By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Kaethel <email@example.com>
Submitted: April 2003
Summary: When wondering why Lois and Clark can't see that they're made for each other, Jack and Jimmy come up with a cunning plan…
When trying to come up with an idea for a story for Chris Carr, we knew that we needed to do something just a little different. After all, this is the author of Love, Loyalty and Luthor, A Most Irregular Joe and other quirky tales. :) So, knowing that she has something of a fondness for Jack, this story was born. We hope you enjoyed it, Chris, and that you had a terrific birthday. We certainly had a lot of fun writing it, in a rare week when the two of us were actually in the same location and all we had to do was pass a disk back and forth instead of emailing the work-in- progress!
Many thanks to all who posted comments on the all-new Fanfic Message Boards, at http://www.lcficmbs.com, and in private email.
We would also like to express our appreciation to our Archive GE, Paul-Gabriel Weiner, for his enthusiastic and helpful assistance with the story.
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this story.
— Wendy and Kaethel.
~ Best Intentions ~
A Birthday Story for Chris Carr
Jack drained his soda, setting his glass down on the bar counter. He thought about ordering another, then remembered that if he wanted to eat this week he'd better not. Getting to his feet, he turned to his companion. "You coming?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Why not? I've got a game of Dungeons and Dragons on my computer calling to me…" He grinned.
Outside on the street, Jack introduced the subject which had been on his mind for several days. "You've been at the Planet a long time, haven't you?"
"More than three years," Jimmy confirmed, beginning to walk in the direction which took them towards the part of the city where each lived. "Perry took me on when I was sixteen. He gave me the break I needed to make a new start, and I'll always be grateful to him for that."
"Yeah, I guess," Jack agreed. He knew only too well the feeling of being given a second chance. "So you know Lane pretty well?"
"Lois? Sure! Well… I guess," Jimmy amended. "I'm not sure anyone really does get to know her well. Well, maybe Clark and Perry, but that's about it."
"Yeah, well, it's Clark I'm interested in," Jack explained. "See, he's a pretty great guy. Sure, he's načve — I mean, he's not exactly street-smart, is he? But he's got more decency in his little finger than just about anyone else in this city has in their whole body. Who else would give the clothes off their back to someone who'd just stolen from them?"
"Yeah, that's Clark all right. Too soft-hearted for his own good, that's what Lois always said," Jimmy agreed. "But he's a terrific guy."
"Yeah, well, see, that's my point," Jack elaborated. "Now, look at Lane. She's got a tongue like acid, always wants to see the worst in everyone, and she bosses Clark around like he's her kid or something. I don't know why he puts up with it. Why doesn't he just tell her where to go?"
"Oh." Jimmy was silent for a long moment. Then, carefully, he explained, "Clark's in love with Lois."
"Yeah, like I didn't know that," Jack said sardonically. "I worked that out the first time I saw him with her. What I want to know is why."
"Why? Uh… well, why does anyone love anyone else?" Jimmy said, seeming to struggle to come up with an explanation.
"See, you find it as hard to understand as I do," Jack pointed out. "Sure, she's nice-looking, but that's all on the surface. Underneath, she's hard as nails and twice as ugly. He's got to be crazy — or blind, or something like that."
Jimmy was silent again, leading Jack to conclude that his co-worker agreed with his assessment. But then, after a while, he spoke again. "Lois isn't as bad as all that. No, really, she's not!" he repeated as Jack would have protested.
"See, she's had a tough time, and that's made her the way she seems — at least on the surface. She's a great reporter, but getting to where she is wasn't easy. She told me about it once. Women have to work twice as hard as men to succeed in the business — that's why she works such long hours, and that's why she's aggressive. She won't let anyone beat her to a story — not again."
Jack shrugged. "Sure, lots of women have it tougher than men. I know that. But that doesn't turn them all into hard b — Well, you know what I mean. Look at Maya Dreyfus at LNN — she's their top anchor, but she doesn't behave like a prima donna. Not from what we saw when Perry sent us over there, anyway."
Jimmy hesitated again, then finally said, "Look, this has to be just between you and me, okay?"
Raising one eyebrow, Jack said, "If you say so."
"Well, Lois wasn't always the way she is now. I remember her when I first came to the Planet. She was bright and cheerful and always had time to talk. She was great at her job, all the same — not the top reporter she is now, but we all knew that Perry expected great things from her. And then… Claude happened."
"Yeah. Claude Dufour — a French guy. He worked at the Planet then. Anyway, Lois liked him. Well, more than liked him. I guess she thought she was falling in love. And then it looked like Claude was interested too. I noticed that he started bringing her coffee, then hanging around to talk to her for a few minutes — and she always seemed to be blushing when he left." Jimmy paused, shaking his head. "None of us knew anything about it until way afterwards. One day I came into the newsroom and all the guys were hanging around the water-cooler, looking over at Lois and snickering. I didn't know what was going on, until someone told me that Claude had… well, given her what she was begging for, was how he put it. And he said Claude claimed she'd been pathetic at it."
"Huh? You mean the low-life slept with her and then told the whole newsroom?" Jack queried incredulously.
"That's exactly what he did. And made her look bad, too. She was very upset about it — barely spoke to anyone for days. I think she considered quitting, but one day, about a week later, she came in looking just the way she does these days: dressed very professionally, but in those blouses with the high collars, big jackets, all those outfits which look good on her but not… well, *great*, if you know what I mean," Jimmy explained.
Right… professional, elegant, but a million miles away from sexy, Jack thought. "So she's been burned. Okay, but it was years ago. She needs to lighten up — and if she doesn't know that Clark would never treat a woman like that, then she needs her head examined!"
"Yeah, but it wasn't just that," Jimmy pointed out. "See, Claude only slept with her because she had a story — a big story, guaranteed front-page splash. He stole her story, wrote it himself and eventually won a Kerth for it."
Ah. That made a bit more sense, Jack acknowledged. Not only had the bastard slept with her and then told the whole newsroom, but he'd only done it to get her story.
"But how could he win a Kerth if it was Lois's story?" Jack objected. "I mean, she must have told people it was hers."
"She didn't — that was the problem. See, Claude told her that no-one would believe her. And I think he threatened her with losing her job or something. You have to remember that she'd only been at the Planet a few months then — it was her first job after graduating, even though she'd been there as an intern. And Claude was the paper's star reporter at the time. So she said nothing."
"How come you know about it, then?"
"She told me, a year or so later," Jimmy explained. "We were on a stakeout together — she needed a photographer, and I was the only person available. Anyway, we got talking, and she told me. I think she regretted it later, because she told me the next day that if I ever told anyone I'd be hamburger."
"I'll bet," Jack drawled dryly. "And yet you told me?"
"If *you* tell anyone, you'll be hamburger," Jimmy growled.
"You think Clark knows?"
"I'm sure of it," Jimmy said confidently. "He puts up with her, doesn't he? And he's the only one who doesn't let her bad moods bother him. And he's protective of her — I guess he'd be protective of any woman he was in love with, but with Lois… well, I think it's different. And he's not just hanging around her hoping for crumbs of affection; I think he's being patient. Waiting for her to trust him."
"He could wait for the next ten years and she'd still walk all over him," Jack observed sardonically. "He needs to show a little more spirit. Be macho — women love it!"
"Clark? You're kidding! Anyway, Lois would hate it," Jimmy said. "That's the last thing she'd fall for."
"I guess." Jack fell silent.
"What bothers me," Jimmy continued after a moment, "is that Lex Luthor's sniffing around Lois. Clark knows it, and he's crazy with jealousy. He doesn't know what to do about it, though. And it's making him depressed."
"And he still won't do anything about it?" Jack was incredulous.
"Yeah. I just wish… You know, someone should lock the two of them up somewhere so they've got a chance to talk. I mean, *really* talk. And then maybe they'd see that they're made for each other," Jimmy muttered frustratedly.
"Yeah," Jack agreed. From what he could see, both Lois and Clark needed to have some sense knocked into them — preferably with a two-by-four!
Both stopped dead in their tracks at the same time. Jack turned to look at Jimmy, who was looking back at him. "Well, why not?" Jimmy said. "If we can find the right place…"
"Oh, I think I know the perfect place," Jack drawled, grinning. "I think we have a plan…"
Five pm. In less than an hour, Lois would be able to call it a day, and for once in her life she was looking forward to a quiet evening at home with some takeout food and a rented movie. It had been a pretty lousy day; she had spent most of her time in the newsroom writing up the second-hand story of the mayor's post-corruption scandal resignation. She still couldn't believe she had been scooped by LNN's star reporter, Michael Sanders, who was no doubt gloating about the — thankfully rare and rather amazing — feat of beating the Planet to breaking news. In the meantime, though, she had to pick the pieces and stay content with the joke of an interview with the former mayor's secretary, during which the woman had spent most of her energy defending her boss's interest. All that was fine and dandy, but it meant a huge amount of writing work to make it actually look vaguely interesting.
Clark, in typical Clark-fashion, had taken the news of LNN's scoop good-naturedly. He had shrugged, and even though he hadn't said "better luck next time", the phrase she abhorred had been written all over his face. She'd sent him to hell — or rather, to his desk, which was as close to hell as you could possibly get. To add insult to injury, he hadn't even seemed to mind the lack of worthy news today. There was virtually nothing happening in this city! What was a reporter to do if villains took a leave of absence? Cover the loud barking of a miffed rottweiler at the local dog show? If Clark wanted to do that, fine! But she wouldn't sit around waiting for the news to happen.
No wonder Clark wasn't upset anyway. Yesterday's Superman scoop — which he had *not* shared — had boosted his popularity with Perry. The chief hadn't given him "the look" today; granted, he was in for it tomorrow if he didn't bring back something interesting to publish, but he had got a day of respite thanks to his story about some oil tanker spill. And he had even looked enthusiastic at the prospect of a follow-up on the role of economics in causing sea pollution. Ick.
A stack of mail carelessly dropped onto her desk jolted her out of her dark musing, and she caught the three or four envelopes that threatened to slide down to the floor. She let out a low curse. One of these days she would take Jack aside and have a word or two with him about the art of delivering mail around the newsroom. She energetically tore the envelopes open and proceeded to skim the latest ad for the best insurance ever — how could she have survived for so long without subscribing?! — and a threat to cut off her Journalism Weekly subscription if she didn't pay within the next minute or so. She rolled her eyes, threw the obnoxious letter onto the far corner of her desk, and moved on to the next one.
The writing on the envelope was unfamiliar and clumsy. The leaf of paper inside had obviously been torn from a pad, and the note in itself was fuller of mistakes than Ralph's latest draft. Her heart thudded faster as she skimmed the content of the message. *At last* something was happening to drag her out of the day's limbo. Stuff the early night and takeout-movie treat. She would be on Palmer Drive tonight, ten minutes before her 11 pm mysterious rendezvous.
She sneaked a quick peek at her partner. He was engrossed in his covering of the police union annual congress, and obviously fascinated by the political battles involved. Hah! He could stick to that kind of thing all he wanted. Tonight, she would get her scoop and show him that one couldn't become the best investigative reporter in the city by sitting on a chair in mid-afternoon waiting for the news to happen. And she didn't have to include him in her plans. After all, Perry had said they were partners only for special occasions. Slow news days certainly didn't count. Besides, he hadn't considered that *partners* thing when he had written up his Superman story yesterday. He mentioned their partnership only when it pleased him, it seemed. And she wanted him to get one of Perry's patented looks of reproach when he didn't bring up anything in tomorrow's staff meeting. She wouldn't save his hide when he hadn't even sympathised with her misery today. He could look for his own scoop by himself. Or take a hike, for all she cared.
Clark frowned at the message in his hand. When Jack had dropped the mail onto his desk a few minutes earlier, he hadn't stopped to chat as he usually did. Instead, he had just rushed as if he was in a hurry. One could wonder if the content of one of the envelopes had anything to do with Jack's unusual behaviour. 24 Palmer Drive wasn't an unknown building. It could of course have nothing to do with Jack, but it would be one heck of a coincidence for a source to use the boy's old squat as a meeting place with a reporter.
The note wasn't signed. Not that there was anything unusual about that. But in addition to the rest of the mystery surrounding the missive, it made Clark all the more suspicious. Could Jack actually need help? But then, why would he make up something as farfetched as that when he only had to say the word?
And of course Jack was nowhere to be seen now. He wasn't hovering by Jimmy's desk or hanging out in among the sports reporters to get the results of the Metropolis Tigers' latest match. He wasn't sitting at a computer doing research. In fact, a quick scan of the building informed Clark that Jack had left the Planet altogether.
This was definitely a very strange attitude. Clark was more and more convinced that Jack wasn't foreign to the note he was still holding in his hand. And so he would go to Palmer Drive tonight. Something was up, and obviously it was serious enough for Jack not to talk to him directly.
Could it have something to do with the boy's younger brother? As far as he knew, Danny was still in a foster home, and the situation, although not ideal, allowed him to get decent meals, attend school, and keep decent hours. Jack hadn't been happy about being separated from his brother, but he had seemed to accept it after a while. Surely he wouldn't have done something as stupid as helping Danny to run out. Right? If he had, they would have a very serious talk about it, Clark decided. And this time he would make his point in a way that left no room for arguments.
Lois was getting restless. She had decided to arrive early, partly to get a feel of the place before she met that mysterious source, and partly to take him or her by surprise. She didn't like fixed hours; they usually meant trouble. And even though this time she had a hunch that the person she was to meet was harmless, being careful couldn't hurt. She rolled her eyes. These days there were times when she sounded almost like Clark! Since when did she care about danger? Preparing herself for a situation had always proven useless; dealing with events as they hit her had generally been much more effective.
And so, because of Clark Kent, she was pacing up and down the length of an empty room, the moonlight seeping through the dirty windows her only companion. At least her early visit to the place had informed her that her source, whoever it was, didn't live here. She had felt vaguely alarmed at first, then she had shrugged it off. Who cared?
Clark would care.
Again, *who* cared? she thought stubbornly. She hadn't decided to deal with this one alone just to have Clark's shadow leaning over her shoulder for every decision she took. She was better off without her obsessive partner arguing constantly, thank you very much.
The door suddenly opened, and she froze in mid-step. So much for caution, she cursed as she dived for cover in a darker area of the room. And again, whose fault was it? Clark. Clark, Clark, Clark, and Clark again! Clark, who was probably home watching some late news show. Clark, whose support she could well use right now. Darnit, but she was getting dependent on him now. With an inward growl, she forced Clark Kent to the far end of her mind and focused her attention on the intru…
Clark's eyebrows shot up as he heard Lois's voice calling his name. What was she doing here? She should be safely in her apartment, not hanging about in this squat in a disreputable end of town — not that Lois was particularly fussy about seedy areas of the city if they led her to news stories.
But she shouldn't be here. He'd been very careful not to let Lois see the note he'd received, or work out that he was up to something. Apart from his suspicions that this could have something to do with Jack, he really hadn't wanted to involve Lois. He hadn't cared that the note itself had insisted that he come alone and tell no-one; if he'd wanted to bring Lois in on events, he'd have happily told her. No; he'd kept quiet because he'd strongly suspected that — assuming that Jack had nothing to do with it — the situation was a trap. And he could deal better with that by himself.
He sighed. "Lois, what are you -"
"Don't play the innocent with me, Kent!" Lois interrupted. "You read my mail! You went through my *private* mail and found something which had nothing to do with you!"
"What?" Clark exclaimed, furious. "I didn't touch your mail! You should know me better than that!"
"How did you know about this, then?!" she retorted angrily.
The slam of the door took them both by surprise. Clark whirled around, just in time to hear a bolt being shoved shut, followed by the sound of running footsteps.
"What's going on?" Lois demanded. She hurried to the door, pushing him aside as she did so. "Hey! This is locked!"
"Bolted, actually," Clark corrected, moving to join her. And she was right; they were securely shut in. Not that that would be a problem to him; he could have the door open in under a second, if he wanted to.
But that would involve the risk of Lois finding out more than he was ready for her to find out. And anyway, he was now very curious as to who had set up this little scenario; after all, it was now very clear that Lois had also received a note asking her to meet someone here.
So who had wanted to get both of them there? And why?
Though the 'who' required little thought. He'd already put half of the story together when he'd recognised the address as Jack's squat.
So Jack had wanted Lois and himself to meet at the squat, and spend some enforced time together. The question was: why?
"Okay, so what's going on?" Lois demanded impatiently. "Who's locked us in? And just why are you here, anyway?"
Clark quickly filled her in on what he'd worked out. "All I can't figure out is the why."
"And when does he — or they, because I bet Jimmy's in on this too — plan on letting us out? What's their problem, anyway?" she added, frustrated. "I mean, it's not as if we even told Perry about their little extra-curricular use of the darkroom last week, is it? They *owe* us for that! So just what the heck do they think they're doing?"
"I have absolutely no idea, Lois," Clark told her. "But, since we may be here for some time, what do you suggest we do?"
"Yell for Superman?" she suggested, a heavily sardonic note in her voice.
Superman again. Clark groaned. "And you really think he'll come just to let us out of a squat? It's hardly as if we're in any sort of danger."
"Unless you count rats," Lois said darkly. "Anyway, why wouldn't he come? He's never let me down before."
No, he hadn't, had he? Clark admitted. And that probably wasn't such a good thing. "I just don't think he'd consider this situation a priority," he persisted.
"Okay, Mr Clever-Clogs, so what do *you* suggest we do?" Lois threw at him.
"Uh… maybe just talk?" he suggested. "After all, they have to come back and let us out soon. They can't leave us here for ever!"
"You want to bet?" she retorted scathingly. "Okay. Talk, you said. So, just what do you suggest we talk about?"
Clark paused, thinking. That seemed, all of a sudden, to be a difficult question. That was amazing, since he and Lois never seemed to have any difficulty talking to each other normally. They could chat for hours, about all sorts of things, and never run out of topics of conversation.
And yet suddenly, now that they were locked together in a small squat, he was aware as almost never before of her closeness, of the fact that they were alone together and probably would be for some time to come. And that for once they had no work to do, no urgent commitments, nothing which had any real claim on their time.
So, what could they talk about…?
"How about I Spy?" he offered.
Lois groaned audibly. She was stuck in this dirty, grimy, rundown excuse for a room with Clark Kent, for god knew how long — and all he could come up with to do was to play I Spy?!
Well, she could do better than that. And if it embarrassed Clark Kent, then so much the better.
"No, how about Twenty Questions?" she counter-proposed. "Forfeits for any question you don't answer fully and honestly."
"Uhh… what kind of forfeit?" he asked, sounding nervous.
"Oh, I don't know…" she temporised; then added, "How about the next time you run into a Superman exclusive, you call your *partner*? Or, if that's too tough, then you have to do exactly what I tell you for the next week. Okay?"
Clark blinked. "So, do I get to call a forfeit if you don't answer a question… let me see… 'fully and honestly', you said?"
Lois shrugged. "If you insist."
"Okay. In that case, your forfeit is… I get to claim something from you if you don't answer a question fully and honestly." Clark grinned, and Lois just knew that he was thinking of the sort of thing he might be tempted to claim. Such as what? Just what sort of thing might Clark Kent come up with?
But it wasn't as if he was like most men she knew. She was only too aware that with most men of her acquaintance that kind of forfeit could prove only too troublesome. More than troublesome, in fact; it would lead to a situation far beyond her control.
"That sounds far too vague for my liking," Lois objected. But this was Clark; she shrugged. "Oh, how dangerous can a forfeit from you get? Yes, okay."
She looked down at the floor, a disgusted look on her face. The place was filthy! "Okay, give me your coat," she demanded.
"What? So you can sit on it?"
"Of course." She held out a hand expectantly.
Rolling his eyes, Clark removed the casual jacket he was wearing and handed it to her. She spread it on the ground, then bent and sat cross-legged on it.
"Right; your first question," she said firmly. "Just where do you go to when you run off with all those lame excuses?"
Clark was grateful for the darkness surrounding them as he took in Lois's first question to him. He should have known that that game was too dangerous, particularly when he had to play it with someone as determined as Lois Lane. He supposed he could tell her he didn't want to answer, but that would only make her more set on finding out what he was hiding. Making up an excuse for his disappearing acts was just as tricky; he had never been much good at lying, unless he counted the dismissive responses he gave whenever someone hit too close to his secret. But this was different. Lois had an obvious goal with her question; she knew that he didn't always tell her the truth, and she wouldn't let him go until he explained properly what it was that made him run out on her at the oddest and most inopportune times. And this time, she had a bolted door to help her in her quest.
He was doomed.
Jack and Jimmy would pay for this, he swore. Whatever had been on their minds when they had decided to play this trick on him and Lois would be pried out of them, and they would have to face the consequences of their actions. He wouldn't even be the one doing the unpleasant part of having words with the two young men; he was certain that it would be a pleasure for Lois to set a thing or two straight in their minds.
In the meantime, though, he had to face a very nosy partner who was looking expectantly at him and showing definite signs of impatience. And he had a question to circle around.
Lois snorted. "Already screaming uncle, are we, Kent?"
"Not just yet."
"Taking time to think up a coherent lie doesn't count."
"I'm not going to lie." And, he realised as he said the words, he meant it. He didn't want to keep pretending around her.
He expected frantic, alarmed screams of protest from his mind… in vain. A strange sense of relief washed over him instead, as if he had only been waiting for the perfect moment to share his deepest secret with her. And in a way, he realised, he had. Part of him had always been sure that someday he would tell her everything about himself. Part of him had always hoped that she would understand and accept him for who he truly was.
She wasn't prompting him to go on, he noticed. She was just sitting there in front of him, her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them and her chin resting on her wrists. And she was staring at him. The expression on her face was unreadable.
He took a deep breath, as if for the last time. "I try to do what little I can do to help."
Her eyebrows shot up. Obviously that was not what she had expected. Well, this was a good thing, wasn't it?
"I'm not saying you're useless to have around a newsroom."
"I didn't mean in the newsroom. In fact, I didn't mean as Clark Kent."
"Not in the newsroom? Hang on, *as* Clark Kent?"
"I take on another name to do some things."
"Another name," she repeated slowly. "To do some… things."
"And those things would be?"
"You're not helping my blood pressure."
"Trying to help," he amended with a shaky smile. "I've been gifted with powers that even I don't understand, but they seem to be handy to have around in tricky situations."
She bolted upright. The meaning of his words had sunk in, it seemed. "You mean we've been sitting here for half an hour when you could have got us out in two seconds flat? And you claim you're helping people? Give me a hand, then! Fly us out of here and… hang on a minute… did you just tell me that Clark Kent is Superman?"
So much for that twenty questions game. If she had known that her curiosity would pay off so easily, she would have asked him sooner what made him run off constantly. He probably wouldn't have answered, though. It was a wonder he had told her the truth tonight. What she couldn't work out was why.
She was surprised with her lack of reaction to the actual revelation that her partner was flying around in tights. In fact, it shed a light on her relationship with both Clark and Superman that made more sense than anything she had mused about for weeks. She had felt a strong attraction towards the superhero, yet she hadn't been able to deny that Clark was equally appealing. She had loved every facet of Superman's selfless generosity, and she had been forced to admit — to herself, at least — that her partner wasn't devoid of human qualities either. In fact, he beat Superman in that department, she had recognised a couple of evenings ago, when he had cancelled his own plans to spend an evening with her.
And she supposed it was natural for Superman to have a life somewhere. She had never considered the possibility before, and she was tempted to beat herself up for missing what should have been obvious all along. However, she wasn't about to let Clark Kent see that she was blaming herself!
She stood, arms akimbo, waiting for an answer to her question.
"Uh…" he faltered. Then, giving her a faint shrug, he explained, "Well, you didn't know that I was Superman — not then."
"I do now, buster!"
"Yes, but…" He took a deep breath, then added — in a tone she recognised as pure Superman — "Yes, if you want, I could fly us out of here now. Or I could simply break the door down, and we could walk out. But don't you want to know what Jack and Jimmy are up to here? The best way to find that out is to wait until they let us out."
Lois bit her lip. Much as she hated to admit it, he had a point. "Yeah, I guess," she agreed. "But… well, I hate to sound whiny, Clark, but it's cold! And we could be here for hours! All night, even, if that's what they have in mind."
His voice came from very close to her. "I can warm you up. And I'll keep you warm. And how's this sound? If they haven't come to let us out by seven o'clock tomorrow morning, I'll get us out of here and we can demolish them later. Okay?"
Lois opened her mouth to reply, but stopped as she felt a warm glow embrace her. Wow! If that was how he was planning to keep her warm, she wouldn't object!
Although she could think of an even better way…
Turning to Clark, she wrapped her arms around his waist. "You know, heat vision's nice, but there's nothing to beat a bit of body heat."
His arms enfolded her in his embrace. "You may just be right," he agreed, his tone husky.
He felt so warm and solid and so… Clark. It was strange: she'd been hugged by both Clark and Superman, and now, of course, she knew that they were the same man. And yet she knew that this was indisputably Clark. And, if she was asked, she'd reply without hesitation that it was Clark she wanted to be with.
"Clark?" She pulled back a little so that she could look up into his face.
"Yes?" He smiled down at her, one of those Clark-smiles she'd grown used to over the past ten months and which — although she'd tried to deny it for too long — always made her heart turn flip-flops.
"I think I like you best like this."
He frowned. "Like what?"
"This." She freed one hand, waving it in his direction. "Like Clark — not like Superman. I mean," she clarified, "of course I *like* Superman, but I prefer… just Clark."
A smile as bright as the summer sun, and just as warming, spread over his features. "You do? I'm glad, Lois," he added. "You see, I kind of prefer Clark too."
"Yes, I do," she affirmed for him. And then suddenly it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to reach up and kiss him. And it seemed even more natural when he kissed her back.
And suddenly, the fact that they were locked in, perhaps until morning, really didn't matter at all.
Lois stirred in his arms, and he looked down at her. "Sorry I woke you," he murmured apologetically. "I just heard something outside."
She yawned sleepily and blinked at him. "Yeah?"
"Our captors are here to let us out."
She sat up straight, all traces of sleep gone. "Yeah? Well, I'm going to have words with those two -"
"Hang on." Clark listened for a few moments, then he turned back to her and grinned. "Right; I know why they locked us in. And I have a better idea…"
"Are you sure our trick worked?"
Jack resisted the urge to roll his eyes as he heard Jimmy voice the same question for the fourth time since they had left his apartment. "I would seriously start to doubt the attraction between those two if nothing happened tonight."
"You're underestimating Lois."
"And you're underestimating *me* again. I got them both in here, didn't I?"
"I didn't think either of them would fall for that message of yours."
"Be serious. Have you ever seen Lois resist the lure of a scoop?"
"All right, but it doesn't mean she'd let things evolve with Clark."
Jack didn't bother with a reply this time. He was certain that his plan had worked wonderfully, and Jimmy couldn't convince him otherwise.
He reached for the bolt and carefully pushed the door open. Light was streaming through the window, and he easily spotted his friends. Lois and Clark were sitting on the floor… one at each end of the single room.
This didn't look good.
Jimmy gave him a questioning look, to which he replied with a shrug.
"Care to explain?"
The angry voice of Lois Lane cut through his amazement, and all of a sudden he realised that Jimmy might have been right. If Lois had truly been very angry at being locked in there all night, whatever Clark had tried would have been useless. And in truth, it was likely that Clark hadn't tried anything if Lois was in this mood.
So were they back to square one? Not that they had ever left square one to begin with. Jack only hoped he hadn't made things worse by indulging in a little matchmaking.
Lois was still giving him a killing look, though, and turning to Clark for help proved useless, as his friend seemed to be equally annoyed.
Yep. Obviously, his ploy had failed.
"What did you do that for?" Clark demanded, and there was an angry edge to his voice that Jack had never heard before.
Jimmy was positively squirming, but he still attempted a careful reply. "We thought -"
"You didn't think," Lois cut him off. "That's the problem."
Jack wished he could disappear into a mousehole and never come back. Jimmy had already taken a step backwards and looked ready to bolt for the door. "You believed that locking the two of us in here would be funny? What did you expect?" Clark continued in the same tone of voice that Lois had used.
"That we would fall into each other's arms just because we had nothing better to do?"
"Stop projecting your fantasies onto our lives."
"We're partners, and occasionally friends -"
"- when we feel like it," Clark added, and Lois nodded at his comment.
"But nothing more."
"Except in a figment of your imagination."
They both rose to their feet and strolled to the door. Or rather, Jack mentally amended, Lois marched, and Clark followed at a more leisurely pace. They gave him a frowning look as they passed by him, then started down the staircase.
Jimmy sighed wearily. "What did I tell you?"
Jack just grinned and pointed to the retreating couple walking down the narrow staircase. Despite the faint light coming from the ceiling bulb, he hadn't missed the fact that Lois had reached for Clark's hand and laced her fingers with his.
"Nothing more than partners, indeed," Jack murmured with a shake of his head. "I think that figment of my imagination is alive and well and staring us in the face."
(c) Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Kaethel <email@example.com>