By Missy Gallant <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2002
Summary: It's the end of Lois and Clark's date, and Clark is seeing Lois home. What a moment for him to choose to be a lunkhead!
Many thanks go to my BR's, Carol Moncado, Laura Davies, Paul Weiner and Meredith Knight. I appreciate all the time and effort spent brainstorming and editing this story. No copyright infringements were intended in this story.
The night air gently kissed their faces with a whisper of a breeze. With every step that he and his beautiful date took, the most perfect night in his whole life appeared to be coming to a close. Clark Kent smiled wistfully in appreciation of his partner and best friend as they made their way towards her apartment. When he had first laid eyes on her that evening Lois had been, and still was, absolutely breathtaking.
A wonderful companion and enrapturing date, she'd held his undivided attention all evening. He had wined and dined her as he had always dreamed. Her soft moans of delight when he had shared his chocolate dessert with her would haunt his dreams for many nights to come. The playful way she had flirted and teased had been from a scene straight out of his imagination. Even so, the closer they came to arriving at Lois' door, the more he was filled with apprehension.
This was almost too good to be true. It wasn't a dream or a fantasy; he was walking Lois home after a date — a wonderful date — and things were forever changing between them. What was he thinking? Dating Lois? This was what he had wanted for so long — after all, he'd fallen in love with her the first time he'd laid eyes on her in Perry's office.
Her soft chatter was starting to come in faster waves and Clark suspected that if he listened carefully to her heartbeat, he'd find it keeping pace with her words. Placing his hand on the small of her back, he gently escorted her up the stairs to her apartment building. He quickly stepped ahead of her and opened the door for her.
She smiled at him.
It was a different smile from what he was used to receiving from Lois. Not a smile of friendship, nor a polite exchange of pleasantries, it was something unlike anything they had ever shared before.
The secret smile touched her lips, then quickly flitted away. It was shy, flirty and totally feminine. Lois Lane hardly ever revealed that side of herself to him, or anyone. Sure, she had dressed in short skirts on occasion to show off that fantastic body, and was not above using her feminine wiles to obtain information on a story. Heck, she'd even used it on him occasionally, but it always had been calculated and with a certain goal in mind.
Early in their partnership, it had been become a last resort to get him to see things her way, and most of the time it had involved a story. On those occasions, he'd always seen it for what it was — a ploy to get what she wanted. At first he'd always shaken it off good-naturedly, but during the past few months, he'd begun to change his response to her tactics. Instead of being a wide-eyed schoolboy, he'd swap flirtations, or call her on her actions.
But there was no pretense behind the demure smile of his partner tonight. He had seen it while they were eating in the restaurant earlier — she'd been looking at him in a whole new light — almost like he'd suddenly grown a second head or was meeting him for the first time. Although it wasn't at all an unpleasant feeling to have Lois gaze at him that way, it reminded him that the seasons were changing in their relationship. That realization left him a bit unsettled.
After punching the button to signal the elevator, he felt her small hand slide easily into his. Her fingers entwined sensually around his own and he returned her gesture with a tiny squeeze. The warmth of personal contact in his hand set off a tingling in the pit of his stomach, and he gulped silently as the elevator doors opened.
What would Lois be expecting when they reached her doorway? A handshake goodnight? A peck on the cheek? A full kiss on the lips? His thoughts on what was to come was beginning to make his palms sweat; and he *never* perspired — except around Lois.
Oh no!! Not sweaty palms… This was not a time to begin a career as a perspiring individual. If ever he had needed his superpowers to override his humanity, it was now.
He sidestepped a bit in the doorway, trying to handle the new situation of entering an elevator without releasing her hand. If he let go first, then she might take it that he didn't want to hold it any longer, but if he held on then it might be construed that he was being clingy or desperate.
Without letting go of each other's hands, they arranged themselves in the elevator, her shoulder barely resting against his. He glanced down at the dark head beside him and filled his senses with the fresh scent that was uniquely Lois. Her essence invaded his being completely… he could breathe in and there she would be — a part of him.
The elevator slowed to a stop and Lois flashed a quick glance up at him before stepping out into the hallway. What was that — an unsure expression on her face? Was ending their date making her feel uncomfortable around him?
Having extraordinary powers had its advantages. And disadvantages… What would Lois think if she knew that she had just gone on a date with his alter ego, Superman? Her behavior around him when he was dressed in the Suit had been fairly similar to her demeanor around him tonight. In the months he'd known her, he longed to have her look at him the way she did at Superman. Now that she was starting to think differently about Clark, he wondered how that would affect their relationship if she knew he was the superhero.
Unable to resist any longer, he activated his super hearing to tune in on her heartbeat. It was going fast and furious, like three hundred beats per second. She was scared to death… just as terrified as he.
One thing he'd never wanted was for Lois to be afraid to be around him. He released her hand and stepped to the side to allow her to pass in front of him.
Smart move, Kent! Duck behind the polite veneer of being a gentleman and let the woman go first. At least that move gave them the bit of space that they needed to allow their heart rates to settle down. A chance to take it a bit easier before reaching her doorway in about… five seconds.
This should be the moment that he'd been waiting for since he'd first laid eyes on her — the instant where the definition of their relationship was changed forever from friendship to something stronger, and, at the same time, even more fragile. Was that what he was afraid of? Afraid that their friendship would be left in the dust? He still considered himself inexperienced in the relationship department and hoped he could be what Lois needed, yet this was uncharted territory for him. Lois Lane would be uncharted territory for any man.
He was very aware that Lois viewed romantic relationships unfavorably — it was very possible that she would dismiss him into the same category as the other men in her life who had failed her. Not that he had done anything… yet. How was she going to feel about him once she knew about Superman? There was no reason to keep that part of his life from her if their relationship had the possibility of going to the next level.
Clark sucked in a deep breath and plowed on… towards her apartment door.
Lois walked ahead, her eyes fixed determinedly on the floor ahead of her, well aware of the man walking close behind her. Why did she feel like some starry-eyed teenager on her way back from the prom? This was her partner, for crying out loud, being a charming escort and incredibly handsome date. It had been like a wonderful dream to see Clark in a whole different light.
Clark had asked her to dance with him while they waited for their dinner. Moving into his arms had seemed like the most natural thing in the world. When they had closed around her she knew at that precise moment that she was falling in love with him. She probably had been in love with him for a long time but it was only now that she was able to recognize it and, at last, accept it.
Their dance had been heavenly. Clark was a wonderful dancer but it was being held close to him, smelling his cologne and laying her head on his chest, that had finally sent the army of red flags scurrying for cover. He had always been there for her and there was no reason to think that he'd desert her now.
Unless you counted the countless times he'd disappeared when they were supposed to be together working or relaxing. It could be that it was one of his quirks — some deep- seated need to flee at the most inopportune moments. But he hadn't left her tonight and it had felt so right to be with him as his date.
Her face heated slightly once more at remembering her slip of tongue during their dinner. Clark had said something about people only seeming to express themselves when they were being passionate and her imagination had swooped in and taken control. She could have almost died when the words slipped out her mouth about being passionate when making love, and it had suddenly occurred to her at that precise moment that that was what she'd been thinking the whole night. Not to the extreme of making love with Clark… yet, but the desire for her best friend and partner had blossomed like a desert rose overnight. She *wanted* to feel his arms around her and snuggle up close to his chest. She wanted to feel his lips on hers as they finally surrendered to the electric undercurrents that had been present the whole night.
Now the time was coming to either calmly say good-bye or… express themselves.
She could tell Clark felt the pressure also. His jaw had been twitching earlier on the ride up to her floor. Probably just his old country boy manners shining through — could be that there wasn't any hay laying around on the hallway to make him feel at home…
No… that wasn't fair — Clark was far past the bumbling farm boy stage. He was all that she'd ever dreamed a man could be. Even Superman couldn't have held a candle to him tonight, she admitted to herself with a tiny smile. Yep, her country hack had outdone himself beyond her wildest expectations. Now she was ready to seal this date with a kiss.
Her knees grew weak as she fished around for her keys. Stumbling across a breath mint in her purse, she frantically wondered if she would have time to freshen her mouth — just in case she'd accidentally eaten something with onions. Maybe he wouldn't mind if she made an excuse to powder her nose quickly… No, Lane. This was something that needed to be done on blind faith.
Her hand stilled on the doorknob and she willed herself to calm down for a moment. Thinking about his easy smile and gentle grace, she let herself relax as she inserted the key in the lock. This was Clark, her best friend and partner; he always made her feel at ease. Surely when he kissed her — a shiver of excitement raced up her spine and she sucked in her breath in anticipation — it would be in the same gentlemanly fashion she'd grown to adore.
Not *too* gentlemanly, she thought dizzily as her imagination pounced on her heart once more.
Her door opened and she turned to face him. "Well…" Casual was good. Shouldn't appear to be too eager.
"Yeah," Clark glanced downwards then met her full in the face. Uncertainty crept into his expression.
"Okay… here goes. Look, Clark, I had a really nice time tonight."
"So did I."
"No, I mean a *really* nice time. Maybe the best time I ever had. It wasn't the funniest. Or the wildest, or the…"
"Don't knock yourself out, Lois." His good-natured smile was somewhat forced, yet he couldn't help but tease her a bit.
"But everything seemed to just… *work*. I really liked it." Her whole being was filled with waiting as she swayed towards him ever so slightly, thinking that he would do the same.
"That's why I can never see you again," he said determinedly as he gently escorted her inside by the elbow, then shut the door firmly, leaving her with her mouth hanging open in shock.
He heard her muffled call through the wooden door and nearly stopped his hasty retreat to the stairs. He didn't even have the excuse of using Superman to leave this time. It was all his own doing. He had left her.
Taking the steps a few at a time, he felt the walls were closing in on him. Not because of Lois, but because of what he couldn't be to her. He walked out into the night air from her apartment building but couldn't make himself leave entirely. Then it hit him; he'd blown it! He'd absolutely blown the only chance that he'd ever have with Lois. She'd sooner spit in his eye from now on rather than let him explain or fall back into their easy friendship.
He would have been just another one of her disappointments — another man who had chosen to lie to her instead of giving her the truth that she deserved. He'd been lying to her for months now so it wasn't as if this would be the first time. Every time he made an excuse to run off to be Superman he'd been deceiving her. Every time it crossed his mind that he should tell her who he was and didn't, he choose to leave her in the dark. When it came down to the bare tacks, he'd been wrong to keep his other identity from her — especially after they'd been best friends and hinting at becoming more for months.
Sometimes he wished he'd never created Superman; then he wouldn't have gone through her falling in love with a one- dimensional side of himself. It had been difficult restraining his feelings in both guises. As Superman, he longed to give in to the hero worship she bestowed upon him. Quite a few times there had been opportunity to romance her and to show how he felt about her. It could have been so easy to advance that relationship. But he didn't want her in love with Superman; he wanted her to love him as Clark.
As Clark, he still longed to show her his feelings, yet the reasons for holding back were different — he'd never felt that Lois wanted him in that way. She'd even told him, that day in the park, that she loved him as a brother. That was what she'd needed from him during that timeframe in her life, so a brother he'd been to her — except for recently when they'd decided to try dating.
He'd always remember tonight as the one perfect chance that he'd ruined. Already he could envision many sleepless nights over what could have been between them if he hadn't balked and turned her away.
It would have been so easy to have captured those full lips with his and finally taste what the future could hold for them. But this was too soon for both of them. It wasn't fair to Lois when she didn't know who he really was.
As he contemplated their rocky relationship, which was doomed from the start, he realized that he never should have asked her out. Not before she knew who he was and not before he was willing to risk their friendship.
A heaviness centered in his chest as he sat down on the steps of her apartment building. He buried his head in his hands.
After manually clamping her gaping mouth shut, Lois collapsed against the door in disbelief. What was that all about? She had been ready to kiss Clark and seal the new stage of their relationship when he'd abruptly shoved her inside and left.
Her mind was spinning in bewilderment. Was this another one of his departures from any kind of intimate conversation, or was it something she'd done? Her lip quivered and she felt her heart sink in disappointment. Another federal disaster applied for — before it had even begun!
Why did this always have to happen to her? Probably because she'd just admitted to herself that she loved him. Did she wear a big sign on her forehead saying, "Welcome! Dirtbags and pond scum will not be turned away"?
Her heart flinched at referring to Clark as a dirtbag, but it hurt her to think that he'd intentionally treat her that way. His deep brown eyes had been filled with the same longing she'd been feeling for him, yet he had pushed her away and run… again.
Lately his timing for leaving was way off. And his excuses were full of gaps. Cheese of the month? Probably Swiss cheese considering all the holes in his stories. Yet another dentist appointment? Realistically, how many cavities could one guy have in a week? Speaking of which, she never saw him in pain or talking funny from any anesthetic. But he did eat all those sweets; maybe they were finally starting to take their toll on his teeth.
She snorted in disgust. The man had just shut the door in her face and she was contemplating his dental history — focus, Lois. You're mad, remember?
The last thing she had expected from Clark at the end of their date — what appeared to be a wonderful date at least to her — was for him to escort her inside and slam the door. *Her* door, for that matter.
Launching herself off the traitorous door, she began pacing furiously. How could he do this to her? How could he just leave her when she was finally ready to bare her heart to him? If you'd asked her a few hours ago who would be the one to panic and shut a door in the other's face, she'd have bet her paycheck that it would have been her. She was the one who was squeamish about relationships. If she was able to get past her mountain of doubts and preceding federal disasters, he should get past whatever was bothering him. Clark didn't slam doors! He was more likely to sulk before doing anything rash like that.
Unless there was something else that he wasn't telling her… or couldn't tell her. No, she didn't quite believe that Clark wanted to be a coward — she'd seen the way he had been looking her at all night. The same way she'd been looking at him -like a lovesick puppy. So there had to be something else going on with him. Clark cared for her — that was one thing she could take to the bank — but in what capacity? That was what she had to find out.
There she had been, beginning to believe that he was unlike any of the other guys she'd dated. She had just started to think that maybe, just *maybe*, if she could get past all of her insecurities, this time it might work out a bit differently. But no, in typical fashion, she'd gotten her hopes up just to find them dashed to the ground *and* stomped on.
Fine! He could slam doors and make all the excuses he wanted; it just wasn't going to be with her. Surely Martha had raised him better than this. She'd bend his ear in three pieces if she had any idea that Clark had treated his date like a discarded doll.
Pausing in mid-stride, she grabbed the telephone on an impulse and speed-dialed the Kents' number. Before it could ring, she slammed down the headset on the cradle. What was she thinking? They would have been sleeping for hours — and just what was she planning on telling them? That their son was being a big jerk and had left her twiddling her thumbs in her doorway while he satisfied some deep-rooted need to flee from any personal commitment?
Now her feet were beginning to hurt. Muttering impatiently, she bent to pull off one of her high-heeled shoes and lost her balance. As she hopped past her window, a pair of broad shoulders popped into view. After giving up the unequal struggle with her shoes and leaning out the window, she could see him more clearly. He hadn't gotten very far; he was sitting on the steps to her building, his head was buried in his hands and his posture spoke of defeat. Humph! So he thought he was going to hang around and tuck his tail between his legs. Not on her apartment steps! But he was out there moping around — just like a sitting duck.
She fought the temptation to throw something at him — he looked as if he was doing a good job at beating himself up without her help — but that lasted only a few seconds.
A hair roller, a scattered remnant of her preparation for their date, sat on the table by the window. Snatching the curler, she leaned out the opened window and flung it at the dark head below.
Odd-shaped, full of holes and not meant to be a projectile, the curler lost its momentum a few feet from the window and landed quietly in the bushes below.
Her apartment had been hastily cleaned as she had gotten ready earlier that night. All the more likely items that would have made a better impression on her victim had been stuffed away. All that was left were pillows and throws, unless she searched for something more substantial elsewhere.
Storming to her closet to look for another object to throw at him, she grabbed an old pair of rubber boots and tossed them behind her. The small stack of old magazines followed, but nothing that would make a profound impact… on his head.
"How dare you, Clark?" she yelled while lobbing a magazine at him. It held its course for a few feet then fluttered wildly as the wind caught the pages, missing its intended target by several feet.
A bewildered Clark turned around from his perch on the steps and looked up blindly to see where her voice was coming from. Another magazine was launched and flapped harmlessly to ground.
"Lois?" he called out to her window where she'd disappeared again. "Should we talk about this?"
Talk? Now he wanted to talk when they could have been smooching happily on her sofa… No, she didn't want to talk; she needed to explode! After throwing the rain boots out of her apartment window, she stormed into her bedroom to gather a few more things to chuck at him. Their picture sat on top of her bed stand and she snatched it up without missing a heartbeat.
A burgundy dress still lay on her bed and she grabbed that also along with a few other items. If Clark was going to shut her out of his life then it was only fitting that she toss him out of hers too.
It was beginning to become more than just Clark shutting the door in her face. All the past rejection and disappointments rose within her and needed to be purged. Clark was just the outlet to do that.
Her arms filled with potential projectiles, she just dared Clark to be gone. She wasn't finished with him yet but was going to be as soon as she could peg him a good one.
"How's this for expectations?" she fumed, as she wadded the dress she so carefully bought that afternoon into a ball and fired it at Clark.
The dress set sail in the air and started floating halfway down in its journey to join the curler in the bushes.
"Lois! Be reasonable! Don't throw your whole apartment out the window!" Clark pleaded once more. "I'll come back up and we can talk."
The picture frame with the photo of her and Clark at his first Kerth award came crashing down and broke on the sidewalk, missing him yet again. Darn it! She couldn't hit the broadside of a barn… or a hayseed.
"Or I can just go…" he answered to the latest round of Hurricane Lois.
Fueled by hurt and fury, she snatched, from its resting place in her armoire, one of her Kerth awards. It would be the next to go — that was, after she'd given him a piece of her mind. Clark Kent wasn't going to get the last word in, not as long as he was within throwing distance.
"Hey, Clark! Thought you might like another one of these to keep you company at night because you can just kiss the idea of kissing me good-bye. Sorry it landed on your head — I'm out of practice."
She flung the statue with all her might, expecting it to land somewhere way off target like her other attempts. But to her horror and dismay, the Kerth was right on the mark on the back of Clark's head. It shattered with a loud crash and she saw him fall forward.
Omigod! She'd killed Clark!!
Lois leaned out the window as far as possible to take a good look at Clark as he lay face down on the ground. To her relief, she saw his legs move, and that was all she needed to prompt her to try to climb out the window and get down to him.
"I'm coming, Clark!" she yelled as her legs dangled over the ledge. "Don't go anywhere." The drop was straight down three stories and Lois caught herself just as she was about to jump. Frustrated that she would have to return inside her apartment and that Clark would be out of her sight, she raced out the door and practically flew down the stairs.
Her anger evaporated as she thought about losing her best friend and partner. That was what counted! Clark being well and alive so she could personally strangle him for what he'd done to her tonight was all that mattered!
Kerths and curlers were fine for a display of anger, but she'd never intended to truly hurt him. Well, maybe to elicit an ouch or two to get her point across, but actually to see him fall down after being so cruelly hit with a heavy object like a Kerth award… that was never in her plan.
What if she had anger issues? She'd written stories on domestic partner abuse before but had never imagined herself in that situation. Might be a good idea to review the signs of the problem. She'd never forgive herself if Clark was seriously injured or permanently damaged in some capacity.
The door to the first-floor stairwell was finally in front of her after dozens of steps. Out of breath and scared to death, she yanked open the front door to the building and looked for all the blood she was sure to find.
Clark was sitting patiently on the stairs rubbing the back of his head.
There was nothing. No blood, no partner writhing in pain on the sidewalk. No sirens screaming in the distance or police ready to slap handcuffs on her. Just her best friend sitting on the steps — alive and well.
"Clark, I'm *so* sorry! Are you okay?" she asked frantically as she stared at the back of his head, trying to find any clue that indicated he was about to keel over. "What can I do? Do you need any band-aids… smelling salts?"
Her hands waved wildly in the air above his head. She wanted to touch him — desperately — but was afraid that if she did, he'd disappear or fall to the ground in pain or something totally unacceptable like that.
"I'm fine, Lois. Calm down," he said, turning around to look up at her.
"I… I… hit you with a Kerth! Not my good one; there was really no competition that year, but Clark, I saw it happen. The statue shattered, and you fell."
"Um… the flat base just grazed me, knocked me forward and I tripped. I'm okay," Clark tried to reassure her. He'd felt the award hit the back of his head and it had surprised him. Making himself fall forward had been a natural reaction from his old football days when he had to appear just like everyone else.
"I don't believe you. Lemme see!" She grabbed his head and examined the back of it closely. There really was no blood or even a lump that could be accounted for. Just a head of dark, luxurious hair.
A bit of heat twitched inside her and her hands were very reluctant to pull away. But there were other issues that needed to be addressed — like why he'd decided to be an idiot and shut the door in her face.
Under Lois' close scrutiny, Clark was experiencing many different emotions. Her nearness was intoxicating and her touch was almost heavenly. True, the way she was handling his head reminded him of the way one examined a melon in a supermarket — but it was Lois' touch and he loved it.
On the other hand, he was hurt. The award hadn't injured him physically but had made him heartsick. He couldn't believe he'd made her so mad that she would want to hurt him. Did she hate him so much that she wished him bodily harm?
In an answer to his question, after finishing her examination, she sat down beside him, then promptly threw herself into his arms. Her head burrowed into the haven of his shoulder and he felt her shaking… and crying.
His arms wrapped around her and he began to have hope that she still cared for him, in spite of himself. It was so easy to forget the ache inside when he had Lois in his arms.
"I could have killed you, Clark," she sobbed against his broad shoulder. "You must hate me."
"Hate you?" he answered in disbelief. "Lois, I could never hate you." He rubbed her back soothingly. "I was wrong to leave you that way. Can you ever forgive me?"
She pulled away from his embrace and frowned at him. " Not just yet… and thanks for reminding me."
Lois rose to her feet and began pacing in silence. He lifted his head slightly as her heels clicked a soft tattoo on the cement steps. She was pacing a bit faster now. The initial shock of believing she'd injured him was over and he was about to become fair game once more.
She was silent for several moments before starting to calm down at last. The ice began to thaw around her heart when she finally took a good look at him. Sensing his disquiet, she sat down besides him. More of her anger evaporated, leaving only confusion.
"All right, Kent. You've got a lot of explaining to do. What's your excuse for running this time?"
He let out a ragged breath and turned his face towards her. A tiny gasp escaped her as she saw deep hurt mixed with love in his eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Lois. I've ruined our date, our friendship… and whatever else we might have between us. Believe me, I never meant to hurt you. I deserve whatever it is that you want to throw at me."
He picked up the broken picture frame and pulled out the picture of him and Lois at the Kerths. What a wonderful night, he recalled sadly as he smoothed the rumpled photo. He could have told her then that he was Superman. That might have been the perfect occasion to share his secret with her. There had been so many times that it had crossed his mind to let her in on his secret but he'd kept it selfishly to himself. He'd been stupid to let it go as far as he had.
"Oh, Clark! What's wrong?" It tore at her heart to see him so defeated. He might be a jerk, but he still was her best friend.
He gave her a shrug of his shoulders and sighed, and looked up at the starry sky that had held such a promise for them just a few minutes earlier.
"I was ready to say goodnight. You didn't want to kiss me?" she asked, dreading the answer.
Her words, though not spoken harshly, still stabbed at his heart. Although he wasn't ready to explain why he'd left her, he couldn't let her think that he didn't care. "Lois, I've dreamt every night over the past year and a half of kissing you. Wanting you has nothing to do with it."
Although she was half relieved that he said he wanted her, her anger had come back and she couldn't help the tone in which it her next words were spoken.
"Then why, Clark? Why did you shove me inside my apartment then leave without even an explanation? I assumed you had a good time…" Her voice broke a bit. "I thought…"
That he cared enough to kiss her… Clark finished in his mind. He stole a quick glance to stare at her face and it ripped him apart a bit more to see her lip quivering. She felt rejected — one more time in her life, someone had rejected her — and this time it had been him. He just *had* to rectify this and make her understand that it was not her, but his own insecurities and faults that had done this.
"Lois…" he whispered, "I never meant to hurt you. That was the last thing on my mind when I shut the door. I panicked."
"Panicked? Does defining our relationship terrify you so much that it sends you running into the streets? How else was I supposed to feel?"
From the wild, hurt look in her eyes, he sensed that in the next few seconds she was about to lose whatever rationality she had regained.
In a purely instinctive move, he cupped her face, drew it towards his and softly kissed her lips. They trembled beneath his and he could taste the saltiness of her tears. She whimpered a bit in protest but let her mouth mold beneath his.
"Don't ever believe that I wouldn't want this," he whispered close to her lips, then kissed her once more.
She pushed him away reluctantly, slightly annoyed at the flurry of sensations trying to overtake her feelings of anger and confusion. "Then explain, Clark."
"I'm so scared that this is going to change things between us. I mean, I'm not scared of commitment and I know that it's way too soon even to think about that, but I'd never forgive myself if we lost our friendship."
She had to catch her breath first but then asked, "Have you been hanging around me too long? I think we have our roles reversed. Clark, I've been thinking about the same thing… losing our friendship. That's why was I so nervous to go out with you. But I bit the bullet and decided that if our friendship was as strong as we believed it to be then it would just *have* to work out."
"I want things to work out too, Lois. More than anything in this world. But I don't want to disappoint or hurt you. That's why I ran."
"How can you think you'd disappoint me, Clark? I want to believe that what we share, this thing between us, is different… that *you're* different."
Resigned, he realized that he couldn't put off telling her. This was it. Doomsday had arrived. "Because I haven't been honest with you. There are some things about my life that I've been keeping from you. And it's true, I *am* different."
She bit her lip as her mind swiftly imagined that he'd be telling her that he was married, had 2.4 kids somewhere in the world, or worse…
"It's Mayson, isn't it? You're in love with Mayson Drake," she squeaked, voicing her next thoughts.
His answer was quick. "There's only one person whom I'm in love with."
"See, I knew it!" she exclaimed. "I knew that woman had staked a claim on you the moment she slithered into the Daily Planet. Just because she's an Assistant DA doesn't excuse her from being a stalker and I can't believe you fell for all that blond fluff. Clark, you wouldn't know trouble if it jumped up and bit you on the leg. I really don't know what you see in her. Just because she's blond and has legs up to her elbows…"
"Lois… I asked *you* on the date tonight, not Mayson. Doesn't that tell you something?"
"Yeah, that you couldn't come right out and tell me in person that this was a mistake. You'd just let the door do the talking."
"I'm so sorry about that… I got scared, but my feelings for you have always been the same. Lois, let me tell you what tonight meant to me and then tell me what you think."
Feeling slightly emboldened, he took her hand began to play with her fingers as he stared out into the street.
"I've always been different growing up. I'm adopted, but you knew that…" he said, his voice trailing off as he summoned up the courage to continue. "I grew up under the stigma of being an unwanted child, a bastard and a foundling. I knew that my adoptive parents wanted me very much and were thrilled when they found me, but small town people love to talk. Although they had time to get used to my parents adopting me, I still heard rumors of an unwed mother not wanting to raise her child.
"In way, that bothered me very much. I never could picture my real parents, and totally, could never imagine growing up without the Kents. They *are* my real parents.
"Then when I decided to travel the world, I felt a thousand different feelings. I missed living on the farm, yet it was wonderful to see all the places that I'd only read about. I guess I was searching for something. Something was missing in my life and something to make me feel complete. I guess that's why I never stayed in one place for very long. I never felt as if I belonged."
"Oh, Clark. I never knew." She squeezed his hand to encourage him to continue.
"Then one day I was applying for a job in this big city and it happened. I knew at once that this time I would have to make things work out because I finally felt I belonged."
"The Daily Planet," she guessed. "You found your dream job?"
"No, Lois. It was you… I'd finally found my dream come true. The moment I looked into your eyes I knew I was home."
Unable to say a word, she leaned towards him and fell into his embrace once more. Her eyes welled up with tears as she realized that she felt the same way. An incredible sense of belonging swept through her as she burrowed her face into his shoulder.
Patting his solid chest, she lifted her face in order to talk to him easier. "I was so mean to you… you knew then?"
"It took a few weeks to realize what happened, but Lois, since the beginning, my feelings for you have only grown stronger. It's always been you, Lois."
"You really meant what you told me that day in the park a few months ago, didn't you?"
"Every word. I'm just so scared that when you find out my secret you're going to disappear from my life."
She was beginning to understand. As crazy as it sounded, he hadn't left her earlier because he didn't care; it was because he cared too much. He was even more scared of losing their friendship then she was.
"Clark, touch me." At his puzzled expression, she whispered, "I'm not going to disappear if you touch me."
He lifted his hand towards her face and stroked her cheek with the lightest of caresses as he wiped the tearstains away. She leaned into his hand and covered it with her own.
"See, I'm not going anywhere." She searched his face, eager to lose herself in wonder and love in his eyes. "It's okay. Whatever it is that you have to tell me, I can take it."
His perfect moment had arrived. There would never be another chance like this. The running had ended and the time was now. Lois was asking, and if he could be forgiven for running out on her earlier, then just maybe there was a chance that she could forgive him for deceiving her all these months.
"Okay, I'll show you." Still cupping her face, he rose several inches into the air, taking Lois with him.
At her shocked expression, he said, "I can't go much higher than this because we're out in the street. It's hard to tell who's watching but I think the coast is clear."
"You're… you're… Superman?"
If Clark shutting the door in her face had surprised her before, then this new bit of knowledge really had a punch to it. Her mild-mannered, gentle partner was claiming to be Metropolis' and the world's resident superhero.
But it was too shocking to believe the first time through. Clark wasn't saying a word. He was simply sitting there looking as if he was about to become fodder for one of his farm animals.
"Are you sure that you're feeling okay? Maybe you were hit a bit harder than you realize," she asked, reaching behind his head to feel for any lumps that might have popped up. "I wonder if delusions of grandeur are part of the concussion process?"
"Lois, I'm fine," he answered. "I can't be hurt by falling Kerths, because I'm invulnerable…" He lowered his head and added softly,"…and we're floating."
"This has to be some kind of magic trick." She looked down at the steps several inches below her and waved her hand beneath her bottom. "How'd you do it? Ropes? Invisible lines? Aliens?"
"Lois, I *am* an alien," he said glumly.
"But you don't count," she countered, not really wanting to think about it. "I don't believe you're Superman."
"Shhh… Don't announce *it*" — and he moved his hand in a flying motion — "…to the whole neighborhood. I think you've drawn enough attention from your impromptu garage sale." He floated down again and glanced about suspiciously. Luckily, once they'd spied them kissing earlier, all the nosy neighbors had disappeared from their windows. Although one had joined the crowd when they'd kissed, but all the on-lookers were long gone. It was just the two of them now.
Lois' mouth dropped open as she saw the casual way that Clark floated them both down to the steps. There was only one person that could do that and he was… Superman.
Clark was Superman? The guy who couldn't even open a pickle jar without twisting his knuckle, and wasn't fast enough to hail a Metropolis taxi? If she thought about it, Superman wouldn't need a taxi; he could fly all over creation if he wanted to. Catching Metro cabs was an art form in itself; it would only stand to reason that Superman would need a bit of practice.
Wait a minute! She had lost her focus again! Clark was claiming to be Superman and she *thought* that they had been floating a few seconds earlier… This had to be a joke or some wild excuse that Clark was using. That still didn't explain why Clark was still so reluctant to end their date properly.
Okay, she believed that he loved her, but what did that have to do with Superman? He'd said that he was scared, but she'd never actually seen Superman frightened about anything… well, except when she was in danger… Okay, maybe that wasn't a good example.
Let's say that Superman told Clark everything — well, almost everything; even superheroes had to keep some secrets — what would be the one thing that she'd know that Clark wouldn't know? If Superman was a big blabbermouth, at least to Clark, what would he keep to himself that only she would have knowledge of?
It had to be something pertaining to her. Something intimate that Superman would be embarrassed about. Oh gosh! Her head was spinning and now she had to think! This was totally unfair.
"All right, Clark, if you're Superman than why did you say that thing to me in my apartment that time?"
"See! You can't be Superman — *he* would know."
"Lois, can you get any more cryptic? What thing and what time?"
"Ha! I knew Superman wouldn't embarrass himself by telling you that. Score one brownie point for the guy in blue," she said with satisfaction.
She was in denial, Clark thought, and when the truth finally hit her, he didn't know how she was going to react. But there was no turning back now; he had to make her see that he was telling the truth.
"Lois, can we go somewhere more private?" he asked. "Then I can sho…"
"No, Clark," she interrupted. "I really think that Kerth hit you harder than you think it did. Maybe we should take you to the hospital."
He almost groaned out loud, but he didn't want Lois to think he was in pain. She'd be hailing a taxi and hauling him to the hospital before you could say "Superman". She wasn't budging and didn't believe him either. If only he could think of what he'd said to her as Superman. And when he'd visited her as his alter ego, which one of the dozen or so times was she referring to? Unwittingly, he groaned in the back of his throat. She did say that Superman would be embarrassed if Clark knew.
It had to be it… the only thing that he'd ever regretted saying to Lois.
A small hand waved in front of his face. He was sitting there like a half-dead ficus plant. Sort of like the one on her desk, except hers was totally dead.
"Clark?" He was zoning out on her and she was beginning to worry. "Does it hurt?"
He looked directly into her eyes. Regret and embarrassment colored his face.
"Unless that robe is lead-lined, I wouldn't bother…"
Lois felt her jaw grow slack. The exact words, the same inflection in his voice as he had spoken them a few months ago. It was really true — Clark *was* Superman.
"Superman…" She whispered as she touched his face and removed his glasses. "You were telling me the truth and I didn't believe you."
"It's okay, Lois," he whispered, ducking his head to hide it. "I'm Clark, not Superman. Clark is who I am; Superman is what I can do."
He replaced the glasses on his face and began to speak, taking advantage of Lois' semi-speechless state in order to strengthen his case.
Looking quite apologetic, he nodded. "I couldn't bring myself to lie to you any longer about who I am. But I had to know…"
"Had to know what?"
"Had to know that you would care for me as Clark, not Superman. He's just a figure, just a symbol of what I stand for. But you fell in love with him, you even told me that night in your apartment…"
"That I would love you even if you were an ordinary man… but don't you see, Clark, I *have* fallen in love with you. Heck, I even think I loved you then. It just took me a very long time to realize that."
His story about growing up being different made a lot more sense now. All the time she'd been wondering what had been driving Clark to leave her at the most inopportune times was now very clear. He hadn't been leaving her; he'd been going off to save lives and thwart criminals. The gentle hand caressing her cheek belonged to strongest person alive. That was why her Kerth hadn't hurt him; he was invulnerable.
So all her worrying was for nothing. She paused to see if the anger was still there, but it had all passed away. Maybe it would come back later, but for now she felt that Clark's heart was in the right place — even if he screwed up along the way.
Did this change things between them? Of course this was a side to Clark that she hadn't bargained for, but was it something that she could accept and live with? She'd fancied herself in love with Superman for a very long time now — just as long as Clark claimed to have been in love with her. What a thin veil that had been between them! They had been in love with one another since the very beginning; it had just taken this long for her to recognize the real man behind the flashy costume. Both men had the same admirable qualities… she just hadn't noticed that they were one and the same… Clark Kent.
His voice quietly interrupted her thoughts. "So you do? Love me?"
Her heart felt all mushy for him once again. "Yes, I love you. I finally admitted it to myself tonight. I knew I had some feelings for you, but it was just so hard to finally acknowledge them."
The air around them was crackling with anticipation. Lois covered Clark's hand with hers and leaned forward a bit.
Lightly brushing her lips against his, she pulled back after a couple of seconds, then rose to her feet.
"Come on," she smiled as she tugged his hand gently. "There are no doors in the way now."
"No doors now," he echoed, rising to stand close to her. "You mean I get another chance?"
"Would you like to try the window? The door didn't work too well last time," Lois asked with a gleam in her eye.
For her answer, Clark tugged Lois behind the corner of the building and looked around for any unwelcome onlookers. Wrapping his arms around her, he floated slowly up the side of building and onto her balcony.
They landed softly on the metal grating, but Clark felt something move beneath his foot. Leaning over, he picked up a stuffed animal — the little black and white bear that he had won for Lois almost a year ago.
He looked at her quizzically and she answered quickly, "I couldn't *bear* to toss that out before. I think I knew I was going to forgive you, even if I didn't knowledge it at the time."
"I guess I deserved the stuffing knocked out of me," Clark mused thoughtfully.
"You're one lucky lunkhead, you know that?" she said coyly, tracing lazy circles on his chest.
Setting the little bear on the fire escape steps, he turned its face away from them before inching a bit closer to Lois. "I think I'd prefer a bit of privacy when I do this," Clark whispered as he cupped her cheek again. "I don't think I've said it properly, but I love you too."
His heated gaze was penetrating her very soul. All her doubts, anger and confusion had long faded and what was left was wonder and love for a man she always dreamed she would find. As his lips met hers, the anticipation she'd felt earlier paled in comparison to his real kiss.