By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2002
Summary: After a disastrous New Year's Eve party, Lois needs to ask her very best friend a special favour… an intimate favour…
This, as is probably pretty evident from the title, is a New Year's Eve story. One note of explanation might probably be helpful. In this story, my interpretation of Lois's relationships past may be a little bit different than that in most fics which raise the subject. We know that Lois describes her past history with men as 'federal disasters', but — although she is the one who's skittish about making love with Clark — she doesn't tend to be seen as being either inexpert or lacking in confidence. If you understand now that I'm writing a Lois who does lack confidence in her desirability and her bedroom skills, then I hope that the developments as portrayed in the story will make sense.
Very many thanks go to the readers on Zoom's boards who nagged and encouraged and reassured while I was posting this story originally, especially to Sheila, Shayne, Ann and one or two others who gave me very helpful suggestions. Apologies to anyone I've inadvertently omitted! And the biggest thanks of all to Kaethel, my beta-reader, who tore this apart and put it together again, told me why bits didn't work and how to make them work, and overall made sure that I didn't stray too far out of character. Thank you so much — you are a fantastic beta-reader, nagger and TTT extraordinaire!
This story has been edited from its original nfic version, which is still available on Annesplace. My thanks to Jeanne, my Archive GE, who was a huge help in this editing process. All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros, and no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this non-commercial work of fiction.
The phone stopped ringing just as Clark flew back into his apartment, and he pulled a face before spinning back into his casual civilian clothes. He'd heard the familiar ring- tones just as he'd been completing his third tour of the city that evening; being New Year's Eve and an hour or so away from midnight, he was on the lookout for trouble, and he'd already broken up several fights as well as preventing a robbery.
He checked his answering machine, and saw that the red light was blinking, informing him that he had two messages. Probably friends calling to wish him a happy new year, he assumed, reaching out to hit the 'play' button. But the smile of anticipation froze on his face as he heard the voice on the tape start to speak.
"Clark… Clark, where are you?! I've been calling, and either you're not answering the phone, or you're really not in — but where would you be on New Year's Eve anyway? It's not like you're Metropolis's party guy of the year, so either you're avoiding me or… or I don't know. Look, just forget I called."
The message ended abruptly with a long beep, and Clark flinched. It was Lois, but this was a Lois he didn't remember having come across before. He'd encountered Angry Lois and Happy Lois and Frustrated Lois; he'd been with Flirtatious Lois, Jokey Lois and Teasing Lois. He'd even, once or twice, met Depressed Lois. But this was different. She sounded depressed, all right, but unless he was very much mistaken, she was also well on the way to being drunk.
And Lois did not get drunk. He'd known her for a year and a half now, and despite the fact that they'd spent a lot of time at social occasions together, he'd only ever seen her the worse for drink once. And that was the night she'd failed to buy the date with Superman she'd longed for. She'd been drinking to drown her disappointment… which made him wonder why she'd been drinking tonight.
He was puzzled, too; Lois had been due to attend a party tonight with some old college friends. She'd been quite excited about it, too; apparently she'd run into an old sorority friend a few days ago, who'd insisted that Lois come along. Clark, who'd planned to invite her to his place for a home-cooked dinner, had been disappointed; he'd hoped that maybe, if they got a chance to be alone for a couple of hours, they could recapture that magic they'd shared on Christmas Eve, only a week ago. He was sure he hadn't been the only one who'd found that couple of hours special — but there'd been no time since even to talk about it, let alone see whether they could take it further.
So Lois should be at a party right now. Had she called him from there? If so, why? That wasn't a phone message from someone who was having a good time. What had gone wrong?
Before he could pick up the phone to dial *69, the machine started to play his second message.
"You're still not there… now, why am I not surprised? Figures, doesn't it? I never could keep friends… I guess I just wasn't ever any good at being a friend in return, so they always got pissed with me after a while and I never could care enough to do anything about it — or at least I told myself I didn't care, I guess. Funny how I always did care underneath… but you know me, Clark, I never like to let anyone see what I'm really feeling… *You* always seemed to know. How did you do that? How come you always see things about me that no-one else could? And how come even when you *know* what I'm really like, you still hang ar- around?
"But then, you're not, are you? Around. Not now. Like everyone else, you've gone. Left me. Ab… andob… abandondened me. Haven't you? I mean, I keep calling, and you're not here, so what am I supposed to think? 'Sfunny, after Christmas, I mean when it snowed but there wasn't any snow… I mean, I thought… kinda wond- but I guess I was wrong —"
With a shrill shriek, the machine signalled that time had run out. Clark ran an agitated hand through his hair and stared helplessly at the electronic equipment, before picking up the phone and punching in Lois's number. Leaving a message like that for him, she had to be at home — his partner was far too guarded in respect of her emotions to talk like that where she could be overheard. Which made him even more worried about her — why was she at home, when she should have been celebrating with friends?
The electronic impulses hesitated, connected… and then gave him a busy signal.
He grimaced, broke the connection, then redialled. Her line was still busy.
Clark slammed the receiver back into its cradle, then turned back to head for his balcony. Calling her had been a stupid idea, anyway. Whatever had happened to get her into this mood, he needed to be *with* her. And the sooner the better.
Less than a second later, still dressed in jeans and a shirt, he was hurtling above the skies of Metropolis.
Lois glared sourly at the wine-bottle in her hand. It was empty.
Empty. And she was sure she'd only opened it a few minutes ago.
Well, maybe it was more than a few minutes ago. But it was still empty. And she was still conscious, which was definitely not a good thing. After all, it was New Year's Eve; wasn't it the custom to get completely blotto tonight? Okay, most people tended to do it with other people, at parties or in bars. But what was the big deal about being around other people? That wasn't so great. It hadn't been so great, had it? In fact, it had been so not-great that she'd decided to come home. She liked her own company anyway, didn't she?
Well, she'd have liked Clark's company. Maybe. He'd been very good company on Christmas Eve. But, of course, he wasn't around. Just like everyone else — it just went to show that even good old Clark wasn't as reliable as she'd imagined. He'd been inconsiderate enough to go out somewhere, she remembered, glaring at the empty bottle again.
Should have known, she told herself. Shouldn't have expected him just to…
"Forget it," she mumbled, picking at the label on the bottle, musing at the predictability of wine bottle labels, which always shredded into little pieces when you tried to peel them off. "He'sh a man, izzn't he? Shtands to reason…"
So, anyway, if she was alone at home now, instead of at the party, there wasn't as far to go to get to bed, was there? And it meant that if she started getting maudlin, or singing off-key, the way some people did when they got drunk, she wouldn't be bothering anyone, would she?
Unlike some people, who weren't considerate enough to save their heavy drinking for when there was no-one else around; no-one who'd be upset by it anyway, Lois thought cynically as memories of collecting and discarding empty vodka bottles as a teenager came to mind. She'd had almost a connoisseur's knowledge of the various brands and strengths of imported vodka by the age of seventeen, she remembered with a sudden humourless laugh.
"Shmirnoff Blue Label… Shmirnoff Red Label… Shmirnoff Black… Virgin Vokda — uh — Vodka… Absolut… Shtolichnaya… Crishtall… Finlandia… Pearl…" Lois paused, swinging the empty wine bottle around from side to side as she recited the brand names she'd thought she'd forgotten. "…Zhodiac… Charodei… Wyborowa… Zubrowka… Ketel One… Bolsh… Imperator… Lubelshka…"
<Vodkas I have known> Lois thought, then she giggled. Not *known* known; she'd never actually liked vodka. The smell of her mother's breath had put her off that particular spirit at an early age. No, she reminded herself; wine was much nicer. A far shuperer — shurepoir — *superior* drink.
Wine. That reminded her — that wine bottle was empty. She'd have to go into the kitchen to get another.
The kitchen. Lois squinted, trying to see. It was over there, wasn't it? It wasn't easy to tell, because the room was starting to spin quite dizzyingly around her. Was it an earthquake or something? she wondered, puzzled and disorientated. She clutched the back of the sofa, waiting a few moments for the world to slow down again and debating with herself whether she should call Superman. But if this was an earthquake, he'd be busy helping people who were really in trouble, wouldn't he? And she was okay so far. She was just having problems standing up straight, that was all.
Oh, there was the kitchen, she saw at last. Now, she was pretty sure that there was another bottle in the refrigerator — if she could just get over there…
Using pieces of furniture as hand-holds, Lois began to make her way carefully in the direction of the kitchen and the fridge. Then she became sidetracked as she noticed the telephone staring accusingly at her from its place on the kitchen counter.
The telephone. That instrument of torture.
She glared at it, then swiped at it with the empty wine- bottle, knocking the receiver off the cradle. Well, it sure hadn't been a friend to her tonight! Every time she'd tried to call Clark, all she'd got was his answering machine. See, even technology was letting her down now!
No, it was Clark who hadn't been there for her. She'd called and called, and each time she'd made a different little bargain with herself: 'if he's in, I'll give up Double Fudge Crunch bars for a week'; 'I'll be nice to Ralph all day next time I'm at work'; or the biggest sacrifice, 'I'll ask Perry to make our next byline Kent and Lane'.
But none of it had worked; Clark had stubbornly refused to answer his phone, nor had he returned her calls. Even though she'd left two messages. Even though he was supposed to be her friend.
But then, why was she surprised?
After all, she had that effect on people, didn't she? It was one of her singular talents: she scared people off, made them decide that they didn't want to know her. They got tired of dealing with her insecurities and neuroses, and decided that they couldn't be bothered trying to put up with her horrible moods and bad temper any more. And then they stopped being her friends. And then they laughed at Lois No-Friends.
It was a wonder that Clark had lasted this long.
Lois glared at the telephone again before pushing it off the counter and onto the floor. It made a very satisfying crash as it fell. Then she kicked it, for good measure.
She stuck her tongue out at the phone, then turned to wrench open the fridge door. However, the earthquake chose that moment to strike again, so she had to hold on tight to the door instead to prevent herself falling over.
She'd just managed to get one hand around the neck of another bottle of wine when she heard a loud knocking sound. Jerking her head upwards, she collided with the open fridge door and then staggered backwards, moaning in pain.
"Owwww!" she cried, struggling to retain her balance, and the wine bottle went flying.
Then there was another bang, and a loud voice yelled, "Lois? Lois, are you all right?"
Suddenly, arms were around her and she was being lifted up, cradled against a firm, warm… *what*?
Then she recognised the familiar scent; Clark was holding her, and was carrying her somewhere. He'd come — he hadn't deserted her after all! She should have had more faith in him — after all, this was *Clark*, and for some reason best known to himself, he'd never deserted her yet. Not even when she'd thrown the worst of her moods at him. He was always there for her.
Clark. Wonderful Clark. Beloved Clark…
"Clar… knew you wouldn' let me down…" she mumbled, turning her face into the gap between his neck and shoulders, and inhaling more of that scent which was essentially her partner and friend. He felt very solid against her, and she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, enjoying the sensation of being held against a strong male body. Other than Superman, who never seemed to show that he realised that she was female, it was a long time since a man had held her in his arms. She liked the feeling; she wriggled closer, determined to make the most of it.
And Clark was strong, and warm, and he smelt nice, and he tasted nice, too… She couldn't resist nibbling at the warm flesh which was exposed just above the collar of his sweater. He tasted so nice, and he was kind, and he'd come when she'd begged him to…
"Hey!" His face suddenly loomed in front of hers, his expression surprised. "Lois, what are you — ? How much have you been drinking?"
Lois couldn't answer him immediately, because he turned around and that strange spinning sensation was back. Clutching at his shoulders, she asked jerkily, "You feel that? Eart'quake!"
"Earthquake? There's no earthquake!" Clark exclaimed, and his face looked hazy now. "Look, I think we need to get you sobered up."
Before she could protest, he'd lowered her to the sofa. "Now, stay there! I'm going to make you some coffee — oh, and clear up whatever it was you spilt on the floor — smells like wine? I'll be right back."
He patted her shoulder before leaving her, and Lois sat back, feeling somehow reassured. Clark was here. And he'd said he'd be right back. And he always came back, didn't he, whenever he left her? Clark made her feel safe, so that seemed like a good idea to do what he'd just told her. And anyway, now that she was sitting down that weird spinning feeling had stopped.
Yes, she'd do as Clark had told her. He was here, after all. He hadn't aban… adanbon… desherted her after all.
Clark sighed as he returned to the kitchen, still debating with himself whether he should just put her to bed and let her sleep it off, rather than trying to sober her up. It was a very good thing that he'd come over — Lois was in a far worse state than even her answerphone message had told him. She was practically paralytic, and she was in a strange mood besides. For a moment there, she'd actually been nibbling at his neck — she'd been making a pass at him!
But then, she was drunk. Of course she was drunk. Sober, she'd never make the slightest move in his direction. She wouldn't even think about it.
But she wasn't just drunk, he remembered. Something was wrong. He'd noticed the silvery tracks of dried tears on her cheeks, and the dark shadows under her eyes. Her eyes looked bruised, smeared with red streaks, and were dull, uninterested in their surroundings.
His Lois had been crying. And she almost never cried. Just as she almost never drank. So this was no unimportant bit of New Year blues; something had happened to distress her badly.
She was also wearing a sloppy sweatshirt and loose cotton pants, both garments he knew she would only wear for comfort, not for glamour. And, of course, if she'd been to a party she would have been wearing something very different. Another signal that something had gone badly wrong with her plans for the evening.
So, yes, sobering her up was definitely the right thing to do. If he put her to bed now and let her sleep it off, he was very well aware that in the morning she'd refuse to discuss it. She'd insist that nothing was wrong, that she was perfectly all right and that she'd just had too much to drink, that was all, and had been a bit stupid. He'd have lost the opportunity to persuade her to confide in him.
<But isn't that her choice?> his conscience pointed out, asserting itself firmly as Clark filled the filter machine with a large quantity of fresh grounds. <If she doesn't want to talk to you, that's her right. You don't have a right to her secrets — you're her friend, not her confessor!>
That was true, Clark acknowledged; but he also knew that whatever had happened tonight was important. And if he couldn't get Lois to tell him about it, then she'd withdraw into herself. There would be another constraint on their friendship; but even worse, Lois herself would continue to brood in silence on whatever was wrong, no doubt making herself even more unhappy.
He turned his attention to the shattered wine-bottle and the liquid which was pooling on the floor. A quick glance assured him that Lois was paying him no attention — she seemed to be staring in front of her, arms folded around her knees — so he used a burst of Super-speed, and seconds later the broken fragments of glass were wrapped in newspaper and the floor was clean and dry. Then, by the time he'd put mugs and milk on a tray, the coffee had brewed.
Lois was still sitting huddled on the sofa when he rejoined her. Sitting beside her, he poured her a mug of strong, black coffee, adding a little of her preferred sweetener, then took a cup of milky, sugared coffee for himself.
She accepted the mug from him, then bumped her shoulder against him. "Clark… you're m'friend, aren't you?"
She was still slurring her words, but something about her tone sounded so forlorn; Clark's heart twisted, and he wrapped his free arm around her shoulders. "Lois, you know I'm your friend," he said clearly, his tone soft. "I'll always be your friend. You know that too — you don't need me to remind you."
"You're nice, Clark. Nicer'n I thought… thought you weren't coming… 'band'ned me," she mumbled, then yelped a protest as, taking a sip of her coffee, she found it too hot.
"Careful!" he cautioned, letting go of her in order to steady her grasp on the mug. She was still too drunk to notice if he did anything weird, so he blew gently on the hot liquid, cooling it. "Come on, take another sip."
"Urgh!" she protested. "Needs creamer…"
"No, you can drink it black for once," Clark told her, still holding the cup and insisting that she drink from it. "You can have creamer in your refill."
"Spoilsport," she grumbled, but obeyed him all the same. When she'd drained the mug, he took it from her and refilled it, but before he could give it back to her, she dropped forward, her elbows braced on her knees, and buried her head in her hands.
"I'm drunk as a skunk, aren't I?" she muttered miserably.
"You are," Clark said gently. "But you're improving, trust me! Five minutes ago you couldn't have said that straight off."
"Guess not," she agreed, but still didn't move.
"Come here." He tugged at her shoulders, pulling her back and into his arms. "You sound like you could use a hug."
She went, relaxing against him and burying her head against his shoulder. "I left stupid messages for you, didn't I? I must have sounded like a pathetic idiot."
"You sounded like you needed a friend," he told her affectionately, hiding his continuing concern to know what lay behind the desperation in those messages.
"Yeah, I guess… or maybe I was trying to prove to myself that I still had one friend — or maybe that I hadn't," she finished quietly. Her voice was muffled by the fact that her head was buried against his shoulder, and Clark was sure that he wouldn't have heard her words without his special abilities.
She'd been trying to prove to herself that his friendship was an illusion; that he would walk out on her, abandon her, just as false friends had in the past. Just as men she'd loved had walked out on her, he remembered now.
His arms tightened around her, and he spoke, taking care to keep his voice calm and level, no matter that he actually wanted to cry for her. "Lois, you know that I'm your friend. I just told you that. Why would you think I'd changed towards you?"
"Dunno," she mumbled. "Just that, sooner or later, everyone does…"
Clark closed his eyes as he held her very close. Whatever it was had happened tonight had upset her even more than he'd guessed at first — it had shaken her faith in herself to the core. His fists clenched, and he found himself wanting to *pulverise* whoever it was who'd done this to her. Because he knew Lois well enough to be absolutely sure that it was someone. She hadn't somehow decided this all by herself, without any provocation.
Something had happened at the party; he'd already guessed as much, but this confirmed it.
But it wasn't the time, yet, to ask her what. She needed reassurance right now.
"Lois, I swear to you, on everything I hold dear… I will *not* walk away from you. There is *nothing* you could do which would stop me caring about you, or being your friend. Even if you told me you hated me, I'd still be your friend."
She stirred in his arms then, drawing slightly back to look up at him. Her eyes were still dark-rimmed, but they shimmered with the sheen of fresh tears. "I know — *should've* known you wouldn't — it didn't snow Christmas Eve," she murmured semi-coherently.
At first completely at a loss to understand what she meant, Clark suddenly figured it out. She was referring the excuse he'd given for his presence on Christmas Eve, when he'd told her that the airport was snow-bound. She'd known he'd been lying — they'd both known that she'd seen through him, but she hadn't challenged him.
"See?" he said, smiling at her. "I wanted to be with you, so I… pretended that I couldn't get to my folks' place. And trust me, Lois, I wouldn't pass up Christmas Eve at the farm for anyone but you."
She tugged one arm out from beneath his, and stroked his cheek with her knuckles. "You're something special, Clark, you know that?"
"So are you," he murmured, longing to turn his head fractionally and brush his lips across her hand; it was so temptingly close, and she felt so warm and adorable in his arms. But it wasn't a good idea; she didn't see him as anything more than a friend, and anyway, it wouldn't be fair to take advantage of her when she was feeling vulnerable and she was still quite drunk.
"Wish I'd spent tonight with you instead of going to that sht… stupid party," she said, then giggled slightly, stopping herself once she'd realised. "Oops! Guess I need some more coffee…"
Reluctantly, Clark released her and leaned forward to pour her another large mug, this time adding low-fat creamer as well as the artificial sweetener. "Here. Should still be hot." Just to make sure, he allowed his glasses to slip fractionally down his nose, and shot a small dart of heat vision into the liquid.
"So…" he said then, his tone deliberately tentative, seeing an opportunity to find out what he needed to know. "What are you doing here instead of being at your party? What went wrong, Lois?"
She was leaning against him, using his shoulder as support; but at his question he felt her freeze. Then she moved infinitesimally, but just enough for him to feel that she'd shifted away from him.
In one quick gulp, Lois swallowed the remains of her coffee, then ran a hand through her hair and grimaced. Then, without looking at him, and in a tone which clearly strove to be matter-of-fact, but just sounded cold and dismissive, she said, "I'm horribly drunk still. I think I'll just take a shower and then go to bed and sleep it off. Thanks for coming by, Clark — I appreciate it."
She got up and, without looking at him, stood, clearly waiting for him to get up and leave.
Lois needed Clark to go now. Oh, it wasn't that she wasn't grateful to him for coming over. It was very kind of him. And she wouldn't forget it in a hurry, either. If he hadn't come when he had, she'd probably have found yet another bottle of wine and ended up drinking and crying herself into a stupor.
But now she was beginning to sober up, and with the return of some semblance of sobriety cold rationality was coming back to her — and the memory of the events she'd been trying to blot out of her mind by drinking.
And she didn't want Clark to find out about those — and she was only too well aware that if she even started to explain, the whole horrible, humiliating experience would all come out. And, yes, of course he was her dear friend, and she knew that he'd be sympathetic and would comfort her — but she wasn't sure that she could bear it if he knew what had happened, what had been said to her; the harsh memories which had been reawakened in a few callous, mortifying words. Or if he knew what that evening had shown her about the real Lois Lane.
Far better to send him home, and to try to lose those memories in the unconsciousness of sleep.
He wasn't moving. Cautiously, she sneaked a glance at him.
He was watching her, his expression concerned… and…
She looked more closely at him, trying not to be obvious about it. Was that hurt she could see in his eyes?
"Clark?" she said hesitantly.
He stood up. "Oh yeah, you want me to go," he said dryly. "I guess you're entitled to tell me to leave — I just thought…"
"Thought what?" His tone was sending chills through her now; he was backing away from her, not just physically but mentally too.
He grimaced, then sighed. "Lois, you've just got through telling me how much you need me to be your friend. And that you wish you'd spent this evening with me. I know something happened tonight, and *as your friend* I want to help you. So what happens? I ask you what's wrong, and you throw me out. It's not that I don't respect your privacy, Lois," he added, sounding weary. "But you begged me to come over. You sounded… Lois, those messages you left, I was tearing myself apart for not being there when you called. I *want* to help. But if you won't let me be your friend, then I guess there's nothing I can do."
He was right, Lois realised as she sat down again, slumping miserably on the couch. She was a complete failure as a friend; was it any wonder that they'd all… But she wasn't going to think about that.
Clark was right. She'd been ungrateful; and what was more, she'd completely shut him out, in a very cold, rude manner. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I… it's just that I don't want to talk about it…"
His hands touched hers, and she looked up to see that he was crouching in front of her. "I understand. But maybe that's why you need to?"
"Maybe…" she echoed doubtfully.
"It's not as if you can't trust me not to turn this into morning gossip by the coffee-machine, is it?" he pointed out, a faint smile on his face. The expression in his eyes was kind — far kinder than she deserved.
And he was right. Of course she trusted him. She'd already told him plenty of things she wouldn't want to become the subject of gossip, and not only had he never repeated them to a soul, but he'd never even referred to any of them again, unless she'd mentioned it first.
"You're right. I should talk to you," she told him in a whisper. "I shouldn't have… I mean, anyway, when you came back a couple of weeks ago after you… died…" Her voice shook; that was a time she hated to recall. Only three weeks earlier, she'd thought she'd lost him for ever. And all because she'd done something so incredibly stupid…
"Lois." His hands tightened over hers, and she thought she saw him flinch. "We agreed that we wouldn't talk about that, didn't we?"
Well, *Clark* had suggested that they shouldn't, the morning after his miraculous resurrection. And she'd been writhing in embarrassment at the memory of her near- confession of love which he'd slept through, and had, she accepted, been grateful to agree.
But, not long after, it had occurred to her that they never had discussed his absence, and she'd never had the opportunity to ask him what it had been like for him — being dead, and being resurrected. Had it hurt? Did he have any knowledge of the time at all? Was it, for him, as if those twenty-four hours simply hadn't existed? And why had Superman brought him to where she was, by that cement mixer?
And… why had he stepped in front of her in the gambling den, putting his life on the line for her?
But he'd suggested that they shouldn't talk about it, so she'd never had the opportunity to ask him all these things. Though did it really matter? She had him back! He was alive, and he was her friend — her friend, who had actually given his life for her.
And she'd told herself, after that horrible time, that she'd never lie to him or hide things from him again. And so he was right; she needed to tell him about this.
Raising her gaze to him again, she nodded. "Okay. I'd… like to talk, Clark. Let me get a shower first, okay? I won't be long."
Leaving Clark to watch TV or do whatever he wanted, Lois escaped to the bathroom. Well, she mused, 'escaped' wasn't really very fair. Yes, she needed a few minutes' space, as well as wanting to sober herself up a bit more. But it wasn't fair to act as if she needed to get away from Clark. She didn't. And he didn't deserve her behaving as if she did.
But she was still suffering from the effects of too much alcohol, and as memories of the rambling, pathetic messages she'd left on his answering machine came back to her, she couldn't help cringing in embarrassment. Though even that was nothing compared to the memories from earlier that evening, the events which had caused her premature, near- hysterical departure from the party.
Undressing for her shower, Lois closed her eyes in despair as she remembered again those hurtful scenes, and painful images flooded her mind.
It had all started so well, too. She'd arrived at Karin's house wearing one of her favourite dresses — which was now bundled at the bottom of her wardrobe — and had immediately been welcomed into the midst of a lively crowd. They'd reminisced and laughed and brought each other up to date on everyone's jobs and lives. Several people had been very successful career-wise, including Lois; most of her former student colleagues had read some of her work in the Planet.
Then discussion had turned to personal lives; some were married and a few had children. Others were with partners, or on the verge of a new relationship, or just emerging from one, and amusing stories had been swapped on the perils of dating for the newly-unattached.
And then someone had asked Lois whether she was involved with anyone.
Looking back, with the advantage of hindsight she could hear the derision in the voice asking the question, and see the scorn in her questioner's eyes. Then, however, she'd been caught up in the atmosphere, laughing and having a good time along with everyone else.
So she'd smiled casually and replied that she wasn't seeing anyone at the moment. Her job, she'd said, kept her very busy and so she had little time for a love-life. Then she'd given her listeners a smile which, she'd thought, said that everyone present surely understood the importance of getting established in one's career, and that of course a romance would have to take second place.
And that was when it had started.
Someone had laughed derisively.
Someone else had given her a pitying, scornful look.
And someone had said, sarcasm dripping from every word, "Nice try, Lois. Shame we all know better than that. I mean, who'd want to date you?"
She buried her face in her hands, starting to shiver again as the remembered words flayed her every bit as painfully as when she'd first heard them, a couple of hours ago.
Shaking her head, as if she could banish the memories, she stepped into the shower, letting the overheated water wash over her, its powerful force hitting her with something akin to the impact of tiny hailstones. The effect made her wince, but it kept her thoughts from returning to that horrible scene earlier…
But, once she stepped out of the shower, it all came back again…
The ugly laughter, the sniggers and shared enjoyment from which she was excluded. The sneers, the comments of "Poor Lois — even if she was the last woman alive, who'd touch her with a bargepole!" and "What's it like at night, with only a newspaper for company?" and other similar jeers. The feeling of being trapped, hemmed in with unfriendly, antagonistic faces all around her. The desperate longing to escape, but feeling that she couldn't; that she'd look even more of a fool if she just ran away.
And then someone else, someone she hadn't spotted before, had emerged from the edge of the now-large group.
And he was smirking, his eyes hard and his expression telling her that he was going to enjoy this.
How come she hadn't known he was there?
She'd never have even considered going to the party if she'd had the faintest idea that *he'd* be there.
And that was when she'd realised that her invitation hadn't been the innocently friendly gesture that she'd assumed. Someone must have wanted to humiliate her. Someone had, quite deliberately and cruelly, set out to arrange this scene in order to hurt her.
And Paul had advanced closer. He'd looked her up and down, dismissing her figure in the crimson dress she'd loved — until tonight — and then reached out to flick at her hair. She'd tried to move away, but had found her escape-route blocked by people behind her.
"What's the matter, Lois?" Paul had demanded, a sneer in his voice. "I remember a time when you would have been all over me if I'd let you."
"Well, let's just say that I didn't know you well enough then," she'd replied, calling upon the skills she used in her reporting work to make herself sound casually dismissive.
"Oh, but we got to know each other better, didn't we?" he'd pointed out. "I mean, you were desperate. What's a guy supposed to do, when a woman practically throws herself into his bed?" He'd paused then to grin at their audience. Again, Lois had tried to get away, but this time someone had grabbed onto her arm and held her still.
She'd tilted her head deliberately, avoiding Paul's derisive stare. "Is there a point to this?" she'd said, apparently careless.
"Why? I thought this was the whole point of this party," he'd said lazily. "Meeting old friends again, discussing old times… it's called fun, Lois. You might want to try it some time."
"Oh, Lois never knew what having fun was like," a female voice had cut in, following up the remark with tinkling laughter. "Don't you remember? When we were all having a good time in the bar, she was always holed up in the library, trying to get in some professor's good books."
"Well, I just happened to think that getting a good degree might just help me to get the job I wanted," Lois hadn't been able to prevent herself snapping in return. "You think there's something wrong with that?"
"You know what we all called you?" the woman had replied, smirking. "The Virgin. At least, that was until you started getting all moony-eyed over Paul. Then we called you something different."
"So what was it like deflowering the virgin, Paul?" someone else had demanded, laughing; the question had left Lois reeling. "I always wanted to know."
Paul had sneered. "She was useless in bed — I might as well have been with a corpse." Then he'd given Lois another scornful look, his lips twisting. "You're a frigid cow, aren't you?"
That was what had really hurt, Lois finally acknowledged. All the other stuff was irrelevant — if she'd been honest with herself, she'd known that she hadn't really got along with many people she'd been at college with. Their goals in life hadn't been the same as hers.
But Paul… Paul had been different. She'd admired him. She'd been in awe of his ability as editor of the college newspaper. And she'd fallen in love, or at least what she thought of as love, with him.
Until he'd gone off with Linda King.
And one thing she'd never told *anyone* — and she hadn't thought that Paul had either — was that before he'd dumped her, they'd gone to bed together. She'd given him her virginity. And she'd thought it was the start of a beautiful relationship.
Only it hadn't been, of course; Paul had ditched her and gone off with Linda. But until today she'd thought that at least her humiliation hadn't extended to everyone knowing that she'd slept with him first.
But everyone had known. And everyone had known what a failure in bed she was.
And, because she'd been so shocked, so hurt, she hadn't been able to say a word in her defence. She'd simply stared at Paul for half a second, then had swung around and pushed her way past the crowd, fighting back the tears and humiliation which had threatened to overpower her.
She was frigid. Useless in bed. Undesirable.
It wasn't just Paul who'd thought so. That was what made it worse, Lois thought miserably as she rummaged in her closet for clean underwear. The word he'd flung at her before she'd finally been able to make her escape had been exactly the same word as Claude had used, three years later.
Claude had seduced her and stolen her story. And when she'd confronted him about the story, and about what she'd stupidly termed their 'relationship', he'd given her an incredulous look.
"Relationship? You and me?" he'd said, not even pretending to hide his laughter. "Forget it. I don't do 'relationships'. You knew the score, cherie! And if you didn't, you should have. You're not that naive." He'd carried on typing, then had looked up a few seconds later, as if surprised that she was still there. Then he'd glared at her.
"Look, I'm busy, so just run along and do whatever it is you do around here! I'm not interested; don't you get it? You're a frigid bitch anyway — I don't know why I ever wanted you in the first place."
Useless in bed. Like being with a corpse.
Lois sat down hurriedly on her bed, burying her face in her hands.
It was no wonder that she was on her own. All this time, she'd thought *she* was the choosy one, rejecting men she thought weren't good enough for her. But all the time she'd been the one who was being rejected. Because she just didn't have what it took.
And *that* was why she'd come home from the party, driving on autopilot, ripped her favourite dress off her and thrown it in the bottom of her wardrobe, and then started knocking back the wine. And that was why she'd called Clark, needing him to come over. She'd needed his comfort and his reassurance.
She'd needed more than that from him… but that was something she could never tell him.
The shower had stopped running some time ago, and Clark was getting concerned. He'd resisted thus far the temptation to use his vision powers to see what she was doing, but if she didn't come out soon…
He needed to know that she was all right. Given the state she'd been in earlier… He gritted his teeth and paced once more around Lois's living-room, trying to restrain the burning impulse to slide down his glasses and look through the wall into the bedroom. There was no reason to invade her privacy like that, he told himself. She deserved respect, not someone who would just spy on her because he felt like it.
He checked his watch again. It was almost five minutes to midnight, and she'd been gone nearly half an hour. That was long enough, he decided; he strode over to her bedroom door and knocked sharply.
"Lois? Lois, are you okay?"
Listening carefully, he could hear her make a small movement, which seemed to be in response to his knock. "Lois?" he called again. "Do you need anything?"
He was still listening carefully, and he froze as he heard her say, "Yeah. You…" Then it dawned on him that she'd said it far too quietly for someone with normal hearing to have heard, and he shook his head in bemusement. What was going on?
"Lois, I'm going to come in, okay?"
There was no response. This time, he didn't even hear any movement.
Slowly, cautiously, he turned the handle. Once the door was open a crack, he could see Lois huddled on her bed, still in her dressing-gown, her face buried in her hands, and looking thoroughly miserable.
His heart twisted yet again, and he hurried to her side. "Lois! Come on, sitting in here on your own won't help. Please, tell me what's wrong."
Her hand reached out, clutching at him; he caught it in his own hand and came to sit on the edge of the bed beside her, wrapping his free arm around her shoulders.
"Thanks for being here, Clark," she murmured, turning her face into his chest.
They sat together, neither speaking, for a couple of minutes; then the silence was broken by the peal of bells across the city.
Lois moved first, pulling a little way back from Clark, though not releasing his hand. "It's midnight," she said softly, a wondering note in her voice.
"Yeah, it is," he said. "Happy New Year, Lois." <And may this year be happier for you than the one that's just ended> he finished silently.
"Happy New Year, Clark," she echoed. Then she wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him. "You're a great friend. I don't know what I'd do without you."
<And I wish you could see me as more than a friend> he thought silently, but said warmly, "And *you're* a great friend too, Lois. And you won't have to do without me. Like I said, I'm not going anywhere."
She drew back, releasing him, and studied him for several moments; as Clark looked back at her, he noted with relief that her tears had dried and the more obvious signs of inebriation had gone. She might not be entirely sober, but Lois was certainly over the worst of it.
He was wondering whether to push the issue of her telling him what had happened, when she spoke.
"I've made a bit of an idiot of myself, haven't I, Clark? Getting drunk, then leaving those stupid messages for you, then falling apart like that…?"
"No!" he insisted instantly. "Lois, something upset you. And I know you well enough to be sure that it wasn't anything trivial. I want to help — that's what friends are for, after all! Isn't it?"
<That's what friends are for…>
Lois bit the inside of her lip as she gazed consideringly at Clark. What she'd been thinking earlier now seemed even more like a good idea. She *knew* that Clark cared about her. And he was always very affectionate with her, so it was highly unlikely that he was physically repulsed by her. They often hugged and kissed each other on the cheek, and she'd even fallen asleep in his arms on one occasion.
Clark was definitely comfortable about being physical with her.
And she was still convinced that he'd at least had a crush on her at one point — and she wasn't entirely sure that she'd bought his retraction after her non-wedding to Lex.
And as for herself… well, she'd always known that Clark was an attractive guy, although she'd almost forgotten that fact for a long time after Superman had arrived on the scene. And she'd even wondered a few times lately whether her feelings for him went deeper than she'd admitted to herself. Not that she was ready to let Clark have any idea that she was thinking that way. No way. Not when she was contemplating…
No. It would be just too embarrassing if things didn't work out… if it was awful. What would that do to their friendship? After all, Clark was close to being the most important thing in her life; well, after the Planet and her career. She needed him. He gave her a sense of certainty, the reassurance that there was someone who cared about her and would always be there for her if she needed him. He cared about her. And if she lost that…
But on the other hand, doing this with *Clark* was probably the safest way to find out whether…
But could she possibly…?
Their friendship was strong; solid as a rock, she reminded herself. It had already survived several knocks and difficult points; it had even survived Clark telling her he loved her as a means of trying to persuade her not to marry someone he disliked and distrusted. It had even survived her almost marrying that same man, whom Clark had every right to dislike and distrust, and, of course, the way she'd treated Clark around that time. He'd still wanted to be her partner and her friend, after all that — he'd even been there for her, waiting outside the building where her wedding was to have taken place.
If their friendship could survive all that, and emerge even stronger as a result, surely it could survive this? All she'd be asking was for him to do something for her out of friendship; something which most men would have no difficulty at all in doing. And she was pretty sure that Clark wouldn't find it an impossibility; he was a man, after all, and she'd caught him looking at her once or twice in a way which made it clear that he found her attractive.
And she really, really needed this…
Was it worth the risk? Of perhaps losing the best friend she'd ever have?
But she wouldn't lose him. She wouldn't allow that to happen. There was no reason why it should, was there? It wasn't as if she was asking him to fall in love with her, for heaven's sake! It was just -
The sound of silence, as the city's bells finally stopped pealing, reminded her that this was, after all, the first few minutes of the new year. A new beginning. An opportunity to put the past behind her and build a different future.
A new year's resolution, in fact.
To… seize the moment.
*This* moment, in fact.
And find out whether what Paul and Claude had said about her was true, once and for all.
She'd gone quiet again. No doubt still thinking about whether she was going to tell him, Clark thought a little bitterly. It was always the same; no matter how hard he tried, how often he proved to her that he was a friend she could trust and always rely on, she always held part of herself aloof.
What did he have to do to convince her that she could trust him? To get her to open her heart to him?
He sighed, then reached out to take her hand again. "Lois…"
"Clark." Her tone suggested that she'd come to some sort of decision. "I need to ask you something."
"Uh… well, sure," he responded, feeling thrown.
"Oh, I know I said I'd tell you what happened. And I will," she said quickly. "But… well, there's something else I need to know. Umm…"
He saw her falter, and he squeezed her hand. "Come on, Lois, you know you can ask me anything."
"Yeah, I guess so," she said in a small voice. "Clark… I know you're my friend. You're a great friend. I really feel that I could ask you to do anything in the world for me…"
As she trailed off again, he tugged her arm lightly so that she was facing him fully. "Lois, how many times do I have to tell you? You're very special to me. And if there's anything at all I can do for you, you know you only have to ask," he told her softly.
She looked directly up at him, her eyes wide and, he fancied, pleading. "Clark… do you promise?"
Caught in her gaze, he nodded, then vowed warmly, "I promise, Lois. Whatever you need from me, I'll do it."
She gave him a grateful smile, then lowered her lashes slightly. He thought that the sultry look it gave her made her even more beautiful.
Then his breath caught as her next words hit him with the force of an explosion.
"Clark, will you go to bed with me?"
Lois squeezed her eyes tightly shut, barely able to believe that she'd actually said the words, and completely unable to look at Clark. She had no idea what his reaction was going to be, or what he'd think of her now.
She was very sure that it wasn't the first time he'd been propositioned, but like this? And by a woman he considered a friend first and foremost, regardless of his probable attraction to her? He probably thought she'd flipped, gone completely insane. *She* felt as if she'd gone insane!
And yet, there was something telling her that she'd never been saner in her life.
When she'd ran, dry-eyed but hurting inside, from the party, Clark had been the first thought in her mind. When she'd been tempted to conclude that all men were bastards and that she should never trust even one of them ever again, Clark had been the shining example in her head to prove herself wrong. And when she'd decided that sex was the problem; that once men got what they wanted they saw it as some sort of official permission to treat a woman like dirt, again Clark's image swam into her mind as an example of a man who would *never* do that to someone he cared about.
Now, her confused thoughts on the way home from the party made sense. Clark would never treat someone he cared for like that. Clark was courteous, unfailingly considerate, kind and affectionate. He was also a hunk. Short of Superman, there wasn't another man Lois could think of who looked as good as Clark. And she was very sure that the loyalty which was one of his defining traits would be as much in evidence with regard to a lover as to a friend.
And so it had all made sense. Clearly, she was doing something wrong where sex was concerned. And who better to show her how to do it right than her best friend?
Especially as she was pretty sure that he found her attractive. And he was a man, anyway; it was common knowledge that men could manage to get it up for anything remotely attractive and breathing. So surely it wouldn't present a problem for Clark.
And as far as she was concerned…
Well, she'd slept with guys before thinking that she was in love with them — and look how that had turned out? Maybe this was the way it should be. Forget about love, and instead look for caring and deep, enduring friendship. Where Clark was concerned, she certainly had both.
So why shouldn't that be enough? Even if not for a relationship — which she wasn't sure she wanted anyway — then at least for sex? If she could at least prove Paul and Claude wrong, then it would be worth it.
At last finding her courage, she opened her eyes again and made herself meet what she knew would be Clark's astounded gaze.
Would he *go to bed* with her???
Clark felt as if he needed to pinch himself, just to reassure himself that this wasn't a dream… or his greatest fantasy coming true.
No, he reminded himself immediately; his greatest fantasy would be Lois telling him that she loved him. This… proposition, whatever it was, didn't say anything of the kind — and, he recognised, she'd said 'go to bed', not 'make love'.
But what was most shocking was that she'd said it at all. What was all this about?
And… how could he stop himself growing heated at the very thought of actually *doing* what she'd asked?
Clark finally swallowed and turned back to look at Lois. She was still sitting next to him, now looking extremely nervous, and her hands — she'd withdrawn hers from his grasp some time during the last minute or so, he realised — were twisting around each other as she waited for his response.
He swallowed again. Then, looking awkwardly at her, he said carefully, "Lois, I'm flattered, but…"
Clark saw her bite her lip, and he trailed off, unsure how to continue. Then she said, in a small voice, "I know. It's… kind of… out there, and you've probably never even thought about me that way…"
He'd hurt her, and he'd never intended to, never wanted to. Quickly, he reached for her hand again, gripping it tightly between his two larger ones as he searched for the words which might make amends. "Lois, you don't know how wrong you are! I've… often thought about you that way. But… well, this is so sudden, and I… well, I'm wondering why."
She sat staring down at their linked hands; he thought he detected a momentary reaction to his assurance that he *was*… interested… in her that way.
"Of course you are," she said, in little more than a whisper. "And… I did say I'd tell you. You were right — it is all to do with that horrible party…"
Clark listened to Lois's relating of events, getting increasingly angry and frustrated at what she'd had to go through. It was obvious to him that she'd been very hurt at the discovery that she hadn't been invited from any friendly motive. Her college contemporaries had deliberately set her up, and that infuriated him.
And then, when she told him about Paul, he couldn't help himself. He growled.
He really hated the kind of man who took out his inadequacies on the woman, labelling her frigid instead of facing up to the fact that *he* was the one who couldn't make it good for both of them. Not that Clark actually knew much about the practical side of making love, but he'd read enough to know that it took two to make it work, and that there did seem to be a certain type of man who didn't appear to believe that their role extended anywhere beyond getting their own kicks.
But that still didn't explain why she wanted to go to bed with *him*. And that wasn't a question he could just ask her straight out, much as he wanted to.
"Lois," he said carefully. "You know that if I'd been with you, I'd have wanted to punch that guy out, don't you? But he's really not worth bothering about. I… uh, guess you know what they say about men who blame women for their inadequacies," he finished with an encouraging grin.
She shrugged, disbelief and pain written all over her face. "I don't know, Clark. I mean, I might believe that if it was just him."
The sad note in her voice made Clark want to hug her all over again; he yearned to hold her and reassure her that none of that was important. That she didn't need to worry about what other men thought of her; *he* loved her, and would always love her.
"You mean the people he was with? Lois, he was just showing off! He wanted an audience — I guess he thought it made him feel bigger," Clark finished scornfully. The intense longing to take her in his arms was still there, but with her unanswered question still in the air between them he felt uncomfortable about initiating any contact beyond holding her hand.
"Clark, I wish I could believe that… but it's not just Paul," she whispered after a few seconds' silence. Not looking at him, she added, "Claude said the same."
The worthless waste of space who'd seduced her, stolen her story — and won an award for it — and dumped her. And, Clark was well aware, had taken delight in spreading the tale of his conquest of the young and lovely Lois Lane far and wide around the newsroom. He'd heard versions of the tale of Lois and Claude from several people since he'd been at the Planet. Some were more sympathetic than others; surprisingly enough, the most sympathetic of all had come from Cat Grant who, Clark had figured out, had been indignant at the way the Frenchman had treated her younger woman colleague.
But all the stories had one element in common: that the Frenchman had alleged that Lois Lane wasn't much good in bed.
Of course, that aspect of the account was given greater or lesser credence, apparently depending on how much the relater had liked Claude. Ralph, for instance, appeared to believe it wholesale, although Clark put a lot of that down to jealousy. He was well aware that Lois had rejected Ralph quite bluntly not long after she'd first arrived at the Planet.
However, if Lois had heard any of the more unpleasant variations of the tale, she'd have been hurt by it, Clark knew. Though, given what he knew about his partner's vulnerable inner core, Claude's harsh words had probably been more than enough to rip her to shreds. He hadn't realised until now that the other reporter had actually told *Lois* what he thought of her abilities.
And, putting that together with what she'd said had happened at the party, he thought he was beginning to make sense of her request to him…
"Lois," he said softly. "Lois, is that why? Because they said you were… Is that why you want me to — " He wanted to say, 'make love to you'. But he was reluctant to scare her off, or to let her guess at his feelings for her at the moment. She clearly didn't want a lover in the literal sense of the word.
No; she wanted a gigolo, he thought wryly, but without any of the self-flagellation which that realisation might have brought. She wanted a friend who would reassure her of her own self-worth; it was just that the area in which she needed reassurance happened to be a very intimate environment.
Unsure how to finish, for he felt uncomfortable about echoing Lois's precise wording of her request, he simply let his question trail off.
Lois sighed gently, then nodded stiffly. "I… I guess I must be doing something wrong, Clark. And… I can't think of anyone I'd trust more to show me how to do it right. So… will you? Please?"
Her final words were barely whispered; Clark wasn't even sure that he'd have heard them if it wasn't for his special hearing. She sounded so vulnerable and hurt that he barely knew how to respond.
What could he say? Of course he couldn't say yes. He'd be taking advantage of her at an extremely vulnerable moment. Added to that, she was still under the influence of alcohol — oh, sure, she seemed perfectly sober now, but it was only an hour or so after she'd finished drinking what had looked like a whole bottle of wine. She'd had some coffee and a shower, but that wasn't enough to remove the full effects of the alcohol from her system.
Of course he couldn't take advantage of her in this state. But how could he tell her that without making her feel rejected?
For that was exactly how she'd feel. She was looking up at him, her brown eyes dulled and sad, a pleading expression on her face. Her hand was gripping his tightly, so much so that if he was any normal man it could even have hurt.
He didn't even know how he felt about her request — well, apart from the fact that his hormones were on overdrive. That part of him was fully aroused and yearning to do exactly as she'd asked. But he wasn't going to be ruled by his hormones. And if he and Lois were going to make love, he wanted it to be because she wanted *him*; because she loved him and wanted them to be a couple.
Not because she just needed some stud to give her a good time in bed!
But, he pointed out to himself, she was actually paying him a huge compliment here. She'd told him that he was the only person she'd trust to make love — no, have sex with. And that *was* a compliment, he mused. After Lois's past experiences with men and sex, it would have been hardly surprising if she'd decided never to try it again. And yet she wanted to, and she wanted to do it with *him*.
That was investing one hell of an amount of trust in him.
But trusting him wasn't the same as loving him…
And what about what it could do to their friendship? he asked himself incredulously. Had she thought of that? Or… He grimaced. Had she decided that this — reassuring herself about her skills in bed — was more important than what he knew to be the best friendship she'd ever had?
But he couldn't believe that. After all, he was very well aware of how much Lois relied on him — and these days she wasn't afraid to let him see it, either. She'd told him any number of times now that he was her best friend, that she valued his presence in her life. And, though she never said it, he knew that she cared about him, too. The way she'd reacted when he'd had to pretend to be dead had left that beyond any doubt.
So she wouldn't want to risk their friendship. Which only proved to him how badly she was hurting from this whole incident, how much her faith in herself as an attractive and desirable woman had been shaken. Without that shattering of her confidence, she would never put their friendship at this kind of risk.
Could he really let her down, knowing how much this meant to her?
And there was another problem, he acknowledged. He was Superman. Lois didn't know that — yet; he had been considering on and off lately whether he shouldn't let her in on that aspect of his life. As his friend, she didn't have any automatic right to that information, but he hated lying to her, and he longed for the freedom to be completely honest with her about his moonlighting activities. But he'd always sworn never to get into a serious relationship with any woman, much less become intimately involved with someone, without telling her the truth about who he was.
How could he tell Lois this, when all she wanted from him was a one-night stand? A crash course in sex?
And even that was laughable, he thought with heavy irony. She wanted *him* to help her improve her skills in making love? *Him*? Clark Kent, the twenty-eight-year-old virgin?
What *was* he going to say to her?
"Lois…" he began tentatively. "I… I understand that you're feeling like your confidence has had a heck of a knock, and you're entitled to! But that's not a reason to… to go to bed with someone, is it?"
"You don't want to do it," she said flatly, and he felt her withdrawal, as much mental as physical. Despite his intentions, he'd done just what he'd hoped — *wanted* — to avoid: he'd hurt her.
"Lois, it's not like that," he protested hesitantly. "I just… well, I'm not sure you really know what you're doing here."
That was the wrong thing to say too. Lois yanked her hand out of his grasp and shifted several inches away from him. "Don't patronise me, Clark!" she snapped.
"I'm sorry, Lois; I didn't mean to," he said quickly. "It's just… Lois, only an hour ago I came over here to find you drunk! You can't be completely sober now — so how can you be sure this is what you want?" At a gesture from Lois which emphatically rejected his question, he added, "Lois, the last thing I want is for us to do something which you'll regret in the morning. Can you be sure that you wouldn't?"
Lois stilled. It was a good question. Would she regret it?
Or would she instead regret that she hadn't seized this opportunity when it had arisen?
The way Clark had phrased his cautionary question suggested that he wasn't averse to the idea himself.
That shouldn't have been any real surprise, but it was a relief, Lois realised. After all, if he'd been completely appalled by her suggestion, if he'd never even remotely imagined wanting to take her to bed, then, she was aware, their friendship would never have recovered from what she'd done.
<Should have thought of that before you propositioned your best friend, Lois> she told herself sardonically.
But he *was* attracted to her. That was one thing she was pretty confident of.
And she was wrong to think that his hesitancy was because he didn't want her. She *knew* Clark. Her partner was very much the old-fashioned courteous, gentlemanly type, which was only to be expected given that Martha and Jonathan Kent were his parents. He treated her as an equal at work, which was precisely as it should be. But his inherent courtesy was never far from the surface. He always insisted on seeing her home safely when they'd been out late; he was concerned for her when he thought she was in some kind of danger; he brought her coffee and doughnuts at work; he looked out for her welfare.
Because he was that kind of man; and because he cared for her.
Clark would never take advantage of her, and that was precisely why he was showing caution now. In a sudden flash of memory, she remembered an incident from a little more than a year ago. Affected by a pheromone perfume, she'd practically thrown herself at Clark. She'd begged him to take her; she'd done the dance of the seven veils for him and pleaded with him to throw her on his bed and… and do whatever he wanted with her. He'd refused. And, she knew with hindsight, he'd spent the entire night wrestling with his conscience. She'd woken, heavy-headed, to find him bursting into his bedroom, where she'd spent the night *unmolested*, to tell her that he couldn't hold out any longer and that if she still wanted him, he was hers.
*If she still wanted him*.
Even then, when he'd been more decent, held onto his control, resisted her blatant propositioning, far longer than any other man would have, he'd still made it clear that it was her choice.
That was her partner — her friend — all over. And so he wasn't saying no now because he was rejecting her, but because he was worried that she might change her mind later. He was telling her the truth.
A thought struck Lois suddenly, and she castigated herself for being so selfish that it had never occurred to her until now. Clark had come over tonight, because she'd needed him — just as he'd always been there for her when she'd needed him. But he'd been out; she'd called him several times even though she'd only left two messages.
Clark had been doing something else this New Year's Eve; he might have been *with someone else*. There could be another woman in her friend's life. Someone he'd prefer to be with. Someone he wanted to be faithful to. Someone he was in love with… maybe someone who was waiting for him back in his apartment…
"Clark!" She caught at his hand again, noting the concern in his expression as she met his gaze. She was really taking advantage of his kindness, she realised at last. And it was so unfair… he never asked for anything in return.
"Lois?" he prompted softly.
"I never thought… I mean, you might be… involved… with someone else…?"
His eyes widened beneath the glasses; he seemed surprised at the suggestion. "No, Lois, I'm not involved with anyone," he told her immediately.
"Oh! I just wondered… well, Mayson…" she said hesitantly. She should have thought about the assistant DA before this, of course. Though part of the reason she hadn't, she thought, was that she'd been busy trying *not* to wonder exactly what the very attractive lawyer's role was in her partner's life.
"Mayson's a friend," Clark assured her quickly. "I like her. I enjoy her company. But that's all it is. And…" His fingers tightened around hers. "You were my friend first, Lois. And… I'd rather be with you than with her."
"I'm glad," she couldn't help telling him. "It just struck me, you know, that I hadn't even asked you… I mean, for all I knew you could have been with someone tonight."
"I wasn't with anyone. I know I was out when you called, but that was… well, business, sort of. I…" She felt him hesitate, then he added quietly, "I am all yours, Lois."
Did he mean that? she wondered, as her breath caught. She twisted so that she was facing him fully. "Clark, I meant what I asked you. And I know what I'm doing, I swear. This… it's important to me, Clark. And the only way I'll regret this is if we let it damage our friendship. But I trust you not to let that happen. So… will you?"
She saw him take a deep breath. Then he said, grimacing slightly, "Lois, what makes you think that this is going to prove anything? I mean, just because we like each other, and because you have to know I wouldn't… well, treat you badly or anything like that, that doesn't mean that… well, that you'd enjoy it with me any better than with either of those other guys." A deep flush climbed his cheeks as he finished.
"Clark, that's not what this is about, for me," she protested immediately, knowing that she was embarrassing both of them but not seeing any alternative. "I… I'm obviously not doing something right — otherwise two guys I've slept with wouldn't both think there's something wrong with me. I… want to know how to do it right, Clark. And I… I need you to show me."
She saw him bite his lip, before he looked away from her for a moment. Then he said, softly, "Lois, have *you* ever enjoyed lovemaking?"
Why did he have to call it that? It was sex, plain and simple; he didn't need to dress it up in fancy words or suggest that it was in any way related to love. Her experience of sex — both her personal experience of the activity and what she'd seen from those around her — had assured her that love had absolutely nothing to do with it.
But she ignored that thought, instead concentrating on Clark's question. She shrugged and said lightly, "It's never the same for women."
"That's not what I've — " He broke off abruptly, then added, "Not the way it should be, Lois. I don't know who you've been listening to — haven't you ever talked about it with your girlfriends?"
<What girlfriends?> Lois thought cynically. But Clark was right. She certainly remembered being aware of friends, at high school and college, talking about their boyfriends. She'd been part of those groups for a time, when she'd been dating Joe. But bed hadn't been an element in her relationship with Joe, and so she hadn't participated in those giggling confidences about intimate relationships.
Clark was still right, though. She *did* know women who enjoyed sex, a lot. And anyway, she'd never believed that women *didn't*, as a rule. It was just that she didn't. And she supposed that she'd just always assumed that it was her problem, not anyone else's. That presumably the men she'd slept with hadn't had a problem…
…until tonight, when she'd realised that Claude hadn't just been being deliberately nasty. That she really was a 'lousy lay'.
"I don't know, Clark," she eventually said miserably. "I… well, no, I've never really enjoyed it much."
"And you base that on, what, all of two experiences?" he asked incredulously. "And, by the sound of it, both with men who didn't deserve you. And you think that makes you useless, or frigid, or whatever?" He moved closer to her again, and caught both of her hands. "Lois, don't do this to yourself, please. You don't need to… to sleep with a friend just to find out what you'll find out one of these days anyway — that you're *not* frigid, and with the right person you'll love making love!"
He *was* rejecting her. Even though she'd thought she was sure he found her attractive, and even though he'd said he'd do whatever she asked…
Whether Clark was just being his usual over-protective self by refusing to do what she'd asked, or whether he really didn't want to go to bed with her, she couldn't cope with him turning her down. And she already knew that their friendship would never be the same anyway; even though she knew that Clark, ever the gentleman, would never mention tonight again, *she* would remember it.
So, as far as Lois saw it, she had nothing to lose. She faced him, her expression determined.
"Clark, you said you'd do whatever I asked. Are you breaking your promise?"
Clark shook his head, wondering which was the worst option here: to break a promise, to Lois of all people — especially considering that he knew she had problems with trust — or to do as she'd asked.
Not that it would be any kind of a hardship to make love to her — not at all! But under these circumstances? And at what risk to their friendship? And what if she woke up in the morning and accused him of taking advantage of her when she was drunk? Because she *was* still drunk, no matter how sober she might appear. He knew very well that there was no way she could have recovered so soon; and anyway, her pupils still showed some signs that she was under the influence of alcohol, no matter how slight. So she could very easily lay that charge against him, and with good cause.
Or… what if it was a complete disaster, because of his own inexperience, and he made things far worse?
And anyway, how could he turn their friendship into something more intimate — even if it was only for this one night — while he was still deceiving her about… certain things? And yet, could he justify telling her, given she wasn't asking for anything remotely resembling a romantic relationship from him?
But could he possibly make love to her *without* telling her the truth?
But how could he refuse? He could see how much it seemed to matter to her. The tension in her expression, the sad yearning in her eyes…
"Lois," he said at last, slowly, "you have to understand that I'm just… concerned. The last thing I'd want is for you to… to realise tomorrow that this wasn't what you want. Lois, your friendship is important to me — it's very precious to me," he added softly. "I'd hate to lose it over something like this. *That's* what bothers me. It isn't that I'm not… that I don't find you attractive. You have to know that I do. But you're far more important to me as a person to risk losing you over… over one night which could go horribly wrong. Can't you understand that?"
He hesitated, then added, "And even if it went *right*, Lois, and showed you what you need to know, can you honestly believe that we can forget it happened and go back to being friends? Could *you* forget about it?" Clark knew that he couldn't; not in a million years. Not that he wouldn't be willing to try, for Lois's sake, but it would be one of the hardest things he'd ever do, he thought.
Hoping that she would at least think about what he was saying, he held tightly onto her hands and waited.
Then suddenly she freed her hands from his grasp, instead framing his face between her palms, and her lips were on his.
Startled, at first all he could do was sit, frozen, as she kissed him with increasing desperation. Then, as his brain processed what was happening, he brought his hands up to grasp her shoulders, to push her gently away from him…
…and he realised that he couldn't do it. In Lois's currently vulnerable state, she'd interpret it as rejection. And he couldn't do that to her. There was no way that he could explain his reasoning in any way that she'd understand; not now. She simply wasn't allowing herself to think rationally — or, at least, she thought she was being entirely rational, but her thinking was clearly based on a set of false premises and deep, deep hurt.
Was it? Or was he simply rationalising it that way because it was what he wanted to believe? Because it would allow him to justify being close to — being *intimate* with — Lois? Was there some selfish motive underneath his apparently noble thoughts?
Torn between returning her kiss and pushing her away, he remembered her face as she'd looked at him, pleading with him. The way she'd looked at him when she'd told him about the party and that *moron* who'd insulted her. And the way she'd cried as she'd told him. Her self-confidence was crushed. Her faith in herself as a desirable woman was destroyed.
No, if he pushed her away now, it was entirely possible that he could lose her entirely. She'd never forget it, and probably never forgive him for what she would certainly see as his acquiescence with her previous lovers' judgements on her.
He could kiss her back. That would be a sign that he wasn't rejecting her, wouldn't it? And it should tell her that he found her attractive, shouldn't it? Did he really need to take it all the way, and risk hurting Lois further, and potentially destroying their friendship?
A kiss. After all, a kiss wasn't anything especially new in their friendship. He'd kissed her before, and they'd carried on as normal, putting it behind them. A kiss wouldn't be a problem.
So instead, he curved his hands around her shoulders and held her close to him, parting his lips and accepting her kiss. Where her movements were desperate, his were loving and patient. Slowly, she calmed in his arms and she began to respond to his cues, her kisses changing until she was matching his slow and deliciously intimate tasting of her lips.
It wasn't the first time that he'd kissed Lois, of course. He'd kissed her as both Clark and as Superman. But it was the first time that a kiss was — at least in the mind of one of them — a prelude to something more. And he knew, by the way that Lois was now pressing her body against him, that she saw it that way.
And he wanted her too…
He broke the kiss, but still held her to ensure she wouldn't automatically assume that he was rejecting her. But as he looked at her, the lost expression in her eyes made his heart turn over.
"Oh, Lois," he whispered, feeling as if his heart was breaking.
"Clark, please…" she whimpered, trying to pull him back to her. "You promised…"
He moved one hand to stroke her silky, still-damp hair, and his voice was soft as he addressed her. "Lois, you can't possibly believe that men don't find you desirable! Please, don't let your self-confidence be damaged by two creeps who don't deserve someone like you. Don't do this to yourself, please."
But as he watched, a tear began to slide down one cheek. She brushed it away with a shaking hand, saying in a voice little more than a whisper, "I thought I could trust you, Clark. I thought… if *you* promised me something, you'd keep your word." She swallowed, and then continued, "If you won't, then…"
Unlike other men she'd known, Clark finished silently; her father, for example. The vulnerability he could detect in her now finally made it clear to him beyond any doubt that he was hurting her more by refusing to do as she asked. It was more likely, he accepted, that their friendship would be damaged if he failed to make love to her than if he did. Her desperate kisses had made that plain, even more so than the pain on her face and her soft pleading with him.
And when had he ever been able to resist Lois on the very rare occasion when she pleaded with him to do something?
Not to mention the fact that he now had a horrible feeling that, if he wouldn't do what she wanted, she'd go and find a man who would. Her last words had seemed to imply exactly that. And, at after midnight on New Year's Eve, that wouldn't be difficult.
He clenched one fist savagely as he imagined some stranger, someone who wouldn't have a clue what a priceless treasure he'd got, or of how vulnerable she was, taking advantage of Lois for a one-night stand.
No. He couldn't let that happen.
He was barely conscious of Lois beginning to scramble to her feet. Was she about to walk out on him, to do what he dreaded?
He *couldn't* let that happen.
But… was there another way? Could he, perhaps, take it part of the way? Indulge in some kissing and caressing, perhaps, and stop things before they got too intimate, too dangerous? Wouldn't that work?
But, even as he thought of it, he realised that it wouldn't do. What Lois was talking about was *sex*. Everything. All the way. The final intimacy. That was what she was bothered about, to the point of lacking all confidence in herself. And that was what she wanted from him.
If he started to make love to her, but then didn't take things all the way, he'd hurt her far more than if he said no. She'd assume that he'd stopped because he didn't want her; didn't find her desirable.
*Nothing* could be further from the truth! And yet she was refusing to believe him.
No. If he wanted to prove to her that she was an attractive, desirable, sensual woman, and to return her self-confidence, there really was nothing else he could do.
Unless… Well, couldn't he suggest that they waited until morning? That she should sleep on it, and if she still wanted to do it come tomorrow, then he'd do it? That would be far more sensible. He wouldn't be saying no. But he'd be giving her time to think things over and decide whether this was what she really wanted. He'd be giving her time to sober up properly, and come to her senses.
But, as his mind mused on the possibility, he knew that this wouldn't work either. Lois was determined *now*, and she'd already indicated to him that she was prepared to find someone else if he didn't comply with her plea. He didn't think that she'd be willing to wait.
In fact, he realised, looking at Lois's pale face, her expression grimly determined, there was no way that she'd be willing to wait. If he was going to help her, as he'd already acknowledged that he had to, it had to be now.
So, for the second time in his life, he decided that, if Lois wanted him, then he was hers.
And as for any risk to their friendship in the aftermath, he would do everything in his power to make sure that it didn't happen. If this night was all she wanted from him, he'd take great care never to let her know that he wanted more; that he wanted her as his lover, and more, for the rest of their lives. He would always be her friend; even if things were awkward for them for a while, he could be patient and would work to put things right again.
Because he loved her.
"Lois." His voice was firm, determined; it caught her attention and she looked straight at him, her eyes wide.
"If you're very sure that this is what you want, then I would be honoured to…" He wanted to finish the sentence with 'make love with you', but something told him that she wouldn't appreciate it. Catching himself in time, he ended with, "go to bed with you."
As he watched her, he could see some of the tension disappear; she sat down again and visibly slumped forward, and her head came to rest against his shoulder. She wrapped her arms around him, and whispered, "Thank you, Clark."
"You shouldn't be thanking me," he protested uncomfortably. The fact that he knew he wanted her very badly indeed now made him grit his teeth. He was trying to help Lois, to stop her feeling so bad about herself; he wasn't supposed to be getting his kicks in the process!
<Don't be an idiot> he told himself caustically. <What good would you be to her if you *couldn't* get it up??>
She was trying to kiss him again, he realised suddenly as her nose bumped awkwardly against his. And he was seized by an urgent need to delay this, just for a minute or two…
He *wanted* to make love to her, fairly desperately now. But he also had an urgent sense of guilt tugging at his conscience. How could he possibly do this with her, share with her the most intimate exchange possible between a man and a woman, and not tell her the things she had a right to know about him?
That he was Superman.
That he was in love with her.
And that he was a virgin.
Or should he tell her that he loved her before telling her that he was Superman? What if he told her about Superman first, and she then told him that she loved him too? Would she only be saying that because of his alter ego?
<Idiot!> he cursed himself quickly. <As if that matters! Not when she's hurting this badly. And don't forget, she asked you to go to bed with her. Doesn't that say something about the place *Clark* — not Superman — has in her life?>
<Just tell her> he told himself.
Well, perhaps it would be better to tell her about his inexperience later. After all, if she was asking him to show her how to do this bed thing better, then telling her that he'd never done it before would hardly inspire any confidence in his ability to help her!
But he did need to tell her that he loved her. After all, for him this couldn't be purely a mechanical act; she had to understand that he couldn't do this with her if he didn't love her. He simply wasn't made that way.
Her lips brushed his, her tongue flicking out and tracing his inner lip in a way which sent a shiver through him; he wanted to hold her tightly in his arms, and press fierce, burning kisses against her mouth. But first, he *had* to tell her…
Catching hold of her again and gently pulling her back, he said urgently, "Lois, wait a minute…"
He'd agreed. He was going to do what she'd asked, and take her to bed. Lois shivered slightly at the realisation, unsure now whether she was really doing the right thing after all. Clark was her partner and best friend — but he was also a man. And a very attractive man, who'd surely had plenty of partners; he was very discreet about it, but even in the eighteen months or so she'd known him, she'd been aware of several women who'd shown serious interest in Clark.
What if he too found her disappointing?
Well, at least then she'd know for sure, she reminded herself. And she could give up yearning for the impossible: a man who would love her and desire her and make her feel as if she was his most precious possession, and would want to make love only to her for the rest of his life.
And she was doing the right thing, making love — no, *having sex* with Clark. Far better than that other crazy idea which had penetrated her subconscious when she'd been trying to talk him into it. Better Clark than a stranger. Clark might not love her, might not want her as his lover for the rest of his life, but he *cared* about her. And he was attracted to her.
And she, as well she knew, was attracted to him.
It was just a pity that he didn't want her for any more than just this one night.
It was obvious that he didn't — after all, why else would he have been so reluctant to agree? If he'd been interested in any kind of a relationship with her, he'd have jumped at the chance of taking her to bed. He hadn't. And she'd had to talk and argue and use just about every form of persuasion short of stripping in front of him to get him to say yes.
A relationship with Clark… well, it was obviously out of the question. And yet she knew that he embodied exactly the kind of behaviour she wanted in a man. He would respect and love his lovers; would never give them cause to doubt his integrity or fidelity; would never abuse them, either physically or verbally.
But he wouldn't be interested in her. Of course he wouldn't. He was a gorgeous, desirable man who had attractive women falling over themselves to want to be with him. Why would he be interested in a neurotic, high- maintenance failure like her? Someone who was useless in bed; frigid, corpse-like. Of course he wouldn't want a relationship with her. That he'd have sex with her now was more than she had any right to expect.
He wasn't for her, but that didn't mean that she couldn't learn from him, and maybe even convince herself that Paul and Claude had been wrong. She trusted Clark; she was safe with him, and he'd do his best to help her — because that was the way he was.
So, pressing kisses against his face, she convinced herself again that this was right. That she wanted Clark. That, in bed with him, everything would be fine; he would show her how to satisfy him so that he wouldn't be disappointed. He was her friend, and he wouldn't let her down.
Then he pushed her back from him, and she stared at him, wondering what she'd done wrong. Had he changed his mind? Was he rejecting her again? Was he going to leave, just like…
Clark's voice dimly broke through her miserable imaginings. He was telling her to wait a minute. What was wrong now?
But he was speaking again; she forced herself to concentrate on what he was saying.
"Lois, I can't do this without telling you some things. About me," he said, a little awkwardly. "Three things, in fact — though I guess I'd better save one of them for later."
He wanted to *talk*?!
No. No way.
Not now, when she'd just got herself psyched up for this. She just wanted to *do* it, to go to bed with Clark, to… get intimate with him. If he delayed any more, found any more excuses, then she'd sober up even more — she was aware that she was still a bit drunk — and she'd never have the courage to go through with it. She'd let Clark talk her out of it.
And she needed this.
"No," she said roughly. "No more talking, Clark."
"But — " he began, looking worried.
"No," she insisted harshly. "Later. If it's important, you can tell me later."
Just in case he tried again, she broke away from his hold, caught his face between her hands, and kissed him again.
For just a moment, there was no response, and she sensed that he was engaging in some internal struggle with himself. But then she heard him groan a little, and he started to kiss her back, at first tentatively and then with passion and enthusiasm. His arms came around her again and held her close to him, against his firm and broad chest.
Clark was a good kisser; that was something she recognised immediately, and remembered from the other couple of times he'd kissed her. Parting her lips to allow him access to her mouth, Lois whimpered slightly and pressed herself closer to him, sliding her hands into his short, dark hair. His glasses were getting in the way, so she simply knocked them off. He grunted at that and, without breaking the kiss, reached for them; she heard him putting them down somewhere. Probably on the nightstand; she didn't particularly care.
All she cared about was that Clark should continue to kiss her.
He slanted his open mouth across her lips; she could taste coffee on his breath, mingled with something chocolatey. He tasted delicious, and she slid her tongue forward to enjoy it more. His own tongue came forward to meet hers, and for several moments they engaged in a dizzying dance together.
Kissing Clark was good; touching him would be even better, she thought hazily, moving one hand down to his shirt- front. There was some annoying fabric in the way, and she tore roughly at it, trying to find an opening.
"Hey!" He'd removed his mouth from hers, and she whimpered a protest. Then his hand covered hers. "There are buttons, Lois," he whispered, smiling at her. She gave him a brief smile in return before turning her attention back to his shirt-fastenings.
He was right. There were buttons.
Too many of them.
They were stubborn, but she managed to pull them out of their holes, and finally she was able to press her palm against Clark's bare chest. He was warm and deliciously smooth. She'd already known that her partner wasn't a hirsute man, and she'd thought that made him somehow less attractive. She preferred men with hair on their chests, didn't she?
Well… no. Not now. Not when Clark felt so good to touch. She pressed both palms against his solid body, tracing his well-defined muscle structure with her fingertips. Her gaze dropped, and she watched herself push his shirt off his shoulders, then admired what she'd revealed.
He was gorgeous.
She'd known that Clark was an attractive man, and she'd even seen him without a shirt on at least one occasion; but this was different. Now she was looking at him as a potential lover — as a man who was going to be her lover very shortly — and her breath caught as she stared at him.
But then the anxiety returned. Was she pleasing him? He wasn't saying anything, and he wasn't touching her, either. Was he just tolerating her inexpert, clumsy fumbling, in order to be kind?
But then she heard him groan, a tortured sound, and one hand caught her chin, tilting her head up again. His lips claimed hers roughly, and his hands went around her waist, turning her more fully towards him.
She lost her balance and fell hard against Clark, causing him to fall flat onto the bed with her on top of him.
Lying almost prone on the bed, Lois's warm and inviting body on top of him, Clark instinctively steadied her before deepening the kiss, taking advantage of her inability to get away by thrusting his tongue deeply into her open mouth. She tasted of wine and coffee and something indefinably Lois, and he loved it.
He couldn't help wondering whether his kisses were satisfying her; while he had some experience in that regard, it had never before been a prelude to lovemaking, and so he hadn't really worried beyond the moment. In fact, he'd taken care never to take the kisses beyond a point at which his partner might actually want more, and so he'd often been the one to slow the kisses down.
Now, though, he knew Lois wanted more from him, and he badly wanted more himself. He was aching to rip off his clothes and hers, and to show her with his body and his emotions just how much he loved her — Lois, the only woman he'd ever loved, and the only woman he'd wanted to make love with.
If only she felt the same way about him…
Which still made him wonder if he was doing the right thing here. He should have tried harder to get her to listen to him, at least; it wasn't fair that he was doing this with her without telling her at the very least that he loved her. But she wasn't giving him any opportunity to talk… or even to think straight, he mused dazedly as her fingers dragged roughly over his chest, sending a sensation rather like an electric shock through him.
By her passionate kisses and her clumsiness in pushing him over, Lois had removed some of the anxiety for him. Once he'd agreed to make love with her, he'd had visions of standing awkwardly in front of her, both of them wondering how to make the first move. Should he undress her? Would she undress him? Or would she expect him to strip for her?
As it was, though, she'd practically ripped his shirt from him, and whatever she'd been doing with her fingers on his chest had almost made him yell out on the spot. That would've given him away all right, he thought sardonically in some recess of his mind which was still capable of rational thought.
His hormones were urging him on; he rolled gently so that Lois was beside him and he could lean up on one elbow. She lay there and gazed up at him, her eyes a little dazed; then she caught hold of his free hand and placed it carefully on her chest. As his breath caught, she said shyly, "I thought that's what all men want."
Oh yes, men were fascinated by those protuberances women had; he'd stared wide-eyed at a few photos himself in his teenage years. But this wasn't about him, for one thing, and nor was it about using Lois like some sort of toy. He wanted to give *her* pleasure.
"Do you like being touched there?" he asked softly.
Her eyelids lowered, hiding her dark eyes from his gaze. "I'm not sure. It… well, guys just seem to grab and squeeze…"
"Let's see what you do like," he murmured. He caressed her with gentle movements, enjoying the sensation of touching her through a couple of layers of cloth.
She was beautiful; but even more, she was Lois, and he loved her.
Wanted to make love to her.
Wanted to love her for the rest of his life.
He heard Lois moan as he kissed her again. *He*, Clark Kent, was giving her pleasure! Her back arched, and one of her hands tangled in his hair, holding his head in precisely the spot which allowed him to carry on teasing her with his mouth.
"Clark…" Dimly, he heard her cry out his name. Raising his head, he turned to look at her, hoping that he hadn't done something wrong.
But she was reaching for him. "Want to… touch you…" she muttered, grabbing frantically.
"Shhh…" he murmured, reaching up to kiss her again. That instinct which he'd trusted before was telling him not to rush this.
So he captured her lips again, his mouth wide open over hers, cupping her face between his hands. She kissed him back, passionately and wildly; it was his turn to moan as her tongue slid over the inside of his lips.
There was no way he could go back to being friends after this, or even pretend to try… He was going to tell her he loved her. As soon as possible. Just as soon as he could end this kiss…
Then her hand slid down over his back and lower still, and rational thought disappeared again.
So this was what it felt like to have a man really care about *her* feelings, Lois thought dizzyingly as Clark continued to ravish her mouth. So *this* was what everyone talked about!
Now, she was eager for Clark to take this to its natural conclusion. Right now, she felt pretty sure that she wouldn't make a fool of herself; that she might even do it right for once. If he delayed much longer, she'd lose that feeling… and probably lose her confidence about this too.
She wanted to be intimate with Clark, to find out whether he could make her feel this good when things progressed further, too — or whether it would be another disappointment, for her as well as for him.
She wanted Clark to love her.
That revelation shocked her to the core. It shouldn't have, she knew; after all, it was only about six months since she'd almost told him that she loved him. She'd thought she'd put all that behind her.
But, no, she hadn't. She was in love with Clark, and she wanted him to love her back.
His kisses were deliciously drugging, sweeping her away on a wave of sensation. But a lump was growing in her throat, because this was all make-believe. Clark was going through the motions of loving her, because she'd pleaded with him to do it. None of this was real. He'd do what she'd asked with her, would reassure her that it was good for him — and she knew that was exactly what he'd do; her partner was far too kind to let her think she'd disappointed him — and he'd kiss her softly to say goodnight. He might even stay with her, getting up to make her breakfast in the morning before kissing her cheek and leaving to get on with his day.
To get on with his life.
Because, for Clark, this was just one night, albeit with his best friend.
He wouldn't let it change anything; not for him, at any rate.
But tonight was changing everything, as far as Lois was concerned. She'd never be able to think of Clark as just her friend ever again.
But she was going to have to… Unless she wanted to lose him from her life for ever.
She swallowed the lump which was threatening to start tears flowing once again, and continued to kiss Clark back, more desperately than before.
Hands touched, fingers caressed, mouths kissed; bodies pressed together and clothes were getting in the way.
Leaning up on one elbow, he began to stroke her lightly with one hand, forcing himself to carry on taking this slowly. Just because their clothes had started to disappear, that didn't mean he should leap on her immediately! And he desperately wanted this to be good for her…
But Lois kept tugging impatiently at him, trying to pull him on top of her.
"Take it easy, Lois," he whispered, trying to calm her. "We have plenty of time."
Whether he wanted to wait because he himself was nervous, or because he wanted to be confident that Lois was ready, Clark wasn't sure. He *did* want her, very badly. But he'd waited too long to experience lovemaking to risk ruining it by being careless. And he had an added responsibility here. He was going to make this as good as he possibly could, because he loved Lois and he wanted to prove to her that there was *nothing* wrong with her. He knew that Lois was a passionate and sensual and desirable woman who would be, for some lucky man one day, a wonderful lover. He only wished that that man could be himself…
Trying to soothe her and assure her that she didn't need to rush anything, he kissed her deeply and caressed her again.
But then she went still, her body becoming rigid under his touch.
"Lois? Lois, are you okay?" he whispered anxiously, worried. "Did I hurt you?" What could he have done? All he'd been doing was stroking his hand over her. How could he have caused her any pain? What had he done?
Then he saw a tear roll slowly from her eye.
What was she doing?
Slowly, Lois was returning to full sobriety, and as cold reality set in she was appalled with herself and what she'd done.
She was on her bed, about to have sex with a man who didn't love her, just to prove a point to herself. Was she crazy?
And yet how could she stop it now? When she'd let him get this far… Men despised women who changed their minds late. Clark would loathe her for it, and he'd probably call her exactly what Paul and Claude had. Even her kind, mild- mannered partner and best friend wouldn't forgive her if she told him to stop now.
She wished that he hadn't taken so long about it. If he'd just… just got on with it and *done* the deed, the way the other two had, it would all be over now and she could have sent him home; she could be in the shower now, or curled up alone in bed, hoping that she could put it all out of her mind. She could have dismissed it tomorrow as the result of too much alcohol. Clark would have accepted that, too, she knew; it wasn't as if he wanted more from her, or even as if he'd wanted her in the first place. And claiming that she'd been drunk would also have covered up for her sexual inadequacies; Clark couldn't possibly expect a perfect performance from an inebriated woman.
And then it would only have been her shame she'd have to live with.
But yet here she was — here *they* were, on her bed together…
And it was only sex. Only a meaningless act, over in a few minutes. She could have accepted that half an hour ago, when she'd still been drunk enough not to care, and for proving a point by the act itself being all that mattered. And now she was having second thoughts all over the place, when it was too late, and when, whatever she did, she was going to lose her best friend.
If she stopped him, he'd be contemptuous.
If she let him carry on, she'd be terrible and he'd struggle to hide his disdain.
And, either way, she could never look Clark in the eye again.
Never work with him again; never be his friend any more.
Why had she been so *stupid*?
Why did the fact that he didn't love her matter anyway? She'd slept before with men she'd thought loved her, and what had happened then? Neither of them had loved her in the slightest, and each had dumped her and humiliated her.
Clark *liked* her. Wasn't that enough?
Not when she loved him, and when all she wanted was to be loved in return.
Despite her efforts to stop it, a tear slowly trailed down her cheek.
"Lois, what's wrong?"
Instantly, Clark was bending over her, his expression worried. "What is it? Is it something I've done?"
One hand gently smoothed the tear away, while he continued to watch her. She didn't answer him; how could she explain any of what was on her mind? He'd think she was crazy… deranged.
Then he shifted and gently pulled at the lapels of her dressing gown, covering her fully. "You've changed your mind, haven't you?" he said softly.
Her eyes widened; he wasn't angry. "You… don't mind?" she asked hesitantly.
"Mind? How could I?" he said, amazed. "Lois, you have every right to say no. No matter how this came about, it's your right. Of course I don't mind."
"Other men would," she said miserably. "After I'd led them on…"
He smiled at her. "Okay, I can't deny that I feel a little bit… uh, frustrated. But that's hardly important." He hesitated, then added, "Anyway, Lois, I really wasn't happy about this. You know that. I knew you'd regret it once you were thinking more clearly. And I was downright terrified of what it could do to our friendship — especially if we did make love and you wished we hadn't."
She shifted so that she was looking straight at him. He was reacting just as her *friend* Clark would, which made her wonder why she'd ever thought he'd behave any differently. This was Clark, after all; she knew him, and she knew he'd never let her down. Why had she imagined that he'd treat her like dirt just because she didn't want to follow through on her promise?
Because it was about sex; and, in her experience and from what she'd heard from others, men behaved very differently when that act was involved. They got angry and demanding and controlling and selfish.
So naturally she'd assumed that Clark would too. But she was wrong.
He pulled himself into a sitting position, resting against her headboard, and dragged the bedspread up, hiding himself from her now embarrassed gaze. Then he looped an arm around her shoulders, tugging her against him in just the way he did when she'd come to him for comfort.
And he was her best friend again; the man — the *situation* — she'd felt scared of only a few minutes earlier had gone.
"Talk to me, Lois," he said, sounding very concerned. "Please, tell me what I can do to make things better."
She shrugged, choking back another sob. "Wave a magic wand and make this entire evening never have happened!"
She saw him grimace. "I wish I could do that for you, Lois. But I'm not even sure that'd be a solution. I mean, this isn't just because of something that happened tonight, is it?"
The degree of intuition Clark sometimes showed shouldn't have surprised her right now, but it did. "How… what makes you think…?"
"I know you, Lois," he answered quietly. "I've known you for a year and a half, and I've watched you over that time. You bury yourself in your work — and you're great at it, don't get me wrong. You're fearless — brave, intelligent, you kick ass better than anyone I've ever known, and you *never* let anyone beat you. But when it comes to your social life, that's a different matter — you know that. You're not so fearless there, Lois," he added softly.
"You don't date — well, apart from Lex Luthor, and I won't get into that," he amended quickly, his expression apologetic; she could understand that, because she knew that Clark, for both their sakes, would wish he hadn't had to mention that name. But he was right; Lex was the one exception to her pattern, and she still couldn't even explain that to herself.
Clark was still speaking, talking quietly yet in a voice which she felt she had to listen to. "If a man lets you know that he finds you attractive, you freeze up. You act like getting involved with a guy is the last thing you want… and yet I know that the last thing you are is frigid. I *know* it, Lois. I didn't have to test the theory out to prove it."
He paused, then added, "I know that you've been hurt — and not just by those cretins who treated you badly, either. I know you're still scarred inside from your parents' divorce and the way your father treated you. And yet I know that you want to be loved."
As she looked at him, shocked at his insights, he reached over and caressed her cheek in his palm. "Don't write your love life off, Lois. You don't need to. And you don't need to sleep with your best friend to prove anything."
"I did," she muttered in protest. "I *needed* to do this, Clark! I needed to know… But I couldn't go through with it in the end, and that's what makes me feel so stupid… so useless!"
"Lois, you're not stupid. Or useless," Clark protested instantly. "So, tell me — I don't mind, I swear to you. But what made you change your mind? You sobered up and decided that you'd gone a little crazy?" he enquired with a rueful grin.
"Yeah," she told him quietly. "I realised what I was doing, and… I got scared, Clark. And…" She hesitated, and then decided that, after everything else she'd told him — and done with him — tonight, there was little to risk from being honest with him. After all, if their friendship was going to be damaged, then the damage had probably already been done.
"I… I finally realised that I couldn't make — have sex with a man who doesn't love me," she whispered shakily.
Clark froze, thunderstruck at her words. He repeated them over to himself in his head — had she actually said what he thought she'd said? Or had he misunderstood? Was he only hearing what he wanted to hear? Maybe she'd actually said, "I couldn't have sex with a man I don't love"?
Shakily, he said, "Lois, could you… say that again, please?"
This time he felt her go still. "I couldn't make love with a man who doesn't love me," she said awkwardly after a long pause. "I know you care about me, Clark. I know that you're the best friend I've ever had or am likely to have. But I know you don't love me, and that's… what counts," she finished on a whisper.
"It's what counts for me too, Lois," he said quietly, hugging her one-armed and trying to hide his immense relief. He'd thought, when she'd gone so still and then cried, that she was regretting everything to the point of probably hating him for not refusing to do as she asked. He'd thought, in that moment, that he'd lost her altogether.
"That's why I was so reluctant to go along with this," he told her, hugging her again. "Well, that and knowing that you'd change your mind once you sobered up."
Realising from her lost expression that he hadn't been completely clear, he added quickly, "Lois, I do love you! Didn't you know? I've loved you as long as I've known you. I'd never have agreed to make love with you if I wasn't in love with you."
She stared at him, apparently dumbstruck.
"Lois, if you'd only let me tell you what I wanted to, before…" he said, grimacing wryly. "That was one of the things I wanted to tell you — that I love you."
Then she choked on a sob. "You… really love me? Clark?"
How could he show her? In her upset state, she wasn't really taking in what he was saying. He brought his free hand up to frame one side of her face, and kissed her lips softly, reverently; then again, in a longer kiss, showing her in his actions how much he loved and desired her. Her tears moistened his lips as she responded with passion to equal his.
When he finally released her, still holding her close to him, Lois gave him a wondering look. "You really love me," she murmured. "You really do…"
"I did tell you that before," he couldn't resist pointing out, remembering that day six months earlier when he'd poured his heart out to her. And she'd told him that she loved him as a friend; that she didn't return his feelings.
"You did. But then you said you'd lied," she accused, her tears now gone. "And I was going to…"
"Going to tell you that I loved you too," she whispered. "That you were the reason I couldn't marry Lex in the end. You. Not Henderson's arrival. I'd already said no."
That was news to him. Clark inhaled deeply, then brought Lois's head down to rest on his shoulder.
If he hadn't insisted on going first all those months ago; if he hadn't been so scared of losing their friendship that he hadn't been willing to take a risk… then they could have been together all this time.
But then, maybe that wouldn't have been a good thing, he considered on reflection. So soon after the Luthor affair? When he was still feeling hurt and resentful at the way she'd dismissed him and then offered herself to Superman, then gone to Luthor once Superman had rejected her in return? When Lois was still getting over a relationship which had caused her untold trauma? When they'd both been scarred and perhaps easily wounded?
No; what they'd both needed at that time was friendship.
Now, though, he wanted more. And, he was sure, Lois needed more.
Tonight, he'd taken an even bigger risk with their friendship. And it could all have gone so badly wrong. It could still go wrong; they might be exchanging kisses and avowals of love, but they were still together on her bed, having interrupted and abandoned a session of lovemaking.
Should he get dressed? Suggest that they adjourn to the living-room?
"So, what other surprises did you have for me?"
Lois's question, asked in the teasing tone he loved from her — and which he appreciated even more at this particular moment, because it signified that she'd recovered at least some of her equilibrium — caused him to blink. What did she mean by 'surprises'?
"You told me that there were three things I needed to know about you," she reminded him.
Oh, *that*! He relaxed a little, and then tensed again as he realised just what this meant. But then he accepted that it was the right time to tell her the truth about himself. It was more than time she knew, for one thing; for another, if, as it seemed, they were just about to deepen their friendship and turn it into a romantic relationship — the one thing he wanted most in the world — she had a right to know.
"Okay, Lois." He reached for her hand with his free arm, noting in surprised amusement that she didn't seem to be remotely fazed by the fact that they were still sitting together, scantily clad, on her bed. "This is kind of important. And it's something I should have told you a long time ago, so I guess you'd be entitled to be mad… but the truth is that I was always scared to tell you before, for all sorts of reasons." He gave her a lop-sided smile before continuing, a little nervously, "I'm still scared now. But you need to know. And I want you to know."
"Know what?" she asked, a little impatiently. Then she looked at him properly and her eyes widened. "Hey, you really are scared, aren't you? Clark — " She squeezed his hand warmly. "You don't have to be scared about telling me anything. Come on — I've been piling confession after confession on you tonight, and you've been… well, you've been wonderful. I couldn't ask for a better friend… and more," she added, a little shyly.
"Clark, I love you. Because you're the best friend I ever had, and you proved that tonight beyond any doubt. I mean, when I think of what some of the guys I've known would have done given the opportunity you had — me drunk, begging you to make love to me… and yet you were gentle, considerate, really worried that I shouldn't do anything unless I was really sure it was what I wanted. How could I possibly get mad at you for anything after that?!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, you could," he murmured ruefully. "Lois — my love," he ventured. "You certainly could."
She smiled at him again. "Earlier, I made you promise me something before telling you what it was — and you agreed. I think turnabout's fair play, isn't it? I promise I won't get mad, no matter what you're going to tell me — even if it's that you're married," she teased with a grin. She squeezed his hand again. "I promise, Clark. And you're not likely to get an offer like that from me every day."
He inhaled deeply. She was right; he was probably never going to get a better chance to tell her his secret and escape unscathed.
"Okay, here goes," he muttered, almost to himself. "Lois, I'm Superman."
"Huh?" she said, taken aback. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly that," he told her dryly. "The guy underneath the Spandex costume… he's me."
Superman was *Clark*?
Lois froze to the spot, her mind awhirl with images and memories. She saw herself gazing dreamily at Superman, while ignoring Clark; kissing Superman and being rude to Clark; telling Superman that she loved him and wanted to be with him, while rejecting Clark's impassioned, beautiful declaration of love; placing Superman on a pedestal for all the good he did, while dismissing Clark's good qualities as signs of an overgrown, unreconstructed boy scout.
Clark lying to her about everything that he was… a major part of his life that she'd been excluded from. Clark using his alter ego to sweet-talk her on occasion, knowing that she'd respond better to Superman than to Clark. Clark flirting with her in his other guise…
…because she'd never have given Clark the time of day, she recognised guiltily. Her own behaviour was by no means beyond reproach.
Clark… pretending to be dead rather than tell her that, as Superman, he couldn't possibly have been killed by that bullet… She'd cried and cried over him that night, been wracked apart by grief, because she'd thought her best friend and the one person who meant most to her in the world was dead — and it had been all her fault.
She swallowed a sob as she realised just how much that one hurt.
Clark was watching her anxiously, she saw as she glanced in his direction. And he was still looking very nervous.
And she'd made him a promise.
"Clark," she said quietly, "I meant what I said. There's a lot I have to think about here, but you have to know that it doesn't change how I feel about you. I still love you — even though I want to beat you black and blue for some of the things you've done, I forgive you, because I love you."
"I can't hold you to that promise," he said in a low voice. "If you feel that this is too much to forgive, you can tell me. I'll… I'll leave, if you want."
Leave? She didn't want him to leave! Not now — not any time, she realised soberly. Clark was too important to her. And anyway, she thought, she was far too comfortable exactly where she was: leaning against his broad, muscular chest with his arm around her shoulders.
His broad, muscular, *naked* chest.
But this wasn't the time to be drooling over her friend's gorgeous body. Not just her friend, she mused in wonderment; assuming that he wanted the same as she, then her *boy*friend.
"Clark." Her voice was deliberately soothing. "I mean it. Okay, you're going to have a lot of explaining to do, and there probably will be a couple of things I'll want to make you grovel over, but I'm not mad." She hesitated, then added, "It's New Year's Day, Clark. A time for new starts… if that's what you want. We've already made a couple, I guess."
"What do you have in mind?" he asked curiously.
"You and me… well, us… if it's what you want. I mean, if we love each other…?" Now she was tentative.
He turned her to face him, holding her by the shoulders. "Lois, how can you doubt it? I love you in every way possible. I want to be with you — I want us to be together. Dating — a couple, whatever way you want to put it. I just want to be with you."
"I want to be with you too," she said softly, reaching up to caress his face.
Now that she was looking at Clark and actually focusing on him, she could see the resemblance to Superman so clearly. It amazed her that she'd never noticed it before. She'd been working with Superman, sitting opposite him, for a year and a half, and never realised.
And that meant that, if Clark was her boyfriend, then she was also going out with Superman… Not that she was only interested in Clark for that reason — far from it. She'd loved him long before he'd told her the truth. But she couldn't deny that dating Clark 'Superman' Kent would have its advantages. He could take her flying any time she wanted, and she'd probably never need to be late for work again. Maybe she should ask him to move in, she thought with a grin.
To move in…
She gulped suddenly as the implications of that dawned on her.
Moving in together… sleeping together…
And she couldn't do that. How could she? How could she let Clark find out just how inadequate she was? It would destroy everything. Their relationship, his love for her; everything.
It was so weird; earlier, when she hadn't known he loved her, she'd been prepared to take the risk of going to bed with him, to try to find out where she was going wrong. Yet she hadn't been able to go through with it, because she'd felt the lack of love and been unable to continue.
And yet now, when she knew that Clark loved her and when she felt totally secure in his love for her, she couldn't face the prospect of making love with him, because she was so sure that she'd be a terrible disappointment to him. And she couldn't bring herself to risk it.
"Lois?" Clark was sounding concerned. "Lois, what's wrong?"
She shook her head, ducking so that he couldn't see her face. "It's… nothing, Clark," she whispered painfully. "Just that we… I can't be with you. Not like that. I… I just can't."
"You call that nothing?" he whispered, sounding horrified. "Lois, you have to tell me what's wrong. Why?"
Now she'd hurt him. She couldn't do anything right.
Sobbing miserably, she buried her head in his shoulder.
Appalled, Clark could only hold Lois close to him, stroking her hair and trying to ignore the effect her closeness was having on his awakened hormones. She was upset again, and he'd do anything to make her feel better. But he had no idea what might have caused these latest tears.
Had she just changed her mind about them? Did the fact that he was Superman matter so much to her? Had she decided that she couldn't have a relationship with a man who was from another planet — was that it? Because he was an alien?
His voice shaking, he forced himself to ask. "Lois? Is it… because I'm not human?"
She gasped. "Clark, no!"
"Then… what? I don't understand."
He felt her shudder. Then, pulling back slightly from him, she said, in a low voice "Can't you guess, Clark? How can I be your… your girlfriend, when I'm f… frigid and useless at sex? I couldn't do that to you!"
She still thought that? Incredulous, Clark stared down at her.
"Lois, how many times do I have to tell you? You are *not* frigid! Just because a couple of cretinous… *swine* decided to make up for their own inadequacies by blaming you, that does *not* mean that there's anything wrong with you!"
At her sceptical look, he added, "Look, earlier… you were wonderful, Lois! You were warm and responsive and sensual and absolutely incredible! How can you think there's anything wrong with you?"
"That wasn't… we didn't go all the way," she mumbled. "I made you stop."
"Lois, I still know that you're an amazingly desirable woman! Have you any idea just how much I want to make love with you?"
She ducked her head again. "You might have wanted to then. But you'd have been disappointed."
Clark sighed, again wondering just what it was going to take to get through to her. Then his heart skipped a beat as he realised just what would get through to her.
She loved him, and he'd told her that he loved her too.
They were in a relationship — well, they would be, as soon as he convinced her that she was being foolish to doubt herself. And he couldn't possibly be any more serious about being with her; he wanted a permanent relationship.
And she knew he was Superman.
Ideally, he'd like to date for a while, until they were both ready for intimacy and they agreed that it was the right time. Ideally, he'd like them to have discussed their future and agreed that they were both looking for more from each other than a casual relationship. Ideally, he'd like to ask her to marry him before making love to her.
But these weren't ideal circumstances. Not when Lois was so wracked by self-doubt and when she was hurting so much.
If he could agree to her unusual request earlier, before they'd had this conversation and their mutual vows of love, then he could certainly consider it again now. He could surely have no more qualms about taking things to the next level.
He tilted her chin upwards and pressed a warm, loving kiss to her lips. After a moment's hesitation, she responded, kissing him back as if she hungered for him. Her arms came around him, and she made that little moan again, the one which drove him wild.
But he broke the kiss, holding onto her chin so that she had no choice but to look at him. "Lois, can't you see how much I want you?" he whispered to her.
She swallowed. "I want you too, Clark, but… what if I am terrible at it?"
"Want to find out?" he suggested, deliberately keeping his voice light.
Slowly, she nodded. Then, in a rush, she said, "But what if I am?"
He kissed her again, letting his lips linger for a few moments and then drawing back. "I don't think you will be. But how about a bet, huh? If I'm right, I get to take you out tomorrow night — anywhere in the world you want to go."
"And… if I'm right?" she asked tentatively.
"Then we go for best of three," he teased. More seriously, he added on a soft whisper, "I want to make love with you, Lois. Do you want to make love with me?"
"Then trust me, Lois." Drawing her closer to him, he kissed her again.
She did trust Clark. She'd trust him with her life — and with the benefit of her new knowledge, she was aware that she'd already trusted him with her life on many, many occasions.
So she could trust him now, couldn't she?
His kisses were amazing. She could drown in his kisses… and the feel of his arms about her was both sensual and comforting at the same time. She'd always feel safe as long as Clark was with her; and she'd feel loved.
She was feeling very loved right now; and that was a sensation she realised she'd never experienced before.
Clark was gently smoothing away her dressing-gown again, his fingers and lips working sensual magic on her body. She gave in to the irresistible impulse to touch him again; he felt just as good as before.
"I love you," he murmured, just as he began to drizzle kisses all over one breast again. She arched her back up to him, marvelling at the sensations he was causing in her.
"I love you too, Clark," she whispered in return, reaching down to trail kisses over all the parts of his face that she could reach.
Clark's caresses and kisses and strokes and murmurs felt so wonderful — even better than they had earlier. The difference, of course, was that she knew she was loved. But still, ever present at the back of her mind, was the fear that all this joy and wonderment would come to an end.
He'd be disappointed.
Earlier, she'd wanted to rush; wanted him to get it over with so that she could find out the bad news sooner rather than later.
Now, when it mattered so much more, she wanted to delay. She wanted to prolong this wonderful experience as long as possible. As long as they were just kissing and touching, everything was fine. Clark would love her. He'd keep making her feel good, and she could make him feel good too; she didn't have to worry about expectations. But soon it would all be over; he'd know that she'd told the truth, that she was useless at sex.
But Clark was willing to take the risk, she argued with herself. Shouldn't she trust him, and take that leap of faith with him?
But he didn't know the truth — couldn't know it, she reminded herself. And once he found out… oh, she no longer believed that he'd despise her or be disgusted, but he'd certainly be disappointed in her.
And what if he tried to hide his disappointment? She couldn't bear it if he pretended for her sake. And he might pretend. It wouldn't be as if he'd never been less than honest with her before about anything… and Clark was so sweet and kind, he wouldn't want to hurt her. But if he did, it would be too humiliating…
Her thoughts broke off abruptly as she became aware of an incredible, overpowering sensation. Clark was doing magical things to her, and she couldn't believe how good it felt. It was like… oh, like the most thrilling experience of her life. It felt like flying with Superman and eating chocolate, all wrapped up together. It was… it was…
…it was *amazing*!
Lois cried out and gasped as her world shattered around her.
Opening her eyes as things finally began to return to normal, she found Clark watching her with a loving, amused smile. "You enjoyed that, huh?"
"Uh… yeah," she managed to say. Then the significance of what had just happened hit her. She'd never believed that possible.
"Wow," she murmured, gazing at Clark in wonderment. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome, honey," he whispered. "Umm…" he added thoughtfully. "Do I take it that's never happened for you before?"
She shook her head. Then something else struck her. "But you didn't… you haven't…"
"I will," he promised, grinning at her. "Don't you doubt it."
That was what worried her…
But then Clark began to kiss and caress her again, and the world faded away…
Lois gradually returned to conscious thought, and her first impulse was to look at Clark. She searched his face, anxious for any signs of disappointment or frustration.
There were none.
His eyes opened, and he smiled at her. "You okay, honey?"
He'd called her 'honey'. Again. And it felt good. Oh, so good.
And *she* felt good — wonderful, in fact. She'd never felt better in her life.
But what about Clark? Was he…?
He grinned then. "Guess I win our bet."
Daring, finally, to hope, she said, hesitantly, "You do? Really?"
He gave her a slow wink. "Well, you weren't terrible, so that looks like I score one for getting that right."
"You're sure?" she asked him awkwardly.
"Lois, I have never been more sure of anything in my life before — unless it's of how much I love you," he murmured softly. Bending first to kiss her, he added, "You have just given me a precious gift — the most wonderful experience of my life. Better than flying, even."
"Better than… oh, wow," she whispered. He was telling the truth, she admitted to herself. Clark wouldn't lie to her, of that she was sure. And the way he was looking at her — as if he wanted, quite desperately, to ravish her again right this moment — was further proof.
She wasn't frigid.
She wasn't useless in bed.
In fact, she was pretty darned good… with the right partner.
"You were right, Clark," she told him suddenly.
He smiled again. "Well, I did try to tell you."
"With the right partner, making love is the most fantastic experience ever," she said, wonderingly.
Then she simply couldn't resist; after all, he was lying right next to her, his arm around her shoulders, and he looked so gorgeous and tempting, and she wanted to experience those sensations again… She reached out and trailed a hand suggestively down his chest and abdomen.
Clark covered it with his own and smiled lazily, suggestively, at her. "You want to try again, just to be sure?" he enquired with a wink.
"Well, it wouldn't hurt, just to be sure," she agreed, grinning.
He grinned broadly, still holding her hand trapped against his lower stomach. "Well, if you're going to take advantage of me like this, you know what this means," he told her solemnly. "You'll just have to make an honest man of me now."
Lois caught her breath. Was he saying…?
"Clark?" she queried shakily.
He hugged her. "I'm kidding. Well, mostly. I mean, that's what I'm hoping for, but we have all the time in the world to see where this relationship is going. We don't have to rush anything, or put ourselves under any kind of pressure. Let's just enjoy being together for now."
It should have been a scary prospect, but it wasn't.
Lois had never really considered herself the marrying type… on the surface. Underneath, though, and secretly, she was a romantic, believing in the existence of true, everlasting love; she'd just never believed before today that it could happen to her.
And yet, in the form of Clark Kent, it had. In fact, he'd been right there, under her nose, all along.
And the thought of being married to Clark sounded… very attractive indeed.
But he was right; they shouldn't rush into anything. They had to get used to each other as lovers, as romantic partners, first — and they could take nothing for granted. They were bound to fight, especially since she had such a strong personality. Working together as well as dating could place a lot of strain on their relationship — not to mention Clark's other job, which would take him away from her without warning a lot of the time. But if they both worked at it, and made every effort not to let anything get out of control, they could handle it, of that she was sure.
They loved each other. And love could find a way through the most intractable of problems, so long as they both wanted to try.
"You're right," she told him again, adding a little shyly, "There's no hurry. But… I'm not looking for a casual relationship either, Clark."
The expression on his face was worth what it had cost her to tell him that.
Later, sated and deliriously happy, Clark folded Lois into his embrace, floating upwards so that he could pull the covers from underneath them; then he brought them back down to lie together in her bed.
If it was possible, their second time had been even better than the first. Even better than the physical sensations, however, had been the fact that they were making *love*. He'd been sharing the most intimate exchange possible with the woman he loved and intended to marry one day. And he knew that she loved him too — all of him, in every way — and she wanted to be with him just as much as she did.
Lois stirred in his arms, nestling against him like a sated cat. Then, sleepily, she opened her eyes and smiled up at him. He reached up and drew one finger lightly along her cheek, loving to touch her.
"So, Clark," she murmured in between yawns, "what was the third thing you wanted to tell me?"
"Ah." He paused, wondering how she'd react to the truth. "Well, it's kind of a moot point now," he began. "But… uh… well, Lois, I guess it's kind of ironic that you asked me to show you what you were doing wrong in bed."
"Why?" she asked curiously, then followed it up with another yawn.
"Well, I wasn't exactly what you might call an expert," he said softly. "In fact… you could say that I was a complete novice."
"A novice?" Lois exclaimed. "You mean…"
"I was a virgin," he finished, with a smile. "But I can safely say that I couldn't have asked for a more fantastic first time. You were so gentle with me, honey, I didn't need to be scared at all," he teased her.
Lois was silent for so long that he thought she was upset again, or angry. But then he felt her shake in his arms, and he realised that she was laughing.
"What a pair we were!" she exclaimed at last. "The virgin and the pathetic neurotic… it's a wonder we're as good together as we are!"
"Oh, I wasn't surprised at all," he told her softly. "We love each other. That means we both care more about each other's pleasure than our own. How can we help but be perfect together — in every way?"
"Absolutely," Lois agreed, then shifted so that she was nestling even closer to him.
Clark leaned up to switch off the table lamp, then settled down again, wrapping his arms around her more tightly. "Goodnight, Lois," he murmured happily. "I love you."
His only answer was a soft snore. He grinned, then closed his eyes and went to sleep.
(c) Wendy Richards 2002