By Pam Jernigan <email@example.com>
Submitted: July 2003
Summary: Lois and Clark have agreed to act as if their one impetuous night of passion (following Trask's raid on the Daily Planet) had never happened, and they're slowly becoming friends. But as Lois goes undercover at the Metro Club, she's forced to realize that she's got a "crush on two" — she swoons over Superman, but is finding that it's not easy to forget Clark.
This is a rewrite of the L&C episode, "I've Got a Crush on You," written by Thania St. John. More to the point, it's a sequel to one of my other stories — "H is for Hubris." You'll need to read that one first; it's available on the archive and on my personal site (http://www.geocities.com/~chiefpam/hubris.htm).
I have to thank my terrific beta readers — Kathy Brown, Claire Hess, Rivka, Annie Nicholson, and Marnie Rowe — for helping me figure out what the heck to do with this story, and keeping me motivated enough to write it all. The chocolate kisses were a gift from Paul Wiener.
The dream started innocently enough, as it usually did. Lois would be in her kitchen, though she'd never quite been able to figure out what she was doing there. Then she'd hear a sound, and turn, and *he* would be there, standing at the edge of the room. He'd smile slightly, and open his arms to her… and she would practically fly across the room to join him. After that, it was mostly a series of images… flashes of feeling. The way it felt when he kissed her neck. The smooth interplay of his muscles beneath her hands. The look in his eyes that made her feel so very precious. The way he whispered her name. The view of her bedroom ceiling, largely blotted out by his gorgeous face above her. The sense that finally, she'd come home.
"Oh, Clark…" It was usually at this point that she woke up. Flushed and over-warm, aching with loss.
Resolutely, Lois got herself out of bed. A quick glance at the clock revealed that it was nearly three in the morning, but she knew she wouldn't be getting back to sleep any time soon. She pulled on her comfortable old bathrobe, ran her fingers through her hair, and headed for her living room.
The dreams scared her. She knew very well where they came from — they were largely memories resulting from her spectacular lack of judgment a few weeks ago. She'd been scared that morning, too, and had angrily ordered Clark out of her life forever… only to be interrupted by a strange old man calling himself H. G. Wells and with an unbelievable story. Time-travel? Yeah, right. And the idea that Lois would someday marry *Clark*? It seemed easier to believe in time-travel.
They'd eventually thrown the old man out. But not before he'd done his best to persuade them. And not before Clark had proved to be more trustworthy than Lois would ever have expected. Even when the old loon had hinted that Clark was hiding some huge secret, and practically blackmailed him with it, Clark had stood firm. At the time, it had seemed as though agreeing to never again discuss their mutual lapse of sanity would be the easiest way to get their lives back to normal.
Things at work had actually gone pretty well, Lois was forced to admit. Clark had been true to his word, and the gossip network hadn't gotten so much as a hint that anything had happened between them. He never referred to it either, so she could focus on her job and stories and be all business. She didn't even notice how soft Clark's hair was, or marvel at the physique he was hiding behind those concealing business suits, or thrill at his rare polite touches. Or at least, not much.
Things would have been fine, in fact. Except for the dreams. When she was awake, Lois knew all the reasons why relationships were foolish, work relationships were suicidal, and why Clark wasn't even remotely her type. In her dreams, she only knew how he'd made her feel. Even apart from the sheer pleasure of touching him and being touched by him, he had somehow had the knack of making her feel… cherished. And some part of her yearned for that experience again.
It was ridiculous, she told herself for the hundredth time. That feeling had probably just been wishful thinking — the result of her overactive imagination. Even if it hadn't been, it wouldn't have lasted. It had all been an act, of course it had. Men did that all the time — at least until they got what they wanted. Afterwards, they dropped the niceness — and in her case, they generally dropped her, too.
Granted, Clark had behaved better than that… but then, she'd nearly killed him the next morning, so he couldn't have felt too smug. And if he still treated her with courtesy and respect, it was just a ruse — a trick to get her to lower her guard again.
The scary thing was, sometimes it worked.
She shook herself out of the pointless reverie and walked over to her front window, leaning against the casement. Even at this hour of the night, Metropolis was alive with lights. She craned her neck to search the sky, but if Superman was up there, she couldn't see him. Superman. Now there was someone who wouldn't lie and scheme to get a woman into bed. And if some lucky woman did manage to interest him, he wouldn't turn into a jerk the next day, she was sure. Though it didn't seem as if she would ever get to test that theory.
She turned away from the window, moving slowly over to the sofa. This was driving her crazy. One man she wanted but couldn't get close to, and one man she *didn't* want but couldn't stop thinking about.
Clark floated high above the city. He'd been on a few rescues tonight, but now everything seemed quiet. Leaving him with too much time to think about Lois.
He wished he could pin down exactly what had made him fall in love with Lois. Maybe that would explain what had kept him in love, as her less-attractive sides became obvious. Her tendency to ride rough-shod over anyone who stood in her way was a polar opposite of his own desire to help everyone. But then, that was her way of helping people — by exposing corrupt systems and standing up for the little guy. And beneath her tough-as-nails exterior, he'd seen glimpses of an inner vulnerability in her, too.
He'd seen that openness that night, at dinner, and then later, in her apartment. She'd been so beautiful… smiling and responding to him without a hint of her customary defense mechanisms … of course, she'd made up for that with a panic attack and fury at him the next morning, but he couldn't blame her for that.
Their relationship at the moment was… kind of strange. They were both ignoring the night they'd spent together; Lois seemed to have forgotten it entirely. Clark never managed to forget it for long, but he tried to pretend he had. His goal was to build a friendship between them. Eventually, maybe, they could become more, but for now, he just hoped he could somehow get her to trust him.
She trusted him when he was dressed as Superman. Her hard- bitten exterior often disappeared altogether, replaced by wide-eyed admiration. He didn't want that. Okay, okay, sometimes it boosted his ego — and he'd needed that unquestioning support on a few occasions. But there had to be a happy medium between that and the unrelenting cynicism she showed to Clark.
He wondered, not for the first time, whether he ought to tell her about Superman. By now, he was certain that Lois could be trusted. She had integrity. Well, apart from her casual attitudes towards breaking and entering, the stealing of evidence, and various other petty crimes. Clark grinned. Still, when the chips were down, she would do the right thing. She'd risked her career to protect her father, just recently, and it wasn't as if she had a good relationship with him.
On the other hand… Lois was involved, to some extent, with Lex Luthor. She never really talked to him about it — the topic of dating was just too awkward, between them — so he didn't know if it was serious, but any association at all scared him, considering what he knew about the man.
If he told her he was Superman, maybe she'd ease up and they could really get to know one another. Or maybe she'd be disillusioned about her hero, or maybe she'd assume that Superman was his real self, and only be interested in that part of him… It would certainly get her to notice him. But he didn't want to use Superman to jump-start their relationship. It felt like cheating, or bragging. The important thing was that she be comfortable with him as he almost always was: Clark.
Sooner or later — if she gave herself a chance — she would understand that he was Clark Kent. Just with an exciting hobby on the side.
But then on the other hand, he wasn't always Clark — Superman was a pretty new creation, but he'd already seen how the superhero thing could make life difficult. Was it fair to Lois to expect her to make up her mind without knowing what she'd be in for?
Either way, he ruefully admitted, it was probably too early to worry about it. She was still working hard to keep him at arm's length. And if she never wanted anything to do with Clark again, then it didn't much matter if she knew about his other life. He needed to just keep being her friend, for now.
"Morning, Lois," Clark called out cheerfully, taking a break from typing to smile at her.
Lois managed a polite smile as she made her way over to her desk. She could have done without seeing Clark this morning — there were certainly days when it seemed he was never at his desk — but of course, just when she didn't want to see him, here he was. "Morning, Clark."
Clark cocked his head. "You okay?"
Lois shrugged irritably. "I'm fine," she told him. It just wasn't fair. If she had been working all night, she'd be fine right now — mostly. But one little bout of insomnia and she was wiped out. She stabbed at her computer's on button and waited while it went through its own slow wake-up routine.
No response from Clark, Lois noted, steadfastly avoiding the temptation to look at him. One of these mornings, she was going to snap, and haul him off into a supply closet to have her way with him. She was pretty sure he wouldn't mind, either, which made it even harder to resist. But a few moments of pleasure — even the mind-bending, toe- curling kind — wasn't worth the wreck it would make of her life.
A cup of coffee appeared on her desk, and Lois jumped slightly.
"I thought you might need that," Clark said, with a smile in his voice.
Lois picked up the cup and sipped — it was perfect. She relaxed back in her chair and dared to meet his eyes. "Thanks, I did. So what have we got planned for today, partner?"
Clark leaned one hip against her desk. Lois resolutely kept her eyes on his face. Oblivious to her internal struggle, he replied, "Well, we've pretty much wrapped up that boxer thing. So I guess we'll just cover whatever—" His head came up and he stared over her shoulder.
Turning, Lois saw that the television monitors were showing buildings on fire. "Is that West River again?'
Clark nodded grimly. "Looks like it. I'll go check it out."
"I'll come with you." Lois reached for her purse, putting all personal considerations aside.
"No, we don't both need to go," Clark said hurriedly. "It's just a fire."
"Clark, it's the third fire in the same area since last night. Don't you think that's a little bit suspicious?"
"So make some phone calls!" Clark suggested, running out without waiting for her.
Lois watched him go in some bemusement. One minute, he was the most considerate guy on the planet, and the next… he was brushing her off. However, there was more than one way to chase a story, and Lois's instincts were telling her there was definitely a story here. Let Clark run around and get the story about the fires. She'd find a way to get the story *behind* the fires.
A cheer from behind her made her turn back to the monitors. She smiled as she saw a streak of blue and red appear. Superman! She just couldn't help it; something about Superman drew her like a moth to a flame. In a way, it was like her stubborn attraction to Clark, but with no barriers, no defenses.
Well, that was neither here nor there at the moment; she had a job to do. The fires raging through the West River area were probably arson. So far the fire department had been kept busy just containing the blazes; they hadn't yet been able to investigate the sites of the fires for traces of accelerants or incendiary devices. She was sure they'd turn up something sooner or later. In the meantime, she could find out who might have a motive to set that particular district on fire — or who might have the means to do it.
When the phone rang, Lois jumped, rudely pulled out of her train of thought. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet."
"Lois!" Lex's voice was as smooth as a caress. "How are you this morning?"
"Just fine, Lex," Lois lied. "Thanks for asking — how are you?"
"Couldn't be better," he assured her. "I called to invite you to lunch today with me. Chef Andre has found a delightful new recipe, he tells me, and I'd like to get your opinion."
"Oh. Um, let me look at my schedule." Lois tucked the phone mouthpiece under her chin and reached across the desk for her calendar. It was empty. She brought the phone back up to her mouth. "Gosh, I'm sorry, Lex, but I just can't. An investigative reporter's work is never done, you know. I should be able to see you at your press conference today, though."
Lex's voice chilled slightly. "I had hoped to see you on a more personal basis."
"Well, I'll see if I can arrange something later in the week," she offered, unwilling to rebuff him totally. Being the only reporter with personal access to Lex Luthor was quite a heady coup — except that he never seemed to give her any useful information, which rather ruined the effect. She felt vaguely guilty about leading him on, although it was hard to tell just how seriously he was taking things. She'd been interested — well, flattered — by his attention at first, but then… well, then she'd gotten distracted. "I'll call you, okay?"
"I'll look forward to it," Lex replied, once more so pleasant that she wondered if she'd imagined the earlier chill. "Take care."
"Of course. Talk to you later, Lex." Absently, Lois hung up the phone, her mind returning to the puzzle of West River. Well, there was one thing she knew about the area. It was more-or-less under the control of the Metro gang. It seemed likely that they were connected to the fires, somehow. Lois smiled suddenly. She knew exactly how to find out what was happening with the Metros.
Clark had just about finished blowing out the fire when he heard a familiar voice call, "Superman!"
He glanced over his shoulder to see Lois waving at him from across the street. He conferred briefly with the fire chief, who confirmed that the MFD could handle things from now on, thanks very much. Then he closed his eyes for a moment, drawing on super willpower to keep from embarrassing himself in front of Lois. For the thousandth time, he wished his mother hadn't made this costume so … form-fitting.
He turned around, and allowed himself a small smile as he crossed the street. She was smiling, her eyes shining. She was also wearing a long beige trench coat, tied tight, that he'd never seen before. But he'd be crazy to let Superman notice what she was wearing, so he fixed his gaze firmly on her face.
"Hello, Lois," he greeted her, crossing his arms over his chest. "Do I need to ask why you're here?"
At this question, her smile broadened slightly. "I was in the neighborhood."
Clark sighed. Why did he even bother trying to tell her to stay put? "So you're here to cover the fires?"
"Well, not exactly. Although I do want to know if you've turned up any evidence of arson, yet."
"No, we haven't — did you say you're *not* here to cover the fires?"
She waved that off. "No, that's Clark's story — you must have seen him around, he's been here for two hours — and he can handle it. I'm working on a different angle."
Clark was still working through the first part of her statement when the second part sunk in, making his gut clench, reflexively. "Is this something dangerous?"
She smiled, seeming touched by his concern, but merely said, "I'll be fine, Superman. No need to worry."
"So then it is dangerous." He took an involuntary step closer to her. "What are you planning?"
Her eyes dropped to his chest for a second before her chin came up. She smiled at him again. "There's no need to worry, honestly."
Clark allowed himself to frown. He hated it when she went off like this. "Lois. Maybe there's something I could do to help."
Her eyes widened at that. "Superman! Thank you — but I couldn't, really; you're needed to fight the fires." A thoughtful look crossed her face. "There's really not much you could do, anyway," she added, sounding just as surprised by this as Clark was.
Before he could muster up a good argument — or even a coherent reply — another siren began wailing. Clark turned to look, then back to Lois.
"What is it, Superman?"
"Another fire," he replied. "If you'll excuse me."
She smiled, her eyes shining again. "Sounds like a job for Superman. You'd better get going."
With a final frustrated glance, he turned to fly down the street.
Lois watched the red-and-blue figure speed away, and sighed happily. She just loved to watch him do his hero thing. She was tempted to follow him, but she could barely hear the alarms, so it must be at the other end of West River at least. Clark probably had everything covered, anyway. It was only a few fires — very basic journalism.
She turned around and began walking, looking for a taxi. Superman cared! Sometimes it was hard to tell, but she knew she wasn't imagining that. It was kind of him to offer to help out — and she'd been tempted to take him up on it — but then some shred of pride, or something, had interfered. He was a superhero, for heaven's sake; he had a higher calling. She just couldn't ask him to do a reporters' job. Besides, she was perfectly capable of handling this with no "Super" help.
And it was strange, but when she'd tried to think of something to ask him to do, she'd come up blank. She was going undercover, after all — she looked down ruefully. Case in point, this skimpy outfit she was wearing. She'd gotten herself hired, however, and that was the important point. She never would have been hired in her regular clothes.
She couldn't even begin to imagine Superman in plain clothes; the idea made her giggle. How would he hide his cape — or boots? No, Superman couldn't go into the club with her. At the first sight of him everyone would clam up. It was a radical notion, that Lois could do something that Superman couldn't. She'd have to think about that one for a while.
Finally, she spotted a cab, and flagged it down. She needed to get back to the Planet, but first, she really had to go home and change her clothes.
Clark walked back into the newsroom hours later. Apart from a break to cover a press conference, he'd been fighting fires all day, it seemed, as one blaze after another had sprung up in and around West River. Thankfully, no one had been killed yet, and for the moment there were no new fires. Clark still had difficulty comprehending the type of thinking that casually destroyed large swathes of property and endangered countless lives. One of the blazes had been uncomfortably near to the downtown children's hospital — how could people set fires and just not *care* who got hurt by them?
He looked around the newsroom, searching for Lois. In moments like these, he needed the reassurance that some people were willing to stand up for what was right. He spotted her coming out of Perry's office, wearing a light brown suit and a look of smug satisfaction on her face. "Hey, Lois!" Maybe, finally, he could find out what the heck she'd been doing in West River wearing a trench coat!
"Hi, Clark." Unlike this morning, she smiled at him, and came over to sit on the edge of his desk. "Hope you enjoyed chasing fire trucks today — but while you were busy pounding the pavement, I managed to get an inside track on the fires."
Clark leaned back in his chair, enjoying the way Lois sparkled when she was on a story. "Really? I should have known. What's the angle?"
"Well, you know West River is controlled by the Metros," she began.
Clark's heart sank. Why was she talking about mobsters? This could not be good.
"And I figure they've got to be connected, somehow — either they're setting the fires for some reason, or maybe another gang is trying to move in. Either way, they've got to know *something*."
Oh, this was not sounding good at all. And she thought she didn't need Superman's help?
"So I'm going to be right on the spot to figure out what's going on!" she concluded triumphantly. "I was down at the Metro Club today, and they hired me!"
"What??" Clark jerked upright. "You're kidding me." Though it did explain why she'd been in the neighborhood. The trench coat, on the other hand, remained a mystery.
"Nope." Lois grinned, all too pleased with herself. "It was easy."
"Lois, it's way too dangerous! You could be in the middle of a gang war!"
Lois's smile faded. "Listen, Kent, it's called *investigating* and in case you've forgotten, it's my job!"
"Lois, you can't do your job if you're dead."
"Will you relax? It's not like I haven't been undercover before. It'll be fine! Those guys never take women seriously, anyway; the worst danger I'll be in will be from sexual harassment."
Clark reluctantly abandoned the effort to dissuade her, and moved on to damage control. "Well, you're not going in there by yourself."
"What, you don't think I could handle this by myself?" Lois frowned at him, eyes narrowed.
"Come on, Lois, be reasonable — I'm your partner, I should be there to help out!"
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right, Mr. 'No, don't come with me to cover the fires, I can do it all by myself.' I can see you place a high value on partnership." She stood up. "Look, I'll keep you posted, and hey — in the meantime, why don't you make a few phone calls or something, okay?" With a pointed look, she turned and walked back to her desk.
Clark winced. "Okay, so that was dumb of me…"
She sat in her chair, but turned it slightly to face him. "You'd better believe it was," she snapped. "So, what's this about — you think the little woman needs protecting?"
"Well…" he began, then hastily added, "No! No, of course not. But … I thought, maybe … my partner might want a little back-up?" She didn't want help from Superman, but maybe… maybe this was a job for Clark Kent.
Lois glared at him for a few moments, then gave up as her fiercest look proved no match for his puppy-dog expression. "You are impossible."
Lois left the meeting room, only slightly shaken. Okay, so knowing intellectually that gangsters were dangerous wasn't quite the same thing as seeing Johnny Taylor aim and fire a gun at his sister Toni. Lois took a deep breath, willing her heart to slow down a little. Really, it was exactly what she'd expected, and she could still handle it. Johnny hadn't killed his sister, after all — Toni hadn't appeared the least bit worried that he would — he'd just sneered at her and fired a few bullets past her into a wall.
Lois crossed the largely deserted main room of the club. She wanted to find out what was on the other side of that bullet-riddled wall, if she could. It might be useful. Of course, now she was on the opposite side of the club… but she could take the back hallways. She'd be less conspicuous this way, anyway.
She dropped the tray off at the corner of the L-shaped bar, and headed for the curtained opening beside it. As she passed the bar stools, one of the patrons caught her eye. She dismissed him as irrelevant, walked past… then turned back to take a second look, as something tickled her instinct … it couldn't be. No, what was she thinking, of course it could.
With a sense of resignation, Lois waited until the bartender turned away, then reached out to grab Clark by his thick coat and drag him into the hallway with her.
Once they were both past the curtained opening, she turned around angrily. "What on Earth do you think you're doing here, dressed like that?" Lois hissed. "This is supposedly a high-class club!"
"Hey, Lois, nice to see you, too," he replied, grinning. He quickly glanced down to see her dancing costume, and his grin widened slightly. Lois wanted to be annoyed, but that was drowned out by the part of her that was glad of his admiring attention. Still, for form's sake, she crossed her arms and lifted a sardonic eyebrow.
He blushed, once his eyes returned to her face. "So, ah… you don't like my disguise?"
Grateful to switch attention to his outfit, Lois scornfully surveyed his attire. "Well, let's see … you've got a fake beard, a heavy coat, a knit cap, and — the crowning touch — even dorkier glasses than the ones you normally wear, which is quite a feat, by the way. Oh yeah, Clark, it's an *excellent* disguise."
He looked injured. "I'm dressed like an out of work sailor, Lois. The best disguises are the simplest. I'm going to see if I can get a job."
"Doing what, taking out the garbage?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "I'll find something, don't worry."
"Why should I worry?" Lois grumbled, but she had to admit — very privately — that it was reassuring to know he was near. She would feel better with someone nearby that she could trust. "Well… keep me posted. And just remember, this is *my* story."
"Absolutely, partner." Clark grinned at her. "I'm only back-up, remember?"
"You're darned right. Now get back out there!" She pushed him back out into the club, and turned away, trying to remember what she'd been doing before this distraction. And as she walked away, she couldn't help feeling warmed by his determination to be there for her. She almost felt … cherished.
Lois's first stint as a dancer came to a rather abrupt halt when four men wearing loose silvery suits burst into the club. They shouted something she couldn't quite make out, and then began spraying fire around the room. Lois ducked and ran for it, along with the rest of the dancers. She changed into her own clothes as fast as humanly possible — she was willing to wear the stupid chicken outfit onstage, if that's what it took, but offstage, and with the fire department en route? No way.
By the time she got changed and ran back towards the main room of the club, however, the flames were out and the excitement was dying down. Most of the patrons had disappeared, too, but nonetheless Lois looked around to see if she could find Clark.
He'd spent most of the evening, from what she could tell, trying to be inconspicuous. At least he wasn't too out of place, once he took that horrible knit cap off. It was almost enough to let him blend in with the other patrons. Well, at least at first glance… and maybe some low lighting… If no one paid too much attention.
Ah! That must be him, at the far corner of the room, moving away from her toward a door that lead back to the club offices. And slightly in front of him was… a woman? Lois surprised herself with the flash of anger that went through her at the sight. She hurried across the room, in time to see that the blond woman was Toni Taylor.
Abruptly, she felt a flash of doubt. Was he trying to steal her story, after all? Lois debated the idea of following them, but the guard at the door looked as if he might not appreciate that. And she did have a cover to maintain. As deeply frustrating as it was, she was going to have to wait.
Reluctantly, she headed back for the dressing room, to gather up her few other belongings. None of it was stuff she wasn't prepared to have stolen, but still. The other dancers were excitedly discussing the fires, but Lois paid little attention.
There were two possibilities. First, that Clark was going off for an illicit … *thing* with Toni Taylor. Lois's rational side considered that unlikely. Clark just didn't do one-night stands. Which didn't even begin to explain why he'd made an exception in her case, but she was *not* going to go there. And besides, he knew she'd kill him if he so much as looked at another woman.
So the other option was that he was just doing his job and investigating. That was better, but still worrisome. This was her story, and he was only here as back-up, which she didn't even need to have. If he scooped her, his career was *over,* she'd make sure of that.
She was outside the club waiting for a cab before she decided where to go next. The Daily Planet was a possibility, but most late-night stories were phoned in. This one would only be a few sentences in the City section, if that much, but those few belonged to her. No, the logical place for Clark to go (assuming he wasn't still ensconced with Toni) was his own apartment. She tied her trench coat tightly closed, and hailed a taxi.
Clark had just ripped off his fake beard and changed glasses when the doorbell rang. He groaned. It had been a long day, and he wasn't looking forward to company. A quick peek over the top of his glasses changed his mind, though. He was smiling as he crossed the room and barely remembered to look surprised when he opened the door. "Lois!" He let himself smile again.
She looked surprised to see him. "Oh, so you're here, are you?" She marched into the apartment.
"Come on in, Lois," Clark invited, closing the door behind her. She was tightly tied up in her coat again. Maybe now he could finally find out what was up with that. "I wasn't expecting you."
"I'll just bet you weren't," Lois replied with an overtone of hostility.
Clark sighed. She hadn't been this prickly for almost two weeks now. She'd been annoyed at him, or irritated by everything in the mornings, or on a rant against the world, but he'd hoped they'd got past the stage where she yelled accusations at him.
Now was probably not the best time for him to ask about her coat.
"Can I get you anything to drink, Lois?"
She halted near one of his sofas, scanning the room as if she were looking for something. "No, but you can tell me what you were doing with Toni Taylor."
"Oh, you saw that, huh?" He chuckled, earning himself another baleful look. "Why am I not surprised? Well, she hired me, and wanted me to sign a few papers. But I still haven't learned anything useful. Maybe tomorrow."
Lois still looked suspicious. "So you didn't call anything in to the Planet?"
"What? No, of course not, Lois." He frowned at her in dismay. "You seriously thought I'd try to cut you out?"
"Well, not exactly," she admitted, ducking her head so he couldn't read her expression. She sounded embarrassed. But then she got over it, apparently, because when she looked up again she was wearing her professional face again.
"Lois…" Clark wanted to reassure her that she could trust him, but he'd been saying that for weeks and it hadn't yet sunk in. She seemed determined to do things the hard way. He abandoned the attempt. "Well, what's next? If you need my phone to call something in, feel free."
"Um, yeah, that would be good," she admitted. "About that earlier, Clark, well…" she didn't finish the sentence, but her tone was apologetic.
Clark figured that was the best he was going to get. "Hey, don't worry about it. I should have touched base with you before I left, anyway."
"Well, whatever. Let's get to work — I've got a paragraph written up for the city news section." She produced a folded piece of paper, and thrust it at him. "I wrote it in a hurry, though, so look it over for me."
Clark took the paper, smiling at her. This was an unexpected gesture — she must be trying to make amends. He glanced over the hastily-written page, squinting at times to decipher her handwriting.
She must have noticed. "I wrote it in the cab on the way over," she admitted, but now with a welcome note of good humor.
"Well, this looks good to me. Why don't you call it in, and then we can compare notes on the rest of the investigation."
"Sounds good." She repossessed her paper, and moved over toward his phone. It took only a moment for her to connect with the night editor and read off her short report of the night's excitement.
Clark used the time to brew up a pot of herbal tea. It was a calming blend, or so the label claimed. It seemed apropos. He heard Lois hang up the phone before he was quite done pouring the tea, so he called over his shoulder, "I've got my notes right over there on the coffee table — not that I've learned much yet."
He turned, a teacup in each hand, to find that Lois had taken a seat on the couch, studying his scattered notes and laying her own notebook out in the open. Whether she'd meant to or not, she'd seated herself smack in the center of the couch. Clark considered his options. He could use one of the chairs at the end of the table… but if they were going to be reviewing each other's notes, it would make more sense to view them from the same angle, wouldn't it? But if he sat down next to her, he'd be close enough to touch her, her thigh rubbing against his, his elbow in danger of invading some very personal territory…
Just as he'd decided that one of the chairs was safer, Lois looked up at him quizzically. "Aren't you coming?"
Clark closed his eyes briefly, hoping for the strength to behave appropriately. "Um, yeah…" When he opened his eyes again, he saw her expression suddenly change from bemused impatience to embarrassment. She scooted sideways on the couch, leaving him plenty of room.
Darn, now if he took a chair, she'd think he didn't want to be anywhere near her. He handed her a teacup, then sat on the opposite end of the couch — not too far away, but not too close, either … this was ridiculous. It wasn't a first date, after all. They were here to work. Resolutely, he reached for his notes. "Well, I had an uneventful evening, just trying not to get thrown out. The bartender didn't seem to think there were any jobs available."
"So, then, how did you get hired?"
"You saw the Toasters come in and try to toast everyone. I managed to help Toni out when she was trapped by the fire, and she told me I was hired." Clark glossed by all the details; the less Lois knew of his heroics the better, he figured. "She also told me to clean myself up, or else," he grinned, and Lois returned the smile. "I'll start tending bar tomorrow afternoon."
"Bartending?" Lois looked him over with poorly disguised curiosity. "Do you have any idea how to do that?"
"Not much," he admitted. "I used to mix drinks in college, though." Drinking hadn't affected him, and he'd been bored enough at one party that he'd struck up a conversation with the girl tending the bar. She'd taught him a few tricks. "I'll read up on it in the morning."
"I guess that's about my level of experience with dancing on stage," Lois laughed, really relaxing now.
"I kinda guessed that," Clark dared to say. "But you did great anyway."
"You really think so?" She looked at him, almost shyly.
"Yeah," Clark replied quietly, not realizing until he spoke how husky his voice would sound. "Um, not as good a dancer as you are a reporter, of course. But still good."
She laughed at that, looking pleased. "Thanks. Well, I'm not gonna give up my day job or anything," she teased him.
"Drat!" he replied, grinning. "There goes my only hope of being the Planet's best reporter."
"Darned right!" She grinned back. "But if you play your cards right, you might eventually be the second best."
"I'll have to take what I can get, I guess." Before he could let himself get carried away, Clark dragged the conversation back to business. "So, partner — what have *you* learned today?"
He'd expected her to hesitate, or make him work for it. Instead, she slid her notebook toward him. "Not a whole lot — but I'm convinced the Metros are connected to the Toasters *somehow*. Well, that guy tonight seemed to want to kill Johnny, anyway. So there's got to be a link somewhere."
"Yeah, I agree. And there's something else…" Clark paused, unsure how to explain the vague idea that had plagued him. "I'm speculating here," he warned her, "but you know this morning, Lex Luthor had a press conference?"
"Yeah, I remember — I skipped it to get into the Metro Club," she said, blithely ignoring the fact that Perry had assigned her to cover it.
"Well, I covered it for you," Clark told her. It had been a nice change from fighting fires. "He was announcing all these plans for redevelopment in the West River area."
Lois's gaze sharpened. "That's interesting."
Clark nodded. "I thought so. Maybe he's been planning it for months and the fires these last few days are a coincidence. Or maybe he's just taking advantage of the fact that the old buildings are being destroyed and property values are falling." Or maybe, he's behind the arson, somehow, but Clark didn't feel sure enough of his ground to mention that possibility out loud.
"Yeah, maybe," Lois said, some doubt creeping into her voice. "But it is awfully convenient for him, all the same."
"Well, I thought it might not hurt to look into it. Just a little." Lois was looking at him thoughtfully, and Clark had no idea what she was thinking. "Because, you know, some people out there might think that, well, it's a little bit too coincidental," he explained nervously. "And if we've already investigated that idea and disproved it, it won't go anywhere."
Lois sat up, frowning at him. "But what if he *is* involved, Clark? You can't go around assuming anything in this business!"
Clark gaped at her. "But, but … I thought…"
"You thought I was dating him, so I wouldn't hear a word against the man?" Lois shook her head. "No, he's asked me out — okay, we've been to dinner a few times," she added, "but I'm a *reporter* first and foremost, and he's a newsmaker. That's all there is to it."
Clark tried not to show the depths of his relief. "Okay. I'll keep that in mind. And we'll start looking into his redevelopment plans tomorrow morning."
Lois nodded, sinking back into the sofa cushions once more. "Jimmy can come up with the most amazing amounts of background information. If there's anything there to find, we'll find it."
"Good." Clark watched his partner, feeling very content with his world. Even if Lois never ended up loving and marrying him, it was incredible just to be near her, and to be her friend. It was more than a lot of other people had.
She turned, then, and caught him looking at her. Unaccountably, she blushed, and smiled softly. Clark felt his heart rate quicken at the look of invitation in her eyes, as the desire to kiss her warred with the shrill warnings from the back of his mind to *not* screw everything up. He compromised by smiling back, and reaching a hand towards hers. She let him engulf her smaller hand in his. "So, then," Clark began, then realized his voice had gone all husky again. He cleared his throat and sat a little straighter. "What's the plan for tomorrow?"
There was a flash of… something… in Lois's eyes before she gathered her composure and reclaimed her hand. "Well, we're just going to have to wait and see what develops. I'll bet they're going to have another meeting in the morning, to talk about the damage to the club, at the very least. I'm supposed to get there at 11 a.m. for the lunch crowd. Liquid lunches, that is. Maybe I'll get to serve drinks in there again."
"Yeah, maybe. Well, Toni's not expecting me 'til 3 p.m., so I'd probably better not be there any earlier." There probably wouldn't be anything she couldn't handle, but all the same, barring emergencies, he was planning to be somewhere nearby, just in case.
"I get a break at two," Lois told him, standing and gathering her things. "Maybe I'll meet you at the Planet — assuming there's anything fit to print in the evening edition."
"Okay, then," Clark smiled as he walked her to the door. "It's a date."
Lois woke up dazed, her sheets partially kicked off the bed. For a moment, she was confused. It was still dark outside — why wasn't Clark there? He'd said it was a date…
Slowly, she worked out that it had only been a dream. Clark hadn't really been touching her tenderly, murmuring endearments.
No, of course he wasn't here. Lois sat up in bed, running a hand through her hair. The sense of loss she felt was stronger than ever.
She couldn't go on like this.
Moving slowly, she swung her feet out of bed, grabbed a robe, and moved to the kitchen. This was definitely an occasion for chocolate ice cream. The first few spoonfuls helped her gather herself together.
It was time she admitted it. She, Lois Lane, world champion at repressing emotions, was not going to have any peace until she'd dealt with this. Might as well start by taking stock.
First, there was Superman — well, her attraction to him — to deal with. She sighed. It was probably a bad sign that she couldn't tell how he felt about her, or if he felt anything. And when it came right down to it, Lois wasn't sure that anyone *should* date Superman. Maybe he ought to belong to the whole world. Considering that Superman had shown no real interest in dating anyone, it was probably a moot point.
Of course, logic had very little to do with her reaction to him.
Then there was her *other* illogical attraction. Clark. Despite her best efforts, ignoring Clark had not made him go away. No matter how prickly she'd been, he had still been there, being her friend. And though she'd tried not to notice, she had learned that Clark was an incredibly decent guy. She hadn't believed there were any men like him — or at least not any who could put up with her.
Still, he was a man. Once again, she ran through all the reasons she needed to resist giving in to this attraction. Men couldn't be trusted. Relationships only led to heartbreak when they inevitably failed. And when work relationships soured, things got very ugly.
Only, this time, the familiar mantra wasn't working. Probably because, Lois admitted, if she were being honest, she knew that none of the above applied to Clark. He'd proven he could be trusted. And she already knew how he'd react once they'd slept together. She'd suspected that he had wanted to start a relationship — but even when she'd practically dumped him, he had still treated her with respect. Did it make any sense to assume that he'd behave worse if they had a real date?
She wanted to find out. The thought slipped out almost before she was aware of it. It wasn't such a terrifying prospect anymore. Deep down, she felt a flicker of hope. Maybe with Clark, things would be different.
Dating him would certainly have some perks. He was gorgeous, of course. She might have a terribly difficult time looking at anything but him — or keeping her hands to herself — if she let herself go. It would be a lot more fun than resolutely ignoring him.
He was smart — he needed to be, to keep up with her — and fun to talk to. He was good at his job, too, despite his laid-back demeanor. It had taken her a while to adjust to that. He wasn't being sneaky or devious, and he wasn't a wimp, either. He was just… relaxed. Cheerful, too. That used to drive her crazy. As she'd gotten to know him, though, she'd realized that it wasn't at all mean-spirited. He wasn't laughing at her, he was just happy. And he wanted her to be happy, too.
She became aware that she had a goofy smile on her face. She sat up straighter, and stirred her half-melted ice cream. It wasn't like he was perfect or anything.
For a moment, she had a hard time thinking of anything bad about Clark. Well, there was his habit of disappearing at odd moments. Of course, reporters were always in and out of the newsroom; it was their job. Clark, though, would also disappear in the middle of helping her *do* that job. If those were job-related side-trips, it would be news to her. But other than that, she hadn't a clue what he was up to.
Maybe it was something related to his big secret. It seemed ludicrous that Clark could have anything much to hide, but when Wells had mentioned it, he'd looked scared. Really scared. She hadn't tried to find out what he was hiding, yet. Probably because investigating him would mean that she'd have to think about him, and she'd been fighting that tooth and nail.
It felt pretty good to stop fighting.
Clark found a deserted alley, landed, and changed back into his business suit. It was only a short walk back to the West River street that he'd been loitering on for the last few hours. Well, apart from the few times that Superman had been needed elsewhere. The street was lined with small, borderline-seedy businesses — the Metro Club was the classiest place on the block — but they let him pretend to window-shop.
Lois had been at the Metro Club for a few hours already. She could handle it on her own, of course. Still, he couldn't resist walking around the neighborhood, listening for any trouble. Just in case.
It was just before two in the afternoon when he heard footsteps coming out of one of the two alleys that ran along both sides of the Metro Club. Not wanting to turn around, he tried to catch a reflection of whoever it was in the shop window. It was Lois. And the trench coat was back, but today it wasn't cinched tight.
He debated whether he should try to catch her attention or not. She seemed excited but not in trouble. There must be something worth printing. He heard her pause, then change direction to cross the street towards him.
She came up behind him, and pretended to be surprised. "Oh, Clark…! What a strange coincidence to meet you here!"
He laughed, smiling at her reflection in the shop window. "Okay, okay, you caught me." He turned to face her, and his eyes widened as he took in the details of her appearance. The coat was only loosely tied, shifting around her as she moved. Underneath it, she was still wearing her skimpy waitress outfit. Well, that was one mystery solved, anyway. When tied tight, the trench coat was very effective concealment.
"Let's just hope I'm the only one who catches you! You need to stay out of sight until it's time to work," she scolded, reaching out to straighten out his tie. "Looks like someone got dressed in a hurry."
"Um, yeah, you could say that," he replied, trying not to react to the feel of her fingers on his chest. After a second, her cheeks flushed and her hands dropped. "But I'm not the only one in a hurry — what's got you so excited?"
"Oh, Clark, you'll never believe it." Taking a deep breath, she linked arms with him and began walking them down the street, presumably to make eavesdropping more difficult. Clark allowed himself to enjoy the increased body contact as her shoulder bumped his arm. "There was another Metros meeting again today!"
"Did you get inside the room again?"
"Nope, I went one better." She looked smug. "I mean, I think it would have been safe enough; the waitress outfit makes me practically invisible — no one pays any attention to the help — but then I do have to worry about drinks, and anyway, it'd look too suspicious if I bribed my way in two days in a row. However… there's a supply closet with some newly-made bullet holes in the wall — perfect for peeking through."
Clark smiled. "I guess you really are the best."
"Of course," she agreed, smiling broadly. "Anyway, I'll show it to you later, but the *big* thing is what happened in the meeting today. Toni Taylor staged a coup and threw Johnny out!"
"So I'm headed back to the Planet to write it up — I need to be back in an hour so no one misses me. And then we'll see if there are any follow-ups tonight or tomorrow." She spotted a cab. With practiced ease, she waved and whistled to call the car over. "Do you want to ride with me?"
"Um, Lois…" Clark hated to say anything, but he couldn't let this pass. "I know you're in a hurry, but, ah…" He gestured vaguely towards her chest.
"What?" She looked down at herself, and seemed confused. Then she evidently realized that under her coat, she was still dressed as a Metro Club waitress. She blushed, and pulled the edges of her coat together.
"I just thought you might want to change," Clark explained. "Not that the outfit doesn't look good on you, but, well…"
"Oh. Yeah, I can run back inside and change…" She glanced at her watch, looking worried. She looked back up at him for a moment, chewing her lip, then took a deep breath. She fished her notebook out of her coat pocket and pushed it toward him. He took it, eyebrows lifting in surprise.
"You go ahead, Clark — there are some names in there that we'll need some more information on, and you can get started on the article."
His eyebrows rose higher. "Me? This is your story, Lois."
"Yeah, and I'll be there to write it, but time is tight here, and anyway, you're my partner, sort of, and you are helping out with the story… oh, just go get started already!" Lois waved him toward the waiting cab. "I'll be there as soon as I can get changed and find another cab."
Lois paced back and forth, backstage, calming herself as best she could. People were moving all around her, but no one paid much attention to her. After the previous singer had quit unexpectedly, Lois had gotten a fast promotion from dancer to soloist; they were sure to think she was just having stage fright.
It wasn't stage fright. She was panicking over Clark again. In her own apartment in the middle of the night, the thought of encouraging him had been scary enough. In daylight, face-to-face with him, she was discovering new depths of cowardice. She wasn't even sure what she was afraid of — she had no doubt whatsoever that he was attracted to her. But when she'd been around him today, her stomach had fluttered and her palms had sweat, and her only available conversational styles were brusque professional and blithering idiot. At least Clark was used to her brusque professional mode, and hadn't seemed to notice anything unusual.
Never mind. Right now, she was getting ready for her singing debut, and she should be concentrating on that. She knew the song, but she was still a little nervous about it — the melodic line was tricky, and the tempo had to be just right. Not that she cared what the audience thought, exactly, but she didn't want to get fired. Not when she was convinced that the answer to the puzzle was here, somewhere.
Lois shook her head. This was still not what she should be thinking about. She was going to be singing a sultry love song, and she ought to try to get in the mood. She closed her eyes, visualizing herself singing, and her imagination automatically produced Superman as her audience. Except it wasn't working — he looked distant and she felt self- conscious. If it was Clark, on the other hand… mmm, that was much better.
And Clark would be out in the club tonight, watching and hearing her sing. Well, she might not be able to tell him how she felt, not yet, but this would be a fairly safe way to send him some signals.
The stage manager came to guide her out onto the darkened platform, just as the orchestra began playing. Her assumed name was announced, the stage light came on, and she was the focus of way too many eyes at once.
#How glad a million laddies, from millionaires to caddies, would be to capture me.#
She sang to darkness at first, until her eyes began to adjust to the floodlights.
#But you had such persistence, you wore down my resistance. I fell, and it was swell.#
As expected, Clark was behind the bar. It was hard to say for sure, but it looked as if he was watching her with rapt appreciation. She smiled, feeling more confident.
#You're my big and brave and handsome Romeo. How I won you I shall never ever know.#
That much was true, Lois reflected. Actually, a lot of the lines in this song seemed to apply to them.
#It's not that you're attractive—#
Okay, so that part didn't fit.
#But oh, my heart grew active, when you came into view. I've got a crush on you, sweetie-pie. All the day and night-time, hear me sigh.#
This was almost getting spooky. She closed her eyes briefly and tried to concentrate only on her performance.
#I never had the least notion, that I could fall with so much emotion.#
She scanned the room. Good entertainers made eye contact with lots of people in the audience.
#Could you coo—#
Her voice faltered as she recognized Lex Luthor, sitting right in the middle of the club. From the way he was smiling, she guessed he'd already recognized her.
#could you care? For a cunning cottage we could share? The world will pardon my mush, 'cause… #
Lois looked back to Clark for reassurance.
#I have got a crush — oh, my baby — on you.#
As the music died away, Lois made herself smile while the audience applauded. As soon as it began to fade, she started walking backwards until she was off-stage.
She needed Clark.
Even before Lois left the stage, Clark left the bar, through the kitchen and up the back hallway. Lex Luthor was bad news on his own, in Clark's biased opinion, but when he was getting all chummy with the new head of a crime syndicate, things could get seriously bad. Toni had been rampaging about all evening, incensed by the article about her in the Daily Planet. Clark had no doubt whatsoever that Lex would expose Lois.
Moving only slightly faster than normal human speed, he caught up with her as she was leaving the immediate back stage area. She looked worried, but her expression lightened a bit when she spotted him.
"Not here. Come on." She grabbed him by the hand and looked around them. Clark didn't think anyone was paying any attention to them; she must have agreed. She led him to a supply closet, closing the door behind them.
"Did you see him?"
"Of course I saw him."
"Get out of here, now. Don't even stop to get your things."
"I don't know, Clark," she whispered, looking conflicted. "He's a friend of mine. I don't think he'd do anything to hurt me…"
"Lois, these people have guns. We can't take that chance."
She frowned at him. "But things are going to break soon, I know they are — I can't get tossed out now!"
"Lois…" Clark tensed as he heard footsteps approaching. "Someone's coming." He tried to think of a convincing explanation of why they were in here — kissing her would probably shield them from suspicion, but he was certain she'd kill him if he tried it.
"Are you sure? I don't hear anything…" Lois studied his face for a second, glancing at the door as the footsteps drew nearer and a low murmur of voices could be heard. She took a deep breath, looking scared. Then she kissed him.
The moment her lips touched his, he lost track of everything but her. Her arms came up around his neck as she pressed herself close to him, and his arms, of their own accord, gathered her in. The sequins of her dress felt rough under his hands, compared to the smooth softness of her back. The memories of their night together came crashing back around him, and he grew bolder, deepening the kiss. She clung to him as if she'd never want to leave, and—
"Interesting place for a bartender. Run out of olives?"
It took a moment for Clark to come back to awareness of his surroundings and realize that the closet door was open, with Toni Taylor standing in the entrance. Reluctantly, he lifted his head, breaking the kiss. He couldn't bring himself to let her go yet, though. Lois tucked her head into his shoulder, breathing heavily.
"Umm, I was… we were…" Clark's eyes widened as he realized that Lex Luthor was standing only a pace behind Toni, and had clearly seen quite a lot. His expression was murderous.
"As I said, Toni — I've found your leak." Lex's voice was cold enough to freeze lava. "Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet."
Toni shook her head in disappointment. "I have to admit, Charlie, I was hoping for better from you."
Lois recovered her composure and looked up, glaring at Toni and Lex, both.
Lex's lips twisted. "I hadn't wanted to involve you, my dear, but apparently you've made your choice. Toni, may I introduce Clark's … 'partner' — Lois Lane, also of the Planet." He gave her one last sneer before turning to stride away.
Toni dropped all pretense of sorrow. "You're both fired. And you'll be hearing from my lawyer. Get out."
"And stay out!" the bouncer grumbled at them, before turning around to go back in the club and slam the door shut for emphasis.
"Gangster," Lois called after him. At Toni's request, he'd forcibly escorted them to the nearest side exit and ejected them into the alley.
Clark shot her a warning glance, then resumed his fascinated study of his feet. He hadn't looked straight at her since right before she'd kissed him — not that she was giving him many opportunities.
"Ham-handed gorilla," she grumbled, smoothing out her dress.
Clark frowned slightly at her gesture. "Are you okay, Lois? He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Only my dignity." Her self-confidence was also pretty damaged, and her relationship with Clark would probably never be the same, but she'd done both of those things all by herself.
Shaking off these bitter thoughts, she looked around the alley, orienting herself. "Never mind. Come on." She began walking toward the two dumpsters sitting along the side wall of the club. There wasn't much space between them, but at least the area was dry. She bent down and reached into the shadows.
Clark's voice came from right behind her, and Lois nearly lost her balance. He caught hold of her shoulder to steady her, then dropped his hand again almost immediately. Lois could still feel the warmth of it on her skin. She found what she was looking for and stood up, her small duffel bag in hand.
Clark's eyebrows rose in a silent question.
She shrugged, trying not to feel smug about her foresight. "I didn't want to risk my things again by leaving them in there — as it is, my cab money is still back in the dressing room, unless of course it's been stolen already — so I stashed my duffel bag out here. Just in case. The important thing is, my clothes are all here. Let's go find a place where I can change out of this dress." She pulled her trench coat out of the bag and pulled it on as quickly as she could.
"Good thinking. Are you cold?" Clark asked with quiet concern.
"Yeah," she mumbled, still not looking at him. Honestly, it wasn't that chilly out here, but right at the moment she felt exposed and vulnerable to Clark. Earlier, the fancy dress had made her feel wonderfully sexy, but at the moment it felt more like being naked. She tugged the coat tightly shut and tied it with a jerk. "Down that way," she reported, pointing down the alley, "is the main street. Let's go." She started walking.
Behind her, she heard a quiet sigh, then the sound of footsteps as Clark began following her.
She didn't want to deal with Clark right now. Back in that closet, with goons approaching, it had seemed like a good idea to kiss him. And, well, it had been pretty spectacular — even better than she remembered, which was saying something. If it had only been garden-variety goons who'd caught them, it probably would have deflected suspicion. But now, the adrenaline rush was fading, leaving her feeling a little shaky and out of control. Lois hated feeling out of control.
"Umm, Lois…" Clark said cautiously, "I have cab fare with me… so you can take a cab home. I wouldn't have to go with you, if that would make you… well, if you'd rather I didn't. I could walk. My place isn't too far away."
Lois swung around to look at him. She puzzled briefly over why he thought she wouldn't want to share a cab — but then dismissed it. "We're not taking a cab anywhere, together or separately."
Clark looked wary. "We're not?"
"Clark! We're working! Sure, we're not on the inside anymore, but there's still got to be something we can do." Lois felt herself calming as she put things in such a familiar context. Work challenges were infinitely easier than this whole relationship thing. There might not be much chance of achieving anything on either front tonight, but at the very least, the pretense of working kept Clark near. "I am *not* giving up — and neither are you."
He smiled, looking almost like himself again. "Yes, ma'am."
"Thank you! Now, the first thing we need is somewhere to stake out the front entrance of the Metro Club — but first, I need to change out of this silly dress." She turned around again to survey the street. "Look, the Shiny Diner — perfect." Without waiting for his opinion of the idea, she crossed the street and walked a little way down the sidewalk until she got to the door of the diner. Only then did she look to see if Clark was still with her.
Clark opened the door for her, and waved her inside. She went in, looking around with interest. "They weren't kidding when they called it shiny, were they?" The interior of the diner was trimmed everywhere with polished chrome; once she got past that detail, she could see that it was also decorated in a sort of stylized Fifties way. "Grab us a booth, okay — one where we've both got a good view of the club!"
She quickly located the bathroom, and took the duffel bag inside with her. The interior of this room was nowhere near as fancy as the rest of the place, but at least it was clean, and she had enough room to change clothes. She wiggled out of the dress as quickly as she could, and slipped into her soft black track suit. A pair of black canvas shoes were next.
She stuffed the dress and heels into the bag, then looked at the trench coat. After a moment of internal debate, she decided to wear it, but not tie it.
As she was closing the bag, she caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. Her stage makeup looked way too heavy in more normal lighting. She grabbed some paper towels and carefully reduced the color to near-normal levels. She ran her fingers through her hair to get it into some semblance of neatness. She fussed a little at her track suit, then realized she was primping, and shook her head in disgust. "You need to stop stalling," she told her reflection sternly.
Resolutely, she exited the bathroom, and went to join Clark. "Nice view," she commented as she sat down across from him. "Right across the street from the main entrance of the Club." And, come to think of it, the view across the table was pretty good, too. Lois had thought Clark looked pretty stunning earlier, in his bartender's fake tux. Now that he'd taken off the bow tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons… he looked absolutely devastating.
Clark slid a laminated menu in front of her. "The waitress said she'd be back in a minute… I ordered some coffee for you, but if you want anything else, feel free. My treat." His smile seemed forced, and he still avoided her gaze, instead staring out the window.
Lois looked at him for a moment, then busied herself looking at the menu. For the first time, it registered that Clark was acting oddly. All quiet and withdrawn. Had she made an awful miscalculation? Did Clark really not want her, after all? He'd responded to the kiss, sure, but then, her cynical side pointed out, he was a healthy male.
Their coffee arrived, and — deciding that tonight was a good time to live dangerously — Lois ordered the richest chocolate dessert on the menu. An awkward silence descended over the table. It was really too warm in here for this coat, Lois decided, taking it off.
"I'm sorry," Clark said into the silence.
Lois looked up at him, not sure what he meant by that.
He smiled tightly, and explained, "If I hadn't panicked and gone to get you, Lex might have thrown me out, but you'd still be in there."
Lois blinked. That hadn't even occurred to her. "It's okay, I wouldn't want to owe Lex a favor anyway."
Clark nodded, and they were quiet again for a moment. Clark cleared his throat, looking embarrassed and intent all at once, before lowering his eyes to study the spoon he was pushing idly around the tabletop.
Lois tensed. Was this the part where he told her how uncomfortable she'd made him?
"About that, um… kiss," Clark began, slowly. "I… just want you to know that I know it was just an undercover thing, and I'm sorry I got carried away. I swear to you, Lois, you don't have to worry about me … attacking you or anything."
"I'm not worried," she replied, automatically, as she tried to decipher this. Did that mean he wanted it to happen again, or not?
He looked up, meeting her eyes briefly. He looked terrified, Lois thought in wonder. Terrified of her? Or, maybe… terrified of losing her. She felt her confidence growing again, in direct proportion to the depth of emotion she saw in his eyes. She smiled shyly. "It's okay, Clark."
"I just want you to know," he continued earnestly, "that what happened back there won't happen again."
Lois considered her options. Clark was clearly offering a return to their previous platonic friendship. For a half second, she was tempted. It would be much safer.
But not nearly as much fun.
"Why not?" She smiled at him, leaning forward. "Didn't you like it?"
Clark really looked very cute when he was utterly bewildered.
"Well, um, yeah, I liked it," he said cautiously. "But I figured that… that you…"
Before he could find whatever words he was groping for, she said, "I'm the one that kissed you, remember?"
His face softened, and when he spoke, his voice was husky. "I remember."
"It was pretty terrific, wasn't it?" Lois was greatly enjoying this moment, both in remembering the kiss and in confusing Clark.
His eyes widened, and she saw his Adam's apple bob up and down as he swallowed. "Yeah."
She leaned a little further over the table, and confided, "I've wanted to do that for weeks."
She was rewarded by one of his beautiful blinding smiles, as he finally caught on to what she was saying. "Oh, Lois."
She reached a hand across the table, and he caught it gently in one of his. "I've missed you, Lois."
"I tried very hard not to miss you," she admitted wryly, as her exhilaration subsided and transmuted into tenderness. "But I just couldn't get you out of my head."
His face clearly showed his delight at her confession. "Well, then, I think this definitely deserves some—" He broke off as the waitress returned with their desserts. "—exploration," he finished. "Would you, um… like to go out for dinner with me, maybe? Someplace nicer than here." As an afterthought, he added, "I have something I need to tell you."
"Oh, really? Finally going to reveal your big secret, are you?" Lois teased.
He grinned, digging his fork into his pie, but then his expression went distant and all of a sudden he was staring over Lois's shoulder. Her heart sank. If he ran off now…
"Lois, behind you, isn't that Toni Taylor?"
Lois startled and turned around. She scanned the street for a confused moment before spotting Toni walking away from the club. "Yep, it sure is." She turned back to face Clark, and for a moment, their eyes met in identical disappointment at the interruption.
Time to work again. Lois scrambled out of her seat while Clark threw a few bills on the table, and they both headed for the diner's door.
Clark tried to concentrate on following Toni without being spotted, but it was difficult. He was in a glorious haze of delight, and it felt like he needed all his vision powers to see through it to the world around him. Lois had looped one of her arms with his, walking very close next to him, and she was smiling dreamily. He suspected that his own expression would be very similar.
He peered ahead, checking that Toni was still heading straight. She was walking at a moderately fast rate, and carrying a briefcase. She couldn't be planning to go far, or she'd have driven. His attention wandered.
Lois had kissed him! And it hadn't destroyed everything, as he'd feared. He'd been so convinced that his enthusiastic response to the kiss would have scared her, made her think of him as some sort of dangerous predator. When Lois was scared, she was quite capable of believing all sorts of things without regard for such mundane matters as evidence. The thought that he'd scared her — betrayed her trust — had made him feel ill.
He'd been caught up in imagining the names she might call him (Neanderthal, for a start, but she probably had a whole range of scornful terms for heavy-handed males), and how she was going to get away from him as fast as humanly possible, and whether Perry would fire him immediately the next morning, or wait until the sexual harassment lawsuit was filed. He'd been so preoccupied that he hadn't noticed that she wasn't following the script.
She'd certainly grabbed his attention when she'd asked if he hadn't liked the kiss. It wasn't just the question, but also the way she'd managed to combine sensual smugness with an unholy amusement. The look on her face, and in her eyes, had temporarily robbed him of breath.
He felt a sense of wonder at the notion that she'd wanted to kiss him for weeks. She had certainly given him no hints of it; the only one she'd shown any interest in kissing had been Superman. He thought she would take that news well — eventually — but with Lois he was never sure of anything. He wanted to tell her right here and now, but in the middle of an investigation wasn't a good time to distract her, so he'd keep his secret a little while longer.
He became aware that Lois was tugging at his arm, pulling him into the shadow of a closed shop door. She snuggled in close, ending up with her body flush to his side.
A quick check ahead revealed that Toni had stopped, waiting for a chance to cross the street. She glanced around.
"Where do you think she's going?" Lois whispered in his ear.
Clark closed his eyes and shivered at the sensation. "I don't know. Can't be far." His eyes popped open again as he felt her begin to nibble on his earlobe. "Lo-is! This is not a good time."
She shrugged and retreated slightly. "Spoilsport."
Clark shot her an exasperated look. "I can't think when you do that."
Lois grinned. "Okay, okay, we'll just work, for now. But later…"
"Later," he promised, pulling her a little closer. He didn't quite dare to kiss her on the lips, not if he wanted to return to reality anytime soon, but he couldn't resist nuzzling in her hair. "She's moving again."
Cautiously, they resumed walking. By now Clark's arm was firmly around Lois's shoulders, and her arm had, in turn, found its way around his waist. He'd been fighting the urge to touch her for a month, and now he found he didn't want to let go.
Toni was leading them away from the lights and noise of the busy streets, down toward the area that had been plagued with so many fires lately. She slowed to a stop in the middle of a block, glancing around, but apparently didn't notice them. Then she turned and ducked inside one of the burned-out buildings.
Slowly, Clark and Lois approached the spot where she'd disappeared. There was a sign identifying it as a future LexHarbor site, but for the moment, it looked entirely deserted. Clark was reluctant to take Lois inside; just yesterday, he'd seen it engulfed in flames. This section, however, seemed to have suffered less damage than the rest, and — he checked — the structure itself was solid and stable.
With a whispered, "Come on," Lois took the lead, pulling him along by the hand.
Lois stepped inside the darkened warehouse, and paused for a moment to let her eyes adjust. Toni was nowhere to be seen, but there was a faint light further inside, screened from the door by a jumble of half-burned crates. Still holding Clark's hand, she crept forward, looking for a safe place to observe the action from.
Slightly to the side, she found a good vantage point, a shadowed corner with a view of the area beyond, courtesy of the broken sides of a lower crate. It was a small, cramped space, barely large enough for two people, if they were on good terms with one another. She grinned. Luckily, she and Clark were now on very good terms. She ducked inside, pulling him in after her; after a moment's maneuvering she ended up in front, with Clark standing sideways right next to her.
Toni had just entered the room, apparently, and was surrounded by the Toasters, masked and holding their weapons. "Is this really necessary?" she asked in a bored tone.
After a second, one of the Toasters stepped forward, pulling off his mask. "Did you bring the money?"
Moving as quietly as she could, Lois pulled her duffel bag in front of her and began feeling inside it. Her fingers encountered the lump right where it should have been. She worked it loose and, triumphantly, pulled out a mini tape recorder.
In the room beyond them, Toni opened the briefcase. "One hundred thousand."
Clark raised an eyebrow at Lois, and she grinned. "Never leave home without it," she whispered. She pushed the play and record buttons; they made a clicking sound that sounded terribly loud to her ears, but none of the bad guys appeared to notice.
"You said two!" one of the Toasters protested angrily.
"Considering how badly you botched the hit on my brother," Toni hissed back, "you're lucky I'm even here. Do you realize I could've been killed?"
"Yeah, that would have been a real shame."
Toni continued her discussion with the Toasters, but Lois found her attention wandering. She was very aware of Clark's body next to her — his chest against her right arm, his legs straddling hers. Carefully, she placed the mini-recorder in the middle of the burned-out crate in front of them, hidden in the shadows. Then she wound her right arm around Clark's waist. His left arm came up to hold her shoulders and squeeze her a little closer.
She badly wanted to do more. She'd been frustrated for all the last month, and now, when she finally had the opportunity to touch him anywhere she wanted… they had to remain absolutely quiet. Even if the Toasters missed hearing anything, the mini-recorder would surely pick it up.
Still, there was no reason she shouldn't enjoy thinking about him. The look in his eyes, of passion and tenderness, out on the street… had seemed very familiar, actually. He'd looked at her a lot like that, weeks ago, in bed. Dreamily, she gave herself permission to enjoy the memories she'd refused to think about for weeks. There was something different, though, something about his eyes… oh, of course; the last time he'd looked at her like that, he hadn't been wearing his glasses. Really, it was surprising how much the lack of them changed the look of his face. His hair had been tumbled forward, and he'd looked so serious, so intent… she sighed happily. She hadn't ever believed she could find someone who'd look at her like that, as if she were the most precious thing in the world.
If only she'd trusted her own judgment, instead of fixating on Superman as a safer alternative. She felt a pang of loss as she realized she'd have to give up those fantasies. But anything less wouldn't be fair to Clark. Her father's thoughts — and more — had strayed all too often. She would not willingly put anyone else through that.
Peripherally, she noted that Toni's meeting was not going well. Lois told herself sternly to pay attention. Some of the Toasters were, in fact, wrapping Toni's wrists together with tape and bragging about their plans to conquer the world, or at least burn down this small corner of it.
Lois put a hand on Clark's shoulder to steady herself, and inched forward for a better look. She felt her foot run into something unseen on the ground — something that was moving; in horror she heard it make a loud clatter as it hit something breakable. Before she could do much more than step backwards, she felt Clark's arm encircle her waist and lift her slightly off the floor. He swiftly moved them further back into the shadow, behind a thick support beam.
Peeking around the edge of the beam, she saw one of the Toasters come around to investigate the noise. He bent down, and picked up a glass bottle. Shaking his head, he went back to report that it had been nothing more than a rat.
Lois leaned back on Clark's solid chest, for support. That had been too close. If Clark hadn't gotten them both out of there, they might well have been killed. Good thing he was so strong and fast. Not to mention nimble; she would have expected some stumbling as they retreated that quickly, but the movement had been very smooth. They might have been sliding on rails… or flying.
Lois told herself sternly to stop imagining things. Clark did not fly.
With one last squeeze, Clark let go of her waist, and stepped past her to take a turn watching what little they could see of the action.
He was awfully fast, though. And without his glasses, in her memories, he had kind of looked familiar…
No, she must be crazy. Clark had nothing in common with Superman. Well, except for a fantastic body and unusually good hearing…
She forced herself to breathe slowly as a hundred images and incidents came to mind, all things that hadn't made sense at the time, but which fitted a certain pattern, in retrospect. No, she was cracking up under stress. It had been hard for her to choose between Clark and Superman, but she had done so, and she was happy with her choice. She didn't need wild fantasies about Clark leading some sort of double life… though she knew he was hiding some kind of big secret…
Feeling shaky, she looked up at Clark. He was looking steadily toward the pile of crates between them and Toni. With his glasses halfway down his nose. What sort of person sees better without glasses?
And then everything fell into place, and out of all recognition.
Clark let out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, and began scanning for another hiding place. He nudged Lois, pointing upwards. She was watching him with the most peculiar look on her face. After a second, though, she turned to check out what he'd found. There was a good vantage point from there, on a pile of mostly-whole boxes, and it looked as if it'd be possible to climb up quietly. She nodded, and followed him up to the top.
Looking down, they saw that the Toasters were leaving — at least, three of them were. The fourth stayed behind, apparently to keep an eye on a captive Toni.
Leaving them stuck. The small noises they'd made earlier had been drowned out by activity from the Toasters. But the warehouse was now settling down to silence, and any moves would be heard.
He glanced at Lois. Judging by her widened eyes, she was reaching the same conclusions. He examined the warehouse interior, weighing their options. Maybe, if they knocked over a stack of junk, that would distract the guard while they made their escape? Behind them, up near the ceiling, was a window with only a few remaining shards of its glass pane. If he were alone, he'd just dart out that way, but with Lois here…
He turned back to look at her again. She was also searching for a safe way out. Well, he'd planned to tell her about Superman. He had one last flash of nerves — what if he was wrong about her? She had kissed him, but hadn't made any vows of undying love and loyalty or anything. Still, she deserved to know — and if that was the only way to get them out, as it seemed to be, then this was definitely the time to come clean.
"Lois," he whispered, almost inaudibly.
She turned toward him, straining to hear, but with less than her full attention.
He leaned forward so that his mouth was near her ear, and vice versa. "I, uh… have something I need to tell you."
"Save it for later, okay?" she whispered back. "Clark, do you see that window over there?"
He turned to look, and saw her pointing to the same one he'd noticed earlier. She leaned forward again to whisper, "Do you think there's room for you to fly me through there? I mean, some of the glass might come out, but that shouldn't matter if we're long gone by the time the goon comes around the corner."
Clark could only stare at her.
She looked perplexed. "Well, we can't stay in here, not when they're going to burn all that's left of West River! Clark? Why are you looking at me like that?" Her eyes widened and she blushed. "Oh, right. Um, hi, Superman. Can we go now?"
Slowly, he shook his head, and felt an irresistible smile start to grow. He should have known.
Flying with Clark was incredible. It was only a short flight, out the window and about a block away, but when he'd held her close and gravity had ceased to matter… wow. It was making Lois just a little dizzy, but that was probably only because she'd been short on sleep, lately.
He landed with a soft thump, gently setting her back on her feet. She just looked up at him in wonder. She didn't quite know who he was anymore, but she was looking forward to finding out.
"Are you okay?" he asked her, watching her closely.
Lois pulled herself together. "Yeah, I'm fine… or at least, I will be."
"I think we have a few things to talk about," Clark said. "But right now—"
"We've got to stop the bad guys, right." She glanced up at him, unsure how to proceed. Should she boss Clark around, or defer to Superman? "Uh… can you stop the Toasters?"
Clark nodded. "I just have to find them, and that won't be hard, now that they're out in the open again."
"Then I guess I should go alert the police and fire departments…"
"Hmm," Clark said, looking around with an abstracted air. Was he listening for something? "Make sure to tell them about Toni, too. They should send someone to get her."
"Right. And then…" It was getting difficult to think; lack of sleep catching up to her, no doubt. "Then I'll go write up the story."
"Okay. I'll meet you at the Planet later, then." Glancing around quickly, Clark began to spin. When the blur subsided, he was Superman. "Let me take you to the police station first, okay? It'd take too long to get a cab, and I'm not sure you could get through on the phone."
"Um, okay. Yeah. Good idea." Lois knew she was staring, but she couldn't help herself. She'd known Clark was Superman; it had seemed blindingly obvious once all the pieces came together. And Clark had flown! But it was still a shock to see him there as Superman. He looked so familiar, and so very different, all at once.
He smiled, moving a step closer. Hesitantly, he brought his hand up and brushed the back of his fingers across her cheek. "Hey, it's just me, you know."
His touch and the tenderness in his voice made him more Clark-like again, and she relaxed. "Okay, let's go then."
He smiled, then scooped her up again, taking off almost immediately. It took only a moment before he set her down in front of the local MPD precinct house. "Be careful, okay?"
She summoned up a smile. "Sure. Umm… you, too."
With one last smile he lifted back up into the air. For a moment he seemed to hover in midair, then he disappeared.
Lois blinked. It had been strange, talking to Clark, knowing he was Superman. Talking to Superman, knowing he was Clark, was positively surreal.
When she'd first put all the pieces together, her first reaction had been a jubilant "YES!" She could have her Clark, and Superman, too… but immediately thereafter, she'd realized how very strange this was going to be.
That would have to wait until later, though. She had work to do.
It was getting near dawn before Clark made it to the Daily Planet. Capturing the Toasters had been fairly straight- forward, but Superman had needed to make sure all the fires were out, and then Clark had gone by the police station, gathering material for his article.
Lois wasn't there when he entered the newsroom, which didn't really surprise him. He was really looking forward to talking to her — on several topics — but he wouldn't want to interfere with her sleep.
The newsroom was fairly deserted, with no one paying attention, so it didn't take long to type up his report of the night's excitement. It seemed a little on the dull side, but he fixed that by giving himself an exclusive Superman quote.
He could hardly wait to see Lois again. He really wanted to know how — not to mention *when* — she'd figured him out. Her behavior and attitude toward him had undergone a drastic change last night, following that kiss. He hated to think that it might just have been because she'd realized that Superman was a heck of a lot more accessible than she'd ever imagined.
The last time he'd seen her, though — after he'd flown with her — she'd looked… almost shy with him. In fact, it was the first time she had shown Clark some of the starry-eyed awe normally reserved for Superman. It had felt like a barrier between them. So, maybe… maybe the sensual mischief from earlier had been all for Clark.
Well, that was one of the things they'd have to talk about.
Clark stretched in his chair, realizing that he wouldn't mind a little sleep, himself. He glanced around his desk to see if he had any urgent story tasks awaiting him. For the first time, he noticed a folded slip of paper tucked into the corner of his desk blotter.
The outside only had his name written on it — in very familiar handwriting. He unfolded it eagerly.
Hey, partner — my night was a success, hope yours was, too. I'd still be there, but the night editor's making me go home. Anyway, there are some details we need to talk about; things that didn't make it into the story. How about brunch at my place — say, 10:30? If not, give me a call. LL
Clark glanced at his watch. He was going to have to wait another four hours? But he had to admit that, other than the wait, it was a pretty good plan. Today was Lois's day off, and Clark knew that after working all night, he wouldn't be expected in the newsroom before noon. So they'd have plenty of time to talk.
He read the note again. It would seem very business-like and impersonal if anyone else saw it, but Clark was reading all kinds of layers of meaning into it. The part that really made him hopeful was the invitation to her apartment. He hadn't been allowed inside her place since "the morning after."
So. Four hours. Time enough to clean up, catch a short nap… and work himself into a nervous wreck.
Lois was a nervous wreck. She hadn't gotten very much sleep — there were too many things to think about for her to waste time sleeping! Eventually, though, she'd fallen asleep, and it had taken the alarm clock multiple tries to pry her out of bed at 9:30. Then she'd realized that Clark was coming over soon, and the jolt of panic had given her enough energy to brew her first cup of coffee.
She had some pastries and juice available for brunch — thanks to some middle-of-the-night shopping on her way home. And coffee, of course. So that was okay. She'd found something nice to wear — a silk blouse worn with black pants — after only a few false starts. It was probably a good thing that she had a deadline, otherwise she'd still be in there dithering over clothes.
Everything was in place, actually. Which reduced Lois to just worrying.
Relationships in general were not her strong suit. Of course, this time, she was actually going to date a man who was *not* a jerk, which would be a major improvement on the previous attempts. On the relationship front, Clark would be great. Romantically speaking, Superman was the icing on the cake.
It was just the thought of working with him that was driving her to distraction.
How on earth was she supposed to work with him now? Superman wasn't supposed to have a boss, or collect a paycheck, or… or be ordered around by his partner. The memories of some of the things she'd said to Clar— Superm— *him* were making her writhe in embarrassment.
And he would be here — she checked the clock — in three minutes! Well, she would just have to wing it. She'd been working with Clark for two months now. This couldn't be too much harder. Could it?
The doorbell rang. Lois raised her chin, took a deep breath, and walked over to the door to unlock it.
Clark knew he was a few minutes early, but he hadn't been able to wait any longer. He had thought that hiding his feelings for Lois was tough. But that wasn't nearly as scary as the prospect of revealing them, or as difficult as his new dilemma. When one was going to a woman's apartment — for brunch — because she'd kissed him and said — well, okay, implied — she'd want to do it again… what, if anything, should he bring?
For a dinner date, he'd bring wine, of course. But wine at brunch hadn't seemed like a good idea, so he'd bought flowers about half an hour ago. He'd spent what seemed like ages debating with himself over what *kind* of flowers. Red roses seemed much too formal for this early in the day, but yellow ones, for friendship, just didn't adequately cover what he was hoping for. He'd ended up with a small arrangement of ordinary flowers and baby's breath — they weren't very expensive, but the colors were pretty.
Then, on the way over to Carter St, he'd thrown the whole bouquet into a dumpster, convinced that they were an incredibly stupid idea. This wasn't *really* a date, after all. He'd like it to be one, sure, but he wasn't so sure about how Lois saw it — and the last thing he wanted was to pressure her in any way.
So he'd ducked into a corner grocery store, instead. It was brunch; he should bring brunch food, right? But then, while he was perusing the baked goods, it had occurred to him that bringing his own food might not strike quite the right note. Lois had never seemed the domestic type, but he was sure she could manage to buy a few pastries by herself. And he'd already noticed that she could be quite defensive about areas where she failed to live up to her own high standards. Or maybe she was secretly a great chef, for all he knew. Either way, though, bringing baked goods would be a bad idea.
Shaking his head in disgust at his own indecisiveness, he'd started to walk out of the store — but then inspiration struck, in the middle of the candy aisle. One thing he knew for sure was that Lois loved chocolate. She tried to hide it, sort of, but it was pretty obvious. Of course, then, he was faced with the flower dilemma all over again. A plain chocolate bar wasn't enough, but a fancy wrapped assortment was over the top. A bag of chocolate kisses seemed about right. Just the mental image of Lois popping each individual morsel into her mouth had made him break out into a cold sweat. And maybe chocolate kisses could be followed by real ones…
His confidence buoyed up, he bought the kisses and walked out of the store. Maybe the flowers hadn't been so stupid, after all. The dumpster was only a block away — in the wrong direction, but he had time. Luckily, the arrangement had stayed mostly intact and clean — it had landed on paper waste. Just for once, Clark was grateful for someone *not* recycling. He carefully fished the flowers back out and inspected them — one pink carnation's stem had been broken, so he pulled that out of the bouquet and relegated it back to the dumpster, but the rest seemed okay.
After that, he'd walked directly to Lois's brownstone, assuring himself that his entire future did not depend on anything so trivial as whether or not she liked the flowers. He'd stood outside her apartment door for a minute or so, breathing deeply and telling himself to calm down.
The split-second after he rang the doorbell, he noticed another damaged flower stem. He could pull it out — at super speed it wouldn't be a challenge — but then on the other hand, it was the only purple flower in the bunch. Maybe it wasn't too bad. He turned the bouquet sideways, to get a better look. Naturally, that was the moment that Lois chose to open the door.
He smiled, hurriedly pulling the flowers upright again, searching for something suave to say. "Hi." Oh yeah, that was real eloquence. "I, uh, brought these for you." He held them out a little, towards her. "I also brought some chocolate…"
Lois smiled shyly as she accepted them both. "Hi. Oh, these are pretty. Thanks." She stepped back from the doorway, beckoning him in. As she carried them into the kitchen, she called back, "The food's over on the coffee table. I printed out a copy of my article for you, too, in case you hadn't seen it yet."
"Great. Thanks." Clark settled himself onto one of Lois's twin sofas, and glanced at the story. It was pretty much what he'd expected — an account of how Toni Taylor had tried to take over her brother's crime syndicate, burning down half of West River in the process, just to disguise the hit on Johnny. "Great description of the scene when the cops arrested her," he commented.
Lois came back from the kitchen with flowers in a vase and chocolate kisses in a bowl. She set the flowers in the center of the table, with the candy dish slightly to one side. "You think so?" She seemed inordinately pleased at the compliment. "Thanks."
Clark closed his eyes briefly as he laid down the printout. This was a far cry from her usual treatment of him. It might just have been first-almost-date nerves… or she could be stuck in hero-worship mode. He had to do something, quick. "So, partner," he said in a casual tone, "you said there were details that didn't get into print. Like what?" He helped himself to an apple Danish.
Lois straightened her shoulders, losing some of the starry- eyed look as her professional side came to the fore. "Well, once I got someone's attention at the police station, they sent two beat cops out to get Toni, and I went with them. They knew quite a lot about the Metros, so we had a nice chat as we walked over there. What with all the distractions, we didn't get back to her until nearly midnight." She settled into her sofa, obviously with something big to say and a story she'd enjoy telling. "As we were coming up the street toward the place, we saw somebody down at the other end of the block. I was pretty sure I'd seen him coming out of the warehouse, but the beat cops just figured he was a transient, or somebody who'd gotten lost.
"So we went into the warehouse and found Toni — that part's all in the article. What I didn't say was…" She drew the word out, obviously looking for a response from him. His smile seemed to satisfy her, so she continued. "Remember my mini-recorder? I realized later that I'd left it there, so I went to get it back. And the thing had been turned on, the whole time."
Clark perked up at that. "You are amazing. I take it there was something on there?"
She grinned. "It was about an hour before I had a chance to listen to it."
"And because you had to wait, you're determined to torture me, too?" Clark asked, enjoying both the story and the sight of Lois becoming herself again.
"Well… I probably should," she said with a sly smile.
Clark pretended to think about that. "Nah, if you have to keep this a secret any longer you'll explode."
Lois laughed, and moved over to sit with him, bubbling with enthusiasm. She sat at the end, her back against the armrest, but she was still enticingly close. Clark turned sideways towards her.
"Clark, you'll never believe it. Well, okay, maybe you will believe it, but nobody else would believe it, is the point! And it's not really evidence, not the sort that'll be of any use in a court, anyway, so we've still got a lot of work to do. For one thing, Perry would never let us print anything at this point, and for another… well, I don't want to make the police work any harder than they have to, and I think if this did get in the paper, any further evidence would become really difficult to find."
"Any further evidence than… what, exactly?"
She blinked at him, then grinned. "I kinda skipped that part, huh?"
"Kinda, yeah," he agreed, grinning back at her. "Come on, Lois, take pity and fill me in, already."
She laughed again, then sobered as she leaned forward. "After we left the recorder behind, there wasn't much going on for a bit, but then — Clark, somebody came into that warehouse and started threatening Toni!"
He frowned. "She's okay, though, right?"
"Yeah, she's fine — but this guy made it very clear that she was not to ever mention his involvement. He said if she implicated him in anything, he'd have her killed!"
Clark leaned forward. "Do you have any idea who it was?"
She nodded wryly. "Like I said, it wouldn't be enough to stand up in court, but I know that voice — it was Lex Luthor. The tape didn't catch everything, but from what I could gather, he'd been helping Toni with her little takeover bid, by giving her those flame-throwers for the Toasters to use. In return, he got to buy up the property he wanted, cheap." She shook her head in amazement. "Lex, of all people!"
Clark tried to process that, and kept a wary eye on Lois. He still wasn't sure exactly how involved with Lex she had been — had she been hurt, or maybe embarrassed, by this? "So then what?" he asked, as neutrally as he could.
She shrugged, sitting back against the end of the sofa. "Well, once the article was wrapped up, and I heard the tape, I was all fired up, and started doing research, though apparently there's a limit to how much research one can do at one in the morning. But I saw enough to see there was a lot more to see."
"Lois, you are the best." Clark chuckled. "Good work, partner. Are you sure you're okay with this? I mean, you were sort of dating him."
"I was never in love with him, Clark," she said, shaking her head. "The only reason I'd want to go out with him now is to spy on him — and it's probably a moot point, anyway." She grinned. "I'm pretty sure I'm permanently off his Christmas card list, after he saw us kiss…" Her grin froze, and slowly began to fade, and she blushed.
Clark felt his own cheeks redden at the abrupt reminder. "Um, yeah. We, ah, probably ought to talk about that…"
Lois wished the sofa would open up and swallow her whole. She closed her eyes, instead. The morning had been going so well, too. But that was work. This was going to be personal. She felt Clark's hand lightly touch her knee, and opened her eyes again.
"Lois…" Clark began in a low tone. "I think it's got to be pretty obvious that I'm, ah, interested. And, well, last night, you seemed kinda interested, too."
Lois snorted softly at that colossal understatement.
"But if you don't want to deal with it…" his voice trailed off.
Lois looked up at him. He really would do his best to forget everything, and still be her friend. How amazing. He was a guy she could really trust — and it was time for her to start. "You're not getting away that easily, Clark."
His uncertain expression brightened at that. "I just… well, so many things were going on last night."
"You're telling me! Yesterday was one heck of a day." Lois felt herself relaxing a bit, as Clark smiled at her and let his hand drift toward her and touch her knee again; this time it stayed there. "First, I've decided that I'm going to stop fighting my attraction to you."
"And I fully support that decision," Clark commented, grinning.
She ignored the interruption. "And then there are major developments in the story, *plus* we got to save the city, which is always exciting."
"Yeah, it is, isn't it?" He winked at her, and she realized he was talking about Superman.
Lois rolled her eyes, and ruthlessly dragged the conversation back onto her topic. "And then I find out that the guy who was my friend, my partner, *and* the person whose bones I was dying to jump," she paused, watching Clark's eyes widen, "wasn't really who I thought he was."
Clark frowned slightly, trying to work through that. "You're saying you only found out last night? How?"
"Well… there were a lot of things, really." Looking back now, she couldn't remember many of the actual details. "That super-speedy retreat was a big clue, especially when put together with that whole 'big secret' thing. Still, if I hadn't already been thinking and putting pieces together… I'd probably have ignored it."
"I'd been thinking about telling you, you know," he said, looking as sincere as she'd ever seen him. "That's what I was gearing up to do last night, before you pre-empted me."
Lois smiled wryly. "Don't look so guilt-stricken. Telling me anytime before last night would probably have been a disaster. I needed to get things clear in my head, first."
Clark shifted in his seat, scooting just a little closer to her and laying an arm across the back of the sofa for balance. "And is your head clear now?"
"Mostly." She shrugged. "The whole Superman thing is kind of mind-boggling, you know. It's just going to take me a little time to adjust, Clark."
"We've got time," he promised. "And as for adjusting…" He hesitated, and looked endearingly nervous. "Would you like to go to dinner with me, sometime?"
"Yes." With that settled, she felt her self-confidence returning. She took a deep breath. "So… what are you doing tonight?"
He grinned crookedly. "Taking you out to dinner?"
"Good answer!" Lois winked at him, then gave up all pretense of coyness and settled herself on his lap. "It's about time we had a date, you know. I mean, we've slept together, broken up, kissed, *and* gotten back together, but did you ever buy me dinner? Noooo…"
Clark laughed with her, bringing his arms around her and hugging her close. "Clearly, I have a lot to make up for."
"Yes, you do! But maybe this time, we could take things in the right order?" As long as they didn't ever revisit the broken-up stage; it had been hard enough on her this time, when she'd scarcely known what she was missing.
Clark pulled his head back, just enough to have a good view of her face. One hand came up to brush a wisp of hair from her face, and then lingered, cupping her cheek before slowly withdrawing. "Yeah, that's a good idea," he said tenderly. "We took things way too fast, last time. We need to give ourselves time to get used to… this."
Lois pulled a pouty face. "Oh, you're no fun," she murmured. Inside, though, she had to admit that she felt as much relief as frustration. "But yeah, maybe that's a good idea." They needed time to really get to know one another.
"Okay, then," Clark replied, his voice getting lower as his eyes darkened with passion. "But, ah… do you think it'd be okay if we kissed *before* the date?"
"I sure hope so," Lois replied, bringing her arms around his neck, and lifting her face invitingly.
He bent his head towards her — finally! — and then his lips met hers. He backed away almost immediately, but Lois pulled him forward again, and this time it was the real thing. His lips were warm and dry, a familiar sensation that had been terribly lacking these last few weeks. How could she ever have thought of life without him? Then rational thought slipped away, as Lois surrendered to the pleasure of being cherished.