By ML Thompson <email@example.com>
Submitted: August 2003
Summary: Lois is given three choices on the eve before her wedding to Luthor. Will she accept one of the choices offered, or will she make a different decision entirely?
I found this piece of fluff sitting on my hard drive. I wrote it, minus a lot of changes, three years ago and so it should not be construed as my attempt to come out of retirement <g>.
This story is based on the T.V. show Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. No copyright infringement is intended. I recognize that these characters are not mine. I am just borrowing them for a little fun and not for any profit. For a more complete disclaimer, go to http://www.thompsonlawoffice.ca/Disclaimer.htm
This story takes place on the night before Lois' wedding to Lex Luthor. I deviate from the story line from there. In my story, however, Lex does not have Superman trapped in a kryptonite cage in the basement of Lex Towers and the gang has not found the evidence they need to prove that Lex Luthor was behind the explosion at the Planet. Oh. One more thing. In my story, Lois has a much more comfortable couch <g>.
My thanks to Gerry, Carol and Irene for their assistance and contributions to this story. Their help, ideas, suggestions and criticisms were greatly appreciated. And my thanks to Sarah Murray for editing this story for the archives.
"I'm sorry, son," said Perry to a very dejected Clark Kent.
"It's not your fault, Perry. Luthor's good at covering his tracks. It was a long shot thinking we could find the evidence we need to bring him down before the wedding. I knew that. I guess I just hoped…" Clark quickly cleared his throat when his voice broke on the last word.
Perry watched with concern. He was worried about Lois marrying Luthor, certainly. But his current consideration was whether Clark would survive Lois' marriage. What had kept Clark going for the past few weeks was searching for the evidence they needed on Luthor. Now that they had failed, Perry was more than a little frightened about how Clark would react.
"Hey, C.K., there are lots of fish in the sea…" Jimmy began, but trailed off at the look of warning in Perry's eyes.
Clark gave a humorless chuckle. "I know, Jimmy. The problem is there's only one I want, only one I've ever wanted." He gave Jimmy what was meant to be a friendly slap on the back, but he nearly knocked the breath out of the kid. "Sorry," muttered Clark. "I guess I just need some time alone. I'll talk to you guys later." With that Clark grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.
"Do you think he'll be all right?" asked Jack once Clark was gone.
Perry looked thoughtful for a minute. "If Lois goes through with the wedding tomorrow, I'm really not sure. I hope I'm wrong but…" he shrugged his shoulders.
When Clark had first come to work for the Planet, Perry had had such high hopes for those two. Whereas other reporters were put off by Lois' abrupt style, Clark seemed to thrive on it. In Perry's mind, it was a match made in heaven — and not just as a reporting team. Clark was exactly the type of man Lois needed. And Perry had thought Lois was starting to realize that, too. Well, until the day she had accepted Luthor's proposal. Now… How Clark would react to losing Lois was anyone's guess.
Clark took to the air the instant he left his apartment. He heard alarms and cries for help, but they went unheeded. Finally, torn apart by the sounds, he flew into the outer atmosphere where the hubbub of the city was more distant. He had to think and could hardly do so over the beating of his own heart, let alone the racket of the city.
Clark wished he could get lost in his Superman activities — the way he normally did. But he also realized that it was dangerous for him to answer any cries for help in his current state. He knew he wasn't in control at the moment. The stress of the past few weeks — ever since Lois had accepted Luthor's proposal — combined with the lack of sleep he'd had as he'd searched for the evidence against Luthor had definitely taken its toll on him. And now, tonight, having to admit defeat, had pushed him frighteningly close to the edge of sanity. His usual solution for these times was a trip to see Lois, but now… Lois was the problem.
Lois was marrying Lex Luthor at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning and there was nothing Clark could do to stop it. Actually, that wasn't exactly true. There was one thing he could do. He could go to her as Superman. The problem was that there was no future in that. But at this point, he was almost beyond caring. It would be hard enough living without Lois if he knew she would be happy with someone else. But Clark knew Luthor. He knew it was only a matter of time before Luthor hurt Lois. How could he stand by and allow that to happen?
It was past midnight before Clark made a decision. He could no longer tell if it was the right thing to do, but he couldn't seem to do otherwise. He wasn't exactly sure what he was going to say, and even less sure that this would work, but if he didn't at least try, how could he live with himself?
Lex had dropped Lois off after dinner and a play, telling her he wanted her to get to bed early, making an almost playful — assuming that Lex knew how to be playful — comment about having plans that would keep her awake late tomorrow night. But she couldn't sleep. She lay in bed staring at the ceiling. When she realized she wasn't sleeping, she got up and began wandering around the apartment. She even tried watching television, but there was nothing on.
Lex had insisted that he wanted to take her entire family out for dinner and a play before the big day. Lois had been nervous. Putting her mother and father in the same room was roughly the equivalent of mixing gasoline and matches — sooner or later there was bound to be an explosion.
But she need not have worried on that front. Her father, predictably, had been right in the middle of some amazing new breakthrough in his research and couldn't get away — although he had told her that he would try to make it to her wedding tomorrow. Lucy hadn't come in from California. Lois wasn't entirely certain why — something to do with the new man in her life.
That had left Lois' mother. Still, even if her mother and father wouldn't be in the same room, Lois had been more than a little apprehensive about introducing Lex to Ellen Lane. But she need not have worried about that either. Lex had won over Ellen Lane the instant he kissed her hand in greeting. Lois had watched her mother fawn over her future husband all night, telling him on several occasions how fortunate Lois was to have found someone like him. And Lex had been his ever charming self.
As a result, Lois should have been pleased with the way the evening had gone. And she was — provided one defined 'pleased' as 'relieved that it hadn't been a federal disaster.' The problem was that throughout both dinner and the play, Lois kept thinking about Clark. Clark of all people!
Even now, although she knew she should be thinking about Lex, her mind kept drifting back to Clark. "I have been in love with you for a long time. You had to have known." Clark's words from only a few weeks ago kept replaying in her head. It had come as a surprise, but then it wasn't a surprise either. There were just too many times when that statement had been confirmed. He was her best friend. She liked him, admired him, trusted him. She enjoyed the time they spent together. She even enjoyed the pain he could be when he edited her copy or he teased her… but love him in that way? She hadn't thought she did.
But the past few weeks had given her pause. She had barely talked to Clark since the day he told her he loved her and every time she had, things were strained, if not downright hostile, between them. "I realized that there was really only one thing that I didn't want to live without and that was you," Clark had told her. The problem was she felt the same way. The past few weeks, a time that should have been the happiest in her life, had been a living hell. She had lost her best friend. Lois buried her head in her hands. How could she go on without Clark?
But could she love Clark the way he loved her? Since he had told her about his feelings, she had asked herself the question a thousand times. She knew she loved him. What she didn't know was if she could love him the way he wanted. And she knew that she couldn't fake a relationship with Clark. She couldn't fake it just to get her best friend back. Besides, even if she could, she would never do that to him. He deserved so much better.
She thought about her upcoming nuptials. The engagement had been short. She kept wondering if she was rushing this to prevent herself from thinking about it. How could she marry Lex? Even without these new questions about Clark, she still had so many unresolved feelings for Superman even though he had made it quite clear that there was no future for them. So she had accepted Lex's proposal. She found herself wondering now if it was a knee-jerk reaction. Was she marrying Lex because she couldn't have Superman?
"And what about Luthor? Do you love him?" Clark's words from that same conversation came back to her. She admired him, respected him, yes. But love Lex? If she were really honest with herself, she had to admit that she didn't know him well enough to love him. She did know she didn't get weak in the knees, the way she did when Superman entered a room, and she didn't feel safe confiding her deepest feelings to him, the way she did with Clark. But what was love anyway? That, she didn't know.
And then there had been the kiss tonight when Lex had dropped her off at her apartment. He was, admittedly, a great kisser. But the kiss had left her feeling vaguely… unsettled. But maybe she was just a little nervous about tomorrow night. After all, they had decided to wait until they were married to be intimate. And it had been a long time since she'd been with a man.
Maybe this was just cold feet. She'd heard about cold feet often enough. She had to talk to someone and only one person came to mind. The problem was that he wasn't exactly objective about this. But she had to try. Maybe she could convince him to at least listen while she tried to talk this through. Maybe she wanted him to talk her out of it.
She picked up the phone. It was late, but she doubted he would be asleep. She dialed the familiar number. Her heart began pounding as she waited for Clark to pick up.
"Hello," said a sleepy voice that was obviously not Clark. When she didn't respond, the voice said again, "Hello?"
Perry woke from sleep to the incessant ringing of the phone. It took him a moment to orient himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of Clark's apartment.
"Hello," he finally said into the phone. When there was no answer, he repeated the greeting.
"Perry? Is that you?"
Perry recognized Lois' voice immediately. "Yeah, honey, it's me," he responded, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
"What are you doing at Clark's? I thought you were off enjoying your retirement. Oh right. Clark said something about you coming to town. How long are you here for?"
"I'm just in town for a few days and Clark said I could bunk with him."
Lois was silent for a moment, so Perry continued. "I suppose you want to talk to Clark."
"Yes," said Lois in a small voice.
"I don't think he's home. He left a few hours ago. Let me see if he came in." Placing the phone down, he stuck his head into the living room to ask Jack and Jimmy if Clark had returned — although Perry doubted that he had.
"Who else is there?" Lois asked when Perry came back on the line. Obviously, she had heard voices.
"Do you remember the time that you hid a convicted murderer out in your apartment?" Perry asked.
"Of course, but what… Jack's there?"
"I'm not confirming that," Perry said with a chuckle.
"I heard he escaped." There was an awkward pause. "Is Clark there?" Lois asked again.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot. No, he's not."
There was a long pause before Lois spoke again. "Is he going to be okay, Perry?" she finally asked.
"Sure. Why wouldn't he be? After all, he's had a year to learn how to deal with your rejection," Perry said sarcastically.
There was dead silence.
"I'm sorry, honey," Perry said, immediately furious with himself for turning his fears for Clark into anger at Lois. "I didn't mean that. I guess I'm just sort of worried about him. I know this isn't your fault. I'm sure he'll be fine."
"Any idea where he is?"
"I imagine he is out somewhere getting as drunk as possible. At least, that's what I'd be doing in his position," Perry responded. He had actually figured, when the phone rang, that it was the police saying they had Clark in custody for getting drunk and beating the living daylights out of some guy who bore a striking resemblance to Lex Luthor — well, at least had the same color hair as Luthor.
"Are you okay?" Perry asked, suddenly concerned.
"I'm fine. I just needed to talk to my best friend."
"Sorry, honey. I wish I could help. But I don't know if he's even planning to come home tonight."
Lois was painfully sober when she hung up the phone. Never before had Perry sounded so upset with her, not even when she had given up on the boxing story. Clark must be in worse shape than she thought. But what was she supposed to do about that? She had warned him right at the start not to fall for her. Was it her fault that he had?
'Damn you, Clark Kent,' she thought to herself. 'Why did you have to fall in love with me?' What was she going to do without him in her life? Why couldn't he just want to be her best friend? But he had crossed that line and now, as much as she might wish it, they couldn't go back. What happened next was in her hands. Either she had to be prepared to step over that line with him or accept that he might cease to be part of her life.
She smiled slightly as she thought about the past year. Although she was fuzzy about the time that she had been under the influence of the pheromone compound, she could clearly remember the look on Clark's face when he looked at her leg as she sat on his desk. She remembered how safe she felt being held by Clark when she was almost killed by Mr. Makeup. She even remembered the look in his eyes after they hugged for the very first time. She swallowed hard. Could she really live without those things? And if he hadn't loved her, would she have had them in the first place?
Just then, Lois heard a tentative knock at the window. She instantly knew who was there. Who else knocked at her window? She had a moment's hesitation about answering it. After all, the last time they had spoken, he had been cold, even hurtful. But after a long moment, she walked over to the window and, once she had pulled her robe tighter around her, opened it. The familiar demigod in a cape floated through and into her apartment.
"Hi," Superman said. Lois was taken back by the sheepish way he said it. "I suppose you're wondering why I'm here on the night before your wedding."
"I guess you could say that," responded Lois coolly. "I think you made your feelings perfectly clear the last time you were here."
Superman gave a humorless laugh. "Yeah, well, I'm not so sure about that. But anyway, I have something I need to say to you before you marry Luthor."
When Lois didn't respond, Superman took a deep breath and continued.
"Okay. I guess the place to begin is with your comment that you would love me if I were just an ordinary man."
"I would, Superman."
"That's just it, Lois. When you look at this outfit what you see is Superman. But that's not who I really am. 'Superman' is a fabrication — a two-dimensional character with no faults, no insecurities. But the truth is that I am as fallible as everyone else on the planet. You don't seem to understand that. I guess the fact that I try to cover up that side of me as Superman doesn't help. You're in love with someone who doesn't really exist."
"That's not…" Lois began, but fell silent when Superman raised his hand.
"The problem is that I've never been able to get you to see beyond the outfit and, believe me, it does come off, both figuratively and literally."
Lois blushed and looked down. He had obviously overheard her comments the day she had gone over to cook him and Clark supper.
"So here's my dilemma. Do I let you marry someone else — someone who I believe to be one of the biggest criminals on the eastern seaboard…"
Lois opened her mouth to respond, but Superman pre-empted her by anticipating her question.
"And, before you ask, no. I don't have any proof that Luthor is anything other than the philanthropist he portrays himself to be. But the point is, do I let you marry Luthor, or do I tell you that Superman, this two-dimensional fabrication who you seem to think walks on water, loves you?"
Lois was speechless. What exactly was he saying? Was that an admission of love or not?
"Lois, if you really knew me, you wouldn't love me," Superman continued.
"How can you say that? I told you before that…"
"Because you've met me when I wasn't wearing the suit, Lois."
Lois' mind was going at full speed now. She had met Superman when he was dressed as an ordinary man and, knowing her, she had brushed him off. No wonder he'd been so hurt when she claimed she would love him as an ordinary man.
"Then maybe you need to tell me who you really are," Lois said cautiously.
Superman shook his head. "I can't do that either, because if you do marry Luthor, I would be giving information that could hurt a lot of people I care about to the wife of a man who would love nothing more than to destroy me and everyone around me. I trust you, but it wouldn't be fair to put you in that position. Besides, if Luthor ever found out that you knew…" He didn't finish his thought, almost as if couldn't quite bring himself to think about what Luthor would do to her to get that information, much less put it into words.
Lois' head was spinning. Superman was out there masquerading as an ordinary guy. No, that wasn't right. From what he was telling her, he was an ordinary guy who was masquerading as Superman. He had told her that 'Superman' didn't really exist. But still, this must be some extraordinary guy to take on this kind of responsibility and to do it as well as he did. No, regardless of what he was claiming, he was no ordinary guy.
"So why are you telling me this?" Lois finally asked.
"The way I see it, you have a number of choices and I will abide by whatever decision you make. But before you hear them and consider them, I want to be clear about one thing. I do love you, Lois Lane. I always have and I always will."
Lois was stunned. Superman loved her. She shook her head slightly, trying to get her mind back on track. Choices… He said something about choices.
"So what are the choices?" she finally asked.
Superman nodded. "You tell me to get lost and marry Luthor."
"You call off your wedding to Luthor and we start a relationship in which I try to be the Superman you seem to want. It would kill me never being able to share with you who I really am, but if it will keep you from marrying Luthor…" He shrugged.
"Or?" she prompted, knowing that he had left out an obvious option.
"You call off your wedding to Luthor and I tell you everything. You make your decision from there. But I'm warning you that you may not end up getting what you expect."
"So then, you're asking me to call off my wedding on spec and you're warning me that the odds aren't good."
"I guess that's what I'm saying."
Lois looked at him seriously. "Why now? Why are you presenting these options to me now, on the night before my wedding?"
"I kept hoping I could find a way to change your mind that wouldn't involve any of the above choices. Then maybe in time…" He shrugged. "But tonight I realized what would happen if I simply let you marry Luthor. This is probably a little drastic, but it would destroy me to see you married to Luthor."
"Destroy you? Superman, nothing can destroy you."
"Actually, two things can."
She looked at him curiously.
"One is kryptonite."
"The rock Jason Trask claimed could kill you?"
"That's the one."
"And the other."
Superman looked deeply into her eyes. "You," he said softly.
Lois felt her breath catch in her throat. "You're not playing fair here, Superman."
"I know." Superman whispered, looking down. "I…" His voice trailed off as if he was suddenly ashamed of his actions but was still unable to back away from doing them.
And for the first time, Lois saw the god with the feet of clay. She quickly shook off the thought.
"I guess all really is fair in love and war," Lois said after a long moment.
"I don't necessarily think that's true. But right now, I don't really care," Superman responded, finally looking up to meet her eyes — and she noticed for the first time that he looked almost haunted.
"Can I think about it?" A few weeks ago there would have been nothing to think about. And Lois was surprised to realize that it was thoughts of Clark rather than Lex that were causing her to hesitate.
Superman raised his eyebrows.
"Don't worry. I'll let you know in the morning. Before the wedding…" she added to his continued look. "My mom is supposed to be coming here at eight so if you could come by at about seven thirty."
"I'll be here," Superman promised. "Just don't tell the criminal element of Metropolis about this."
She chuckled. "I won't. After all, the criminal element of Metropolis and I don't get along well," Lois said, pleased when she provoked a genuine smile out of the Man of Steel.
Lois walked him to the window and gave him a peck on the cheek.
"I do love you, you know," she whispered.
Superman let out a short breath, his previous smile vanishing. "I wish that were true," he responded. With that he flew out the window.
Lois stared into the sky after him, wondering why his declaration of love was not nearly as intoxicating as she had always believed it would be.
Clark flew out over the ocean, rolled over onto his back and stared out at the distant stars. He knew he was not being fair to Lois on a number of different levels. First, with her curiosity, how could she resist discovering the identity of the man behind the costume? Second, he was making her feel responsible for the well being of Superman when he knew that his emotions were not her problem. Third, he knew that offering to love her as Superman was a dead end street. He knew it wasn't fair to offer her something that wasn't real.
But Clark had never been so scared and his feelings of desperation were making it hard for him to think in terms of what was fair. Every ounce of his being screamed at him that marrying Luthor was the worst mistake Lois could ever make. But there was another part of him that wasn't sure how much of what he'd done was because of his own fears of losing Lois.
Unable to enjoy the serenity of his current environment, Clark headed back towards his apartment. He doubted he was going to be able to sleep, but he might as well be there as anywhere.
Clark spotted Jack sitting on the balcony of his apartment long before he arrived. So he landed in a nearby alley and spun out of the suit. He entered the apartment, quietly made his way to the balcony and took a seat on a deck chair beside Jack.
"What are you doing out here?" Clark asked.
"If we aren't able to prove Luthor is responsible for bombing the Planet, I might not see stars for a long time. I guess I just figured…" Jack shrugged. "You?"
"I just don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight."
"Yeah. Tomorrow's the big day, isn't it?"
Clark let out a short breath.
"I don't get it," Jack finally said. "Why don't you just go to her as Superman? Everyone knows she's in love with Superman. I mean, she's been kinda obvious about it."
Clark looked over at his young friend. He had suspected Jack knew his secret since the day the Daily Planet had been taken over by terrorists. However, he had never made direct reference to it again. Clark knew that he should deny Jack's claim, demand to know what Jack was talking about, but he just didn't have the strength left.
"I did tonight," he said softly.
"And she turned you down?" Jack asked in disbelief.
"Not exactly. I sort of told her that there was another side to me that she may not like. But, unless she called off her wedding to Luthor, I couldn't share it with her."
"Jack, if Luthor ever found out that she knew who I am, what do you think would happen?"
"He'd do whatever it took to get that information from her."
"So what's she going to do?"
"She's going to think about it."
They sat in silence for a long time.
"Oh, I almost forgot, Lois phoned earlier. She was looking for you."
"I don't know. A couple of hours ago."
That would have been before their talk. Well, he knew she wouldn't be asleep, so he decided to call back. He went into the apartment, brought his cordless phone outside and punched in the well-known number.
Lois was getting nowhere trying to think things through. Between her earlier thoughts about Clark and now the admission by Superman that he loved her, she felt completely overwhelmed. On top of that, there was Superman's comment that he had another identity — and that they had met while he had been in that guise. But when? And where? And how could she possibly not have recognized that amazing physique?
There was something almost troubling about the idea that Superman had another life as an ordinary man. And what made it even more troubling was his comment that she had met his non- Superman persona — and hadn't liked him. What if that were true? What if he was actually someone like — god forbid — Ralph? Maybe his superpowers allowed him to look different in the suit. She shuddered. Could she love Superman if he were actually Ralph?
She shook her head violently. Now she was being ridiculous. Superman couldn't possibly be Ralph. But still, the point remained that he might be right. She might not like, even if she was certain she would still admire, the man behind the costume.
She was so lost in thought that the sudden ringing of the phone startled her. As she scrambled to grab it, she found herself hoping it wasn't Lex. The last thing she needed right now was to talk to him — not while her thoughts and feelings were in such turmoil.
"Clark," Lois gasped when she heard his voice on the other end of the line. "Why are you calling? I mean, I'm glad you called. I really am. I just… Well, I guess I didn't expect to hear from you considering…"
"I heard that you called me," came Clark's subdued voice. "So what did you want?"
"I called because I need to talk to you. Can you come over?" she asked, before a new thought suddenly struck her. "Oh, wait. I can't talk to you now. It wouldn't be fair to… Anyway, I guess there is nothing you can do. I'll have to find a way to work through this on my own." She was silent for a moment. "How are you?" she asked very softly. "Perry said he thought you were out somewhere getting drunk."
"No, unfortunately, I'm stone cold sober," said Clark, somewhat surprising her.
"Actually, come to think of it, I've never seen you drunk," she said thoughtfully. "Maybe you should come over and we could do that together. My last night of freedom and all that."
Lois' last comment felt like a punch to Clark's gut. Lois wasn't much of a drinker. She didn't relinquish control to anyone or anything. If she was talking about getting drunk and losing control…
"Are you sure you don't want me to help you work through whatever's on your mind?" he asked.
"I wish you could. I really need to talk to someone, but it would mean betraying someone else's confidence so…"
Clark hesitated. She needed her best friend and he wasn't sure he would ever be able to deny her what she wanted. "Would it help to know that Superman told me he was coming to see you tonight and basically what he planned to say?"
Lois let out a relieved gasp. "Yes. Can you come over?"
"I'll be right there."
Clark hung up the phone and looked over at Jack who was shaking his head.
"What?" demanded Clark.
"You sure have a bizarre life."
"Tell me about it."
"First, you go over and offer yourself to her as Superman, and now you're going back there as Clark to help her decide what to do. What are you going to tell her to do?"
"Nothing. Look, Jack, I'm going to do my best to let her make her own decision."
"Can you do that?"
Clark smiled sadly. "I have to. If I force her into something, and then tell her who I am, what chance will I stand then?"
Jack looked thoughtful and nodded. "Good luck."
Lois let out a breath of relief when she hung up the phone. Clark was coming. Everything was going to be all right. They would talk this through, like they always did. And she'd figure out what to do.
She sat down on the couch, putting her feet up on the coffee table. She glanced down at her legs, which could be seen between the folds of her robe, and noticed the old pair of sweat pants she'd chosen to wear to bed tonight.
Suddenly, she sprang from the couch. She couldn't wear this outfit. Clark was coming over. Making a mad dash for her bedroom, she began frantically searching through her closet. What was a woman supposed to wear when a man who is in love with her is coming over in the middle of the night to help her figure out which of two other men she might want to be with? She suddenly stopped. Why should she limit her consideration to two men? After her thoughts earlier, why not consider Clark, too? Or maybe she shouldn't be considering any of them.
She suddenly growled. This was getting more complicated by the minute. She pushed the thought to the back of her mind in order to continue on her scrambled search for the appropriate outfit. Dressy? No. Obviously not. Casual. Yes. It was the middle of the night, after all. She grabbed some leggings and an old sweatshirt. Pulling on her chosen clothing, she looked at herself in the mirror.
She gasped. She couldn't wear this. The leggings were good — comfortable, but showing off her legs to perfection. But she couldn't wear this ratty, old sweatshirt. She pulled off the shirt while at the same time continuing to rife through her closet until she found a better sweatshirt — one of Clark's University of Kansas shirts. Perfect.
Once she had it on, she looked at herself in the mirror. She let out her breath, realizing what a mess her hair was. She dashed for the washroom. Running a brush though her hair led to brushing her teeth.
She figured she had a total of fifteen minutes before Clark arrived. It briefly occurred to her to wonder why this was so important all of a sudden. But she pushed the thought out of her mind as quickly as it had come. She just wanted to look presentable. There was nothing wrong with that.
Clark kept checking his watch. He had to wait long enough to have walked over to Lois' apartment before going in. But he didn't want to wait one minute beyond that. After all, he was painfully aware that time was running out for them and he resented every second he was losing pretending to be just Clark.
Lois had the door open the second he knocked. Clark did a quick double take when he recognized the oversized sweatshirt Lois was wearing. But he quickly dismissed any underlying meaning to her choice of clothing. She'd probably just thrown it on tonight because it was comfortable and had no idea how sexy he thought she looked in his clothing.
They stood in absolute silence in the doorway. Clark found himself somewhat speechless. The last time he'd seen Lois as Clark had ended badly — as had every time they'd seen each other since Lois had accepted Luthor's proposal. He sought for something to say that would break through the unusual tension between them. But it was Lois who found her voice first.
"Thank you for coming, Clark," she said, not quite meeting his eyes. "I know this can't be easy for you."
"It's okay, Lois," he responded, stepping inside so that she could close the door.
There was another moment of silence before Lois spoke again.
"This is a little awkward, isn't it?"
"Who'd have thought we could ever feel uncomfortable with each other," Clark responded.
"I know." Then Lois let out a breath and said in a very small voice, "Could I have a hug?"
Clark had her in his arms almost immediately, pulling her closer than he probably should have, but he knew this might well be the last time he ever got to hold her. The small whimper she gave as she burrowed her face against his throat caused a tidal wave of emotions to surge over his body. When he finally released her, Clark noticed the blush in her cheeks, as if she had enjoyed being in his arms as much as he had enjoyed having her there. Still, the hug seemed to have dispelled the tension in the room.
"So…" she began slowly. "You said you spoke to Superman?"
"Umm… yes," said Clark, struggling to get his mind back on track.
"What exactly did he tell you?"
Clark paused. He hoped this would be the last night he would ever have to talk to her about himself in the third person. "He said that he was going to tell you he wasn't really 'Superman,' that he had another identity, but as long as there was a chance of you marrying Luthor, he couldn't tell you who he was."
"Did he tell you he loves me?"
"I've always known that, Lois."
"And you kept it from me?" she asked, giving Clark's arm a playful swat.
Clark just shook his head.
"So tell me, how I can help?" Clark asked.
"Right. Well, Superman said there are three options. I can marry Lex. I can break off my engagement and have 'Superman' or I can break off my engagement, have Superman tell me who he really is and then decide whether to get involved with him."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Well, I must admit it is tempting to have him love me as 'Superman.'"
Lois bit her lip and looked down. "But I think that's just my hormones talking. It really doesn't make a long-term relationship possible. At least not one with any real meaning. Besides, it would drive me nuts not knowing."
"Okay, then that leaves two."
"Not exactly. I've thought of a couple other options since Superman left."
"What are they?"
They walked over to the sofa and sat down before Lois continued. "I can call off my wedding and take the time I need to figure out what I really want."
"That might be a wise decision."
"Maybe, but what if I decide that I really do want to marry Lex?"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I couldn't possibly be lucky enough to have him just go away," Clark responded.
She reached over, gently took his hand and started playing with it.
"So what's the other option?" Clark asked, swallowing hard as her fingers ran lightly over the back of his hand. When she didn't respond, he asked, "Lois?"
"I could always just run away with you," she stated softly.
His heart almost stopped beating. He must have misheard her.
She looked at him, meeting his eyes only briefly before looking down to stare at their entwined hands. It felt as if an eternity passed before she spoke again.
"Clark, I… I've been thinking about what you told me a few weeks ago in the park. I've been thinking about it a lot. I don't know why I didn't realize sooner that you love me. After all, it all makes sense when I think about it." She paused. "Actually, that's not completely true. I do know why I didn't realize it sooner. Clark, you're the best friend I've ever had. I wasn't prepared to even think about you in those terms because I was afraid to risk our friendship. The last couple of weeks have shown me that I could lose it by not taking a chance on something more."
"Lois, you couldn't lose…"
"I could, Clark. Are you honestly trying to tell me that if I marry Lex, you would still be my best friend?"
Clark took a long time before answering. "Lois, I'll always be there for you if you ever need me, no matter what you decide to do with Luthor." That was true as far as it went, but he wouldn't lie to her about this. "But Lois, I'm just not sure that… I just don't know if my heart could stand being around you constantly, knowing that you're with…" He took a jagged breath. "I'm sorry, Lois."
"It's okay, Clark. I understand. I hate it, but I do understand." She paused briefly. "But that does bring up another important point. Before I even consider the possibility of getting involved with Superman, there's something I need to know."
She chewed on her lip before responding. "I guess I need to know… I mean, if I do get involved with Superman, will you and I still be friends? I know you don't like Lex, so I wondered…" Her voice trailed off.
Clark was completely caught off guard by the question. He was Superman. So how was he supposed to answer? If he said 'yes,' wasn't he encouraging her to choose Superman, thinking that she'd still have Clark on the side — which, of course, wasn't possible if he told her who he was. On the other hand, if he said 'no,' wasn't he giving credibility to the idea that his claims about Luthor were nothing more than jealousy induced rants. It took him a moment to find a response.
"Lois, if I truly believed that Lex was an upstanding guy, and if I thought you really loved each other, I'd support your marriage. I'd hate it, but I would support it. At least, I'd certainly try."
"Thank you, Clark," she said softly, giving his hand a squeeze.
Clark let out a breath of relief at having successfully side- stepped that particular minefield. But this was going to be a lot tougher than he had originally thought.
They began discussing the options. She talked about her concerns that she didn't really know Luthor. She went on to undermine that thought by wondering if she was just having cold feet. She talked about her concerns that involvement with Superman would mean having to share him with the rest of the world. Her comments were so articulately expressed that Clark knew immediately that this wasn't the first time she'd contemplated this problem. And she talked about her fears of what getting involved with Clark might do to their friendship. After all, all of her previous relationships had been federal disasters. Whenever she brought up the possibility of a relationship between them, Clark was very careful not to push her — to try to understand her concerns and to alleviate her fears, but not to give his opinion about what she should do.
"Clark, are you having second thoughts about starting something with me?" she finally asked.
He gasped. "No. Absolutely not. How could you think that?"
"It's just… well, when I try to talk to you about us, you seem… I don't know, noncommittal, I guess."
"Lois, I just think that I am a little too biased to give an opinion about what you should do. But I'm hoping with all my heart that you choose me."
She reached over and stroked his cheek.
"That's one of the things I love about you," she said softly. "I love your honesty."
Clark flinched, and the confused look that flashed immediately in Lois' eyes told him that she had noticed.
"Clark?" she asked.
"It's just… I'm not feeling very honest right now."
"Does this have something to do with Superman?"
He looked at her in shock.
"I knew it. You know who Superman is, don't you?"
He looked down. He wanted so badly just to tell her, but if there was any possibility of her marrying Luthor, he knew he couldn't. No matter the agony of keeping this from her, especially now, he would not risk her safety.
"You know better than to ask me that question," he said softly.
"I knew it. That's why you can always get in touch with Superman, isn't it? Clark, please you have to tell me who it is. At least, tell me he isn't Ralph."
"Come on, Clark."
"I can't tell you, Lois." He refused to say that it wasn't his secret to tell. Instead, he went to the real reason he couldn't tell her. "If you do decide to marry Luthor…"
"I still don't know what I'm going to do. But I do know what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to marry Lex tomorrow."
Clark looked at her hopefully. "Are you sure, Lois?" Clark asked, fighting to keep the tremor out of his voice and realizing he was failing miserably.
"I'm sure," she seemed to rush to reassure him. "I think I've been looking for a way out for the past week. I doubt I would have married Lex even if Superman hadn't come by tonight. Now… I know I can't marry Lex considering how mixed up my feelings are."
"Then what are we talking about this for?"
"Well, that still leaves three options. Taking the time to figure out what I want. Choosing Superman with his real identity known. After all, it would drive me crazy not knowing. Or I could see what might happen with us. So that leaves three options."
"I can cut the number down to two," Clark said nervously. There had never been a more perfect opening for telling her this.
"How?" she asked.
Clark took a deep breath. His heart was racing. "I'm…" his voice trailed off. He turned toward her and took her hands in his. He didn't look at her. He looked instead at their joined hands. "I'm…" he tried again. He grimaced and closed his eyes in an effort to find the courage to say what needed to be said. Only a moment ago, it had taken everything he had to keep from telling her about Superman. Now… now, he couldn't seem to say the words.
"Clark?" Lois asked. She wasn't sure what he was going to say, just that he was having problems telling her. How was he going to cut the choices down to two?
Clark released her hands and got up, standing with his back to her. She felt confused as he ran his hands through his hair, quite obviously struggling very deeply with something. Slowly, she rose from the couch and made her way behind him. Almost tentatively, she placed a hand on his back and felt him tremble under her fingers. He had told her earlier that he hoped with all his heart that she would choose him. But how else could he reduce the choices? Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and forced herself to ask the question — the one to which she was suddenly terrified to hear the answer.
"Are you trying to take yourself out of the running?" she asked softly.
He immediately spun around to face her. "No!" The answer was so definite and so immediate that she knew that was not the right answer. So what else could it be?
"Clark, talk to me," she begged.
"I don't…" There was a long period of silence.
"Can you at least tell me why this is so hard for you?" Lois finally asked.
"That you'll never forgive me," he said, looking at his hands.
Now she was really floored. What did he think was so bad that she would never forgive him? What did that have to do with reducing the options? Did he think that whatever he had to tell her was so bad that she wouldn't want to get involved with him? That had to be it. The problem was that Lois didn't think there was anything Clark could have done that would be that bad.
"Clark, come here," Lois said, leading him back to the couch. She waited until he was again seated next to her before continuing. "I can't imagine there is anything I couldn't forgive you. Now, I can't promise that whatever you have to tell me won't make me mad, but I don't want to lose your friendship. That's one of the big reasons I can't marry Lex. Do you think that I'm going to turn around and just give it up because I don't like something you have to tell me?"
She looked at Clark. He still looked almost as if he were in pain. "Okay, why don't we just leave it for a while," Lois finally said. "I mean it's almost four o'clock in the morning. I'm exhausted and I'm sure you are too. Since I'm not getting married tomorrow, I guess there is no real rush to sort this all out. What do you say we take a break?"
"Superman's going to be here at seven-thirty," Lois said. "I probably won't be able to make any decisions 'til I hear what he has to say anyway."
She had to admit, her curiosity about what Clark was trying to tell her was driving her crazy. And she found herself almost shocked that she wasn't forcing the issue. But there was something… Something about the pain Clark seemed to be in that prevented her from going in for the kill — making him tell her. She simply did not have the heart to push him. His eyes looked almost haunted — sort of reminding her of the haunted look she'd seen in Superman's eyes earlier.
"Okay," Clark said, sounding relieved at the unexpected respite. She gave him a soft smile and gently squeezed his hand, before releasing it, rising from the couch and beginning to back away.
"I don't know about you," she said as she backed slowly towards the kitchen, "but I could use something to eat. Preferably something chocolate. I'll check the freezer. I think I might have some chocolate ice cream in there." He smiled and she felt an unexpected flutter in her chest. She quickly turned away from him, making her way into the kitchen as she struggled with what had just happened. Why had she never before noticed what a gorgeous smile Clark had?
Not that she hadn't noticed how good he looked when he'd walked into her apartment wearing black jeans and a black shirt. But she had thought the reason he'd looked so good to her was because she'd missed her friend so much over the past few weeks. As a result, she hadn't expected her reaction to his smile — something she hadn't seen on Clark's face for far too long. She took a deep breath before opening the freezer, allowing the cold air to cool down her suddenly rampaging hormones.
"Good news," Lois called from the kitchen. "I have chocolate ice-cream." She put some coffee in the coffee maker and took out the ice cream and a couple of spoons. She started to pull out bowls before changing her mind. This was Clark, after all. He wouldn't be offended with eating out of the carton. She almost snorted in amusement as she contemplated Lex's reaction if she tried to serve him ice cream from the carton. She could still remember her embarrassment when he had caught her doing it.
When Lois came back, Clark was half stretched across her sofa with his feet propped up on her coffee table. He was absentmindedly flipping through channels on T.V. She handed him his spoon and coffee before sitting down beside him so that they could share the ice cream. When they had finished eating, Lois leaned back against the couch. Clark's arm went around her and he pulled her against him, like he had so many times in the past, and they began to watch an old Perry Mason rerun on T.V.
Lois sighed. Being here, with Clark's arm around her and her head resting on his shoulder felt so right. It always had. She sat there oblivious to the television and wondered how she could have dismissed his declaration of love so easily. It was true that her heart began to race just by seeing Superman enter a room. But this wasn't bad either.
"Do you really love me, Clark?" she asked tentatively. "I mean, will you love me in a year — or five — or ten? Or is this just one of those temporary infatuations?" She hated putting him on the spot when she couldn't say that she returned his feelings, but in order to make this decision, she really needed to know.
Clark's reply was soft. He was obviously on the verge of sleep. "I really love you, Lois. Always have, always will."
She smiled, then frowned. Those were almost the same words that Superman had spoken to her earlier this evening. It was strange. She shook off the coincidence as she snuggled further into his arms, reveling in the way it felt to be there. Over the past few weeks, with the strain in their relationship, this was one of the things she had missed the most.
For a long time, she contented herself with being held this way. When she finally turned her head to look at him again, his eyes were closed and his breathing was deep. She smiled as she watched him sleep. Then, after picking up the remote and flicking off the television, she turned a bit more in his arms. Suddenly, an idea flashed through her mind. For a moment, she hesitated, before…
'Oh, just do it,' she told herself firmly. Moving very slowly and carefully so as not to wake him, she leaned over and kissed him, oh so lightly, on the lips. She just wanted to see how it felt. Of course, they had kissed previously. But she didn't know if what she had felt then was real. Each time they had kissed was in the middle of an otherwise emotional experience, whether it was almost being discovered posing as honeymooners at the Lexor Hotel, before being thrown out of an airplane or when Clark was leaving the Daily Planet during the heat wave. So she kissed him. A surge of warmth invaded her system at the feel of his lips lightly touching hers. Immediately, Clark was awake. She smiled shyly at being caught.
Clark looked into her eyes for a moment before raising his head slightly, silently inviting her to, once again, touch her lips to his. She seemed powerless to do anything but answer his request. At first, each kiss was light, tentative — as if each were cautious about venturing into this unfamiliar and oh so dangerous territory. Then, giving a small groan which resonated to the core of Lois' being, Clark's hand came up to the back of Lois' head, burying itself in her hair and pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss, almost robbing Lois of the ability to breath.
She responded, turning more fully in his arms. Each kiss was incredibly sweet. She felt the tentative brush of his tongue against her lips and automatically opened her mouth to allow him entry. And just as his tongue slipped past the barrier of her lips, her heart felt as it, too, had been breached by the man holding her.
Suddenly, Lois found herself feeling light- headed. Out of control had never before felt quite this good. She had never realized how easily she could respond to him. That was why she told him she didn't love him that way. She didn't think she felt passion for him. But what was going on inside her as they kissed was not what she had expected. As the kisses continued, they became more ardent.
She could hardly believe how different this was from kissing Lex earlier in the evening. Then, she'd found herself withdrawing. Now… Well, now she realized exactly how easy it would be for her to get carried away.
In fact, when Lois felt Clark's hand slip underneath the back of her sweatshirt, she was suddenly overcome by a desire to feel Clark's chest under her hand instead of through the fabric of his shirt. Without losing contact with his lips, she quickly undid the middle button on his shirt and slipped her hand inside only to be disappointed when she discovered that he was wearing some sort of undershirt. She was about to try to get a grasp on the unwanted clothing in an effort to pull the shirt out of his jeans when…
"Superman!" she suddenly exclaimed, pulling away from Clark so fast that she could have, at that moment, rivaled Superman for speed.
"What?" gasped Clark, opening his eyes in confusion. He looked at her, as if trying to grapple with the unexpected loss of the soft body in his arms, pushing provocatively against him, and the feel of her lips exploring his.
"Superman," she said again, rising from the couch. She avoided eye contact with him as she busily began yanking at her sweatshirt and pushing a hand through her hair to straighten it. "We can't… I can't do this. Not until I figure out what I'm going to do about Superman." She began to pace, still refusing to look at Clark.
"What was I thinking?" she continued. "You're his friend. And what if I decide… Oh, god, Clark. How would we ever be able to explain to him…?" Her hand gestured frantically towards the couch.
"Lois?" Clark asked, rising from the couch himself, obviously not understanding what she was trying to say.
She quit pacing as he approached. Placing a single hand against his chest when he was finally standing in front of her, she struggled with how to explain this to him. When she knew she couldn't continue to search for words, she finally looked up and met his eyes.
"Look, Clark," she began slowly, "what just happened here… I mean, when we were…"
"I know what you mean, Lois," Clark interrupted.
"It just… It shouldn't have happened," she said. When his expression immediately fell, she realized she was not explaining herself well. "That's not what I meant, Clark. I meant, it was…" She sucked in a breath through her teeth. "It was… wow. I mean, really wow. We're talking about real toe- curling stuff here, Clark." When his expression seemed to lighten, she continued. "It's just that when I still don't know what I'm going to do about Superman, we shouldn't be… I shouldn't be…"
"It's okay, Lois," Clark interrupted. "I understand."
"Not that I have the foggiest idea what I'm going to do about Superman," she immediately continued. "I mean, if he was just Superman, that would be one thing. Not that I would know what to do. But at least I'd know what my options really were. I think I could even handle his having another persona. But he made it pretty clear that I wouldn't like him in that persona. He seemed positive about that. And I know it's ridiculous, but I just can't seem to stop thinking that maybe it's someone like Ralph."
"What if he's right, Clark? What if he tells me who he is and I realize that he's right — that I really, really don't like this guy? If it is Ralph, how do I say: 'Sorry, Superman, but you're right. I really…"
"…don't like you. In fact, I think you're a creep and the idea of you touching me makes me feel sick to my stomach."
"Oh, god, Clark. What if it is Ralph? How do I handle that? Why does it have to be Ralph? Why couldn't it be someone I really like? Why couldn't it by someone like yo…"
Her voice came to an abrupt halt when something clicked in Lois' mind. As if someone had suddenly flicked a switch, light flooded into Lois' previously clouded mind. She began almost gasping for air as the pieces of the puzzle began tumbling into place with amazing speed. And it all suddenly made sense. In fact, it was the only thing that did.
"You can cut it down to two choices," she began softly, although speaking to him, addressing herself more. "Superman doesn't think I would love him as an ordinary man — an ordinary man I've already met and rejected… You both tell me you love me using the same words… I've never seen you together, but you're supposed to be friends… You're always able to get in touch with him… And that stupid disappearing act of yours… Omigod," Lois finally gasped.
Clark's face had gone from an expression of confusion to a portrait in fear.
Lois reached down and, with trembling hands, undid another couple of buttons on his shirt and pushed back the edges to look at his cloth- covered chest. She gave a small whimper when what she knew she was going to find was suddenly there, making it impossible for her to dismiss the truth as merely a bad dream. She was staring at the 'S' symbol on Superman's suit.
Her eyes drifted slowly from his chest to his face. She reached up and cautiously removed his glasses before pushing his hair off his face.
"It's true," she finally whispered.
"I…" She paused. "Wow!" she finally breathed. She shook her head as if trying to juggle her thoughts around just enough to organize them into some sort of coherent pattern.
"Lois?" Clark asked softly.
"That's what you couldn't tell me?"
"That you're… That you're…" She suddenly understood his difficulty. She swallowed hard and tried again. "That you're… Superman." The final word wasn't much more than a breath.
"Wow!" Lois repeated, still in a state of shock. He had told her he was an ordinary man and that she wouldn't love him as an ordinary man. She had wondered why he thought that. But he knew it. He knew it because she had told him as much. There was no guessing involved. Lois stared absently at the glasses in her hands. "Omigod," she whispered.
Clark reached over to touch her, but she wrenched herself away from his touch. Suddenly, she threw his glasses on the coffee table as if they were burning her hands and fled to the other side of the room. She didn't face him. She didn't dare. The shock of the initial discovery was quickly being replaced by humiliation. The things she had told Clark about Superman. How could he do that to her? How could he betray her like that?
If Clark had ever wondered whether Lois listened to herself when she babbled, he never would again. He had watched as sudden realization had flooded her expression. And then stood in fearful silence as she had fit the remaining pieces into place.
Lois knew. And definitely not the way he had wanted her to find out. Still… He waited for the firestorm he knew would follow. But there was only silence as she stood with her back to him on the far side of the room, hugging herself tightly. Screaming, yelling, throwing things even, that he could handle. But what did he do with silence?
"Lois?" Clark asked cautiously. He could feel her anguish even from where he stood and desperately wanted to make her quit hurting. Still, she made no sound, no move to indicate that she had even heard him.
Hesitantly, he walked toward her. He was just about to reach out to place a hand on her shoulder when she almost knocked him off his feet by suddenly spinning toward him.
"Damn you, Clark Kent," she said, her eyes flashing with anger. "How could you do this to me? I trusted you, both of you. How could you just stand by and watch me make a fool of myself over and over again? Did you get some sort of perverse pleasure in humiliating me? I hope it was worth it. I hope you enjoyed the entertainment."
Clark did the only thing he could think of. He took a step forward to take her in his arms. His arms started to go around her when she combined her verbal fury with a physical attack. She pounded her fists against his chest. He gave enough to keep her from hurting herself, allowing her to wear herself out before pulling her fully into his arms and letting her sob against his chest. When she finally calmed, she pushed him away.
"Get out," she snarled.
"Lois, please, I…" Clark began.
"Get out!" she repeated, this time leaving little room for argument.
Slamming the palms of her hands against his chest to push him in the appropriate direction, she drove her point home. Clark nodded sadly. Slowly making his way to the door, he forced himself to put one shaky foot in front of the other.
He had blown it. He could have told her about himself, maybe making it easier for him to control the situation. He'd certainly had time to tell her. But he had chickened out. So what would happen now? Would she change her mind and decide to marry Luthor tomorrow now that both Clark and Superman had undoubtedly been crossed off her list of potential romantic prospects?
His strategy had back-fired completely. Now she knew Superman's identity. He had even told her about kryptonite. And there was nothing to stop her from marrying Luthor.
He slowly pushed open the door to her apartment building and stepped outside. Suddenly, he felt slightly disoriented. He had no idea what he was supposed to do now. He spotted the park bench across from her building and, making his way over, sank down on it, burying his head in his hands.
As soon as the door closed, Lois threw herself onto the couch and sobbed. How could he do that to her? That day in the park, he had told her he loved her and then, when she had told him the same thing only a few hours later, he had dismissed her. He had been cold and distant. He had even taken off before letting her finish. Why had he even come that night? He had to have known what she was going to say. The only explanation was that he had come to hurt her like she had hurt him.
Something else was bothering her. There were so many times when he had encouraged her affections for Superman — she was certain she hadn't imagined it — and yet, the whole time he knew… He knew she didn't really feel that way about him. Yet he had deliberately, systematically let her make a fool of herself over and over again for the past year.
She knew that part of her anger was at herself for not realizing it. It was like when Clark told her that he loved her. Suddenly so much of the mystery of the past year was no longer a mystery. It all made sense. Would he ever have told her if she hadn't figured it out for herself? Probably not. But even as she thought that, she knew it wasn't true. "Can you at least tell me why this is so hard for you?" She recalled her question of a short time ago. "I'm afraid." 'Well, buster,' Lois thought to herself, 'you have good reason to be afraid.' Maybe she should sit down and write the definitive expose on Superman. Pay back hurt for hurt and probably get a Pulitzer out of it. After all, he hadn't told her, she had figured it out for herself. So he couldn't claim that she was breaking his confidence.
She wouldn't do it. She knew that. After all, even if he was wrong about Lex, there were a lot of people who would love nothing better than to destroy Superman. And how better to do that with someone invulnerable than to destroy his support network.
"Two things can destroy me, Lois. Kryptonite and you." Superman's words came back to her. Clark's words. He was right. She could destroy him. But he seemed to think she had that power even before she knew his secret. "I have been in love with you for a long time. You had to have known." 'Oh Clark, if you loved me, why? Why couldn't you be honest with me?' "I'm not feeling very honest right now."
She went back and forth over everything for over an hour. By the end, she had more questions than answers. She had to talk to him. He owed her an explanation and she was determined to get it. She considered calling him, but he had company, and although she had no qualms about waking Clark tonight, waking his company was another matter. She considered sticking her head out the window and yelling for Superman, but that would attract the attention of the neighbors and she really didn't want to talk to Superman, anyway. She wanted to talk to Clark. And if he appeared in the suit and cape, she wasn't sure that she would be able to make the distinction. After all, for the past year she had thought of them as two separate people. She finally decided that she would walk over to his apartment. She grabbed her coat and headed for the door.
Lois was startled when she stepped outside her building. Clark was sitting on the bench across from her apartment building. He had his head resting in his hands and she was fairly certain he was asleep.
Lois slowly made her way over, taking a seat beside him to study the form of her sleeping friend — or was that former friend? She shook her head slightly. He was her friend. Regardless of what he'd done, his actions over the past year had earned him the right to at least a hundred thousand doubts.
Still, it was hard to reconcile all of this in her mind with the fact that they were friends. Friends talked to each other, confided in each other. She'd told him things she'd never told anyone else. Yet not once had he even hinted… Her thought trailed off as a conversation she had had with Clark a few months previously came back to her. She had demanded to know his biggest secret — needing blackmail material. When she didn't think he had told her his biggest secret and called him on it, he had responded by saying, "Just to put your little mind at ease, Lois. You're right." Talk about not overstating things.
But even if he was her friend, the fact remained that he had hurt her terribly. He had lied to her repeatedly. He had played with her emotions. Friends didn't do that to each other. As a result, she desperately needed some answers.
"Clark," she said softly.
Clark opened his eyes, looking up at Lois in confusion. Where was he? Suddenly, the events of the last few hours came flooding back.
"I'm sorry, Lois," Clark said, stumbling to his feet. "I'll get out of here." He started to leave.
"Don't go, Clark. I need you to answer some questions for me." She was no longer furious but there was still a tremendous amount of distress in her voice.
His heart skipped a beat. She wanted to talk. Maybe there was still a chance to prevent her from marrying Luthor. He struggled for a moment to find a game-plan before realizing that all he could really do was to be completely honest with her and let the chips fall where they may.
He nodded. She got up and headed back to her apartment, him following behind. It was only when they were both safely in her apartment that she again spoke.
"I just…" she said in a shaky voice, before falling silent. She walked over to the window through which Superman had visited her so many times and stood looking out. "I need to know why."
"Why didn't you tell me? Didn't you trust me?"
"It was never a matter of trust," Clark said, walking over to the window, but being careful to give her her space.
"Then what was it?"
"When I created Superman, I didn't know you well enough to tell you. After that…" Clark paused, unsure how to say this. "Lois, I never expected Superman to affect you the way he did. I was scared that if I told you, I'd either lose what I had with you as Superman, or I'd lose what I had with you as Clark, or both."
"So instead you let me make a fool of myself. Clark, how could you do that?" It was said more in pain than anger.
"You didn't make a fool of yourself, Lois."
"No? I constantly threw myself at Superman and you just watched. In fact, you encouraged it, Clark. I would just get some control over my feelings for Superman and there you would be again, at my window."
"I know. I just…" His voice trailed off.
"Keep talking, Clark." It was not a request. It was a demand.
"I created Superman because I wanted to help without jeopardizing my chance to have a normal life. I never expected that Superman would become such a… a Superstar, I guess. I'm just a farm boy from Kansas. Suddenly, I was…" Clark shrugged. "The only thing that kept me going a lot of the time was you."
"Don't play with me, Clark," she warned.
"I'm not," Clark jumped in. "Lois, I deal with an incredible amount of evil and heartache on a daily basis."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"I don't know if you realize this, but you have often kept me going when I felt like I had nothing left to give. I would swear that I wouldn't come by anymore. That I wouldn't seek out your company as Superman. I knew I wasn't being fair to you. Then things would just get to be too much for me and I'd need my fix."
"Your fix?" Lois asked, turning towards him, her confusion obvious from her expression.
Clark nodded. "My fix of Lois Lane. I would need to see the look you get when you look at Superman. I would need it so badly sometimes that I felt like a junkie feeding my addiction," Clark looked down, "I knew I should stay away, but I just couldn't seem to do it. I'm sorry," Clark finally whispered.
Lois was captivated. Hearing him refer to her as 'Superman's fix'… There was something almost appealing about that. He hadn't been trying to make a fool out of her at all. He had needed, even craved, her affection for Superman. And most importantly, he hadn't been laughing at her behind her back. Superman's 'fix.' Wow!
"Then tell me," she continued, "why did Superman come see me the evening after you told me you loved me?"
"You asked for him," Clark responded, looking slightly confused by the question.
She gasped. Because she had asked for Superman. There was nothing sinister here. Clark was just being Clark. So when she had asked for Superman, he had answered her request. He hadn't been trying to hurt her at all. In fact, that was probably why Superman had been so abrupt with her even before she had told him what was on her mind. He was trying to stop her from expressing her feelings for Superman — to prevent her from being hurt. She had gotten hurt because she had ignored his attempt to warn her.
Lois slowly closed the distance between her and Clark. She reached up a hand and put it under his chin, raising his face to look into his eyes, Clark's eyes, but without the glasses, which were still lying where she had thrown them earlier. His eyes were so full of fear, shame, pain, insecurity. 'I have the power to destroy Superman,' she suddenly realized. 'Not by printing what I know. No, by simply refusing to forgive him.' And she didn't want to destroy him. After all, despite what he had done, he was the most decent, caring man she had ever known.
"Your fix?" she asked, a smile pulling at the corner of her mouth in spite of herself. "Tell me something, do you think that this could be even more addicting?" She stepped up closer to him and lightly kissed him. She pulled back again to look at him. "So, are you hooked yet?"
She watched him swallow hard. He hadn't taken his eyes off her lips. Her hands ran up his chest around his neck before she pulled him back in for another kiss, this time pouring her heart and soul into the activity. His arms went tentatively around her as he responded, passion for passion. It was a good minute before she pulled away. But when she finally did, he was breathless. She smiled slightly. It was giving her back her confidence to realize she could have such an effect on the Man of Steel.
"Lois…" Clark began, only to fall silent again when she held up her hand.
"I need a moment to think," Lois informed him, before suddenly being consumed by memories. As she stared into the face that was such a mixture of Clark Kent and Superman, she thought back. "You… Metropolis has a bigger hold on Superman then you might think," Clark had told her once. "Thank you… For whatever you've done for me that makes me feel so good about you," he had said when he had amnesia. "You don't need to bid for my attention, Lois… You will always be special to me, Lois. You're the first woman who ever… interviewed me." However, she had definitely had the impression that he had started out to say something quite different. When she had lamented the fact that Superman didn't even know she was alive and that it was stupid to think that he cared, Clark had been right there to say that it wasn't stupid. That maybe she should consider that Superman might be scared to reveal himself, his true feelings. She thought about the night that she had, under the influence of the pheromone compound, done the dance of the seven veils for him. He had said, "You don't know how many times I've thought about this, dreamed about this. Well, something like this. But it isn't real." He loved her so much that he had resisted her advances for two days when she had to have been driving him crazy. He loved her. He always had. He had just never been able to get her to see beyond the suit. She suddenly understood what he had meant by that comment. He had been trying for the past year to let her know how he felt about her.
With the return of her self-assurance, the anger, and even the pain, began to dissipate. She took and let out a long slow breath before leading Clark back to the couch. Pulling him down onto the couch with her, she turned to settle comfortably into his arms.
She could feel the tension in his body, as if he was still not entirely sure that he had been forgiven. So, had he? She needed a moment to compose her thoughts. Finally, when she knew what she needed to say, she began to speak.
"Look, Clark, it's going to take me some time to deal with all of this. I know you weren't trying to hurt me and I guess I sort of like the idea of Superman considering me his 'fix'. But I can't promise that I won't get angry with you while I work my way through it." She glanced back to look in his eyes.
"Fair enough," he said. There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. "So have you made your choice?" Clark asked, a slight tremor in his voice.
Lois laughed. "After I decided that I wasn't going to marry Lex, was there really any decision left to make?"
The breath that escaped from Clark caused Lois to look at him again. There was such a look of relief on his face that Lois felt slightly confused. She thought back to what she had just said and suddenly she had a crazy thought.
"Clark, when I threw you out did you think that I was going to go ahead with my plans to marry Lex?" she asked.
Clark shifted uncomfortably, telling Lois that her hunch had been right on. He had obviously thought she was going to marry Lex.
"I'll admit that when I threw you out, I wanted to roast you alive over an open fire," she confessed. When his eyebrows rose, she reached over and ran a hand down his cheek. "But, to tell you the truth, I never even considered going through with my marriage to Lex."
"So does that mean you've made your choice?" asked Clark tentatively. "After all, there still is one choice left to make." When she looked slightly confused, he continued. "Do you want to be with me or not?"
She turned fully in his arms then, meeting his eyes and exploring them for a moment before responding. "I don't know what's going to happen between us, but I have a feeling we're going to have to find out. So I guess that's a 'yes.'"
"I love you, Lois Lane," Clark said softly.
She smiled. "I'm glad." Then her smile faded slightly as she realized that he was probably looking for quite a different response from her. But was it a response she could give? She knew she was glad that he loved her. And she knew that what she felt for him was a whole lot more than simple friendship. But was it love?
"Look, Clark. About that. About the 'love' stuff. I mean, I know that you probably want… Or maybe expect…"
His finger on her lips cut her off.
"All I want is for you to give us a chance," he said. "I'm willing to wait to hear those words back, Lois."
"Are you sure? 'Cause, what I feel for you is… I mean, I know that it's more than friendship. I'm just… This is all just happening so fast, you know. I guess I need time to figure out…"
"I know, Lois," Clark said, cutting her off.
Lois reached up, running her fingers lightly over his cheek as her eyes filled with moisture. She struggled for a moment, trying to put into words exactly what she was feeling. Suddenly, she realized that words weren't necessary. Instead, she leaned over and found his lips with hers. His response indicated that he wasn't exactly opposed to the means she had chosen to express herself.
As they continued to kiss, he reclined on the couch, pulling her with him. Her hands once again began to roam. Her fingers slipped between the still undone buttons of his shirt to lightly stroke the material underneath. Suddenly, Lois broke the kiss.
"Umm… now, don't get me wrong. I mean, I love the suit and everything. But…"
She watched a slow smile spread across his face as understanding of what she was trying to say seemed to sink in. It was only a moment before, using a burst of superspeed, he spun out of the suit and settled back down with her as Clark, his partially open shirt now revealing the bare skin of his chest.
"Better?" he asked, a slightly smug grin on his face which she suspected was his response to the somewhat stunned look she was certain was on her face as a result of his casual use of his superpowers.
"Much," she responded, slipping her hand inside the fabric and watching in satisfaction when the smug look disappeared almost instantaneously as her fingers began to explore the muscles of his chest. She couldn't help but lean in to kiss him once again.
It was a few minutes later before Clark broke the kiss, pulling back far enough to study her eyes while he gently stroked her cheek.
"Are you disappointed?" he asked.
"Well, you had put Superman up on quite a pedestal. I'm just wondering if you're disappointed to find out that he's…"
"You?" she concluded. "No! Clark, how could you even think that? I…"
"Well, actually," interrupted Clark, "I was going to say 'that he's not Ralph.'"
She stared at him in utter disbelief for a moment before she noticed the corner of his mouth begin to twitch in amusement.
"Oh, god, Clark," she said, burying her face against his neck. "I can just see it now. You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"Not in this lifetime, at least," Clark assured her, his chest vibrating against her as he, wrapping his arms more securely around her, began to laugh.
Ellen Lane fumbled through her purse to find the keys for her daughter's apartment. It was a good thing she had decided to come by early this morning, because there was no noise coming from inside. If it wasn't for her, her daughter would undoubtedly be late to her own wedding.
She unlocked Lois' door and turned the doorknob. She opened the door, trying to juggle all the bags in her arms, and stepped inside. She had only taken a few steps when she suddenly noticed a mass of arms and legs, sprawled together across the sofa. She gasped when she realized that some of those arms and legs belonged to her daughter while others belonged to some strange man she had never met — a man who was most certainly not Lex Luthor.
"Lois Joanne Lane, what do you think you're doing?" Ellen immediately demanded.
Lois tried to wake up. It was hard because she had only been asleep for about an hour — still, the urgency in her mother's voice told her that she needed to pull herself out of the warm cocoon she seemed to be in. Rubbing the sleep out her eyes, she took in her surroundings, and in particular, the gorgeous specimen of a man in whose arms she'd been sleeping.
"Sleeping," Lois said, finally answering her mother's question. Beside her, Clark began to stir. "Morning," she said softly to him, running her fingers through his tousled hair.
"Morning," he replied, leaning in to kiss her lightly.
When the kiss broke, Lois realized that Clark wasn't wearing his glasses. And although his hair was messed up enough that he didn't particularly look like Superman at the moment, she reached across his body, picked up his glasses from the coffee table and handed them to him. He quickly slipped them on.
"What do you think you're doing?" Ellen demanded.
Lois looked at her mother in confusion. She was not fifteen. This was her own apartment. And both she and Clark were fully clothed — well, except for where his shirt hung open, revealing that magnificent chest. So what was her mother so upset about?
"Lex! Your wedding! What are you doing here with another man?"
"Oh right. The wedding. I guess I need to tell Lex that the wedding's off."
"What?" Ellen exclaimed.
"Clark and I spent the night talking and… oh wait, have you met my boyfriend, yet — Clark Kent?"
Beside her, Clark smiled.