By Pam Jernigan <email@example.com>
Submitted: May 2002
Summary: Utopian historians agree that Lois and Clark needed time to build their relationship, and H. G. Wells agrees. When a twitch in time throws them together sooner than expected, it nearly wrecks everything — but luckily for Lois and Clark, H.G. Wells is there to save the day. One way or another.
Herbert George Wells was relaxing in his study, his eyes closed behind glasses and his legs propped on a footstool, when a muted beeping disturbed his peaceful repose. Wells opened one eye at first, then two as he realized what the sound meant — it was an alarm in his home-built monitor of the time stream.
After his first thoughtless encounter with the unintended consequences of time travel (i.e., Tempus), he had put some thought into monitoring things more closely. Utopia, after all, was at stake, and Wells fancied himself as just the chap to protect it. Often with the help of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, naturally, but still, they wouldn't have the necessary tools to confront the challenge if it hadn't been for him.
It took only a small movement to pull his pocket watch/time stream monitor out of his waistcoat and flip open the cover. He frowned at the readings. Something had gone wrong, somewhere … a little fine-tuning gave him more details.
At least Tempus hadn't been involved this time. But something had slipped — somewhere, perhaps, a butterfly had turned left instead of right, and thereby started a chain of events that had changed a few small things. Still, he had a time and a place — Metropolis, the Daily Planet, in the summer of 1993.
Wells smiled fondly. That time and place could only mean that this involved Lois and Clark, his two favorite reporters. He would be delighted to assist them. There were some problems even Superman couldn't fix, but luckily for them, H.G. Wells was on the job. It would be the proverbial piece of cake.
"Lois, wait, I have to talk to you!"The call came from behind her, just as Lois had been about to escape from the newsroom. It had been a long day, dealing with the aftermath of the Bureau 39 invasion. She didn't want to deal with her colleagues anymore that day, so she kept going.
The voice was closer now, softer. She recognized Clark's pleading tones and sighed, coming to a reluctant stop. He caught up with her then, coming alongside her with a concerned and obstinate look on his face.
"Yeah, what is it?" she asked, crossing her arms impatiently.
He winced slightly, but forged ahead. "I have to make something clear. I did not sleep with Cat, or, or do *anything* with her except start to have dinner. I want you to know that."
Lois frowned. "Oh, really? What about those jungle drums, then? If anything was on the menu for dinner—"
"She turned on the music after I called in; I guess she wanted to create an impression."
"Well, she sure managed it." Lois kept her tone gruff, but inwardly she had to admit she felt something akin to relief. She had been sure, when Clark had first appeared at the Planet, that he had been attracted to her. Of course she didn't have time for that sort of romantic frivolity, but being admired had been pleasant all the same, and then to have him fall for *Cat* of all people… She assured herself that it was only her ego that had been hurt.
Clark groaned in agreement. "It's all over the newsroom, and I asked her to tell everyone the truth, but she only said that she had a reputation to maintain."
Lois had to smile at that. "That does sound like her. But most guys wouldn't care, either. So why do you?" Lois felt her heart rate increase as she realized what she'd asked; why was the answer so important to her?
Clark hesitated, then replied softly. "I don't care what anyone else says… but it matters to me what you think of me."
A soft "oh," was the only reply she could manage. The air seemed charged with electricity as she looked up into Clark's soft brown eyes. Something about him seemed so familiar, even beside the time they'd spent working together. It suddenly seemed almost as if she'd known him forever.
Clark lifted an eyebrow, looking as unsure of himself as she was feeling. "Do you … I mean, it's been a long day … would you like to go get something to eat?"
Lois looked downwards, chewing her lip in indecision. "Well, I don't know, really, I mean … it's late, and we work together, and…"
"And it'll just be two colleagues going for dinner," Clark concluded glibly, gently steering her towards the elevator. "We've been through a lot today, what with getting thrown out of a plane and all, and we deserve a break."
"Yeah, maybe we do," she acquiesced, her spirits rising as she pushed the call button. "Besides, we never did have that dinner we were going to have, after figuring out that shuttle problem."
"Um, true." Clark had the grace to look abashed at the reminder. "I, ah, probably shouldn't have made that crack about you and Luthor." The elevator doors opened with a muted chime, and they stepped inside.
Lois stabbed the button for the lobby. "Damn right you shouldn't have," Lois groused, but she refused to let the memory of his bad behavior spoil their present harmony. Not that it had been the only instance of bad behavior between the two of them, but he'd already paid her back for stealing his story, so she considered that incident firmly closed. The fact that he hadn't returned to the subject either was a point — a very tiny, microscopic, infinitesimal point — in his favor. Not that she'd ever let him know that.
Clark relaxed back into the padded bench seat and admired the view. Lois was telling the story of her aunt's fabled fruitcake, a tale that was taking some time to tell. She had been a trifle stiff and guarded at first, but the food and the wine had seemed to relax her, to his secret delight. Away from the office, she was just as vibrant and fascinating as ever, but more approachable. He'd even managed to make her laugh a few times. Clark didn't want this night to end.
It was ironic, but the more she loosened up, the harder he had to work to keep things light. He didn't want to make the wrong move and risk scaring her off, but he couldn't entirely avoid the fantasy of this being a real date, and hopefully the prelude to a real relationship with her. Lois affected him like no one else ever had — he still couldn't stop thinking about the kiss they had shared on the plane — and he wanted to explore the possibilities. Well, some of the possibilities. He wasn't at all sure how to handle the Superman problem. If he wanted a real relationship with her, he'd probably have to tell her about himself, but at this point, he wouldn't bet against her writing it up — she admired Superman now, sure, but what if she knew he was just a farmboy from Kansas?
A hand appeared in front of his face. "Clark? Hello, Earth to Clark?"
"Oh, sorry, Lois." He felt himself flush with embarrassment.
"Where were you?" she asked in a tone halfway between amusement and annoyance.
"Umm." He rapidly considered his options, but couldn't think of a good excuse, so he settled on the truth. "I was just thinking how good you looked."
"Yeah, right," she scoffed, but he thought he detected a faintly pleased air about her as she went back to the tale of the fruitcake.
Clark reminded himself firmly that this was *not* a date. He and Lois were colleagues and maybe friends. All things considered, it was probably just as well.
Two hours later, they were still at the restaurant, talking. Clark had tried to avoid the touchy topics of Superman and Lex, and Lois had refrained from further cracks about nowheresville, and on the whole they had gotten along well. She had regaled him with tales of her earlier triumphs; he had reciprocated with stories of his world travels. They'd had a spirited political debate before discovering several points of agreement, and had decided between them how exactly the world could be made a better place.
And Lois had to keep reminding herself that this wasn't a date. Clark hadn't been flirting, of course — he'd been treating her like a co-worker, apart from the occasional heated look. It had still been a more enjoyable evening than any in recent memory. Even when they'd disagreed, Clark had played fair and with good humor. He'd even conceded gracefully when she'd proved him wrong over something. Most men of her acquaintance would have sulked at that point, but Clark had laughed and complimented her debating skills instead. Over time, he'd made her comfortable enough that she found herself revealing more personal things.
"…so then I had a really big fight with my dad, and moved out," Lois concluded, sipping at her wine and shrugging off the hurt and anger of the past.
"That must have been rough on you," Clark commented softly.
She shook her head dismissively. "It was no big deal — I managed. Then I got started at the Planet, and the rest, as they say, is history."
"Well, if that's what it took to get you to the Planet, it was worth it," Clark said softly.
Meeting his eyes, Lois was taken aback by the intensity of his gaze. She felt warmed from head to toe by the feminine certainty that this man was attracted to her. It had been a long time since she'd been so openly admired — and some lonely part of herself was responding to it. She tried to remind herself not to jump in without checking the water level, but then found herself saying, "The restaurant is closing soon." She was rewarded by his disappointed look, which gave her the courage to suggest, "We could … go back to my place."
She watched his eyebrows climb as he took that in, and waited with bated breath for his answer. What did he think she had in mind? What *did* she have in mind? This was probably a bad idea. She felt her courage failing, but before she could retract the offer, he spoke softly. "I'd like that."
Damn, now she was stuck. But it felt strangely like destiny, somehow.
H.G. Wells exited the restaurant, frowning. This was not good — at this point in their acquaintance, Clark and Lois were meant to be barely on speaking terms with one another! But the time stream was a fickle thing, and subtle variations of actions and reactions were always possible. Something had obviously gone ever so slightly off-track, with ever widening repercussions.
Wells had known that Clark Kent and Lois Lane had shared a strong mutual bond from the beginning, but in the real history, it had taken them several years to realize their mutual attraction and forge their mutual destiny. Historians universally agreed that the wait had been beneficial for them — allowing a strong friendship to bloom which, in turn, had nurtured them through their various trials. This was far too soon for them to become, ahem, close.
They were leaving together, in Lois's Jeep, but they'd arrived together as well, so that didn't necessarily mean anything. He didn't know enough yet about the nature of the upcoming crisis, which left him with nothing to do but wait. After all, he could always fix things after the fact. Being a time traveler often came in handy that way.
Clark spent the drive to her apartment in relative silence, lost in thought. It was just as well Lois was driving; he was far too distracted to pay attention to the road. She couldn't possibly mean what he thought she meant — could she? Not that it mattered, because he wasn't about to become so … involved … with her. Sure, she was beautiful and brilliant and intoxicating, and he just might be in love with her, but she was also a determined and cutthroat journalist. As she'd said earlier, Superman was possibly the story of the century, and he didn't dare trust her. Of course, she hadn't figured him out yet — hadn't seemed even mildly suspicious, so maybe he wouldn't be giving himself away — but it was still too big a risk. He'd have to tell her that this wasn't such a good idea. He just wasn't quite sure how to say it, so he followed her mutely into her apartment building.
When they reached her front door, Lois paused in the act of unlocking all her locks, staring at the keys in her hand. "Clark … maybe this wasn't such a good idea."
Clark knew he should agree, but the tone of her voice tugged at his heart. She sounded so … embarrassed. He couldn't let this wonderful evening end on such an awkward note. "What," he joked, "you're out of coffee?"
She looked up at him for a long second, then smiled shakily. "Oh, yeah, coffee. I have coffee. We can do coffee. No problem." Once she started talking, she didn't seem to want to stop, as she continued working the locks. "My sister stays with me sometimes, but she said tonight she'd be out, although I don't know where she'd be because she's in between boyfriends right now, and some of them are real winners, believe me." She rolled her eyes, and motioned Clark through the door and towards the sitting area.
Lois busied herself with the coffee machine, turning her back to Clark, trying to gather her thoughts. What did she think she was doing, anyway? Her love life, so recently barren, had gone from zero to sixty and her head was still spinning. She could (maybe) get another date with Lex Luthor, the richest and most powerful man in Metropolis, and if you wanted to talk fantasies, there was always Superman, so what was she doing with a regular guy? A really cute, sexy guy, maybe, but hardly in the same league as, well, Superman.
Then again, she thought morosely, Superman doesn't even know my name, and he's never even hinted that he's interested in me. Whereas Clark … she turned slightly to sneak a peek at him, and blushed to discover that he was looking at her, too. Busted. Well, might as well face it. She turned towards him, and met his gaze square on.
"Hi. Um —" She licked her lips. "The, uh, coffee will be ready in a second…"
"But you're not really comfortable with me here, are you?" he asked quietly, his eyes seeming to understand. "It's okay, Lois; I'll leave."
He was right; she had been uncomfortable, but his consideration went a long way towards lessening her discomfort, and she moved towards the door, intent on cutting off his escape. "No, Clark, you don't need to—"
Somehow, she misjudged the distance, whether due to the wine or the late hour, and she ended up bumping into him. She felt herself start to fall backwards, and reached out for him automatically. He'd already caught her, his hands gently but firmly holding her shoulders. She looked up at his face, hovering anxiously just above hers, and was suddenly consumed with curiosity to relive the kiss they'd shared earlier, on the plane. She'd been distracted then, but now he had her full attention. She went up on tiptoes and pressed her lips to his. For a moment, he didn't respond, and her nerve started to fail, but then his arms wrapped around her, pulling her flush to his body, and he began to kiss her back in earnest.
Oh, what a kiss! She had been kissed with more skill, true, but never with such intensity, such passion. She could feel herself respond, and she arched her back, pressing herself against him. She could feel him against her, and her own excitement increased. He might not be superpowered or rich, but there was no doubt that he wanted her, and at that moment, that was more than enough.
All reason, caution, and fear were swept away by a barrage of glorious feelings. It had been so long since she'd felt this good and she refused to be rational any longer.
Clark woke up slowly in the wee hours of the night, dreamily replaying the events that had landed him here, in bed with Lois. She had kissed him — a kiss that had felt like coming home. Neither of them had bothered much with conversation after that, preferring instead to concentrate on more physical exploration. Clark knew he'd fumbled a bit at several points, but Lois hadn't seemed to mind. The whole experience had seemed magical, and Clark knew without a doubt that Lois was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Automatically, he reviewed the events of the night for any signs that he might have revealed his secret. He didn't think he'd given himself away — at least, Lois hadn't seemed to notice anything unusual. The thought was oddly depressing, and it began to dawn on Clark that he might have made a mistake.
He would love to have a relationship with Lois, but he still had no idea of how to handle the whole Superman/secret identity problem. Could he trust her with his secret? Maybe … but maybe not. It only *felt* like he'd known her forever. In real life, he hadn't known her long enough to be able to predict her reaction. Superman was the story of the century. Was it even fair to ask Lois not to report all she knew?
But if he wanted any chance at a real relationship, he had to be honest with her. A prospect that scared him silly. He didn't think she'd be any too happy about his conduct so far; he was none too pleased with himself. He'd spent 27 years being careful, never getting too close to anyone — what was it about Lois that had made him forget all the rules he'd set for himself?
He carefully distanced himself from Lois on the bed. She was sleeping far too soundly to notice his movements, which belatedly clued him into another possible factor — Lois had been drinking. He hadn't thought she had been very affected by it, but all the same, decent men did not take advantage of tipsy women. He resisted the urge to pound his head against the wall, but only because he'd hate to have to explain the damage afterward.
Feeling the need to be as covered as possible, Clark very quietly found all his scattered clothes and dressed again. It was sheer luck that he hadn't been wearing the spandex underneath his shirt — well, luck and paranoia that Trask would have him strip-searched or something.
Someday, he'd like to be able to make love to a woman and not have to hide anything — it was one of the reasons he hadn't made love to anyone before now, in fact, and he wasn't quite sure what had been so different about Lois Lane. Apart from the fact that he was in love with her, the way he'd never loved anyone before. Not that he'd acted like it; he had been totally selfish and never even considered that she deserved to be treated with more respect.
Sitting on the floor, Clark pondered the temptation to run away. He'd never thought of himself as a coward, but slipping away quietly had gotten him out of sticky situations many times before, when he'd used his powers in noticeable ways. This was an entirely different situation. Leaving now just seemed dishonest, cowardly and wrong.
Still, what would Lois think of him in the morning? Now free from the romantic haze that had developed during their dinner, he knew that she wasn't interested in him romantically. She'd made that abundantly plain when she'd hugged him, ecstatic about his survival only inasmuch as it proved that Superman was alive. If only she knew. And yet he'd gone and made the same mistake again — assumed she was far more interested than she really was — and made a huge mess. She was going to hate him.
All the more reason to leave now … but he couldn't quite extinguish some small flicker of hope. She had known, at least on some level, what she was doing last night. She might be embarrassed, would probably lash out at him … but maybe, just maybe, if he were able to really talk with her, they might be able to work it out. Even if she didn't want to ever do it again, they could jointly pretend that it had never happened. She had confided in him once before — albeit when they'd been chained up and waiting to die — and had later seemed able to ignore it completely. And her reaction to his Godzilla doll trick had impressed him; she was able to take responsibility for her own actions, so she wouldn't blame him for more than his part in their mutual lapse of rationality. They'd be able to work it out.
Yeah, right. She was going to hate him.
Lois woke slowly, savoring the fleeting remnants of a wonderful dream. She couldn't remember anything clearly, but there had been kisses that made her tingle and touches that made her moan, and overall such a lovely feeling of being loved. The contrast between the beautiful dream and her real life depressed her; she'd never experienced anything like it, and wasn't likely to find it in the future. She tried to hang on to the dream as long as she could, but it was struggling against reality and losing.
Moaning faintly, she forced her eyes open. She squinted against the light and managed to focus long enough to recognize her own bedroom. The bed, though … it was a mess; had she been having fits last night or something? The sheets were all askew and the comforter was half- falling onto the floor.
And speaking of the floor, why had she left her clothing there? In not just one, but several piles? A dreadful suspicion grew as she scrutinized one of the larger heaps of fallen fabric. It hadn't been a dream — or at least, the wonderful dream had been prompted by a surely-worse reality. She pulled the sheet over her head and groaned.
"Lois?" A cautious male voice drifted in from the kitchen, paralyzing her. "If you're going to wake up, I'll start breakfast, okay?"
Lois squeezed her eyes shut as memories of last night flooded back. Not only had she fallen into eager, clumsy sex with a man she hardly knew, a man she *worked with* of all things, but he was still here? She wished she could just disappear from the face of the earth.
No, on second thought, he was the one who ought to disappear. After all, she was the senior reporter here. He was practically sleeping with his boss; had he no shame? She stumbled out of bed and found clothing, determined to read him the riot act before throwing him out of her life for good.
Clark cracked two eggs into the frying pan, and covered it. He wasn't sure exactly how she liked her eggs, but over- easy was a fairly popular choice, and he could always make more if he had to. He didn't even know if she liked breakfast, but it seemed the least he could do under the circumstances. He'd been awake for hours, worrying how she might react, trying to figure out the best way to approach her. This was going to be a terribly important conversation, and he was terrified of it going badly.
A door banged. A friendly smile carefully in place, he turned to face his lover. "Good morn—"
"Look, Kent," she spat out, her expression fierce, "I don't know what you think happened last night, but it never should have happened, and never will again."
He winced. This was not starting out well. "Lois, you have every right to be upset, but—"
"Upset? Upset? No, I am not upset," she told him, despite all evidence to the contrary. "But you need to know that it was a one-time thing and if you think you're going to sleep your way up the totem pole, you have got another think coming."
Of all the things Clark had thought Lois might say, this one hadn't occurred to him, and it flicked him on the raw. "I wouldn't! Lois—"
"Yeah, right, spare me the slick lines. They might work on all your other women, but not on me!"
"Lois, there are no —"
"And what the heck are you still doing here, anyway? What right do you have to be in my apartment?"
Clark's temper finally snapped. "Excuse me, would you have preferred if I'd snuck out in the middle of the night? Is that what your usual dates do?"
"My 'usual' dates treat me with *respect*, buster, and they don't get me drunk in order to crawl all over me!"
Clark's mouth fell open. "Lois, you had like *two* glasses of—"
She glared at him. "Get the hell out of my apartment."
"Gladly! Anything to get away from you!" Pausing only long enough to pull the frying pan off the burner, Clark stalked to her front door and began throwing open the locks.
Lois stalked after him. "And if word of this gets to the local gossip mills, I will not only get you fired from the Planet, I will make damn sure you never work in journalism again!"
Clark finally got through the locks and pulled the door open, turning to deliver his final retort, "Believe me, Lois, there is no way I want to talk about you, work with you, or even see you ever again!" Clark turned back towards the doorway, and stopped short.
Standing on the doorstep, with a very apologetic, almost cringing expression, was a strange short man. He was wearing a black Edwardian-type suit, and holding a bowler hat in front of him.
"Dear me," he exclaimed. "Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane … I am Herbert George Wells, and I can see I've arrived just in time."
Lois glared at the strange man on her doorstep, furious at him for interrupting. "Excuse me? What are you doing here — and how do you know my name — *our* names?"
"Oh, you're quite well known, you know, Ms. Lane." Wells gave a little half-bow in her direction before turning to Clark. "And you're famous yourself, my dear boy, or at least you will be — both of you."
It was on the tip of Lois's tongue to demand that the strange little man leave immediately, but something about the way he said that last phrase caught her attention. She looked at Clark and saw that he had definitely reacted to some sort of hidden message — he looked about ready to faint. This clearly merited further investigation, if only for the potential blackmail material to use against Clark.
Mr. Wells took advantage of her silence. "I'm here to help you both, you see, but, ah —" He glanced significantly up and down the hallway. "— if I could come in?"
Lois hated feeling out of control. She hated Clark for his mere presence this morning, when she only wanted to be left alone to repress her emotions, and she would derive immense satisfaction from throwing him and this other weirdo out. On the other hand … curiosity had always been her downfall, and she was dying to know what Wells had to say. Besides, the little man seemed to make Clark very uncomfortable, and Lois decided abruptly that this could be fun.
She stood back, grudgingly allowing him entrance. Clark still seemed to be in shock, only recovering himself after Wells brushed past him. Lois slammed the door shut, confusion adding itself to the welter of emotions besieging her, and stalked to one stiff white couch, staking it out as her territory and non-verbally daring either of the males present to approach.
Clark was carefully not looking at either of them, and seated himself opposite Lois. If Lois didn't know better, she would say he felt ashamed of himself, which was more than Claude ever had. It wasn't earning him any points, but at least he wasn't acting smug about his conquest. That would have been too humiliating.
It belatedly occurred to her that Clark hadn't been acting at all like Claude. Claude had stayed just long enough to get what he wanted, and it would never have occurred to him to make her breakfast. Unlike Clark, who had been behaving more like … a man starting a relationship. Not that she wanted one, of course, and certainly not with him. Well, she'd made that plain enough. He'd know better than to ever try to get close to her again.
Why on earth were her eyes watering so much? She swiped a hand over them, sniffled, and focused all her energy into glaring at Wells.
To her intense irritation, Wells beamed at them both. "Thank you, Ms. Lane. I appreciate that this is, ahem, rather an awkward moment, but that is in fact the reason I'm here. I know that you two, have, um, gotten to know each other a little too well, too fast, and—"
"You what?" Lois demanded, her voice rising a little more than she had intended, her glare swinging over to Clark. "What did you do, get up early to call all your friends?"
That brought Clark's face up, a stricken look on his features. "I didn't! I wouldn't! Lois, I have no idea what this—"
"No, Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent hasn't spoken to me, or to anyone. It would indeed be out of character for him to do so."
"Well, then…" Lois ground her teeth in frustration, then picked her words carefully. "I would appreciate it if you would try to explain just who you are and how you know — whatever you know."
"Ah, yes, that would be best, I think. You see, Ms. Lane, I am a time traveler."
Half an hour later, after innumerable interruptions and arguments from Lois, Clark felt that he had a rough understanding of what Wells was saying. Either that, or he was just as crazy as the old man, which was a distinct possibility. But Wells had known things about both of them that he shouldn't have known — some details about their respective childhoods — and that had convinced Clark that his story might be worth investigating. After all, were time-travelers any less likely than flying aliens?
"So what you're saying is, Lois and I are destined to be together," Clark began, voicing a thought that he definitely didn't object to, but that seemed unlikely at the moment, "but that we weren't ready for a relationship yet, so last night was a mistake —"
"That part's right, anyway," Lois grumbled from the other couch. He ignored her.
"So you're here to take us back in time to *yesterday* so that we won't remember that this ever happened, and our relationship will proceed the way it's supposed to?"
Wells beamed at him. "Just so, dear boy."
"And the only teensy tiny problem with that plan," Lois said, "is that it's completely insane."
Wells drew himself up, the very picture of wounded dignity. "I will be happy to prove my story to you, Ms. Lane—"
"Oh, yeah? Why don't you give me today's winning Metro Lottery number?"
"I don't gamble, Ms. Lane," he said stiffly, "so I'm afraid I haven't got that information. What I had in mind, instead, was a short trip in my time machine, to the future, to see the Utopia founded by, well, the two of you."
Clark's eyebrows went up. "Utopia? You're kidding, right?" It was a bizarre concept, on top of all the other strange things Wells had already said. He still hadn't quite figured out if Wells really did know that he was Superman — it had seemed like it, right at first, but maybe not, and Clark was certainly not going to give himself away.
Lois laughed. "Look, you've got an interesting story here, Herb, but if you think I'm going to get married and have 2.5 kids with Clark here, you are definitely a candidate for a loony bin." She glanced at his antiquated clothes and added, "Assuming you're not already a resident. For one thing, if I marry anyone — which is unlikely enough — I wouldn't settle for anyone less than Superman."
Wells only smiled. "That problem will resolve itself in a most unexpected way, Ms. Lane, I assure you. Rest assured, in another few years, you will appreciate all of Mr. Kent's fine qualities."
Clark squirmed, uncomfortable with the implications of this speech.
Lois merely rolled her eyes. "All right, I've heard enough. I was curious enough to let you in, but that's enough. Get out."
"But, Ms. Lane," Wells protested, for the first time looking genuinely distressed.
"Lois," Clark interceded reluctantly, "can we talk about this for a moment? Privately?"
She glared at him, but then slowly nodded. "Let's talk in the kitchen," she said, suiting action to words, not even looking to see if he'd follow.
Lois walked quickly into the kitchen, finally stopping against the far counter, trying to organize her whirling thoughts. She wished she'd been able to throw Clark out earlier. This Wells distraction had given her too much time to think. And remember. Her rage at Clark had suffered a severe check when she'd remembered how he'd planned to leave last night — until she'd kissed him. She'd practically seduced him. Clark had hesitated a few times, but she'd known exactly what she was doing, and had urged him on. The unexpected stirrings of shame confused her.
And then to be told that he was her future husband! It was laughable, really. Even if she ever planned to marry — which was doubtful — Kent was surely the last man she would pick. He was a country hack, way out of his league. Okay, so maybe there was a little bit of magic in his kisses, but that had probably just been the wine talking. And before that, kissing him on the plane, it had been only the spice of danger that had made her tingle all over. That was all.
She jumped, then turned around, pasting on a smile. "Okay, what did you want to talk about, Clark? You can't possibly believe that nutjob out there."
He looked at her somberly, then dropped his gaze. "First of all, I want to apologize for last night. I know I shouldn't have taken advantage of you, and I feel really awful about it. I wouldn't have stayed, except I thought we ought to talk about things, and we wouldn't really be able to, later … I'm sorry."
"Yeah, right, whatever," Lois mumbled, not quite ready to admit that he hadn't taken advantage of anything.
"Um, well," Clark continued hesitantly, glancing up at her. "I think we ought to check this guy out, Lois."
"You're kidding, right? He's insane!"
"Well, maybe … but it might be worth a little time to look into it." Clark paused, looking acutely uncomfortable. "Because if he's for real, that solves a lot of problems for us."
"You mean you'd voluntarily give up such a great locker- room story?" Lois couldn't resist asking. "It isn't every day someone can claim to have melted the Ice Maiden," she finished bitterly, remembering the unpleasantness years ago, when Claude had taken great delight in making fun of her. She was well aware that her reputation had only gotten more formidable since then — it had been a deliberate effort on her part.
Clark met her eyes for a moment. "I just think you'd be happier if … well, it hadn't happened, or at least if no one knew… If that's even possible, I mean."
Lois caught her breath, briefly caught in the spell of possibilities in his eyes. Wells had claimed she would eventually fall in love with this man, and for only a moment, she almost believed him. She shook herself out of it. "Um, yeah, probably. Was that it?"
Clark looked confused for a moment, then slowly nodded. "That's all I had to say. And, well … last night was … you were…" His eyes softened, his voice became husky, and a faint blush appeared. "You were really great."
"Cherish the memory, Kent," she scoffed, covering up her pleasure at the compliment. "However long you have it."
Clark followed Lois back into the living room, unsure of how she'd taken his words. At least she wasn't still hurling insults at him. And if Wells was right, maybe someday he'd be this close to her again, and she'd actually want him there … at the very least, he'd like for her not to hate him.
"Mr. Wells," he began, "I think—"
"We're not interested," Lois stated firmly.
Clark turned, staring at her. "What?"
Lois ignored him, concentrating on Wells. "Look, I don't know if you're an escapee from the local asylum, or if you're for real — but even if you're for real, I don't like the idea of you taking my memories away."
"But, but … Ms. Lane, you have to agree!" Wells looked very concerned, turning to Clark for support. "Mr. Kent, can't you reason with her?"
Clark looked at Wells for a moment, then looked at Lois. She was glaring at him. He thought about how much he wished he hadn't stayed last night. He thought about how difficult things would be at the Daily Planet from now on. He thought about endangering some future Utopia. In the end, his decision was easy. "Mr. Wells … I have to go with my partner. We're not interested."
He was rewarded by a surprised look from Lois, one which she quickly covered up by scowling at Wells. "Yeah, you heard him. Get out."
Wells fingered his hat nervously. "Ms. Lane, I really cannot emphasize enough the importance —"
"Well, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of *me* running my own life," Lois retorted, leaning forward and tapping Wells on the chest to emphasize her point. "I decide what I do, where I go, and who — and if! — I marry, and everything else. I am not about to risk that. And frankly, any Utopia that's based on me being any other way is probably not a place I'd like, anyway."
It was moments like these when Clark loved just watching Lois in action. Even as she turned to look at him, he couldn't stop smiling, and to his surprise, her glare softened in return, until she smiled back.
Mr. Wells blinked, twisted his hat brim, and turned pleading eyes to Clark. "Mr. Kent, may we speak privately?"
Clark considered it, glanced at Lois, and shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea."
Wells glanced nervously at Lois, then lowered his voice. "I don't like using desperate measures, Mr. Kent, but you must come with me, both of you — you simply must." The little man drew himself up to his full height. "So I will not hesitate to use my only resource — knowledge of your secret."
Clark narrowed his eyes. "You wouldn't."
"Only if I had no choice, believe me, Mr. Kent. But I imagine if I were to reveal certain pertinent facts to Ms. Lane, it would be in your immediate best interest to cooperate with my plan, which would, of course, erase all such knowledge."
Clark hesitated, feeling slightly panicky. He wanted to side with Lois here — apart from anything else, he agreed that they ought to keep control of their own lives, even under the current disastrous circumstances — and yet, if the secret of Superman were known, it would endanger his parents. He glanced at Lois, wondering frantically if he could trust her — he wanted to, but how he could possibly justify risking his parents over a relationship that was probably doomed anyway.
She met his eyes for a moment, and then nodded. "Okay, that's enough threats. Come on, Clark, let's throw this turkey out of here."
Before Clark could gather his wits, Lois had grabbed Wells by the arm and turned him around to face the door.
"I say!" squeaked the writer in protest.
Clark grinned as he took in this turn of events, and hurried to open the apartment door. He then took hold of Wells' other arm, and gently but firmly placed him out in the hallway. A few outraged syllables were heard before Lois slammed the door with great gusto.
The partners grinned at each other.
Left alone in the hallway, Wells sputtered. "But you don't understand," he wailed softly to himself. "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. All those people, the culture! I wonder if I dare look." He took a moment to resettle his clothing and attempt to calm his shattered nerves. He'd helped Lois and Clark so many times before, but never had they been like this! They just didn't realize…
"Still," he muttered to himself, walking slowly down the hall, "Perhaps there will be another way to rectify matters. I must check." Suiting action to words, he pulled out his time-stream monitor. He flipped open the pocket watch cover, fully expecting to see disaster.
"Oh my," he murmured, trying vainly to make sense of the readings. "But that's impossible … that can't be right!"
Inside the apartment, Lois leaned against the door jamb, flush with victory. "Nice work, Clark."
He shrugged modestly. "Oh, I know a great plan when I see one."
Lois laughed. "Stick with me, kid, and you'll go places."
Clark looked down at that. "Um, speaking of which, I should probably go."
Lois sighed. Time to be honest — at least a little bit. "You said that last night, too."
He looked up sharply. "You remember that?"
"I think I remember all of it, Clark. And I wasn't drunk — you didn't take advantage of me. It was just …" Words failed her. "I don't know what it was. Totally crazy, but it felt right at the time."
"Yeah," Clark replied softly, his voice gone slightly husky. "It did. Which, um, doesn't mean it was or anything, and I promise I won't presume on it, or expect anything, or say anything to anyone, or—"
"Clark," Lois chuckled. "Relax. It's okay. It was a weird thing, but it's okay. We're okay. Who knows?" she asked, feeling a return of last night's daring. "It might even happen again sometime. In the meantime," she hurried on, "we'll just keep working like normal."
"Maybe even partner up again?"
Lois shrugged, trying to appear indifferent. "If Perry says so. But we're actually not a bad team."
Clark remembered something Wells had said, and grinned. "The hottest team in town?"
Lois rolled her eyes at the reminder. "Don't get me started on that guy." She took a few steps closer to him, ending up almost but not quite touching his chest. "So … are you going to tell me this big secret?"
Clark smiled down at her, looking thoughtful. "You know, someday I might … but not yet, okay?"
Lois narrowed her eyes at him. She wouldn't have imagined that Kent had any sort of big secret, let alone one that scared him so much … but she'd let it lie — for now. "Okay. But only if you'll still make me breakfast."
Clark's smiled widened. "You have a deal."
An hour later, H.G. Wells was amazed to see Clark and Lois exit the building's elevator together. They were talking and laughing, with no sign of animosity between them. In bewilderment, he checked his watch again, but the device still forecasted a successful courtship, marriage, and long life for the couple — not even a soul mate curse to deal with. Miffed, he snapped the watch shut. If the universe was going to be like *that*, it could manage perfectly well without him from now on.
THE END <g>
This is inspired by the "Near Misses" series suggested by MissyToo, back in 1998, wherein L&C "consummate" at various points along the way, but each time, H.G. Wells has to set things right and erase their memories of the deed, so as not to change history from the "official" version. I began this then, but found I was lousy at writing nfic, and abandoned it.
Good thing I never get rid of my old drafts ;) Last summer it occurred to me that I could have fun with this concept, and do it in a PG way. Hope you don't mind, Missy :) Big thanks to Wendy and Irene, who both suffered through my extremely rough draft and helped me see where and what I needed to fix.