By Erin Klingler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December 2004
Summary: In this response to the "Guess the Writer" challenge, Lois attempts to prove she can become domestic by caring for an electronic pet.
Who would have thought a toaster could be a weapon of mass destruction? Well, okay, maybe not a weapon of *mass* destruction, if by "mass" a person thought of civilizations destroyed, natural disasters wiping out entire cities, or money markets crashing to non-recoverable levels. From Lois's perspective, however, the destruction in her kitchen before her didn't seem any less devastating.
At least, not to her spirits.
She dropped into a chair at the table, propped her elbow on its surface, and rested her chin in her hand. What had started out as a supposedly simple undertaking of making a nice get-you- going-in-the-morning breakfast of oatmeal and toast had become…well, not so simple.
With a heavy sigh, Lois forced herself to survey her kitchen. Oatmeal covered the stove top, creating a lumpy, brown sea across the previously clean surface, and dribbled down the front of the oven door, finally puddling onto the floor in front of the appliance. Who knew that adding a little extra water could result in such a disaster?
Then there was the toast.
"I think the toaster must have a defective wire or something," Lucy had explained when she had been throwing out the near-new stainless steel toaster only the week before.
"Don't throw it out, I'll take it," Lois had said, thinking it was too nice a toaster to simply trash because her often- frivolous sister was trying to find an excuse to buy something newer and fancier.
Lois had carted it home, pleased with her find since her old toaster had died just the week before. "Defective wire," she had scoffed. Now she realized she should have listened to her sister.
Glancing over at her counter, she glared at the blackened appliance covered with Dry Chem from her kitchen's fire extinguisher. What was once a sleek, stainless steel toaster now resembled a smoldering cinderblock, its charred surface matching the blackened spots on the countertop and tiled backsplash, both also covered in Dry Chem.
Lois shook her head. Should she be embarrassed that operating a household fire extinguisher had become second nature? Probably. But it was the toaster's fault that it didn't pop up the bread when it was done, instead keeping it within its housing and blackening it until the wires inside started to smoke, then spark and ignite. Wasn't it? Or was it some kind of Lois Lane cooking curse? That everything she tried to cook was destined to boil over, burn, and keep fire extinguisher companies in business?
Other women she knew cooked elegant, wonderful meals. She, on the other hand, could barely manage to make toast. Well, not even toast, as the morning's escapades proved. Obviously she lacked a domestic side. And men liked women who were domestic, didn't they? Maybe that was why she was sitting there by herself, in an empty apartment, staring at smoldering appliances and oatmeal puddles. She could bring down entire crime rings and send international arms smugglers to prison, but she couldn't make herself breakfast without using a fire extinguisher.
Lois looked past the mess in her kitchen to the fridge door, where her college roommate's wedding announcement hung. Her friend and her fiance—now husband—looked so cute together, with their matching dark hair and eyes. They were holding hands and smiling broadly, and a large, glimmering solitaire adorned her friend's ring finger.
Nobody had been more surprised than Lois when the announcement had arrived in her mail a few weeks ago. Never in a million years had she thought Molly would settle down and get married. She hadn't seemed the type. She'd been like Lois—ambitious, opinionated, and driven. But apparently Molly had changed. She'd become domestic, like those women she and Lois had vowed never to be like. They planned, instead, to make a difference in the world with their work, and prove to the women of their society that women could be equals to men in the workplace. Lois felt like she was succeeding, but Molly had gone soft on her, had turned to the dark side, had turned her back on everything they'd believed.
"Why should you care?" Lois voiced the question aloud to the empty room, her voice sounding bitter and hurt in spite of the indifference with which the question was intended.
She knew she shouldn't care, other than caring that her friend was happy. And she obviously was, as Lois had seen for herself when she'd attended their wedding in upstate New York over the weekend. So, what was the problem? She shouldn't care a bit. But she did.
The question was, why did she care? Was it because Molly had turned her back on what they'd believed in? Or was it because Molly now had somebody to talk to when she got home at night, and Lois didn't…
*You have a great job,* Lois reminded herself, *you're successful, you have your independence, as well as good friends— even if they are all people you work with at the Planet. You should be grateful for everything you have in your life.*
But for some reason, there were times when those things just didn't seem to be enough, even when she repeated to herself the reasons she'd avoided relationships the past few years. It was best just to put the thoughts of what she didn't have out of her mind, and focus on the things she did have.
Even if those things *did* include a kitchen that looked like it had been through a holocaust.
With one last glance at her disaster of a kitchen, Lois stood up from her chair, grabbed her attache, and headed for the door. She couldn't look at that mess for even one more second. She'd grab a croissant or something on the way to work. And call her cleaning lady. The kitchen mess was something she just didn't have the heart to tackle at the moment. It was just too depressing.
"Hey, Lois," Jimmy called out as Lois stepped out of the elevator at the Daily Planet.
Clark's head jerked up when he heard the greeting, and his heart somersaulted inside his chest just as it always did whenever he spotted his partner coming across the newsroom floor. He noticed, however, that Lois only mumbled a response as she walked passed on her way to her desk. Clark's brow furrowed. This wasn't the Lois Lane he was used to seeing. Usually her moods swung between fiery and passionate, to angry and unapproachable. This morning she just looked…well, sad.
He stood up and walked over to her desk just as she sat down. "Lois? You okay?"
Lois carefully avoided making eye contact with him as she nodded and pulled a stack of papers from her attache. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure? You look like you just lost your best friend."
"In a way, I did lose one of my best friends."
Clark frowned. "What do you mean?"
For the first time since she walked in, Lois looked up and met his gaze. He caught a flicker of something indiscernible in her eyes before she attempted to smile and waved her hand at him dismissively.
"Never mind, Clark, it's no big deal. My best friend from college got married over the weekend, and I guess I'm just feeling a little sorry for myself, that's all. A couple of double fudge crunch bars and I'll be back to normal."
In spite of her brave front, Clark suspected there was more to this than she was letting on. Before he could pry further, Perry walked up, his deep, booming voice drawing them back to business.
"Where's that follow up on your money laundering expose? I want it on my desk in one hour!"
Clark assured him they were on it, then turned back to Lois as soon as Perry had moved on. "Lois?" he began.
But Lois shook her head and smiled reassuringly. "Really, Clark, I'll be fine. Let's just get to work, okay?"
Clark agreed, then left her to her work. For now, anyway. There would be time for some digging and prying later.
By noon, however, after spending the entire morning working, Clark could tell Lois's heart wasn't in it any more. She needed a break. He leaned back in his chair and stretched. "Lois, I don't know about you, but I need a break. Besides, I'm starved. Why don't we let this sit for awhile and grab some lunch?"
Lois smiled gratefully at him. "Clark, you read my mind."
They left the Planet and walked a couple of blocks to their favorite cafe, and Clark was glad to see Lois relaxing. They ate lunch together, casually chatting about insignificant events. Clark kept waiting for Lois to bring up the topic of her friend's wedding, but she never did. They were almost back to the Planet's front doors when he bravely opened his mouth to broach the topic. Just then, however, one of their co-workers came out of the building carrying a tiny cocker spaniel puppy in her arms.
Lois immediately stopped and started cooing over the puppy. "Oh, how cute! Tami, when did you get her?"
"My boyfriend bought her for me last week, but my landlord found out and threatened to evict me if I didn't get rid of her." She made a face. "Now I have to find her a home. If you come across anyone interested in a puppy, let me know, okay?"
Lois nodded and stared longingly at the adorable puppy in her co- worker's arms as Tami hurried on down the street. 'What a cute puppy,' she thought. 'How fun it would be to have…'
A puppy! That was it! If she couldn't have a deep, meaningful relationship with a man who loved her, why not a dog? She'd heard they were good company, loved you unconditionally, and were always happy to see you. It was perfect!
Lois followed Clark into the elevator and grabbed his arm just as the doors closed and they started up to the newsroom. "Clark, I just had the coolest thought! Tami's looking for a home for her puppy, and I think a pet would be perfect. And that puppy is so cute…"
Unable to help himself, Clark burst out laughing. "Lois, you can't be serious! You can't even keep your plants alive! What would you end up doing to that poor little dog?"
Lois looked crestfallen at his reaction, and Clark immediately felt bad. "Lois, I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out that way. I just meant, well…" He fumbled for the words. "Well, you don't have the kind of schedule required for taking care of a pet. You're not home at regular hours, and you're always rushing off to here and there for your job… I just think you'd be giving that poor dog a death sentence."
The elevator doors opened, and Lois rolled her eyes as they stepped out into the newsroom. "Clark, don't you think you're being a little dramatic? I'm a big girl. I can take care of a pet."
Jimmy was just walking past and overhead. His reaction was similar to Clark's. "A pet?" he said with a laugh. "Lois, you kill all your plants!"
Clark chuckled and pointed at Jimmy. "See? I'm not the only one who knows that."
Lois put a hand on her hip and looked from Jimmy to Clark. "You two don't think I can do this, do you?"
Jimmy snickered. "I'd bet you on it, but that would mean some poor little animal would suffer at your hands."
Lois glared at him playfully, then turned her attention to Clark when Jimmy headed back to work. She glared at Clark, too, until his smile disappeared from his face. "Is this what you guys honestly think of me? That I'm incapable of caring for a living thing?"
Straight faced, but with a twinkle still in his eye, Clark nodded. "Yes."
Before Lois could respond, their editor-in-chief's voice called out from across the room, "Lois! Clark! Glad you're back. I need to see you in my office, pronto."
Lois and Clark looked over to see Perry standing in his office doorway, then Clark turned back to Lois and cocked an eyebrow at her. "We'll finish this later."
"Don't think we won't!" Lois shook a finger at him before falling into step with him, the topic momentarily sidelined.
Clark didn't get a chance to tease Lois more about it. Perry's meeting with them resulted in the possibility of a new story, and Lois and Clark went their separate ways to track down leads. Clark enjoyed the investigation part of his job, but he loved it so much more when he was doing his investigating side by side with Lois. When he wasn't with her, his thoughts were, and that made him less than effective.
He enjoyed the feeling of familiarity he and Lois shared, and he honestly considered her his best friend. They had grown steadily closer since her engagement and almost-marriage to Lex Luthor— and the fiasco that had resulted in Luthor's death. She had really needed a friend to get her through the aftermath, and Clark felt lucky that he'd been that friend. He knew she considered him her best friend, as he did her. As time went on, though, he wondered if their relationship was finally hinting at more.
More often than not, Lois wanted to spend her after-work hours with him, which sent his heart soaring with hope. But he couldn't tell her just yet that he still loved her more than life itself. Sometime, when the time was right, he would. Because he knew how untrusting she was as far as matters of the heart were concerned, he was more than happy to let her set the pace, to allow her time to trust him implicitly, and most of all, to love and need him as he much as he did her. He was convinced it was only a matter of time, and Lois Lane was definitely worth the wait. Of that he was certain.
Another thing he was certain of was his ability to read his partner and best friend. And it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that something had been bothering her this morning. The fact that he couldn't weasel very much out of her bothered him even more. He considered himself an expert on all things Lois Lane, but the strange idea of her wanting a pet baffled him. She never seemed the type to want the responsibility of a pet. She was too independent for that. But she'd seemed so hurt when he'd scoffed at her idea of getting a puppy that it told him there was something behind this whole "wanting a pet" thing.
As he continued to walk down the street, he shoved his hands further into his slacks pockets and his brow deepened in thought. There was a reason behind everything Lois did. He'd learned that over the last year and a half. Sometimes all it took to learn what was behind her actions, or to learn what drove an obsession, was a little subterfuge. It worked surprisingly well to drop a couple of meaningful hints into a conversation or, better yet, to tease her about a topic until she felt backed into a corner. Then she'd finally get mad enough to take a swing at him. Fists would fly, and then it would all come out—whatever it was she was harboring.
Yes, he'd get to the bottom of this. He considered it his latest mission.
As he rounded the corner of 9th and Westmore, Clark spotted something in a shop's window. He stopped and leaned in for a closer look. It was an electronic pet, a new toy gadget that was all the craze. It let kids "care for" a pet, to test their skills on how well they could raise and tend a dog, cat, or bird. There were various colors available, and the price was minimal.
Clark grinned. He had an idea.
And with any luck, it wouldn't be long before the fists started flying.
Lois was going over her notes at her desk when someone dropped a small, brown paper bag onto her desk. She looked up to see Clark grinning mischievously at her. Whenever he got that look, she knew she should be worried.
She shifted her gaze to the bag. "What's this?"
"This," Clark said, gesturing grandly at the bag, "is the beginning of our bet. And I've upped the ante."
Her brow furrowed. "What are you talking about? What bet?"
Clark's grin widened as he made an impatient gesture at the bag. "Open it and you'll find out."
Lois did as he instructed and pulled out a plastic package about the size of her wallet. She stared at it for a moment. "A toy? You bought me a toy?"
"It's a electronic pet, Lois. Haven't you seen these things?" When she shook her head, Clark hurried on to explain. "It's this fun, popular gadget that you have to care for like a real pet— you know, you have to feed it, water it—"
Lois cocked an eyebrow at him. "And how am I supposed to do that? Shove canned dog food in between the cracks and pour water over it?"
Clark laughed. "No, Lois, you have to care for it digitally." He emphasized that last word. "You see these buttons here near the bottom? One's to give it water, one's to give it food, the other is to respond to the requests that appear on the screen."
"Like what?" Lois asked, skeptically, wondering why on earth someone would want something so juvenile.
"You'll have to read through the instructions and see."
"And you're giving this to me because…?"
"You wanted a pet, Lois," Clark said with a maddening grin. "Consider this a trial run. Judging from the way you neglect your plants, I'm betting you can't keep that e-pet alive for a week."
"And if I can?"
"Then I'll help you shop for a real pet. But if you can't…well, at least you wouldn't have killed a live animal and have animal control knocking at your door."
Lois narrowed her eyes at Clark, who was obviously very pleased with himself. She thought it over for a few moments. An e-pet. How hard could it be? It even came with instructions. Maybe this was her chance to prove to Clark—and anybody else who found out about their little bet—that she wasn't incapable of caring for something. Besides, Lois Lane never backed down from a challenge. Never.
A look of determination crossed Lois's face as she nodded. "You're on."
As Lois let herself into her apartment that night, she couldn't help feeling a little insulted by Clark's bet. When had her lack of domestic skills become an ongoing joke amongst her coworkers? Everybody—Clark included—seemed to think it was funny that she always killed her plants. And if that weren't bad enough, somehow her lack of culinary skills had become a secondary joke. How this had all become common knowledge, she had no idea. But she couldn't help it. She just wasn't domestic; she never had been.
Yes, she killed her plants. True, most of her fish never lived beyond a couple of weeks. Was that some kind of an omen? Did it mean she was doomed to live a life of solidarity and loneliness? Was she destined to never care for something—for someone—as long as she lived?
'Would that be such a bad thing?' the little voice in the back of her mind asked. 'There's something to be said for only looking out for yourself.'
But somehow, Lois knew that wasn't what she really wanted out of life. She couldn't help thinking about how nice it sounded to have someone waiting at home for you at night—even if that 'someone' was a pet, like a dog or a cat. Didn't everyone need that? Was she just kidding herself to think she could go on living like she was forever, self-sufficient and lonely?
Lonely. Yes, as much as it pained her to admit, sometimes that's what she was. Lonely.
With renewed resolve, Lois sat up straighter in her chair. She'd prove to Clark that she wasn't incapable of caring for something. Maybe that would also help prove to herself that someday she would be capable of keeping something—or better yet, someone— happy. Even if that 'someday' was a long way away.
Clark's face flashed into her mind, but she instantly shook it away. Why was it that every time she thought of a long-term commitment, an image of Clark found its way into her mind? He was her partner, her best friend. Albeit an often annoying partner and best friend. He seemed to get under her skin in a way no man ever had. But he was also kind, considerate, and never backed down when he felt he was right. If she fought with him, he fought back. That, in and of itself, was a first. Most men scampered away like a frightened dog when her temper flared— which was often, she sheepishly had to admit. He wasn't easily scared off, and she realized she liked that about Clark. He had a rather endearing habit of making her *want* to keep him around.
But what did that have to do with his image constantly reappearing in her mind when she thought of long-term relationships? Deciding she wasn't ready to answer those kinds of questions, she shook her head in an effort to clear it and she turned back to the matter at hand. The bet.
Lois carefully opened the package containing the tiny plastic pet, pulling it from its wrapping. Then, with more care than she'd ever given to a set of instructions, she began to read. Surprisingly, it didn't seem that hard. Push the red button to give it food. You couldn't give it too much, though, or you could kill it. You pushed the other button to give it water. Then there was the matter of exercising it. You had to make sure to exercise it in the right place, like a fenced yard, or it could escape and get hurt or lost. Apparently, the little screen flashed occasional problems at you that you needed to resolve by selecting options on the screen. The LCD screen was easy to read, and it seemed programmed for a young child's level, which made Lois feel rather confident.
Convinced this was going to be an easy bet to win, Lois merely skimmed the rest of the instructions and turned her attention to pushing the buttons to feed and water her pet. Hearing a snoring noise from the gadget in her hand, she guessed the pet was asleep and taken care of for the time being. Piece of cake.
Lois grinned to herself. Clark was going to lose this bet. She would make sure of it.
The next morning, Lois made sure to "feed and water" her "pet" before leaving for work, and she carefully tucked it into her bag where it wouldn't fall out and break. When she got to work, Clark was on the phone and looked at her expectantly. She simply smiled smugly and continued on to her desk.
Once there, she sat down and began pulling her notes and files from her attache, then checked on her e-pet. She gasped in horror as soon as she saw the screen. It showed a digital image of a dog lying upside down with its feet in the air and its tongue hanging out of its mouth. What in the world…?
The words "suffocation" flashed on the screen above the image, and a knot formed in her throat. *Suffocation!* she thought in a panic. She didn't remember reading anything about suffocation. But then, she did skim the majority of the instructions. That must have been something she missed.
She groaned inwardly. It hadn't even been twenty-four hours! What would Jimmy say? What would *Clark* say? She couldn't let them know she'd suffocated her "pet" less than a day after she had it. They'd never let her live it down.
Suddenly an idea presented itself. Glancing over at Clark, she noticed he was still on the phone. Trying to be as discreet as possible, she slid her phone book out from her desk and started thumbing through the yellow pages. She found what she was looking for and dialed.
"King's Toys? Can you tell me if you carry those little electronic pet gadgets? I need one. Now."
Clark's hand froze, his pencil hovering over his notepad where he'd been doodling while he was on hold. Had his superhearing really heard what he thought it had? Was Lois really calling a toy store to buy another pet? That would have to mean she'd already killed it.
A slow grin worked at the corners of his mouth. Unbelievable. Even more unbelievable—well, maybe not that unbelievable when he thought of how much she hated to lose—was that she was trying to cover up the fact that she'd killed it and was secretly trying to find a replacement. He thought for a moment about strolling up to her and casually asking to see her pet, but decided not to call her on it just yet. It might be kind of fun to see what would happen next.
And fun it was.
Over the course of the next three days, Lois killed—and replaced—two more e-pets. Each time she "secretly" showed up with a new one, she was more anxious and defensive. Her ferociousness over winning this bet—or justifying it as winning—only confirmed to Clark that there was definitely more to this than a simple bet. What it was, he was certain he'd find out soon enough. Lois wouldn't be able to keep it all bottled up much longer.
On Friday evening, Clark finished straightening his desk and turned off his computer. Then he collected his jacket, slung it over his shoulder, and strolled up to Lois's desk where she was packing some notes into her back for the weekend.
Noting she looked more tired than usual, Clark approached her cautiously. "Long week, huh?"
Lois didn't even glance up as she zipped her bag. "You have no idea," she grumbled.
She didn't say anything further, and Clark didn't press her. He simply followed her to the elevator. After a few moments of silence, he asked, "Are you hungry, Lois? I'm starving. How about we pick up some Chinese take-out on the way home and we can spend the evening together?"
Lois turned and finally made eye contact with him for the first time in what seemed like days. She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Your place or mine?"
Clark smiled. Finally, progress. "Either one is fine. Which do you prefer?"
She studied his hopeful demeanor for a moment, then sighed and turned to face forward again. "I guess mine's closer. That is, if you don't mind it being an undomesticated mess," she said, putting strong emphasis on the 'undomesticated.'
Clark frowned as they stepped out of the elevator. *What was that supposed to mean? Since when did she worry about being domestic?*
When they finally reached Lois's apartment, Clark balanced his armload of Chinese take-out bags while Lois unlocked her door and let them in. He made a beeline for the kitchen and set the bags down on the counter. Immediately, he noticed a charred, black spot on her far counter and wall near the microwave.
"Lois, what happened—"
Before he could finish his question, Lois glared at him, effectively cutting him off. Clark decided to let it go. Whatever had happened, she didn't want to talk about it. Instead, he turned his attention back to the food, and he began to pull out cartons. He couldn't help glancing again at the blackened spot in Lois's kitchen. He wondered if Lois's previous "undomesticated" remark had anything to do with what the burn spots, and if they had something to do with her mood as of late.
His mind was working to fit the pieces of the puzzle together when he suddenly heard Lois swear in disbelief. He looked over just in time to see Lois scowling at her electronic pet, give it a violent shake, then hurl it against the far wall. It hit with a thunk and a chink as it broke and fell into a dozen pieces onto her apartment floor.
"Lois, what are you doing?" Clark asked, stunned. He'd seen bouts of her temper flare up occasionally, but throwing things seemed uncharacteristic, even for her. He looked at the pile of pieces on the floor. "You killed your pet!"
She laughed humorlessly. "It was dead before I threw it, okay? Just as dead as my last three ones."
Clark's eyebrows flew up to his hairline. An admission? Well, this was new. "Umm, okay," he began cautiously. "Is there something you'd like to tell me, Lois?"
That was all the encouragement Lois needed. She flew into a patented Lois Lane rant as she began to pace, and Clark tried to suppress his smile. His patience had finally paid off. Here came the fists.
"Those things are just so stupid! Can *anyone* keep them alive?" Lois raged, her volume increasing with each sentence. "They seem programmed to die. The toymakers *want* people to kill them so they'll just keep buying more of them! It's a conspiracy, I tell you. Sure, there are probably some people who can keep those stupid things alive, but what about us undomesticated people? Don't we count for anything?"
Clark tried his best to follow her dialogue, but he had to admit, he was lost.
He set the plates down and walked over to her, capturing her hands in his and effectively stopping her pacing. "Lois, slow down. I have no idea what you're saying. What does being domestic have to do with hurling your e-pet across the room?"
Having the pacing taken away from her, her anger turned to tears. Her eyes shimmered with them as she stared back at Clark. "Don't you see? Everyone was right. I can't keep an electronic pet alive any more than I can my plants. What does that tell you? I'm doomed to live a lonely, depressing life all alone, that's what."
Clark couldn't stop the surprised laughter that escaped from his lips. "Lois, what in the world does having a relationship and caring for plants or electronic pets have to do with each other? Those things are mutually exclusive. And neither of them mean you're going to be alone for the rest of your life."
"Yes, they do," Lois whined as Clark led her over to the couch and sat her down beside him. "And it's funny that I'm even worried about being alone, considering that every relationship I've ever had ended up being a complete disaster. Why would I even want another relationship?" Then she let out an aggravated growl. "I can't believe I'm even thinking about this, Clark! Why am I so upset by this? It's stupid!"
"It's not stupid," he reassured her gently, giving her hands a squeeze. "Didn't you say you went to your friend Molly's wedding this weekend?" When she nodded, he continued. "Well, it seems only natural that you'd be thinking about your own future after seeing your friend so happy. I'd be feeling a little blue, too."
She looked up at him tearfully. "You would?"
"Sure, I would." Clark nodded, and his eyes were earnest as he went on. "All my life I've wanted to find that special someone, to fall hopelessly in love, get married, and live happily ever after."
Lois smiled through her tears. "Clark, you're a hopeless romantic."
"Don't I know it." He smiled back gently. "But my point is, yes, I'm good at my job. My career has always been important to me, and I've worked hard to get where I am. That doesn't mean I can't want the other part of the dream, too. I honestly believe you can be successful *and* be happy. And if having someone to love makes you happy, then looking for a happily-ever-after relationship doesn't mean you've let yourself down. I'm sure your friend Molly would agree with me."
Clark's words seemed to get through to her, and she was quiet for a long moment as she considered his words. Then she groaned and flopped backwards on the couch, resting her head on the cushion. "Oh, Clark. Why can't it be easy? Why can't I just find somebody that loves me for me, and isn't afraid or intimidated by me wanting to succeed in my job? I can't imagine standing around in a kitchen, cooking all day, cleaning and dusting. I'm just not domestic. This whole 'pet bet' thing can attest to that. I can't cook, I use my fire extinguisher almost as much as I use my computer, I kill all my plants—even my artificial ones have occasionally met their doom from my vacuum cleaner attachment— and I can't even keep an electronic pet alive. I'm about as domestic as an eggplant."
Clark laughed. "But Lois, men aren't just looking for women who are domestic. I suppose there are some who are, but there are an awful lot who don't care if a woman can cook or entertain or keep a spotless house. Personally, I think there are other things that are more important in a relationship, like shared interests and a solid friendship. After all, you can't love somebody you're not friends with."
Lois thought back on her experience with Lex, and she knew Clark was right. She had been intrigued by Lex, drawn to his power and magnetism, but in the long run—and just in time—she had realized they weren't friends. She could never imagine sharing her life with someone she wasn't best friends with.
"Yeah, I see what you mean," Lois conceded. "I'll tell you right now, though, there just doesn't seem to be anybody out there for me that fits that description."
"Don't be so sure about that, Lois," Clark said, his voice quiet yet firm. "I'm sure if you look hard enough, you'll find somebody who loves you for just who you are. In fact…" He paused, then licked his lips, trying to decide whether to continue or not. Finally, he finished softly, "I know that somebody already does."
Lois rolled her eyes in disbelief. "Yeah, right. Who?"
Clark opened his mouth to speak, then lost his nerve. He smiled gently at her instead. "When you're ready to know, Lois, you'll realize exactly who it is I'm talking about. 'Till then, you'll just have to have a little faith that things will work out."
Lois let out a noise of exasperation and slapped her hands down on the couch. "Clark, I hate it when you're cryptic! Can't you give me a little more to work with than that?"
"Sorry, Lois. I've already said too much. Why don't we eat our dinner before it gets any colder?"
For the next half hour, Clark's attempts to put the subject on hold seemed to work, and he and Lois fell into a companionable silence as they ate. Clark could tell she still wasn't her usual upbeat self, but he sensed their talk had helped her unload her pent up feelings. He hoped she felt better. As her best friend—even if that's all she felt comfortable with letting him be for now—he considered it his job to help her feel better.
As the evening wound down, Clark decided to leave Lois to her thoughts. As she followed him to the door, he studied her carefully. "Are you going to be okay, Lois?"
She unlocked and opened the door for him before she nodded and gave him a small smile. "I'll be fine. And Clark?"
He had moved into the hallway, but turned back to meet her gaze. "Yeah?"
"Thanks for not rubbing it in that I lost the bet."
Clark grinned. "What are friends for?"
As they continued to look at each other for several long moments, Clark felt an irresistible urge to touch her. Tentatively, he lifted a hand to her cheek, allowing himself the sensation of stroking his fingers along her cheekbone and jaw. A look of hesitation flickered in Lois's eyes, but then she smiled and raised her hand to cover Clark's. His heart soared when she gave it a squeeze, her eyes never leaving his.
He savored the feel of her hand on his for a moment, then slid his hand out of hers and took a step back into the hall.
"Have a good night, Lois. I'll see you in the morning." And with that, he was gone.
Lois shut and locked the door behind her partner, then wandered into the living room, noting how quiet her apartment seemed without Clark there. Funny. She found herself already missing him.
Walking over to the couch, she sat down, content to let her thoughts wander. It was a huge relief to hear that he believed you didn't have to change who you were in order to have someone love you. It was a nice thought.
Unexpectedly, she thought back to the funny feeling she'd gotten in her stomach when Clark had reached up to stroke her cheek at the door. It wasn't unusual for him to touch her; he was a touchy-feely person. He was always squeezing her shoulder or putting a hand on the small of her back to guide her through a doorway or across a crowded room. It was just who he was. And strangely enough, she realized how much she would miss it if he didn't do those things. It made her feel closer to him, somehow more connected. But tonight, when he'd stroked her cheek, the sensations she felt were ones she'd never felt around him before. And it confused her.
Was this the way somebody felt when they were attracted to somebody? It had been so long since she let anyone even remotely close to her heart that she couldn't be sure. She remembered Clark's assurances during their conversation before dinner that somebody already loved her for who she was. That seemed miraculous in and of itself. She wasn't particularly easy to love, since she so rarely let anyone get close enough to her to do so. But who was this mystery person who supposedly already loved her?
If he was right about this mystery man, it had to be somebody she saw casually since she so rarely dated. Ever since her Lex fiasco, she didn't dare trust her heart to anybody. The only person she trusted was Clark, because he was her best friend in the whole world. Who else could she have had had tonight's conversation with? She'd confided in Clark her innermost fears and desires, and never once had he made fun of her for harboring such hopes of a life with work, friendship, *and* love. But then, she knew he'd never make fun of her—at least, not over anything she was sincerely worried about. He stood behind her in all that she did, supported her, and loved her for who she was.
Loved her for who she was.
Lois's heart skipped a beat. Wait a minute. Clark had said there was already somebody who loved her for who she was, but wouldn't tell her who it was. Could he have meant…?
Her heart started to tap out an erratic rhythm as she considered the possibility. It was indisputable that Clark had always been there for her, and she could honestly say that his actions time and time again proved he loved her.
Just as she loved him.
The realization struck Lois hard. Was it true? Could she possibly feel that way about Clark? Never once in the year and a half they'd been partners had she ever thought about her feelings for Clark. Sure, she loved him as a best friend, but did she love him as more than just a friend?
She thought back to the time he'd skipped Christmas with his parents to come over for Christmas dinner when everyone else's plans to attend fell through. They'd been alone in the apartment, and she could remember vividly, standing in front of her little Christmas tree, hanging on the ornament Superman had given her. It had seemed so natural to take Clark's hand in hers, to have him at her side sharing the magic of the moment. Then, in her mind's eye, she remembered leaning into him, snuggling up against him, then looking up into his warm, caring eyes. If would have been so easy to kiss him. She wondered if they would have kissed if the carolers hadn't appeared outside her window, interrupting the chemistry-charged moment.
She also couldn't help thinking back to the times they'd shared kisses. They'd all been a farce, having taken place under false pretenses during stakeouts or attempts to escape their latest murderous conspirators. But there was no denying she had felt something during those kisses—the same rush of butterflies swarming her stomach and tickling her heart with their wings exactly as she'd felt tonight when he'd stroked her cheek.
With a start, she realized there was no denying her feelings for Clark. And if she were to be honest with herself, she could see that she'd had them for a long time. But in typical Lois Lane fashion, she'd managed to ignore those feelings by pushing them aside and letting her rational side rule her not-so-rational heart. Well, for once, she didn't feel like being rational. She loved Clark. And she had to admit, they were perfect for each other. His calm demeanor and old-world manners were the perfect compliment for her brashness and spontaneity. He was patient while she was rash; he was considerate while she tended to be rude and insensitive. She only hoped there was something of hers to contribute that helped make him a better person. She knew there must be if a man like Clark loved her. Maybe she'd get up the nerve sometime soon to ask him what that was.
For now, though, she had more important things to think about. Did she let him know she'd finally put two and two together? Or did she wait and see how things went?
With a sigh, she realized she had some thinking to do. It was going to be a long night.
Lois's stomach was a mass of butterflies when she headed to work the next morning. She had decided to tell Clark how she felt about him. But how on earth was she supposed to say? "Clark, it suddenly occurred to me last night that you were talking about yourself when you said there was somebody who already loved me for who I am. And, it's funny you should mention that because I suddenly realized I love you too."
She shook her head. No, that just sounded too corny. But now that she'd found love, she didn't want to let it pass her by. If she'd learned anything over the past couple of years, it was that she shouldn't take life for granted. Or love, for that matter.
When she finally stepped out of the elevator at the Planet, her eyes immediately went to Clark's desk. Yes, he was there. The butterflies that she'd managed to calm somewhat on her way over were now threatening to burst from her chest. She still had no idea what to say.
Trying to swallow past the tightness in her throat, she crossed the bullpen and neared her desk—and Clark's.
Clark looked up and smiled. "Morning, Lois." His eyes took in her appearance and a look of appreciation crossed his face. "You look nice today."
Lois's heart put in a couple extra thumps. She glanced down at her sleek white blouse and long black skirt—the outfit she'd uncharacteristically spent so much time picking out that morning—and gave him a slightly nervous smile in return.
"Oh, um, thanks, Clark," she stammered, suddenly feeling shy. She sensed that Clark had picked up on her unusual behavior, which made her even more nervous. She was never shy, especially around him. But she couldn't help it. Her feelings were changing toward him, and she didn't exactly know how to change her actions to go along with them.
"Lois, Clark!" Perry's voice boomed out across the bullpen, and Lois forced herself to put her jitteriness aside. It sounded like there was work to be done.
Thankfully, their work kept Lois and Clark busy the entire morning, which thankfully helped Lois's nerves. But every time she glanced up at Clark, she'd catch him looking at her in confusion, as if he couldn't figure out why she was acting so strangely. Each time she'd force her gaze away, knowing she didn't have an explanation for her strange behavior. Not yet, anyway.
At lunchtime, Clark suggested they go out to eat at their favorite cafe. Lois was starving since her jittery stomach hadn't been able to handle any breakfast that morning, so she readily agreed—even if it meant the possibility of being confronted by her confused partner.
Lunch was mostly a quiet affair as Lois concentrated on her lunch, and Lois could tell Clark was almost at the end of his patience. His glances toward her became more frequent, and he finally sighed as the waitress handed them their bill.
"Lois, out with it. What's bothering you? Are you still upset about the whole pet bet thing? Did I say something last night that upset you? Did I—?"
Lois smiled. He was so sweet. The moment she seemed distant, Clark immediately thought it was something he did to make her act that way. He was always thinking about her, always concerned for her. He obviously loved her very much. Why hadn't she seen it before? She was very lucky to have a man like him in her life.
Meeting his gaze openly for the first time all morning, she smiled and reached for his hand. He seemed surprised by her gesture, but after a moment he smiled back and gave her hand a squeeze. That was all the encouragement Lois needed.
"May I clear your plates for you?"
Lois looked up to see a busboy standing at their table with a tub of dishes he was clearing. Then she glanced back at Clark and saw that he was clearly frustrated with the interruption. Lois nodded at the busboy, then gave Clark's hand a squeeze before sliding out of the booth and standing up.
"Let's continue this outside, shall we?" she said to Clark, who nodded eagerly.
She excused herself to the ladies' room, and Clark told her he'd pay the check and meet her out front. Once in the ladies' room, it took Lois a few minutes to compose herself and give herself a pep talk. Clark was an amazing man. She'd be crazy not to tell him how she felt, especially when he obviously loved her as much as he did. It made her both excited and nervous, though, knowing that the course of the next few minutes would likely change the rest of her life.
Finally feeling brave enough to face Clark again, she smoothed her hand along the front of her skirt, ran her fingers through the ends of her hair, and quickly checked her makeup. Then she headed out of the restaurant. Clark was waiting for her outside just as he said he would be, and she smiled up at him. He smiled back, and the butterflies in her stomach immediately started in again.
She'd never really taken the time to study Clark's face before, so open and honest, but now she found herself doing just that. She realized she loved the way the corners of his lips curved up at the corners when he smiled, or the way his eyes sparkled when his smile reached clear into his eyes. She also couldn't help noticing the little mole over his upper lip, or the way his lips suddenly looked very full and appealing.
Feeling suddenly nervous, Lois once again ran her hand down the smooth silk of her blouse, and Clark caught her movement. He glanced down at her hands, then his expression quickly changed. He grasped her arm and pulled her a couple of steps away from the restaurant's entrance, away from the crowds on the sidewalk.
When Lois looked up at him questioningly, Clark leaned down and whispered discreetly, "Lois, you have a button on your blouse that's undone."
Lois's gaze quickly shifted to her blouse and noticed one of the buttons near the top had come undone. Feeling a little embarrassed, she quickly reached for her button and looked around to see if anyone had noticed. Being the awesome friend that he was, Clark took a step closer to her to discreetly shield her actions from the other passersby while she fumbled with her buttons.
Lois's heart thumped crazily at his nearness. She found herself subconsciously breathing in the smell of his cologne. She'd always loved the smell, but suddenly it was her new favorite smell in the whole world.
She finished with her buttons, but she remained where she was, enjoying the feeling of being loved and protected. She watched him glance left and then right, making sure nobody could see her. That one simple action made her think back to all the little things he had done for her over the years, the same little things that, if she had only taken the time to notice, would have told her long ago of his feelings for her.
Just the night before he had said someone loved her for who she was. In that moment, there was no question in her mind who that someone was. Feeling an unfamiliar stirring in her heart for her best friend, she smiled slowly at him as he glanced discreetly in her direction to see if she was done.
"Okay?" he asked quietly.
She nodded. "Yep, I'm good. Thanks."
He smiled tenderly. "Anytime, Lois."
Their eyes met and held, and the air around them seemed charged with chemistry. Lois recognized this feeling from a Christmas not long ago. She'd let the magic of the moment escape her then, but she wasn't about to let it go now. Giving in to an impulse, Lois reached up, cradled his face in her hands, and kissed him firmly but gently as if were the most natural thing in the world to do. Clark seemed stunned, but then his lips softened and they moved gently over hers in sweet response.
When they finally pulled away, a delicious sigh escaped Clark's lips. His eyelids remained closed for several moments later, then flickered open cautiously, as if he were afraid that if he opened his eyes, he'd realized he'd been dreaming. When she was still there, standing before him, a happy smile slowly spread across his face. "What was that for?" he asked breathlessly.
Lois couldn't help smiling back. "That was for all the sweet things you do for me every day. The way you discreetly tell me my blouse is undone and then make sure no one sees as I fix it, the way you bring me my favorite donut from the box in the morning, the way you always give me that look of yours before I can put my foot in my mouth or make a fool of myself… You have always treated my concerns as if they were your own, and that means so much to me." She paused. "And you know how you said last night that there was somebody you knew that loved me for who I am?"
Clark nodded, a look of hope lighting up his eyes.
"Well, I'm beginning to feel the same way." Then, with a wink, she turned and walked away, her long skirt swishing seductively around her legs.
Clark watched her for a moment, his heart hammering in his chest. She was beginning to feel the same way. Unbelievable. The earth could stop right now and he could die a happy man. He was a very, very lucky man.
With his heart as light as his feet, he hurried to catch up with her, their eyes meeting as he fell into step with her. Unable to stop himself, he started up his end of their usual bantering. "Okay, I have to say something here," he began. "In case it's me who you're talking about, I thought you should know, I hope you're not planning on treating me like your electronic pets."
Lois giggled. "You mean you don't want to be suffocated, starved, sent running into the street to get run over by a car, or even hurled against a wall?"
Clark grinned. "Something like that."
"I'll do my best."
"In that case, I am in trouble."
Lois elbowed Clark in the side, causing his laughter to mingle with hers. He nudged his shoulder against hers affectionately. "Seriously, you don't need to worry about me. I'm hardier than you think. Unlike those pets or plants of yours, it's going to be pretty hard to send me to my death."
"Oh?" She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Yes, but that's something we can talk about later."
Lois smiled at him and shrugged. "Whatever you say, Clark." As they continued to walk, she reached for his hand and immediately felt a jolt of electricity pass between them as he laced his fingers through hers. For once, Lois let herself relax and revel in the glow of newly found love.
Feeling happier than she'd been in a long time, she squeezed his hand. "This is going to work out perfectly, don't you think?"
Clark winked as they walked through the Planet's revolving door. "I don't think, Lois, I know. Trust me. It's going to be super."