By Chris Carr <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2002
Summary: A slow news day in Metropolis. Clark catches up on his ironing. Lois babysits for her neighbours. And somewhere along the way, our favourite couple find time to brood, obsess, tell stories and have a very… revealing… conversation. (Warning: very little angst — just some humour and a couple of smoochies.)
Yes, yes, yes. I *know* I still have to finish Extraordinary Man II, and one of the days I will. (Honest, Guv, and can I sell you a bridge while I'm at it?) No, seriously, I will… In the meantime, here is something else that I've had on my hard drive in a partly written state for a couple of years, something that I decided to dust off and finish in the hope that it might help me get back into the swing of writing.
Thanks to Wendy and Pebbles for beta-reading. Thanks also to those people on IRC who have seen the fist section of this and who were very encouraging. Thanks, Pam, for giving me Calvin Dregg's name; I couldn't remember it. Finally, thanks to Erin Klingler for GEing this for me.
Disclaimer: This story has been written for fun, not profit. No attempt is being made to infringe any existing copyrights held by December 3rd Productions, Warner Bros, D C Comics, or anyone else.
The iron hissed softly, billowing clouds of steam into the air, as Clark swept it across the expanse of scarlet material that was currently draped over the ironing board. A tiny part of his mind was focused on the mundane task of guiding his hands as they put the iron to one side, adjusted the cape, picked up the iron again, and then, with enough skill to make any mother proud, ensured that the pleats at the top of the cape were crisp and straight. The rest of his mind, however, had long since drifted away from household chores to focus itself on a far more interesting subject — Lois Lane.
Clark smiled to himself as he considered how Lois chafed at the bit whenever Metropolis had a slow news day: today had been no exception. Clark, by contrast, though he could never admit it in the newsroom, rather liked the rare quiet times. No news usually meant a holiday of sorts for Superman, and Clark could take some time for himself and catch up on all the annoying domestic chores that inevitably built up whenever his two jobs got really busy.
Of course, thinking about Lois wasn't an entirely pleasurable activity these days because it usually led back to the problem that had been plaguing him on and off for the last few months. However, the issue had been given a new urgency two weeks ago when Lois had come to his apartment to tell him that she wanted to be with him, and not with either of the other men in her life. That unexpected announcement had both filled him with joy and, after he'd let it sink in a little, trepidation.
On the face of it, his was a simple enough problem: how should he tell Lois about himself? He'd come up with several possible scenarios, but none of them seemed quite right. In actual fact, several of them seemed about as far from right as it was possible to get, and ended up with Lois and he not talking to each other or, worse, Lois and he not talking to each other *and* living on opposite sides of the planet. Absolutely the worst of all, though, were the scenarios in which Lois was so hurt by his actions that she actually cried before banishing him to the ends of the earth; in those scenarios hot tears would cascade down her cheeks, her voice would catch and her nose would run — all because of him.
He'd tried talking the problem over with his parents. They'd been supportive (of course) and sympathetic (ditto), but, in the final analysis, they'd been singularly unhelpful. Their joint comment of, "We're sure you'll do the right thing, honey," might have boosted his confidence a little, but it didn't move him any closer to deciding what the right thing actually *was*.
So… how *should* he tell her about himself? It wasn't something that he could bring up in casual conversation, and he knew that if he didn't explain everything in just the right way she could end up laughing in his face, or yelling at him to get out of her life, or… With Lois it was hard to predict what she might do. Most of the time he loved that about her, and it certainly kept life interesting. Right now, though, he could only see it as one more obstacle between him and his desire to get the truth out into the open.
Telling her, "Lois, I'm Superman," just didn't seem enough, somehow. Maybe, he thought, he'd been working too long in the newspaper business. He was thinking in terms of twenty-four point headlines, not in terms of the wider story he needed to tell. Just as scanning the headlines gave readers of the Daily Planet only the barest gist of the news, so telling Lois that he was Superman would only give her a partial view of his life. He needed her to understand so much more than that. What he needed, he realised, was a way to show her that Superman was what he could do, but that Clark was who he really was. The trouble was, if Lois got as angry at hearing his revelation as he feared she might, and if she gave full vent to the famed Lane temper, she was unlikely to stick around long enough to hear his full explanation, and he couldn't afford to let that happen. He would, he knew, only get one chance to do this, so he needed to do it right.
He put the iron to one side and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to imagine his way through yet another possible scenario. He saw himself saying, "Lois, I've something to tell you. You know that I'm adopted?"
In his daydream, Lois shook her head. Of course she didn't. He'd never told her that about himself.
"And you know that Superman is an orphan?"
"Well, it's like this. My parents found me in a spaceship when I was a baby and brought me up as their own. Lois, I'm not human. I'm Superman."
Then his mental picture showed her playfully slap him in the chest and, with a mocking look on her face, say, "Always the kidder, hey, Clark? You, Superman? Hah! As if!"
He then endeavoured to imagine himself trying to convince her that he was being completely serious, but, no matter how hard he tried, something would come between them. Either Perry or Jimmy would interrupt them, or someone would call for help, or…
He moved over to the couch and sat down, holding his head in his hands. Perhaps it wouldn't be as bad as all that, he thought. Perhaps there would be no interruptions. Perhaps Lois would take the news really well, and perhaps he was making mountains out of molehills.
Who was he kidding! He shuddered, got up, and began to pace. Lois never took things well! Even if he could persuade her of the truth of his words, he knew that she would rant and rage, and accuse him of lying — which he had done, repeatedly — and then she'd rail some more, spewing words like betrayal, duplicitous and double-crosser at him with abandon. He couldn't face the scenario with equanimity. She was the single most important person in his life. If he made a mess of this, he would ruin everything, and he would be able to kiss good-bye to all his hopes for the future.
Just then, the phone began to ring. He waited for a few moments — just long enough to calm himself down — before he reached across to pick it up, somehow guessing who it would be even before he heard her speak. Sure enough, even before he'd managed to get out the words, "Clark Kent," Lois's voice assaulted his ear. She was, he realised almost immediately, in full babble mode.
"Clark! Thank heavens you're there! It's an emergency! A matter of life and death! Well, okay, so maybe it's not quite that bad, but it's pretty close, and I didn't know who else to ask, and—"
Even before Lois had qualified her life and death remark, Clark had worked out for himself that things were not too serious at Lois's end of the line. If she really had been in life or death jeopardy, he would have heard her yell for Superman by now. He cut into Lois's monologue, laughing at her as he said, "Lois, whatever it is, it can't be that bad, so calm down and tell me what the problem is."
"It's Barney. Barney Robbins, the kid who lives downstairs? That's where I am now — at the Robbins'. You see, his parents had to go out of town unexpectedly for a couple of days, and they didn't want him to miss any school, but they had to let their usual sitter go — I don't know why — so I said that I would look after him while they were away. But, Clark, I don't know what to do with him! I mean, I don't know what to do with kids! What was I thinking of, agreeing to this?"
Clark smiled to himself. He knew full well what Lois had been thinking: she'd been trying to help. Lois was a strange mix, and one that he, personally, found quite intoxicating. New acquaintances frequently found her to be abrasive, self-centred and ambitious, and he remembered how, in the first months of working with her, he had had to fight hard to get her to accept him as an equal, let alone a friend. She was often inclined to talk, even complain, about how situations affected her, rather than about how they might affect others. But Clark had quickly realised that her words were frequently at odds with her actions. She didn't like other people to realise it, but deep beneath the hardened exterior she worked so hard to cultivate, there was someone with a genuinely good — and soft — heart. She cared about others, would fight for what was right, and would help when and wherever she could. It was that generosity of spirit that attracted him, just as much as her stunning good looks, or the sure knowledge that his alien side neither repulsed nor frightened her.
At the other end of the phone line, Lois was continuing. "I thought I'd just be able to stick him in front of the TV. I mean, isn't that what modern child rearing is all about? But the power's gone out in the building, and the landlord says it won't be fixed for at least another three hours, and that wouldn't normally be a problem because I've put candles out everywhere in the apartment, only now Barney says that he wants a story because he can't watch his favourite show. I don't know any stories, Clark! At least, none that don't involve criminals or corrupt politicians, or, well, things like that, and they're not really suitable for a nine-year-old, and—"
"Lois!" said Clark, loud enough to cut through the flow of words. "You've got to remember to breathe when you talk!"
"What? Oh! Yes. Right. Breathe."
>From his end of the phone line, Clark heard Lois inhale and exhale a couple of times. Then he said, "There. Isn't that better?"
"I guess." She paused, then asked hopefully, "Will you come?"
"Of course." How could he possibly refuse her anything? He loved her, after all. "I'll be there just as soon as I can."
He hung up the phone and sighed, thinking that he should have crossed his fingers as he'd said those last words. Saying that he would get there as soon as he could, when he would have to take his time if he were to appear at all normal, was a tiny deception, at least compared to some others he'd had to make in his life, but it was, nonetheless, a deception.
He hated deception, and he especially hated deceiving Lois.
Why was it that every thought of her brought him back to the same dilemma?
Somehow he had to find a way to let her know the truth.
He had to.
Lois's relief was so profound when Clark finally arrived at her building that she practically pounced on him in her eagerness to welcome him. She squeezed him tightly, pecked him on the cheek, then dragged him across the threshold, and into the Robbins' living room.
"Wow," said Clark, glancing around, sounding oddly appreciative. "You weren't kidding about those candles, were you? I haven't seen this many lights since… well… ever, I think."
"H'm? Oh, right. Well, it's a strange place, and I wanted to make doubly sure that I wouldn't bump into anything and—" Then her mouth seemed to be working of its own volition, and she had absolutely no idea what words were coming out of it, because suddenly his appreciation made sense. She had done it unwittingly, but the fact remained that she had managed to create a decidedly romantic mood in here. Her first impulse was to find the realisation unnerving. Her second, which followed scant moments after, was to think that it would be a shame to waste such a great opportunity, and that the Robbins' sofa looked particularly comfortable — ideal for… certain activities. Later on, once they'd sorted out the Barney problem, maybe they would be able to put it to good use.
Clark's voice pulled her out of her reverie. "You're babbling again, Lois."
"Sorry," she said sheepishly. "It's just…"
"It's okay," Clark reassured her. "I understand."
Somehow, unless Clark had suddenly acquired the gift of telepathy, Lois doubted that.
Pushing the thought aside, Lois forced herself to relax a little and say, "He's through here." She gestured as she led the way towards Barney's bedroom. "I hope you've got some idea as to what to do with him, because I've tried everything I can think of and, well, he's just… not very receptive."
Judging from the few candles inside, Lois had either run out by the time she'd reached Barney's room, or she had got bored with them. Barney, himself, was sitting up in his bed, his arms folded tightly across his chest and a disgruntled look on his face. Lois threw a glance in Clark's direction, which seemed to say "good luck", "over to you", and "see what I mean", all at the same time.
Clark was conscious of Lois watching him as he sat down on the edge of the bed and held out his hand to be shaken. "Hi, Barney," he said. "I'm Clark Kent, a friend of Lois." As Barney took his hand, Clark spotted Lois sit down on a child-size desk-chair. From the grimace on her face, he guessed it was too small and too hard to be very comfortable.
"Hi," said Barney. "I hope you know some good stories. All hers are lousy." He tossed his head in Lois's general direction to lend added emphasis to his words.
Clark raised his eyebrows and said, "Oh?"
"Yeah. I asked her to tell me a story about ghosts, but she says she doesn't know any. So then I said, how about aliens, but all she could talk about was how great it felt to go flying with Superman. That's boring! Even Claudia The Nerd told better stories than that!"
Stun, Lois said petulantly, "Sometimes the doing is better than the telling. So sue me." She fidgeted in her seat, though Clark couldn't tell whether it was Barney's uncompromising criticism or the chair that was making her squirm.
"Oh," said Clark again, this time trying very hard not to laugh. "Claudia The Nerd?"
"The usual sitter," explained Lois. "The one the Robbinses fired."
"Ah," said Clark. "So, what kind of story do you want, Barney?"
"Something with adventure. Something exciting," demanded Barney.
"And with aliens," interjected Lois.
Her sarcasm was lost on her charge, and he said enthusiastically, "Yeah!"
"Okay," said Clark. "Let's see what I can come up with, shall we?" He thought for a moment, wracking his brain for a way to start. If only he could come up with a good idea… The trouble was, just like Lois, his business was more with facts than fiction, and the only alien he knew anything about was himself.
And then he was struck with inspiration, a way to tell two stories at once. For Barney, Clark would tell the tale that the child so clearly wanted, and for Lois he would tell the secret that he desperately wanted her to hear. He just hoped that she would be listening with her whole mind, and not just her ears.
"Okay," he said, licking his lips. "A long time ago—"
"—in a galaxy, far, far away," interrupted Lois.
Clark glanced at her, scolding her with a look. Right now, he needed her to be serious, not snide.
Lois held up her hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Go on, Clark."
He stared again. "A long time ago, on a planet a long way from here, there lived a scientist, his wife, and their baby son. The baby's parents loved each other very much, and they also loved him."
This time, it was Barney's turn to interrupt. "This isn't going to be a yucky, kissing story, is it, Mr Kent?"
Clark suppressed a sigh. Was he ever going to be able to get this tale out? "No," he said. "It's not."
"Okay then," said Barney, clearly relieved to have had his mind put to rest on that point.
"One day," said Clark, "the scientist discovered that the planet was doomed, so he—"
"Why was it doomed?" asked Lois, interrupting Clark's narrative.
"Why?" repeated Clark. "I don't know why. I don't suppose that it really matters."
"How can you say that, Clark? Of course it matters! I mean, surely there was a reason why it was doomed."
"I'm sure that there was a reason, Lois. All I'm saying is that I don't know what it was. All right?"
Grudgingly, she said, "I suppose so. But I think that you should come up with a reason if you are ever going to try telling this story again."
As Clark had no intention of ever telling the story again, he decided there was no need to respond to Lois's suggestion. He continued. "I don't know why, but the scientist couldn't save himself or his wife, but he had an idea that would give his son a chance to survive. You see, the people on the planet had very advanced technology, and the scientist thought that he might be able to make a tiny spaceship, just big enough to hold the child. Then he used the best telescopes that they had to hunt the galaxy for somewhere safe to send his baby son."
"Clark," Lois said, rather to Clark's chagrin, "you're doing it again!" She was sitting cross-legged, tapping her dangling foot against the air in an aggravated — and, for Clark at least, aggravating — manner. Her pump slapped rhythmically against her heel as she spoke, emphasizing her disapproval. "You can't just have these stupid plot lines without a good reason for them. Why couldn't they save themselves?"
Clark clamped down on the irritation he felt rise at being interrupted yet again and said, slightly impatiently, "Lois, if I knew, I would tell you, okay? Now, can I get on with the story?"
"Yeah," said Barney. "I want to hear this. Go on, Mr Kent."
Clark shot Barney a grateful look, and continued. "Now, these aliens looked just like humans, so, when the scientist saw Earth, he decided that that was were he wanted to send the child. It was a planet where the boy would be able to blend in with the native population. So he put the child in the spacecraft and sent him here.
"Just after the child's ship was launched, the planet exploded. Suddenly, the child was an orphan, heading for an uncertain future."
"Oh, I hate that," interjected Lois.
"Pardon?" said Clark. With a great effort of will, he managed to prevent himself from raking his hands through his hair in exasperation. His irritation was pushing ever closer to the surface, but, fortunately, for now, it was slightly mitigated by the puzzlement he felt at Lois's comment.
"C'mon, Clark! That's got to be the biggest cliche in the book!"
"Well, it is! I mean, in all the fairy tales and all the adventure stories I read as a kid, it was always the orphaned children who had the greatest adventures and ended up marrying the prince or princess. When I was little, I always wanted to be the orphan. Then, one day, when I'd grown up a bit, I realised that I wasn't going to be an orphan, and all that good stuff wasn't going to happen to me. I was really disappointed." There was something in her voice — almost a longing — that, along with the fact that she was squirming again, bothered Clark. Lois, Clark had long suspected, had not had a particularly happy childhood, but surely it couldn't have been so bad that she'd believed being an orphan would have been preferable.
"Oh, come on, Lois. You have more adventures than just about anyone I know!" he said.
"Yeah, but that's work, Clark. It's not the same thing."
Clark shook his head slightly, bemused at the way Lois's mind worked. "Besides," he then observed, "being an orphan isn't as great as you might think."
"Yeah, right. Like you'd know."
"Well, actually, yes, I would."
Lois stared at him, momentarily frozen by his words, her whole face a question. Her shoe dangled from her toes, the only thing about her that was still moving.
"I'm adopted," he said, but he could see that his explanation was unnecessary; Lois had already picked up on the implications of his comment.
"I'm sorry, Clark," said Lois, suddenly looking contrite. "I had no idea. I didn't mean—"
"It's okay, Lois." He brushed her apology aside and asked, "Can I get back to the story now?"
"I guess so," she said, subdued by his announcement. "Carry on."
"Right. So the space craft travelled all the way to Earth where it landed, somewhere in Kansas."
"Oh, of course," said Lois sarcastically. "I mean, where else would aliens land?"
Clark was finding it increasingly hard to contain his frustration in the face of Lois's interruptions, and he found himself almost snapping at her as he asked, "Are you telling this story, or am I?" Mentally, he chastised himself for being tetchy. He put his uncharacteristic ill- humour down to the fact that so much was riding on this conversation. It wasn't Lois's fault that she didn't know what he was driving at, or where he was hoping to go with the story.
"You are," conceded Lois. "Go on."
"Anyway, what's wrong with Kansas?" Clark asked.
"Oh, nothing. Nothing at all."
"Good." Clark turned back to Barney and continued his tale. "The craft landed in a place called Shuster's Field, where it was found by a childless couple who lived on a nearby farm. Okay, so we need names for this couple. What do you think we should call them?"
"How about Jonathan and Martha?" suggested Lois. She was so busy trying to control her laughter that she completely failed to see the hopeful expression Clark knew had suddenly popped up on his face. Maybe Lois didn't realise it yet, but her subconscious had just made a significant connection.
"All right," he said. "Jonathan and Martha it is.
"Jonathan and Martha had no idea where the child had come from. All they knew was that somebody, somewhere, had put a child into space. Maybe it was the American government who had done this thing. Or maybe it was the Russians. Or maybe it was someone else entirely.
"They picked up the child, and knew instantly that he was going to be theirs. They didn't want the people who had done this to find him, and take him away again. Who knew what they might do to him next? So, they took him home with them and they called him, oh, I don't know… How about… Charlie?"
Barney tilted his head to one side as he carefully considered the question. "Charlie's good," he finally decided. "The guinea-pig at school is called Charlie."
"That's nice," said Lois dryly.
Clark continued with his story. "A few days later, strange men arrived in the town, saying that they were looking for some space debris, which had landed nearby. They said they were government agents, from the US space programme, but there was something about them that just didn't seem quite right to the locals. The strangers went around all the houses and farms, asking questions, but, of course, nobody told them anything of any use. Indeed, the only people who could have told them anything helpful were Jonathan and Martha.
"You have to understand something about small towns. Everybody knows somebody else, so it's hard to keep secrets. Now, maybe the government agents didn't know that, because they thought that they would take Jonathan and Martha by surprise when they turned up at their farm. However, Jonathan and Martha had already heard about the agents and their questions, so they'd had a while to come up with a story that would — hopefully — satisfy them. Jonathan and Martha told them that they'd seen nothing unusual; they'd been too busy with their son, Charles, to pay much attention to anything else."
"Weren't the strangers at all curious about the baby?" asked Lois, beginning to be drawn into the story in spite of herself. Clark was heartened to see that she was now sitting with both feet planted firmly on the ground as she leaned forward attentively. "And what about the townsfolk? I mean, babies don't just turn up out of nowhere."
"Let's think about the second question first. As far as the townsfolk were concerned, Charlie had been adopted by a loving couple who had always wanted children, but who couldn't have any of their own. And even if they thought the timing of the adoption was odd, they certainly wouldn't have volunteered anything to the government agents. Besides, the agents didn't ask about babies. All they asked about was space debris and lights in the sky. As for the agents being suspicious about the baby… Why should they have been?" asked Clark. "What is more normal than a young couple with a small child?"
"But he was who they were looking for," protested Barney. "Wasn't he?"
"Yes, but they didn't know that," said Clark.
"All they knew was that something had come down that night. They didn't know what, exactly. And if they were right about it having been something extraterrestrial — something alien — how could they possibly begin to imagine what it might look like?"
"But you said that the aliens looked like us, Mr Kent."
"Yes, I did. But nobody here could have known that, could they?"
"But aliens *do* look like us," Barney argued. "Even *I* know that. Superman looks like us, kind of, except for that costume."
"Yes, that's true, Barney. But, remember, I told you right at the beginning that this story happened a long time ago. A long time before Superman ever showed up, right?"
Barney nodded thoughtfully.
"And, back when all this happened, people thought aliens would look, well, alien."
"Green bug-eyed monsters?" suggested Lois helpfully.
"Or with lumpy heads, long hair and bad teeth, like those guys on Star Trek?" asked Barney, joining in the game.
"Lumpy heads? Oh. You mean the Klingons. Yeah," agreed Clark. "Something like that, certainly. The point is, nobody expected an alien to look human."
"So, then what happened?" asked Lois.
"Not a lot, really," said Clark, shrugging slightly. "Eventually the agents went away again, and life got back to normal for the locals. Charlie grew up, just like a regular kid, and was very happy with his new parents. He loved them very much and they loved him."
Barney sniffed. "That's it?"
Clark nodded. "Pretty much."
"Mr Kent, I hate to say it, but your story sucks. It's almost as bad as hers." He pointed at Lois.
"That bad, huh?"
"Yeah. Where was the adventure? The exciting stuff? I mean, doesn't he grow up and eat people's brains or something like that?"
"Oh, yech!" said Lois.
"No," said Clark, "he doesn't. He's one of the good guys."
"That's *boring*," said Barney, scowling.
Clark risked a glance at Lois and asked, "What do you think? Is it boring?" To his dismay, he saw that she had gone back to swinging her foot again, and he feared that he had lost what little advantage he had thought he'd gained moments earlier.
"I think… Barney's got a point. I mean, there could be so much more to the story. He could go on the run, pursued by insane government types. You know, like Jason Trask. And even if nothing else happened to him, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered. You've got this guy, this alien, growing up in Kansas, but he doesn't even know that he's not human. Doesn't he even suspect?"
"Perhaps eventually he does," said Clark. He tried to take a deep, steadying breath without making his nervousness obvious to the others. It didn't work very well. He swallowed and forced himself to go on. "Say, for example, as he gets older, he begins to develop some unexpected abilities."
"Such as?" asked Lois sceptically.
"You tell me."
Lois shrugged. "I don't know. This is your story, remember?"
Barney, however, had a couple of suggestions, although any earlier enthusiasm he might have had for the story seemed to have waned significantly. "How about x-ray vision, like Superman has. Or super-strength. I think that'd be so cool!"
"All right," agreed Clark. "Let's go with super-strength and x-ray vision. Now, imagine you're this kid, say about eleven or twelve years old. You've seemed pretty normal up until then, then suddenly you discover that you can do these things. What would you do?"
Barney shrugged. "I'd start spying on my friends."
"His father doesn't approve of him doing that, so he's told that's a bad thing to do."
"Huh," huffed Barney. "How come kids are never allowed to do any of the good stuff?"
"Well…" said Clark, drawing out the single syllable in such a way as to suggest that he had no answer for Barney. Instead of trying to give him one, he returned to the previous subject. "Anything else you'd do?"
Barney gave the matter a moment's thought then said, "How about lifting stuff. Trucks. Cars, perhaps? That might be pretty neat."
"I think he had more of a thing for kitchen appliances, but, yeah, lifting things is good. What would you have done, Lois?"
"I guess… I'd have told my sister," she answered. She shrugged. "My parents weren't talking much when I was twelve, otherwise maybe I'd have told them."
"Okay, but this kid is an only child, so let's suppose that he *does* tell his parents. What would they do?"
Lois said jokingly, "I think they'd sell him to the circus."
Barney perked up visibly at the suggestion.
"Lois! Be serious!"
Lois protested. "I *am* being serious, Clark. That would make for a great story!"
"Okay, but let's pretend that this isn't a story for a moment. What would you have done if you were the parents?"
Barney's enthusiasm vanished as quickly as it had reappeared and his shoulders slumped in disappointment. Clark felt a pang of guilt at his failure to indulge the child, but he felt so close to his goal now… He couldn't afford to let himself get distracted.
Lois rolled her eyes at Clark, her sympathies obviously with Barney. However, she apparently decided to humour Clark anyway, because she said, "I guess… I'd tell Charlie to keep it a secret."
"Why?" asked Clark.
"Well, if those government agents were as creepy as you say, then, if I was a parent, I'd be scared that they would come back and take away my kid. Put him in a lab, or something."
"Right!" agreed Clark, heartened by her answer. "So, this kid, who has always thought that he was human, is slowly finding out that he can do stuff that nobody else on Earth can do. So he begins to wonder what's wrong with him. Why is he different? And then, one day, when his parents decide he's old enough to understand, they tell him about the circumstances surrounding his adoption. And that makes him wonder some more."
Barney had lost his entire interest in the proceedings by now. "I think… Can I go to sleep now? That'd be more interesting than listening to any more of this stuff."
"That's a bit ungrateful, Barney, seeing as how Clark came all the way over here especially to tell you the story," said Lois.
Clark shrugged. "It doesn't matter, Lois. C'mon. Let's leave Barney in peace."
They stood up. Clark waited almost patiently while Lois stretched some kinks out of her back. Then, once Barney was snuggled comfortably under the covers, they carefully blew out the candles. Then, shutting the door gently behind them, they exited his room.
Was it a figment of Clark's imagination, a trick of the candlelight, or had a devilish twinkle suddenly appeared in Lois's eyes upon entering the living room once again? If her next words were anything to go by, the latter was definitely the case. She flicked her gaze from his face to the couch and back again, then, fluttering her eyelashes, she asked lasciviously, "So, Clark, wanna neck?" She stepped up to him, gathered handfuls of his shirt in her hands, stood on tiptoe and pulled him towards her. Her lips met his, warm, soft and eager. They felt like velvet, he thought, and had the distant taste of chocolate and mint about them.
Lois's mouth was parting beneath his and her tongue flicked against his lips, inviting him to deepen the kiss. Almost of its own volition, Clark felt his mouth opening, welcoming the increasing intimacy of their contact. His breath caught in his throat and he heard a soft, masculine moan come from somewhere. Had he just made that noise? Somehow, he thought that perhaps he had. He found himself moaning again, so, yes, the sound was definitely coming from him.
Lois moved her arms so that one was laced around his back and the other was cradling his neck. Her body was stretched along the length of his own, and he could feel the soft mounds of her breasts pressing against his torso, the heat radiating from her skin, the rapid thrumming of her heart…
This wasn't the Lois he knew, who approached all relationship related matters with a nervous trepidation that bordered on the pathological. Clark knew — or at least thought he could guess — how much it had cost her to make her move, after the business with Calvin Dregg. Then again, maybe that was why she was so bold now; she'd made her choice, and, fully committed, she was following through on her chosen course of action, all earlier hesitancy forgotten.
And, yes, darnit! He *did* want to neck! However, he *also* felt committed to a particular course of action, one which, apparently, ran counter to Lois's current agenda, but which he refused to put off any longer.
He'd started, and he was jolly well going to finish!
It took all his willpower to pull away from her. "Lois," he whispered, his voice catching. He took a deep breath and forced himself to say those awful, terrible words that sound the death knell of too many relationships. "We've got to talk."
"Talk? What about?" Lois's voice was tremulous, almost scared, and she hated herself for it. She took two steps backwards. She left him standing in the middle of the living room floor as she put some distance between them. Her desire for him shrivelled as her fear blossomed, expanding outward from a point somewhere behind her navel, rising upwards, pushing her stomach into her throat. Was this the moment when Clark, after everything that they had been through, would, after all, turn out to be just like every other man in her personal life? Conniving, unreliable, devious… the scum of humanity, several rungs below lawyers on the evolutionary scale? She'd come to trust Clark on every possible level, both personal and professional. She'd fought against her instincts to let him past her defenses; if he finished with her now, she'd be more than heart-broken. She'd feel betrayed in more ways than she could count.
She sat down on the sofa, as far away from him as she could get without being too obvious about it. She folded her arms over her chest and crossed her legs tightly, adopting what she knew was a classic defensive pose, and glowered up at him. Her mouth was dry, but she forced herself to speak. "You want to talk, Clark? So talk already."
"Um…" he said.
Lois stared at Clark, drawing no comfort whatsoever from his reluctance to continue.
"Um…" He tried again. His movements jerky, he walked over to the opposite end of the couch from where she was sitting and gingerly perched himself at an angle on the edge of the cushions, so that he could watch her as he spoke. "What did you think of my story just now?"
"*Pardon*?" asked Lois incredulously.
"I heard what you said," interrupted Lois. "I just can't believe that you said it!" She cloaked the hurt she felt at his misplaced sense of priorities with a layer of anger, desperately trying to reconstruct the emotional walls he'd so successfully managed to demolish over the course of their acquaintance. "You really think that getting feedback on your story is more important than… than…" She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence. How *could* Clark prefer talking about his brief foray into the world of fiction over… They could be putting their mouths to much better use than mere talking, and what did it say about them — about *her* — that he didn't want to do so? Tears pricked at the back of her eyes. Dammit, she thought. I am *not* going to cry! I'm not!
Lois took a deep breath then said, "Okay, Clark. This is what I think of your story. I could have done better when I was eight years old! That criticism good enough for you?"
Clark looked taken aback by her response. His mouth flapped open once or twice before he retaliated. "If you could have done better when you were eight, why didn't you do better now? What did you need me here for?"
"Because…" Lois floundered for an answer that wouldn't be too incriminating. She didn't want to admit that imagination had been the only route of escape she'd had from her bickering and bitter parents. She didn't *want* to remember how it felt to be a child, the kind of hopes and dreams that children had. Once upon a time, she had loved fairy tales, but that had been before she'd realised that there was no point in any of them, because none of them ever came true. The only thing her efforts to think of something suitable to tell Barney had done this evening was to bring back a host of bad memories, and so she'd taken refuge on safer ground, telling him about flying with Superman instead. "Because I'm out of practice, okay?" she snapped.
Clark countered with, "And what makes you think that I'm not, eh?" He didn't give her time to answer. Then he sighed. Unexpectedly, he said, "I'm sorry, Lois. I shouldn't be angry with you. It's just…" He shook his head, as if he was trying to clear it.
Lois watched the outward manifestation of his abrupt mood swing and felt nonplussed.
Clark sighed, then said softly, "In any case, sometimes reality isn't as interesting as fiction."
It took Lois a few seconds to process what she had just heard, and even then, she wasn't sure what he was getting at. A little of her anger segued into confusion. She tried to reason with him. "Clark, it was just a story. It wasn't real."
"It was real, Lois. It was very real to me. Do you understand?"
"What I understand, Clark, is that either you have the most amazing fantasy life, or…" She stopped.
"Or?" prompted Clark.
"Or…" Some of her confusion faded. She tilted her head to one side in unconscious mimicry of Barney's earlier action and narrowed her eyes as she considered him.
"Say it, Lois," he murmured. There was an intensity to his quiet words that was almost alarming.
She shook her head as she tried to process the implications of what he was trying to convey to her. The trouble was that they were too big to absorb all at once.
He was trying to tell her that he was Superman, she realised, and that was a huge thing, in and of itself, and yet…
And yet that fact paled into insignificance for her as she realised that *this* was what he had wanted to talk to her about. He wasn't splitting up with her after all! He hadn't betrayed her, at least not in the way she'd feared that he had.
Well, of course he hadn't! she chided herself. He was Clark Kent, the last Boy Scout, the one good man she'd ever known. Trustworthy, honest, capable… He'd proven himself to her over and over again. How *could* she have been so stupid as to doubt him?
Some of the tension faded from her body and she uncrossed her arms. She stared at him, her mind whirling with the possibilities suddenly presented by this new information.
"Say it!" Clark demanded again. "I know you, Lois; you need to be the one to figure out the mystery. You need to be the one to say the words because you'll hate me even more than you already do if I have to spell it out for you."
"Hate you *more*? More than what? Clark, I don't *hate* you." Quite the opposite in fact, she thought, although she wasn't quite ready to say that out loud, not just yet.
"You… You don't?"
"No, Clark, of course I don't! I don't go around kissing men I hate, you know." The image of Lex Luthor popped, unbidden and unwelcome, into her head. "Or, at least, I don't go around kissing them after I've figured out that I hate them." Another thought chased through her mind, and she found herself pointing a finger accusingly at him. "So *that's* why you didn't like Luthor! Because you're Superman, and you *knew* what he was up to!"
"Why didn't you say anything? Why didn't you warn anyone? Why didn't you warn *me*?"
Clark looked down at his hands, suddenly finding his finger nails fascinating. "What could I have said?" he mumbled. "It's not as though I had any proof, and I couldn't tell anyone what I knew, or at least suspected, unless I told people *how* I knew it. I couldn't do that. And I did try to warn you. It's just… I didn't want to hurt you, and I guess I left things too late, and…" He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Lois. The last thing I ever wanted — would want — to do is to hurt you, but by not telling you about Luthor, I hurt you anyway. Just as I did when you thought I'd died and just as I'm hurting you now, but I had to tell you the truth about me, before we go any further. It wasn't fair, your not knowing. In fact, I've wanted to tell you for weeks. Months, even, but I just didn't know how, and the longer I left it, the harder it was and—"
Without thinking about what she was doing, Lois scooted along the couch and rested her left hand over both of his. There was a hint of a chuckle deep in the back of her throat as she said, "And you say that *I* babble!"
Clark froze for a few seconds, staring at her hand. Then slowly, so very slowly, he lifted his head, and turned to look at her. "You… You're not mad at me? *Why* aren't you mad at me?"
Lois chewed on her lower lip as she searched for an answer to his question. "I guess I should be, shouldn't I?"
He nodded. "I expected you to be furious. I mean, I've lied to you solidly for two years and you hate lying and disloyalty more than anything else. How can you *not* be mad at me?"
"I guess because what I thought you were going to tell me was far worse than what you actually did. Kind of makes the whole Superman thing seem unimportant, you know."
"Unimportant?! If you only knew how much sleep I've lost over the last two weeks while I've been trying to work figure out how to tell you about this *unimportant* thing!" He shook his head. "What did you think I was going to tell you, anyway?"
Feeling rather embarrassed, Lois butted her shoulder against his and said, "Believe me, you really don't want to know."
"No," she whispered. "You don't." He didn't need to know about her pathetic insecurities, she thought, nor about how easily she'd jumped to unwarranted conclusions about him. Those were revelations to share another time, if at all.
She shifted her position so that she was kneeling on the couch and she wrapped her arms around his neck. She gently angled his head with her hands and brushed his lips with hers. She felt his arms wrap around her waist and she pulled back just enough to ask, "You don't want to know, do you?"
"No," he whispered in reply. "You're quite right. I really don't." Then his lips captured hers, and he pulled her down with him as he leaned back against the cushions.
The candles had burned down to stubs by the time the electricity came back on. The lights flicked back to life, causing Clark to blink against the sudden brightness. But, of course, by then the candles had worked their magic; their bruised lips, still tingling with the intensity of their kisses, and their state of partial dishabille bore mute testimony to *that*.
As they lay together on the couch, Lois's head resting comfortably against his chest, Clark decided that he'd never been happier in his life. Idly, he twined strands of her hair around his fingertips, a goofy smile playing around his lips, as he savoured the silky feel of it against his skin and inhaled the faint scent of citrus shampoo. Never, he thought, in his wildest dreams, could he have imagined things would turn out this well.
Lois, he thought, was remarkable. How could he ever have doubted her? Mercurial and quick-tempered she might be, but, when it mattered most, she was gentle, understanding and forgiving.
"Clark?" Lois murmured, interrupting his reverie.
"I thought you'd fallen asleep," he whispered.
"No. I was just thinking."
"Oh? About what?"
"About how fairy tales can come true, after all, and about how I want to tell you a story. A sequel to the one you told Barney."
"Yes. It's about a young woman who despairs of finding true love. But then she meets an alien, and she thinks she's in love with him, until she realises that she's really in love with her best friend. And then it turns out that he's… well, you know." She slowly traced a letter "S" across his chest with her fingertip. There was a smile in her voice, and he wondered if she realised just how much and how deliciously his skin burned at her touch.
He wondered if she realised how much her "story" revealed about the depth of her feelings for him. His breath caught and his voice was husky as he asked, "How does the story end?"
"I'm not sure yet." There was a smile on her face, and he felt joy in his heart as he heard her add, "But we have a lifetime ahead of us to find out." She pulled out of his loose embrace and hauled herself up so that her elbows were planted firmly on his chest. He would have told her than he loved her right then and there, but her hair brushed against his face as she lowered her mouth towards his, stealing the oxygen he needed to form the words.
'Later,' he thought. 'I'll tell her later. After all, we've got all the time in the world…'
"You know," she said, after they'd shared yet another long, lingering kiss, "when I was a kid, my dad used to call me his princess." Then, with a little embarrassment in her voice, she admitted, "Actually, he still does."
"So, when I was a child, I used to think it would be great to be the orphan who finds her prince. But maybe it's just as good to be the princess who finds her orphan. What do you think?"
"Oh, it's just as good! Definitely."
And they lived happily ever after. (Or, to be more truthful, they spent another hour and a half contentedly smooching on the couch, until the Robbinses unexpectedly returned home, and found Lois and Clark doing precisely what they had fired Claudia the Nerd for doing two and a half weeks earlier.)