By Kathy Brown <email@example.com>
Submitted December 2002
Summary: On the Christmas morning after the episode "Season's Greedings," Clark wonders if Lois might finally be starting to see him as more than just a friend. Deciding to strike while the iron is hot, he begins a week-long campaign to show her that he could rank pretty high on the boyfriend scale.
I still can't quite believe that this story is as long as it is. It was supposed to be a short little holiday tale, similar in length and tone to "Wine Wine Wine". I think I did pretty well on matching the tone, but the length … well, I wasn't even close, LOL. It kept growing … and growing … until I'm sure the IRC fanfic gang was totally sick of me lamenting the fact that it wasn't done yet. <g> Thanks for your patience, guys … believe me, no one was more relieved than I when it was finished! :)
I'd also like to extend a huge, extra special thank-you to Sarah Luddy, beta-reader extraordinare, for being so encouraging and helpful (and hysterically funny <g>) in her comments, as well as to Meredith Knight for her fantastic editing skills. Thanks, you two! :)
And to my readers, I hope you enjoy the story. I welcome all comments, either public or private.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Clark Kent stretched lazily as he lay in bed, his eyes still closed as he hovered between sleep and wakefulness. For a moment, he puzzled over the different feel of the sheets and the smell of the room, but as his memories of the previous night surfaced, he released a contented sigh. He knew this place well — he was in Smallville, in his childhood bed … and it was Christmas morning.
He had flown in late last night, well after everyone else in the house had gone to sleep. After depositing his Christmas presents under the tree so his parents would know he had arrived, he'd carried his overnight bag up the stairs to his room, brushed his teeth, and gone to bed. He had fallen asleep with a smile on his face, visions of Lois Lane dancing in his head.
Clark rolled onto his stomach and snuggled into the pillow, sighing happily. Last night had been wonderful. He had sent his parents on ahead to Smallville while he and Lois had worked all afternoon to locate 'The Toy Man', Mr. Schott, and to get the chemical-laden Space Rats pulled from the shelves. His plan had been to rush back to Smallville in time to join his family for Christmas Eve dinner, but things hadn't worked out that way.
The desire to stay had sneaked up on him. At eight o'clock last night, his presents had been wrapped, his bag had been packed, and he had already changed into his Superman suit for the flight, knowing that his parents had arrived at home and were busy preparing the holiday meal. But as he'd paced up and down in his living room, trying to convince himself to leave through the window, he had finally admitted that for the first Christmas in his life, he wanted to be somewhere else besides Kansas. He'd wanted to be with Lois.
The look on Lois's face when she'd opened her door last night had been worth missing his mom's home cooking. She had hugged him tightly and drawn him inside, then hurried to the window when he'd explained that his plane had been snowed in. When Lois had turned back to him after realizing that there was no snow, the look on her face had nearly made him forget to breathe. And when she'd let her hand slip into his as they admired the star he'd brought for her Christmas tree, his heart had welled up with so much emotion, he hadn't trusted his voice.
He had been so close to kissing her then, as they stood holding hands in front of the little tree. Lois had looked up at him with those dark eyes of hers, eyes so deep that he wanted to drown in them. Carolers on the street below had interrupted them, breaking the moment, but not before Clark had caught the glimmer of something in her eyes … something wonderful. He'd held onto that look, even as they'd moved to the window to watch the carolers. He wanted to remember it forever.
He had stayed for hours, enjoying her company. Lois had been right when she'd told him he would get stuffed — the dinner had been marvelous. Lois later confessed that she'd purchased most of it already prepared, but had insisted that she'd made the stuffing and cranberry sauce by herself. Knowing how Lois felt about the kitchen, Clark had heartily praised the effort she'd made and, to his surprise, he hadn't needed to exaggerate when complimenting the food. He was pretty sure the grin on his face when he'd gone back for a fourth helping of stuffing had clearly conveyed how much he was enjoying the meal.
After dessert — pumpkin pie with real whipped cream — they had moved to the sofa to nurse the remainder of their wine. Clark remembered how his heart had thumped in his chest as Lois had chosen to sit close to him. Encouraged, he had put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her even closer still. They'd sat that way for a long time, talking about everything and nothing, as soft Christmas music played in the background. When the clock had struck midnight, however, Clark had kissed Lois on the cheek, wishing her a Merry Christmas. Then, to his surprise and delight, she had turned towards him and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips in return. The kiss wasn't passionate, and it had only lingered for a moment, but the look in her eyes as they'd separated had made him feel as if, for that moment at least, he was the most special person in the world to her.
This was the feeling he was reliving as he lay in his bed Christmas morning, unwilling to wake completely and expose the memory to the light of day. It was a wonderful, incredible feeling … the feeling of being in love. Maybe it had been the wine that had caused her to kiss him, or the fact that Lois had just been grateful not to be alone on Christmas Eve. Maybe the kiss meant nothing to her and she had already forgotten it. Maybe Lois would never feel about him the way he felt about her, and they would remain friends — just friends — forever…
But if Christmas was a time for magic, Clark couldn't help but hope that there could be something more between them.
Slowly opening his eyes, Clark rolled to his back. Was it possible that Lois might be starting to see him as more than a friend? When he let himself hope, last night hadn't been the first time he'd seen that flicker of something else in her eyes. More than a few times in the last several weeks, he'd caught her studying him, as if she were seeing something that she hadn't before. But she had always looked away quickly — so quickly, in fact, that up until now, he'd convinced himself it was just wishful thinking on his part.
As it was, even last night Lois had pulled back, jumping up nervously after they'd kissed, saying that she needed to get the leftovers into the refrigerator. Not knowing what else to do, Clark had risen with her and had helped to clear the table. By the time the food was put away, she'd been comfortable with him again, though Clark suspected that it was only because he had been careful to slip back into his friend role. When he'd finally left Lois's apartment at a little before one in the morning, he had only allowed himself to press a quick kiss onto her forehead before wishing her goodnight. But the warm hug she had given him in return had left his heart singing and his body tingling all the way home.
Clark couldn't help but grin at the memory as he came completely awake. The feeling of her arms around him always made him feel so good, so deliciously, incredibly good. But when it was Lois who initiated the contact, for no other reason than she was happy to be with him … it felt even better.
So could it be that Lois was finally be thinking of him as something more than just her best friend? She certainly had seemed to see him differently last night, if the kiss and the hug and the look in her eyes were any indication. But if she did finally see him as a potential boyfriend, why was she sending him mixed signals? Why touch him or flirt with him — even kiss him — only to pull back with the next heartbeat? It was as if she wasn't sure what she wanted … or whether he was even interested.
Clark mulled that over. Lois liked to flirt with him, yes, but he rarely allowed himself to flirt back. It was an unspoken rule between them, perhaps, but it was there. He was her partner and her friend, and no matter how many times she grinned impishly at him, how many times she patted his chest, or how many times she linked her arm through his as they walked, he couldn't respond, not in the way he wanted to. He was *safe* — good old Clark, always there when she needed him. He was someone she could feel secure with. And he loved that. He *encouraged* that. He could think of nothing better than being the person Lois trusted most, the person she thought of as her best friend.
Nothing better … unless it was also being the person she thought of as her boyfriend.
Lois thought of Superman in that way, that much was clear. And because of those feelings, Clark had been able to pretend, if only for brief moments, that there was something romantic between them. As Superman, Clark had been able to admit that he was attracted to her while under the supposed influence of the pheromone compound. He regularly came to her window late at night just to check on her and say hello. He'd even been able to dance with her in her living room after the charity ball last month.
These were all things that he couldn't do as Clark. As Clark, he was always careful not to scare her off. Pushing too hard, flirting too much … it would worry her, make her feel unsafe around him — he knew her track record with men. But at the same time, it was incredibly frustrating to have her respond to Superman as a romantic partner while viewing Clark as nothing more than a good friend.
Why couldn't she see that Clark Kent had so much more to offer her than he could show her?
As the question hung in his mind, Clark realized that he had answered his own question. Covering his face with his hands, he couldn't help but laugh, even as he groaned at his own stupidity. How could he have been so blind? Of course Lois thought of Superman as a potential love interest; he'd encouraged it! In the beginning, being romantic with her as Superman had been his one way to get close to her, his one way to act on even a fraction of his feelings. But while Superman had been encouraging Lois, Clark had done the opposite. Clark had let Lois believe he wasn't attracted to her, even with the pheromones. Clark had always been careful not to flirt too much, lest he scare her away. And Clark had allowed Mayson Drake to cut in the last time he and Lois had danced. Granted, he'd partly been trying to make Lois jealous by showing her that another woman could be attracted to him … but wasn't it just as likely that Lois felt he was off-limits now, involved with someone else? How could Lois have seen him as a romantic partner? All this time, he'd been completely sabotaging his own efforts!
As the smell of his mom's special holiday pancakes wafted up to his bedroom, Clark hopped out of bed and pulled on a pair of jeans and a casual shirt. As much as he enjoyed lying around and thinking about Lois, it was Christmas morning and there were chores to help with before they could open their presents. But as Clark cheerfully headed towards the kitchen to wish his parents Merry Christmas, one thought kept swirling around in the back of his head.
Maybe it was time to stop acting so much like Lois's friend … and start acting more like her boyfriend.
By the time her desk clock reached eleven o'clock on Christmas morning, Lois Lane had already been at work for nearly two hours. The newsroom was operating on a skeleton crew, most employees being home with their families, and the feature stories for the day had been planned and completed some time ago, mainly feel-good pieces appropriate for the season. There was the occasional news story to record for tomorrow's morning edition, but with most of the city shut down for the holiday, all serious investigations were temporarily on hold.
Lois didn't mind working on Christmas Day; it beat sitting home alone. It also earned her New Year's Day off — that was her swap with Clark. He'd appreciated her willingness to let him take today as a vacation day — with her higher seniority, she got first pick of which holidays she wanted off — but it had really been a no-brainer for her. Clark had vacation plans and she didn't. He had to travel all the way to Kansas to be with his family, while her family lived here in Metropolis. Not that she was going to be seeing any of them … but still, they were local.
It had been difficult for her to admit that her family wasn't going to get together at Christmas this year. Not that their gatherings were ever more fun than a root canal, but still, each time, she let herself hope that things were going to be different that year … that, for once, everyone would get along and actually be happy to see each other. But, of course, it was always just wishful thinking.
So this year, Lois had decided to do something more than feel sorry for herself. This year, she had decided to find her own Christmas. It obviously wasn't to be found with her family, so she'd needed to think long and hard about what was most important to her. In the beginning, she had planned a dinner party for her friends, thinking it would cheer her up, but as the days went by and her friends either gave their regrets or made it clear she was their second choice, it had been hard not to sink into her usual late December depression.
The story on the Atomic Space Rats had given her just what she'd been looking for, however. Oh, not the Rats themselves — the greedy behavior of most of the city of Metropolis had only served to increase her cynicism. But in the end, having spent time with some of the orphans who lived with 'Santa', it had been just what Lois had needed. Seeing the looks of delight on the children's faces as they were given their presents lifted her spirits and made her realize that Christmas wasn't about what you got from others — it was about what you gave, instead.
Still, it had been difficult to maintain her optimism when she'd gone home to make dinner. At first, it had been fun — Lois had picked up the food she'd ordered at a nearby market and set about making the stuffing and cranberries. The lady behind the counter had encouraged her to make her own fresh cranberry sauce when Lois had expressed disappointment that they only had the jellied kind at the store. The woman had even written down a quick recipe for Lois to follow on the back of her receipt and showed her where to find the ingredients. And amazingly, it had been pretty easy … well, except for the fact that Lois had forgotten to put the lid on the food processor at first and had sprayed her cabinets with red berry pieces, but some elbow grease had eventually gotten the stains out.
The stuffing had taken more attention. Lois had been amazed to discover that it didn't automatically come inside the turkey she'd ordered, so she'd pored through several cookbooks from the library, comparing the recipes and trying to figure out which would be the easiest to make. She'd finally decided to be brave and tackle something a bit more complicated — adding chopped apples to the onions and celery the basic recipe called for — but she had worked hard and forced herself to really concentrate on what she was doing, and, amazingly, it had turned out wonderfully! She'd actually found herself nearly as proud as when she finished a big story.
But despite all this, as she'd lit the candles on the beautiful table, dressed in a new black dress and with her hair done, it had taken everything she had not to cry. She'd had a wonderful holiday dinner on her table … but no one to share it with.
She'd been fighting tears when she heard the knock on the door. Opening it, she had scarcely been able to believe her eyes. Clark had come to dinner! Even more amazing was the fact that he had deliberately missed his flight back to Smallville to do it. Lois wasn't quite sure what to make of the fact that Clark had skipped Christmas Eve with his family just to be with her. At first, she'd believed his excuse that his plane had been snowed in, but when she'd rushed to the window and confirmed that there was no snow, it was clear that he had deliberately missed his flight. But why?
Initially she'd been worried that he was just feeling sorry for her, but one look at his face had pushed that theory aside. He'd actually looked happy to be there. And she had been happy to have him. She would have been pleased if any of her friends had shown up, but for some reason, it had been extra special to have Clark there. He'd been the one person she hadn't expected — after all, everyone knew he had plans to be with his family in Kansas. But as she and Clark had spent the evening together, all Lois could think about was how *right* it felt to have him there.
Maybe that was why she had taken his hand as they'd stood by the tree, or why she'd found herself cuddling up closer to him as they talked on the couch. Of course, neither of these things was unusual in itself. After all, they often shared affectionate touches with each other. It didn't *mean* anything.
Lois furrowed her brow. No, of course it didn't. Just because she often found herself pressing her hands against Clark's chest as she teased him … and just because she tended to link her arm through his when he walked her home … and just because she had felt surprisingly shy after she'd given him a little kiss last night … it didn't mean she liked him. Not romantically. Right?
Suddenly uncertain, Lois picked up her coffee mug and took a quick gulp. Of course she didn't like Clark romantically. He was her partner. He was her best friend. He was the guy she went to when she needed a flat tire changed on her SUV, or when she needed a date to her third cousin's wedding, or when she wanted to try out a new restaurant or to see the latest romantic comedy playing at the movie theater and felt like some company.
So, OK, he was also the guy she spent most of her time with during the day, and the guy she ate dinner with every few nights, and yes, fine, the guy she had breakfast with at least twice a week … but they weren't a *couple*!
No, of course not!
// Then why did you kiss him last night? //
Lois flushed as she remembered how she'd pressed a gentle kiss to Clark's lips as they'd wished each other a Merry Christmas. What in the world had possessed her to do such a thing? It must have been the wine, or her gratitude for his keeping her company, or the warm, fuzzy feeling of relaxation brought on by that stuff they say is in turkey, or … or …
// Oh, just admit it already! //
She sighed. OK, OK, so maybe she did have a *little* crush on him. After all, he was kind of cute … very cute … drop dead gorgeous …
Lois shook her head, anxious to derail that train. Even if she did have a little crush on him, it didn't matter because Clark didn't feel the same way about her. It was clear that he only thought of her as a friend. He didn't flirt with her. He never took her hand when they were out walking. He'd never even tried to ask her out. No, Lois always knew exactly where she stood with Clark … he was safe, predictable.
Good old predictable Clark. She always knew exactly what he was going to do.
Clark paced in front of the telephone in his parents' study, trying to stop his heart from beating so fast. He had no idea why he was so nervous; it wasn't as if he hadn't called Lois a thousand times before.
// Get a grip, man; you're not asking her to the prom! Just call to say you're thinking of her. What could be so hard about that? //
But things were different now, or at least, he wanted them to be. He didn't want to be safe anymore … he wanted her to see the other side of him, the side that got breathless whenever she looked up at him through her lashes and whose heart skipped a beat every time she put her hands on his chest to flirt with him. But at the same time, he was scared to death that he would frighten her away, that he would come on too strong and she would get spooked and he'd lose her forever.
// Baby steps, Clark, baby steps … //
He took a deep breath and released it. Yes, that was the way to go … just take things slow and see what happened. Not only would he be less likely to scare Lois off, but if she did start acting skittish, he could back off with his ego still left intact.
Clark gave himself a shake and set his jaw. He could do this … no problem. Now if only his heart would slow down just a little bit. Picking up the phone, he dialed the number he knew by heart and leaned against the desk to wait for her to answer. By the third ring, he realized he'd probably get her voice mail, but just as his mind started racing to come up with a good message to leave, he heard her voice on the other end of the line.
"Daily Planet, Lois Lane."
"Oh! Hi … uh, it's me … Clark." Clark rolled his eyes; he really did sound like a teenager asking his crush out for the prom. "I'm sorry," he quickly covered. "I was expecting to get the voice mail so you just surprised me when you answered."
"I was halfway to the coffee pot when I heard the phone ring," she answered. "I practically knocked my chair over trying to answer it before the call rolled over." She started to laugh. "Good thing my coffee cup was empty."
Smiling at the picture she'd just painted, Clark finally felt himself relax. This was all he'd needed … just hearing her voice made him feel better. "Merry Christmas, Lois," he said warmly.
"Merry Christmas, Clark." Her voice was equally warm.
He sighed happily. Yes, this was definitely what he'd needed. "So how's the newsroom? Any breaking stories drop in your lap? Expose any of Santa's elves for taking bribes yet?"
"Ha, very funny. No, it's pretty quiet. Not many people here this morning, though a few more are supposed to be coming in this afternoon."
"Well, I know you can handle anything that comes up. And Lois," he added more seriously, "I really do appreciate you working for me today. It was really nice of you."
"Don't worry about it, Clark," she answered sincerely. "I'm just glad you could see your family. I'm sorry you didn't make it for dinner last night like you'd planned."
"I'm not," he quickly reassured her. "I had a really great time last night, Lois." His voice dropped a bit. "A really great time."
"Really?" she responded, a little breathless. "I did, too."
From the tone in her voice, Clark could almost imagine her ducking her head and smiling shyly. He smiled in return, encouraged. "Mmm, I'm glad."
They sat in silence for a moment, neither knowing quite what to say, until Lois finally gathered herself together. "So when are you coming back to Metropolis? Tomorrow? Or Tuesday?"
"Um, Tuesday night," Clark replied, shaking himself from his thoughts. "I'd love to spend more time with my parents, but I need to be at work on the 28th. Three days was all I could manage."
"Maybe next year you'll have more vacation days saved up," she suggested helpfully. "Then you can stay longer."
It suddenly occurred to Clark that idea of spending more than a few days away from Lois, even if they were just partners, didn't sound very appealing. "Or maybe next year we can both take some time off and you could come with me," he offered. Then, realizing how presumptuous she might consider him, he quickly added, "I mean, if you aren't doing anything with your own family again."
Lois gave a little sigh. "Oh, I wouldn't want to get in the way of your family holiday. Your parents wouldn't want me hanging around."
The wistful note in her voice made Clark's heart melt all over again. "Lois," he said softly, "you could never be in the way. My parents love you, you know that." Then he smiled. "In fact, my mom just asked for your favorite kind of cookies so she could make some for me to bring to you when I come home."
That perked her up. "Oh! What'd you tell her?"
Clark laughed at the eager tone in her voice. "That anything with chocolate would make your day."
"You know me too well, Kent," she laughed back. "So tell me about your day so far. Did you open your presents yet?"
"Yeah, we did that first thing this morning. Then we had breakfast and now we're just getting ready to go to church. They always have a whole program planned for Christmas. There's the service, of course, but then they have singing afterwards. The adults don't always sing on key, including me," he laughed, "but the kids are really cute."
"The biggest party in Smallville, huh?"
"You got it."
"Sounds like fun." She paused briefly and Clark thought he could hear her moving things around on her desk. "So what time does your plane get in on Tuesday? I can pick you up at the airport."
Clark hesitated. He hadn't flown on a commercial airline, but, of course, Lois didn't know that. "Uh … no, that's OK. I don't want to put you out."
"It's no trouble. I have a pen; give me the flight information."
"Uh …" he repeated, getting decidedly uncomfortable. "No, really, it's OK."
Lois began to laugh at him. "Why are you being so secretive, Clark? If you've forgotten the flight number, I can get it for you. There can't be that many evening flights in from Wichita to Metropolis."
"No! I mean … Lois, you don't need to do that." He gave himself a mental kick for what he was about to admit, but he could think of no other way out, not without making her think he didn't want to be with her. "I, uh, didn't take a plane here."
That stopped her. "What? I don't get it."
Clark paced nervously. He hated lying to her so blatantly, but he knew this was neither the time nor the place for true confessions. His voice sounded embarrassed when he continued. "Well, I kind of … ran into Superman on the way home from your place last night and I told him that I was going to the airport to see if I could get on the first flight out in the morning, and he offered to fly me here. He said it was my Christmas present, since I didn't get to ride in the sleigh with you and Perry and Jimmy yesterday."
"Oh." Lois considered this. "Wow … he'll do that?"
"Give Christmas presents?" Clark asked cautiously.
"No, fly his friends places for vacation … that's pretty cool."
Clark relaxed; she was buying it. "I guess so … anyway, he's going to bring me back sometime Tuesday night but obviously I won't know when exactly because it depends on when he can get away."
"That makes sense." She paused. "Gee, maybe I should ask for Tahiti for Christmas next year."
Clark blinked at her comment, then began to laugh. "You're terrible!"
"You gave me the idea! As a matter of fact, I'll just have *you* ask him for me … that way, if he says no, I can say it was all your idea and he won't think I'm an idiot."
Clark just laughed harder. "If I do the asking, you're going to have to take me along!"
"Hey, you've got it. We'd have a blast."
To his surprise, she actually sounded almost serious. "Really?"
"Sure. I mean, it might be hard to both get away from work at the same time but if we planned in advance … it'd be fun, Clark."
Clark quirked an eyebrow, and gave the phone a suspicious look. She had to be teasing him. "Well, yeah, of course, it would be fun … I'm just trying to imagine you taking a vacation at all, let alone one with me," he responded, grinning. Buoyed by her resulting laughter, he let himself flirt with her, testing the waters. "You know, they have topless beaches in Tahiti."
"I've seen you topless before, Clark."
Her quick response caught him so off guard that he began to roar with laughter — leave it to Lois to completely turn the tables on him! He was still chuckling when his mom poked her head into the study and pointed to the clock with a smile. He nodded and held up one finger to let her know he'd be off soon. When Martha just grinned and whispered, "Say hi to Lois for me", before leaving theroom, Clark couldn't help but blush. "Hey, I gotta go … my parents are ready to leave. My mom says 'hi', by the way. She's probably wondering why I'm laughing so hard."
The smile in her voice was evident even through the phone lines. "Have fun."
"I will." He sighed, content. "Merry Christmas, Lois."
"Merry Christmas, Clark. Thanks for calling."
"Thanks for answering," he added, his voice warm and husky.
To his surprise, he heard Lois's breath catch in her throat, though she quickly covered it with a little cough. "I guess I'll see you in a few days."
"Yeah," he agreed, though he really didn't want to wait that long to talk to her again. He closed his eyes and took the plunge. "Maybe I could call you again tomorrow."
To his surprise, her response was immediate. "Sure." Then he heard her swallow, and she added, almost shyly, "I'd, uh, like that."
Clark couldn't help but smile. "Well, OK, then … g'bye."
As he carefully hung up the phone, Clark blew out a deep breath … then found himself completely unable to stop the grin from forming on his face. As much as he loved being in Smallville, he was suddenly counting the hours until he could return to Metropolis.
Clark got to work early Wednesday morning, eager to catch up on whatever work he'd missed, but even more eager to see his partner again. It had only been three and a half days since Christmas Eve when he'd last seen her, and they'd talked on the phone every day while he'd been gone. But it just wasn't the same as seeing Lois in person.
Clark couldn't help but sigh happily as he thought about how much he enjoyed working with Lois … he loved the way her eyes sparkled when she was excited about a story, and how she babbled when she got nervous. And he loved the way she furrowed her brow in concentration when she was lost in what she was typing, and the way her hair fell across the side of her face when she leaned forward to study the computer screen. It always made him want to reach out and run his fingers through her hair, to feel its softness. It always looked so smooth and silky … what must it feel like, he wondered, if it were spread out against his bare chest—
For the third time that morning, Clark smacked himself in the forehead with the papers he was holding. He had to stop doing that or he'd never get any work done today!
Still, it was so hard to concentrate, knowing that Lois would be arriving any moment. He couldn't seem to stop thinking about her. Talking to Lois on the phone last night after he'd arrived home had been wonderful, but, as with all of their recent phone calls, it had only strengthened his resolve to try to move their relationship forward. He'd started to smile the moment he'd heard her voice, and when, not long into the conversation, she'd laughed and told him about her latest interviewing coup, he had been struck by an overwhelming sense of *rightness* … not to mention an overwhelming desire to see her again. Lois had clearly seemed pleased to hear from him, too, and what was more, beyond inquiring politely about how his flight with Superman had been, she hadn't seemed at all preoccupied by the superhero she'd been obsessed with for so long. This fact both intrigued and encouraged him.
// "I was saving for Tahiti. But a date with Superman … that would have been a real adventure." //
A year and a half ago, Lois had spoken those words dejectedly. She had just bid a few thousand dollars for a date with Superman at a bachelor auction, yet had been woefully outbid by several other women. As she'd drowned her sorrows at the bar — with her partner trying unsuccessfully to cheer her up — Clark had realized that he would have given anything to have heard her talk about him that way — not as Superman, but as Clark Kent. But at the time, he'd been convinced it would forever be a pipe dream.
Yet not even seventy-two hours ago, during their phone conversation on Christmas morning, Lois had suggested the two of them take a vacation together to that very same exotic location. OK, sure, they wouldn't really do it; obviously she'd been joking. But the fact that she would even bring it up, that she would even think about asking Superman to take her to Tahiti — with Clark! — was completely astounding.
The sound of the elevator broke Clark from his thoughts, and it wasn't long before his hearing picked up the familiar heartbeat he'd been waiting for. By the time the doors slid open, he was already gazing eagerly in her direction, and when he saw her face brighten as their eyes met across the newsroom, he felt his heart skip a beat in anticipation. Now if only he could only be sure he wouldn't make a fool of himself. How would Lois react to a little extra attention on his part? Still, if the last few days were any indication, it was time to take advantage of the momentum he'd begun building on Christmas Eve.
Forcing himself to relax, Clark gave Lois a warm smile as she approached his desk. "Hey there, partner! I've been waiting for you to get here and brighten my morning."
"Well, hello to you, too," Lois responded with an amused smile as she passed him on the way to her desk. "You certainly look chipper this morning. Vacation must have done you good."
"Could be, could be … but I am definitely happy to be back." Clark leaned back in his chair, the picture of confidence, and grinned at her. "This place is kind of habit-forming."
"Don't let Perry hear you say that," Lois replied with a laugh, setting her briefcase down and hanging her coat on the coat-rack next to her desk. "He'll ask you to move in."
Clark wrinkled his nose in amusement and ran a hand over the top of his desk. "The sleeping surface would be a little hard for my tastes. Besides, I prefer my own bathroom."
"Good choice," she answered, chuckling as she walked back to his desk. As she often did when they talked, Lois hopped up onto his desk, smoothed her skirt, then crossed her legs. "I've slept here before and trust me, it's not all it's cracked up to be."
Emboldened by Lois's positive response so far, Clark allowed his eyes to sweep over her body. It was harder than he'd expected to not let his gaze linger on the long nylon- clad legs crossed only inches away from him, but he was careful to make sure his look was admiring, not leering. Still, there was no denying that Lois had a fantastic body, and her short skirt definitely proved the point. "Doesn't seem to have done you any harm," he responded with a slow grin, finally meeting her eyes. "Sleeping here, I mean."
Lois raised an eyebrow at his examination of her body, but she was clearly amused rather than offended. She tossed her hair, obviously in a good mood. "Yeah, we first-class reporters have nerves of steel, what can I say?" she responded in a breezy voice.
Chuckling, Clark placed his hand on the desk next to her thigh. "Seems like you'd need a *body* of steel to lie on this thing," he teased, knocking on his desk for emphasis. "I'd definitely need a pillow."
"That *is* the pillow," she laughed. "You sit in the chair and put your head on the desk; you don't clear the whole thing and lie down!"
"Oh, is that how it works?" Clark answered in mock innocence. "Well, see, good thing I have a first-class reporter around to show me the ropes."
Lois rolled her eyes. "What would you do without me?"
He grinned at her. "I don't intend to find out."
"Smart boy," she told him, grinning back.
They smiled at each other for a moment, enjoying the company, but Clark didn't wait long to jump back into the conversation. "Well, no matter where you were sleeping, you don't seem any worse for wear after working over Christmas." He gave her another once-over, his voice becoming more complimentary, more sincere. "In fact, you look really great. Is that a new suit?"
"Well … yeah," Lois responded, surprised but clearly pleased. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Thanks. You don't look so bad yourself." Then she glanced at his chest and raised an eyebrow. "Except for that tie."
Surprised, Clark looked down at the little Santa-hat-clad- snowmen decorating his chest. "Hey, it's the holiday season! I like it."
"Of course you do," she answered, patting his arm in a patronizing way.
Clark laughed out loud but couldn't help but tease her in return. "Now let me get something straight … you notice the tie but you completely ignore the present on your desk? I think you're slipping, Lois."
Lois turned to follow his gaze. "A present? For me?" She quickly spied the rectangular holiday tin next to her phone and jumped off Clark's desk with excitement. "Oh! Is that what I think it is?"
Clark laughed as Lois quickly crossed the aisle to her desk and eagerly pried off the container's lid. "It is if you think it's cookies from my mom," he responded.
Lois was already biting into one, however. Her face was a picture of sheer delight. "Oh, *Clark*," she gushed. "These are *wonderful*."
He couldn't help but grin as he joined her at her desk. "I'm glad you like 'em. My mom makes the best chocolate- chip cookies," he answered proudly.
Lois looked under the top layer of cookies. "Oh, and brownies, too!"
"Brownies?" Clark stepped in closer and craned his head over the tin in surprise. "Hey, no fair," he protested. "I didn't know she'd made those, too. Those are my favorites and she didn't give me any!"
The corners of Lois's mouth quirked at his exaggerated pout. "Well …" she stalled, "I guess if you're nice to me, I can give you some." Then she smiled and broke off the corner of one. "Here," she said, lifting it to his lips.
Clark opened his mouth and let Lois feed him the bite of brownie. His face instantly matched her expression of delight, though he honestly couldn't tell if it was more from the rich taste of the brownie or the way she was standing so close to him, feeding him so intimately … either way, it was sheer bliss. "Mmm," he sighed, closing his eyes.
"I'm glad you like it," she murmured.
When he opened his eyes again, he noticed that Lois was looking up at him, her hand placed affectionately on his chest. Clark swallowed as he stared into her eyes. She was so incredibly beautiful. And even though he was sure it was just his imagination, he could have sworn that Lois had actually sounded a little breathless just then. Suddenly a little breathless himself, Clark couldn't stop his gaze from flickering to her mouth, completely captivated by the way she absently ran the tip of her tongue over her lips. He couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to kiss her right then, and felt himself begin to lean towards her almost imperceptibly.
"Hey, guys, what do you have there?" a cheerful young voice called out suddenly from behind him.
Clark startled and took a half-step backwards. "Oh, uh, hi, Jimmy," he fumbled.
Lois stepped back as well, looking a little flustered. "Yeah, hi, Jimmy." She quickly made the quarter-turn back to her desk and placed the lid back on the tin. "Um, how was your Christmas?"
Jimmy looked at Lois quizzically. "It was fine … but you knew that already. We talked about this yesterday, remember?"
Lois just stared at the young man for a moment, then blinked, as if just realizing what he'd said. "Oh, yeah… sorry. You went to your mom's, right?"
Jimmy nodded and expanded his friendly smile to include Clark. "Yeah, we did the big family dinner thing on Christmas Day," he answered brightly. "My Aunt Marie and Uncle Ron came over with my cousins Tim and Sue …"
As Jimmy rambled on about his family's Christmas, Clark pasted an interested smile on his face, but inside, his thoughts were racing between excitement over being so close to Lois and disappointment over being interrupted. Had he really been imagining things, or had Lois seemed to be leaning towards him after feeding him the brownie? He couldn't really be sure, but it had almost seemed like she had been caught up in the intimate gesture as much as he'd been.
Clark gave himself a mental shake. No, clearly it was his imagination running away with him. They were at work, after all, and if there was one thing he knew about Lois, it was that she was very protective of her reputation when it came to relationships with her co-workers. She'd been burned before, that much he knew for sure, and it had even seemed to make her swear off all men for awhile. At least, that was what he'd been able to put together when he'd first joined the Planet's staff, between some overheard gossip and things that Lois herself had told him.
Still, he couldn't deny the fact that the two of them had become much more than co-workers in the year and a half that they'd known each other. They'd started out as rivals, in a sense, until he'd been able to convince Lois that he wasn't a threat to her professionally. Before that, however, he'd had to convince her that he was her equal — neither a hack, nor a doormat to be bossed around — which had made the early weeks of their working relationship interesting, to say the least. But they'd become friendly with each other within a few weeks, and definite friends within a few months. He could honestly say that he now considered Lois to be his best friend, and he was pretty sure that she felt the same way about him. They'd certainly had some tests to their friendship — primarily her engagement to Lex Luthor last spring — but they had come through them together, and in the end, their trials had only strengthened their feelings for each other.
Not that it did him any good right now, however, with Jimmy having inserted himself in the conversation. Clark might not know exactly what to do to make Lois reconsider his position as a platonic buddy, but he certainly knew it didn't include flirting with her in front of any of their co-workers. No, he was already treading on dangerous ground by hoping she might be willing to date him at all. Making her uncomfortable at work — or worse, the object of speculation or gossip — was a sure-fire way to lose not only her friendship, but possibly their professional partnership as well.
But it wasn't a race, Clark told himself firmly, as he politely managed to excuse himself from the conversation and return to his desk. Yes, he was anxious to have Lois see him as boyfriend material, but it wasn't something that he was going to be able to do in a single conversation, no matter how many compliments he paid her on her appearance or how many chocolaty treats he left her. He wanted a relationship, not a seduction.
Though he had to admit that sometimes, especially when Lois caught his eye from across the aisle and smiled at him the way she just had, it was really hard to be patient.
At a little after five o'clock that afternoon, Lois leaned back in her chair and rotated her neck against the kinks that were forming. She'd been steadily busy all day, but now that she'd finished typing up her article covering a series of break-ins that had occurred over the weekend and sent it to Perry, she could finally sit back and relax.
All in all, it had been a pretty quiet day in Metropolis, which was good, considering half the newsroom staff was still out on vacation. The news never stopped, not even for the holidays, but that didn't mean that those reporters and support staff with families didn't want to use their vacation days. Unfortunately, that often meant extra work for the people who remained in the newsroom.
Today, however, had been a pretty good day. It was certainly nice to have her partner back. It was amazing how much she had missed him while he'd been gone, especially considering how long she had fought even having a partner. Not that Lois couldn't work alone, far from it. She'd even taken the opportunity to do some legwork on some of her own investigations while Clark had been on vacation; after all, just because they were writing partners for many of their stories didn't mean that neither of them ever worked independently anymore. But still, these last three days in the newsroom hadn't been the same without Clark.
Lifting her head, Lois studied her partner as he talked on the phone. He was thoroughly engrossed in his conversation, which seemed to be a phone interview from the way he was taking copious notes as he listened. It certainly hadn't taken long for Clark to get back into the swing of things at work, she mused. Still, his vacation seemed to have done him a world of good, if his happy and relaxed attitude since he'd come in this morning was any indication. He seemed different today for some reason, though she couldn't put her finger on exactly how.
It was probably just Clark's positive feelings over the holiday season, Lois thought with a smile, shaking her head as she remembered how infectious his grin could be. Lunchtime, especially, had been very enjoyable, even though it hadn't been anything more exciting than the two of them catching a table at their favorite nearby Chinese restaurant. The food had been the same, the atmosphere had been the same, but Clark had just seemed more … well, *Clark*, today. He'd been more solicitous than usual, smiling at her a little more often, cracking a few more jokes … why, exactly, Lois wasn't quite sure, but whatever it was, she wasn't complaining. For some reason, Clark's good moods often seemed to rub off on her.
Of course, the fact that he had brought her chocolate this morning might have had something to do with her good mood — chocolate *always* made her happy. Lois got a slightly dreamy look on her face as she remembered how incredible Martha's cookies had tasted. Sheer heaven! And though Lois hadn't tasted the brownies yet, Clark's earlier reaction had let her know that they were equally delicious. His eyes had darkened, his breathing had become more shallow, and she could have sworn she'd felt his heart-rate increase under the gentle pressure of her hand on his chest … then the tip of his tongue had reached out ever so seductively to capture the last bit of taste from those gorgeous lips—
Lois jerked herself alert in her seat. Where had *that* thought come from?? She gave her head a shake to clear it. 'Chocolate, Lois, you were thinking about chocolate,' she reminded herself firmly. Clark's look of pure rapture when she'd fed him had no bearing on this train of thought, regardless of how completely it had captivated her or how accelerated her own breathing had become— With a slight gasp, Lois quickly rolled her chair back from the desk. Darn it, she had just done it again!
She shot Clark a guilty look, hoping that he hadn't seen her abrupt awakenings from her daydream. There was no way she could explain *that* one to him. Thankfully, though, he was still fully occupied with his phone call. Lois breathed a sigh of relief … then immediately fumbled for the cookie tin and grabbed a brownie for herself.
The chocolate did the trick, and by the time Clark had hung up the phone a few minutes later, Lois was back to her old self again. She smiled serenely as he caught her eye. "Busy day, huh?" she asked, nodding to the notepad in front of him.
Clark nodded. "Yeah, that was my source down at the Mayor's office. I had him looking into a few things last week and he finally got back to me."
"Looks like he had a lot of information … you were on the phone a long time."
Putting his hands behind his head, Clark tipped back in his chair and gave Lois a grin. "Checking up on me?"
Lois's eyes widened slightly as she remembered how closely she had been watching him a few moments before, but she quickly reminded herself that Clark had been oblivious to that. Still, the best defense was a good offense. "Just making sure you can keep up with me, partner," she threw back cockily. "I've already finished my stories for the day … you were just being too slow, is all."
"Oh, is that right?" he asked with an amused smile. "And I suppose you've just been waiting around for me."
"Me? Waiting? Never!" she exclaimed, giving her head a shake of what she hoped looked like astonishment over the question. "I wasn't waiting at all." To prove the point, she shut down her computer, then turned off her desk lamp. "In fact, I was just getting ready to leave for the day."
"You're leaving?" Clark asked quickly. A little too quickly, she thought vaguely. And had he sounded almost disappointed?
Lois furrowed her brow. "Why? Do you need my help with something?" she asked, pausing in the middle of gathering her belongings. Then she added, a little too quickly herself, "'Cause I can stay if you do—"
"No, no … I just—" He shook his head, clearly struggling for his reply. He finally waved his hand in a casual motion. "I was just wondering … what are you doing for dinner?"
"Oh," Lois answered, puzzled over why such a simple question would perplex him. She shrugged. "Nothing, really. I've got a fridge full of leftovers that I need to eat."
"Leftovers from Christmas Eve?"
She nodded, then gave a resigned laugh. "They're going to go bad before I can eat them all, though … I had no idea how much meat there was on a whole turkey!"
Clark smiled. "You did get a pretty big bird … looked great on the table, but there was a lot of food. Not that I minded," he added quickly. "That was a *great* dinner."
"Thanks," she said sincerely. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. It will be a shame to have to throw it out."
After only the slightest of hesitations, Clark grinned. "So how about I come over and help you eat some of it?"
Lois sat up straighter. "Seriously? Yeah, that'd be great. You think the food will still be OK, then? I wasn't sure how long it could stay in the refrigerator. I forgot to ask you about that before you left."
Clark nodded. "I'll check when I get there, but it should be fine. Still, we should get everything into the freezer as soon as possible. Do you want the turkey frozen in large chunks or meal-sized portions?"
Lois just stared at him. "What's the difference?"
With a laugh, Clark shut down his own computer and began straightening his desk. "Don't worry; I'll take care of it when I get there."
"Definitely a better idea," Lois replied.
Just as she was putting on her coat, however, Perry stuck his head out of his office. "Lois? Can I see you for a minute, please?"
"Me, too, Chief?" Clark asked, starting to rise from his seat.
Perry shook his head. "No, just Lois … it won't take long."
Lois shrugged at her partner. "I guess I'll be out in a minute and then we can go."
"Sounds good to me," he said warmly.
A little over two hours and a couple of generous servings of dinner later, Clark stood at Lois's kitchen counter, his shirt sleeves rolled partway up his forearms and his hands working the last bit of meat off the turkey frame. Foil- wrapped packets of sliced meat were stacked beside him, along with a very doubtful-looking Lois holding a black permanent marker.
"Now you want me to write *what* on these, exactly?"
"I told you … you write what's inside and today's date."
With another look that clearly indicated she'd thought he'd lost track of his senses, Lois nevertheless took a foil packet and labeled it. "And why am I doing this, again?"
Clark made a sound somewhere between a sigh and a laugh and shot her a sideways look. "Because months from now, when you're digging through your freezer in search of more Monster Choco-Chunk ice cream, you're going to come across all of these little foil packets and have absolutely no idea what's in them."
Lois set down the first packet and picked up another one with a roll of her eyes. "Some of us have excellent memories," she said pointedly.
"Some of us do," Clark replied, "but you're not one of them." He quickly moved his hips out of the way of her swatting hand, laughing. "Hey! Don't hit the guy up to his elbows in dead bird."
By this time, Lois was laughing, too. "You keep pushing your compulsive tendencies on me and you might end up joining that bird."
"Compulsive tendencies, ha! You'll thank me come spring, when you're pulling out beautifully sliced turkey meat for dinner."
She snorted but kept labeling the packets. "And I suppose you're going to expect to come over and help me eat it again?"
"Well, someone needs to make more stuffing," he said with a wink.
Lois pointed the open-tipped marker at him. "You didn't seem to mind my stuffing on Christmas Eve, Mr. I'll-Have- Fourths! Not to mention the two helpings you had tonight."
"Well, anyone can get lucky once … but for the future, we can't be too careful about food poisoning, now can we?" When Lois audibly gasped and pretended to lunge at him with the marker, Clark laughed and quickly jumped out of the way. He shook a turkey-covered finger at her. "Geez, careful with that thing! That's permanent ink."
Satisfied that she'd gotten a sufficient reaction, Lois just smirked at him. "Come a little closer and I'll show you what it looks like on your shirt," she dared. "I have all sorts of ideas for things I can write on there."
"Ooo, she's getting tough." Laughing, Clark took a step towards her, waggling his fingers. "Wonder what turkey fat looks like in hair. Why don't we find out?" With that, he, too, lunged, reaching towards her head.
Lois squealed loudly and jumped back, but quickly put herself into a self-defense position, wielding the marker like a sword. After a beat, Clark mimicked her, wielding his … fingers, which made them both laugh out loud.
"I think what we have here," Clark finally mused with a grin, "is an old-fashioned stand-off."
"True," Lois observed, "but turkey grease can be washed out." She gave him a confident look. "Can ink?"
Clark pondered this for a moment, then straightened. "All right, you win," he agreed. "Ink beats grease."
"Is that a new form of rock, paper, scissors?"
"Just finishing labeling the packets, please!"
Lois chuckled and returned to her place next to him at the counter. When she got to the last package of meat, however, she furrowed her brow. "Why did you put all the little chips of dark meat together instead dividing it up into a bunch of smaller packages like you did for the slices?"
"Because that's for the soup."
If she'd looked at him before like he were crazy, this time, her incredulous stare was even worse. "The *what*?"
It was Clark's turn to roll his eyes. "You heard me, the soup … you can't just throw away the turkey carcass without making soup."
"Oh, trust me on this one, Clark … yes, you can."
He chuckled. "Just get me that storage bag, OK?" When Lois handed him the large zipper-topped bag from the back of the counter, he began filling it with bones. "See, we'll just put these into your freezer with the meat and we can make soup out of it later this winter."
Lois looked horrified. "I don't want bone soup!"
It was his turn to stare at her as if she was nuts. "God, Lois, I'd smack my forehead if I didn't think I'd get grease in my hair … you don't eat the bones! You use them to make broth. Haven't you ever made soup before?"
"Yeah," she responded dryly. "It's called opening a can. Sometimes I even go a little wild and heat it up."
Giving the sky his best 'give me strength' look, Clark began to wash his hands in the sink. "There's more to life than processed food and carry-out, Lois. I would think you'd have figured that out, after all the trouble you went to on your Christmas dinner."
"Ah, but I bought most of it … let's not get crazy here."
Clark turned off the water and accepted the hand towel Lois was holding out for him. He couldn't help but smile. "Tell you what, let me get a little crazy on the soup and then you tell me which tastes better."
She gave a long-suffering sigh, but the smile on her face gave her away as she began filling her freezer with the packages of meat. "Deal."
Clark, however, was on to more important matters. "So do you have any more of that pumpkin pie? I think we've earned our dessert, don't you think?"
Lois shook her head apologetically. "Sorry, it was the first thing to go." After thinking for a few seconds, however, she disappeared into the living room. When she returned a moment later, she was holding a familiar tin. "But we have cookies!" she said brightly.
"Perfect!" Clark exclaimed. As Lois pulled down two clean plates from her cupboard, Clark opened the refrigerator door. "Got any milk?" he asked.
"Yeah, there should be some," Lois answered, placing a cookie and a brownie on each of their plates.
"Found it." Clark pulled out the half-empty container and set it on the counter. "Is it fresh?"
"Of course it's fresh," Lois responded a little indignantly as she pulled down two glasses.
"OK," he said, twisting off the plastic cap and giving the container's opening a sniff, just in case. Deciding it smelled fine, he poured them each a drink.
Lois put her hands on her hips as she watched him. "I can't believe you just did that."
Clark glanced over at her as he replaced the cap. "What?"
"You sniffed my milk."
"I just told you it was fine, and you still smelled it! In some countries, that's probably considered a dueling offense." The smirk on her face belied the annoyance in her tone.
Clark started to laugh. "Lois, you forget who you're talking to here."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
He returned the milk to the refrigerator and turned to her, grinning. "It means that I have personally witnessed at least three different occasions where you have pulled your milk out, taken a drink straight from the carton, *cringed* … and then *put it back in*!"
Her mouth dropped open, but he could see she was trying not to laugh. "I have never done that!"
He offered her one of the glasses, his eyes twinkling. "You want it or not?"
After looking at him speculatively for a moment, Lois finally took the milk and carried her plate to the table. "Well, OK … but only since it smells all right."
Clark was still laughing as he joined her.
As they enjoyed their dessert at the table, however, a silence came over the room and Clark noticed that Lois looked a little melancholy, lost in her own thoughts. He studied her, concerned. She'd done this a few other times since they'd left work tonight, but so far, she'd refused to tell him exactly what it was that was bothering her. It had all started after she'd come out of Perry's office, just before they'd left.
"Hey," he said softly. "You OK?"
Lois woke from her thoughts and gave him a little smile. "What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine."
"If this is about the food poisoning crack, I was just kidding."
"What?" She waved him off. "Oh, no … it's not about that."
"Then it is about something." Clark studied her for a moment, debating whether to mention his theory of when it had started, then deciding to go ahead. "You had that same look on your face at the Planet, right before we got on the elevator," he said, his voice quiet. When her face registered her shock — and acceptance — he knew he'd guessed right and instantly became more concerned. "Is everything all right, Lois? What happened in Perry's office?"
At his question, she sighed, resigned. "I guess you're going to find out soon enough."
Clark sat up straighter, now getting really concerned. "Lois? What's going on? Is something wrong?"
"No, no, nothing's wrong," she quickly reassured him, standing up from the table. She gave him a pat on the shoulder as she crossed into the living room. "At least, I hope not."
He followed her with his eyes. "You say that, but you still look nervous."
She turned to him, perplexed. "I do?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah. Well, at least you do to me," he added. "Come on, Lois, you're worrying me here. I know you well enough to tell when something is bothering you."
She sighed again, but this time there was a ghost of a smile on her face. "Yeah, I guess you do," she said softly. She reached into her briefcase and pulled out a few sheets of paper. "I guess I should just show you."
When Lois returned to the table, Clark took the papers from her outstretched hand. "What are these?"
Lois sat down in her chair and began to fiddle with her empty plate. "It's running in tomorrow morning's Lifestyle section," she finally answered. "That's what Perry called me into his office to tell me."
"It's yours?" At her nod, he continued, confused. "Why are you worried about it?"
Lois just shook her head. "Just read it."
With a puzzled look, Clark began to read the text she'd given him. He started out by skimming, but when he reached the middle of the first page, he sat up straighter and began to re-read from the beginning, not wanting to miss a single word. While he'd been in Smallville, Lois had returned to the Coates Orphanage alone and had interviewed the director as well as several of the children. The article that had come from these conversations was not the hard-hitting news story that Lois Lane was famous for writing, but rather, an insightful, compassionate essay sure to encourage the citizens of Metropolis to consider opening their home to a child in need of a family.
When Clark had finished reading, he sat back in his chair, stunned. "Wow … Lois, I don't know what to say."
"Are you mad?" she asked quietly.
"Mad?" He was now even more confused than before. "Why in the world would I be mad? Lois, this is amazing."
She flushed a little. "I wouldn't say *amazing* …"
"You'd prefer outstanding? Brilliant? Awe-inspiring?"
His gentle teasing earned him a smile, but Lois was clearly still concerned about something. "Clark …"
Clark furrowed his brow, puzzled. Lois wasn't normally this reticent about her stories — actually, she was *never* reticent about her stories, especially not ones that were this good. "I'm missing something here … why did you think I'd be upset? I'm *thrilled* about this, Lois."
"Even though it was your story to begin with?" she asked hesitantly.
Clark raised his head, understanding finally dawning. "Ohhh … is that what this is about? Lois … no. Geez, I love that you wrote this. I told you—"
"I didn't want you think I was trying to take over your story, that's all." Clearly relieved, her voice began to return to its normal tone as she explained. "I wasn't even planning to submit it until after you got back. I figured we could work on it together. But Perry started reading over my shoulder and he liked it, and … well …"
"And he decided to run it in tomorrow morning's paper," Clark finished for her.
"Yeah. Though only in Lifestyles … he said it was too touchy-feely to make it into the city section."
Clark couldn't help but grin. "Hey, isn't that what you always accuse me of writing?" At her embarrassed expression, his smile turned reassuring. "Don't knock Lifestyles … this is going to impact a lot of people, Lois. You should be proud that Perry wants to highlight it. I know I'm proud of you."
Lois sighed in relief. "So you liked it?"
"Liked it? I told you, I'm thrilled!" Clark leaned forward and covered her hand with his. "Lois," he said intently. "What you did … going back to the Coates Orphanage and spending more time with them, writing about them on such a personal level … it's incredible." He stared into her eyes, once again in awe of the amazing woman before him. "And it means a lot to me that you would follow up on it like that."
Her voice became more serious. "He told me what you did, Clark."
"Santa—" She broke off in mild amusement. "Now you've got me doing it! The director of the orphanage—"
Clark smiled. "I know who you mean."
"He told me what you did … how you worked with Superman to get all those toys donated."
Clark's eyes widened slightly and he felt himself blushing a bit under the intensity of her gaze. He sat back a little in his seat, letting his hand slip off hers. "Oh, well … I didn't really do much. Superman—"
Lois shook her head, cutting him off. "You worked together. Santa told me. He said it was all your idea." This time it was Lois who leaned forward, covering Clark's hand with hers in imitation of his gesture. "And he told me that you bought that big Christmas tree in their play room with your own money, that it wasn't donated by a business the way you said it was."
Caught in the tenderness of her gaze and the softness of her touch, Clark found himself unable to answer for a moment. Finally he gave a small shrug and responded softly, "Every kid deserves a tree at Christmas, Lois. I just wanted to give them that."
Lois nodded. "I know." Her voice grew even more tender. "See, I didn't do anything special, Clark. I just wrote the story that I knew you wanted to but weren't here to do." She gave his hand a little squeeze. "And I want you to know that I think what you did was pretty terrific."
"Wow," he breathed, staring into her eyes. He hadn't thought it possible, but suddenly, he loved her more. He'd started out trying to compliment her, to show her how much he loved her work … and she'd turned it around to make him feel like a hero. "How did I get so lucky to meet you?" he whispered.
In response, Lois just smiled and sat back. "Just won the friend lottery, I guess," she replied impishly.
Laughing, Clark suddenly found he couldn't get the grin off his face. Yes, he definitely loved her more.
They talked for several more minutes about Lois's experiences at the orphanage, but it wasn't long before Clark noticed the time. He sat back reluctantly. "I can't believe it's almost eight o'clock. Seems like I just got here."
Lois glanced at the clock. "It's still early; you don't have to go."
Clark picked up their plates and empty milk glasses and carried them over to Lois's sink. "Unfortunately, I do … I've got a ton of stuff to catch up on after being gone."
"Unpacking?" Lois guessed as she followed him into the kitchen and began rinsing out the glasses.
He nodded. "Yeah, and laundry and paying bills and a whole bunch of other stuff." He also knew he had to spend at least a few hours patrolling this evening, having gotten by with the bare minimum over the days he was in Smallville. But this, of course, he didn't mention out loud. "So what are you going to do tonight?" he asked conversationally as they made their way back into the living room.
"Oh, I don't know, nothing exciting." Lois waved at the television. "It's Hepburn and Tracey night on the Classic Movie Channel … I think I'll pop some popcorn and watch some of it."
"Oh yeah?" he asked, putting on his coat. "What's playing?"
"I think they're starting with 'Woman of the Year', then 'Pat and Mike', and ending with 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner'. You know, early, middle and late, of the ones they made together." She smiled. "Gotta love Hepburn and Tracey."
Clark grinned. "See now, I wouldn't have guessed you would like 'Woman of the Year'. Doesn't the hard-bitten newswoman try to give up her career to be with the man she loves?"
Lois waved him off, refusing to take the bait. "Yeah, yeah, but that's just the end … I just try to ignore that part and enjoy the rest. And you have to admit," she added with a grin, "that the scene with her making a mess of the kitchen, well, that could be me."
"No comment!" Clark laughed. "I like it, too … it's not exactly politically correct in parts, but for the early 1940's, it was pretty revolutionary, with the gender role reversal and all."
She nodded. "And, of course, the acting is top notch." Lois gave a contented sigh. "You can just see them falling in love."
"Which they were doing in real life as well," Clark added, feeling himself melt as he saw the happy expression on Lois's face. For all her bluster about being 'all work and no play', he knew that there was so much more to her than being 'Mad Dog Lane', and her secret addiction to sappy romantic movies was no exception. He felt honored that she was letting him in on this little corner of her life. "Hepburn and Tracey … theirs was one of the great love affairs," he finished softly, staring into her eyes.
Lois met his gaze for a long moment. "Yeah," she whispered, then, flushing slightly, she added, "And, well, you have to love movies where the characters are reporters, right?"
Clark smiled and lowered his gaze. "Yeah, gotta love those… like Cary Grant in 'Once Upon A Honeymoon'. He was a reporter in that one, wasn't he?"
"Yup," she answered. "Though my all-time favorite movie reporter is Clark Gable in 'It Happened One Night'." Lois sighed again, her eyes dreamy. "I love that movie."
"You know, I've heard of that one but I've never seen it," Clark said, leaning against the front door. "I know it's a classic, but I've never managed to catch it. It's a really old one."
"1934," she clarified immediately.
Clark raised an eyebrow, impressed. "You even know the year? And here I didn't know you were such an old movie buff."
Lois gave a little shrug. "I'm not, really … I just love that movie." She shook her head with a smile. "And I can't believe you haven't seen it! It's funny and romantic and sweet … oh, Clark, it's *you*." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, however, Lois stilled, as if realizing what she'd just said. "Uh, I mean, you know," she fumbled, "with him being a reporter and all."
Clark stared at her for a moment with a little smile on his face. Despite her attempts to cover it up, he was pretty sure she'd meant that as a really big compliment. His smile grew more pleased at the realization. "And with the star being named Clark and all," he added, letting her off the hook.
"Right, Clark Gable …" Lois trailed off and tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. "Anyway, if it's ever on, you should see it. I think you'd like it."
"I'm sure I would," he answered softly. Clark glanced over his shoulder to the door. "Well, I guess I should go … let you watch your movies."
"Yeah … I guess so."
Clark hesitated as he noticed the way she was staring up at him, waiting. He couldn't help but remember the last time he stood in this doorway, saying goodbye for the night. On Christmas Eve, he had pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead, unable to risk pulling her into his arms and kissing her the way he'd always dreamed of doing. Tonight, as well, he longed to lower his mouth to hers, but the fear of scaring her off, of ruining what momentum he'd built, was very strong. Uncertain, he turned and opened the door, then paused again. "Lois—"
They each chuckled as they spoke at the same time. "We do that a lot, don't we?" he said with a smile.
"I guess we do," she agreed.
"Well, anyway … I had a really good time tonight."
She smiled. "Me too. Thanks for …" She gestured towards the kitchen. "Helping me with the leftovers.
"Anytime." When another pause fill the air, Clark glanced once more towards the open doorway. "OK, I'm gonna go."
Lois worried her bottom lip with her teeth, watching him. "Good night, Clark."
He exhaled, then gave her a warm smile. "Good night, Lois."
She smiled back, just as warmly. "Have fun with your laundry."
His grin came easily and he felt himself relax. "Have fun with your movies."
"Thanks," she said, then to his shock, she impulsively stepped forward and gave him a hug.
Clark caught his breath in surprise, but it didn't take him long to wrap his arms around her and return the gesture. Almost of their own volition, he felt his eyes drift closed as his cheek brushed against her hair, and he inhaled deeply, taking in her scent and recommitting it to memory.
All too soon, Lois stepped back. Still, it didn't take super-powers to notice that her eyes seemed to have darkened and her face was slightly flushed. Giving her a slow smile, Clark ran his hand gently down her arm. "Good night, Lois," he murmured, then forced himself to back out of the open door before he did something he knew could risk everything. Still, a shiver went through him when he heard the breathless quality in her voice as she replied …
"Good night, Clark."
As the closing credits of 'Woman Of The Year' rolled across the television screen, Lois absently lifted a piece of popcorn to her lips, barely noticing that the movie had ended. Despite her usual enjoyment of Katharine Hepburn movies, she just didn't seem to be able to concentrate tonight. Instead, her mind kept drifting to her partner and the time they'd spent together this evening.
Clark had been wonderful, really wonderful, about her orphanage story. She'd been quite worried about what he would think, whether he would be upset that she had picked up where he had left off with the children, so his reactionhad been a relief. Not that Clark had seen the Coates home as simply an opportunity for a story — Lois was pretty sure that he would have never written about his own involvement in the efforts to give these children a proper Christmas, if he had written about them at all. Still, after seeing how wistfully he had looked at some of the orphanage's residents, and hearing about all the time and money he had donated this week, Lois had realized that these children were very important to him … and that he would want to do more to ensure they would not be forgotten. And sure enough, Clark had been nothing but supportive of her work. He had complimented her writing, and had seemed genuinely moved when he'd realized she'd continued the work he had started.
Smiling slightly, Lois shook her head in disbelief. Truth be told, she was kind of amazed herself that she had felt drawn to the children. She certainly had never been very enamored of them before. In fact, a year or two ago, she probably would have dismissed the very idea of doing a story on how orphans can get lost in the system as being not worth her time as a serious journalist. But there was something about the way Clark had interacted with them, something about the way 'Santa' had described them as being drawn to her partner, that had made her want to get involved as well.
Not that she should have been surprised that children would be drawn to Clark. There was just something about him … the way he smiled, the way he laughed, the way he always looked people in the eye when they spoke to him. He always made Lois feel as though she were the most important person in the world to him when they talked. It was no surprise that other people would have the same reaction to him.
The way he had looked at her tonight, for example — it had been captivating. Had he always gazed at her like that and she just hadn't noticed it before?
It was certainly possible … for some reason, she'd seemed a bit more aware of Clark recently. Oh, he'd always been warm and friendly and affectionate with her, there was no doubt of that. But lately … this month, this week, today, especially … he'd seemed even more, well, *more*. His smile had seemed brighter, his expression more fascinated, his tone more affectionate. It was almost as if he was starting to think of her as something more than just a friend …
Setting the half-empty popcorn bowl on the coffee table with a thump, Lois shook her head, quickly dismissing the thought. Clearly her mind was playing tricks on her. Clark had always been friendly towards her; it was just his way. He was like that towards everyone! Nothing had changed between them.
The fact that she had started to notice these little changes in his demeanor after they had shared that little kiss on Christmas Eve, well, it was just a coincidence … or all in her imagination. That he had been there for her when she'd needed him was clearly making her see things that weren't there. Clark's feelings for her hadn't changed.
Still, she could have sworn that the look she'd seen on his face once or twice today had looked vaguely familiar … the way he had rested his chin on his hand and watched her, smiling the most fascinated smile …
// "Don't fall for me, farmboy, I don't have time for it." //
Catching her breath as the words surfaced from somewhere in her memory, Lois sank more deeply into the couch. A year and a half ago, soon after they'd first met, she'd spoken those words to him after seeing a similarly enamored expression on his face. But could that possibly have been the same look she'd seen on his face today?
No … that was impossible. Clark was her best friend, her partner … and that was all she felt for him, as well. Sure, she found him attractive and wonderful to be around. But they were merely friends, just as the hug she'd given him tonight as he'd been leaving had merely been a friendly gesture.
Just an affectionate hug, between close friends … nothing more.
And the fact that she had closed her eyes and inhaled his scent as they'd held each other … the fact that her body was still tingling from the memory … meant nothing at all.
In the newsroom Thursday morning, Clark's fingers flew over the keyboard, his eyes riveted to his notebook as he typed. Before he'd left for Smallville, he'd been looking into the city's redevelopment plans for a run-down section of the waterfront area, and his few days away from Metropolis had put him a bit behind on his deadline. Fortunately, his source at the Mayor's office had come through with the final piece of information he'd needed yesterday afternoon, and it had turned out to be just the link he'd needed to tie the parts of his story together. He knew that he should have typed it up yesterday, right after he'd hung up the phone, but he'd been more than a little distracted by the fact that Lois had agreed to have dinner with him. But he'd bargained with himself that getting in a little early this morning to work on the story would still allow him to make his deadline. Fortunately, Superman hadn't been needed this morning and he'd been able to get in bright and early.
With a flourish, Clark finished the last few paragraphs of new material and sat back with a satisfied nod to review what he'd just written. It was only then that he realized that Lois was leaning against the edge of his desk, holding two mugs of coffee in her hand.
He blinked, startled. "Whoa, I'm sorry; I didn't see you. How long have you been standing there?"
Lois just chuckled. "Long enough to realize you were lost to the world."
Clark grinned sheepishly. "I guess I was just—"
"In 'the zone'," Lois finished for him, smiling. "I recognized the look in your eye so I didn't want to interrupt." She handed him his mug. "Here, I got you some coffee."
With a grateful expression, Clark accepted the drink. "Thank you. I haven't had any yet this morning." He shook his head. "I must have really been distracted. I didn't even see you get my mug."
"It was on the corner of your desk," she explained offhandedly, taking a sip from her own steaming drink. "I just picked it up as I went past. No big deal."
Clark, however, couldn't help but feel exceedingly pleased. Lois's dismissal notwithstanding, he thought it *was* a big deal. He was usually the one who took the time to pick up her empty mug from her desk in the morning, not the other way around. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time she had made such a gesture. A little tingle of delight went up his spine, just as it had last night when she'd initiated that great hug. "Mmm, perfect," he said warmly, taking a sip. "Just the way I like it."
Lois gave a teasing roll of her eyes, even as the corners of her mouth quirked into a smile. "I don't know how you can drink it like that," she commented. "Full-fat cream and two sugars … I swear, Clark, I gain two pounds just making it for you."
Encouraged by the way her eyes were twinkling at him, Clark allowed his gaze to sweep across her body for a brief second. "Well, I certainly can't see it anywhere," he replied, flashing her a flirty grin.
Lois's eyes widened for a moment at his obvious compliment, then she ducked her head slightly and blushed. When she met his eyes again, however, she was clearly pleased. "Good to know."
His grin broadened even further, but he hid it by taking another sip of his coffee. Amazingly, she seemed to be responding to his attempts to flirt with her, both yesterday and today, and it made him feel warm all over. Dinner last night had been wonderful, as well, and he longed to pick up where they'd left off. But right now, they were at work and he dared not risk pushing her too fast, especially when they were in the newsroom. Baby steps, he reminded himself. Baby steps.
"So what do we have going on today?" he asked, forcing himself to turn the subject back to work. "Any new and breaking stories to keep us busy?"
"Well, I don't know about you," Lois replied, "but I'm going to spend the day with a couple of the restaurant inspectors with the Metropolis Health Department."
Clark nodded in recognition. "I remember you pitching that idea to Perry a few weeks ago. You finally got it set up, huh? I think it sounds really interesting."
She nodded. "I think so, too. Should make for a good story." Then she lowered her voice and added conspiratorially, "I'm hoping they'll find some really big violations."
Clark couldn't help but grin over her excitement. "You know, most people would hope that they don't find *any* violations. We eat in these places, Lois!"
She looked at him like he was nuts. "What profession are you in, Clark? Clean restaurants don't make for good copy."
"My mistake." He chuckled along with her. "So what time do you leave? Lunch time?"
Lois glanced at her watch. "No, I'm supposed to meet them at ten. I'm probably going to have to leave Perry's update meeting a bit early, actually."
As if on cue, Perry stuck his head out of his office and barked out, "Story meeting in five minutes, people!"
Nodding to their editor, Lois stood up and walked back to her desk.
It suddenly occurred to Clark, however, that with Lois out on a story, this was probably going to be the last time she'd be in the newsroom today. He'd been hoping to take her out to lunch again, then maybe to float the idea of getting together again tonight, but now it looked as if he wasn't going to have that luxury. If he wanted to see her tonight, this would be the time to ask. Yet he didn't want to come on too strong, or make it seem as if he were asking her out in the middle of the newsroom. Still, if he could make the invitation sound casual …
"Hey, Lois," he called across the aisle. "You wouldn't happen to know how to ice skate, would you?"
She glanced up from the papers she'd been gathering. "Yeah, I guess so. Why?"
He picked up the notepad and pen he'd need for the meeting and walked over to her desk. "There was an article in the Lifestyle section last week," he explained, careful to keeping his voice natural, "about all the places to go skating in Metropolis. Turns out they have open skating over at Boulderman Center in the evenings and I thought it might be fun to go."
"I used to go skating there when I was a kid," she answered, smiling a bit at the memory. Then she wrinkled her nose and continued doubtfully, "I don't have skates anymore, though."
"I don't have any here, either, but the paper said they have a rental booth right there."
Lois considered it for a moment, then shrugged. "Sure, it sounds like fun. We should go sometime." She placed her day planner on top of some file folders and picked the stack up in preparation for the meeting.
Clark hesitated as their colleagues began to file past them into the conference room. Lois was already moving towards the open door and he knew his window of opportunity was closing. "How 'bout tonight?"
That stopped her. "Tonight?"
"Yeah, like maybe around seven?" Clark swallowed as he noticed the perplexed look in her eye as she turned towards him, and he couldn't help but feel dismayed. He had clearly just crossed the line and come on too strong. She didn't look angry, but neither was she answering his question. Quickly, he continued, trying to make it clear he wasn't pressuring her. "I mean, unless you have other plans."
Lois furrowed her brow. "No," she started slowly. "It's not that … it's just that I'm not sure how late I'm going to be working tonight. I have no idea how late health inspectors work."
"Oh. Oh!" Clark relaxed, relieved that her reluctance didn't seem to have anything to do with him. "They didn't tell you how late they would be working?"
She shook her head, then thought for a moment. "Tell you what … let me call you this afternoon and let you know how it's going. I should have a better idea of my schedule then."
Clark nodded as they slipped into the room just as Perry was about to start the meeting. The idea that she seemed interested, and was going to call him later, perked him up significantly. "Sure … I'll just keep my cell phone on, so you can reach me if I have to go out."
Lois pulled up a chair and sat down. "Sounds good."
"Thanks, Superman, we really appreciate your help."
Clark smiled at the state trooper's comment before making his way towards the car which was sitting the middle of the road. Fortunately, there were no injured people to attend to — a car had simply broken down in the center of the three-lane expressway. But occurring at the peak of rush hour traffic, it had caused cars to back up for several miles before the police had arrived. Fortunately, Superman had been passing overhead on his way back from responding to a bank alarm, and had offered to lend a hand. It wasn't a big job; it wouldn't take more than a few seconds. But it would allow the road to be cleared much faster than waiting for a tow-truck.
Carefully levitating the car, Clark lifted the vehicle over his head and floated towards the snow-covered median dividing the north and southbound portions of the expressway. He could hear cheers coming from the people in their cars as he gently set the car down on the shoulder, but he didn't let them inflate his ego. He was glad to help where he could, and he couldn't deny that, at least today, he was happy to have the distraction.
He had worked steadily on his city redevelopment story for most of the day, confirming his source's information and incorporating the changes that Perry had suggested when they'd conferred on the story. Still, the time had passed slowly without Lois, or at least, it had once mid-afternoon had arrived and his phone had remained stubbornly silent. Hearing the bank alarm at about five-thirty had almost been a relief as he'd sought to fight the slight depression coming over him. The stalled vehicle on the expressway had been but one more welcome distraction.
But now things were quiet again, and as he stood in the median, watching traffic begin to flow in the darkening December evening, Clark could no longer deny the proof that afternoon had long since passed … and that Lois had never called. Clark wasn't upset with his partner for getting tied up with her story; after all, she had been quite clear about the fact that she wasn't sure what her schedule was going to be for the day. And it wasn't as if they had set up their plans in advance — he had certainly sprung the ice-skating idea on her from out of the blue. Still, he couldn't help but feel disappointed that their evening together wasn't going to happen.
Hiding his private thoughts, Superman smiled congenially as he shook the hands with the police officers and the owner of the stalled vehicle. But in the back of his mind, Clark couldn't help but wonder if his behavior over the last few days had somehow turned Lois off. He'd been careful not to come on too strong, to keep things light and friendly, even while letting his eyes twinkle at her a little more than usual and his grin become a little wider. And Lois had seemed to respond. Several times yesterday, he'd caught her studying him when she thought he couldn't tell, only to flush slightly when they did make eye contact. And last night, after their conversation had ranged from silly to affectionate to caring, Lois had given him that wonderful hug as he'd left. Even this morning, she'd seemed more attentive than she had been in the past … getting him coffee, ducking her head and looking at him from under her lashes when he'd complimented her appearance, patting his arm affectionately when she'd left the story meeting early … it was enough to make him want to pull her into his arms and kiss her until they were both gasping for breath …
Clark sighed. This wasn't getting him anywhere. He just had to be patient, as hard as it was. If Lois was acting skittish after he'd attempted to see her two nights in a row, then he'd just have to back off. He could find other things to do in the evenings. Superman was always needed somewhere. Maybe he could even expand his patrols to other cities for a few days to try to distract himself out of the fact that Lois wasn't as interested in spending time with him outside work as he was in spending time with her … he could even start tonight …
Just then, a faint buzzing reached his ears. Although in the middle of shaking hands with the final police officer, Clark couldn't help but look startled as realized where the noise was coming from.
The police officer also recognized the sound and it didn't take him long to zero in on the source. He craned his head to look behind the superhero. "Um, Superman? Your … cape is ringing."
Eyes widening slightly, Clark quickly reached behind his back and fumbled with the phone which had been clipped to the back of his belt. "Uh, excuse me," he said to the officer, trying not to look as flustered as he felt. "I need to … take this call." Without waiting for a response, he flew straight up into the air with a whoosh. Only when he was sure he was high enough to ensure his privacy did he answer the phone. The last thing he needed was for anyone to hear Superman taking Clark Kent's phone calls. "H—hello?" he asked cautiously.
Lois's voice was like music to his ears and he couldn't help but smile and sigh in relief. "Hi!" he said brightly, glad that he had decided to take to the sky. "I was wondering when I'd hear from you."
"I'm sorry … I meant to call earlier."
"That's OK; I figured you just got busy."
"Yeah, I did, but it's been going really well. As a matter of fact, we've finished up the inspections for today and are getting a bite to eat so I can ask some background questions."
"Oh …" he said slowly, his good mood over her call beginning to fade — he should have known better than to hope things would have gone smoothly. Still, he knew that her job came first and he wasn't about to make her feel guilty for it. He was careful to keep the disappointment out of his voice when he responded. "Well, that's great, Lois; I'm glad the story is going well. You have a good evening, then, and I'll just see you in the morning."
To his surprise, Lois's voice sounded almost as disappointed as he felt. "You don't want to go skating anymore?"
Clark furrowed his brow in confusion. "I thought you were calling to tell me you couldn't make it." He hesitated. "Unless …"
"No, no," she interjected quickly. "I still want to go. I was just calling to see if we could push it back a little. Maybe eight o'clock? Or seven-thirty?"
He brightened immeasurably. "Yeah, sure! I mean, whatever you want … what time would be best for you?"
"Let's say seven-thirty," Lois responded. "I think we're about to get served, and I don't have that many questions. But I do have to get home and change … how 'bout I just meet you over there?"
Clark couldn't help but break into a smile. "Great! I'll see you then."
"OK! Well, I've gotta get back … see you in a bit."
"OK, bye. And thanks for calling," he added quickly, trying to catch her before she hung up.
Almost in a daze, Clark clicked his phone's off button and returned it to its position on the back of his belt. Lois had called … and she still wanted to see him tonight! He broke into a huge grin and couldn't help but turn a somersault on his way back to the ground. Patrolling could wait. He was seeing Lois again!
When Superman landed in the median once again, the officer he'd been talking to studied him for a moment, then grinned knowingly. "Hot date tonight, huh?" he said, eyes twinkling. Only much later did Clark realize how the deep blush which had crossed his face had said more than any words of response ever could have.
Lois raced up the steps of her apartment building and, after fumbling with her keys for a brief moment, rushed through her front door. Dumping her briefcase and coat onto a chair, she hurried into the bedroom, kicking off her shoes and cursing slow taxi drivers as she went. How in the world had it gotten to be past seven o'clock?? She had less than twenty-five minutes to change her clothes, freshen up, and get halfway across town in time to meet Clark. She was never going to make it!
Flinging open her closet door, Lois began rifling through her hangers, trying to decide what to wear. Finally spotting a promising combination, she pulled out her newest pair of jeans and a white cotton turtleneck and tossed them onto the bed. Slipping out of her work pants and blouse, Lois quickly changed into the casual clothing, then paused to examine herself the mirror. She couldn't help but preen a bit as she turned to look at her backside. As they had in the fitting room when she and Lucy had gone shopping, the jeans looked as if they'd been painted on, showing off every curve.
As Lois bent over to retrieve her hiking boots from the bottom of the closet, however, any hint of a smile quickly left her face. With a grimace, she gingerly mimed a few skating moves in front of the closet but quickly gave up. How had she let Lucy talk her into buying these? The jeans showed off her figure, that much was true — but she could barely breath, let alone move!
Peeling the tight denim from her legs, Lois quickly replaced them with her oldest, most comfortable pair of jeans and sighed in relief. Now these she could skate in! Tucking her turtleneck into the waistband, Lois walked back to her closet to find a sweater to wear, but once again, she hesitated as she caught sight of herself in the mirror. The jeans were certainly very comfortable … but as worn and baggy as they were, they didn't exactly look attractive.
Lois gave herself a mental shake. Why in the world did it matter if she looked attractive? She was just going skating. OK, sure, she was going skating with Clark, but it wasn't as if they were going out on a date or anything … so why was she acting as if they were? She forced herself to ignore her reflection as she set about looking through her warmer clothing. Finally deciding on a dark violet wool sweater — she'd often been told the color brought out the best in her complexion — Lois made her way into the bathroom to comb her hair and brush her teeth, even as the words, 'it's not a date, it's not a date', kept running through her head. Still, she couldn't help but add a little extra mascara to her eyelashes and blush to her cheeks before leaving the bathroom. After all, even if Clark was just a friend, it didn't mean that she couldn't look nice for him.
As she made her way back into the bedroom and picked up her hiking boots, however, Lois frowned once again as she caught sight of herself in the mirror. From the waist up, she was satisfied — the extra mascara really made her eyes stand out — but from the waist down … it wasn't the image she wanted to present.
Suddenly, a light bulb went on in her head and Lois made another dive for the closet. From behind the stacks of unread magazines on the floor, she pulled out a box she had almost forgotten she had. Her old skiing clothes! How could she have not thought of this earlier?
Digging through the box, Lois quickly tossed a bonus find — a pair of warm wool socks — to the floor by her boots, but it wasn't long before she'd located her quarry. Holding up the black ski pants, Lois smiled triumphantly. Insulated for warmth, the stretchy material fit in all the right places, yet still allowed her the freedom of movement she needed to be active outdoors. Quickly exchanging her baggy jeans for the black pants, Lois grinned as she looked in the mirror. Yes, this was *exactly* what she'd been looking for.
With one last glance towards the clock — and another moment of panic when she realized that she was definitely going to be late — Lois pulled on her warm socks and hiking boots, then grabbed her ski jacket from where it had been hanging in the back of her closet. Putting it on over her sweater, Lois couldn't help but admire herself one final time in the mirror. The jacket was hip length, functional, but kind of sexy, too, when layered over the tight black pants. Perfect!
Rushing back through the living room, Lois dug her driver's license and some cash out of her wallet and zipped them into her jacket pocket, then grabbed her car keys and headed out the door. One quick trip back to the apartment later, to pick up a pair of fleece gloves for her hands, Lois finally started her car and pulled out into traffic, eyeing the clock doubtfully. It wasn't completely outside the realm of possibility that she could make it halfway across town in six minutes … but only if she could fly like Superman.
At seven forty-five, Clark checked his watch for what seemed like the dozenth time, trying not to appear as anxious as he felt. He'd been waiting on the sidewalk outside Boulderman Center for the last twenty minutes, but even with surreptitious use of his super-vision, he hadn't seen any sign of Lois.
Not that this in itself meant anything was wrong. After all, Lois had been busy working on her story, and it was certainly possible that she'd just gotten delayed. She had told him she'd been running late when she called his cell phone, so he knew he should be completely surprised that she wasn't here yet. But knowing this didn't stop him from fidgeting as he waited for her to arrive.
Sitting on the cement wall encircling the plaza area, Clark tried to relax. He still couldn't believe Lois had agreed to come tonight. When she hadn't called him this afternoon, he'd been sure she was going to beg off, or worse yet, stand him up all together. But if anything, having Lois call to suggest an alternate time had been even better than her initial acceptance. If she didn't enjoy their time together as much as he did, she could have easily used her work schedule as an excuse to get out of seeing him. Yet she had gone out of her way to suggest an alternative time. Yes, definitely encouraging.
Of course, that didn't mean that Lois shared his interest in becoming more than friends. Clark had deliberately avoided any mention of the word 'date' when he'd made his skating suggestion this morning, out of the fear that such a label would only send Lois into a tailspin. No, as far as Lois was concerned, getting together tonight was nothing more than a friendly outing — the idea that tonight might be a date would surely never even enter her mind. Clark sighed to himself … in a way, he envied her that. He didn't seem to be able to get the idea of dating Lois *off* his mind.
Still, as much as he would love to just come out and confess his feelings for her, he knew that actions could speak louder than words. When the time was right, he would summon the courage to tell her how much she meant to him, that he was interested in pursuing a deeper relationship … but in the meantime, he had to content himself with moving slowly, with treading that fine line between showing his interest and scaring her off.
As engrossed as he was in his thoughts, it took Clark a moment to realize that someone was calling his name. When he looked up, however, pulled out of his musing by the familiar sound, he saw Lois on the sidewalk across the street, waiting for the traffic to clear so that she could cross. Brightening, Clark waved, then hopped to his feet as she darted in front of a few slower-moving cars to join him.
Clark met her at the curb. "Hey, you made it!" he exclaimed with a smile.
Lois's cheeks were pink from the cold night air. "Sorry I'm late," she said, a little breathless after her sprint. "It took me longer than I'd expected to wrap up the interview, then I had go home to change clothes."
He couldn't help but grin. "You didn't want to skate in work clothes, huh?"
"I spent most of the day in restaurant kitchens," Lois said, wrinkling her nose. "I had some things splashed on my pants that I'd rather not think about."
Clark gave a mock shudder as they moved to the middle of the sidewalk, away from the street. "Sounds like you got your wish for bad conditions, then … did you get your big headline?"
"Nothing as big as I'd hoped for," Lois answered, "but I did get a lot of really interesting information. Maybe I'll hit the jackpot tomorrow, but even if I don't, I think it will be a great story."
"Well, if you're writing it," Clark said matter-of-factly, "I'm sure it will be." Then, taking in her attire with a sweep of his eyes, he couldn't help but add, "Besides, I love what you've changed into … Lois, you look fantastic."
Lois glanced down at herself. "They're my old ski clothes," she explained. "Do you think they look all right for skating?"
Despite the question in her voice, Clark couldn't help but think she looked very pleased with the fact that he'd noticed her attire. He knew, of course, that he'd barely been able to think of anything else since he'd caught sight of her, but he wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to study her figure more closely and he let his eyes roam over her body appreciatively. "Are you kidding me?" he asked, making his approval clear. "Those black pants … wow."
The grin on her face told him this was the response she'd been looking for. "Thanks, you don't look so bad yourself."
Clark flushed a little as he saw her gaze travel over his body the way his had just done to hers, but he couldn't deny the warmth that spread through him at her approving look. He hadn't dressed in anything special — just a pair of jeans and a sweater, with his tan field coat buttoned over the top — but Lois made him feel as if he was wearing a tuxedo. Hmm, come to think of it, she didn't usually pay him this much attention even when he was wearing a tuxedo…
Filing that thought away for future pondering, Clark picked up on something else that Lois had said as they began to walk down the sidewalk. "So did you say you're going to be meeting them again tomorrow? The health inspectors?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm meeting them at nine o'clock in their office before we go out. They said I could tag along next week, too, but I don't know if I need more than two days with them. I have some background research to do and some follow-up phone calls to make, so I might want to get started with that instead of doing another day in the field; we'll see." Lois seemed as if she were going to say more, but was soon distracted by the well-lit plaza beside them. "So, did you go in and check out the lights yet?" she asked, craning her head to catch more of the world-famous holiday light display through the landscaping. "Since I kept you waiting?"
"No, I figured I'd wait till you got here," Clark responded. He gestured towards the plaza entrance, just up ahead "We can walk around and look at everything together before we go skating, if that's OK with you."
Lois nodded. "Sure, that's fine. I guess it is pretty impressive, especially if you're new in town." Then she added, a bit dismissive, "Me, I've lived here my whole life so I don't really get excited about those kinds of things anymore."
"Oh, really?" Clark shot her a sideways look as they walked, an amused smile playing on his lips. "Pretty old- hat for you, huh?"
She shrugged. "Yeah … plus, you know, Christmas isn't my thing."
Suddenly recognizing the false bravado he'd heard from Lois before on the subject, Clark bit back the teasing retort that had first come to mind and let his expression soften. Unmindful of the message he might send, he slung his arm across her shoulders and gave her a friendly sideways hug. "Well, thanks for coming with me, then," he said disarmingly. "I've always wanted to see it, and going with you will make it even more special."
"Well … thanks for asking me," Lois responded, a flicker of surprise crossing her face. She soon relaxed into the hug, however, and even slipped her arm around his waist for a moment to return it. "I guess it has been a while since I've really been able to see the display."
Suddenly keenly aware of the way they were holding each other, Clark felt his heart begin to thump in his chest. It felt so good, so right, to walk with her this way, and Lois seemed equally comfortable with their closeness. All too soon, however, they reached a break in the wall and found the cement steps that led down into the plaza. Knowing it would be awkward to descend with his arm around her, Clark reluctantly let it fall from her shoulders and gestured down the steps. "Shall we?"
Lois smiled up at him. "Let's go."
As they reached the plaza, however, the full effect of the light display hit Clark, distracting him from any disappointment he felt over losing Lois's touch. "Wow," he breathed as he gazed up at the huge Christmas tree that stood in the center of the plaza, behind the ice-skating rink. "It's beautiful."
Despite her earlier dismissal, Lois seemed equally enthralled. "So many lights," she admired breathlessly. "I always figured the tree seemed big when I was a kid because I was so small … but it's just as amazing as an adult."
"I've seen it on TV, but it's not the same thing as being here," Clark agreed.
They began to walk towards the tree to get a closer look, but it wasn't long before Lois was pointing to another section of the plaza. "Clark, look at how they have all the other trees decorated … and the train … Oh! And look at those big angels!"
Clark couldn't help but grin as he noticed that Lois seemed to be as caught up in the impressive display as he was. "The paper said they have over thirty thousand lights, with all the decorations. I couldn't even imagine what thirty thousand lights looked like until I got here!" He looked up again. "And they said the tree is eighty-three feet tall. That's amazing."
"I watched them put it up one year," Lois commented, "years ago. They used this big crane … it was pretty interesting."
"I bet it was."
They walked around for a few more minutes, discussing their favorite parts of the display, but it wasn't long before they found themselves back at the skating rink. Leaning against the chest-high wall that separated the ice from the rest of the plaza, they watched the skaters for a moment, taking in the scene. "So why didn't you come here last year?" Lois asked conversationally. "It was your first Christmas in the city; I figured you'd do all the tourist stuff."
Clark turned so that he was facing her, his elbow resting on the wall. "I guess," he answered, "it was one of those things I knew I wanted, but hadn't made it a priority." Clark studied Lois's face for a moment, then continued a little more quietly. "And by the time I realized how important it was to me, the opportunity was gone."
Lois met his eyes, searching them. "But you always knew there'd be another winter, didn't you?" On the surface, her words seemed innocent, but Clark was almost sure he could see the hint of something else, a different question in her eyes.
"I wanted there to be," he answered quietly. "But I guess once you realize how important something is to you, you don't want to waste any more time in pursuing it." He stared into her eyes. "At least … not if you don't want to live with regrets."
They stood in silence for a moment, their eyes locked, then Lois rested her chin on her hand and gave him a little smile. "So why is skating here so important to you?"
Clark gave a little chuckle. "Ah, well, you see, when I was about six, I saw a movie set in Metropolis, and they showed people skating at this very plaza. I thought it looked wonderful and I begged my parents to take me skating there the next day." Clark smiled. "My parents just laughed, of course, since obviously I had no idea how far away Metropolis was from Smallville. All I knew is it looked really neat."
"So what you're telling me," Lois responded, her eyes dancing, "is that the whole reason you're in Metropolis now is because of a movie you saw when you were six?"
He laughed. "Amazing where childhood fantasies will lead us, isn't it?" Then he smiled and met her eyes again. "So what about you … you said you came skating here when you were a kid?"
She nodded, smiling back. "My father and Uncle Mike used to take Lucy and me skating here a lot when I was little. Uncle Mike's daughter Katie is five years older than me, and she'd come too. I thought she was so grown up … she even took lessons. I loved watching her skate."
"Sounds like a nice memory."
Lois's expression turned a little melancholy. "Bittersweet," she admitted. "After my parents divorced, Uncle Mike would bring us by himself sometimes. He tried to get my dad to meet us, but he never showed up. Eventually, it got too depressing and we just stopped coming."
Clark stared at her for a moment, unsure of what to say. There was nothing he could do to make up for all the time she lost growing up, time that should have been spent having fun instead of tiptoeing her way around physically absent and emotionally unavailable parents. That he had no basis for understanding what that must have been like for her only made him marvel at the way she had come through it, at the amazing person she had become despite her upbringing. Yet instinctively, he knew that words were not needed. Clark pushed off from the wall and held out his hand to her. "Come on," he said with a warm smile. "Let's go make some new memories."
Lois eyed the ice doubtfully as she clung to the railing at the edge of the rink. Her rental skates fit fine, and the blades had just been sharpened that morning, according to the man behind the counter. But none of that made up for the fact that she hadn't ventured onto an ice rink in years.
Looking up, she saw Clark out on the far end of the ice, halfway through what he had jokingly called his 'warm-up lap' while waiting for Lois to finish tying her skates. He smiled and waved at her as he took the turn and began making his way back towards her, and Lois couldn't help but give a rueful smile in return. She hated to admit that someone was better than her at something, but Clark was clearly more comfortable on ice skates than she ever would be.
Come to think of it, he looked darn good out there, she mused, his gloved hands linked casually behind his back as his skates glided smoothly over the ice. His jeans were neither too loose nor too tight, Lois's fashion sense pointed out, remembering back to her clothing decisions from earlier that evening; though there was no mistaking the muscular thighs hidden beneath them. Clark definitely wore his clothes, even casual clothes, very nicely, and Lois couldn't help but notice how handsome he looked this evening. The tan jacket he wore seemed to be a bit more appropriate for late fall than the middle of winter, but she had to admit he didn't seem to be at all bothered by the night-time temperature. His jacket must have been better insulated than was evident from the outside, she surmised. Either that, or Clark was simply hot-blooded enough to not be bothered by the cold.
Completely unable to stifle the grin that came to her face when she thought of how 'hot-blooded' Clark might be, Lois summoned her courage and pushed off from the wall, stiffly taking a short stride and letting herself glide a few inches. She'd been able to do this as a girl, she told herself sternly, as she tried to make her muscles relax … it would surely all come back to her once she'd had a little time to practice.
Rotating her right foot slightly to the outside, she pushed off a bit more aggressively, letting her left skate support her, and was pleased when she felt herself move a foot or so forward. Encouraged, she changed feet, and pushed off with her left foot, repeating the motion with a similar positive result. Lois felt herself begin to relax. This wasn't so hard … in only a few short strokes she had moved — Lois craned her head to look back over her shoulder and grimaced — a whole two feet away from the edge.
With a sound of disgust, Lois whipped her head back to the front and pushed off a lot harder with her right foot, impatient to make some more progress. Unfortunately, the abrupt combination disrupted her balance and, almost immediately, Lois found her arms and legs flailing as she struggled to stay upright. "Ahh!" she gasped, despite herself.
As soon as the sound was out of her mouth, however, Lois felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her from behind, holding her steady. "Whoa," came the calm but amused voice of her partner. "You almost lost it there for a second!"
"Tell me something I don't know," she muttered back.
Clark moved in front of her, letting her keep a steadying hold on his arm. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "I didn't realize you were so close to being ready. I should have waited for you."
Lois shook her head but didn't loosen her grip on his sleeve. "That's all right. I just need to get comfortable on the ice again. It's been a long time and I need to remember how to do it."
"Well, how about a refresher course?" he asked with an encouraging smile. "Here, give me your hand."
Lois put her hand in his, but kept her gaze down on the ice, her brow furrowed in concentration as she moved her feet. "This seemed easier when I was a kid," she admitted.
Clark gave her glove a little squeeze. "You're doing great," he said as they glided a few feet. "Don't try so hard … just relax."
"Easy for you to say," she retorted, but she couldn't help but notice that she did feel a lot more stable holding on to him, and she felt her muscles begin to relax.
"Good," Clark responded, obviously noticing the change in how she was carrying herself. "Now you're getting it."
Lois chanced a glance up at his face, and couldn't help but smile when she met his eyes. She'd half-expected him to be laughing at her ineptitude, but instead, she found nothing but encouragement. "Thanks, this helps."
His smile grew even warmer. "I'm glad."
Twenty minutes later, Lois found herself having a much easier time of things. Clark had helped her remember how to stop and how to turn, and it wasn't long before her balance improved and her strides began to lengthen as a result. She'd even been able to let go of his hand and make it all the way around the rink on her own. She grinned triumphantly at him as he applauded. "See, I told you I could do this!" she exclaimed.
"I never doubted you for a moment," he answered with a grin. Then his expression turned a bit mischievous. "OK, next lesson … skating backwards." As he spoke, he began to skate backwards in front of her, keeping them face-to- face.
Lois's eyes widened slightly as she watched him. "How in the world do you *do* that?" she asked, astounded by the way his skates seemed to carry him so effortlessly. She watched as his feet worked in unison, moving side to side on the ice. She tried to imitate the motion going forward, but only succeeded in almost losing her balance again.
Clark quickly took her hands, steadying her. "Here, let's try this." Moving them off to one side of the rink, away from the other skaters, he turned them around so that she was facing backwards. "Keep your skates straight … good!" Skating forward, he pushed her along with him. "See, now you're skating backwards," he said, grinning.
Lois couldn't help but laugh as she glided along the ice. Her ears were freezing, her hair was blowing into her face, and her leg and back muscles ached from the work they were doing, but somehow, she was having a great time. Letting Clark do the work, she concentrated on keeping her skates straight; then, in an effort to distract herself out of falling, she began to sing along with the music being piped into the rink from a loudspeaker mounted above their heads. "Oh, the weather outside is frightful—"
"Oh, come on," Clark chuckled, "it's a beautiful night."
"But inside, it's so delightful—"
"I refuse to believe you'd rather be at the movies."
Lois laughed at his running commentary, but kept singing. "And since we've no place to go … let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."
With that, Clark laughed out loud and brought them to a stop at the edge of the rink. He glanced pointedly up into the sky, then back at her with a grin. "The ice is better when it's not snowing."
"Oh, and I suppose you are an ice expert, Mr. I-Grew-Up-In- Kansas?" she said, taking his hand and starting to skate side by side again. "Do they even have ice in Kansas?"
"Do they have ice in Kansas?" he asked indignantly. "Lois, it's the Midwest, not the tropics! I'll have you know I spent much of my free time in the winter on the ice. I even played on a league one year."
Puzzled, Lois furrowed her brow. "They have figure skating leagues?"
The way that Clark's jaw dropped told her that she had clearly guessed wrong. "Figure skating leagues? Figure skating leagues??" He gave an incredulous laugh, clearly more amused than annoyed. "Ice hockey, Lois, ice hockey! The mainstay of every red-blooded North American boy from Canada to— Well, OK, it's more popular in Canada than here, but we still killed a lot of time that way." Letting go of her hand, he mimed holding a hockey stick in front of him and darted out ahead of her on the ice, chasing an imaginary puck. "Kent goes for the steal, breaks around the outside, he sees his opening, he shoots—" Executing a quick turn so that he was moving backwards, Clark lifted his hands over his head in imagined victory, fists pumping. "HE SCORES!!"
Laughing hard at his antics, Lois let herself run straight into Clark, not even bothering to slow herself down. Coming to a stop, she placed one hand on his chest so she could use the other hand to wipe the laughter-induced tears from her eyes. "You are so weird!" she choked out.
"Works for me, though," he responded with an impish grin.
Even as she rolled her eyes, however, Lois knew that she wouldn't be able to get the smile off her face. She couldn't remember the last time she'd laughed this much, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she figured it was probably another time she'd been with Clark. For whatever reason, he seemed to be able to tease her out of her seriousness and get her to have fun. And tonight was no exception. "With moves like those, you're wasted in journalism," she exclaimed, teasing him. "You should have turned pro."
"Yeah, I'm a legend in my own mind," he replied good- naturedly. Starting to skate backwards again, he pulled her along with him, pretending to 'dance' on the ice as they once again moved closer to the loudspeaker piping in Christmas music. "And what about you, Miss I-Can-Melt-Snow- Looking-That-Good-In-Ski-Clothing? Do you actually ski, or just sit around the fire letting your many admirers buy you hot chocolate?"
Lois felt her jaw drop open at his comment but she didn't seem to be able to stop herself from following it with a pleased laugh. Was Clark actually flirting with her? If it had been any other man, she would have known it with certainty, but this was *Clark*. Even more amazing was the fact that she seemed to be responding to it … and it felt wonderful. She felt her eyes twinkling at him. "I'll have you know that I learned how to downhill ski almost as soon as I could walk. We used to take a lot of skiing vacations when I was little … it was something my parents enjoyed, back when they enjoyed things together, so they made sure Lucy and I learned how very young." From the tone of Clark's voice, she could tell that he was impressed. "Wow, you must be pretty good then."
Lois gave a little shrug, but she couldn't help but preen a little under the admiration in his eyes. "Yeah, I guess so. I've defeated my share of mountains, at least. So how about you? Do you ski?"
Clark's response was less assured. "Ah … I can get down the hill, but it isn't always pretty," he admitted.
Lois cocked her head. She couldn't imagine Clark not being to do something physical. He seemed like such a natural athlete. "Now you *have* to explain that," she encouraged.
With an amiable laugh, he continued. "I didn't learn until I was in college — not a lot of hills in Kansas, you know — and as an athlete, I found I could muscle my way through just about anything the mountain threw at me—"
Understanding dawned. "But because of your strength, you never had to learn proper technique," she finished for him.
Clark gave a sheepish shrug. "Exactly."
Lois gave a knowing smile. "I knew guys like that … it always seemed so unfair. I remember this one guy in college; he'd never even been on skis before but by the end of his first day out, he was going down the black diamonds. Don't get me wrong — he'd usually be a human snowball by the bottom," she added with a grin, "but he had such a big ego that he'd just pick himself up and head back to the lift. After awhile, I couldn't even watch … I was sure he was going to break something!"
"Well, I never broke any bones," Clark interjected, laughing along with her, "and I did try to keep the snow on the slopes. But I have to admit, I probably took runs that I had no business taking early on."
She shot him a teasing grin. "Good thing I didn't know you back then … I probably would have hated you." Suddenly Lois felt herself being lifted off the ice and spun around. Though she was being held securely in Clark's arms, she couldn't help but give a little shriek in surprise, which she knew full well was the intended reaction.
"Then I guess I'm glad you didn't know me back then," he teased back, his eyes dancing as he set her back down. "Though I have a feeling you were way more competitive on the slopes than you're letting on. You were probably the one buzzing by that guy so he'd fall over and turn into the human snowball."
Lois felt her jaw drop. "How— How did you know that?" she gasped.
Clark laughed out loud. "I knew it!" He spun them around again, more gracefully this time. "Mad Dog Lane, separating the boys …" He pulled her closely to him for a moment, molding their bodies together and letting his voice drop an octave in the process. "From the men."
Lois caught her breath at his intimate display, but couldn't deny the warm shiver that traveled down her spine as their bodies met. Not wanting to be outdone, however, she quickly responded, matching his amused tone. "Maybe I'll just have to take you out on the slopes sometime," she countered, her eyes sparkling. "See what kind of man you really are."
The heated look in his eyes told her exactly how well her comment had hit the mark, but the good-natured smile on his face assured her he wasn't going to challenge her on it. Instead, Clark let go of her hands and began to skate in circles around her, a mischievous look in his eye. "Is that before or after we go to Tahiti?" he said in her ear as he came up behind her, grinning.
Feeling the back of her neck begin to tingle from his warm breath, Lois quickly put her hand up to quell the tickle. "Oh, it would have to be after the beach," she responded, not wanting to let him get the best of her. "You couldn't swim if you had a cast on your leg."
His resulting laughter made her grin, but he kept circling, clearly showing off. "Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?" he chuckled as he buzzed by her again, a little bit closer this time.
Lois just continued to skate straight ahead, keeping an amused eye on him even as she pretended to ignore his playfulness. "I'd say you're the one who's pretty sure of himself," she said, making her voice sound as if she didn't have a care in the world. "I'll be sure to remind you of this when I see you turning into a human snowball."
The sparkle in Clark's eye as he crossed in front of her again showed that he was enjoying their banter as much as she was. "Snowballs melt in the sun," he tossed back teasingly. "Maybe we can combine the trips." He gave a playful tug on her jacket as he moved behind her once again. "Or maybe we can find a hot tub near the slopes."
Quickly turning her head to deliver her retort, Lois was surprised to notice that Clark was no longer beside her, where she had expected him to be. When she turned her head back to the front, however, she gave a little gasp of surprise as she found him positioned right in front of her, a big grin on his face. Instinctively trying to avoid a crash, Lois yelped and turned abruptly to the left, but, much to her chagrin, she almost immediately lost her balance. As she felt her skates fly out from under her, she automatically squeezed her eyes shut as she saw the ice rushing up to meet her.
When she landed, however, Lois was amazed to discover that instead of cold, unforgiving ice beneath her, she was half- sprawled on top of something warm and firm. Carefully opening her eyes, she found herself looking directly into the anxious face of her partner. "Are you OK?" Clark asked, cradling her protectively against his chest. "God, Lois, I'm sorry … I was just fooling around. I didn't mean to make you fall."
Still trying to catch her breath, Lois shook her head as they sat up. "It wasn't your fault, Clark. I tried to turn too fast." She gave a sheepish shrug. "Guess I'm still not as good on these things are I used to be."
Clark's face showed his relief, but his gaze stayed locked onto hers. Lifting one hand, he used a finger to gently brush some stray hairs away from her face, then tucked the hair behind her ear. "I think you're wonderful," he whispered.
Rendered almost breathless by the unexpected intimacy and tenderness of his gesture, Lois felt her face begin to flush, even as a thrilling warmth began to travel down her spine. Sitting here on the ice, wrapped in Clark's arms, she could almost imagine they were the only two people around, instead of in the middle of a plaza full of people. It was the way he always made her feel every time he looked deeply into her eyes like that, she vaguely realized. How did he do that? And how did he make her heart speed up just from his touch?
Lois stared into his eyes for what seemed like forever, but it wasn't long before other skaters began to pass by them and ask if everything was all right. Clark quickly waved them off, but when Lois noticed the curious looks they were getting, she couldn't help but giggle. "I think we've had enough skating for one night," she said, blushing a little under the intensity of Clark's gaze. "I'm getting pretty cold."
His face breaking into a slow, warm smile, Clark helped Lois up. "How about some hot chocolate, then?" he asked, keeping hold of her hand as they made their way towards the exit.
"That sounds great," Lois answered. As they reached the padded area circling the ice, however, she found herself dropping gratefully onto the bench where they had sat earlier to change out of their boots. She rubbed her gloved hands together and shivered. "Oh, I'm freezing," she exclaimed, trying to stop her teeth from chattering.
As soon as she'd been seated, Clark had continued on to the rental booth, but it wasn't long before he returned with their boots. Hearing her lament, he set hers on the ground in front of her with a sympathetic smile. "Here, put these back on … the guy in the rental booth had a little space heater, so they shouldn't be too cold." Sitting down next to her on the bench, he expertly worked off his skates, replacing them with a pair of chunky tan work boots.
Lois tried to get her skates off as well, but found it difficult to untie the frozen laces with her nearly numb fingers. Rubbing her hands briskly against her legs, she tried to get them limber enough to do what she needed to do. Once again, however, Clark came to her rescue. Seeing her difficulty, he quickly knelt before her and proceeded to unfasten her skates. Lois moaned in appreciation as the stiff, cold leather was removed. "Thanks. Those are not the most comfortable things," she told him, finally able to slip her wool socks back into her hiking boots. To her relief and surprise, they were toasty warm inside. "Oh, that must be some space heater! These feel wonderful!"
Clark just smiled as he picked up both pairs of skates. "Hold on, I'll be right back." True to his word, Clark returned a moment later, having traded in their rentals for two steaming cups of hot chocolate. Sitting closely beside her, he handed her one of the cups. "Here you go," he said brightly. "Guaranteed to warm you up."
Lois accepted the cocoa and sighed appreciatively as she took a sip. Swallowing, she let her eyes crinkle at him. "Guaranteed by whom, exactly?"
"Well, by me, of course," he answered blithely. "Everyone knows that cocoa is an essential part of warming up after skating."
Chuckling, Lois took a few more sips, but it wasn't long before she shivered again against the cold. "No fair, it didn't work!" she announced with a grin.
Clark laughed. "Ah, this case calls for drastic measures, I see." Shifting his cocoa to his left hand, he put his right arm around her, pulling her even closer to him. "When I make a guarantee, I make a guarantee!" When they were as close as they could be on the bench, he began to run his hand affectionately over her back.
Lois couldn't help but lean into him, releasing a husky sigh of contentment as she felt her body begin to warm. She felt Clark's head tip to one side, resting against her hair, and she heard him sigh contently as well. Resting her free hand on his thigh, Lois absently traced a gentle pattern with her fingers. "Thanks, Clark," she murmured, "this is wonderful."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their hot drinks and letting their closeness warm them up, but it wasn't long before the beverages were gone and Lois knew they should be going. "Come on," she invited, giving his thigh an affectionate squeeze before pushing against it to stand up. "Let's find my car and I'll give you a ride home."
Clark stood with her, only then letting his arm fall from her back. "Find it? Did you lose it?" he asked, clearing his throat.
"No, but the parking garage was full so I had to park on some side street. It's about four blocks from here."
"That's not too bad," Clark commented as they left the rink area and made their way back through the plaza's Christmas light display. "It's a gorgeous night for a walk."
Lois tipped her head back to look up at the black night sky. She couldn't see any stars, with the brightness of the nearby lights, but she could tell the sky was free of clouds. "I bet you hate that," she mentioned off-handedly as they reached the sidewalk. "That it's so hard to see stars here at night. I remember when we were in Kansas last year, I couldn't believe how many stars you could see."
Clark was checking from side to side to make sure that traffic was clear, and he rested his hand possessively on the small of her back as they crossed the street, moving away from the plaza. He gave her a little smile as they began to walk down the block. "I told my dad once that the only stars you can see in Metropolis are the ones getting out of limos." He looked up at the sky for a moment, with what Lois thought was a slightly wistful expression, but when he met her eyes again, she could see only tenderness. "I know of some places, though, where the stars seem so close, you feel like you could reach out and touch them. Maybe someday I'll get to take you there."
Feeling close to him, Lois took his arm as they walked. "I think I'd like that," she said softly.
Clark covered her hand with his. "I would, too."
They walked a few more minutes in silence, just enjoying each other's company, but it wasn't long before Clark glanced down a side street as they passed. There was a nice residential area tucked behind the small shops and restaurants on the main road, and outdoor Christmas lights could be seen twinkling on the homes and front porches. One block had an especially bright display, and Clark did a double-take. "Wow, look at that house down there."
Lois began to chuckle when she looked to where he was pointing. "That guy probably keeps the electric company in business. I wonder what the neighbors say … think it keeps them up at night?"
Clark gave a little laugh. "I don't know … other people on the block have a lot of lights on their houses, too, so maybe they don't mind. Wanna go look?"
"What, just walk around, looking at houses?" Lois said doubtfully. "It's not really on the way."
"Oh, come on," he coaxed, sliding his arm out from her grasp to take her hand. He gave it a playful tug. "We'll take the long way to the car."
Lois hesitated again, but when she saw the eager look on his face, she finally gave in. "All right, all right," she laughed. "I swear, you're like a kid at Christmas, Clark."
He grinned as they turned down the block towards the lights. "Well, it *is* Christmas, Lois … just consider me a big kid."
"And not a Space Rat in sight …"
It wasn't until they had reached the middle of the block that Lois realized she and Clark were still holding hands. They were each using their free hand to point out decorations for the other one to look at, but neither of them had seemed interested in letting go with their other. The realization gave her pause. Over the year and a half that they'd known each other, she had often linked her arm through Clark's as they walked; it had become a common gesture of affection for them. But even as close as they'd become in the last several months, holding hands while walking was something new.
Of course, Clark had also been holding her hand when they'd been skating, but that was different, she thought. After all, he'd just been helping her keep her balance on the ice, hadn't he? Not that she had minded … even through two gloves, her hand felt good nested in his larger one … but why was he holding it now?
Lois chanced a glance at Clark as they walked, trying to gauge his expression without letting him know she was studying him. He looked content, admiring the homes that they'd passed, but in the next moment, he glanced at her, as well, and their eyes met. He smiled almost shyly at her, an expression that nearly took Lois's breath away.
With an equally shy smile, Lois looked away, pretending to notice another house. But inside, her heart was racing. The way Clark had looked at her just then … it was a look of far more than just friendship. Yet how could that be? Clark was her partner, her best friend. He hadn't asked her out on a date tonight; they were just two friends getting together to go ice-skating. She knew this — she had even emphasized that fact to herself while she was getting ready tonight. But even as they neared the street where she had parked her car, Lois couldn't deny that even if this wasn't a real date, she was having one of the best times of her life.
As they rounded the corner of the next block, Lois's car finally came into view. "There it is," she said, pointing. "I'm right over there."
Clark nodded. "That wasn't such a bad walk, was it?"
"No, I'd say it was a very nice walk, actually," she said softly, chancing a glance up at him through her lashes.
In response, Clark gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and Lois actually felt butterflies in her stomach for a moment. "A very nice walk," he agreed with a smile. His expression grew more distracted as they drew closer to the car, however, and Lois found herself glancing at him with curiosity. He looked as if he had something more to say, but couldn't find the words … or summon the courage. As they neared the parked SUV, however, Clark finally seemed to find his tongue. "I think there's a diner around the corner," he blurted out, sounding almost a little nervous. "Are you, um, interested in getting something to eat?"
Lois couldn't help but give him a smile. "Yeah," she answered. "I think that would be nice." And she gave his hand a little squeeze as well.
Securely settled in their booth at the small diner Clark had found, Lois wrapped her cold hands around her warm coffee mug and took a careful sip of the hot brew. As it turned out, neither of them had actually been very hungry, but they'd decided to share a slice of apple pie in addition to getting coffee. There were only a few other patrons in the restaurant, and the waitress had been friendly as she'd taken their order, but had also seemed distracted by the young man sitting at the counter, with whom she kept exchanging flirty glances. Lois and Clark had shared a conspiratorial whisper once the waitress was out of earshot, debating whether the man was an existing boyfriend or someone whom the woman had just met that night. But even after Clark had been proven right — the young man had kissed the girl and called her "sweetheart" when she'd mentioned that their three-month anniversary was coming up — Lois couldn't help but smile across the table at her partner as she thought about what a wonderful time she was having. "This was fun … tonight, I mean," she said. "Skating wasa great idea. I never would have thought of it."
The expression on Clark's face was warm. "I'm glad you said yes … it's been something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and doing it with you made it all the more special."
The sincerity in his voice made Lois suddenly feel a bit shy, and she lowered her gaze. She could see his hands resting on the table top, not far from hers, and she couldn't help but remember how it had felt when he had held her hand tonight. In fact, she found herself wondering what it might be like to hold it again, only without their winter gloves in the way. Stifling the thought, she instead raised her eyes back to his and responded to his comment, astonishing herself when she heard the flirtatiousness in her tone. "So what else have you been wanting to do in Metropolis that you haven't gotten around to yet?"
Clark seemed to ponder that for a moment, but the smile never left his face. His nervousness from earlier — if that had been what it was at all — had passed as soon as they'd begun teasing each other about the waitress's love life, and the confident twinkle in his eye that he'd had at the ice rink had returned. "Well, actually, now that you mention it … "
Lois leaned forward expectantly. "Yes?"
"I want to go out on New Year's Eve … to one of those big dance club parties."
Lois blinked, surprised. She wasn't sure what she'd expected him to reveal, but that certainly wasn't it! "You mean like one of those things you see in the movies, where everyone gets all dressed up?" she asked.
Clark took a sip from his coffee then shook his head. "No, I've done that before … I mean something more fun, less formal. There were a bunch of advertisements for clubs in the paper this morning and I noticed there's one not too far from my house that looked like fun. It's called 'The Top Hat' … ever hear of it?"
Lois sat back in her seat and started to laugh. "The Yuppie Ballroom?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"I'm sorry," she apologized, still chuckling. "Yes, I've heard of it … it's a very nice club. Gosh, it's been forever since I've been there. That's just what we used to call it when I was in college, the Yuppie Ballroom … it was popular with the MBA crowd, the young doctors, lawyers, that sort of thing. Still is, as far as I know."
"Well, I'm not a doctor or an MBA," Clark defended, clearly not sure what to make of her reaction. "But I am young, professional, and—" He smiled. "Well, kind of urban. The important thing, though, is do they have a good New Year's Eve party? Or would you recommend somewhere else?"
"I've never been there for New Year's Eve," Lois admitted. "But I think Lucy has … as I recall, she really liked it. Well, at least I remember her saying that the club was better than her date, though come to think of it, with Lucy, that could mean anything," Lois added with a little roll of her eyes.
Clark gave a little laugh, then rested his chin on his hand, watching her. "So … you want to?"
Lois cocked her head quizzically. "What?"
His gaze softened. "Do you want to go out dancing … on New Year's Eve?"
"This New Year's Eve?"
This time he laughed out loud. "Yes, this New Year's Eve. Geez, Lois—" He stopped abruptly and grimaced, suddenly looking more than a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry … you probably already have plans." He sat back in his seat. "I shouldn't have assumed—"
Lois sat forward. "I don't have plans," she said quickly. Then she caught herself and blushed. "I mean, I don't have any this year … not that I never have plans, because I do … on New Year's Eve, I mean … I usually go out and do something … with someone …" She trailed off lamely, aware of how ridiculous her fumbling sounded. "Just not this year, is all."
When she looked back and Clark, however, she found his gaze had warmed even more. "So, is that a yes?" he asked, a smile growing on his face.
Lois ducked her head, suddenly feeling shy again. Where did that feeling keep coming from? It wasn't like was asking her out ona real date … this was *Clark*, after all. It was just dancing. With her best friend. On New Year's Eve. She looked back up at him through her lashes and smiled. "Sure. It sounds like fun."
His smile widened into a grin as he stared into her eyes. "Great."
Just then, the waitress brought their order, setting an extra large piece of warm apple pie between them, along with two forks. Lois couldn't help but steal a glance at a very pleased-looking Clark as she picked up her fork. "Yeah, great," she said, grinning back.
It was after midnight by the time Lois finally crawled into her bed, but even as she turned off the light and burrowed under the covers, she didn't seem to be able to settle down enough to sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she found herself remembering something else that had happened over the last four hours … and the smile simply wouldn't leave her face long enough for her to rest.
Sighing happily, Lois closed her right hand over her left, remembering the sensation of holding Clark's hand as they'd walked through the neighborhood streets, and she wondered for the dozenth time what it could have meant. She knew that it wasn't uncommon for them to express affection for each other in their daily lives. After all, Clark often rested his hand on her shoulder as they worked at the computer together and he frequently placed a gentle hand on the small of her back as they hurried across a busy street. And the affection wasn't one-sided — Lois couldn't deny that she often took Clark's arm as they walked down the street or that she had developed a habit of snuggling up against him when they watched videos together. But still, holding hands while walking was something completely new for them.
Not that it hadn't been nice to walk with Clark like that. On the contrary, it had made her feel connected to him in a way that was at once unexpected yet familiar … and what was more, from the way Clark had smiled when he'd caught her eye, she was pretty sure he'd been feeling the same way. But that only brought Lois back to the question which had been pricking at the edges of her mind all evening long — had tonight, despite all of her earlier admonitions to herself, somehow turned into a date?
For no single reason that Lois could point to, it had felt like one. Clark had been especially attentive all evening, and his behavior at the rink — his showing-off and general playfulness — had definitely had a flirtatious quality to it, one to which Lois had found herself responding. Then, on top of the hand-holding and numerous other affectionate looks and touches, Clark had paid for everything. Not that it had been an expensive evening — skate rental and hot chocolate would hardly have made a dent in his wallet. But even at the diner where they'd stopped for dessert, he had picked up the check. And what was more, Lois had let him! Oh sure, she had made the token reach for her money when the check had come, but Clark had waved her off with a warm smile and a quiet, "I asked you." And Lois had let it drop! She'd even given him a warm smile and a thank-you in return … and had she actually felt her eyes twinkling at Clark as she did so??
Lois groaned as she rolled over in bed. Clark had acted like it was a date. *She* had acted like it was a date. But had it really been one? And how could she find out without making a total fool out of herself with him in the morning? She could just see it now — "Hi, Clark, how'd you sleep? Glad to hear it. Hey, by the way, did we go out on a date last night?" Another groan escaped her lips, this time combined with a laugh. What in the world was happening to her?
Of course, it was probably for the best that he hadn't made it clear it was a date, if, in fact, that was even how he'd seen it. If Lois could get herself this worked up over a casual get-together, imagine how she'd react if Clark had actually announced, "Lois, I want you to go out with me!" Lois laughed out loud as she imagined the panic-stricken expression that would surely have covered her face had Clark actually asked that. No, as hard it was not knowing, it was better than being asked out of the blue.
Plus, there was always the possibility she was simply misreading the whole situation … Lois had certainly been wrong about men before. More than once, she had been certain that a man was trustworthy, only to find out that he had considered her nothing more than a conquest. Not that she believed that about Clark … if nothing else, a year and a half of friendship had proven that he was the most reliable and caring man she'd ever known.
Besides, a man simply didn't wait around for a over a year, let alone enter into a deep friendship with a woman, if his only goal was a one-night stand. No, if Clark had romantic designs on her, he would clearly be interested in a serious relationship. In fact, knowing Clark the way she did, she could imagine that he'd prefer to take things slowly with a woman he was interested in, afraid of rushing into anything. He'd probably develop a friendship first, then drop subtle hints as to his intentions, like calling her just to say hello, or bringing her Christmas cookies from his mom … or … or … or taking her hand as they walked.
Lois whimpered and buried her head under the covers. How had she started out trying to convince herself that Clark wasn't interested … only to come to the conclusion that he might actually want a long-term relationship with her?
And why wouldn't her heart stop fluttering every single time she thought about it?
At a little after ten-thirty on Friday night, Superman landed gently on Clark's balcony, his boots coming to rest quietly on the dusting of fine snow that had accumulated during the daytime hours. Floating a bit so as not to track snow onto his floor, Clark wearily pushed open the door to his bedroom and went inside. If he had felt any guilt about neglecting his Superman duties this week, he was certainly making up for it today. It seemed he had barely seen either the inside of the newsroom or his apartment since five o'clock this morning.
Fortunately, he had turned in his story on the city's redevelopment plan to Perry as soon as he'd arrived in the newsroom, which had given him the perfect excuse to be away from his desk most of the day. Since he didn't have any other stories in progress, it was only natural that he'd want to hit the streets to come up with something new. As it was, he'd been able to write up several Superman stories over the course of the day, including a bank robbery that had made page three of the evening edition's city section. It wasn't the same as a front page headline, but it was enough to keep his by-line active and his editor content. Even better, though, was the fact that assisting the police with their investigation of the bank robbery had helped him chance a brief meeting with Lois this afternoon.
Smiling as he thought of his partner, Clark spun back into his casual sweat pants and t-shirt and moved into the kitchen to make some tea. It had been lonely in the newsroom during the few hours that he'd spent there, with Lois away from the paper for yet another full day. The fact that he was longing to talk to her again after their wonderful evening ice-skating together last night had only made him more aware of her absense. While it was true that seeing her mainly in the evenings this week had contributed to the special feeling of the times they did get together — as well as feeding into his fantasy that they were 'dating' — Clark couldn't deny that he'd been missing his partner in the newsroom. Between his Christmas vacation, their separate story assignments, and Lois's upcoming days off, Clark figured that this was going to be the longest they'd spent working apart since he'd arrived at the Planet.
It had been after the main excitement was over in the bank that Clark — dressed as Superman — had run into Lois on the street. He had been just inside the police tape, helping to scan the sidewalk in front of the bank for evidence, when he'd heard her voicecoming from around the corner. She'd been engrossed in conversation with a man and another woman, and Clark had correctly surmised that the three of them were on their way to inspect the Chinese buffet restaurant he knew was a few doors down. When Lois had seen Superman at the bank, however, she had hesitated, clearly torn between the story she was already on and a potential new one.
Clark still remembered how his eyes had widened as they'd made eye contact, and it had been all he could do to maintain a professional distance, even as he had briefly filled her in on the robbery. Every fiber in his being had wanted to break into a broad smile and allow his eyes to twinkle at her, but he knew he couldn't risk it. Superman was one of the biggest obstacles to having Lois see him — Clark — as something more than a friend, and the last thing he needed right now was for Superman to distract Lois by grinning at her like a darn fool.
Lois, however, had knocked him for a loop by *not* fawning all over him. Though she had been friendly with the superhero, and had astounded her awe-struck companions by making casual introductions, her attention had clearly been focused on the bank robbery — and more specifically, on whether there was a story to be had. For his part, Clark had felt a mixture of relief and disappointment over Lois's all-business attitude. Though his hopes for a future with Lois clearly included her coming to prefer Clark, he had to admit that he got a little thrill every time Lois looked adoringly at Superman, and it had been a bit disconcerting not to be on the receiving end of it this time. But any disappointment he'd felt had vanished, however, the moment he had assured her that the Planet was already in possession of a scoop. "As a matter of fact," Superman had dropped casually, "Clark just left a few minutes ago to go write up what the police know so far."
And then it had happened. At the mere mention of her partner's name, Lois Lane had smiled a smile so warm, so beautiful, that it had been all Clark could do to keep his own adoration from registering on his face. Instantly, her posture had relaxed and she'd agreed that if Clark was on the job, the story was clearly in good hands. And then she had rendered Superman even more speechless by grinning and telling him, "If you see Clark again today, be sure to tell him I said 'hi'."
The words themselves were nothing special — Clark knew that anyone could be expected to offer greetings through a mutual friend. But the look in Lois's eye as she'd said it, the warm grin on her face, had looked very familiar. They had held the very same expression Clark had seen on his own face in the mirror this morning, as he'd remembered how much fun he and Lois had had the night before.
Clark sighed happily as he set his mug on the coffee table and flopped down on his living room couch. Last night had been wonderful, as special as he could have hoped. He'd been a little uncertain when he'd seen how tentatively Lois had taken to the ice, worried that the frustration of learning something new would ruin her night, but Lois had proven herself to be a real trooper. She had thrown herself into relearning the necessary skills, unused since childhood, and had proven both what natural athleticism and a good attitude could do. Not that Clark had been completely unhappy about her initial unsteadiness — it had proven a perfect excuse to stick close to her all evening, holding her hand as they skated together. And interestingly, Lois hadn't seemed to mind that at all, either. There had been several times when she'd even initiated the contact, grabbing onto his arm or placing a steadying hand on his chest when Clark had been quite certain she'd been in no immediate danger of falling. But Clark definitely hadn't protested. If anything, it had only encouraged him further.
Thinking back on his behavior, Clark rolled his eyes even as he smiled. He could have been a teenager full of raging hormones, the way he'd been showing off for her on the ice last night, with histeasing and touching and circling. Well, at least the raging hormones part was right, he mused with a little laugh. When they'd been cuddled up on the bench and Lois had begun running her fingertips over his thigh, it had been all he could do to stifle a moan. Every nerve ending in his body had been on alert, having her molded so close to him, and it had almost been a relief — almost, though not quite, he thought, grinning ruefully — when they'd finished their hot chocolate and started back to Lois's car.
Still, between his sexual attraction and Lois's affectionate behavior at the rink, Clark had felt confident enough to risk taking her hand again as they'd walked. He'd held his breath as he'd done so, covering it with a playful tug as he'd coaxed her into taking the side streets, but when she'd smiled and come along willingly, he felt as if his heart were swelling in his chest. And when Lois made no move to let go of his hand as they walked, he'd wanted to shout with joy.
Of course, he had later experienced a few moments of nervousness when suggesting they get a bite to eat instead of going straight home. He'd fully expected Lois to beg off … it was getting late, after all, and she'd practically come straight to the rink from work, stopping home for only a few minutes to change her clothes. But when she'd accepted, and actually had seemed pleased that he'd asked, his confidence had soared once again. Their light banter in the restaurant, as well as their frequent eye contact and the way their knees kept brushing against each other under the table, had sent his hormones into overdrive again, and he had actually worked up the courage to ask Lois out for New Year's Eve.
And she'd said yes!
The realization of that made Clark break out into a large grin. Lois was going out with him on New Year's Eve! Granted, once again, he hadn't specifically come out and said it was a real date, but he was becoming more convinced than ever that Lois was starting to return his interest. Several times when they'd talked, he'd seen her dip her head and blush a little under his gaze, then look back up at him through her lashes in a way that always set his heart racing. And from the way she'd given his hand a quick squeeze as they'd said goodbye in the car in front of his apartment, he couldn't help but hope that she was signaling her acknowledgement that something had changed between them.
Clark looked longingly at the telephone. He wanted to call her, just to hear the sound of her voice, but a quick glance at the clock dampened his enthusiasm. At nearly eleven o'clock, it was simply too late to call without a good reason. Not that Clark didn't think talking to Lois was a good reason, but he wasn't sure she would agree. No, it was better not to call, he thought, disappointed but trying to convince himself. After all, he didn't want to come on too strong. He could go more than twenty-four hours without talking to her in depth … they'd done it before many times. Granted, not since he'd decided he wanted to pursue a relationship with Lois, but there was something to be said for playing hard to get …
Sighing, Clark picked up his television's remote control and began running through the cable channels, hoping to find a program that would take his mind off Lois. Unfortunately, nothing was doing the trick. Infomercials, old sitcom reruns, music videos, political analysis … even a recap of that afternoon's college football Bowl game failed to keep his attention. As he reached the Classic Movie Channel, however, Clark paused. That was what Lois had been watching the other night, wasn't it? Taking a sip of his tea, Clark watched the tail end of the credits of an old black and white movie, wondering if another Hepburn and Tracey movie would be coming up next. The title of the upcoming film, however, had Clark sputtering for a moment as he choked on his drink. "It Happened One Night", with Clark Gable, was starting in five minutes.
A slow grin began to spread across Clark's face as a plan began to form in his mind. He had already decided it was too late to call Lois without a good reason… but didn't alerting her to the fact that her favorite movie was about to start constitute the perfect excuse? Reaching for the phone, Clark laughed out loud, even as he chided himself about rationalizations. Playing hard to get was fine, but he now had an excuse to call his partner … and he wasn't about to argue with fate!
He'd barely finished dialing, however, when Clark was interrupted by a knock at his front door. Startled at first, Clark's puzzled expression turned to one of delight as he quickly replaced the handset and bounded up the landing steps to open the door. His partner was standing on the other side, holding an unopened box of microwave popcorn.
Clark pulled open the door. "I was just trying to call you!" he exclaimed, thrilled by this unexpected turn of events. "'It Happened One Night' is on TV right now."
"I know, that's why I'm here!" Lois said with a grin as she bustled past him into the apartment. Noting that the television was already tuned to the right channel, she plopped herself down on his sofa and beamed at him. "You're in for a treat!"
Closing the door behind him, Clark happily trotted down the steps to join her. "Funny, I was just thinking the same thing," he replied with a grin of his own.
For the first time in her life, Lois found herself watching the opening credits of her favorite movie … and not paying the least bit of attention. She still couldn't quite believe that she had actually come to Clark's apartment tonight. She had been longing to see him all day … which was exactly why she'd intended to stay away. After last night's realization that Clark's feelings for her may have expanded to something beyond simple friendship, Lois had told herself that she was going to lie low for a while, to give herself time to reflect on this possible change in their relationship, and to figure out how she felt about it. Instead, she hadn't even been able to stay away from him for twenty-four hours.
Not that she hadn't tried to resist … she'd actually paced in her living room for twenty minutes after seeing the movie's title in the television listings, trying to convince herself that a phone call was all that was needed to get Clark to watch the movie. It would have been much safer just to call, Lois had told herself over and over again. But for the first time in a very long time, Lois wasn't sure she wanted to be safe anymore. Ever since she'd begun to suspect that Clark was interested in pursuing a romance, she'd been experiencing emotions that she hadn't thought she was capable of … and it was a heady feeling.
As they sat next to each other on the couch, Lois chanced a glance at her partner, watching him as he watched the movie. His hair was a little mussed, as if he'd just come in from outside, as he well may have, considering his casual clothing and athletic shoes. Had he been working out? He smelled clean and fresh, but from the way his biceps and pectoral muscles bulged under his t-shirt, she could imagine him having just come from the gym where he'd been lifting weights. As her gaze traveled up his neck to the strong curve of his jaw and his chiseled profile, Lois felt her heart-rate increase. How was it that she hadn't noticed immediately how devastatingly handsome Clark was? She'd always known he was attractive to other women, but it was only in the last few weeks that she'd admitted to herself just how much his good looks affected her personally. Last night, she'd amazed herself by getting breathless from nothing more than the touch of his hand or the sparkle in his eyes, and tonight, his grin alone made her tingle.
Feeling a shiver go down her spine just from the memory, Lois averted her gaze and wrapped her arms around herself. The slight shudder of her body hadn't escaped Clark's attention, however. "Are you cold?" he asked, turning towards her.
Lois stilled at his question, a little embarrassed that he had noticed her discomfort, but at the same time, relieved that he had misinterpreted it. Cold was the last thing that she was feeling … to the contrary, the more aware of Clark she became, the warmer she seemed to feel. Almost as warm as she'd felt last night, in fact, when Clark had pulled her close to him on the bench and she'd snuggled up against his body … and she couldn't help but wonder how it would feel to have him do it again. "Oh … just a little bit chilly," she lied.
Clark's brow furrowed in concern. "I'm sorry," he said, moving as if to stand. "Let me turn up the heat."
Lois's eyes widened. Whoops! That was definitely not the intended effect. She quickly grabbed his arm, stopping him. "No, no, that's OK," she said, hoping her voice wouldn't squeak. "I'm sure I'll be fine soon."
A brief look of puzzlement crossed Clark's face, but it was quickly replaced with a smile as he settled back into the couch. "Well, at least let me warm you up," he offered, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her a bit more closely to him.
Lois couldn't help but smile triumphantly as she snuggled into him. "Thanks, Clark," she said, resting her head against his shoulder.
"You're very welcome," he murmured, pulling her closer still.
Stifling another shiver at the husky tone in his voice, Lois slipped off her shoes and curled her legs beneath her on the couch as she tried to concentrate on the movie. She succeeded for a while, laughing with Clark over the bantering of the characters, but it wasn't long before she became even more aware of their position. Her knees had fallen to one side as she'd relaxed into him, and they were now resting directly over Clark's thighs. Lois couldn't help but notice how intimately their bodies were molded together, but she didn't dare chance another look at Clark to see if he had noticed it, too. Still, from the way he was holding her, she had a strong feeling that he was as acutely aware of her as she was of him.
Lois closed her eyes on a contented sigh as she marveled at how good it felt to be with Clark like this. She was feeling incredibly attracted to him right now and part of her couldn't help but wonder what it might be like to kiss him, really kiss him. But at the same time, Lois held back, feeling almost guilty for her thoughts. What if she had guessed wrong, and Clark wasn't as interested in her as she was starting to suspect? Was it wrong to feel this way about him? After all, he was her best friend, the best friend she'd ever had, and it almost felt like she was cheating on their friendship by developing a crush on him like this. Still, as Lois began to get drowsy, the number of late nights this week finally catching up with her, she found herself burrowing even closer to him, wondering what it might be like to have Clark as more than just a friend …
In a dreamy haze, Lois sat on the foot of her bed, watching the credits roll on her favorite movie, then turned to the man lying beside her. They'd been watching a little television together before going out for the evening, but Clark had fallen asleep while he was waiting for her. With a smile, Lois reached out to brush back a lock of dark hair that had fallen casually over his forehead, and felt a mixture of tenderness and passion fill her veins. She knew Clark was attracted to her … very attracted. It was clear in the way he looked at her and spoke to her, in the way that his eyes sparkled when he teased her and softened when he complimented her. And the affection — and desire — in his touch was obvious.
So far, she'd been holding back, but his obvious crush had caused her to develop one of her own. After all, what wasn't to like? Clark was smart and funny and attractive … amazingly, breathtakingly attractive. Lois sighed contentedly, tracing the contours of his cheekbones with her fingertips. The more time they spent together, the more drawn to him she'd become.
Still, something was holding her back, no matter how strong the feelings had become. She had a boyfriend, after all, and she didn't want to cheat on him. He was safe and good to her. He kept her company and he made her feel secure. She didn't want to lose him, but if she gave into these feelings for Clark, she could do just that — lose him, forever. So she hung back, as hard as it was, even when Clark looked this wonderful, when he left her tingling with the faintest touch, and when his very smile could make her heart flutter in her chest. Lois loved her boyfriend, she really did, which was why she'd been so loyal to him all this time. But in her heart, she knew that something was missing. He was … too safe. Too predictable. She loved him, but she wasn't in love with him. He offered companionship, but no romance.
But as Lois was quickly coming to realize, she wanted romance … she wanted to be in love. Clark offered her that, or at least a chance at that. Yet it was risky, dangerous … her boyfriend was her best friend and she didn't want to lose him. But Clark looked so wonderful, lying here on her bed, waiting for her… Where were they going again? Ice-skating? Swimming? She could drown in his eyes…
Thoughts of her boyfriend faded, along with her reluctance.
Lois fluffed her hair in the mirror then turned back to Clark. She smiled softly and leaned over him. "Wake up, sleepy head," she whispered tenderly, then lowered her mouth to press the barest whisper of a kiss against his lips.
She didn't think he would awaken, she'd spoken so quietly, but his eyes fluttered open just as she lowered his mouth to his. Lois stilled momentarily, uncertain, but Clark slowly lifted his head to complete the kiss. His lips were so soft, it felt at first as if they were barely kissing, but then the tip of Clark's tongue gently brushed against her bottom lip. Lois opened her mouth, caressing his tongue with hers, then moaned quietly as Clark pulled her down on top of him, cradling her in his arms as she were the most precious thing in the world to him.
A feeling of heat built in her heart, but quickly dropped into her abdomen, where it swirled, leaving her breathless. These whispers of kisses, so soft, so tender, made her feel more desire than she'd ever felt in her life. This was what she'd wanted … this was right …
This was Clark.
Lois awoke with a start, then stilled, struggling to get her bearings. Slowly she became aware of her surroundings … she was lying on Clark's couch, her head cradled in his lap as she faced the television. Through sleepy eyes, she could make out an unfamiliar black and white movie flickering silently across the screen, casting a faint light in the otherwise darkened room. The sound of Clark's steady breathing reached her ears, and if it hadn't been for the gentle way his fingers were stroking her hair, she might have guessed that he had fallen asleep, too.
Lois closed her eyes once again, trying to hold onto the feeling that she now realized she'd experienced in a dream. Normally, she'd have felt embarrassed about dreaming of kissing Clark while he was with her, but the feeling inside her was too pleasant to let go. She wanted to hold onto it, to remember it, to enjoy it. Her lower body still felt warm and full from the effects of the kiss, and she couldn't help but inhale deeply as she replayed it in her mind.
All too soon, however, the memories began to fade as she came more fully awake, and Lois stretched slowly out on the couch. She felt Clark stir above her, and she slowly rolled to her back to look up at him. His eyes were at half-mast, proving to her that he'd been resting, but his expression was warm. "Mmm," Lois murmured. "When did I fall asleep?"
"About an hour ago," he murmured back, still stroking her hair. "Maybe a little more."
"I missed half the movie."
Clark shook his head. "It's OK," he whispered. "I watched it for you. You were right; I liked it."
Lois gave him a sleepy smile. "I knew you would." A moment later, however, she looked at him more closely, remembering something. "Did you ever say 'wake up, sleepy head'?"
Clark gave a quiet laugh. "A little while ago, when the movie ended. I didn't think you heard it."
Lois sighed, pleased. "I didn't really … I said it to you in my dream."
"You were dreaming about me?"
"Mmm," she replied, smiling. "We were watching the movie in my bedroom but you feel asleep."
He gave a little grin. "I didn't know you had a TV in your bedroom."
Lois laughed. "I don't. But you know how dreams can be. Things happen in them that could never happen … in real life." Her words trailed off into a whisper as she felt her gaze flicker to his lips and she remembered once again what she'd been dreaming about. "Do you ever dream about me?" she whispered, almost breathless.
"All the time," he answered, his voice low and husky.
Lois returned his gaze, getting lost in his eyes just as she had in her dream. She could feel the warm pressure of his left hand where it rested on her stomach, and she slowly covered it with her own hand. Absently tracing gentle patterns on the back of Clark's hand with her fingertips, she echoed the tender movements of his right hand in her hair and wondered if it felt as good to him as it did to her. It would have been so easy to stay, to cuddle back into his arms and fall asleep with him holding her … but while the idea was enticing, it was also dangerous. "It's getting late," Lois finally whispered reluctantly. "And we have to work in the morning."
Nodding, Clark released her hand and helped her to sit up. He smiled reassuringly, making her wonder if he could read her mind. "I know … and my couch can't be as comfortable as your own bed."
Lois gave him a little smile as she slipped her shoes back on. "I don't know about that … I did have a pretty nice dream."
Clark gave her a slow grin. "I'm glad to hear it."
As Lois reached for her purse, however, intending to dig out her car keys, she stopped suddenly. "Oh, shoot, I forgot … I need to call a cab."
"You took a cab here?" he asked in surprise. "What's wrong with your Jeep?"
Lois shook her head. "Nothing … I just loaned it to Lucy this evening."
Now Clark looked very surprised — and very amused. "Now wait a minute," he said, chuckling. "Is this the same sister you swore would never be allowed to even wash your car, let alone drive it?"
Lois laughed, even as she rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, she was begging and I finally gave in. She has a friend from high school who just had a baby and she wanted to go visit her in the hospital. The subway wasn't very convenient, and I figured that even Lucy couldn't get into too much trouble in a hospital parking lot." She gave him a rueful smile. "Though I'm fully aware I may live to regret those words."
Clark grinned. "Well, it's not like she's taking it on a stake-out in Suicide Slum."
Lois's jaw dropped as she pretended to be outraged at his implication. "I'll have you know I take very good care of my vehicle!"
He nodded in agreement. "Sure you do … your car needs to be in good shape to drive over curbs and sidewalks when traffic is being too slow."
"That was once!" Lois exclaimed, then shook her head when she saw that he was laughing. "Just wait, Kent … I'll get you for that."
"I'm counting on it," Clark replied, shooting her a flirty grin.
Lois smiled but didn't dare let herself respond to the comment. Feeling the way she felt right now, it would be far too dangerous. "So are you going to call me a cab," she asked him sweetly, "or am I going to have to use Claudette Colbert's trick in the movie of showing some leg out on the street?"
Clark looked her up and down, not even trying to hide the appreciation in his gaze. "If I call the cab, will you show me some leg?" he teased. He caught Lois's hand as she tried to smack him and laughed out loud. "OK, OK, one cab coming up."
It didn't take long for him to make the arrangements, and Lois was pleasantly surprised to find that the dispatcher had only predicted a short wait. Although her nap had taken the edge off her sleepiness, Lois was still tired and more than ready to crawl into bed. Tonight had turned into another late night, and although she had enjoyed the company immensely, she knew tomorrow night would be busy as well. Pulling her coat from where she had draped it over the far end of the sofa, Lois stood and handed it to Clark, letting him help her into it. "So we're still on for tomorrow night, right?" she asked, slipping her arms into the sleeves.
"New Year's Eve? Absolutely," he replied. "I can't wait." As he rested his hands on her shoulders, however, she heard him pause, then he continued a bit more slowly. "You know … the party at the club doesn't really get started until late … at least nine o'clock." His voice took on a more hesitant tone. "Would you, um … I mean, would you like to …"
Lois turned to face him. "Like to what?"
He looked into her eyes. "Would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow night, before we go out? Say maybe around seven?"
Lois swallowed, her new-found realization of Clark's intentions giving her pause. Clark had cooked for her several times in the months that she'd known him, and she'd never interpreted his invitations as having romantic undertones. But things were different now. No longer could she pretend that friendship was the only thing between them. By accepting this invitation, Lois knew she was signaling her willingness to explore the possibility of more, at least in her own mind … and it was clear from the earnest expression on Clark's face that he was looking for a signal as well.
The imagery of her recent dream flickered unbidden into Lois's mind. Though she'd initially been confused by the contradictions within it — she had no absent boyfriend who she was loyal to over Clark — the meaning was so clear to her now. There was only one man in her dream, and only one man who, she had come to realize, mattered above everyone else in her life. But the question still remained … was she willing to risk cheating on Clark, her best friend, to take a chance on Clark, her potential boyfriend?
Finally making her decision, Lois let out a breath she hadn't even known she'd been holding. "I'd love to come for dinner tomorrow, Clark," she said softly.
Clark, too, exhaled as he broke into a smile, and Lois realized just how anxious he'd been. Did she do that to him? Make him nervous? Or was he simply responding to her the way she had been responding to him over the last few days … by getting breathless just from looking into her eyes? Either way, she felt a tug in her heart, a yearning to give him the sign he was looking for, to let him know that she felt it, too, whatever it was that was happening between them. Before she could make a sound, however, the beep of a horn outside Clark's apartment interrupted them.
"There's your cab," Clark murmured, sighing a bit as he looked over her shoulder to the door. "That was fast."
Lois couldn't help but smile as she heard the disappointment in his voice. She felt the same way, but it was good to know that at least she was reading Clark's signals correctly. She pulled her coat more tightly around her. "I guess I should get going then."
As he accompanied her up the landing steps, however, Clark grabbed his jacket. "I'll walk you out," he said, slipping it on as he opened the door for her.
Lois glanced up at him as they stepped into the cold night air and, after a moment's hesitation, slipped her hand into his as they walked towards the street. Her heart skipped a beat when he immediately met her gaze and smiled. She detected a note of questioning in his eyes, but even more, there was a look of wonderment and delight that made her feel as if she were the most precious woman in the world.
All too soon, however, they reached the curb and Clark opened the door to the cab. Lois stood in the cradle of the door for a moment and nearly forgot to breathe when Clark took both of her hands in his. "I'm so glad you came over tonight," he murmured, looking deeply into her eyes.
She couldn't help but match his tender expression. "So am I," she whispered back. "I had a wonderful time."
"Me too," he said, giving her a little smile, even as his gaze flickered to her mouth.
Lois felt her heart begin to pound in her chest, and she, too, found herself watching his lips even as she began to lean towards him. She could see the longing in his eyes … he was going to kiss her … really kiss her … and she was going to kiss him back. As she felt his warm breath on her face, her eyes fluttered closed, waiting …
"Hey, lady, are you getting in or not?" the cab driver suddenly barked. "It's freezing out there and you're letting all the cold air in!"
Lois's eyes flew open and she saw that Clark looked at shocked as she felt. She watched as he closed his eyes briefly, jaw clenched, and knew that was he was surely mentally cursing the man for breaking the moment. The idea was suddenly too much for her, and she began to giggle, her body shaking with barely suppressed laughter.
When Clark's eyes opened, she began to laugh even harder at the befuddlement on his face, but it wasn't long before he began chuckling as well. Lois gave his hands an affectionate squeeze as she laughed. "Good night, Clark."
Shaking his head with a rueful smile, Clark squeezed her hands in return, but after a moment's hesitation, he quickly released one in order to cup her cheek. Leaning forward, he pressed a quick peck of a kiss to her mouth, then backed away. "Good night, Lois," he replied.
Lois grinned at him, even as she slipped inside the cab, letting Clark close the door from the outside. Giving the driver her address, she couldn't help but look over her shoulder as they pulled away from the curb. She watched through the rear window all the way down the block, as Clark stood on the curb, smiling after the cab.
At a little before seven o'clock on Saturday evening — New Year's Eve — Clark found himself humming along with the jazz music playing in his apartment as he worked over his stove. Lifting the lid from the pot on the right rear burner, he stirred it carefully, then made a minor adjustment to the temperature underneath to bring it down to a more gentle simmer. Satisfied that the main course was progressing nicely, he returned his attention to the vegetables on his cutting board.
Catching himself glancing at the clock for the fifth time in as many minutes, Clark reminded himself to concentrate on the meal he was preparing, not on the fact that Lois could be arriving at any moment. He would have been more than happy to spend the entire time remembering how good it had felt to hold her last night as they'd watched the movie, or how wonderful it had been to share that all-too- short kiss as she'd entered the cab, but he knew just how distracted it could make him. As it was, Superman had nearly knocked over the cellular tower on top of the Metropolis Grand Hotel this afternoon because he'd been too lost in his romantic fantasies to watch where he was going!
With a quiet chuckle at the memory, Clark set about slicing carrots and recalled how surprised — and pleased — he'd been to see Lois in the newsroom today. He was scheduled to work the entire weekend because of his earlier vacation, but Lois's time off was supposed to have started today, so he hadn't been expected to see her at all until tonight. To his great delight, however, she had ambled her way into the newsroom a little after ten o'clock in the morning, looking adorable in a pair of jeans and a sweater, and claiming that she wanted to get a headstart writing up her story notes for her health inspection piece.
Since Clark had been busy working up a background piece on a corporate embezzlement trial that would be getting under way after the holidays, they hadn't been able to spend a great deal of time together. Still, there had been a long enough lull in the day's activities to allow them to exchange a secretly amused glance as Jimmy had lamented the fact that he'd have to spend all day cleaning his apartment if he wanted to invite Angela over for New Year's Eve, as well as share a commiserating smile later when Perry had launched into yet another Elvis story. Even better, however, was having Lois suggest they grab a sandwich for lunch and eat it together in the conference room. Although neither of them had mentioned their movie-watching from the previous night — or the good-night kiss they'd briefly shared — in between bites, they'd laughed themselves silly over some of the stories Lois had collected during her field investigation, and Clark had found himself thinking yet again how lucky he was to have her in his life.
Of course, Clark had been forced to leave a few times over the course of the day to change into Superman, but fortunately, it had always been during moments when Lois had been busy enough with her own work not to have noticed. This had been quite a relief to him, to be sure … Clark was well aware that his "disappearing act", as Lois had recently started calling it, could seriously derail any relationship between them if she wasn't in on his secret identity. Fortunately, it hadn't been an issue this week, between Superman being in relatively low demand and Lois working away from the newsroom, but Clark couldn't deny that he was finding himself thinking more and more about sharing his secret with her. And, even more amazingly, for the first time in his life the idea of telling someone else didn't totally terrify him.
Smiling softly, Clark rinsed a handful of mushrooms in the sink, readying them to go into the stew. His whole life, he'd been hiding who he was, yet it seemed that from the moment he'd met Lois, he'd been drawn to her. There was something about her that made him want to tell her everything … and from the way things seemed to be going between them, maybe sooner than he'd expected. But not tonight … as often as he found himself fantasizing about having Lois as his girlfriend, or even his wife, he didn't want to get ahead of himself. He still wasn't sure when — or if — she would come to return the deepest of his feelings. Though, Clark had to admit, he was letting himself get more and more hopeful with each moment he and Lois spent together.
Last night, in particular, had gone so well that it was hard not to take it as a sign that his campaign to woo her was working. He'd been so careful to move slowly these past several days, ready to back off the instant he noticed any reluctance or discomfort on her part … but last night, it had been all he could do let her get in the cab with only a peck instead of kissing her senseless. The way she had molded herself against him as they'd watched television had left his heart pounding and his body aching for more. In fact, Clark thought with a rueful shake of his head, the fact that she had fallen asleep in his arms was the only thing that had prevented him from giving in to his desires and covering her mouth with his during a particularly romantic part of the movie.
Clark gave a low growl, his hands stilling over the counter, the carrots he'd been slicing completely forgotten. Did Lois have any idea what she did to him? Was she even aware of how strongly it affected him when she nuzzled into his neck as she drifted off to sleep or let her fingertips trace gentle patterns over his thigh? While it was true that Lois had often flirted with him over the last several months, he'd never really believed that she'd meant anything by it before, or interpreted her affectionate touches as any type of sexual signal. But last night — this entire week, really — things had been different. Lately, it had seemed as if she'd gone out of her way to touch him, and to get him to touch her. He even suspected that she'd been pretending to be cold last night as an excuse to cuddle so close to him on the couch — not that he'd needed much prompting! And when she'd taken his hand last night as he'd walked her out … his heart had soared.
Still, the insecure parts of his psyche couldn't help but worry … was it possible that he was simply projecting his own hopes and desires onto Lois's behavior, and reading signals that weren't really there? Was it possible that she had merely accepted his good night kiss, instead of welcoming it? Clark shook his head, refusing to give into the thoughts. God help him, he really did believe that Lois was interested in something more than friendship. And tonight, he was going to make sure she understood that he felt the same way.
Tonight, Lois Lane would find out what it was like to really be romanced by Clark Kent.
At ten minutes after seven o'clock, Lois stood on Clark's doorstep, biting her lip nervously as she waited for him to respond to her knock. Though she'd made a conscious decision last night to accept his dinner invitation, knowing full well that she was sending a signal that she was romantically interested in him, she'd found herself getting more and more nervous the closer she got to his place.
Lois had finally admitted to herself that she was longing for romance in her life, that she wanted candlelit dinners and slow-dancing and good-night kisses. And Clark, indeed, was bringing out romantic feelings in her that she'd thought she'd buried long ago. His brief good-night kiss last night had been wonderfully sweet, but her doubts and fears continued to simmer below the surface when she wasn't with him. What if she had misinterpreted his intentions? Was it possible that he was having second thoughts about what was happening between them? Certainly he hadn't attempted to kiss her or touch her in the newsroom today. At the time, she'd appreciated him not drawing attention to their budding romance at work, but could it be that he was actually embarrassed about it? Perhaps, for Clark, tonight was only about two friends getting together on New Year's Eve because they had nothing better to do … or maybe he'd been regretting he'd asked her out at all …
As the door swung open, however, and she saw the delighted expression on Clark's face, she felt her anxiety begin to fade. Almost despite herself, she gave him a shy smile. "Hi."
"Hi!" he exclaimed, clearly pleased to see her. "Come on in."
"Thanks." Lois stepped onto his landing and pulled off her gloves, shoving them into her coat pockets. "Sorry I'm late."
After shutting the door behind her, Clark helped her off with her coat. "No, you're fine. Dinner's not even ready yet."
Lois nodded in acknowledgment, then turned to walk from the landing to the living room. "I hope you didn't go too much trouble …" As she glanced around Clark's apartment, however, Lois trailed off, her eyes widening at the sight. "Clark, your apartment looks amazing!" she gasped. And indeed it did. He had moved his table from its normal position near the wine rack, giving it center stage between the kitchen and the living room, and an elegant table service had been laid out over layers of dark plaid linens. Several tall candles flickered on an array of beautiful candlesticks, while another arrangement of candles decorated the coffee table. In the dimmed light of the living room, soft jazz music was playing quietly in the background, and Clark's large Christmas tree was twinkling with hundreds of tiny multi-colored lights. Only his kitchen, where Lois could see evidence of food preparation, was brightly lit. The stage was not set for a blatant seduction — thank goodness, Lois thought, for such a display might have had her bolting for the door, as nervous as she was already feeling — but this was clearly more than just a friendly meal. This was something special. "Wow," she said breathlessly.
Clark was echoing the word, but instead of studying the apartment, he was gazing at the woman before him. "Wow," he said, appearing almost stunned. "Lois, you look incredible."
Lois felt her cheeks begin to warm as she met his eyes. She had chosen her outfit with great care this evening, not even trying to deny to herself that she was hoping to make an impression on Clark. Her black skirt was just long enough not to be labeled obscene, and while the cut of the gray knit top she'd chosen was conservative, it clearly showed off her curves to their best advantage. She'd also retrieved her lone pair of stylish black high-heeled boots from her sister, knowing that they would do the same for her legs. For her hair, she'd forgone the curly look she usually used for dressy occasions, choosing instead to style her hair into soft face-framing waves. It was a younger, more carefree look, but for some reason, it had been just what she'd wanted for this evening. And from the way Clark's mouth was hanging open, she had apparently hit upon just the right combination.
She smiled, pleased with his reaction. Then she noticed the way he was dressed and felt her breath catch in her throat. He wasn't showing off his body the way she was, but between Clark's dark charcoal dress pants and black button-down shirt, Lois was sure that he'd have every woman in the dance club competing for his phone number when they went out later that night. "Thanks … you look fantastic yourself," she added, swallowing. "Black is definitely your color."
Clark blushed slightly. "Thank you." Resting a gentle hand on the small of her back, he accompanied her down the landing and into the living room. "I'm just putting the finishing touches on the meal … would you like a glass of wine while we're waiting?"
"That would be wonderful, Clark." As they neared the kitchen, Lois inhaled, taking in the enticing aroma in the air. "Mmm, whatever it is, it smells delicious."
Pausing at the table, Clark poured two glasses from an open bottle of wine and handed her one with a smile. "Thanks," he said. "I hope it tastes as good as it smells."
Just then a beeping sound could be heard from the stove, and Lois watched as Clark moved to the counter and silenced a small electronic timer. Turning to the stove, he lifted the lid off one of the two large pots simmering on the back burner and stirred the contents. "Does ten minutes sound all right, to start eating?" he asked her. "The stew is pretty much done, so I could start the noodles anytime."
Lois watched wide-eyed, amazed at his proficiency in the kitchen. He had actually cooked something with multiple ingredients? "That sounds great … but Clark, if I had known it was going to be this much work for you, I would have suggested we go out to eat. I didn't mean to put you out."
He looked up in surprise. "Put me out? Lois, no … I love doing this stuff. My mom got me a French cookbook for Christmas and this was the perfect excuse to try out a new recipe." He shot her a grin. "Besides, I read your story notes … do you really want to eat out now that you know what goes on in restaurant kitchens?"
Lois couldn't help but laugh. "OK, fair enough," she said, taking a sip of her wine. "So what exactly are we having?"
Clark began adding egg noodles to the large pot of water boiling on his stove. "I hope you like beef bourguignonne."
She gaped at him, convinced she'd heard him wrong. "You made beef bourguignonne?"
"Don't look at me like that," he laughed. "It sounds harder than it is, really." He adjusted the heat on each burner then leaned against the counter, smiling at her. "But if it impresses you, I can say it was really complicated."
Lois was still astounded. "I would definitely be impressed."
Clark's smile broadened into a sexy grin. "It was really complicated."
Feeling more than a little breathless from the way he was looking at her, Lois found she had to stifle a little giggle. Was the wine affecting her already? Giving him a teasing smile, she pretended to fan herself. "Best pick-up line I've heard all day."
Clark laughed. "Seriously, though, I really do enjoy cooking. It relaxes me." He took a sip of his wine, seeming to be picking his words. "Sometimes … it feels as if my life is racing by and it's all I can do to hold on."
Lois nodded. She knew exactly what he meant. "It gets crazy sometimes, doesn't it? I mean, don't get me wrong, I love the pace of the newsroom … but sometimes …"
"Sometimes you wonder if there isn't something more," he finished. "And you feel this need to step back and regroup."
"Yes, exactly!" Lois agreed readily, surprising herself. This was something she'd often felt,but had never felt able to voice, afraid that anyone she confessed to would take it as a sign of weakness. Yet for some reason, she felt comfortable admitting her feelings to Clark.
"I think that's why I like cooking so much," he continued thoughtfully. "When I take the time make a special meal, I feel like I'm slowing things down … honoring the way things used to be done. We spend so much time in a hectic world, that sometimes I just need to reconnect to a simpler time … a time when food was meant to be savored and shared, not just consumed on the run." When Lois just stared at him, enthralled, Clark blushed. "I'm sorry," he said, smiling self-consciously. "I didn't mean to get all philosophical there." He shot her a lopsided grin. "This is my first glass of wine, I promise."
Lois shook her head. "No, don't apologize," she insisted, stepping forward to lay a gentle hand on his arm. "I thought it was fascinating."
With a look of tenderness and appreciation, Clark covered her hand with his. "Thank you," he whispered, looking into her eyes.
"You're welcome," she whispered back, feeling herself lean into him. All too soon, however, the timer on Clark's counter beeped again, causing them each to startle slightly. "I guess I should let you get that," she said, a little sheepish.
Clark glanced at the stove and sighed. "Yeah … I guess," he agreed reluctantly.
"I'll stay out of your way, I promise," she said, moving to the other end of the kitchen.
His eyes instantly met hers, and his voice took on a husky tone. "Lois, you could never be in the way."
Lois felt her cheeks begin to warm from the way he was looking at her, but she knew from experience that she and kitchens didn't mix. "It'd be safer with me back here," she said with a little grin. "I don't want to take the chance of messing anything up."
Clark chuckled. "OK, if you say so. I'm almost done anyway."
From her vantage point at the far counter, Lois watched as Clark moved expertly through the final meal preparations and she couldn't help but be intrigued. How was it that she hadn't noticed before what a strong physical presence he had? His movements were fluid, graceful, and confident, and Lois found herself smiling softly. He was a pleasure to watch, even if she had no idea what he was doing as he assembled the various courses.
Glancing around, Lois noticed a cookbook resting on the counter by her arm, and she reached for it, wondering if it was the book Clark had used to prepare their meal. As she began to thumb through it, however, she found to her astonishment that she couldn't read a word. "Clark!"
Having finished at the stove, Clark was retrieving their salads from the refrigerator, and he smiled as he saw what she was looking at. "I told you it was a French cookbook," he said. His tone was innocent, but Lois could have sworn she saw his eyes twinkling with amusement behind his glasses.
"Yes, but it's written in French!" she exclaimed as she set it back on the counter and approached the table.
His eyes opened wide with pretend shock. "It *is*? I wonder what it was that I actually made for dinner, then."
Lois tried to roll her eyes at him, but her laughter made it hard to do it effectively.
Clark simply grinned as he set their salads down on the table and refilled their wine glasses. When his tasks were complete, he gave her an inviting smile and held out her chair. "Come on, I'm ready to serve."
When they were both seated, Lois picked up her salad fork and took a bite. The dark greens were so fresh and flavorful, she would have sworn they were fresh-picked if it hadn't been the middle of winter. "Hmm," she sighed. "Clark, this is great."
He offered her a basket of warm French bread. "Thank you … I'm glad you like it."
"Seriously, though, can you really read it?" she asked, curiously, still wondering about the cookbook. "Even though it's in French?"
"Yes, I really can," Clark admitted. Then he gave her a grin. "It would have been a funny gift if I couldn't, though. Probably just the sort of thing my mom would do, too. Just to tease me."
Lois laughed again. She was discovering that there was a lot about Clark she didn't know. "So when did you study French?" she asked as they ate. "In high school? Or college?"
Clark shook his head. "Neither, actually. I took Spanish in high school, then I studied a few other languages in college … German, Russian, Chinese … but—" He took a sip of his wine. "Most of them, including French, I just picked up on my own when I was traveling."
"Most of them?" Lois asked, surprised and impressed. Had anyone else told her such a thing, she would have assumed he was either joking or flat out lying, but for some reason, she just knew that Clark was telling the truth. "Just how many languages do you speak?"
From the way he hesitated, Lois had the feeling she had embarrassed him. "Well … I like to joke that I can order dinner in three hundred and forty-seven languages," he finally replied, shooting her a little grin. "But that's kind of an exaggeration since a fair number of those are local dialects that I've picked up in various places." He shrugged, his expression an adorable mix of pride and modesty. "But I can pretty much get by anywhere in the world."
"That's amazing," she replied, feeling more than a little awe-struck. "You must have a real talent for it."
Clark nodded slowly, now looking almost perplexed. "They just … come naturally to me. I'm not really sure how to explain it. I've been told that once you learn a few languages, new ones come more easily, so maybe that's part of it. But I don't know … I guess I've come to the conclusion that it's something you're born with, like people who can figure out complicated calculus problems in their head or what have you." He set his fork on top of his empty salad plate, and gave her a self-conscious smile. "Anyway, that's my theory."
Lois rested her chin on her hand as she listened to him speak. She was seeing a new side of Clark tonight, a more open, personal side, and she found it completely fascinating … and extremely attractive. There was so much more to Clark than she'd ever imagined, and she couldn't help but feel a little regretful for how she'd dismissed him as nothing more than a small-town hick when they'd first met. Why hadn't she taken the time to learn all this about him before? "So what's your favorite?" she asked, smiling across the table at him. "Of all the languages you know."
"Hmm, that's a good question. No one has ever asked me that before." He pondered for a moment. "I guess I'd have to say Italian, though that could be because I was just reading some poetry so it's fresh in my mind. But I think it's a beautiful language to listen to … it's so lyrical."
"You read Italian poetry?"
His eyes softened as he began to recite for her. "Trovommi Amor del tutto disarmato … et aperta la via per gli occhi al core … che di lagrime son fatti uscio et varco."
"Wow," Lois whispered when he had finished, feeling a little breathless.
"It's from a sonnet by Francesco Petrarca," he explained quietly, gazing into her eyes. "He wrote it in the fourteenth century. 'Love found me all disarmed, and found the way was clear … to reach my heart down through my eyes … which have become the halls and doors of tears.'"
"That's beautiful," she murmured.
He reached across the table and rested his hand on hers. "Almost as beautiful as you are."
Feeling her heart swell in her chest, Lois opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by another beeping sound from the kitchen. She watched as Clark sat back, giving a little growl.
"Oh, for the love of— I swear I'm going to break that timer," he announced with a exasperated laugh.
Lois couldn't help but laugh with him, but she didn't miss the heated look he gave her. "That sound is probably telling you our dinner is ready, isn't it?" she asked.
Clark gave a heavy sigh, though a smile was playing on the corners of his mouth. "I guess I should get it, huh?"
Lois gave him a coy smile. "You did go to all the trouble of making it for me."
The corners of his eyes crinkled. "That I did." He winked at her and stood up. "OK, beef bourguignonne for two, coming right up."
As she finished the final course of their delicious meal, a sinfully rich chocolate mousse, Lois found herself watching Clark appreciatively while they talked. Although they'd been distracted from their poetry discussion, it hadn't taken them long to find new topics of conversation. Indeed, Lois couldn't think of another person in her life with whom she'd ever been able to converse this easily. The conversation had flowed easily from topic to topic, and she'd found it a little amazing that they could discuss everything from such light topics as the Christmas presents they'd given and received this year, to more serious ones, such as Lois's concerns over her sister not finishing college and the challenges Clark had encountered in his early freelance career. But no matter the depth of conversation, Lois could honestly say that she'd never felt this kind of connection with anyone before.
She also hadn't failed to notice that Clark had turned out the main lights in the kitchen before returning to the table with their meals, leaving them to dine entirely in candlelight. The atmosphere, already charged, had become even more romantic, and Lois had found herself wondering how she ever could have doubted that he was interested in her. They'd found several opportunities to initiate contact with each other during the meal, whether it was the gentle way their legs kept brushing against each other as they shifted in their chairs, or the subtle yet meaningful touches they kept exchanging during their conversations. And more than once, Lois had felt herself getting lost in Clark's eyes … and had seen the same combination of desire and affection reflected on his face.
Unable to deny the spark between them, Lois slowly ran her hand through her hair as she listened to Clark mention that the wine they were drinking had been one of his Christmas presents. When he commented good-naturedly that he didn't consider himself a collector, but neither did he seem to be able to stop himself from trying new wines that caught his attention, she couldn't help but flash him an intrigued smile. "You have wide interests for a farmboy from Kansas, Mr. Kent," she observed. "I must say I'm very impressed." Her eyes twinkling, she looked at him speculatively. "Hmm, so what else is there to learn about you?"
He shot her a flirty grin. "That's for me to know and you to find out."
"Ah, a challenge! OK, let me think," Lois said, settling back in her chair and studying him. "I already know you double-majored in History and English in college … and that you attended on a football scholarship. Hmm, what about high school? I bet you graduated at the top of your class."
Clark just smiled. "Nope." When Lois lifted her eyebrows questioningly, however, he acquiesced. "Oh, all right, all right … I was second."
She laughed. "Who was first?"
"Her name was Lana Lang." He rolled his eyes, even as he gave a little chuckle. "She wanted it more."
With a smile, Lois took a sip of her wine, contemplating Clark's response. "Was your high school competitive? In my school, grades were so important to the top students that even friends competed over who could do better."
He thought for a moment. "It wasn't really like that in Smallville," he answered. "I mean, there was certainly some conflict, because with only forty kids in a graduating class, it's hard to avoid someone if you have a personality clash with them. But at the same time, it can make everyone a lot closer, too."
"Did you have personality conflicts with this Lana?"
Clark opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again. "No comment," he finally said on a grin.
Lois laughed out loud. "No fair, no fair … spill it! With a response like that, you either hated her or dated her." At the expression on Clark's face, however, Lois sat up straighter. "Oh my God, you dated her!"
"How 'bout some more of that chocolate mousse—"
"Good try, Kent." She grinned at him. "Clarkie had a girlfriend, Clarkie had a girlfriend," she teased. "Come on, dish the dirt."
"Oh, geez, Lois. There's no dirt."
"You were farmers; there had to be dirt."
"Ha ha, very funny." But when Lois just looked expectantly at him, he finally rolled his eyes in defeat. "Fine … we dated for six months; it didn't work out; we were broken up by spring of our senior year. We went to different colleges and now she's married to a guy who graduated high school a year after us." He gave her an indulgent smile. "Happy?"
"Very. Now was that so hard?"
She smiled triumphantly. "Of course not. So let me guess — she was a blonde?"
Clark looked confused. "Uh, yeah … though she liked to call it strawberry blonde, whatever that is." Lois rolled her eyes. "How did I figure that out?"
"What does her hair color have to do with anything?" he asked in astonishment.
"Face it, Clark, you like blondes … every woman I've seen you show interest in since you've been in Metropolis has been a blonde. Toni Taylor, Linda King, Mayson Drake …" Lois trailed off as the name of the most recent woman he'd been dating came out of her mouth. She was acutely aware that this was a relationship that could be considered 'current' rather than 'old news' and she bit her lip. Though it had always seemed to Lois that Mayson had been doing most of the pursuing, Clark had definitely shown interest in Metropolis's newest Assistant District Attorney when they'd first met. Yet Clark was sitting here with her, Lois, tonight, and in fact, the two of them had spent every night together that Clark had been in town in the last week. If he was currently dating Mayson, he certainly hadn't made any time for her in several days … but did that mean he was no longer interested in the blonde attorney?
"Well, the woman I'm taking dancing on New Year's Eve is a brunette, so it's a non-issue." As if able to read her mind, Clark had jumped in quickly, reassuring her and lightening the mood with a warm smile, and Lois couldn't help but smile back. "Come on," he said, standing and picking up their now empty plates. "Let me get these dishes cleared and we can move into the living room. I think we'll be more comfortable out there."
As she waited for Clark to finish stacking the dirty dishes in his sink, Lois wandered back into the living room, taking the opportunity to admire Clark's Christmas tree. She'd known that he'd picked a full-sized one — he'd mentioned it when they were selecting her little 'Charlie Brown' tree — but she hadn't truly been able to appreciate it until now. She had vaguely noted its presence when she'd come over the night before to watch the movie, but the tree had been dark, and sitting with her back to it on the couch, it had been easy to forget it was even there.
Tonight, however, in the candlelit room, the beautiful twinkling lights were impossible to ignore.
Yet if Clark's dinner and decor had been assembled with the intent to set a romantic mood, the decorations on the tree told the other side of Clark Kent — the cozy side. It was clearly not one of the fancy designer trees of Lois's childhood, trees which had been color-coordinated and painstakingly decorated by professionals paid to coddle their wealthy socialite clients. No, Clark's tree was a family tree … decorated with a colorful mish-mash of ornaments that spoke of love and cherished memories.
For not the first time since she'd known him, Lois felt a pang of envy for Clark's idyllic childhood and the close relationship he shared with his parents. She never would have admitted it aloud, but meeting Clark's parents a year and a half ago had been one of the turning points for her partnership with him. They had been such wonderful people, the Kents, and had clearly loved their son very much … and he had unabashedly returned their affection. Before going to Smallville with Clark, Lois had never seen a man hug his mother — let alone his father — with such true fondness, and she had realized in a moment of blinding clarity that any man raised by such good people would surely have inherited many of their values. It had been this, as much as any specific honorable behavior on Clark's part, that had helped her begin to lower her defenses and let herself think of him as a friend as well as a co- worker. It had been the beginning of a wonderful friendship, one which had become more important to her than she'd ever expected.
When she felt Clark come up behind her and place a gentle hand on her back, Lois couldn't help but rest her head on his shoulder. "You have a beautiful tree, Clark," she murmured sincerely.
"Thank you," he replied, moving his hand to her shoulder and pulling her a little closer. "There are a lot of good memories on it." With his free hand, he gently straightened a painted glass ball. "Every year when I was growing up, my mom bought me a special ornament. We kept them in a separate box with my name on it. I used to spend hours figuring out exactly where each one should go on the tree."
Lois smiled softly, picturing Clark as a child, hanging many of these same ornaments on his parents' tree. "I bet you had a lot of fun." "We did. By the time I was a teenager, I wasn't as interested, but my mom kept buying them for me, anyway. She always told me that when I was on my own, I would be glad I had them." He smiled. "She was right."
"I have a feeling your mom is right about a lot of things," Lois said, echoing his quiet laughter.
He nodded. "Yeah … she really is. She also must have rubbed off on me because when I started traveling, these were some of my favorite things to buy. I have one from most every country I've stayed in. But you know what? My favorites are still the ones my mom bought me when I was a little kid."
Lois smiled, not at all surprised. "I like the picture ones the best," she decided, fingering a homemade Popsicle-stick frame. She leaned forward to get a better look at the photo inside, of a pre-school-aged Clark sitting on a familiar- looking Santa Claus's lap, and laughed. "Is that your father underneath that beard?"
Clark grinned. "Yeah … he played Santa that year at the lodge. I was so awed by the fact that I was meeting Santa that I never even noticed that his glasses were the same as my dad's."
She gave a little chuckle. "I guess it just goes to show that we see what we expect to see."
Clark cocked his head for a moment, looking at her curiously, but he didn't disagree. "I guess we do," he murmured. He glanced briefly at the couch and his expression turned more inquiring. "Would you like to sit down?"
Lois looked up at him, meeting his eyes. "Sure," she replied softly. "That sounds nice."
They made their way to the couch and sat down, but Lois felt a momentary pang of disappointment when she noticed that Clark had sat down a few feet away from her instead of directly beside her. But as he quickly turned in his seat to face her, she knew that she hadn't really lost his attention. She held her breath as he stretched his arm out along the back of the couch, then sighed as she felt his fingers begin to gently stroke her shoulder. He gave her a smile. "So you've got some time off coming … any big plans?" he asked.
Pulling her knees up onto the couch, Lois turned to face him, returning his warm gaze. His touch, though not blatantly seductive, felt really good against her arm and she couldn't help but bring her fingers up to stroke the inside of his elbow, playing with the sleeve of his shirt. "No, not really," she answered. "I do have plans with my sister on Monday, but other than that, I'll just be sticking close to home."
Clark shifted slightly in his seat, moving a little closer, and Lois couldn't help but notice that his eyes had darkened and his breathing had become a little more shallow. While the words that he spoke were conversational, the husky tone that had crept into his voice was enough to send a shiver down Lois's spine. "So what do you have planned for Monday?"
She gave him a slow smile, letting her eye contact linger. "We're going to a day spa," she explained. "It was our Christmas gift from my mother, believe it or not. She's out of the country till next month, but I guess she set all this up for us before she left. It sounds really great, though … massage, facial, manicure, the works. They even serve us lunch."
His mouth curved into a grin. "After all that luxury, you're not going to want to come back to work."
"Mmm, not a chance," Lois replied, letting her eyes sparkle at him. She stretched her arm out along his, her fingernails lightly tracing a path up his inner arm to his biceps. "I have to stick around to keep my partner in line."
Clark's eyes were dark and intense when he met her gaze, and she felt his muscle flex underneath her hand. "And do you expect him to get out of line?" he asked, his voice a low murmur.
Feeling her heart-rate accelerate, Lois swallowed. His question was teasing, but the heated look on his face was anything but … and it made her want to launch herself into her arms and attack his mouth with a ferociousness that took her aback. She took a slow, deep breath, valiantly trying to keep her wits, despite the strong emotions warring within her. If she kissed him now, she knew without a doubt that they wouldn't be doing anything else for a long, long time. But would that be so bad? After all, it wasn't as if there was anything else— Lois caught her breath as the thought reached the more coherent part of her brain. "Dancing!" she burst out.
Clark blinked, surprised. "Excuse me?" Lois blushed deeply, realizing that she'd voiced her surprise a little too loudly. "Sorry … I just remembered. We were supposed to go over to the club at nine." She glanced at the clock. "It's almost nine-thirty."
She watched as Clark sat back and took a deep breath, as if he, too, were trying to fight a feeling he could barely control. He slowly pulled his arm back to his body, making Lois's skin tingle as he brushed against her. "I guess we should get going, then," he said carefully.
Lois met his gaze, trying not to shiver at the way he was watching her. "Do you mind if I …" she trailed off, but used her thumb to indicate the general direction of his bathroom. "Freshen up a bit first?"
Clark shook his head. "Take your time."
Unsure whether she was more gratified or disappointed by his easy acceptance, Lois stood up and retrieved her purse. She gave him a little smile as she backed towards the archway dividing his bedroom from the living room. "I'll be right back."
Clark blew out a deep breath as he stood over his kitchen sink, washing the last of the dishes they'd used for dinner. He didn't really care if they got washed tonight, but now that Lois had left the living room for the bathroom, he found that he was in serious need of distraction.
The evening was going very well, and he couldn't deny that he was thrilled about it. Dinner had turned out perfectly, though whether it was the recipe or the fact that he'd been so distracted by Lois that he'd hardly tasted a thing, he couldn't be sure. Either way, she had seemed to enjoy the meal just as much as he had, and even better, had seemed to be equally enthralled by the company. The fact that she kept touching him as they talked, not to mention the way she would let her eye contact linger, was making him crazy with desire for her. He was letting it show in his own caresses and expressions, he was sure … at this point, he didn't think he could hide his feelings for her, even if he'd tried.
But as much as he'd been dying to kiss her on the couch, he supposed it was just as well that she'd remembered they'd made plans to go dancing. Not that he wouldn't have given the club up in a second if she were in his arms — just the opposite — but, as he reminded himself sternly, he *had* invited her out for New Year's Eve, and he was pretty sure that rolling around on his sofa wasn't what she'd had in mind when she'd accepted.
Clark gave a rueful grin. Even if it did sound like a great way to spend an evening to him.
As he pondered that heady fantasy, however, he heard the click of his bathroom door, and turned just in time to see Lois make her way back through his bedroom. Clark couldn't help but release a strangled sound of appreciation as he watched her. She had reapplied her lipstick and fluffed her hair while "freshening up", but to him, she looked just as beautiful — and incredibly sexy — as she had before. Her outfit alone was making him feel extremely warm.
Lois looked up at him as she entered the kitchen and gave him a smile. "Sorry I took so long … I was trying to figure out the logistics of how we were going to do this."
Clark's eyes widened. "Ex— Excuse me?"
She just gave him a funny look. "How we're going to get to the club."
Exhaling, Clark gave himself a mental kick. "Oh … right." He pasted a smile on his face. "So what's the problem?"
"Well, I was thinking that, with the club so close, there was probably no point in taking my car. I wouldn't be able to find parking much closer than a few blocks away anyway."
"That's fine," Clark agreed. "Do you want to catch a cab?"
She shrugged. "I figured we could just walk … if you thought that was OK."
He nodded. "Yeah, that's fine with me. It's only about six blocks … maybe seven." Then, as another thought hit him, he eyed her attire. "Sure you won't be cold, though?"
Lois shot him a grin. "Ah, that's why I wore the boots … I figured they would keep my feet warmer than a pair of strappy heels."
Despite himself, Clark let his gaze wander appreciatively over her body, lingering on the way her shapely nylon- covered calves disappeared into the black ankle-high leather boots. When he met her eyes again, he couldn't help but give her a sexy grin. "And here I thought you wore them to warm me up."
Her eyes widened slightly at his provocative comment, but she immediately returned his grin. "I guess that depends … did it work?"
Clark made a low sound of approval. "Trust me, you won't hear me complaining."
Clearly pleased with his comment, Lois approached him, a predatory look on her face. "Do me a favor then?" she cooed, resting her hands on his chest.
For a moment, Clark found it difficult to breathe. "Anything," he finally forced out.
She produced a small cylinder, then grinned up at him and switched to the innocent voice that always seemed to send his hormones into overdrive. "Would you carry my lipstick in your pocket?"
After staring at her for a moment in shock, Clark started to laugh. "You've got to be kidding me!"
Lois turned her face into a theatrical pout. "No … it's just that I'd rather leave my purse here so I don't have to worry about it, and while I can get my ID and some money into my pocket, the lipstick won't fit."
"You're actually serious."
Lois stepped back. "Well, I was, but if you're too manly to carry lipstick, I understand. We can just stop back at my place and I'll change into long pants … something loose and flowing, with adequate pockets—"
Clark made a lunge for the lipstick before she could get any further. "Nope, I got it," he chirped, taking it from her and slipping into his right front pants pocket with a smile. "See, no problem."
With a grin, Lois took him by the hand and led him back through the living room. "You're so easy to negotiate with."
"I can think of another term for it," Clark muttered under his breath.
"Oh, hush!" she exclaimed, laughing. She took the landing steps quickly, pulling him behind her. "Come on, let's get our coats."
Clark helped Lois on with her long wool coat, then reached for his own jacket. "All right, let's go," he said brightly, zipping it up in the front.
Lois, however, was watching him with wide-eyed appreciation. "Wow, nice jacket," she exclaimed, clearly impressed. "Is that new?"
Clark looked down at his most recent purchase, a hip-length black leather coat. "Yeah," he replied with a smile. "I just got it the other day. It was kind of my Christmas present to myself. What do you think?"
She ran her hands down the sleeves, feeling the leather. "So soft," she enthused. "And it's a great cut … it looks fantastic on you."
Pleased by her approval, Clark felt himself beam. "Thanks … I'm trying to spruce up my image a little. You think this helps?"
From the way she was looking at him, Clark knew the answer before she said it. "Oh yeah," she drawled. "*Definitely* a good purchase."
As the marquee-style sign announcing the Top Hat Club's front entrance came into view on Seventeenth Street, Clark found himself thinking that he couldn't remember a more enjoyable walk through his neighborhood. The night air was crisp, but the cloud cover overhead had prevented the temperature from dropping more than a few degrees below freezing. Though a chance of snow had been forecast, the wind was calm, and, all in all, it had been a perfect night for their twenty-minute walk.
They had chatted amiably as they'd made their way to the club, laughing together over such varied topics as their favorite songs from high school and the expression on Perry's face when the most recently hired copyboy had popped his head into the Editor's office to tell him that he, too, was a huge fan of Elvis Costello. But what had really made Clark's heart soar was the comfortable way they had automatically taken each other's hand as they'd begun their walk. What only a few days ago had seemed like a risky declaration of romantic attraction now felt completely natural.
As they took their place in the back of the short line that had formed at the door, Clark reached into his back pocket and produced two admission tickets. "I picked these up yesterday," he explained to Lois. "I was worried they might sell out."
"Good thinking," she commented. "New Year's Eve is a pretty popular party night."
Clark flashed her a grin as they reached the front of the line. "You mean we're not the only ones with such brilliant ideas?"
"Keep it under wraps," she said with a wink. "We don't want to ruin our reputation."
The man at the front door smiled as he stamped their tickets, then handed them back to Clark along with four small coupons. "Welcome to the Top Hat," he said, his expression becoming more admiring as he included Lois in his comments. "We have a coat check room set up just inside the door so feel free to take advantage of that. Your ticket price also includes two drinks from the bar, so be sure to hold onto the coupons to give to the bartender. We'll have a buffet set up a little later in the evening, but in the meantime, enjoy yourself on the dance floor."
Lois glanced at Clark as they entered, clearly impressed. "Wow, they really go all out on New Year's Eve, don't they?"
"Yeah, it sounds really nice," Clark agreed, slipping off his jacket, then taking Lois's coat from her. "Let's get rid of these so we can go have some fun."
"Sounds like a plan," she replied.
"So what do you want to do?" he asked as they made their way down the ramp leading into the main part of the club. "Hit the dance floor?"
Lois looked around the busy club. "Oh, let's get a drink first," she suggested. "I'm a little thirsty after our walk."
"OK," he replied with a nod. "Let's go."
Quickly spotting the bar set up on one end of the room, Clark took Lois's hand and began weaving his way through the crowd, taking the opportunity to study the faces around him. He quickly realized why Lois had dubbed the club "the Yuppie Ballroom" in her younger days. The crowd seemed mainly made up of people in their twenties and thirties, the majority of whom were clean-cut enough — and well- dressed enough — for him to easily imagine that they spent most of their days in a corporate or otherwise professional setting. Clark even noted a few familiar faces — a civil engineer he'd once consulted with when a freighter had run into a bridge piling and a couple of doctors whom he'd met while transporting crime victims to hospital emergency rooms — though since they had all met him as Superman, none of them would recognize him as Clark Kent.
As they reached the bar, however, Clark noticed that his presence had not gone unnoticed. A group of lawyers from the District Attorney's Office were sitting at a nearby table, and a few women he knew to be friendly with Mayson Drake were now giving him the once-over. Resisting the urge to squirm under their curious looks, Clark made eye contact and smiled in polite acknowledgment, but quickly returned his warm gaze to Lois and gave her hand a squeeze. He knew he hadn't done a great job of discouraging Mayson so far — and truth be told, the pretty prosecutor's attention had been a big boost to his ego at a time when he'd really needed it — but now that he knew who he wanted to be with, it wasn't fair to let Mayson think she had a chance with him. Not that he felt he had unfairly led her on … their "dates" thus far had consisted of exactly one lunch where she had walked out on him, and a cup of coffee when they'd accidentally run into each other at the courthouse while the trial he was reporting on had taken a brief recess. Yet it was clear from the number of times she'd dropped hints that she'd like to go out with him — and from the cool looks her colleagues were now giving Lois — that having the news filter back to Mayson that he was seeing someone else might be the easiest way to defuse the situation.
Trying to ignore the eyes he could feel boring into him, he turned his full attention to Lois. "So what would you like to drink?" he asked, holding up the free drink coupons with a grin. "Money is no object. Literally." If he had hoped his teasing would distract Lois from the looks of the other women, however, he soon realized that he had failed. Not only had she noticed the attention, but he could see a flash of annoyance in her eyes as she glanced past him. Clark looked at her with dismay. He knew from the way she had brought up Mayson's name in his apartment that it might be an uncomfortable subject with her, but surely Lois had to realize by now that he only had eyes for one woman? "Lois," he said, imploring her to understand. "Believe me—"
When Lois returned her gaze to his, however, Clark found that the words caught in his throat. Far from appearing angry, Lois was now staring at him with a possessive expression on her face. She stepped very close to him and slowly ran her hands over his chest, making his heart beat wildly. "Clark," she purred, "I've changed my mind … I think I would like to dance first."
Clark swallowed at the seductive look in her eye, even if he did suspect she was only putting on a show for the very people he was trying to avoid. But he couldn't deny that she probably had the right idea, and it wasn't long before he found himself giving her an equally sexy smile. "That sounds like an excellent idea," he replied, running his hands down her arms to take her hands. "Let's do it."
Dancing had been a great decision, Clark thought, as he watched Lois move her body in time to the pulsing beat of the music. As much as he enjoyed ballroom dancing, it had been a long time since he'd visited a club like this, and he'd been looking forward to just letting go and having fun. Of course, the fact that Lois was here with him — and was moving her body in ways that were suggestive enough to make him sweat — ensured that he was having the time of his life.
Thanks to a disc-jockey who was playing a good mix of dance tunes, neither he nor Lois had been interested in leaving the floor for some time and they had frequently found themselves flirting with each other as they moved. Whether it was because of the way they kept brushing against each other, or the lingering eye contact they were making, Clark found he didn't seem to be able to get the smile off his face.
By the time a group of slow songs came on, however, he was more than ready to hold Lois in his arms. Gently pulling her towards him, he marveled at how easily she melted into his embrace and how brightly her eyes were shining. "Are you having a good time?" he asked.
Lois smiled up at him, resting one hand on his shoulder even as she held his hand with the other. "I'm having a fantastic time," she assured him. "How about you?"
"Definitely," he agreed. "Tonight has been wonderful."
She smiled. "Well, if you were looking to spruce up your image," she said, clearly remembering his comment from earlier in the evening, "this obviously is the right place for you to do it in. You're a great dancer!"
He dipped his head in acknowledgement. "You must bring it out in me … Lois, you look really good out here." His voice dropped an octave. "*Really* good." From the way that she pressed herself a bit more tightly against him as they swayed in time to the music, Clark could tell that the compliment had hit its mark.
"I could definitely say the same for you," she replied, her voice dropping as well. After a moment, however, she began to grin at him. "Of course, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by changing your image. You're not planning on leaving the suits and ties behind and joining a biker gang, are you?"
Clark laughed out loud. "No, no, nothing like that." He tugged on his earlobe. "And I'm not getting an earring, no matter what Jimmy suggests." When Lois laughed with him, he continued. "I just meant I'm trying to update a bit … now that I've got a regular paycheck, I've been buying some nicer suits, cutting my hair shorter … things like that." He gave her a teasing grin. "Trying to look less like a hack from Nowheresville."
Lois groaned and buried her face in his chest. "I'm never going to live that down, am I?" she laughed.
Clark laughed with her. "Not on your life! I need something to defend myself with when my brilliant partner starts to overshadow me."
When her eyes met his, however, the teasing expression on her face was gone, but the affection remained. "I don't think you have anything to worry about, Clark," she murmured, smiling softly. "You cast a pretty bright light of your own." She brought her hand up to the back of his head and began playing with the recently trimmed hair. "No matter what the length of your hair is."
Clark couldn't help but release a sound of pleasure at the way she was touching him, and he tightened his arm around her waist. "Thank you," he murmured back. "That means a lot coming from you." In imitation of her gesture, Clark ran his fingers through the soft curls that were framing her face. "I like these," he decided. "It's different from how you wear it at work, but it suits you tonight."
Lois fixed him with an impish grin. "Just tonight, huh?"
"You know what I mean," he told her, laughing and refusing to take the bait.
She laughed as well. "Yeah, I do … Lucy likes my hair like this, too, by the way. She's always telling me to do something different with it instead of straightening it all the time."
Clark gently twisted a curl around his finger. "Well, I think you're beautiful no matter how you wear it."
"Awww, thank you," she said, clearly pleased. Then she gave him a wink. "Now I can stand firm at the spa on Monday when Lucy tries to talk me into cutting it."
Clark laughed at the grin on her face. "So what's Lucy doing back in Metropolis, anyway? I thought she was in California."
"She was just visiting. The guy she was seeing had invited her to go home with him over the holidays, to meet his family."
"Yeah, that's what Lucy thought, too, until she got there and found out his 'family' was his band of Hare Krishnas."
Clark felt his jaw drop. "You're kidding!"
Lois smirked. "She drew the line when, instead of eating Christmas dinner, they brought her to the airport to solicit donations."
After staring at her in shock for a moment, Clark burst out laughing. "I'm sorry," he finally choked out. "I know I should feel sorry for her, but I keep picturing her dancing around the airport in one of those robes."
Lois dissolved into laughter as well. "You should have heard us on the phone when she told me: 'I thought you said he was an actor?' 'It turns out he wasn't acting!'"
When they'd finally composed themselves, Clark tried to look sympathetic. "How's she doing? Is she disappointed?"
"Oh, well, you'd kind of have to know Lucy," Lois told him, rolling her eyes. "She doesn't usually get upset, at least not on the outside. She just moves on to the next one."
Clark chuckled. "So what's she doing tonight?" As another thought hit him, however, his eyes widened slightly. "She's not going to show up here, is she?"
Lois looked horrified for a moment, but she didn't make Clark suffer for long before she laughed to reassure him. "No, no… she's heading over to the far east side to meet up with some girlfriends." Lois shook her head. "She says there's a club over there with a really cute bouncer — Johnny somebody. Mark my words, she'll be dating him by next week."
When the set of slow songs ended, Clark reluctantly released Lois from his embrace. He had loved dancing with her to the upbeat pop tunes earlier, but now that he'd had the pleasure of holding her for so long, it seemed almost torturous to let her go again. Seeing a similar look of disappointment on Lois's face, however, was encouraging.
"Hey," he said, glancing over to the far end of the room. "I think they've got the buffet set up now. Would you like to get something? We could sit down and talk some more."
Lois's face lit up. "Yeah, that'd be great. I can finally get that drink I'd been wanting, too."
Clark smiled at her as they left the dance floor. "We were dancing for over an hour … I think we've earned it."
"Definitely," she agreed, taking his hand. "I'm ready for a break."
After waiting for Lois to down a glass of water at the bar — and noting with a vague sense of relief that the women from earlier had apparently moved to another part of the club — Clark ordered them each a glass of wine, and they made their way over to the food.
Setting her glass of wine down on the buffet table, Lois picked up a small plate and began selecting among a variety of hors d'oeuvres. "Now this is what I call Yuppie Chow," she said with a grin, spooning up a few sweet and sour meatballs.
Clark laughed. "Oh, I don't know," he replied, spearing a mini-hotdog. "Cocktail weenies don't really say 'high society' to me."
"You and my mother would get along," Lois replied, rolling her eyes. "She thinks they're an affront to the American palate."
"Hey, I didn't say that," he defended, chuckling. "I actually love them." He shot her a grin. "But then again, I'm not exactly high society."
Lois grinned back. "Even now that you're sprucing up your image?"
"Don't expect miracles, Lois!" he exclaimed. "I am a country boy at heart, after all. Though if you think it would help your mom to like me, I could pretend to hate them."
She quickly shook her head. "See, that just proves you've never met my mother. Believe me, Clark, if she doesn't like you, that's only a point in your favor!"
Laughing, Clark finished filling his plate and retrieved his glass of wine. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind."
Her hands full as well, Lois shot him a grin, but as they reached the end of the buffet line, she noticed that empty tables were in short supply. "Uh oh," she said, "It's going to be hard to find a seat. Wait, there's one!" Not waiting for Clark to catch up, she hurried to the last empty table for two she'd seen, but she wasn't quite fast enough. Just as she was about to set her food down, another woman picked up one of the two available chairs and carried it over to a nearby larger table to join some friends.
Clark arrived at the table just as Lois was opening her mouth to complain, and he cut her off. "It's OK, Lois … you sit, I'll stand." He quickly set his plate of hors d'oeuvres on the table next to hers and pulled out the chair for her. "Here you go."
Lois took the seat reluctantly, but stood back up quickly. "No good," she announced. "Now we can't talk." She stepped away from the table. "I have a better idea. You sit."
"Clark! Just do it." She waved her hand at him in a "hurry up" gesture until he complied. Then she sat on his lap. At Clark's surprised look, Lois just laughed."Oh, quit complaining, I don't weigh that much."
"You don't weigh anything," he responded, quickly deciding he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. "I just wasn't expecting it, that's all." When she made a move to stand up, however, he grabbed her by the waist and held her. "Don't you dare," he laughed.
Lois's giggle was like music to his ears.
"Of course, now I can't reach my plate," he added as she began to eat, a twinkle in his eye.
"Well, I'll just have to feed you," she retorted, popping a mini-quiche into his mouth to prove it.
Clark chewed and swallowed, a twinkle in his eye. "Mmm … that's pretty good. I'll have to patronize this restaurant more often."
"You like the food that much?"
"It's fine … but this is the best *service* I've ever received."
Lois gave a long-suffering sigh as she spread brie on a cracker. "Everyone's a comedian."
As they worked their way through their food, laughing and talking the whole time, Clark noticed a large clock hanging on the club's wall, no doubt in place to help the crowd count down to midnight. "I can't believe it's already past eleven-thirty," he said, shaking his head. "Didn't we just get here?"
She looked down on him with a warm smile. "Time flies when you're having fun, I guess."
He smiled back at her, wrapping his arms more securely around her waist. "And I am definitely having fun."
"Me, too," she said softly.
Clark glanced in the direction of the dance floor. "You want to head back out there?" he asked. "Get some dancing in before midnight?"
She smiled. "I think that would be great."
His eyes crinkled. "All right, then."
As they arrived back on the dance floor, Clark was delighted to find another set of slow songs had just begun. He pulled Lois close, and sighed happily as she melted into him. This entire week had been incredible, but tonight in particular had been more magical than he could have ever imagined. He loved her so much … had loved her for so long … and now it seemed that Lois was finally starting to return his feelings. Every time he looked at her, he could see the expression she used to reserve for Superman.
Clark closed his eyes as they danced cheek to cheek, wanting to remember this feeling forever, but he couldn't stop the butterflies from fluttering in his stomach. In just fifteen short minutes, it would be midnight … and he would be able to kiss Lois the way he had dreamed of doing for so long.
Lois closed her eyes as she and Clark danced cheek to cheek. She had had more fun this week than she could ever recall having, but it still all paled in comparison to tonight. Between the romantic dinner at his apartment and the amazing time they'd been having at the club, this was the most magical New Year's Eve she could imagine. And she knew it was all because of Clark.
How could she have ever denied the way she felt about him? For so long, she'd tried to tell herself that her interest in him had simply been physical attraction, or that her feelings were nothing more than a passing crush. But instead of fading away, her feelings had only become stronger. And after this week — this magical, wonderful week — she knew that she could no longer deny them.
Lifting her head to glance at the clock, Lois felt a little shiver go down her spine as she noted the time. In only fifteen minutes, it would be midnight … and she and Clark would kiss.
Lois inhaled as she felt a thousand butterflies begin fluttering in her stomach. She'd kissed Clark before — friendship kisses, goodnight kisses. But the few times that they'd kissed passionately had been for show, either as a diversion or a ruse. Tonight, however, would be different … this kiss would be real. Her gaze flickered to his lips in anticipation. What would it be like?
Realizing that Clark was watching her, Lois raised her eyes to his. The love she saw in his smile nearly took her breath away. As the thought reached her, however, Lois stilled. Love? Was love what Clark felt for her? And was it what she felt for him, in return? Whereas only a few short weeks ago, Lois would have dismissed the possibility, she now found she couldn't get it out of her mind. She met his gaze, searching his eyes. "Clark?" she whispered.
He stared tenderly into her eyes, as if willing her to see what he was feeling. "Lois …" he whispered back, his voice husky. Barely had he spoken her name, however, than Clark suddenly averted his gaze. She felt him stiffen as he looked over her shoulder, then heard him sigh heavily. "Oh, great," he muttered.
"Clark, hi! Imagine running into you here!"
Lois froze as the familiar voice came over her shoulder. She suddenly knew exactly who had taken his attention away from her. Mayson Drake.
Despite Mayson's obvious attempt to act surprised at their presence, Lois couldn't help but narrow her eyes suspiciously as she turned towards their unwanted visitor. It seemed quite a coincidence that she would show up right at this moment, after apparently not having been in the club earlier in the evening, and Lois immediately suspected the women from the bar. It had been all too clear that Mayson's colleagues hadn't thought much of Clark being there with another woman, and their warning expressions had really gotten under Lois's skin. Even before she'd noticed Clark's adorably dismayed expression — dismayed not over the fact that he'd been 'caught', Lois had quickly realized, but by the glares that Mayson's friends were shooting her — she'd put on a show that had been certain to leave them with their jaws on the floor. Unfortunately, instead of letting it drop, the busybodies had clearly called Mayson to come defend her territory!
As if on cue, the Assistant District Attorney smiled sweetly at Clark. "May I cut in?"
To his credit, Clark immediately tightened his arm around Lois's waist, making it clear he wasn't going to accept. "Uh … thank you anyway, Mayson," he said, politely but firmly. "But no."
Mayson, however, was not so easily dissuaded. She turned to Lois, fixing her with a cajoling smile. "Oh, come on … Lois, you don't mind, do you?"
Lois knew that the polite thing to do would have been to just step away, to let Mayson dance with Clark the way they had at the Church's Ball. But tonight, Lois wasn't interested in being polite. What gall this woman had, trying to horn in on her date with Clark! It was surely no coincidence that it was nearly twelve o'clock — Mayson was trying to be the one Clark was dancing with when the clock struck midnight! "Actually, Mayson," Lois stated coolly. "I do mind."
The blonde's face registered her surprise. "You're kidding?"
"No … no, I'm not," Lois responded, feeling herself begin to ramp up. "If you want to dance with Clark, you should suggest that the next time you go out with him. But you know what? Right now, *I'm* out with him and we're busy. So if you'll excuse us, we'd like to get back to our date."
Mayson blinked at Lois's barrage of words. "Your … date?" she repeated slowly. She looked up at Clark, her blue eyes seeking confirmation.
Clark had been staring at Lois in wide-eyed fascination as she spoke, but at Mayson's question, his expression became a lot more tender. "Yeah," he replied. "Our date."
Lois broke into a smile at his words, but as she watched Mayson walk away, embarrassed and disappointed, she felt herself blush as she replayed what she'd just said and felt her doubts resurface. She'd been annoyed at Mayson, yes, but was it possible that Clark really was dating both women? After all, he'd never denied that he and Mayson had been seeing each other. Was there a chance that he was just being honorable by not leaving Lois in the middle of their date, even if he would rather be with Mayson? "I'm sorry, Clark," she mumbled, feeling obligated to apologize even though she wasn't feeling very contrite. "I probably just got you in trouble."
"What are you talking about?"
She took a deep breath, needing to vent. "I just messed you up with Mayson, and I'm sorry, but you know, it just got to me … I mean, OK, even though I didn't like it, I did let her cut in at the Church's Ball, so she probably figured I would just let her do it again. But this *is* New Year's Eve—"
"—and you *did* ask me to come here with you … and, OK, so maybe it's not a *date* date, since you didn't specifically say that when you asked me out, but we did come together—"
"—and if you want to take Mayson dancing next time you ask her out, that's fine, but tonight—"
She blinked. "I'm sorry … what?"
Clark was grinning at her, genuinely amused. "There isn't going to be a next time."
His eyes softened. "I said, there isn't going to be a next time. I'm not going to be asking Mayson out."
"Oh." Lois furrowed her brow. "Why not?" Before he could answer, though, she launched into another monologue. "I mean, I'm not trying to change your mind or anything, because … well, you know, she's never been my favorite person and I've always thought you could do so much better. But she is nice to you, I guess, and kind of pretty — I mean, if you like that blonde-out-of-a-bottle look — and—"
This time, Clark began to laugh out loud. "Lois!"
She looked up at him, eyes wide. "Yes?"
He brought a hand up to cup her cheek. "I'm not interested in Mayson."
The smile on his face nearly robbed Lois of the ability to think. "You're not?" she answered breathlessly.
"No, I'm not." His thumb gently caressed her skin.
Lois stared into his eyes for a long moment, feeling a deep longing building in her heart. Clark hadn't continued his thought, but his eyes were speaking volumes. Was he actually trying to tell her that he wasn't interested in Mayson because he was interested … in her? Almost as if pulled by an invisible string, Lois began to lean towards him and she watched Clark do the same. As his head dipped slowly lower, Lois lifted her chin and felt her eyes flutter shut. She'd been waiting all night for this kiss … and, finally, it was going to happen …
Instead of the feeling of Clark's lips on hers, however, Lois felt herself being jostled from behind as the crowd of people around them began to move. As if coming out of a trance, she looked around to see several tuxedo-clad men circulating through the crowd, carrying boxes of streamers and noisemakers. "Ten minutes to midnight!" they called. "Only ten minutes to go!"
When Lois looked back up at Clark, she found his face an endearing mixture of frustration and disappointment, and Lois couldn't help but smile. "Ten more minutes," she echoed, giving a sheepish shrug. She reached into a passing box and half-heartedly pulled out a handful of streamers, offering him some.
Clark looked back and forth between the offered papers and her face, clearly torn. Then, suddenly, his face cleared. "I don't want to wait that long."
Before Lois could register his declaration, Clark's mouth was on hers. Surprised, she hesitated for the briefest of moments, but it wasn't long before she was winding her fingers through his hair, letting the streamers fall to the floor. His lips tasted incredibly sweet as they pulled against hers, and when they finally separated, Lois felt as if she'd never been kissed so thoroughly in her life.
"Wow," she breathed, her voice coming in soft pants. "That was—"
"Yeah," Clark agreed, breathing more quickly himself. "Definitely."
Their eyes locked, but before Lois could respond, she heard a cheer come up from the crowd and gave Clark a tremulous smile. "I think we're getting closer to midnight."
He rested his forehead against hers. "I'm already seeing fireworks," he murmured.
Relieved and thrilled by his declaration, Lois couldn't help but grin flirtatiously, teasing him. "Maybe we should just skip the countdown."
Clark lifted his head with a similar grin, but he pulled her even closer. "And miss kissing you at midnight? Lois, there's no *way* I'm letting you go right now," his voice dropping into a husky growl.
At his sexy tone, Lois felt as if she'd forgotten how to breathe for a moment. Still, she knew there was a topicthat neither of them had addressed, and although she was almost afraid of the answer, she needed to know before she could let herself give in to everything she was feeling. "And tomorrow?" she asked, her voice betraying her apprehension. "What happens then?"
Clark's expression became more tentative — and hopeful? "I think that depends on you."
"On me? I would think it would depend on *us*," she said, just as confused as before. "Just what are we, Clark? Friends? Or … something else? After this week, I'm not sure anymore."
Clark took a deep breath, his expression growing more tender. "Then how about I tell you what I'm sure of, Lois?" he said softly, capturing one of her hands in his and bringing it to his mouth to press a tender kiss to her palm. "I'm sure that you are the best friend I've ever had, and that there's no one else in this world I'd rather spend time with. And I'm sure that you are the most amazing person that I've ever met and I want to learn everything there is to know about you." He swallowed, looking deeply into her eyes. "I'm sure that a single smile from you can brighten my entire day, and a single touch can set my heart racing. And when I see you walk through my front door, I'm sure I never want you to leave."
He shook his head, his eyes imploring her. "Please, let me finish or I may never get the courage to say this again." When she nodded silently — encouragingly — he continued with a soft smile. "The thing is, Lois, in my heart, we're already together, and there's no one else I want to be with. Everything I want out of a relationship, everything I've ever dreamed of … I'm already getting with you as my best friend. All except one thing."
"What?" she whispered, her eyes large and luminous.
Clark cupped her face in his hands. "This."
Lowering his mouth, he kissed her again, but this time, there was no hesitation from Lois as she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him more closely to her. Gently at first, their lips caressed each other, but it wasn't long before they each moaned and, as one, took the kiss deeper. When they finally separated, each gasping for air, Clark dipped his forehead to hers. "Lois, I'm sure that what I feel for you goes way deeper than friendship. I just need to know if you feel it, too."
As the crowd around them began counting down the final minute to midnight, Lois found herself melting into him. She cupped the sides of his face and lifted his head so she could look directly into his eyes. "I feel it, too, Clark," she promised, giving him an emotional smile. "I think I've felt it for a long time, but I was just too scared to do anything about it."
A relieved and delighted smile lit up his face. "Really?" he asked, as if hardly daring to believe it could be true. "You're sure?"
Lois's smile was just as dazzling. "I'm very sure."
As their lips met once again, Lois and Clark were oblivious to the cheers and streamers that filled the air when the clock struck midnight. The crowd around them had begun to celebrate the first day of the New Year … but for two young lovers, it was merely the first day of the rest of their lives.
THE END :)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!
Author's Notes, part two:
As you may have guessed, "Boulderman Center" is my Metropolis's version of New York City's Rockefeller Center. If you've ever been there at Christmas time, you know how amazing the decorations are. I based the descriptions Clark gives — the number of lights and the height of the tree — on 2001's display, as reported in an AP newswire article from last year. (Yes, I started the story before last Christmas … maybe if I had actually finished it then, it would have stayed small and not turned into such a monster. <g>)
The poem Clark recites was written by Francesco Petrarca in the 1300's. The translation I used can be found on <http://italian.about.com/library/weekly/aa021600a.htm>. It is from the collection of verses, "Rime in vita e morta di MadonnaLaura", which was translated into English as "Petrarch's Sonnets". Petrarca's sonnets were inspired by his unrequited love for a young woman (Laura), so it seemed very fitting to me that Clark might be drawn to them. Fortunately, we all know that Clark didn't have to wait very long to have his unrequited love … requited. :)
Thank you for reading my story. All comments are welcome and appreciated!
Kathy Brown firstname.lastname@example.org