By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2003
Summary: Lois realises that she'll lose her best friend if she marries Lex.
This is yet another birthday story, this time for my very good friend Kaethel, and also for Jill, whose birthday is the day before Kaethel's. Hope you enjoyed it, guys! The song used for the title is, once more, by the Corrs, Kaethel's favourite group. A huge, huge thanks to Meredith, beta-reader extraordinaire, who stepped in at very short notice and was enormously helpful and made some terrific suggestions. You're a real star!!
All rights to recognisable characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers. No infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
Only When I Sleep
*But it's only when I sleep
See you in my dreams
Got me spinning round and round
Turning upside down
But I only hear you breathe
Somewhere in my sleep*
*And when I wake from slumber
Your shadow's disappeared
Your breath is just a sea mist
Surrounding my body
I'm working through the daytime
But when it's time to rest
I'm lying in my bed
Listening to my breath
Falling from the edge
But it's only when I sleep.*
- Only When I Sleep; The Corrs 1997. From the Talk on Corners album
The solitary figure, dressed in red, trudged through the deserted streets, their darkness punctuated only occasionally by some badly-maintained street lights and the odd glimmer of light through a window. She seemed directionless, hesitating for a moment at an intersection, first turning one way and then another, before heading in the direction she'd first chosen.
The smell of the river reached her within a couple of hundred paces, and she lengthened her stride. At last, it seemed that she knew where she was going. A few minutes later, she reached the dockside.
This was a part of town which was undergoing redevelopment, where new apartment blocks were being built in place of disused warehouses and which within a very few weeks would become the heart of yuppieville. At the moment, however, it was deserted and would remain so for a few hours yet, until the construction workers arrived to begin a new day.
The woman made her way to the railing at the edge of the artificial river-band and stood gazing sightlessly out over the midnight-black water.
If only she hadn't made that phone call.
If she'd never picked up the phone; if she'd never dialled his number; if she'd even hung up before he could answer, then she wouldn't have known for certain. She could still have pretended that all was well, that one day everything would be back to normal, that all one of them had to do was make the first move and things would be the same as they always had been.
She could have continued to believe in that fantasy.
But, stubbornly, she'd had to make the call. She'd forced herself to find out the truth. And now she knew she'd lost him.
Oh, she'd lost him weeks ago, in truth, and she was well aware of that. But as long as she hadn't acknowledged it, hadn't forced him to acknowledge it by approaching him, she'd been able to pretend. To remember the way things had been; to imagine in her dreams and thoughts that she could just call him up and they'd talk the way they always had. To visualise going over to his apartment with pizza and a movie, and spending the evening arguing good-naturedly over some deep philosophical difference concerning pizza topping. Or over the merits of private versus public healthcare, or federal versus regional government. Or punishment versus rehabilitation for criminals.
They'd had all those arguments, and many more, in the year of their acquaintance. They disagreed over many things, but agreed over surprisingly more. And even where they disagreed, they'd often found that their views became moderated in the light of the other's conviction.
That, she supposed, was one measure of true friendship. That they could overcome even fundamental differences in philosophy to reach common ground — that they respected each other's differences while holding firmly to their own convictions. And that they'd never ended an evening of that sort of argument on bad terms.
But friendship was also much more than that, Lois told herself as she stared down at the inky water, flowing swiftly by her on its way to the vast ocean. She could have those sort of arguments with her old university professors, and even with Perry when he had time. She had similar arguments with members of her NOW chapter. And, while they always left her feeling invigorated, they'd never left her with the same feeling of… belonging, of being cherished, that her arguments with *him* had always done.
A stray thought led her to consider, frowning, that she'd never had similar debates with her fianc‚. That was odd, she thought, and wondered why. Lex enjoyed the cut and thrust of argument just as she did, and they'd had many discussions where they'd disagreed: on art, on film or music, on journalistic ethics, for instance. But never on political matters.
Lois let her incisive brain mull over that one for a moment, gazing down at the large diamond on her hand, and then she nodded, understanding. Lex was forceful. He would indulge her by listening to her views, but somewhere inside she was always aware that he never actually changed his mind about anything as a result.
He patronised her, that was what it was, she accepted.
And in that moment, she also accepted that she was well aware of Lex's views on the philosophical and political issues of life. They were fixed, rigid, unchangeable; and he surrounded himself with people who agreed with him. Was he considering a move into political life at some point? she wondered. That would make sense. He'd mentioned recently that he felt there were very few challenges left for him in business. And he was only in his forties, far too young to retire, or even semi-retire. He would need something new to challenge him. Why not a political career?
And was that in part why he'd chosen her? Rather than a supermodel or society hostess? Of course, a society lady would be a very useful asset as a political wife; on the other hand, someone with the contacts she herself had would be equally useful, but in a different way. She'd been on first-name terms with the President for three years before his election, for heaven's sake!
She didn't want to think about Lex right now, Lois thought, fingering her ring again. She'd come here because she hadn't been able to sleep. She'd lain awake for at least two hours after that painful phone conversation, knowing that the death-knell of her friendship with Clark had been sounded.
That had been a friendship such as she'd never known before. It wasn't just the fact that she felt more comfortable with him than with anyone else she'd ever known. It wasn't the fact that she trusted him, both at work and in their out-of-work relationship, not to betray her or abuse her trust. It wasn't the fact that he knew how to make her laugh, nor even that he was the one she ran to if she was in need of comfort — and that he would always offer it. And that, she knew, was an even greater measure of true friendship.
The real truth was that Clark had been her rock. While she hadn't even realised that it had been happening, he'd become her stability and support. She'd come to depend on him. And now the rock had gone, and she was drowning.
<Clark…> she wept inside, and stared down at the river again. And the current kept on flowing past her to the sea.
Flying high over the city, Clark's gaze was caught by a speck down below. He hesitated, then glanced back. A woman, leaning over the river's edge… Frowning, jerked out of his introspection, he scanned closer.
He'd gone flying because he'd finally given up on sleep. He wished she hadn't called. That phone call had been the hardest, longest two minutes of his life… and yet it had been over far too soon. They'd said goodnight, and he'd known that they were saying goodbye.
He'd lost her. Oh, he'd already lost her, of course, the day she'd said yes to Lex Luthor, but in that phone conversation he'd known he'd lost her all over again.
There had been pain in her voice. Something was deeply wrong, and he'd known it; had been able to hear it through her bright — no, brittle — chatter about her new job and her new life and her wonderful fianc‚. Something was badly wrong in Lois Lane's new world.
He'd wanted to break through the false gaiety and ask what it was. He'd yearned to bridge the awkward, painful gulf which had opened between them, to bury his own gut- wrenching pain over her rejection and to play the role he'd always played for her. To reach out to her and soothe her pain. To ease her hurt by, if nothing else, the comfort of his presence and his concern for her. It had been on the tip of his tongue to tell her that he was coming over.
But he hadn't done it. And not only because of the memory, the ongoing pain, of how she'd wounded him to his very soul. Because he'd reminded himself that he no longer had the right to be her comfort. He'd always had the rights of a friend — her best friend. But she'd given the right to care about her to another man.
It was Luthor's right to ask her what was wrong. It was Luthor's right to hold her in his arms and comfort her. It was Luthor's right, if he wanted to, to kiss away her pain and her tears — a right he himself had never had.
Lois was lost to him. But she'd never been his in the first place.
And that final admission had sent him out into the night for an unknown length of time, flying around aimlessly, unseeingly — until a speck of colour in the darkness had caught his attention.
Red. A red jacket, striking against the inky darkness of the early morning hours. It was some time after two, Clark told himself; what was anyone doing out by the river at this time of the morning?
He dropped down, retaining sufficient altitude to stay out of sight. He knew that jacket, he realised as the woman came into closer focus. Clark couldn't see her face, because she was bent over the river, but he knew her anyway.
What was Lois doing *here*, staring into the Hobbs like that?
Surely… She wasn't…? She couldn't be…?
Fear stabbed him, spearing through him with the force of machine-gun fire, but as cold as ice.
He plunged down, grabbing her about the waist and swooping up again with her before she could even utter a yelp in protest. And his heart gradually began to slow to its normal rate, his muscles and nerves relaxing, as he told himself over and over that he had her.
He had her.
It wasn't too late. He'd got to her in time. Before she'd…
If only he'd swallowed his pride, followed his instincts earlier!
Then she'd never have ended up here, about to throw herself into the river…
It took Lois a couple of seconds to realise what had happened. And once she did, she started thumping on the solid, blue-clad arm which was wrapped around her. Not that it did any good; her fist was throbbing by the second blow.
"Put me down! What do you think you're doing, you great big bully?" she demanded.
Superman turned his head and looked at her. And she gasped in shock.
His face was drawn, lined and grey with shock. His eyes held fear and relief in equal measure. And he was gripping her, she realised, hard enough to hurt.
"I'm taking you as far away from the river as I can," he said, and his voice sounded harsh, gritty. "And then we're going to talk." He looked away again, appearing focused on the night sky ahead.
As far away from the river…?
Lois digested his words, frowned, then stared at him again. What had he thought? Had he imagined…?
Yes, he had, she realised. He'd come upon her leaning over the railing, staring into the river. And he'd drawn what had probably looked like the obvious conclusion.
It wasn't, of course, and she opened her mouth to reassure him. But his mouth was taut and his expression showed that he was intent only on taking her to their destination. She wasn't sure that he'd even hear her if she told him right now.
"Fine," she said, not realising until she'd spoken that her own tone was harsh. "But could you not hold me quite so tightly?"
It was a few moments before his grip relaxed. "Sorry," he muttered, then fell silent again.
Lois made herself relax against his powerful body, but found that her thoughts were suddenly filled with memories of the last time she'd seen Superman.
Three weeks earlier. The night before she'd told Lex that she would marry him.
Superman had come to her apartment in response to her request to Clark. He'd been oddly distant and cold, but she'd ignored that — foolishly, in retrospect — to tell him that she loved him. She'd asked if there was any hope for her — for them. And he'd dashed her dreams cruelly, before flying off and leaving her devastated.
She'd vowed never to speak to him again unless it was absolutely necessary. In those few minutes, he'd proven himself to be no better than any other man — a hero with feet of clay. Yet another man who'd pretended affection, but had rejected her when she'd taken him more seriously than he'd intended.
Lois had sworn, after Claude, never again to become more dependent on a man than he was on her. Letting herself love someone who didn't love her in return, or didn't love her as much as she loved him, was soul-destroying and stupid. The best approach to relationships, she'd resolved, was to look for a partner based on mutual interests and friendship. Love was a complication she hadn't needed.
But she'd forgotten all of that when she'd fallen in love with Superman.
And so she'd retreated after his rejection and, remembering her resolve, had accepted Lex's proposal. After all, marriage to him would be exactly what she'd already decided was the key to a successful relationship. Wouldn't it?
It wasn't that she'd *had* to marry Lex — or even that she had to marry anyone. But Clark telling her that he'd fallen in love with her had scared her. He'd stepped out of the box marked 'best friend' in which she'd put him. And, like another box from mythology, once it was opened nothing would ever be the same again. They couldn't go back to the safety of their friendship. And Clark… Something inside her had told her that allowing herself to care for him could lay herself open for hurt again — the sort of hurt she'd promised herself never to risk after Claude.
She couldn't love Clark. She could have loved Superman, she'd rationalised; he'd never hurt her. After all, he was the perfect Superhero, wasn't he? He was good and kind and gentle and caring. Her heart would be safe in his keeping.
But it hadn't been… And so she had retreated to her safe Plan B: marriage to a man she liked and respected, and who she knew liked and respected her. They didn't love each other, and that was just the way she wanted it. And, married to Lex, she could never be tempted again by the prospect of Clark Kent.
She just hadn't anticipated that she would also lose his friendship entirely…
Lois buried her head in Superman's shoulder, trying to regain her composure in however long she had before he decided to land and she had to talk to him.
That mountain just up ahead, Clark decided, beginning to lose altitude and fly lower. It was remote enough that Lois wouldn't be able to get away from him, and the slope he was looking at wasn't steep enough to allow her to do herself any harm if she tried to run — or worse, jump.
He landed, allowing Lois to slide gently from his arms to the ground. She moved away from him immediately, rubbing her arms. Realising with a touch of guilt that it was even colder at this altitude than it had been by the river, he narrowed his eyes and sent a warm dash of heat vision in her direction. She didn't seem to notice.
"So," she said then, turning to face him; her expression was distant, uninformative. "What was so important that you had to swoop down and grab me, Superman?"
"Lois, you know what was so important!" he exclaimed, taking a stride closer to her. "I saw you! You were…" He stopped abruptly, catching his breath, before finishing more quietly, "…about to throw yourself in the river."
"No, I wasn't!" She shook her head in vehement rejection of the idea.
"No? Then what were you doing there at two o'clock in the morning?" Clark demanded incredulously.
She turned her head, avoiding his gaze. "I… needed to think. And I needed some fresh air, so I went for a walk."
Clark regarded her in silence for several moments. This was the woman who, only a few hours earlier, had told him all about her wonderful life with her terrific fiance, and her great new job at LNN. So why did she now look more unhappy than he'd ever seen her?
Though he shouldn't be too surprised; after all, he'd known when he'd spoken to her earlier that there was something wrong. And, selfishly, he'd let himself wallow in his own hurt rather than try to find out what it was. Rather than be her friend…
She'd made the call earlier, and he was now more sure than ever that it hadn't just been out of some casual impulse which had led her to want a conversation about trivialities with her former best friend. Had she hoped that he would come through for her? That he would see through the bravado and the fake cheerfulness and ask her what was wrong?
The old Clark Kent would have done that for the old Lois Lane. But both of them had changed almost beyond recognition in the past weeks. He hadn't been able to be the friend she'd clearly wanted. His declaration of love, and her rejection of it, not to mention everything that had happened since, had made that impossible.
Could he be her friend now? Here, dressed as Superman? Would she let him fulfil that role? Of course, the last time he'd spoken to her in this guise he'd rejected her, and without any of the gentleness she'd used in rejecting him as Clark. He'd hurt her — in retaliation, of course, for the hurt she'd inflicted, unknowingly, on him in making it clear that Superman was her first choice and that Clark came nowhere in a contest in which Lex Luthor was second prize to the Man of Steel.
Still, whatever his justification, he'd hurt her. So why should he imagine that she'd be happy to confide in Superman?
Even still, he had to try. And then tomorrow, as Clark, he would go to see her. To talk; to see whether they could break through the walls they'd erected between them over the past weeks. To see whether they could even begin to be friends again.
"Lois?" His tone was gentler. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"About what?" No, she was definitely still on the defensive around him.
"About whatever it is that has you walking the streets at two in the morning, when any other woman in your position would be fast asleep in bed dreaming of her wedding." Clark fought hard to keep his tone even when referring to her forthcoming wedding, and was proud of himself when he achieved it.
He saw her flinch, and he immediately went up to her and, standing behind her, cupped her shoulders in his palms. "Lois. I'm sure that I wouldn't be your preferred choice of confidant, but right now I'm the best you've got. Let me help you, okay?"
She stiffened at first under his grasp, but then relaxed. "I decided I was never going to speak to you again," she said, her tone almost detached.
"I hurt you. I'm sorry." Regret filled his words.
Lois turned to face him, and he let his arms fall to his sides. "I wanted to hate you for that, Superman. For not believing me. And for that crack about my robe…"
"I really wish I'd never said that," he interrupted in a low voice.
"I guess I know that," she acknowledged. "I mean, I've never heard you say anything that mean before. But the other…" She took a deep breath, and Clark waited for her to continue. "Well, you didn't believe me when I said I'd love you if you were an ordinary man. And I thought that wasn't fair, because that means you think I'm only interested in you for your powers, Superman. And it hurt me that you could think that!"
He shook his head. "Lois, I…"
"No, you should have known better! Did I take advantage of you when you were affected by the pheromone? Oh, sure, I let you kiss me — you couldn't expect me to pass that up! — but did I try to take it any further? If it was just your powers I was interested in, wouldn't I have done that? But no, I did my best to help you recover from the exposure. And I never wrote about it. I protected you, Superman! I treated you as… as a *friend*. And you pushed me away like I was just some… some *groupie*!"
"Lois, I'm sorry that I hurt you. Really I am. But I -" he began, wanting to protest that he still couldn't believe her assertion, no matter how much he might want to.
But Lois interrupted again. "But nothing, Superman." She backed away and took a few paces across the green hillside, again avoiding looking at him. "The truth is that you were right. I didn't love you. Not the way I thought I did. Not as… well, as someone I was in love with."
Clark stared at her, feeling oddly, painfully crushed.
Of course he'd known that her feelings for him as Superman weren't real. He'd known that it was only a crush. He hadn't *wanted* her to be interested in Superman in that way, anyway!
So why did her belated confession of the truth hurt so much?
"You're… not?" he managed to say, after a lengthy pause.
"No." Her voice was quiet, as if it was hard for her to say the words. "I'm… attracted to you, Superman. I can't deny that. And… I'd love to be able to call you my friend. But I've finally admitted to myself that I can't be in love with you."
The words "why not?" leapt to Clark's lips, but he forced himself not to say them. Then, realising from the stiff, uncomfortable way she was holding herself that it had been painful for her to bare her soul in that way, he strode to her, again taking her by the shoulders and, this time, drawing her back against his chest. This time, she relaxed and let him do it.
"Lois, I do call you my friend," he said, his voice low and fervent. "You were the first friend I ever had here. I couldn't begin to tell you everything you've done for me which makes me value you as the best friend I could ever hope for. Believe me, you *are* my friend."
Before she could respond, he went on. "And I'm attracted to you too. You're right; it *wasn't* fair of me to reject you the way I did that night. It's not as if I'd never let you see that I was attracted to you. But -" He heaved a sigh, and his hands tightened on her shoulders. "- I can't follow through on that attraction. That's a big part of the problem. Can you imagine what would happen if Superman was known to have a girlfriend? You've already had people go after you to get to me because it's known that I like you. If we were… a couple… you'd never be safe. Can you understand that?"
Lois was silent for several moments; then she said, a note of incredulity in her voice, "Are you saying that… you love *me*?"
Clark closed his eyes briefly; he'd spoken unguardedly and given too much away. Far too much. "I'm saying that I can't love you," he replied evasively. "Anyway," he added, "the question doesn't arise. You don't feel that way about me. And I'm glad," he finished, then wondered if the conviction in his voice was meant to persuade her — or himself.
She turned, this time catching his hands before he could lower them. "I want you as my friend, Superman. I…" She faltered, then went on in a high, nervous voice. "I don't seem to have too many of those lately."
Clark desperately wanted to reassure her, but he couldn't bring himself to lie to her. She'd spoken the truth. From the moment she'd chosen Lex Luthor, many of her friends had deserted her. They'd felt that they had little choice; after all, Luthor was not the most popular person around the former staff of the Daily Planet. And Luthor hadn't exactly encouraged people to keep in touch with Lois.
No, Lois hadn't had very many friends lately.
"Oh, Lois…" he said softly, twisting his hands in her grasp so that he was holding her instead, and then tugging her closer to him. She came easily this time, resting her head on his shoulder as he stroked her back lightly.
But she pulled away after only a few moments. "Thanks, Superman." Her brisk, unemotional tone told him that she didn't want to dwell on that brief moment when she'd let him see into her private thoughts. "Do you think you could take me home now?"
Clark shook his head. "Lois, why don't you tell me what happened to make you wander the streets in the middle of the night?"
She hesitated. Clark reached behind him and detached his cape, spreading it out over the ground. "Come on — sit down and talk to me."
To his surprise and relief, she lowered herself onto his cape, sitting with her arms about her upraised knees.
A sense of unreality hit Lois as she sat down and watched Superman drop down to sit beside her. She couldn't really be here on a mountainside with Superman at almost three in the morning, could she? And preparing to tell him things that she couldn't have told anyone — not even Clark?
Any minute now she'd wake up back in her own bed, she thought, with a little inward laugh of disbelief.
Though she'd really like to wake up and discover that the last month or so had all been a dreadful nightmare. It was no wonder that this felt like some sort of dream; it was almost inconceivable to think that, after everything that had happened, she was sitting next to Superman and leaning on him, metaphorically speaking, as a friend. And yet she couldn't even imagine confiding in her fiance about what had made her so unhappy tonight.
"I guess," she said quietly, "a lot of it has to do with wondering just how my life got into such a horrible mess."
Now why had she said that? She didn't think her life was in a mess, surely? She was getting married in a week's time! She should be excited, deliriously happy. She should be counting the hours until the day she and Lex became husband and wife.
And instead, she'd been gazing into the river at three in the morning. Contemplating the loss of the dearest, most precious person in her life.
"Define 'mess', Lois?" Superman prompted in soft enquiry.
Oh, she could understand his confusion. After all, as he'd pointed out, she was engaged to be married. Most women in her position were blissfully happy. Most women in her position, a week away from their wedding, would be dreaming of their big day, of floating up the aisle in a confection of silk and lace and meeting the man of their dreams at the top.
Except that Lex wasn't the man of her dreams, she admitted with a stifled choke.
But she couldn't face telling Superman that. That would be tantamount to admitting that she'd only accepted Lex's proposal because *he* had turned her down. And, okay, he'd probably wondered if that was the case, but she had no intention of admitting it!
Still, there were other truths she could tell him. And it would help, Lois conceded, at least to be able to talk about it — about the sense of loss and emptiness she'd felt increasingly over the past few weeks — even if she couldn't talk about the sense of panic she was feeling every time she thought about her wedding day, and the man she was to be married to.
" 'Mess' as in all my friends have deserted me and I don't know how to get them back," she said quietly. " 'Mess' as in I've lost the one person I care about more than anyone else in this world — the one person I need more than anyone in my life. I've lost him. I… I've made him hate me. And I… I realised too late that I love him."
Superman was silent for so long that Lois, in her distress, could only think that he obviously felt she'd deserved to lose Clark. She surreptitiously wiped away a tear and prepared to stand up, ready to ask Superman to take her home, hoping that she'd be able to summon up a sufficiently cool tone in which to do so.
And then he spoke. "Who, Lois? Who are you talking about?" His voice sounded odd… very unSuperman-like, she thought idly. Almost strangled, as if she'd said something which had struck a very deep chord within him.
But why should it matter to him? Unless it was that Superman, being Clark's friend, had been angry about the way she'd treated Clark? And now he was pleased to see that she'd realised how wrong she'd been?
"Clark," she said quietly. "I've lost Clark, Superman. And… I don't know what to do to get him back. Or even if I ever can. And… and I love him!"
Despite her struggles, she burst into tears.
"Lois!" Clark's instant reaction was to pull her back into his arms, tucking her head against his shoulder. But at the same time his brain was awhirl.
Just what had she told him? He still couldn't believe it. She was upset — she felt that her life was a mess — because she missed *Clark*?
She'd said that she loved him.
But she'd said that before.
<I do love you, Clark… like a brother>
But this had sounded different. Hadn't it? And she'd told him that she wasn't in love with Lex, and that she'd realised she didn't love Superman either. Not the way a lover should.
So… *was* she in love with Clark?
"Oh, Superman… what have I done?" she sobbed into his shoulder. "I've made him hate me…"
She'd said that before, too. She really believed that he hated her? If only she knew… The pain in her voice was tearing him apart.
Without pausing to think, Clark said urgently, "Lois, I don't hate you! I could never hate you!"
He didn't hate her… The words slowly penetrated through the mist of Lois's misery, and she pulled back from Superman's shoulder.
Clark didn't hate her.
It felt so wonderful to hear that; to know that, despite her selfishness and idiocy, she hadn't lost him after all. There was still a chance of rescuing her friendship with Clark.
But Clark wasn't here!
She was with Superman. She knew he was still there, because she was looking directly at his cape. She could feel the Spandex of his suit beneath her fingers.
So how could Clark have spoken to her?
She drew back until she was gazing up into Superman's eyes… Superman's nervous, faintly guilty eyes.
Something was nagging at her, just waiting for her to acknowledge it; something she wasn't entirely sure that she wanted to know, but which, any second now, was going to slap her in the face with its presence.
"Lois," he — the 'he' she was no longer sure she knew — said quietly, ruefully. "I… think there's something I need to tell you."
The voice wasn't Superman's any longer. It was all Clark, and not just in its tone; it was the way he was looking at her, the hesitancy and lack of assurance in his gaze, and the tentative way the words emerged.
Superman was Clark.
And she'd just told him that she missed him — Clark — and that she loved him.
How embarrassing! After everything that had happened in the past few weeks… Lois buried her head in her hands.
"Lois? Talk to me," the man beside her pleaded softly.
"Talk to who?" she muttered into her hands.
"Me, Lois. It's me — Clark," he said, almost apologetically. "And I don't hate you. I could never hate you! Don't you remember what I told you? — I love you!"
Lois slowly raised her head and looked at her partner; all thoughts of his alter ego and his deception had fled from her mind for the moment, together with her embarrassment. This was Clark, the man she loved more than anything in the world, and he was giving her the second chance she'd longed for. How many times had she told herself that if she could only have that day in the park all over again she'd react completely differently?
Only a few hours earlier, she'd hung up after the most uncomfortable telephone conversation of her life, convinced that she'd lost Clark forever. She didn't even have his friendship any more, let alone the possibility of more — the possibility she herself had thrown away.
And now Clark was here, with her, and he was telling her that he didn't hate her. By his presence, his comforting arm around her shoulders, he was telling her that he still cared. And his voice was telling her that he loved her.
Just as he'd told her that day in the park.
Clark loved her. And she loved him back.
Of course, she was engaged to Lex…
But right now, what was important was Clark. He was looking at her, his expression full of concern — and also, she realised, fear. He was expecting her to be angry.
Was she? He had lied to her, after all. He'd pretended, for as long as she'd known him, to be two different people. Well, for almost as long as she'd known him; Superman had made an appearance close to a week after she'd met Clark, as far as she remembered.
No, she wasn't angry. Hurt, maybe; after all, Clark was — had been — her best friend. And yet he'd kept this secret from her all that time! She could understand why it had to be a secret — but he could have told her! Couldn't he?
Or could he? Lois bit her lip as she remembered the thousand and one ways she'd slighted Clark over the past year. The way she'd treated him as a rookie when he had, in fact, been an experienced reporter. The way she'd called him a greenhorn and insisted that she was the senior partner. The way she'd told him not to fall for her. The ways she'd compared him to Superman in a manner which left him trailing badly. And, most embarrassing of all, the way she'd turned him down and then begged his alter ego to love her.
No, he shouldn't have told her.
And no, she had no right to be angry. Or hurt. Instead, she should be thankful that, even after everything she'd done to him, he still cared about her. That, now, felt like a miracle.
"Clark… I'm so sorry," she told him quietly. "I hurt you, didn't I?"
"I think we hurt each other," he said after a moment's pause, looking just a little relieved. "Can we put it behind us? Anyway, I guess you probably want to yell at me now." He gave her a twisted, rueful smile.
Lois reached for Clark's hand, holding it tightly. "Don't you think we've done enough yelling at each other by now? I… I can't deny that this is a shock. And that… well, I'm feeling kind of embarrassed now remembering everything I've said to you about… well, you. But I thought I'd lost you, Clark. I thought we weren't friends any more, and I hated that."
"I hated it too," he said, squeezing her hand. "But I never hated you, Lois."
Lois leaned into Clark, resting her head on his shoulder again. It felt so good to be close to him again, and to have him hold her. That old saying about never appreciating what you had until you lost it was so very true. She'd never appreciated Clark properly.
She'd taken him for granted; assumed that he'd always be there for her, be her best friend whenever she needed him. These last few weeks without him in her life had been unbearable.
"Did we just make up?" she asked softly.
Clark tilted his head sideways until it rested on top of hers. "Yeah. We did."
"I'm glad. I've missed you, Clark!"
"I've missed you too, Lois." He shifted suddenly, still holding her with one arm around her shoulders but with his body turned towards her so that he was looking at her again. "But I don't know if we can be best friends again. Not the way we were before."
Lois stared at him, hurt spearing through her. "We can't? Why not?"
Why not? She was asking him why not?
But then he grimaced inwardly. Why should he expect her to understand? She hadn't before — and anyway, he'd never told her everything he knew about Luthor. He'd always known that she'd never have believed him.
No, he needed to tell her. This seemed to be a night for honesty, after all. He'd already let her discover the truth about Superman. That probably hadn't been the most sensible thing to do, and if he'd had the chance to stop and think about it he wouldn't have done it; but in the circumstances all he'd been able to think about was Lois's distress, and how one word from him could prove to her that he didn't hate her.
But now he was in the awkward position of having Lex Luthor's fiancee knowing the truth about Superman's secret identity. He was going to have to make sure that Lois understood that she could *never* tell anyone about that.
First, though, he had to answer her question.
"Lois, you know how I feel about you," he said heavily. "I told you I'm in love with you. That hasn't changed. I know I said I couldn't love you as Superman, but that's that side of me; Clark has always loved you."
He saw Lois frown. "Which are you, then?"
He smiled ruefully. "Mom would've said that too! I'm Clark. Always Clark. What I meant was that I couldn't be with you as Superman. You can imagine the fuss it would cause… But Clark could have a relationship with you."
"That makes sense," Lois agreed quietly. "But… why can't we be best friends? Even if we can't be… together?"
Clark sighed, shaking his head. "How can I be your friend when you're within a week of marrying another man? And a man I don't trust, either," he added.
Lois didn't answer immediately; he noticed that she was twisting the ostentatious engagement ring she was wearing. Without looking at him, she spoke quietly, sounding almost miserable. "I'm not sure that I want to marry Lex."
"Huh?" Clark couldn't believe his ears.
"No, that's not true," she amended quickly, sending his hopes crashing to the ground again. "I *know* I don't want to marry him. Clark, didn't you hear me earlier?"
"I just said that, didn't I? Clark, are you listening to me?" Lois turned to face him again, her expression indignant. "I told you earlier how I felt about you. How could I want to marry Lex when I feel that way about you?"
She'd said she… But she'd meant as a friend, hadn't she?
"Lois…" Clark began, then faltered momentarily. "You… you mean you love *me*?"
"Of course I love you, you lunkhead!" she exclaimed. "I was just too stupid to realise it before. And then I did something really disastrous — got engaged to Lex — and everything went from bad to worse. I was stupid, Clark — I thought that letting myself fall in love was too much of a risk, and so I deliberately decided to marry a man I didn't love. Which is the biggest mistake I've made in my life! And I thought I'd lost you for good."
Barely able to believe his ears, Clark said huskily, "You haven't lost me, Lois. I swear to you, I couldn't have stayed away. I… After we spoke tonight, I was planning on going to see you, maybe tomorrow, to… well, I guess to talk, and maybe — Oh, I don't know. But I wasn't going to leave things the way they were."
Lois reached up and cupped his face with her hands; it felt wonderful having her touch him like that. "I guess I have an engagement to break off," she murmured, gazing at him. "And maybe you need to tell me just why you don't trust Lex?"
"If you want to hear it."
"I do," she assured him. Then, grinning, she added, "But not now."
"No. Right now, Clark Superman Kent, I think you need to kiss me…"
And he had no intention of arguing with that.
(c) Wendy Richards 2003