dan! You didn't care what I did!"
"You have no idea how much I care," he said in a low voice, shocked at Lois's reaction. His mom had made him try to look at the situation through Lois's eyes, and it seemed that she'd been right in her analysis. But still, it was more complicated than that — there was still the knowledge of what seeing Scardino hanging around Lois had done to him, and Lois didn't seem to realise that. "Seeing you with him over the last week or so — hearing you tell me that you'd always wonder what being with him would've been like — seeing you kiss him last night… Lois, you could have ripped my heart from my chest and it wouldn't have hurt as much as that did."
"But you ignored me. You refused to talk about us," Lois said, her tone brittle.
"I was scared, Lois," Clark managed to say. "I'm still scared. This meant — *means* — so much to me, and I was terrified of pushing too fast too soon. I know I went kind of distant after Mayson was killed, but that… I had to work out some issues over that. I should have talked to you about it, though, and not shut you out. Lois, I'm sorry. I never meant to make you feel that I was excluding you. Or that I didn't want you."
"You did, though," she said abruptly.
"I know." Clark sighed. "There's not much I can do about it now, other than apologise and tell you that if I had the chance to prove it to you, I'd never do it again. But don't worry," he added quickly as he saw her tense. "I know that's not going to happen. I had my chance, and I blew it. You're with Sc — *Daniel* now. I won't get in his way." <Unlike the way he kept getting in mine> Clark finished silently.
Lois bit her lip, and he wondered what was going through her mind. After a moment, she said, "Dan wasn't to blame for what happened with us, Clark. He just happened to be there, that was all. Okay, I know I told you yesterday that I needed to find out what dating him would be like. I said I couldn't live with a what-if hanging over my head. I… Clark, don't you know that I needed you to tell me that you didn't want me to go out with him? That *you* wanted me?"
Clark shook his head slowly, amazed at how two supposedly intelligent people could have read the same situation in such radically different ways. Yes, maybe he should have fought for Lois — but on the other hand, would he really have wanted her if he could only have won her by making her choose him? He wanted her because she chose freely to be with him, not because he had some sort of primitive prior claim. Yet clearly she'd wanted him to stake a claim… because, he reminded himself, she'd felt as if he'd gone off her.
He still felt aggrieved at what she herself recognised had been almost a declaration of intent on her part, and he wondered if Lois realised that it had been the wrong tactic to take with him. It simply went against the grain for him to respond to an ultimatum like that. On the other hand, he'd made plenty of mistakes in their relationship; he supposed he owed Lois one or two.
Lois took a deep breath, then continued quietly, "If Dan hadn't been the catalyst for us splitting up yesterday, there'd have been something else. I thought you wanted to end it, remember? And if there'd been one more incident like… like the other night, the stakeout, I'd have ended it myself."
How right his mother had been! It was all his own fault. Lois's point struck home with a vengeance: he'd been directing his anger at the wrong person. Scardino hadn't stolen his woman; he'd thrown her away.
Not that Lois would appreciate being referred to as anyone's woman, but that was beside the point. It was mostly his fault that he'd lost her. She'd contributed to the ending of their relationship, yesterday in the newsroom, but by then he'd already done the real damage.
Clark got to his feet. "You're right, Lois. It was my fault, and I can't tell you how sorry I am, but it's too late to… well, I messed up. I'll… uh… get out of your way now. I —" He stopped abruptly, emotions welling up inside him. He wanted to tell her that he would always be her friend, always love her, but he couldn't verbalise the words — which was probably just as well. After the way he'd treated her, there was no way that Lois would want either from him.
Suddenly he felt his arm being grabbed and held tightly.
"Just where do you think you're going, Clark Kent?"
To his amazement, Lois sounded as if she was choking back tears. He took a swift glance at her, and saw that he was right. Her eyes were shimmering with moisture.
"Lois…" he began helplessly.
"I thought we were going to talk about being friends again!" she protested.
Shaking his head, he said, "Lois, I could never not be your friend. You have to know that! Even when… even last night, when I saw you with him, I thought about doing a lot of things, but I never wanted to stop being your friend."
He heard her sob, and in a swift movement gathered her against him, not even stopping to remind himself that he no longer had the right to hold her. Her new boyfriend would no doubt not take kindly to Clark assuming the role of comforter, but right now he didn't care.
Lois wrapped her arms around his neck, resting against him for a long moment, before she pulled back and looked up at him. "Seems like we both hurt each other without realising it," she said softly.
"Yeah — but I see now that none of it would have happened if I hadn't been so stupid," he replied, grimacing. "I guess… maybe you were right all along, Lois. Maybe you and me… it just wasn't meant to be."
Lois choked on a breath and pulled away from Clark, wrapping her arms around herself and walking towards the window, her back to him. For a few minutes there, she'd actually thought that there was hope for them after all. Clark had made it clear that he'd never intended to give the impression that he wasn't interested in her. He'd told her how hurt he'd felt when he'd seen Dan hovering around her, and even more when he'd seen the two of them together last night. She'd been right to suspect him of jealousy.
And she realised now that what she'd said to him in the newsroom the previous evening had been stupid — hurtful, cruel and completely counterproductive. She should have known that it was completely the wrong way to get Clark to face the issue of their relationship and what was going wrong with it. Okay, other tactics hadn't worked, but she knew her partner well enough to be aware that he simply didn't respond to what was effectively blackmail. He'd back off rather than be forced into a position of fighting for her. She had to shoulder her own share of the blame for the disaster which their relationship had become.
Clark had told her that being with her, being involved with her, meant so much to him. He really *did* want her! So she'd been ready to suggest that they try again — although she'd hoped that he'd suggest it first. She'd realised then that she still hadn't told him that she wasn't going to be seeing Dan any more, and had been all set to tell him…
… and then he said that the two of them weren't meant to be after all!
It hurt. It hurt far more than she could have imagined. She loved Clark. Not just as a friend; she loved him as a lover. She'd hoped, for a while there, that he felt the same way.
But he couldn't love her. He'd never have said what he just did if he loved her.
Without turning around, she said, "I think maybe you should go after all, Clark."
There was silence. She heard him move, but didn't turn around, waiting for the sound of the door closing.
Then hands descended on her shoulders, and a soft, puzzled voice asked, "Lois, what did I say? I swear, I never meant to hurt you… but I just keep on doing it, don't I?"
She swallowed, trying to get rid of the lump in her throat. "It… doesn't matter, Clark."
"I think it does," he said, tugging her gently back against his solid, broad chest. She didn't answer, but didn't pull away either; she'd always enjoyed being held and comforted by Clark, and even though he was the one who'd hurt her this time, that didn't stop her wanting to accept the comfort he offered.
She felt him sigh softly as he wrapped his arms around her. Then he said quietly, "I know it's a moot point now, but there is one thing I wanted to clear up…"
"What?" she asked, her voice as low, almost intimate, as his had been.
"Well, I know you think I'm kind of dull… not exciting, like… well, like Dan," he began.
Huh? Lois frowned, puzzled. When had she said that? Then she remembered that weird rowboat conversation with Sarah. Somehow, Clark must have overheard.
Flushing, she opened her mouth to protest that it wasn't true; that she hadn't agreed with Sarah's assessment of him. "But I never said —"
He interrupted before she could finish. "I just wanted to let you know that… if you ever do want a 'wild ride', I'd be happy to oblige… any time you want…" His voice sounded almost sad; wistful, as if he was wishing for something he knew could never happen.
Then, before she could ask what he meant, he'd bent and scooped her up into his arms, murmuring, "Trust me, Lois." Holding her against him with just one arm for a brief moment, he pushed the window open.
And then stepped up onto the sill with her held against his chest… and then stepped off, into thin air.
"Clark — CLARK!!" she yelled in terror, clutching at him.
And then she realised that they weren't falling. In fact, they were climbing… moving upwards… they were *flying*!
It had been an impulse; a sudden, crazy desire to prove to Lois that, when it came to exciting, Scardino didn't even come close. And he'd finally decided that he was tired of hiding the truth from Lois anyway. Even though any hope of a relationship with her was gone, he still wanted her to know.
Increasing his speed, he swept them up to get above the cloud cover. Lois was clutching at him, clearly thoroughly alarmed, which didn't surprise him in the least. Though he knew his Lois; he didn't anticipate that she'd be either scared or dumbstruck for long.
She proved him correct just as he'd taken them into the clouds.
"You're Superman." Her voice was almost steady, though he could detect the shock beneath her apparent calmness.
"Yes, I am."
"Well, I guess you can't get much more exciting than that!" Her laugh definitely carried an undertone of shock.
He tightened his grip on her. "You know I'd never put you at risk, Lois," he reminded her. "I'm sorry if I scared you."
She shook her head, then said, "I guess now I understand why you kept running off all those times."
"Yeah," he agreed, sighing. "It's been getting harder and harder making excuses to you, Lois. I've hated it." Then, because honesty got the better of him, he added, "Not the last time. The stakeout — that wasn't a Superman emergency. I… got scared. You started talking about how maybe it wasn't meant to happen for us, and I had to get away before you said you wanted to finish it. And then… I couldn't drag up the courage to come back. I'm sorry."
"And when you did come back, Dan was with me," Lois added softly. "No wonder you thought I wanted him, not you."
Clark sighed again. "That's all in the past. You've moved on; I understand that. I don't like it… but I'll live with it," he assured her, despite the pain it caused him.
"No, I haven't!" she exclaimed suddenly, taking him by surprise. "Clark, I would have told you earlier, but… well, I was hurt when you said we weren't meant to be, so I didn't… Clark, Dan and I aren't together. We had that date last night, yeah, but I spent the whole evening thinking about you. We… agreed not to see each other again. Dan's going back to Washington."
Clark almost stopped breathing. "You're… not dating Scardino? You were… thinking about *me*?"
Lois nodded; he felt her head nudging his chest as she did so, and he couldn't resist the urge to hold her even closer against him.
"The whole evening, Clark — I kept remembering our date, the things we'd talked about, the way we'd laughed together, the things I learned about you that I'd never known… and the way you made me feel like I was the most precious thing in your universe," she finished huskily.
"You are, Lois. Don't you know yet?" he asked her, his own voice equally thick.
"I couldn't sleep last night," she told him, pain in her voice. "I was lying awake thinking about you… knowing that I loved you and how much it hurt to lose you…"
"Me too," he confessed. Then the rest of what she'd said struck home. "You… love me?" he asked, disbelieving.
"I love you, Clark," she confirmed. "And… I don't know if you love me back, but I hope you do, because I can't stand the thought of having to go back to being your friend and…"
"Lois." Clark interrupted her abruptly, unable to prevent a huge grin stealing across his face. "You're babbling. And of course I love you!"
Before she could answer, he bent his head and slanted his mouth over hers.
Lois wrapped her arms even more tightly around his neck and kissed him back, deeply, passionately and lovingly.
Wrapped in each other's arms and secure in each other's love, the couple drifted in the clouds above the city, exchanging kisses and murmurs, blissfully content in the knowledge that they were meant to be together and that nothing would ever come between them ever again.
In a hotel-room on the other side of the city, a chastened and sombre undercover agent packed his bags, pausing once he'd finished to gaze at a newspaper photograph of an attractive brunette.
He sighed once, murmuring a name wistfully, then crumpled the page and picked up his bags, dropping the remnant of newsprint on the desk as he exited the room.
It was time to move on.