By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2002
Summary: Clark Kent is pocket lint. Want to know why? Well, let Lois tell you all about it…
I'll warn you right at the start: this is a weird idea which came to me in the middle of the night last night and simply demanded to be written. Blame staying up too late. <g> Thanks to Missy, Phil and CarolM for some lovely insults. ;)
Disclaimer: All rights in recognisable characters belong to their respective owners. Don't sue me for what I do to them! <g>
Clark Kent is lower than pocket lint.
I pace the living-room of my apartment, fists clenching and unclenching, seeing his face before me in my imagination and wanting to knock that smile of his right off his face.
Clark Kent is lower than pocket lint in the pocket of *lawyers*.
And how I wish I'd had the presence of mind to yell that at him just before he ran off and left me. Left me with that *look* in his eyes. The pleading one. The one which says 'don't be mad, please.' The one which says 'I can't explain, but please trust me.' The one which says 'I know I'm lying to you, and you know I'm lying to you, but please let's just pretend that neither of us know.'
Clark Kent is a liar.
And, no doubt, just like all the other occasions when he's lied to me, he'll be turning up shortly to 'explain'. To tell me that he's sorry. To tell me that he never wanted to hurt me. To lie to me again.
Furious, I spin on my heel and march over to the phone, yanking the cord from its socket. Looking around the room, I spy my cellphone lying on the bureau. A second's furious movement switches that off. My pager is in my purse; that gets equally short shrift. The door is already locked and triple-bolted. I am safe.
I notice that the window is open. Blinking back furious tears, I close and bolt it.
Clark Kent is the lowest form of life imaginable, on *any* planet.
So, I guess you want to know what happened, huh?
It was that afternoon that everything changed. I thought I knew Clark, you know? We'd been best friends for well over a year. We'd been practically inseparable for months — more or less since I'd had the sense not to marry Lex, although I don't think I ever told Clark that I said no. He'd just been there when I needed him after the wedding collapsed and Lex killed himself, and he'd been the unflagging support I needed. I spent hours at his apartment. Sometimes we talked about recent events, but he never pushed; if I didn't want to talk about it, then we didn't. We watched old movies and ate pizza, went for long walks together and played stupid board games. And I felt safe and reassured with him.
With him, I wasn't the crazy, *brainless* woman who'd been so completely taken in by Lex Luthor. I never felt that Clark was discussing me and laughing at me behind my back. With him, I never had to worry that he was judging me. He was just my friend.
And, actually, we spent more time together over the months that followed than most married couples. Which was weird: Clark was my friend, not my lover or my husband. And yet I was far more comfortable with him — have *always* been far more comfortable with him — than I ever was with Lex. Or with Superman, the other man I loved. The man I begged to love me back…
I never told Clark about that. *That* was just too humiliating. And anyway, I suppose there was also some element of guilt holding me back. After all, that was the same day Clark had told me he'd loved me for as long as he'd known me, and that he wanted us to be together.
And I turned him down.
As kindly as I could — but I still turned him down.
And there've been so many times since when I've wondered whether I did the right thing. I mean, I'd have been spared so much: the weeks of estrangement from Clark and from everyone else; the misery of realising on the morning of my wedding to Lex that I loved Clark after all; the humiliation of realising that Lex really was the criminal that Clark had said he was.
But would I have been spared the humiliation of having Clark tell me, not long after, that he didn't really love me after all?
Anyway, I guess none of that really matters. If you want to know what happened today to change everything, to make me see that Clark Kent is just *pocket lint*, we'll have to skip forward to this afternoon.
But I suppose there is one other item of context you need to know. This morning, Clark asked me out. Yes; after all these months of being best friends, practically living in each other's apartments, inseparable, he shifted the safe ground of our relationship and asked me for a date.
I was shocked; but I have to confess that I wasn't sorry. I mean, after all, I'd realised back on the morning of my wedding that I had… well, *feelings* for Clark which weren't the way I'd expect to feel about a friend. And even though I pretended that I'd never felt them after he told me he'd lied, I knew that the feelings were still there. Not that I was going to do anything about them — after all, I had him in my life in every other way that counted.
Until a lot of things started happening. First, Mayson Drake appeared on the scene, and — *god*, that woman's so *obvious*! — she was all over Clark. She asked him out several times, and I know he dated her at least once. I know he kissed her too. I thought I'd lost him then, but I gradually realised that it all seemed to be on her side. Clark liked her — he even found her a little attractive, I guess, but he wasn't romantically interested in her.
So that was okay; I was able to ignore Mayson safely, apart from teasing Clark about her sometimes and giving her the cold shoulder. After all, I couldn't afford to let Clark think that I really didn't care if he dated her. Not that I would've admitted that to him — that would've meant telling him something I didn't want to. But he knew anyway.
Clark was still mine; until he got killed. And, for those horrible hours, almost twenty-four of them, I was devastated. My life was in ruins; I'd lost the one person who meant the world to me. Even Superman wouldn't have been able to comfort me then, not that I saw him anyway apart from just before he brought Clark back to me. And, apart from crying over the loss of my best friend, all I could think about was that one major regret: that I'd never told him how I really felt about him. Even if he'd rejected me, told me he wasn't in love with me, wouldn't it have been more honest to try? To take the risk that I'd thought he was taking that day in the park?
And so, when he was returned to me, I told him. Opened my heart to him. Bared my soul to him. Made myself vulnerable to him in a way I'd never done with a man since Claude; in a way I'd sworn I would never do again with *any* man.
And he'd slept through it.
I retreated into the restricted security of our friendship again after that, although I had to admit that we were getting closer still. I mean, he even pretended to be stranded in Metropolis so that I wouldn't have to spend Christmas on my own; after he came over on Christmas Eve, we spent the next day together too. And it was partly that greater closeness, and partly what Superman said to me after Clark was kidnapped by Metallo, that made me decide to try again. To take the huge, scary step of telling Clark that I wanted more from him.
But he never answered his phone. And I withdrew again.
So, no, I wasn't sorry when he made the move to deepen our relationship. He asked me this morning. I knew he wanted something; he had this nervous, skittish look on his face and he kept shuffling his feet and looking at me and then looking away. And I thought he wanted to borrow money! And I was kind of hurt, because I thought that we were close enough that he'd know he wouldn't even need to ask. If he needed something, I'd give it to him in a heartbeat. So I tried to steamroller him, telling him that I knew what he wanted and asking him how much. I almost got out my chequebook!
And then he asked me to go out with him, and I lost all my wits, stammering at him and asking whether he meant a date. Of course he meant a date! And then I temporised and delayed responding, telling him that I was worried about what it might do to our friendship. As if it wasn't what I'd wanted myself all along! At least I had the good sense to say yes in the end.
Well… it seemed that way at the time. And then *this afternoon* happened.
I clench my teeth and go to the kitchen, forcing myself to do something normal like making coffee. This afternoon — I spit the words out in my mind. When Clark Kent proved once and for all that he is lower than a worm's belly. A swamp worm, at that.
But I'm still getting distracted, and you want to know what happened. Okay. Right. There was this big story halfway across town — it doesn't matter what it was. That's not important. But anyway, once we'd done what we do, we had to get back to the Planet to write it up. We'd come by taxi, so we tried to find a cab to get us back. Anyway, it seemed like every taxi-driver in Metropolis had decided to go on strike right at that moment, so Clark had his Good Idea For The Day.
He does that sometimes — comes up with these suggestions as if they were entirely the most sensible thing to do. And sometimes he's right, I'll grant him that. But sometimes I look at him and wonder where his brain — or at least, his street-smarts — is. He still thinks he's back on the farm some of the time, I swear it.
Anyway, this Good Idea of his was that we get the subway. The subway! Nobody takes the subway in Metropolis! Not if they want to arrive at their destination clean, on time and unmolested. But Clark insisted, and in the end it was easier not to argue with him, especially when he rolled his eyes at me in that way he has and asked if I had any better ideas.
So we took the subway. It wasn't too busy — and why was I not surprised? — so we had seats. And all was fine for the first few stops. Until suddenly there was a commotion from further down the carriage. This guy had just got on. He was tall, unkempt, with shaggy hair and a beard and clothes that looked like he'd been wearing them for at least the last month. He was yelling a spew of obscenities at anyone who made the mistake of looking at him — don't these people know that you *never* make eye contact with anyone on the subway?
Just another druggie, that's all. I deliberately ignored him, and assumed that Clark would do the same. That's just simple survival strategy.
Wouldn't you know that things didn't work out that way. A woman on the other side of the carriage was stupid enough to have her purse on her lap. Shaggy Druggie went for it, which was entirely to be expected. And the stupid woman tried to fight him for it! Where was she from? some Podunk town in the back of beyond?
Anyway, Shaggy Druggie hit her — he punched her and shoved her back onto her seat. And that was when my partner decided that he had to do his Boy Scout bit.
Don't get me wrong. It's at times like these that I'm proud of Clark. And surprised too, if I'm honest — there've been plenty of times when his first reaction in the face of danger has been to run off in the other direction. Oh, he usually says that he's going to call the police or whatever, but it doesn't exactly make him look like the face of courage, does it?
Today, though, for some weird reason he chose to be Mr Good Guy.
My partner, the hero.
Clark Kent is sewer slime.
Right, right, you want to know what happened. Of course you do.
Well, he got up and went over to tackle Shaggy Druggie. And, okay, it looked like he'd have a pretty good chance of overpowering the guy. I mean, he didn't seem to be on a crack high or anything like that. He was looking for money to get his next fix. And he was only about the same height as Clark, and I know Clark's pretty strong. So shouldn't have been a problem…
…until Druggie pulled a knife.
I think just about everyone in that carriage gasped at once. But not one of them got up to help Clark. And Lunkhead Clark, of course, didn't do the sensible thing. Back off? Not him! He told Druggie to put the knife down and give the lady her purse back. I couldn't believe it! What did he think he was doing?
Anyway, surprise, surprise, Druggie turned on Clark then. And he was mad. There was no way that Clark was gonna get through to him, but did that stop my crazy partner? I was on my feet by then too, pulling at Clark's arm and trying to get him to sit down and leave the guy alone. I mean, the train'd be stopping at the next station in a couple of minutes. Someone would've called the cops and Druggie would be dealt with. No need for us to get involved.
But did Clark see that? No, he darned well didn't! He tried to get the knife away from Druggie, and then it all ended the way I knew it would. He got stabbed.
One swipe of Druggie's hand, and he broke through Clark's guard and stabbing at him, getting under his jacket and knifing Clark in the shoulder. Hard. There was no way that knife didn't connect.
I guess I yelled — it's a frightening sight, seeing your almost-boyfriend stabbed by a drug-crazed thief. Clark brought his arm down at the same time, smashing into Druggie's arm and making the guy drop the knife. Druggie howled — Clark must've caught him on the funny bone or something — and he dropped the woman's purse too as he fell to the floor.
Well, a couple of other people got up then, which surprised me, and I think they came and stood over Druggie — not that I really noticed; I was too worried about Clark. He was still standing, looking confused, and I slipped my arm around his waist, thinking that maybe he was in shock. He leaned against me for a moment, but he didn't seem particularly weak or unsteady on his feet.
Someone asked if Clark was okay. He *grinned*. He'd just been stabbed… and he grinned and said he was fine. I don't know what I was feeling… worried, frantic in case he really was in shock and was bleeding to death underneath that suit-jacket of his, confused because he wasn't acting like he was hurt at all. Anyway, I needed to see how badly he was hurt. So I pushed him into a seat and stood in front of him, pulling open his jacket to see the damage.
And… oh, Clark Kent is lower than snail slime!
There wasn't any blood. I was beginning to think that Druggie must have missed after all, but then I saw a slashed hole in Clark's shirt. I parted the torn fabric and looked at his shoulder underneath.
I should have guessed it immediately, but I was trying to process information which seemed completely contradictory, and I just didn't understand what was going on. Clark was sitting very still, but he reached up and pulled my hand away from him, fastening the buttons on his jacket. I remember noticing that his jaw was clenched and his eyes seemed to be focused on some point on the ceiling.
I was still searching through what seemed like dense fog for the answer which I felt was eluding me when my gaze fell on the knife. It lay forgotten by Clark's feet. I bent, searching in my pocket for a handkerchief to pick it up with.
And then the final clue clicked into place, and the fog cleared. The knife was ruined: the blade bent and buckled completely out of shape.
I looked back up at Clark, remembering his unmarked shoulder, and then looked back at the knife. Then, on impulse, I checked to see that no-one was watching and picked the knife up anyway, wrapping it in my handkerchief and hiding it in my purse. Just because I'd worked it out didn't mean I wanted anyone else to do the same.
Clark didn't say a word, though I know he saw me do it. And that was when he gave me The Look. I was trying not to be mad. Really, really trying. I told myself that the train would be stopping any second now and we could get off at the next station and, even if Clark had to give a statement to the police, once he'd done that we'd be able to get away together and talk. After all, I was sure that he'd want to explain.
Why he'd been lying to me ever since he met me. Why he pretended to be two people — well, okay, I could understand that, but why couldn't he tell me? Why he acted as if he didn't trust me. Why he'd let me think that he'd been stabbed there, that he could have been bleeding to death.
Why he let me think he was dead.
Clark Kent was spawned by a leak from a toxic waste dump.
I decide to forget about making coffee. I don't want any anyway. Now, ice-cream… I go to investigate whether there's any in the freezer. Oh good. Rocky Road — a gallon tub. I grab a large spoon.
Oh yeah. Clark. Well, when the train pulled into the station, a couple of people started asking whether he needed medical help. He insisted that Druggie had missed — I guess he'd had time in those few seconds to think up his excuses. Anyway, the cops came in and arrested Druggie and took some statements, and finally we were allowed to get off. Clark was watching me pretty closely, and I was sure that he was going to suggest that we go somewhere and talk. I mean, of course he would! He had to know that I'd figured it out — the way he was looking at me, it was pretty obvious that he knew.
And I'd decided, very calmly, that I'd give him a chance to explain. That I wouldn't get mad until he'd told me everything, including why he'd lied for so long.
But then he gave me The Look again. This was a pathetic, kind of helpless one — like I said, the 'pleading, don't be mad and me and yes, I am lying to you' one. And he ran off.
Yes, you heard me. He just ran off. Straight into the crowd, and then — because I was watching him carefully — he vanished into the subway tunnel.
Now, I know what you're thinking. That I'm jumping to conclusions and not seeing the obvious. Of course you are. I know the way you guys are. And besides, you've known about Clark Super-hero Kent a lot longer than I have. So, yes, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I went back to the Planet and wrote up our story — I even put his name on it! And I checked the wires and LNN for any reports of Superman activity or any emergencies.
Nothing. Whatever he ran off for, it wasn't to be Superman. The only conclusion I can come to is that he was avoiding me.
Clark Kent is a walking waste of oxygen. He's an animated lump of gangrene.
And I never want to see him again.
What? You guys are still here? Go away! You're interrupting some major kissing and sucking up here! Haven't you ever heard of the expression 'voyeur'?
Okay, okay; if I tell you what happened, will you take a hike?
Right. Okay. Well, not long after I left you last, there was this tapping on my window. You guessed it: it was FlyBoy Wonder. And he was giving me yet another of those Looks. This one was the 'if you'll only talk to me, I can explain everything' look. Well, anyway, I wasn't going to get suckered into that. No way.
He flew off after a couple of minutes, and I sighed with relief to see him gone. Well, no; actually, I felt sick to think that he didn't care enough to stick around and try to make me change my mind. Not that I would have… but he still should have tried. Shouldn't he?
But I was wrong, because he came back again. And this time he was holding flowers and Godiva chocolates. And the chocolates weren't the stuff you get in stores over here — they were from Switzerland! I'm not kidding — I could see the writing on the box, and there wasn't a word of English in sight. And… well, I figured that it wouldn't do any harm to let him in. Just for a minute. And I'd make it clear to him that if I wanted him to leave, he had to go.
Did you know that there was an earthquake in Belize this afternoon? I didn't. It didn't make the news until an hour or so ago, and then it was only on LNN's international summary. See, that's where he was. He heard a report on someone's radio when we were at the subway station — it was tuned to an international frequency, the BBC World Service, I think. And Superman was needed pretty urgently. He was very contrite, but he told me he simply didn't have the time it would've taken to get out of the subway station, tell me about it and then find somewhere to change and fly off from.
I guess you could understand that he took the wind out of my sails with that one. I mean, how could I still be that mad at him after he'd told me what he'd been doing? Okay, he was still pocket lint for lying to me all this time, but at least I knew he wasn't avoiding me.
And then he explained all that too. And told me that he was sorry, and that he'd wanted to tell me for so long, and that he knew he was a lunkhead, but he loved me so much and he wanted to know that I loved *him*. Clark Kent, not Superman. And that he did trust me — if he hadn't, he'd never have been able to run off this afternoon without checking that I'd protect his secret. He wanted to know what I'd done with the knife. Actually, I gave it to the police. But I told them it had been bent all along, and that it must've got worse when it fell to the floor. I knew no-one else had seen it close up the way Clark and I had. And who was going to believe Druggie over two respected reporters?
Anyway, I guess you're thinking that I gave Clark a hard time for lying to me. And for assuming that I'd only want him for his powers if I'd known. Of course I did. Well… sort of. I mean, I started to. But he just gave me another of his Looks — this time, the one which says 'I'm really, really sorry and if you'll only give me another chance I'll never do it again'. And… well, when he offered to take me flying as well, who could blame me for forgiving him?
So, okay, he's not pocket lint any more. And yes, the date's still on. This Saturday, in fact. But I'm not worried any more about the transition from friend to lover — when a guy can kiss as well as Clark can, what girl would hesitate?
And speaking of kissing… would you mind giving us some privacy here?!
(c) Wendy Richards