By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2003
Summary: Clark needs a date for a Smallville wedding, so who better to ask than his very good friend, Lois Lane? And then the games begin.
This story was written in honour of the birthdays of three lovely FoLCs, Tracey, Kaylle and Natascha. Happy birthday again, guys; I hope you had a terrific day and that you enjoyed your present. <g> The story is set not long after The Eyes Have It, but definitely before The Phoenix.
Many, many thanks to my much-valued beta-readers, Kaethel, Meredith and AnneC, without whom this story would not have been what it is now. You guys are terrific — I couldn't have done it without you!
All rights to the characters are the property of DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this short story.
Lois was getting irritated. Clark was supposed to be treating her to lunch at the deli — the result of a bet he'd lost — but he was talking on the phone, ignoring her. It clearly wasn't a business call; Lois was certain she'd heard him address the person at the other end of the line as 'Rachel'.
She remembered a Rachel — a Rachel who was an old friend of Clark's, and whose behaviour, and the way the sheriff had looked at her partner, had made it clear that she wouldn't be averse to renewing their friendship and turning it into something more.
A stab of some strange emotion — she refused to call it jealousy — speared through Lois.
She forced it away and focused on her partner, moving closer to him to let him see that she was waiting for him. The conversation seemed to be drawing to a close, but there was something which didn't quite seem right. She moved closer still.
"…that's great, Rachel. I'm really pleased for you! …And, yes, I'll look forward to meeting him too… Okay. See you."
As Clark replaced the receiver, Lois realised what it was. His voice had sounded congratulatory and pleased, yet his expression had been… disappointed.
What was going on? What had Rachel Harris — if that was whom he'd been talking to — done which deserved congratulations, but about which Clark wasn't exactly ecstatic?
Her curiosity piqued, she took the opportunity which offered itself as soon as Clark looked up and saw her. "What was all that about?"
He shrugged and looked away. "Nothing important."
Now that was a lie, and she knew it — and lying was something which Clark didn't do often. It clearly was important to him.
"Come on, Clark, you can do better than that!" she informed him.
This time he smiled. "I was just talking to Rachel — you remember, the sheriff in Smallville? — and she mentioned she has a boyfriend. She's been alone a long time, and I know she was lonely, so I'm really pleased for her."
But he wasn't. Or, at least, Lois again had a sense that he was pleased in a way, but that something was disappointing him about the situation. It wasn't that he harboured feelings for Rachel himself, was it? she asked herself, and again was surprised at the way her emotions reacted to the idea.
Clark was *hers*, the instinctive thought struck her.
No, he wasn't, she reminded herself firmly. He was her best friend. And he'd always be her best friend. But he was already dating someone else. And that was the way she wanted it, anyway — as her friend, she'd never lose Clark. Not in the way she'd lose him if he were in a relationship which went disastrously wrong, as all of hers tended to sooner or later.
"Okay, that sounds nice for her. But why did it bother you?" she asked him, determined to get to the bottom of the situation.
Clark gave her a long-suffering look. "I should know better than to tell you anything but the complete truth, shouldn't I?" His tone was more affectionate than irritated, and she smiled at him and looped her arm through his.
"Yeah, you should know better than now. So spill it, Kent!"
Using his free hand, he hooked his jacket with a finger. "Let's get out of here first. That is, if you still want to go to TC's for lunch?"
"You bet I do! You owe me, buster!" she teased him, using her free hand to poke him in the side before she broke away to scoop up her warm winter coat.
Out on the street, he gave her a wry smile. "It's all very silly, really. You see, a friend of mine from high school, Lana Lang, is getting married to another friend, Pete Ross. And I'm invited to the wedding. It's this coming weekend."
"So?" Lois questioned. It didn't sound like any kind of a big deal. Unless… did going to the wedding bother Clark for some reason? Some reason maybe connected with this Lana?
"Oh, I told you it was stupid. But Lana's mother insists that I have to bring a partner — a date. Otherwise her table arrangements will be put out."
"But that's ridiculous!" Lois exclaimed. "It's a wedding, not a dinner party! And anyway, that's so antiquated…"
"I know. But she's serious about it, and it's upsetting Lana." Clark pulled a face; Lois could see that behind his irritation with his friend's mother he was concerned for Lana. "She's getting married," he began to explain. "Her day should be perfect. But having her mother complain non- stop about the thoughtlessness of certain guests is upsetting her."
"Aren't there any other single guests?" Lois asked, amazed.
"Not from what I can tell. That's why I called Rachel," Clark explained. "She's invited too — I thought maybe I could go as her date and that would solve everything. But she's dating the new sheriff from the next county, and she can't wait to show him off to everyone."
"So what are you going to do?"
He shrugged. "I haven't decided." A sigh. "I'm tempted not to go — Mrs Lang is really driving me crazy — but I couldn't let Lana and Pete down. Not to mention that Mom would want to tan my hide if I cancelled now."
That was Clark all over, Lois knew; thinking of other people before himself. But what she couldn't understand was why he wasn't going for the obvious solution.
"Why aren't you taking Mayson?" she demanded.
"Mayson?" There was genuine surprise in his voice.
"Sure! I mean, the two of you have got pretty close lately…" Lois broke off before she found herself stumbling over her words. Mayson. Clark's… well, his girlfriend, presumably.
Mayson Drake. Assistant District Attorney. Blonde bombshell, and one with the brazenness — or maybe she should consider that courage — to let Clark know that she was interested. Very interested.
And Clark certainly hadn't seemed to object to Mayson's forwardness. On the contrary, it seemed that he found it attractive.
Lois gritted her teeth. It wasn't that she was jealous — far from it! But she did find Mayson's presence in Clark's life threatening.
It was only because they didn't get along, she reasoned. She didn't like Mayson — something about the other woman simply rubbed her up the wrong way — and she knew very well that the sentiment was reciprocated. So if Clark and Mayson got serious — if they got married! — then, she knew, she would lose Clark as a friend. Mayson would resent her place in Clark's life and, as his wife, or his long-term girlfriend, she'd be in a position to expect him to compromise. To drop a mere friendship for the woman he loved.
That was why she felt threatened by Mayson. For no other reason.
But Clark was frowning, and Lois recalled herself to their conversation. Why *wasn't* he bringing Mayson with him?
"Mayson's a friend, Lois," he said, his tone puzzled. "Why would you think…?"
Taken aback, Lois stared at him. "You're not dating?"
"Mayson and I? No!" The genuine surprise in Clark's voice told Lois that he was serious; he really couldn't understand where she'd got that impression.
"It seemed like it…" she began, then let it drop. The surge of relief she'd felt at Clark's assurance that he and Mayson were no more than friends was disturbing, and she didn't want to dwell on that subject any longer. She searched for a different topic of conversation, only to be forestalled by Clark.
"Sure, I could ask Mayson to come with me anyway, as a friend. But I really don't want to. She'd get the wrong idea, no matter what I said to her," he concluded with a grimace.
"The… wrong idea?" Lois darted a quick, curious glance at her partner.
"Yeah. The idea that I want us to be more than friends." He heaved another sigh. "The problem is that I like Mayson. But as a friend — no more. Sure, she's an attractive woman, and I'm not blind. And, yeah, if I'm honest, I am a little bit attracted to her. But… she's not what I'm looking for, Lois. And I don't want to lead her on. She wants something I can't give her. And that's why I don't want to take her."
Lois digested that, her mind instantly running away with the question of just what Clark was looking for. He *was* attracted to Mayson — that made her want to growl. But she had to acknowledge that she could hardly blame her partner for that. Mayson was blonde and shapely; she dressed in a way which, although businesslike, certainly didn't attempt to hide any of her assets. She wore her hair long and loose, and had an annoying habit of flipping it from time to time, a tactic naturally designed to draw men's attention to it, and to her face — which was always perfectly made up. Pouty lips, baby blue eyes and mascaraed eyelashes which could be batted at will.
Mayson Drake was so *obvious*!
But her partner wasn't interested. Lois allowed the triumph to sink in before she glanced back at Clark.
"So? What are you going to do, then?"
Once more, Clark sighed. "I haven't decided."
From another man, Lois might have interpreted that as stalling, or as an attempt to deflect the conversation, to make clear that he didn't want her input. From Clark, she knew that it was nothing short of the truth. He really didn't know what he was going to do. And if he had any options in mind, they weren't particularly appealing.
But there was still one option that she could think of. And the fact that he didn't seem to have considered it seriously — or at least seriously enough to do anything about it — was strangely hurtful.
It was tempting to say nothing, to hold her hurt inside, not to allow Clark to see how she felt. But that would be the act of a wallower. And anyway, she wanted to know *why* Clark hadn't gone for such an obvious solution.
Tugging on his arm just as they reached TC's, Lois made Clark look down at her.
"Lois?" he queried.
"You do know that you've missed the most obvious solution of all?" she pointed out, deliberately making her tone one of faint impatience.
Clark paused in the act of reaching out to the door of the deli. "I have?"
"Yes! One that's right under your nose, if you only opened your eyes and looked!"
"Uhh…" he muttered; confusion, or evasiveness? Lois wasn't sure.
"Me!" Lois exclaimed, unable to prevent herself. "Why on earth haven't you asked me to go with you?!"
Why *hadn't* he thought of asking Lois? Which answer did he want to start with?
The fact that he was so deeply in love with her that the thought of going to an event like a *wedding* with her pretending to be his date was almost too painful to contemplate?
The fact that he'd been afraid to ask her in case she refused? They might be best friends, and she'd even joked with him about being his date for the Kerths — and about him being hers before she'd discovered that she hadn't been nominated. But still, she guarded her private life and her*self* very carefully, and if he even stepped a fraction over the line she'd drawn for herself, he got slapped down instantly. Pushed back and informed that he could stay out of her business. That she didn't need him.
It hurt… but he understood where it came from now, and these days he was more patient than he used to be with Lois when she pushed him away. But still, he'd anticipated that she might react badly to being asked to go to someone's wedding with him — especially a wedding in his home town, where everyone would jump to conclusions about why she was with him.
And there was his fear, too, that she might misread his motives in asking her, that she might assume that he was expecting more than company for an afternoon. Of course he *wanted* more than that from Lois, but it didn't look as if she'd want the same any time soon.
A sharp dig in the ribs reminded him that she was still waiting for an answer.
"Uh…" Clark felt himself floundering. "I guess I wasn't sure you'd want to come," he managed at last.
Lois gave him a look which he could only interpret as disgusted incredulity, before she moved in front of him and pushed open the door of the deli. Nothing more was said as they moved up to the counter and ordered their sandwiches, Lois ordering soup as well since it was late January.
Clark was grateful for the temporary reprieve; he was well aware that he'd face an interrogation once they sat down, and he needed some time to come up with a couple of good answers. It was getting much harder to be evasive around Lois; she knew him too well now to accept his excuses at face value any more, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before she stopped pretending to accept them as well.
One of these days, he knew, he was going to find himself in a very tricky situation with Lois as regards Superman — but that was another matter, and he'd have to figure out how he was going to deal with that when the time came.
For now, he needed to do some quick thinking.
She waited until he'd carried their food to their usual booth and taken a seat on the bench opposite her. Then, breaking off a piece of her sandwich and holding it ready to nibble on, she fixed her gaze on Clark. "So, just *why* did you think I wouldn't do it, huh? I thought we were supposed to be *friends*!"
He blinked, then gave her a rueful look. "Sure, I know that. But… well, this would involve a trip to Smallville and at least one overnight stay…"
"Hardly a big deal, Clark. I've been to Smallville before. And you know I love your folks," Lois reminded him, sceptical of his explanation.
Despite her efforts to tell herself that it didn't matter, it did bother her that he hadn't asked her. She was supposed to be his best friend, and she knew very well that if the positions were reversed he would have been the first person she would have asked. And she knew that he wouldn't have hesitated to agree.
But he'd said that he hadn't been sure that she would. So was that it? Was she really such an unreliable friend that he didn't *know* he could count on her? Lois bit her lip and waited for his response.
"Yeah, I know." He smiled at her. "And they love you too. They keep asking me when I'm going to bring you back west again. But this… it's a wedding, Lois. And everyone there will be part of a couple. If you come with me, everyone's going to assume that we're a couple too — that you're my girlfriend," he explained.
Lois stared at him, the beginnings of a frown creasing her face. She'd begun to wonder if he just didn't want to be seen with her in his home town — had she embarrassed him too much by her supercilious 'city girl' act the last time? — but this caused a twinge of pain in her heart.
He didn't want people to think that she was his girlfriend. She was obviously not what he was looking for either.
Suddenly the sandwich in her hand seemed unappetising. Lois dropped it onto her plate and began to scrunch up her napkin.
"…you see, I figured you'd hate that," Clark was saying, and even though all she wanted to do was get out of there, Lois found herself curious as to what assumption he was making about her *now*.
"Hate what?" she asked snappily.
Clark looked taken aback at her tone, but he explained. "Being taken for my girlfriend… having to face all the inevitable questions about when *we're* going to get married. I could really see you hating all that — and that's why I didn't ask you."
"Oh!" Well, he was right there; she hated that sort of intrusive question. She had to put up with it from her mother's bridge friends all the time, all wanting to know when she was going to 'settle down', stop 'running around the city courting danger' and 'have beautiful babies'.
When hell froze over!
Although this would be different, wouldn't it? And anyway, it was looking as if she'd been wrong about Clark's motives. If he really had believed that she'd refuse to go…
Giving him a faint shrug and a smile, she said, "I dare say I could cope with it for a few hours."
"You mean it? You'll come?" Clark seemed genuinely pleased, which warmed her inside. Strangely, it felt good to be wanted, even if it was to attend some hick wedding in Kansas. Old school friends of Clark's… now, it might be interesting to meet this Lana and Pete. To see what else Smallville had produced — and maybe even to pick up some gossip about Clark in his pre-Metropolis years. She never had managed to swap Clark stories with Rachel Harris.
"If you want me to."
He grinned. "Lois, there's no-one else I'd prefer to take. You'd have been my first choice all along, but I really wasn't sure if you'd want to come."
"Well, I do." She grinned at him. "You never know — it could be fun." She picked up her sandwich again; it looked tasty, after all.
"Great! And I know Mom and Dad will be pleased to see you."
"Me too," she said, meaning it; Jonathan and Martha were wonderful people. "And as for the gossips, Clark, they're not a problem."
"Sure. We can say we're just good friends. After all, it's the truth, isn't it?"
Three days later, Clark ushered Lois into the town-centre church where the wedding was taking place. They'd flown out the previous evening — on a commercial flight, despite his dislike of flying the slow way. He had considered taking Lois to Smallville as Superman, but that would have involved excuses and half-lies as to where Clark was, and he was getting just a little tired of lying to Lois as Superman. Or perhaps the feeling was actually guilt… He really needed to make up his mind, and soon, about letting her in on the secret.
But not right now. They were here to take part in the wedding of his close friends from school. And even though Lois was only here as his friend, he was going to enjoy having her with him, showing her off. She was looking particularly beautiful today in a woollen winter dress the colour of autumn leaves, and a long coat on top.
He noticed several heads turning as they walked up the aisle towards the pew his parents, who'd set off a few minutes ahead of him and Lois, were occupying. No doubt several members of the community were busy taking note of his companion; he wondered whether anyone would remember Lois from her earlier visit to Smallville. Maisie would, of course, as would Rachel and Wayne Irig. It was obvious that he — and his parents — would be fielding lots of questions later as to Lois's identity — and probably not just from women, he thought, spying a couple of younger men eyeing up Lois.
Pete, sitting in the front pew with his best man, turned as Clark neared his parents; they exchanged smiles and Clark mouthed 'good luck!' to his friend.
A few minutes after they'd taken their seats, Clark glanced behind and saw Lana's mother approaching, nodding and smiling to the guests on her way to the front of the church. She saw Clark and gave a sharp glance at the seat next to him before nodding approvingly. He stifled a smile and nudged Lois, pointing out Mrs Lang as the bride's mother.
Shortly afterwards, the Bridal March began and Lana came up the aisle on her father's arm. The ceremony had begun.
Clark watched his friends make their vows to each other, all the time conscious of Lois sitting close beside him. Letting his thoughts drift for a moment just as Pete kissed his bride, he found himself daydreaming of himself standing at the altar with Lois beside him.
Reciting his marriage vows, promising to love, honour and cherish her. Gazing into her beautiful, veiled eyes as she promised the same to him. Taking her hand as he slid his ring onto her finger. Watching, awed, as she slid a gold band onto his finger in return.
Gently lifting back her veil to reveal her lovely face, her chin tilted up for his kiss. Lowering his lips to hers, claiming the first kiss of their marriage…
It was only a fantasy. It wasn't going to happen.
But he could dream, couldn't he?
Watching the couple at the altar exchange their vows, Lois found her thoughts drifting back to the last wedding she'd attended.
And look how that had turned out. She'd been about to marry a monster.
Her fingers clenched around the order of service she was clutching, and she heard the sound of the paper crumpling under her hand. Clark shot a swift, concerned glance in her direction, and she deliberately forced herself to calm her turbulent emotions.
She had said no. She hadn't been so foolish, so lost to all common sense, in the end; she'd known that she couldn't marry Lex Luthor.
Not that she could give herself full credit for that eminently sensible decision, she recalled with a self- deprecating inward smile. No, that was down to the intelligent, good-natured and caring man standing next to her.
Clark. In the end, it had been Clark who had stopped her saying yes to Lex.
He hadn't even been there at the time, but he'd invaded her thoughts, and even her deepest longings.
She focused on the couple at the altar. The groom had just lifted his head after kissing his bride. They looked blissfully happy, their hands entwined, just as their lives now were.
And, unbidden, the thought entered her head: what if it were she and Clark up there? Exchanging their vows as husband and wife; to love each other, honour and cherish each other, till death them did part?
Lois had imagined, after the debacle of the previous summer, that she could never, ever again, even contemplate getting married. Yet now, standing here in this church watching two strangers get married, she knew that, if Clark were the groom, she'd go to the altar without any hesitation whatsoever.
Clark. Her partner. Her best friend. And the man she'd known for some time that she loved unreservedly.
And the man who saw her only as his best friend. After all, she wasn't what he was looking for either.
It was strange that she could admit it to herself now, when they were in a church watching someone else get married. Only a couple of days earlier she'd been denying vigorously to herself that she had any interest in Clark beyond friendship, and insisting that his relationship with Mayson Drake was of no concern to her beyond what it might mean for their friendship.
She'd been fooling herself. No longer.
She loved Clark. And he only wanted her as his friend.
But still, what couldn't be changed… well, couldn't be changed. And she was here today as Clark's 'date', ready to play the part of his friend for the evening. She could do that; she could smile and laugh and make conversation; she could even dance with him if the opportunity arose.
And he'd never need to know that she wanted more from him than he was able to offer.
He *could* never know. After all, he'd made it clear to her that he was withdrawing from Mayson in subtle little ways because she wanted more than he could offer her; Lois had no intention of seeing her friendship with Clark go the same way. She'd tried twice, after all, to find out whether there could be more, and on both occasions he'd found a way to head her off.
So there it was. Best friends and no more.
But even best friends was better than nothing. Lois smiled up at Clark, who had given her a questioning look and was mouthing, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she assured him, and meant it.
Under cover of the organ swelling with music for another hymn, Clark murmured, "I should have thought… this must be difficult for you after…"
Lois reached up and stilled his speech with her finger against his lips. "I'm fine, really, Clark. Looking forward to that dance you promised me later!"
He grinned. "Me too. Okay, later."
Lois tucked her arm through his. If she couldn't be in his arms, then at least she could still be physically close to him through the little gestures of affection which had become commonplace — and special — to them.
Clark was still *hers* in that way, at least; no-one else was as close to him as she was, except for his parents. And it would stay that way…
…at least, until he did find what it was he was looking for.
"You know, the way the bride's looking at me, if that was a knife instead of a bouquet she was holding, it'd be between my ribs right now."
They'd just arrived at the wedding reception, along the way dealing with several curious enquiries as to Lois's identity and her relationship to Clark. Each time he'd introduced Lois with a smile and referred to her as "a close friend of mine from Metropolis."
"And how close would 'close' be?" the mother of another former classmate had asked archly.
Lois had smiled at the woman, assuming an expression which Clark thought of as her 'humour the idiots' smile: brilliant, wide-eyed and — to him — completely fake. But entirely convincing to anyone who didn't know her, of course. "Oh, we're just good friends," she'd purred.
"Careful, your claws almost showed there," he'd murmured with a grin as they'd moved away.
Now, Lois's softly-murmured, amused comment made Clark shoot a swift glance in Lana's direction. He cursed silently; that was a problem he'd thought had gone away.
"Yeah — I'm sorry about that, Lois," he said ruefully.
"Is there something you haven't told me, Clark?" she enquired, clearly enjoying the situation.
He sighed. "Lana and I dated in the final year of high school. She broke off with me towards the end of the year to date the captain of the football team — that's why I took Rachel to the prom. Anyway, we got back together over the summer, but we drifted apart when we both went away to college. But we stayed friends."
"So why the dagger looks?"
"I haven't actually lived in Smallville since going away to college — you know I travelled a lot," Clark explained. "I came back for vacations from time to time, and it just happened that I never had a girlfriend any of those times. And I guess Lana tended to adopt a kind of proprietorial attitude towards me. I didn't really mind — I liked her still, even though I wasn't interested in a relationship with her. But I thought that would have stopped now she's with Pete."
"She wants you back?" Lois asked, sounding very surprised.
Clark shook his head. "I don't think so. It's… well…" He trailed off, knowing that anything he said would sound egotistical. "Well, maybe that even though we're not together, she still sort of considers me her property."
"And she doesn't like seeing you with another woman?"
"It looks that way." Clark sighed, feeling sorry for Pete. "I've never encouraged her… well, I suppose I never really discouraged her either. But this can't go on."
"No, it can't. Not if her marriage is going to have any hope of success," Lois agreed.
"Yeah." Clark hesitated as a good means of discouraging Lana came to him. Could he ask Lois…? She'd hate the idea, surely. But they were best friends. And she'd actually volunteered to accompany him today. There was a good possibility that she'd be willing to help.
He gave Lois a questioning look. "Do you mind if I stretch the interpretation of 'just good friends' a little?"
She laughed softly, slipping her hand through his arm and moving to stand closer to him. "Sure. It's not as if we haven't done it before, is it?"
"I guess not." Enjoying the opportunity to hold Lois close to him, he led the way across to where Lana was holding court with some of her friends.
As they approached Lana, Clark's arm came around Lois's shoulder in a loose embrace; she moved closer to him as well, slipping her arm around his waist. Lana looked up as they came nearer, and a huge smile covered her face.
"Clark!" she exclaimed, standing up and taking a step towards him; then she seemed to notice that he hadn't released Lois, so she stood still. Lois was convinced that, had Clark not been holding her, Lana would have rushed to hug him.
Clark loosened his hold on Lois, but didn't let her go. He leaned towards the bride and kissed her cheek. "Congratulations, Lana. You look beautiful."
"It's so lovely to see you, Clark!" Lana gushed. "You don't come back to Smallville anywhere near enough. You know, I really miss you."
"Oh, not any more, surely?" Clark said with a grin. "I mean, you have Pete. I can't imagine you having time to miss me!"
"Oh, well… you know how it is," she said with a little shrug and a toss of her blonde hair; Lois barely restrained herself from pulling a face. So Lana was a bit possessive about her high-school boyfriend — so what? She'd just got married to someone else, so she wasn't exactly a threat.
Except that Lois had no right to be upset about anyone's possessiveness towards Clark.
"So, who's your friend?" Lana asked.
"Oh, this is Lois," Clark said, tugging Lois forward. "Lois, Lana Lang — we were in high school together."
"Lois? Lois Lane?" Lana queried, extending the fingertips of one hand towards Lois. "Your partner at the Planet?"
"Well, Lois is a lot more than just my partner," Clark explained with a smile.
"Yeah, we're very close friends," Lois added, taking the opportunity to snuggle up against Clark — and thoroughly enjoying it. "*Very* close," she emphasised.
"So I see." There was a faint hint of acid in Lana's tone. "So, Clark, when's your big day going to be?"
Clark looked down at Lois and smiled; the impact of that smile almost made her feel dizzy, even though she knew it was just for effect. "Oh, that depends on Lois. We haven't really had a chance to discuss it yet." Glancing away, he then added, "We haven't had a chance to talk to Pete yet. We'll see you later, Lana."
And in a graceful movement worthy of a ballroom dancer, he stepped backwards, bringing Lois with him, and turned to stroll away.
"You didn't tell me that the other reason you wanted a date was to fend off the attentions of your ex-girlfriend, Kent!" Lois teased as they crossed the room, nodding to people as they did so.
"I hoped that wouldn't be a problem," he said with a sigh. "Pete's a great guy. She couldn't do better than him, and I really can't see why she's behaving like that with me."
"Dog in the manger?" Lois suggested; after all, she knew just how *that* felt. She'd behaved a lot like that herself lately — and, if she was honest, it wasn't just recently. Any time a woman had shown any interest in Clark — Toni Taylor, Rachel Harris, Linda King — her hackles had risen and her possessive hormones had sprung into action. Even though at the time she'd had no personal interest in Clark. Or, at least, so she'd told herself.
"I guess," Clark said, sounding awkward. "Anyway, she'll lay off now. Come and meet Pete."
The next hour or so was spent in a whirl of social activity; Lois was introduced to Pete Ross, the bridegroom, and liked him instantly. They ran into Rachel Harris and her boyfriend then, and Lois discovered that, when they weren't both trying to stake a claim over the same man, she liked Rachel a lot.
Clark kept his arm around her, either looped casually about her shoulders or around her waist, and they frequently exchanged glances or smiles — nothing unusual there, Lois was aware, but she also knew that in this environment, where most of the other guests were couples, she and Clark must have looked exactly like a couple themselves. Other guests came up from time to time, wanting to be introduced, and each time Clark explained that she was a close friend from Metropolis; each time, knowing looks and winks were the result. By the time dinner was served, Lois was convinced that half the town was already planning Clark's wedding.
The speculation should have been irritating. It had been strangely thrilling. And again it had led to thoughts of just what it would be like to be Clark's steady girlfriend; perhaps even to be planning her wedding to him. She already knew that she wouldn't do it like this one; her preference would be for a quiet wedding with just close family and special friends. And no interference from her mother.
But, since Clark wasn't interested in her, her fantasies would remain just that — fantasies. Still, she determined as she took a sip of wine, she would enjoy her role while it lasted. It would be something to look back on; the day when, even though it was just a pretence, she was Clark's girlfriend.
As Lana's father proposed the toast for the bride and groom, Martha leaned across to Lois and Clark with a wicked grin and a wink.
"So, just when *are* you two getting married, then?"
"Mom!" Clark muttered, hugely embarrassed. He cast a worried glance at Lois, concerned that she might be offended. How could his mother do that to him? She was going to wreck any slim chance he might have had of persuading Lois to see him as more than a friend.
It had been so wonderful being with her today. Once she'd agreed to help him ward off Lana's possessive attitude, he'd had the perfect excuse to keep her by his side, to hold her next to him and to smile at her in the intimate manner he'd always wanted to use with her. And as time had passed, it had seemed more and more natural for them to behave in that way. She fitted so perfectly against him. She was just the right height to fit under his arm. The top of her head, given that she was wearing heels, came to just under his nose; just the right height for him to drop an occasional kiss on her head, as he'd done once when Lana, with Pete in tow, had come near.
They'd felt like a couple. And, just for a few hours, he was allowing himself to fantasise that they really were together. That Lois was his girlfriend — maybe even on the verge of becoming his fiancee.
Now, with his mother's teasing — but highly mortifying — question, the fantasy was over. He'd come crashing down to reality with a bump.
Lois was going to be *furious*.
She looked taken aback. Clearly startled, she was looking from his mother to himself as if not understanding what was going on. Then, suddenly, she grinned; Clark switched his gaze to his mother and noticed that she was sharing silent laughter with Lois.
Phew. She was taking it as a joke. He could relax.
Well, sort of. He'd still been reintroduced to reality, to the fact that he and Lois were only pretending.
"Martha!" he heard Lois exclaim, amid laughter. "You know we're just -"
"Just good friends. I know," his mother replied, waggling her fingers as if to put the phrase in quotes. "And you're certainly doing a great job convincing people of that," she added with a grin.
"Mom…" Clark protested weakly.
"Oh, Clark!" His mother shook her head in mock-dismay. "Lighten up! And anyway, it's not as if you two hate each other, is it?"
"Of course not, but -" he began, trying to protest that his mother *knew* they were just friends and no more. And she also knew how much in love with Lois he was, and that she didn't feel the same way about him; was she trying to hurt him? Of course, she'd never do that intentionally, but he couldn't figure out what she was up to.
"Lois, since my son's clearly tongue-tied, maybe you can tell me," Martha said, interrupting Clark.
Lois paused, a considering expression on her face. "Well… it's kind of a difficult question to answer, Martha. You see, Clark hasn't asked me yet," she finished, winking at both of them before turning to grin at Clark's father, including him in on the joke.
Some joke! Clark sighed. It hurt that Lois was able to joke about the idea of the two of them getting married. Okay, she didn't know how he felt about her; she'd obviously taken his denial the previous summer at face value. Or else she'd simply forgotten that he'd ever declared his love for her. But still…
But, since they were going to be at this wedding for at least another couple of hours, he swallowed his pain and forced a smile to his face. Just as he did so, the band began to play and Lana and Pete opened the dancing. That, to Clark's relief, distracted his mother and Lois as they watched the bride and groom glide slowly around the floor in a graceful waltz.
And that gave Clark an idea…
Sitting watching the dancers, now that more couples had joined Pete and Lana, Lois wanted to sink through the floor and disappear. How could she have said something as crassly stupid as that? She'd sounded as if she was begging for Clark to ask her to marry him — and they weren't even dating! He wasn't even interested in her!
Now he'd think that she was just as much of a problem as Mayson and Lana. That she, too, wanted more than he could give; that she was interpreting his behaviour as meaning more than it did.
She'd just ruined the best friendship she'd ever had.
Unless she could find some way to convey to Clark that she'd been kidding, that she'd just been going along with Martha's joke. Maybe she could. Maybe he'd believe her if she tried to tell him that. She had been, really. She'd known that Martha was just kidding; after all, the older woman had also been fending off questions and suggestive nudges all afternoon as well. Martha had just been having a little bit of fun with the two of them.
And Lois hadn't noticed until it was too late that Clark hadn't seen the humour in the situation.
She sighed. She really needed to get him alone…
"May I have this dance?"
Lois glanced around to see Clark standing by her shoulder, one hand extended towards her. "I seem to remember that we dance well together," he added with a smile. "And we've yet to have an uninterrupted dance."
That was true. On both previous occasions she'd been in his arms for only a minute or so. The first time had been when Clark had cut in on her dance with Lex at the White Orchid Ball; if only she'd known at the time which of them was really the more desirable partner! And the second time had been a little over a year later; just a few months ago at a charity ball, in fact, when Mayson had cut in on her and stolen Clark away.
Yes, an uninterrupted dance with Clark would be wonderful. And it would give her the opportunity she needed to explain to him — to rescue their friendship.
She got to her feet and placed her hand in his.
On the dance-floor, Clark swung her into his arms, one hand warm at her waist and the other holding her hand close between them. He was an excellent dancer. She'd noticed that right from the first time she'd danced with him, even though she'd been too furious with him to let it register properly. He'd told her that he'd learned ballroom dancing from a Nigerian princess, and with the memory of that explanation Lois felt another pang of jealousy strike her.
But, she reminded herself, he was dancing with *her* now.
She allowed herself to relax in his arms, swaying with him to the music as she closed her eyes, dropping her head to his shoulder and letting the ambient noise wash over her. Even if she did have a difficult conversation to have with him yet; even if, in an hour or so's time, the fantasy would be really over, she had these few precious moments to be in Clark's arms and pretend, again, that she was his.
She'd come into his arms as if she belonged there. Nestled against him, she was soft and warm and desirable, and he so badly wanted to bend his head and kiss her. He couldn't, of course; but he could hold her and enjoy these few minutes of having her in his arms, dancing with him.
His reason for getting her onto the dance-floor — well, other than the obvious reason of getting her away from his parents, given his mother's embarrassing question — was almost forgotten. Pressing Lois even more closely against him and feeling her shift to accommodate herself and hold him more closely to her, he rested his head on the top of hers and let his feet carry them around the dance-floor without conscious guidance from his brain.
Clark's eyes drifted shut as his thoughts returned to his earlier fantasy. The fantasy that this could be his wedding — his and Lois's. That he could now be dancing with her in his arms as her husband; that they could be sharing their first dance as a married couple.
It felt so wonderful…
Lois. His Lois. The woman he adored, flaws and all — in fact, he loved her flaws too. And she… she would love him as well — would love *all* of him. Superman and Clark Kent, and that person whom his parents told him was an amalgam of both of them. The real Clark, they assured him, wasn't the Clark who lived in Metropolis and pretended to be a normal guy. The real Clark was a superpowered man from another planet, with the most human spirit of anyone they knew. Or so they said.
And, in his fantasy, Lois knew everything there was to know about him, and she loved him just as he loved her.
But, after all, that was only his fantasy. Reality wasn't the image they'd been weaving about themselves this afternoon. Reality was the fact that Lois was his friend, no more, and that once they left the wedding reception normality would return. They'd go back to being just good friends.
The problem was, Clark was no longer sure that he could settle for being just Lois's friend. But he hadn't been able to make up his mind what to do about it. Continue being her friend regardless and wait for her to make a move? Or do something daring, hoping that she would respond more favourably this time, but at the risk of losing her friendship entirely?
Do something daring.
The daring thought which had been in his mind since he'd been watching Pete and Lana dance. The daring thought which had provoked him to ask Lois to dance.
Could he do it?
He allowed himself to inhale Lois's fragrance again, and slid the hand which was about her waist up her back. She responded by letting her hand trail up to the back of his neck, fingers lightly touching his hair.
She definitely wasn't indifferent to him. He was pretty sure of that. She wouldn't be in his arms like this if she was — even with their little game of pretence.
So… to be daring, or not to be daring?
He took a deep breath and raised his head.
Lois looked up at him, a question in her eyes. "Clark?"
"I was wondering," he began, then realised that his voice was husky. He cleared his throat lightly before continuing. "I was wondering… what would you say if I did ask you?"
"Ask me…?" Clearly confused, Lois frowned up at him.
"To marry me," he finished, his heart in his mouth.
Lois's breath caught in her throat as she stared at Clark, wide-eyed and speechless. Of all the things she'd thought that Clark might be about to say to her, that had been the very last… No, she would never have imagined that he'd say anything like that!
It didn't make sense. Why was he…?
Unless it was a test, she thought suddenly, and lowered her head again, this time not daring to rest it on his shoulder. He was obviously worried about her feelings for him after what she'd said earlier. He wanted to be reassured that she wasn't hankering after more than what they had. It just proved that she'd been right to feel that she needed to explain, to recover her position after her stupid declaration.
So of course she should say no. That was the obvious answer, the one he was expecting. The one he wanted to hear.
Lois opened her mouth, attempting to smile in amusement as her lips formed the word 'no'. But she had to look up in order to speak to him — and as she did so, she caught sight of Clark's face. And his expression took her breath away.
There was no artifice, no pretence about the way he was gazing at her. There was nothing of the 'deer in the headlights' look he'd worn occasionally when Mayson Drake was around. And he didn't look as if he wanted to run away anywhere either.
His eyes gazed down at her, an expression of deep longing in their depths. There was caring and affection in his face, but more, much more than that.
There was love.
Deep, abiding, passionate love.
This was the way Clark had looked at her that day in the park, the day, engraved on her memory, when he'd told her that he was in love with her. And when she'd stupidly, in a moment of complete *insanity*, turned him down.
And yet it was a deeper love than that, even. That had been the desperate, longing cry of a young man almost at the end of his tether, and it was that which had made it easier for her to believe that he really had only told her he loved her to stop her marrying Lex Luthor. This was a more mature love, the kind of emotion Lois had thought herself incapable of arousing in any man.
She'd certainly moved men to passion before. Even Lex had wanted her, though she'd refused to sleep with him before their wedding. No-one had ever loved her before, though. Some had pretended. But this was real.
Clark loved her.
Really, really loved her. And not as his best friend. As his… loved one.
And that meant… that… his question wasn't intended to assure himself that she wasn't longing for more than he could offer. Even if he wasn't serious about the marriage proposal — and of course he couldn't possibly be. They weren't even dating! — he was telling her how he felt.
And asking her to tell him how she felt, too.
<What would you say if I did ask you?>
<To marry me>
She met his gaze directly with her own, her heart in her mouth.
"I'd say yes, Clark."
Clark wanted to summon back his words as soon as he'd said them. The horrified expression on Lois's face told him more than anything she could say just what a terrible mistake he'd made. He hadn't a hope of even retaining her friendship now, surely.
They were friends. Just good friends, no more. They'd never even been out on a date — and he'd all but asked her to marry him. She probably thought he was insane. It was a wonder that she hadn't torn herself from his arms and marched off somewhere safely away from him.
She'd looked down, away from his gaze — and now she was holding herself more stiffly, too. Bare seconds earlier, she'd been nestled against him with her head resting on his shoulder and his head on top of hers. Now, though she was still moving around the dance-floor with him, she was awkward in his arms.
Stupid, stupid, *stupid*! he cursed himself, already mentally searching for the words which could set it all right again, tell her that he'd been joking, just as she had earlier, that she didn't need to worry that he was going to make a nuisance of himself over her.
She was still silent, and his heart sank even further. The problem was, there were no words which could put this right. Resigning himself to the inevitable, he allowed himself to gaze at the woman he held, all the love and longing in his heart to the fore as he admitted that this would probably be the last time he'd ever get to hold her.
As Clark, anyway.
And then, before he had time to school his features, she looked up.
Her lips parted, as if to speak. Then he saw her catch her breath. And, too late, he realised what she'd seen. The way he was looking at her.
Oh, well, he'd already decided that there was nothing he could say to rescue the situation. She knew beyond any doubt his feelings for her. He sighed inwardly in resignation, hoping against hope that there might be some way of retrieving their friendship; that she wouldn't want to run the other way in fright. On the other hand, he wasn't sure that he could stand another example of Lois letting him down gently. She'd been kind before, true; but it hadn't hurt any the less.
And then she spoke.
"I'd say yes, Clark."
Unable to believe what he'd heard, he stared at her. His feet stopped moving, and he simply stood in the middle of the dance-floor, oblivious to anyone else, holding Lois in his arms, his heart in his mouth.
Had she really said what he thought he'd heard her say?
But her eyes silently repeated her words. Her expression spoke of longing and need and fear… and love.
Like him, she was love with her partner.
Like him, she was terrified that her feelings would be rejected. That *she* would be rejected.
"Oh, Lois…" he groaned, tugging her closer to him again. "Why didn't you tell me? Why did we wait so long…? Lois, I love you," he finished softly, his words a vow.
Her hand crept up to stroke the side of his face. "Why didn't you tell me, Clark? I thought you weren't interested any more…" she murmured, remembered pain clear in her voice; Clark groaned and held her even more tightly. "When I did try to tell you… well, things didn't go as I wanted them to. I thought… I couldn't be what you were looking for," she said softly, before adding, "Oh, Clark, I love you too!"
How had he managed to give her the impression that he didn't love her? Had his acting been far more convincing than he'd imagined?
"Lois, you have always been what I was looking for!" he assured her, in a low voice filled with passionate intensity.
Then, deciding that any more words were a waste of good oxygen, he kissed her.
Was the music still playing? Were they still dancing? Lois had no idea. And she didn't really care, either. All she was conscious of was being in Clark's arms, swaying gently, as his lips plundered hers. She let both hands cup his face; he held her about her waist, clasped against him. And she returned his kiss with all the passion she'd suppressed for so long, passion she'd begun to think she was incapable of feeling for anyone.
Something about the kiss was familiar, she thought in the dim recesses of her brain; although Clark had never kissed her like this before, she had a nagging sense that someone had, and that it meant something important. But that didn't matter right now. Clark loved her. And she loved Clark.
Whether their destination was marriage or not really didn't matter at the moment. That was something they'd resolve at a later date. For now, she knew that they would take time to enjoy being in love and to explore this deepening of their already close relationship.
Being in love, and being loved in return. By the most special, caring, generous man she'd ever met; the man without whom, Lois had realised over the past few months, her life would be empty and desolate.
Clark had been what she had been looking for all along, too. But, unlike her partner and dearest friend, she'd taken a long time to realise it. She'd been foolish, blinded by glamour and power to the true worth of the man who'd been steadfastly by her side for most of the past two years. She'd been attracted by style over substance in Lex's case, and heroic acts over constancy in Superman's case. Not any more.
"I love you, Clark," she vowed once more as he broke off their kiss temporarily.
"And I love you," he answered, sealing their promises with his lips.
Across the dance-floor, a middle-aged couple swayed in each other's arms, watching with amusement and approval the developments on the other side of the room.
"You happy now, Martha?" Jonathan asked his wife, raising his eyebrow teasingly.
"Of course!" She grinned at him. "I knew that all they needed was a little push. It was as plain as the nose on your face that Lois loves him too."
"Oh, I know that," Jonathan agreed. "That's been obvious for ages."
"So now do you admit that it worked?" Martha asked challengingly; after all, she'd been arguing good-naturedly with Jonathan over the wisdom of her tactic for the past ten minutes.
"Yes, you were right, honey," Jonathan conceded. "But then, after thirty-five years of marriage, I should know that you usually are." He winked broadly.
"Naturally," Martha agreed, grinning. "Come on, honey — let's go home and get that champagne we put on ice earlier. Even if those two never make it home to drink it, we deserve to celebrate!"
Jonathan glanced back across at Lois and Clark, still locked in a loving embrace. "I don't think they need champagne. Clark's almost floating as it is." He grinned again.
Martha linked her arm through Jonathan's, smiling delightedly. "So, when are you going to take me to Wichita to buy that wedding outfit you owe me…?"
(c) Wendy Richards 2003