By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: August 2002
Summary: Some board games and true confessions, not to mention a pair of soulful eyes, lead to a surprising discovery for Lois.
This story is dedicated to some special friends, with whom I spent a wonderful week in the Italian Alps in August 2002. We had an absolutely fantastic time — the board games were only part of it! <g> — and it's a special holiday I'll always remember. So thank you, Helene, Chiara and Elena, for a terrific time, and a very special thanks and dedication to Elena, who was our generous host and excellent tour guide.
The characters in this story are the property of DC Comics and Warner Brothers; no breach of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction, which is most definitely non-profit-making!
"You're even weirder than I thought, Clark Kent!"
He grinned, a devilish smile which only made him look even more attractive.
Now, what in the world had made her think that? *Attractive*? *Clark*?
But he was. With that strong jaw, his charming smiles and the way his dark hair flopped forward over his forehead, and the gentle warmth which frequently lurked in his eyes — when they weren't hinting at wickedness to come — he was really one of the most attractive men she'd ever set eyes on.
Even more attractive than Superman.
Yes, he was, because Superman rarely relaxed the way Clark did. He smiled, sure, but they were brief glimpses of a different person, and she suspected that it wasn't a part of him that he liked to allow to escape very often. Just occasionally, she'd wondered at the potential for humour which might lurk behind the carefully-schooled expressions. Once or twice, something in his eyes had made her wonder whether he was quite as straight-laced as he seemed.
And those eyes… Yes, Clark was drop-dead gorgeous, and he was better-looking than Superman. But Superman's best feature were those dark, soulful eyes, which gazed at her as if they could see right to the core of her. No-one had eyes as beautiful as Superman's. Those eyes had stared at her, smiled at her, in many a dream.
But it wasn't Superman whose mischievous eyes were glinting at her right now from behind his glasses. Clark sat across the table from her in his apartment, and she could tell that he was plotting something.
Not that she minded, for all her protests. Clark had been the best friend she could have wished for over the past few weeks, ever since she'd stood in his arms and watched her erstwhile fiance tumble to his death from the penthouse floor of the LexCorp building. He'd understood, without ever having to be told, that she blamed herself for failing to see through Lex's facade and for having turned her back on all her friends in favour of a wealthy man's imitation of love.
He never pushed her to talk, and he'd never once demanded an apology for the way she'd treated him, although he'd be well within his rights to expect it. As a result, his undemanding, ongoing offer of pure friendship had persuaded her to tell him far more than she'd ever have confided in anyone else in the circumstances. She'd spent long hours trying to explain, to herself as much as to him, why she'd accepted Lex's proposal when she'd known that she hadn't loved him. And she'd told him how she'd finally come to her senses and stopped the wedding ceremony — although she'd kept to herself the tiny detail of what had actually made her do it in the end. Those thoughts of Clark himself, and how special he'd become to her, were a secret she'd keep with her forever. She'd stupidly thrown away her opportunity where he was concerned, after all.
She was well aware that Clark was using just about every resource at his disposal to keep her so busy that she simply didn't have time to brood over her stupidity and humiliation. Take this evening, for example. That afternoon, there'd been yet another revelation about Lex Luthor: proof that he'd been behind a major scandal in Metropolis's pharmaceutical industry, which had caused several deaths. And, of course, the news had provided the city's media with an excuse to resurrect all the rest of the Luthor story, including his suicide at his own wedding. His wedding to Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet.
For the past month, instead of reporting the news, Lois had been the news. And she was fed up with being the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons.
So she hadn't been surprised when Clark had, oh so casually, mentioned that he was doing nothing that evening and would like it if she could come over for dinner. He'd make pasta, he'd promised, and they could watch a movie or play a couple of games, he'd suggested.
Dinner had been great, as ever when Clark cooked. And now, instead of the movie she'd assumed they'd watch, they were sitting cross-legged on the floor playing silly board games. Not for Clark sensible games like Trivial Pursuit or even Scrabble — although, considering the way she'd cheated at Scrabble when they'd played it before, she could understand it. No, he'd unearthed some games she hadn't played since she was a child. After several riotous rounds of Tiddlywinks, he'd produced Snakes and Ladders, and now they were playing a travel game in which each player had to visit a number of locations while at the same time putting roadblocks in their opponent's path.
"Who, me?" he queried, pretending ignorance in response to her bantering accusation.
"Yes, you! You're highly intelligent, you've travelled all over the world, you speak dozens of languages and you're so well-read I can't keep up with you… and you like playing these crazy games!"
"You're not having fun?" he asked, this time with a note of pretend-hurt in his voice.
Lois grinned at him. "How could I not be having fun, when I get to laugh at you?"
"I'm wounded!" he exclaimed. "Here I am, trying my best to entertain a beautiful woman for the evening, and all you can do is mock me!"
The compliment made her feel uneasy for a moment, as it brought back all the times when Lex had referred to her appearance; empty compliments, she'd finally accepted, as he'd never really loved her anyway. She'd been just another trophy as far as Lex was concerned. And his flattery had been no more than that: words to make her think that he cared, but ultimately meaningless.
But this was Clark, not Lex; and Clark never paid her empty compliments. If he said she was beautiful, he meant it. And he hadn't said it with any ulterior motive, either; she didn't even have to look at him to know that. He'd said it because he thought it was true, and probably because he was exerting all his efforts to make her feel good about herself again.
So she smiled impishly at him. "Clark, when you have a beautiful woman in your apartment, is this the kind of entertainment you usually offer her? Because if so, I'm not really surprised that you don't have a girlfriend."
"Ah." He ducked his head briefly. "So you think I need advice on how to attract a woman, then?"
"It probably wouldn't do any harm. Oh, you *louse*!" she exclaimed then as he moved a roadblock and placed it right in front of her counter.
"Such compliments you pay me," he said, sighing. "Okay, so how should I treat a woman if she was my date for the evening?"
"Well, I'd keep the board games out of sight, for a start." Lois drew a Chance card from the pack then, and emitted a cry of exultation. "Send another player to a location of your choice. Okay… Clark, you're going… let's see. I've got it," she added gleefully, grabbing his playing counter. "You're going all the way over there," she informed him, moving his piece to the opposite side of the board.
"Ah. You're so kind to me, Lois," Clark said dryly. "But, you know, you actually helped me here, because…" He paused to select a card from his hand. "Here we are! This is exactly where I needed to be." Placing the card on the floor between them, he added with a broad grin, "And now I think I'm winning!"
"We'll see about that!" Lois growled. Rolling the dice, she crowed loudly as she threw a six, which allowed her to remove the roadblock and then place it in his path instead.
"You…" he began, growling at her, before breaking off into laughter. "And you claim that you're not enjoying this?"
"Did I say that?" she asked him, deliberately putting on a wide-eyed expression. "Clark Kent, I'm going to beat the crap out of you in this game! Or any other you care you suggest."
"It's just as well that I don't have a competitive nature like you, Lois," Clark commented, grinning at her.
"Yes, you. You, the woman who always has to win at everything, even when you know you're outclassed."
"Oh? And just who am I outclassed by? You couldn't possibly mean you?" Lois rolled her eyes at him.
"Well, when I can't even suggest that we play Scrabble because you don't want to be reminded that you lost…" He trailed off, laughing, as she smacked his arm repeatedly.
Rolling the dice again, Clark managed to pick up a Chance card. "Hey! I get to hand back one of my destination cards. And since I only had one left… guess I win." He laughed at her indignant howls of protest.
"So, you never answered my question," Clark said once they'd put the game away and they were sitting together on the floor, their backs to the sofa.
"What question was that?"
"How I should treat a woman if she was my date."
"Oh." Lois hesitated as the image of Clark in his apartment with a woman — a woman who wasn't her — swam before her eyes. He wouldn't sit on the floor with her and play silly games. He wouldn't swap insults with a woman he was dating. With a girlfriend, Clark would be the perfect gentleman. He'd pay her compliments — okay, he'd paid her a compliment earlier, but that was a kindness for a friend. She somehow knew that Clark would make his girlfriend feel as if she was the most precious thing in the world to him.
And that was a way Lex had never made her feel. Nor had any other man she'd ever dated. Just once, Lois wished that she could believe that she was the centre of the universe for someone. Even if it didn't last, even if he dumped her the day after, she wanted to feel that some man thought she was the most precious jewel in the world to him. She envied the unknown woman who would some day be in that position for Clark.
But the worst thing about Clark being with a girlfriend was that he wouldn't be with *her*.
She and Clark spent so much time together; at times they practically lived at each other's apartments. Particularly over the past couple of weeks, there'd been evenings when she'd just stayed over at Clark's, sleeping in his bed while he took the sofa, rather than driving home at after midnight. If she felt like going out for a burger, or wanted to watch a movie with takeout, or to the ballgame at a weekend, she went with Clark. He was the person she called late at night when she was on her own, just to say goodnight and to share a joke and some private thoughts. If she was going shopping, she'd drag him along to carry her bags.
If Clark had a girlfriend… then Lois would be out of the picture. No woman was going to want her boyfriend's female friend calling him up last thing at night, or demanding that he take her to the latest must-see movie.
But she couldn't be selfish, she told herself bleakly. After all, only a couple of months ago the boot had been on the other foot; she'd been the one who'd abandoned her best friend for a boyfriend. It hadn't been Clark's fault that Lex had been a monster and the relationship had fallen apart. And she'd been extremely lucky that Clark was not only still single, but had been prepared to forgive her and allow her to pick up the pieces of their friendship as if nothing had happened.
And so if Clark wanted relationship advice, if he was longing for someone special in his life, then the very least she could do for him, after all he'd done for her, was to help him. Give him a few tips about how women liked to be treated. Tell him the kind of things to avoid — warn him away from the usual mistakes men tended to make. Not that Clark really needed much help, she thought, surprising herself at how sad the realisation made her. Just as he was, he was pretty much any woman's dream date. Dream boyfriend.
And just as he was, he was her dream boyfriend.
It was just her bad luck that she'd admitted it to herself a couple of months too late.
Serious now, she turned her head to look at Clark. He'd been such a great friend to her; she couldn't possibly tease him about this. He deserved the truth.
"Clark… you really don't need any advice from me. You're pretty wonderful just as you are," she told him softly. "I can't understand why some woman hasn't snapped you up long ago."
"I guess my good looks and charm just do nothing for them," he said lightly, but she saw the blush which crept over his handsome features.
"Idiot!" Lois said teasingly, bumping his shoulder with hers. "You have to know that women find you attractive. Remember the way Cat stalked you when you first came to the Planet? And Linda King and Toni Taylor… I spent most of the last year falling over your admirers!"
This time the blush covered his entire face and he shook his head, smiling awkwardly. "Lois…"
"I'm serious, Clark. You've got everything going for you. So, come on, tell me — why don't you have a girlfriend?" she persisted, wondering at the same time why she seemed to be intent on causing herself pain. Did she want to drive him away from her?
But perhaps she owed it to Clark to help him. After all, he'd been so good to her. It really was the least she could do… even if it did mean that some day soon she would lose him.
She'd lose her best friend, and the man who meant more to her than anyone else in the world.
He sighed gently, then turned towards her again, giving her a wry, slightly embarrassed smile. "Well, okay, Lois. I guess I should be honest with you; the real reason I don't have a girlfriend is that the woman I'm completely crazy about… isn't crazy about me."
She was unable to prevent herself from taking a sharp breath. Had she already lost Clark? He was in love with someone?
But who could it be? He spent most of his time with her, so when did he get any time to be with this woman he was crazy about? Although he'd said that she wasn't crazy about him, so presumably that was why he never spent time with her. All the same… Clark was in love.
He was in love with someone else, and so she'd already lost him.
And yet… yet she couldn't be selfish, she told herself harshly. He didn't deserve that — in fact, he deserved an awful lot better from her. She owed it to him to help him in any way she could. That was what friends did for each other, and it was more than time that she showed herself to be a true friend to Clark, the way he was to her.
"Clark." She reached out and took his hand, holding it between her two and sliding a little closer to him. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea that there was someone… I can't believe that she doesn't care for you. She must be blind!"
He squeezed her hand in return, smiling lop-sidedly. "Oh, she does care for me. She just… doesn't love me the way I love her. But it doesn't matter. As long as I have her friendship, I'm happy."
"You shouldn't have to settle for second-best, Clark," she said softly. "I wish there was some way… I mean, have you tried telling her how you feel?"
She saw him bite his lip, and wondered whether he objected to her questioning him about this. "Clark, if this is too personal…"
"No — no, I don't mind," he told her after a moment, his expression thoughtful, but still a little awkward. "Yeah, I did tell her. But… it didn't go so well. Like I said, she cares for me, but only as a friend. But, like I said, I'd rather have her as a friend than lose her altogether. I… know how it feels to lose a very special friend, Lois, and I never want that to happen again. So I'm happy to settle for friendship."
He knew how it felt to lose a very special friend, Lois thought. And so did she, of course, during those painful weeks when she'd thought she'd lost his friendship for ever. She'd been engaged to be married during that period; it should have been the happiest time of her life. And yet every night she'd lain awake, missing Clark, missing their friendship, longing to have him back in her life.
Oh, she knew how it felt.
Then it hit her. Clark was talking about having lost her friendship.
And he'd told her, near the start of those horrible weeks, that he loved her.
And she'd told him that she just didn't feel that way about him; that she loved him as a friend.
Could it possibly be…?
But he'd told her, outside the Daily Planet that day when Franklin Stern had bought the paper, that he didn't love her in that way. That he'd have said anything to stop her marrying Lex. That all he felt for her was friendship — as she did for him.
So she'd accepted that she'd have to settle for friendship with him after all.
To settle for friendship…
Which was what Clark had just said that he'd resigned himself to doing with this woman he was crazy about…
She stared at him. He was still sitting next to her, their shoulders touching lightly now, and his hand was still enfolded between her two. His expression, though, was wary, as if he was worried about what she might say. And she realised that he'd told her just enough to allow her to work it out if she wanted to, but not enough to make his feelings so obvious that neither could pretend that they were unaware of it. If she'd wanted to ignore the hint in his words, she could have and they'd both have gone on as if they'd never been said.
But she didn't want to ignore what he'd almost said.
In fact… it was possibly the most beautiful thing she'd ever heard.
"This friend, Clark…" she began, almost shyly.
"Yes?" he questioned.
"Maybe it's none of my business, but I can't help thinking that if she turned you down, she must be pretty stupid. And blind. She obviously doesn't deserve you if she can't see what's right under her nose." She looked up at him from under her eyelashes, sending him a silent, shameful apology for her stupidity.
Again, he bit his lip before continuing. "I'm not so sure about that. To me, she's the most wonderful woman in the world. She's beautiful, funny, intelligent, stubborn, loyal and the best friend I've ever had. I would never call her stupid."
Now, if she'd had the slightest doubt before that he could be talking about her, she knew for certain. He wasn't looking at her any more; instead, he was gazing down at his hands and she realised that he was very uncertain about how she was going to react. Now, he'd made himself extremely clear; he'd stuck his neck out, as he'd done once before, and he was wondering if he was going to be shot down once again.
Why had he decided to take a chance tonight? Lois had no idea, but she was very grateful that he'd done so.
She moved closer still to him, her body now pressing against his as she leaned against him, turned so that she was looking right up into his downturned face. Holding on very tightly to his hand, she said softly, "So… I guess, from what you say, that you might even be willing to give her a second chance? I mean… for all you know, she could have changed her mind, realised what an idiot she'd been…"
He shifted, turning again to look at her; his expression was unreadable, but his eyes met hers directly. "You think she might have?"
"I think it's a distinct possibility," Lois answered, a catch in her voice.
"And… so you think I should ask her?" This time there was a note of hope in his tone.
"I wish you would," she murmured, pleading softly, before she could stop herself.
His hand tightened around hers, and his free arm came around her shoulders. The expression in his eyes as he gazed at her took her breath away. The love and longing she saw blazing there gave her hope that it wasn't too late; that she hadn't after all, through her own foolishness, lost the best chance of a relationship she'd ever had. She hadn't lost Clark to someone else.
"Lois… you know who I'm talking about, don't you?" he said softly.
"I… hope I do." Holding her breath, she waited.
"You'd better, because I don't want to make a fool of myself again," he muttered. "I'm not sure that I'd survive this time…" he added, in a voice so low she barely heard him. Then he took a deep breath and shifted to meet her gaze, his dark eyes revealing an expression of longing which took her breath away. "Lois… I thought I'd have to settle for friendship with you, but if there's even a chance that we could have something more…"
"Please, Clark," she pleaded, gripping his hand tightly as she waited anxiously for his response.
He didn't say anything. Instead, he withdrew his hand from hers, and his arm from around her shoulders, leaving her bereft.
Then he brought both hands up to frame her face, drawing her closer to him as he lowered his head to hers, giving her plenty of time to draw back if she wanted.
She didn't want to. Instead, she parted her lips, ready for his kiss. And as his mouth touched hers, she moaned softly, wrapping her arms around his neck and holding him to her, the way she wanted — needed — to hold him. The way she should have held him right from the very first moment she'd seen him. Why had it taken her so long to realise what a prize she had in Clark Kent? Why had she so stupidly rejected him before?
Amazingly — miraculously — he'd given her another chance. And she wasn't rejecting him now. Not this time. Not ever again.
She'd kissed Clark before, but this was the first time that it was real. This was the first time she'd touched his lips with hers wanting his kiss, needing his embrace, longing to be held and loved by him.
And she wasn't disappointed. The first contact of their lips left her wanting — needing — more, and she returned his kiss with all the need and love she felt for him. Almost like a dream, they kissed and touched, lips brushing back and forth across each other's, parting briefly for breath before returning as if driven by some invisible impulse, or destiny perhaps, to lock together.
Clark's kisses set her on fire, unlike Lex's, which had always left her feeling just a little bit uncomfortable. He slanted his mouth over hers, tasting her and nibbling gently at her lip as he did so. She parted her lips, eager to allow him entry, and he groaned softly, pulling her to sit across his lap as they both deepened the kiss, neither wanting to let go.
A long time afterwards, he raised his head, still holding her close to his chest, and he smiled dazedly at her. "Lois… I lied to you that day, you know."
"When you said you didn't love me? I think I just figured that out a few minutes ago," she said, a little embarrassed still at the memory of how stupid she'd been in so many respects. "Can you ever forgive me for being such an idiot and hurting you so much?"
"Can you ever forgive me for putting our friendship on the line?" he said quietly in return. "I knew that was the answer I'd get, Lois. It wasn't a surprise to me. And just when you needed a friend most, I made it impossible for us to continue being friends. That wasn't very fair to you."
"But I did love you, even then," she confessed. "I… I was always too scared to admit it even to myself. And when I finally did admit it, it was almost too late."
"It would never have been too late for me, Lois," he told her softly. "I could never stop loving you. Even if we hadn't talked tonight, I'd still have waited, and hoped, that maybe some day…"
"I don't mean that, Clark," she said, feeling that she owed him the truth about that too. "I mean… when I was standing at the altar ready to say "I do," I realised that I couldn't say it because I loved you."
His intake of breath was audible. Then he hugged her tightly and bent to kiss her forehead. "Oh, Lois," was all he said.
"Clark…" They had a lot to say to each other, Lois knew. But somehow, she didn't want to say any of it now. There would be plenty of time for that later. Right now, she needed the reassurance of his love, and the passion of his kisses.
She reached for his glasses, beginning to slide them off; she'd never seen her partner and the man she loved without his glasses, and now somehow it seemed important that she should. She wanted to see him as he really was.
His hand came up sharply, as if he was going to stop her; then he let it fall again and he nodded very slightly, as if giving her permission. Laying the glasses on the sofa behind them, Lois returned her gaze to his face, to look at him properly.
He met her gaze, his expression gentle and loving. And his dark eyes stared back at her, love in every portion of their gaze.
Soulful eyes. Eyes which gazed at her as if they could see right to the core of her.
And she knew.
Those eyes had smiled at her, gazed deeply at her, in numerous dreams. And now they were smiling at her, giving her a questioning and yet at the same time somehow reassuring look. And it was as if she'd always known, or should have known.
Clark had Superman's eyes.
But in the same moment, as she tugged Clark's head to her for another kiss, she knew that it didn't matter whose eyes were gazing down at her.
Clark's or Superman's; they belonged to the man she loved.
Now and always.