By Chris Carr <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: March 2004
Summary: In which we learn why the Kerth award that means most to Lois is one she didn't win.
I posted this story to the lcficmbs in the immediate run-up to the Kerth Ceremony. It seemed appropriate. :) It is dedicated to all the Kerth organisers, voters and nominators, all beta-readers, writers, archivists, readers and… well, everyone who makes the LnC fanfic community such a wonderful and vibrant place.
Thanks to the people on the lcficmbs who posted such lovely feedback and to the guys on IRC for all their suggestions for a title. There were lots of good ones, but Wendy's was the best. :)
Thanks also to Jeanne Pare for GEing.
"Yes, honey?" Lois glanced at her daughter, who was sprawling stomach down across the double bed and waving her feet in the air, then turned her attention back to her own reflection in the dressing-table mirror. She would have thought that, at thirteen, Cassie would have grown out of her fascination with her make-up routines; Cassie was, after all, now old enough to be developing routines of her own. Then again, it wasn't every day that Lois dressed in a designer evening-gown and readied herself for a night at the Kerths. Maybe that was what was holding Cassie's interest.
Then again, maybe not.
"How come you never won any awards before you met Dad?"
Lois slowly lowered her mascara brush and frowned. She turned her head towards Cassie and stared at her, perplexed. In return Cassie stared back expectantly.
"What makes you think I didn't win any awards before I met your father?" Lois asked carefully.
Cassie tried to shrug. It wasn't easy, given that she was resting her chin on her cupped hands. The resulting gesture was more like a wriggle or a squirm. "It's obvious," she said. "The only single-person award in the cabinet downstairs is the one that Dad won. The one for a story about… an old folks home? Something like that. He told me about it once, but I guess I wasn't paying much attention at the time."
"I won awards, Cassie."
"But…" Now it was Cassie's turn to frown. "But all the others have both your names on. So if you won stuff, where is it? And why isn't it on display?"
Lois turned back to the mirror and began to pull faces as she got to work with the mascara again. "Try looking in the shoe-box at the bottom of the wardrobe, if you're that interested."
Lois heard, rather than saw, Cassie roll off the bed and get to her stockinged-feet. The carpet cushioned the sound of her daughter's footsteps, but Lois had no problems hearing the creak of the wardrobe door. There was the rustle of cardboard and tissue paper and a gasp of surprise.
"But… but there are three of them in here, Mom!"
"I know that, honey." Lois tried to sound nonchalant, but she could hear the laughter in her voice, threatening to burst out. She knew she was teasing her daughter, but she couldn't help it.
"But… I don't understand. Why aren't they on display with all the others?"
"Because they aren't important."
"Not important?! But, Mom, they're Kerths! How can they not be important!"
"What I meant was that they don't mean as much to me as the ones that we keep out."
"What? You mean that even the one Dad won on his own is more important to you than any of these?"
"Yeah," Lois answered around a lipstick. "That one's the most important of all."
"Why? I mean, these are yours!" Lois could hear the incomprehension and confusion in Cassie's voice. In fact, Cassie was almost pleading for an explanation. "I don't get it!"
Lois lowered the lipstick, took a second to consider her handiwork and decided that she looked as good as she was ever going to. Her dress was new — she'd bought it to impress Clark — and her make-up was as close to flawless as it ever came. She smiled at her reflection, satisfied, then put the cap on the lipstick and put it aside.
Then she swivelled her whole body around until she was facing her daughter, giving Cassie her full attention at last.
"Your father's award," said Lois slowly, weighing her words carefully, "is important to me because without it I'm not sure I would ever have learned to fall in love."
"I still don't get it," muttered Cassie.
"I know you don't, honey. But I'll try to explain."
Lois cast her mind back to a long-ago morning and a decision that was to change her life — even if she hadn't realised it at the time.
Lois pulled the covers up around her head and tried desperately to block out the early morning light that was seeping around the edges of the bed-room curtains. It didn't work. Her brain's desire to avoid facing the new day battled with the wishes of her body which, having woken up, refused to release its hold on consciousness again.
With a sigh, she rolled over onto her back, yawned, and allowed herself to drift for a moment on disjointed memories of the previous evening. In her mind's eye she found herself watching as each winner walked up on stage and listening to their acceptance speeches. Words like "honour", "surprised" and "stunned" echoed inside her head along with — what were the words the skinny Englishman had used again? Oh, yes, she thought. "Gob-smacked" and "chuffed".
Thinking back over the awards ceremony, Lois decided that it had all been — she groped for a word — depressing. That was it. It had been depressing.
At least Clark had won his category, she thought, willing herself to be pleased for her partner and best friend. Then, to her surprise, she realised that she *was* happy for him; it wasn't just an act borne out of a social need to be a good sport.
But deep down it still irked her that Clark had been nominated for the Kerth award and that she hadn't. She couldn't help feeling that way; she was competitive by nature and she hated to be runner-up to anyone. And, really, when you got right down to it, she hadn't even been runner-up. She hadn't been anything because she hadn't even been nominated.
Lois sighed. She had written some great stories, and what did she have to show for her efforts over the qualifying period? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Why not? she asked herself. After all, she wrote well. Didn't she?
Mentally she nodded to herself, refusing to let her doubts creep in again. During their most recent investigation, Lois had let her insecurities get the better of her, at least for a little while. Fortunately, however, by the time Stoke had been caught, she had recovered her confidence enough to no longer doubt that she was, as Clark had reassured her, the same journalist that she had always been.
She blinked her eyes open and stared unseeingly at the ceiling. Then she turned her head. Across the room she could see her evening dress hanging from the side of the wardrobe, its elegance mocking her.
Clark had been right, although she had done her best to deny it at the time. She had bought that dress for the Kerths, taking it for granted that she would need it.
How could I have been so arrogant? she wondered. How could I have possibly thought… assumed… that I would be nominated? Just because I have been every year so far… I always assumed that it was because I was good. But maybe I've just been amazingly lucky.
She mulled the idea around for a moment then resolutely dismissed it. Luck had had absolutely nothing to do with it; her ability was second to none. Though, she had to admit, Clark came awfully close.
No, she decided. It's not that I've been lucky in other years. Rather, I lost because I've been really unlucky this year.
Lois crossed her arms over her chest and pursed her lips as she tried — not for the first time — to work out what it was that had made Clark's story worthy of the award it had garnered. It hadn't even been news, she thought, just an emotional piece about old people.
And therein, she admitted reluctantly, lay her answer.
She was a good writer. She knew that. But Clark… His writing had an indefinable something that hers lacked. Her prose might be grammatically correct and she knew that it flowed with ease — at least it did after the editors had gone over it — but Clark's writing forced the reader to sympathise with his characters in a way that hers never did.
Why not? she wondered. Because I don't feel things the way Clark does?
No, she thought. It wasn't that. She brought a passion to her work that could not be denied. She was the one who rode roughshod over colleagues and competitors alike in her quest to produce the best stories. So much of her identity was tied up in her work that she couldn't help but become emotionally involved in the investigations she pursued. But, she realised, being brutally honest with herself, most of the emotions she allowed herself to invest in her work were selfish ones, more to do with her desire to be the best than anything more empathic. The more sympathetic emotions her stories engendered in her made her feel more uncomfortable — uncomfortable enough that she avoided putting them into words. That, in large part, explained her intolerance for, and avoidance of, the human interest stories at which Clark excelled.
Mentally bracing her shoulders, she realised that, if she were going to stand a chance of winning a Kerth next year, she would have to allow herself to embrace those difficult emotions. More than that, she would have to lower her barriers enough to articulate the way she felt, sharing her thoughts and feelings with the Planet's readers. It demanded of her a level of emotional honesty that, up until now, she had resisted. Wanting to write as well as Clark meant letting the emotions in and going beyond being the logical investigator who saw things only in rational terms. It meant deliberately searching beyond the crimes and scandals she uncovered and illuminating the human costs of the darknesses she wrote about.
She had, she realised, to make a choice. She wanted to retain her privacy. But she also wanted to be the best.
Put like that, there was no choice. Her career came first — it always had — and she would do anything for a story. She was used to taking risks to her physical well-being in the course of her work. Well, she told herself, she would have to take a different kind of risk — an emotional one.
A decision reached and a resolution made, Lois rolled over onto her side, closed her eyes and relaxed. Against all expectations, this time sleep returned easily.
Cassie was frowning. "I still don't get it. You lost. You decided to work harder. Where's the big deal?"
"No big deal, really," said Lois. "It just… It was the beginning of something new for me."
"Look, honey, you've got to understand something. Back when I first met your father, I wasn't… Well, I wasn't all that loveable."
Cassie snorted. "That's not what Dad says. The way he tells it, he fell in love with you the first moment he saw you."
"Yes, well… That's your father for you. And if he weren't such a wonderful and patient man, I honestly doubt that we would ever have got together. I really wasn't very… approachable… back then."
Cassie snorted. "Uncle Jimmy says they used to call you Mad Dog Lane at work. Is that true?"
Lois smiled ruefully. "Too true, I'm afraid. And, to be frank, I deserved it. I wasn't very considerate of anyone else's feelings. Goodness knows why your father put up with it."
"Because he loved you."
Lois's smile broadened. It was such a simple truth to come out of a thirteen-year-old's mouth! Clark's love had been the foundation stone of everything they had together. They'd built upon it over the years, adding her love to the edifice then, later on, the love for and of their children.
And that old Kerth award of Clark's had helped. Maybe it had provided the mortar to cement all the bricks together.
It hadn't been easy, trying to change the habits of a lifetime, but she had done her best. The curious thing was, though, that it had been in her personal life, rather than her professional, that she had had most success with letting her emotions in. It was as though, having been wilfully blind for years — probably, she admitted wryly, since Claude had left her — she could suddenly see. Or, she thought fancifully, as though, having been short- sighted from birth, she'd been given her first pair of glasses and had discovered that blurry shapes on the horizon actually had definition. Trees were more than a scribble of green on a brown stalk; they were actually made up of bark and trunks and boughs and leaves.
It wasn't her physical world that had snapped into focus, though, but her emotional one. Once she was looking at them properly, she had seen that emotions were sharp-edged and powerful.
And somewhere, over the course of the months that had followed her humiliation at the awards, she had found herself seeing Clark. She was no longer just looking at him; she was really seeing him.
Oh, yes, she'd had glimpses of him before. She had almost let him into her heart after her disastrous almost-wedding but his retraction of his declaration of love had made it all too easy for her to retreat into her old patterns of behaviour. She had chosen to take his retraction at face value, preferring to take refuge in the security it offered than to take a chance on telling him how she really felt. With hindsight and her new understanding of the world, however, she'd gradually come to understand that the retraction had been the lie, not the original declaration of love.
"Not winning an award that year… It made me think about things. You know, take stock of my life," said Lois.
Cassie shook her head. "You're weird," she said.
Lois translated the comment as teen-speak for a continued failure to understand. She shrugged, knowing that she had offered the best explanation that she could. If Cassie didn't understand things yet… Well. There were some things young women needed to discover for themselves, and the mysteries of love was one of them.
One day Cassie would understand. Lois was sure of that.
"Honey?" Clark's voice echoed up through the house. "You ready? The cab's due any minute!"
Seconds afterwards, the bedroom door swung open.
"Wow, Lois!" breathed Clark appreciatively. "You look… great."
Lois looked him up and down. "You don't look so bad yourself, Mr Kent." She grinned warmly, stood, and tilted her head up so that he could capture her mouth with his own. She wrapped her arms around him and felt his hands on her back as he gathered her closer.
"Oh, gross. I'm outta here!" And then Cassie was gone at a speed that would have done her father proud.
Lois and Clark laughed together and broke their kiss.
"What made you bring those out?" Clark asked, espying the open shoe-box. "Haven't seen them in a while."
"Cassie wanted to see them," said Lois.
Lois eased out of Clark's embrace and moved to pick the box up. She lightly caressed the lid as she closed it and absently noticed the dust that came off on her hand. Then she crouched down, putting it away at the back of the wardrobe. Where it belonged.
Those Kerths belonged to a different Lois, a Lois who no longer existed. Everything she had won since had been with Clark or because of Clark. And that was really all that mattered.
She turned towards her husband and smiled. She put every bit of femininity that she could into that smile and beckoned him forward.
"We'll be late if we don't get a move on," Clark protested weakly.
"So?" asked Lois.
"So… nothing, I guess," answered Clark as his lips found hers.
Yes, thought Lois, as she melted into his embrace, some things would always be more important than awards.