By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: January 2004
Summary: Clark reflects on all the reasons why the past year has been the best ever. Then he considers the new year. Will it be even better?
Disclaimer: All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction. Don't sue me! <g>
Snow lay in smooth waves on the roofs of buildings, the newly-fallen covering glistening under the light of the moon. Icicles hung from any overhanging structure, adding, in Clark's eyes, to the magical appearance of the city's winter apparel. Down below, on the streets, ice lying deceptively underneath the fresh snowfall made walking treacherous, but the revellers didn't seem to mind. It was New Year's Eve, after all. With less than half an hour to go until midnight, people were hurrying to parties, to bars or clubs, or just home so that they could celebrate in intimate privacy.
Clark was going to Smallville to celebrate with his parents, but since Kansas was in Central Time he had over an hour to get there and still be in time to see in the new year. For now, Superman was putting in some extra time to help out the emergency services—and he'd come back and do another patrol once his parents had gone to bed.
A new year, he thought as he hovered above the busiest part of the city. Who would have thought that so much could happen in just one year? If anyone had told him on New Year's Eve just one year ago that in a mere twelve months' time he would be working as a reporter at the best newspaper in the world, that he would be helping people openly in the guise of a super-hero, and that he would have met the woman he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, he knew he'd have told them they were crazy. Insane.
And yet… here he was.
Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet.
Superman, the hero who had saved thousands of lives, was loved by millions and had even been declared Metropolis's Man of the Year.
And in love with Lois Lane.
Lois… The mere thought of her brought a soft smile to his features. She was so beautiful—and she was so much more than beautiful. She was intelligent, successful, an amazing writer, intuitive, funny—and, yes, arrogant, impatient and stubborn, too, but those characteristics served only to make her human, in his eyes.
He wasn't blinded by love. He knew that Lois was far from perfect. But then, so was everyone. He wasn't exactly Mr Perfect himself, as Lois never hesitated to point out to him. But if she had been the sum total of her imperfections and no more, he knew that he couldn't possibly have fallen in love with her. If Lois had been beautiful but shallow, attractive on the surface but cold and selfish beneath, she never could have stolen his heart.
Unfortunately, he hadn't stolen hers. Well, at least Clark Kent hadn't; he knew only too well that Lois had fallen head over heels for Superman. That, he supposed, was predictable, though he'd hoped that Lois would show a little more good sense—that she'd want to look beyond the external and not become the groupie of a flashy hero she barely knew.
And yet that wasn't true either, as Clark had good reason to know. Oh, sure, Lois thought that Superman was perfect—but she did have cause to think so, he supposed. He hadn't exactly allowed her to see any flaws, after all. But she'd proven to him that she saw more than the superficial where Superman was concerned. In things she'd said, and in the way she had defended Superman from time to time, it was clear that she was judging him by his ethics, by his concern and care for the world around him, by his need to do what was right.
She didn't just see him as a piece of meat to be lusted after. To Lois, Superman was more than the cartoon cut-out Clark perceived him to be—and also, more than the new sex-symbol on the block.
And that was what had been tempting Clark lately to tell Lois the truth. To confess to her that he was more than an ordinary guy—or that Superman was more than a guy in tights who could fly.
The fact that she seemed to see beyond the external where Superman was concerned… and the fact, too, that just before Christmas she'd seemed, at last, to be lowering her barriers where Clark Kent was concerned. The prickliness which had been her habit ever since they'd been introduced was present far less frequently now. She was still impatient with him, sure, but he was now very clearly getting the impression that it was an act and that she expected him to *know* that it was an act.
They were co-conspirators together, fooling the world that Lois Lane and Clark Kent weren't friends.
At least, that was how he felt.
Actually, he thought that they'd been friends—*real* friends—ever since that trip to Smallville in the autumn. In between investigating, they'd spent some quality time together and had discovered so much about each other—and, he thought, about themselves. Lois had let down her barriers then, too, and actually confided in him—not about anything very much, it was true, but she'd been treating him as more of a friend than a colleague.
Then, when he'd almost been killed by Trask, her frantic worry and then relief had been genuine and heartfelt. She had barely let go of him for the entire evening after that, continually gifting him with little touches and gestures, usually under cover of something else.
That had all changed again when they'd gone back to Metropolis, but while it had seemed like business as usual, there had been enough tiny clues in her behaviour towards him to give Clark reason to believe that she hadn't forgotten Smallville. And nor did she want to.
They were friends. The way she'd turned to him in the week before Christmas when her life had been in danger had shown him that beyond doubt. He was the one she'd come running to when Barbara Trevino and her accomplice had her terrified. And, even once it was all over, she had asked—no, *demanded*—that he still walk her home.
Maybe, he thought… just maybe, this new year would be *the* year. Maybe he would have his chance to win Lois—for himself, not for Superman.
Anyway, it was time that he did some serious patrolling. It was getting closer to midnight, and if there were going to be problems, that was when they'd happen.
In a sudden gust of wind, he took flight again.
Twelve-twenty, and things had calmed down a little, though the city still throbbed with life. Superman had celebrated the dawn of the new year by breaking up three fights, preventing two car smashes and intervening in one threatened suicide. Happy new year indeed, he thought.
And now it was time for Superman to go off duty so that Clark Kent could fly to Smallville and see in the new year Kansas-style.
Everything seemed to be peaceful, for the moment, at any rate. He should take to the skies while the going was good.
And yet, five seconds later, he was flying over Lois's apartment.
Just for one glimpse, he told himself. After all, he hadn't seen her for over a week. She'd worked over Christmas while he'd been in Smallville, and when he'd got back she'd had a couple of days off in compensation.
But the apartment was in darkness.
Well, it had been foolish of him to expect that she'd be in. It was New Year, after all. Of course she'd be out celebrating with friends.
And anyway, he thought as another realisation occurred to him, if she had been home, she wouldn't have been alone. Who spent New Year's Eve alone, after all?
Oh well… He'd see her at work tomorrow, of course; New Year's Day might be a holiday, but newspapers still had to be written and printed for the day after. They were both back at work on January 1, even if a little later than usual. He'd see her then.
It was just as well that he'd taken the brief side-trip to Lois's apartment, he thought as he turned to leave; he'd forgotten the book he'd promised to bring over for his father. It'd only take a couple of seconds to pick that up…
There was a solitary figure trudging along Clinton Street, he noticed as he approached. Warmly wrapped in a heavy jacket, snow-boots and thick socks, and wearing a woollen hat and gloves, the pedestrian could have been anyone. But there was something about the way the figure was walking…
Clark took a closer look. And then he dipped down into the alley behind his building, spun into his civilian clothing, and hurried out onto the street.
The figure stiffened, then slowly turned around to face him. "Clark? Where've you been?"
He shrugged. "Oh, you know… out and about. I just got back. But what… what are you doing here? Were you looking for *me*?"
She'd stopped several feet from him, and it was her turn to shrug. "No, I was just in the neighbourhood. You know, I know a lot of people who live around here…"
"Lois, you don't know anyone who lives around here. Except me," he pointed out.
"Oh, gee, I guess I must have been looking for you, then," she drawled.
Typical Lois, he thought; rather than admit that she'd come looking for him, she'd make him drag it out of her. And then she'd be sardonic.
But she had come to see him. He couldn't think why… but he wasn't complaining.
It was going to make him late for New Year with his parents, but he wasn't going to pass up this opportunity. Not for anything!
"So… what was it you wanted? And—hey, come on up! It's freezing out here!"
"Really? I hadn't noticed," she quipped, stamping her feet and rubbing her hands together.
"Come on," he repeated, waving towards the steps leading up to his apartment. "I'll make you some coffee. Or hot chocolate, if you prefer."
She hesitated, then shook her head. "Nah. I'll just head home. I mean, it's late-"
"No, it's not!" he exclaimed. "Lois, it's not even half past midnight, and it's New Year. Come on up and have a drink with me."
But she shook her head again, and this time took a step away from him. And then he noticed the silver Jeep parked just down the street.
Afraid that she was just going to get into her car and drive off, he asked quickly, "Lois, why did you come? I mean, you must've wanted to see me for a reason…?"
She hesitated again, then pulled a face. "It was stupid, Clark, okay? I don't want to go into it."
"Please?" he asked. "Won't you tell me, Lois?"
She had one hand on the Jeep's doorhandle. He saw her bite her lip. And then she turned back to look at him. "It wasn't important. It's just that I hadn't seen you for a few days and I wasn't doing anything tonight—I mean, I was out earlier, but I came home before midnight. And I…"
She trailed off. And Clark waited, every nerve on edge, every sense desperate to hear what she'd been going to say—what she'd wanted.
She'd wanted to see him?
When she hadn't continued after several seconds, he prompted her. "Lois?"
She inhaled deeply, then bit her lip again. "I said it was stupid, Clark. And it doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters, Lois!" In half-a-dozen steps, he was at her side. "Lois, you're my friend. Of course I want to know what you wanted."
She shook her head. "I just thought maybe we could see in the new year together, that's all. But, like I said, it was stupid. I mean, of course you were going to be out with friends somewhere…"
Stunned, Clark stared at her. Lois had wanted to be with him? Well, okay, it sounded as if it had been pretty much a last-minute decision, and he found himself wondering just how it was that she'd come home from wherever she'd been before midnight.
Still, it didn't matter why; all that mattered was that she'd wanted to be with him.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here," he said quietly. "I—was busy. But, you know, Lois, it's not too late. We can still have a drink to celebrate."
"Clark, it's after midnight. The new year's already here," she said flatly. "Look, it doesn't matter. I should go home."
Without even thinking, Clark spoke. "No, it's not too late. Lois, we *can* still celebrate the new year! There are places where it's not midnight yet," he pointed out with a grin.
"What?" She stared at him, her expression one he was familiar with from Lois; it signified her belief that he had just become a candidate for the lunatic asylum. "What are you talking about?"
"It's only eleven-thirty in Kansas, for instance," he pointed out.
Her expression grew even more incredulous. "Clark Kent, what on earth are you going on about? What the heck does the time in Kansas have to do with anything?"
"My folks live in Kansas," he reminded her. "And I'm seeing in the new year with my parents—in half an hour, to be precise."
"What? How do you plan on doing that?" She looked disbelieving.
Ah. Now that was the question he should have anticipated. Okay. He could deal with it. "Uh… Superman's giving me a ride."
"You're kidding." She stared at him.
"Nope." He shrugged. This was getting onto dangerous territory, unless he really did want to confess everything to her right here and now—and he wasn't sure that he was ready for that, after all. Deflection, he decided, was a better tactic than explanation, so he added, "He's probably on his way right now. So—you coming?"
He could hear her sharp intake of breath. "You're serious?"
"Of course I'm serious!" He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Why would I suggest it if I wasn't? Come on," he urged again. "Let's get inside—we need to get going."
"Superman won't mind? I mean, he wasn't expecting to have to take me too?"
Clark shook his head, stifling a grin. "I can promise you that he won't mind a bit."
"And your parents?" She was still hesitating.
"Are you kidding? They've been asking me over and over when they're going to see you again. You were a big hit with them last autumn."
"Okay." The word was softly, almost nervously, spoken.
"Great," he said enthusiastically, leading the way back to his apartment. On the way, he asked the question which had been nagging at him since she'd mentioned her activities earlier. "So… where were you tonight, Lois? You said you were out but went home before midnight?"
That earned him another shrug. "I went out to dinner with Lucy and some of her friends. She'd made me promise weeks ago that I would—there's this guy she's been seeing and she wanted me there to meet him."
"You didn't like him?" Clark queried.
"Oh, for Lucy's taste in men he's not bad." She rolled her eyes. "Just not my type of guy, that's all. And her friends aren't my type either. By the time they were ordering yet another round of cocktails I've never heard of, and the women were having a serious discussion—I mean, like they really *cared*—about Madonna's latest makeover, I decided to leave them to it." Again, a faint shrug. "It wasn't that I was having a horrible time or anything. I just didn't have anything in common with them."
So she'd decided to welcome in the new year with someone she did share common ground with, instead. Well, it was something. In fact, it meant a lot. Even if it was only that she'd considered him, among all her friends, as the person least likely to be out celebrating himself… But she'd come to him.
Clark tightened his arm around her shoulders. His words came out on impulse. "I'm glad you wanted to be with me." Then he almost bit his tongue; a comment like that would normally invite a sarcastic response from Lois, along the lines of 'Who said I did?'
But she smiled up at him. "Me too."
This had to be managed carefully, Clark told himself as they went inside. Superman had to take Lois out to Smallville, and then apparently return to Metropolis for Clark—and Lois couldn't be allowed to realise that she wasn't seeing both Superman and Clark in the same place at the same time.
"I'll just go and unlock the balcony door for Superman," he said to Lois. "I'll tell him you're here—you want to wait out here?"
She looked chagrined; clearly she'd prefer to come with him to greet the super-hero. So he pulled a slight grimace and said, "The door's in my bedroom and… well, I overslept this morning and didn't have time to tidy the room before I went to work."
She wandered over to the living-room area, pausing to examine some of his family photographs. Clark seized the opportunity to make his escape to the bedroom, loudly opening the balcony door and saying cheerfully, "Hi, Superman!" He then pretended to talk to himself in a quieter voice, before adding more audibly, "Tell Lois I'll be out in a minute, will you? I just need to… uh, use the bathroom."
"Sure!" he replied in Superman's slightly deeper voice.
Lois turned as Clark emerged, now dressed in his Spandex. He grimaced inwardly as her face lit up and gained that expression which had become so familiar to him—but only when he was in the Suit and cape. No, Lois hadn't got over her Superman crush yet.
But then, what had he expected? That, in the space of a couple of days when he'd been protecting her as Clark, she would have come to see that Clark Kent was really who she wanted, not Superman? Hardly likely.
But still, he couldn't help the brief pain he felt knowing that Superman meant so much more to her than Clark did.
He should welcome it, he told himself sternly. After all, without it he might be in danger of forgetting who he was when around her—and he might do something idiotic, such as behaving like Clark when dressed as Superman, or vice versa. He might, as Superman, engage in semi-caustic banter with her, giving as good as he got. Or he might, as Clark, presume to kiss her on the cheek, or smile fondly at her and move to hug her knowing that his hug would be welcome.
<You're Superman> he deliberately reminded himself then as he crossed the room towards her.
"Happy new year, Superman!" she said brightly, hurrying to meet him. And, he realised by the expression on her face and the way she was extending her arms, she intended to embrace him. Probably to kiss him—after all, he accepted cynically, she probably thought that the occasion provided a good excuse.
She hadn't greeted Clark like that.
But, he remembered immediately, she had come over to see in the new year with him. So he shouldn't be too cynical.
"Happy new year, Lois," he replied lightly. "You all set to go?" He evaded her hug and prepared to scoop her up. At her slightly chagrined look, he added, "We don't have much time if I'm to get you and Clark there before midnight."
At that, she gave him a puzzled look. "Aren't we waiting for Clark?"
He shook his head. "It's easier if I take you separately. It won't take me long to come back for him—I can fly a lot faster when I'm not carrying someone."
She allowed him to pick her up and, because he didn't want to go through the bedroom after having made an excuse to her about its state, he exited through the front door. A couple of minutes later, he was setting her on her feet on the porch of his parents' farmhouse.
"You go on in. Clark will be here in just a few minutes," he suggested, before taking off again; he could, he supposed, have gone in with her and explained her presence to his parents, but he really didn't want to carry on the pretence in front of them too.
He flew off, taking the opportunity to go back to his apartment and collect the book for his father, and also a bottle of champagne he'd acquired in France a few days earlier. Then, landing behind the barn with a deliberately loud whoosh, he called out, "Thanks, Superman!" before spinning into his own clothes and hurrying towards the house.
Lois was still waiting on the porch. Taken aback, he thanked whatever impulse had led him to disguise his arrival as Superman. "What are you doing freezing out here?" he asked her, horrified. "Why didn't you go on in?"
She shook her head. "Not without you."
"Your parents don't even know I'm coming. It would've felt wrong to go in on my own."
He rolled his eyes at her. "Okay, are you coming in now?"
"In a moment," she said, and stood looking at him. "Isn't this amazing?"
"Well… everything. I mean, this place, covered in snow… it's so beautiful. Just like the perfect Christmas card. But I guess I meant—Clark, five minutes ago we were in 1994! And now we're back in 1993. Do you realise that if Superman wanted he could see in the new year a dozen times over!"
Clark laughed. "I don't think it's something that would appeal to him, somehow."
"You're probably right," she agreed. "I mean, he didn't even come in for a drink tonight. I'm sure your folks would have been happy to see him, but he's gone already, isn't he?"
Strangely, Clark thought, she didn't seem all that disappointed. "Yes, he left as soon as he put me down. Anyway," he added, "you ready?"
On impulse, he extended his hand to her. And, to his surprise, she accepted it and curled her fingers around his.
"Happy New Year!"
The mantelpiece clock had chimed twelve, and his father had poured the champagne. Four glasses clinked in quick succession, and they drank to the new year. And then his mother was hugging Lois, then Clark, and then Jonathan—which left Clark facing his partner and, he hoped, friend.
"Happy new year, Clark," she said softly. "I hope it gives you everything you wish for."
"You too, Lois," he told her, his voice strangely husky.
"Oh, come here…" She reached for him, and they met in a warm embrace, which was only broken by his father announcing that the elder Kents were going to bed.
"We have to be up earlier tomorrow than you city folks," he said humorously. "Cows don't like to be kept waiting when they need to be milked."
"I guess not," Lois agreed, grimacing. "Nothing like a deadline that protests loudly when you miss it!"
After his parents had left, she gave Clark a quizzical look. "Superman is coming back to get us, isn't he?"
"Yeah, but not just yet," he said. He could, of course, have taken her back immediately, but there was something else he really wanted to do. "Will you come for a walk first?"
"Outside?" She frowned.
"Yeah. I mean, you've got snow-boots and warm gear, so it shouldn't be a problem, right?"
Outside, the snow crunched under their feet as he led the way towards the back pasture, where Lois would be able to see snow-covered fields, ringed by white-mantled trees, as far as her eye could see. It was peaceful there in a way the city hadn't been; the only sound, apart from their footsteps, was the light wind against the icy branches.
"This is just beautiful," Lois said, coming to a halt and looking around. Her breath—his too—was coming in streams of white mist, adding to the ethereal nature of the winter scene.
He stopped beside her. "You're telling me. Even though I haven't lived in Smallville for years, I always love coming back here. Every season has its beautiful moments—I wouldn't stay away for the world."
"What's over there?" She pointed in the direction of a clump of trees.
"Oh, that's where Dad and I built my tree-house when I was about ten," he told her. "Want to see?"
She nodded, turning to walk in that direction, but then stumbled slightly. "Oops! Must've been a bit of uneven ground."
"That's what happens when you walk across a field," he said, shrugging apologetically. "Here, take my hand. You don't want to fall."
She didn't just take his hand; she snuggled up against his side, wrapping her arm around his waist. Clark had no intention of complaining, however; he slid his arm around her shoulders and gave her a brief squeeze.
"So, another year over," she commented as they walked. "Was 1993 good for you, Clark?"
Oh, it had been so very good, he wanted to say, remembering his thoughts of only an hour or so ago. He couldn't tell her all of those reasons, so he edited a little. "One of the best, Lois. I got the job I'd dreamed of ever since college, remember."
"True." She grinned at him. "And you got a bonus, too—you got to be partnered with the best reporter in Metropolis!"
"Only Metropolis?" he teased. She grinned, bumping her hip against his. "So, how was 1993 for you?" he asked.
She considered for a moment before answering. "Good. Definitely good. In fact… yeah, one of the best years in a long while."
"Good." He hugged her briefly. "So, what were your highlights?"
Stupid question, he told himself immediately. Of course she was going to say that meeting Superman, flying with him, having him save her life countless times—and falling in love with him—was what mattered most.
"Well, Superman, of course," she answered; no surprise there. "I mean, who could ignore him? And everything he's done—all the people who would be dead if it wasn't for him. The way he saved the space programme, and got those people to Prometheus after all—that was just incredible." She shook her head briefly. "But the best thing about the year?"
"Meeting you," she said softly.
"Huh? Me?" He halted abruptly and gave her an incredulous look.
"Yes, you, Clark Kent! Okay, I know I don't always act like it's true, but—well, you've become a pretty special friend. My… best friend. I'd hate it if I lost you," she added quietly.
"Oh, Lois…" Almost choking up, Clark just hugged her while he regained his composure. "Lois, you're special to me too. And you're not going to lose me—I'm not planning on going anywhere."
She turned in his embrace suddenly so that she was facing him, and reached up with her gloved free hand to stroke his cheek. "Happy new year, Clark!"
He wrapped her in his arms, tugging her closer, and smiled down at her. "Happy new year, Lois."
And she stretched up and kissed him.
It was just a new year kiss; a gesture between friends, he told himself. Nothing to get excited about. Certainly no reason to pour all of his emotions, all of the love he felt for her, into a return kiss, was it?
He closed his lips over hers, his eyes drifting shut as his arms tightened around her. The sweetness of the kiss was beyond anything he had imagined, even though they'd kissed before. This was real, even if it was just a kiss in honour of the season; there was no external force at work here, no 'fool the maid' or 'distract Trask' reason involved.
Just two best friends showing that they cared about each other.
At last, though too soon, they drew away from each other, but didn't let go entirely. Lois smiled hazily up at him. "Mmmm. You kiss really nicely, Clark Kent."
"So do you, Lois Lane," he assured her.
"We'll have to do it again some time," she suggested with a grin.
"Sounds good to me!"
He brought up one hand to cup her cheek, and when she didn't move away he lowered his head and claimed her lips again in another soft, warm kiss. She snuggled up against him, wrapping her arms around his waist as she kissed him back before breaking the kiss to lean her head against his shoulder.
"I'm so glad I met you, Clark Kent. This has been the best year ever."
Clark looked down at the sleeping woman on the bed and smiled fondly. She'd slept soundly the whole way back to Metropolis, not even waking when he'd flown through her apartment window and laid her down on her bed.
They'd never made it to his tree-house in the end; instead, once they'd finally moved out of their hug, they'd walked slowly, hand in hand, back through the snow to the farmhouse. Clark had offered to make some hot chocolate before 'calling for Superman' to take them home again, but when he'd come back into the living-room Lois had been fast asleep on the sofa. He hadn't had the heart to wake her up.
To paraphrase Lois, he thought as he watched her sleep now, this had been the best new year's eve ever.
It had been magical. Standing there in the snow, with only each other for company, and hearing Lois tell him how much she cared about him—and then having her kiss him—had been simply wonderful. Indescribable.
An unforgettable experience.
Yes, 1993 had been a great year. But, somehow, Clark had a suspicion that 1994 was going to be even better. As they'd walked back to the farmhouse together, he'd asked Lois to have dinner with him tomorrow night—well, tonight now. And she'd agreed. In fact, she'd smiled shyly at him as she'd said yes.
1994, he thought confidently as he floated silently out of Lois's bedroom and back towards the window, was definitely going to be the best year ever.
Happy New Year, one and all!!
(c) Wendy Richards 2004