By Missy Gallant < email@example.com >
Submitted: January 2004
Summary: In this final story in the "Strangers" series, Lois struggles with a choice between her friendship with Kal and her physical attraction to Clark. After Kal and Lois share their first kiss, the dilemma becomes even more complicated. Could Lois actually be in love with two men at the same time?
There are so many things I need to say now that we've come to the last story in the Strangers series. This whole series has come about because I needed to rewrite the very first story I'd ever written — 'When Two Hearts Collide'. I was new to L&C fanfic in January 2000, and like a lot of newcomers, decided to write my first story. I had never written a word of fiction since college, and it was my first attempt at writing *anything* in twenty years.
After writing several sections over a period of a couple months, through the comments and tutelage of the readers and my new beta- readers, I decided I needed to rewrite the story. A simple two-page introduction, turned into the first story, "Strangers", and rewriting the original story had become a challenge to me. I wanted to include as much of the original story as I could. Throughout the whole series, there are bit and pieces of the original story. I saved what I could, and scraped the rest.
But the reason this story, Kissing Friends, is so special to me is that it contains the scene I had written — in frustration from writing too much A-plot — which prompted me to start over. This scene has been through many edits and changes, but the premise remains the same — Kal and Lois' first kiss.
It had been almost four years since beginning this series and I'm so satisfied to have finally completed it after all this time.
I'd like to thank my beta readers and sometimes co-conspirators, Carol Moncado, Meredith Knight, Marnie Rowe, and Avia Titkosky for their support, ideas, and friendship.
Most of all, I want to thank the readers for sticking with me for four years as I played around with this universe — THANK YOU!!!!
Lois Lane slammed the receiver down on its cradle and grumbled to herself — another dead-end lead. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a couple of new interns speeding up as they passed by her desk. Yes! Her reputation of Mad Dog Lane was still preceding her.
After he had talked to her old editor in California, Perry had proudly let it slip a few days after Lois had started that she had been dubbed 'Mad Dog Lane' at her previous newspaper, and it had made the circuit around the newsroom like wildfire. She suspected that the gruff old editor had done it to help her cause after the fiasco of her first morning at the Planet. Now months later, she secretly enjoyed living up to that notoriety. She could avoid Clark like the plague and have a good excuse to be grumpy, not only to him, but everyone else she came into contact with. A good offense was far better than having to come up with a weak, on-the-spot defense.
Yet, it was rather lonely, she admitted to herself, even if she was climbing her way up to the top of the food chain at the Daily Planet. The idealistic dreams she'd had the first day she'd started, both personal and professional, had been dashed when Cat Grant had dredged up the past and assumed that she was sleeping with another top reporter. If the unknown truth had been revealed instead of being covered up — that she *had* almost slept with Clark the night of their rescue — then she would have probably moved on again to another newspaper, another town. She didn't think her reputation could take another hard hit.
But as it stood, it was only an allegation, one in which the fires had been doused in the days following the fiasco. The strain between her and Clark had been practically tangible, but it had taken care of the gossipmongers. A lot of hidden sexual tension thrown in with a good dose of manufactured hostility had everyone giving them both wide berths when they were seen in the same room.
Credit to Kent, she grimaced inwardly, that he'd completely accepted all the responsibility for the risque position under the table that was captured on film the night of the White Orchid ball. He had used some silly excuse, like she had been helping him find his glasses under the table and had rebuffed his advances. The staff didn't believe a word of it, she was sure; she was the newcomer at the time, and Clark was the conquering hero. Still, it was a nice gesture on his part to try to protect her, not that she'd ever let him know that.
The worse of it all was that she was still completely and hopelessly in love with Clark, and seeing him everyday was bittersweet. It was too late to turn back the hands of time. Clark had not wanted anything to do with her since their breakup. They had agreed to keep their distance, and he had done just that. Aloofness had turned to almost hostility, and whether that stemmed from being bitter after all this time, she didn't know. In the beginning, all she had to do was give him the word, and he would be there for her. But now, so much time had passed by that she wasn't sure he even *liked* her anymore much less the unfinished 'I love you's' that he tried to tell her a couple of times.
Now, it was only wishful thinking to want more. She'd lain awake many nights dreaming of being in his arms again, of tasting his lips and feeling his hard male body as it lowered down onto hers, but she didn't even have the satisfaction of having completed the act of love. She had been a tease and a disappointment to Clark by throwing herself at him that night.
She had fallen asleep on his chest as he was trying to tell her something, probably an attempt to let her down gently. She did recall that he mentioned that things had been happening too fast between them and that they needed to slow down and talk. If she closed her eyes and allowed herself to remember, she could feel his warm skin next to hers and the soft vibrations coming deep from his body as she drifted off to sleep.
No, she shook herself mentally; permitting herself to think about what could have been between them was too hard. The first month after they'd parted, she'd picked up the phone to call him several times but couldn't go through with it. She didn't think she could bear to hear him turn her away.
It was all her fault anyway. If she hadn't tucked her tail between her legs and run away from her problems, then maybe she would have had the courage to fight for what they had. But then again, she'd still be working for that rag.
When she'd worked at the Metropolis Star well over a year ago, she'd been on the verge of breaking the biggest story of her young career. But a handsome French star reporter named Claude had caught her attention, and she had fallen in love with him right away. The night she'd asked his advice on her story, they had ended up in bed together. The next morning, Claude and her prize-winning story had been gone.
A confrontation in the newsroom added insult to injury when Cat Grant was found hanging smugly on the arm of Claude the next day. In front of the whole newsroom of dirt diggers and half-honest journalists, Claude accused her of trying to steal *her* story by luring him into bed. No one believed her, so she had left town only to return a few months later to try her luck in Metropolis again.
This time she needed to prove to herself and the world that she could make it on her own, that she didn't need to be associated with anyone in order to make it at the Daily Planet. Associating herself with the paper's top journalist wasn't going to do either of them any favors. After all, *she* knew that she was going to be the better reporter out of the two of them. The rest of the world just needed to catch up to the obvious truth.
In addition to starting her dream job at the Daily Planet, the thought of trying to handle a romance was enough to send her running to the hills. It simply terrified her. So she had made the only decision she could at the time. In spite of their blossoming relationship *and* falling in love with Clark, she'd broken up with him.
Thank God that Kal's friendship had been there to help keep her grounded through all this turmoil and trying times. They had established a routine over the past few months — videos and pizza at least three times a week. She'd order the pizza, he would pick up the videos, and they would settle in for an evening of easy companionship. They both drew from each other to help them cope with their real lives.
Kal often came to her after a particularly difficult rescue. She would listen and help bear the load of his not being able to be everywhere all the time for everyone. His heart was so big, she mused with a tiny smile. He wanted so badly to help everyone that he failed to look past the ones he couldn't rescue to see all the good and lives that he'd saved since becoming Superman.
But, she admitted, he was getting better about not taking things so hard. She just needed to continue to work on him in that area.
The elevator doors opened behind her, and Lois sucked in her breath in anticipation.
Clark had arrived.
Out of self-defense, she had strategically placed a mirrored picture frame on her desk in order to see who was arriving in the newsroom without having to turn around. Clark had crept up on her unexpectedly in the past, and she'd been caught off guard too many times for her own good. Her composure had almost been shattered by suddenly seeing those broad shoulders and handsome face unexpectedly, and she needed to be prepared in the future. So she used the picture frame as a rearview mirror, and the problem was solved.
There he was, walking towards his desk and *her*. Even in the distorted picture that the mirrored frame offered her, her heart skipped a beat at the sight of him. Must his every movement remind her of his sexual attractiveness? Whimpering almost inaudibly, she bit her knuckle until he moved out of view.
There was just enough time to steady herself, then he should appear in her peripheral vision. By that time, her composure should be intact, and she'd be prepared for the full impact of his presence. You would think that seeing him practically everyday for months would lessen the effect he had on her, but it was getting worse. She loved the big lunkhead and didn't know what to do about the huge emptiness left inside since their heart-breaking parting of ways.
A shadow fell across her desk, following by a slight coughing sound, and Lois looked to see Clark shifting uneasily in front of her.
Her only acknowledgement of his presence was a cold stare.
"I ran into Perry in the lobby. He's on his way up, and he wants us both in his office when he gets here," Clark said, squirming.
"What does he want? Can't he see us separately?" She ripped the words out impatiently, trying to cover up the flurry of conflicting emotions racing through her.
"I mean, why? Are you his messenger boy? Not getting your job done, Kent?"
He rolled his eyes in frustration. "Fine! I gave you the message. Now deal with it!" Clark grumbled as he turned away.
"Fine!" Papers suddenly appeared to be out of order as she shuffled them in desperation. <That went well>, she sighed to herself. Clark moved out of her immediate sight but then she secretly watched as he headed for Perry's office. She knew that she needed to go wait with him — sometime. It must be something big if Perry was risking a volcano erupting in his office, but she wasn't going to give Clark the satisfaction of having ordered her around. A few minutes delay wasn't going to hurt anything.
Finally, she couldn't wait any longer, checked her appearance in the picture frame then pulled her chair away from her desk with determination. Being in the same room as Clark wasn't going to be easy, but she'd better get it over with.
Clark fidgeted as he tried to keep from watching the door to Perry's office. Lois was taking her sweet time in arriving, her stubbornness unrivaled at the Daily Planet. Or for that matter, unrivaled from anyone he'd ever known before.
It wasn't so much that he was upset with her as he was with himself. Things had gone so wrong; the spiral out of control had happened too quickly. Before he knew it, the situation was beyond repair, and Lois was telling him that she didn't want anything to do with him except what was necessary here at the office.
They'd managed to keep a wide berth around each other. Even though their desks were only ten feet apart, Clark had been careful to do his work elsewhere when she was working at hers. It was easier on both of them that way.
This was slowly killing him though. Day after day of seeing Lois, wanting so badly to hold her in his arms, to just touch her, and not being able to was nearly impossible. The only thing keeping him sane was his friendship with her as Kal. He'd like to believe that it had come to mean as much to her as it did to him. She was a totally different person when he was with her as Kal, relaxed and completely at ease in his company. They teased and joked with each other on a regular basis — he completely enjoyed being with her in that capacity.
But, as Kal, he had withdrawn from her physically, no longer initiated simple contact. In the first few days of their friendship, there had been more casual touching between them. Now he was afraid that it would become too hard for him to keep up the pretense, or that Lois would recognize his touch as being Clark's.
It killed him to have to do that, but he knew in his heart that if he didn't control himself then it could all be over in a flash and he'd be without her completely.
Perry had seemed very mysterious when he'd run into him down in the lobby. From his insistent instructions that he gather Lois and wait in his office, he had assumed that the matter was urgent and that his boss would be along shortly. It had been five minutes, and neither Lois nor Perry was bothering to hurry.
The door opened swiftly. Lois stared at him for a half a second, and then with a silent humph, sat down in the furthest chair from him.
Two feet away.
It was the only other chair in the room besides Perry's leather desk chair.
Lois folded her arms tightly across her lap and stared at the wall away from her colleague, pretending to read a framed Elvis article that she had no interest in. Hearing Clark shift in his chair restlessly, she focused in on the article in an attempt to distract herself from the cosmic debris that he was sending her way.
He didn't have to say a word; the silence crackled louder than any frustrated sigh or fidgeting movements. She tried to fill her head with the mindless diversion of empty words from Perry's shrine to Elvis. The title of the song 'Love Me Tender' popped out at her, and she was instantly reminded of the ending words of the song. 'For my darlin', I love you, and I always will.'
She blinked hard at the disturbing thought of the night that she realized she first loved Clark. Yes, she loved Clark and always would. He had certainly 'loved her tenderly' that night. It was the most precious memory she carried with her, a memory that was so sweet, yet extremely difficult to deal with.
Omigosh! She felt her invulnerability lowering its defenses and couldn't help but steal a quick look at Clark. Faint, raw hurt glittered briefly in his dark eyes as she met his glance and held it for the shortest of seconds before he turned away. Shock encased her heart. What was he upset about? He was the one who always had acted so indifferent to her. Probably didn't mean a word when he said he'd wait until she was ready to resume their relationship. His kiss goodbye had been very sweet and almost caused her to change her mind. Except for that, he hadn't protested very much when she told him they couldn't see each other anymore. If she meant that much to him, why hadn't he made more of an effort to work things out? And now he had the gall to look hurt?
She sighed and turned away from him once more. Where in the world was Perry?
Clark began unknowingly tapping his pencil on the arm of his chair. This silence was driving him nuts. He could hear her heartbeat pounding loudly in the room and was having a hard time turning off his hearing so he could ignore it. Yes, she was still mad at him. It was pounding as loud as he'd ever heard it and once every few seconds she'd let out a short quick breath of frustration. For the hundredth time, he chastised himself; he should have known better than to get involved with Lois before she was really ready and especially before she knew who he was.
He had known she'd been running from something in her past, and now he was the most recent cause of her embarrassment and pain. He had ignored her plea to remain friends as Kal in favor of a brief fling with her as Clark. It wasn't a brief *anything* in his mind. He loved her with all of his heart but was now reaping the consequences of his actions: Lois was never going to speak civilly to him again.
The door opened suddenly. Perry White appeared for an instant, bellowed briefly at the rest of the staff to stop peeking in the window of his office, then closed the door with a resounding thunk. The two reporters jumped to their feet.
"Before you two start using this for an OK Corral shootout, I've got some things I'd like to say to both of you."
Lois opened her mouth to protest, but Perry held a warning finger up to silence her. "Both of you have been feuding in my newsroom since day one, and I haven't said a single word until now. Good competition between reporters is not a bad thing most of the time; it keeps the quality up. I've let you go, hoping you would work things out. Now we have a situation where I need to know if you two can be on your best behavior, and I need your promise that there won't be a scene."
"Not a problem for me, Perry," Clark said calmly, but silently panicking inside. No telling what situation they were going to be thrown into.
"Perry, I don't think that Kent…" she injected at the same time as Clark. "Fine! What is it?"
"I've nominated the story that you two did on the bust-up of Luthor's drug ring and his downfall as mayor to the Kerth awards, and it made the short list. I think it has a damn good chance of sweeping the awards, but I want to know if there is going to be a problem with you two over this."
"Kerth award?" she asked surprised and turned to Clark. "We're nominated for a Kerth?"
Lois flung herself into his arms in a spontaneous embrace.
Clark looked back at her as an elated grin slowly crept up on his face. "I told you we were good together." The words were hardly out of his mouth before he registered their double meaning and was met with an icy glare from Lois.
She dropped her arms in shock, cursing herself silently for the slip in her armor, and also Clark for bringing back the thrill she felt at being in arms one more time.
Clark turned to Perry, trying to will his emotions back into order once again, wondering if the brief letdown of Lois' guard was a sign that it wasn't as strong as she had led him to believe.
Perry watched the exchange in amusement, feeling very pleased. Just maybe there was a chance after all for those two. He'd just love to have the opportunity to see what kind of stories they'd put out together now that Lois was on her way to becoming a polished reporter. And those two kids weren't fooling him. They were so much in love with each other that they could barely see straight. He'd have to see what he could do to further help the situation.
Later that evening, the sun had just gone down as Clark hovered outside Lois' window. He was a bit hesitant to visit her tonight after the strange exchange in Perry's office but needed to reconnect with her as Kal. He peeked through the curtains and saw her sitting on the sofa. She was wearing an old robe, eating ice cream, and looking quite forlorn.
Clark knocked gently on the windowpane. Lois looked, and smiling, waved him in.
"Hey! What's with all this?" he asked gently. "Another sad movie? A bad day at the Planet?"
Lois regarded him for a second, then answered, "I'm bored. I'm bored and tired, Kal, and feel like I never have any fun." She sighed then took another scoop of ice cream. "Is this what my life is coming to?" Waving the spoon in the air, a couple of drops of ice cream flew off and landed on her cheek. Clark wiped them off with his index finger and stuck it in his mouth.
"You mean my little visits aren't cutting it any more? That *I'm* boring?" He knew that they always had a good time whenever they got together and Lois had told him on more than one occasion how much she enjoyed his visits. So it seemed fairly safe to tease her a bit to try to lighten her mood.
"Oh, Kal, no! You're definitely not boring, but maybe I'm getting tired of just movies and the same old pizza. I think we need a bit of variety."
"Variety? I can do variety. A song from Gershwin? How about some authentic Chinese or Italian? I can bring back…"
She cut him off. "Kal, that's exactly what I mean. I don't want to wait here while you fly off and do stuff. I want to go with you."
"Lois, you know the danger that presents. We're already taking risks by my coming here so frequently. You know how much I would love to take you, but…"
"You don't want to take the risk," she interrupted, finishing his sentence. "Kal, I face danger frequently in my job. I've gone up against some really nasty goons and criminals, and handling one more isn't going to matter much to me. And don't let me get started on taxi drivers! Besides, who says we're going to get caught? Just this one time."
Clark sighed and cocked a tentative eyebrow at her. He felt terrible about the way his relationship with her as Clark was going, and after today's scene in Perry's office, he was even more remorseful than ever. Maybe this was some way he could make up for being Clark.
He grinned at her and asked, "So what are you waiting for? Get dressed and let's go. I think that old robe is going to drag us down with air friction."
"Really? I can go?" She practically threw down the spoon on the coffee table in her haste to scramble to her feet. Ice cream splattered all over her magazines. "I know you've always been adamant about not being seen in a public place with me, but I just had to try."
Kal laughed at her while super speeding to rescue the ice cream bucket from rolling off the table. "Go on and I'll put this away."
Clark watched her scurry off to her bedroom, then ambled towards her kitchen. Lois had come a long way since the time they'd first met. He looked around her new apartment on Carter Street. She'd finally finished decorating, though some of the furniture was rather, well, rigid. Her mother had given her most of the furniture right after she'd moved in. It had been in storage for a couple of years since the last divorce her mother had from her father.
Of course, he'd teased her about the matching sofa and loveseat. They were harder than sitting on a cement bench, maybe not that hard, but pretty close.
He hadn't complained, but after sitting on them night after night watching movies and not getting very comfortable, he had his mother make Lois some throw pillows that at least lend the torturous devices a bit of comfort.
Lois appeared at his side, and he was taken aback upon seeing her. He could hardly recognize her. Her hair was stuffed inside a baseball cap, she wore old jeans and a loose fitting sweatshirt, but the clincher was the black mustache on her face.
She smiled broadly at him and twirled the ends of her mustache. "It's my new undercover disguise. I didn't want you having a fit every time we saw someone, and thought it would make you feel better if no one could recognize me."
"Looks great, but ah… er, I think my reputation will be raising a few eyebrows in the future, that is if you're seen with me looking like a guy."
"Just tell them I'm your adopted baby brother or your bookie. But if it makes you feel better, I'll stick the mustache in my pocket until we need it."
He gave her a half hug, then placing his hand in the small of her back, gently nudged her towards the partially opened window. "The night awaits, my lo… friend."
She turned to him and jumped into his arms. "Ready when you are! Hi ho, Super! Away!!"
Still chuckling, he took a small playful step off the edge, dropped a foot, then shot straight up in the air.
They flew east, and Lois enjoyed being able to fly with Kal once again. It had been too long since he'd taken her flying, and she'd forgotten how exhilarating it could be. After an hour had past and flying halfway around the world, they flew into a sunrise, very reminiscent of the first night they'd met.
As the colors brightened and the horizon began to glow, Clark slowed down to enjoy the beautiful picture blossoming in front of them.
"I'll never get over how beautiful this is." She looked up at Clark, and asked earnestly. "Do you ever take this for granted? You see this everyday."
"Nope. Ever since I've been able to fly, before I became Superman, I was always risking being seen when I flew. Now that I can fly freely without worrying about getting caught and losing what I worked so hard for in my real life, I treasure every time I can watch the sunrise or fly over Metropolis and see the city beneath me. I know that this is exactly where I belong and where I want to be. Sharing it with someone, my best friend, just makes it so much better."
His arms tightened around her slightly as he grinned down on her, "And being reminded of the time you made it possible for me to do all this is just icing on the cake." "I didn't do much, just pointed out the obvious. I'm so glad we're taking the long way around the world."
They flew in silence until Clark began his descent and landed in some woods. Lois straightened out her clothing, and they walked a short way out into a small town in California.
Clark escorted her into Chubb's Barbeque. Lois had put her mustache back on before entering the establishment. A few people threw glances their way, but soon the crowd basically ignored him.
"I come here a lot, so I'm almost part of the furniture around here. Best, sloppiest ribs anywhere. I thought in your disguise, you'd fit right in."
"People don't bother you here? I would think this would be a magnet for tabloid scum and bottom-feeders."
"I rescued the owner's wife once from driving over a cliff. He's assured me that anyone who is not a regular will be watched very carefully."
"So does this mean I can get sauce on my face?"
"Most definitely, but it might ruin your mustache."
"Eh, I'll take my chances," she smirked at him.
After a very filling and messy dinner, the trip back to Metropolis was another leisurely one, though much shorter. Clark stopped for a few minutes to rescue a man about to jump off a bridge. He'd set Lois down on a wide girder, and she watched in admiration as he talked the person down off his precarious perch. The man had lost his wife and was grieving, but Kal had given him hope and promised that he'd stop in to see him on occasion to find out how he was doing.
After a brief flight to take the man back to visit with his grown children, he sat next to Lois on the girder and bumped her shoulder lightly.
"Hope you didn't mind the side trip, but I had to stop."
"You were wonderful. It sounded like you knew what it was like to lose someone you cared for. Is that from experience?"
Clark shrugged his shoulders. "It doesn't really matter."
Of course Lois wasn't about to let it go. "Was it a past relationship?"
"Lois." He sighed knowing that he'd better give her a satisfactory answer, or she'd bug him relentlessly. "No, I don't have any past relationship that's worth mentioning."
Technically, Lois was still his best friend, and he considered friendship an important part of a relationship. It was just that she didn't realize she couldn't stand his real identity. But in a way, Superman was the side of himself that was more real now, at least when he was with Lois.
"I've gotten to the point where I don't know if I'm ever going to find that special someone. I mean, what if she's out there, and by some turn of fate we never meet, she doesn't like me, or can't stand the alien part of myself?" <or human side,> Clark thought bleakly.
"I seriously doubt that, Kal. You almost sound like you're going through that now. And knock it off about the alien stuff! Do you want to talk about it? Is this a present relationship?"
His back stiffened in response as the old tendrils of resentment stirred from their slumber. He'd long stuffed away his feelings of rejection and anger from Lois' complete dismissal of him as Clark. He never understood the absolute turnaround of her attitude towards him since they had decided to part amicably. Although it disturbed him greatly, he'd chosen to ignore his feelings in favor of his friendship with her as Kal. Now she was asking him to dredge up those emotions without even realizing it was her that he was feeling them for.
"Lois, we agreed to not talk about our real lives. Can we just let this go? Come on. Let's go flying."
Lois sighed. He wasn't going to talk. Guess flying wasn't too bad of a consolation prize. She'd get it out of him someway — just wait and see.
The next day at the Daily Planet, Clark was working on his latest Superman rescue article when he felt he wasn't alone any longer. He looked up to identify his visitor and was greatly surprised to see Lois perched tentatively on the edge of his desk. She had a worried look on her face and was chewing on the end of a pencil. This was the first time since she had begun working at the Daily Planet that she'd approached him in such a casual manner. Yet, in order to avoid eruption of Mount St. Lois, he choose to let her speak first.
He waited expectantly for what seemed like hours until she finally spoke.
"You've had Kerths before, right?"
"Yes, I have a couple of them."
"So this is my first one. I don't know what to expect."
"Well, if you win, you go up on stage, say a little speech and accept your award. Nothing to it."
"I'm not talking about the actual award ceremony. What about afterwards?"
"You go home."
"Clark! You really were born in a barn, weren't you? I'm talking about custody." She scooted up further onto his desk and frowned. "You've had them before. You're an old hand at this sort of thing. The first one is special."
"You're nervous, aren't you?" Clark stated amusedly, allowing a bit of a smile to play on his lips. At her half glare, he willed himself to play it straight. He wasn't about to risk their first civil conversation in months by antagonizing her, plus he was very curious to hear what was on her mind.
"One more to your collection is not going to mean as much to you. It'll just be another thing for you to dust," she stated matter-of-factly.
"How can you say it wouldn't mean anything to me? We risked a lot and worked hard for this one. In spite of what you think, if we win this award, I'll be extremely happy."
"So you don't want to give it up? I think I should keep it, for the most part."
Clark was beginning to see what she was getting at. She hadn't come over to share in their possible victory, but to weasel the award out of him. It would be the Kerth to mean the most to him, after all, he had been partnered with Lois. He wasn't about to let it go.
"I think we should share it. One of us shouldn't have exclusive rights to something that we created together. Like you said before, I think we should share…" he said blankly, "custody."
She pondered for a second, then stared pointedly at him. "Since you have so many, how about I get it ten months out of the year, and you get it two?"
"How about equal timeshare? You get six months and I get six months. If I'm feeling generous, you can have it on holidays."
Lois frowned. Guardianship rights over her first award wasn't something that she had bargained for. But Clark was right; it was his also. Too bad they had made a mistake and gotten tangled up together in the story that was nominated. It would be so much easier if he would just give in and bow out of it altogether.
"Okay. Six months a piece, but I want visitation rights. Once a month when it's in your care. One night a month, you bring it here and I'll take it home."
"Uh, uh! I don't think we should expose our award to the prying eyes of the Daily Planet. If you want visitation, then you visit it at my apartment."
"If you're going to play it that way, then I want Kerth support. Awardimony!"
"What are you talking about, Lois?"
"You know, money for upkeep. We have to provide it with proper things: lighting, a decent cabinet to house it, and cleaning supplies."
"Lois, the award's not even here yet, and we're already fighting over it. Can we give it a rest? Tell you what, *if* we win, you can take it home first."
"What do you mean *if* we win, of course we're going to win. And there was no question about who was going to take it home in the first place," she retorted as she slid off his desk.
"We'll see, Lois."
Lois returned to her desk disappointed in the way her conversation with Clark had ended. She hadn't meant to sound as irritable as she had come across. Now she had Clark on the defensive against her, and he thought she was only interested in the Kerth Award. Of course the Kerth had been a valid concern, but it was not her intention to further alienate him when she had decided to visit.
Now all she had to do was to figure out if she still had a chance with Clark. Or even more complicated, figure out if she was ready to be in a relationship. Sure, she thought that she could possibly handle things now, but when it actually came down to committing to a relationship, a real relationship where she was genuinely in love with someone…
She wasn't sure if she could do it.
She strongly suspected that he had been having second thoughts about their budding relationship, even though he'd said that he would wait until she was ready. Since so much time had gone by, it was hard to tell what had been fabricated in her mind and what had actually happened.
Why would he cut short their lovemaking if things had been going so well between them? Unless he was disappointed in *her*, especially at her skills as a lover. In any case, he had stopped them from making love that night. Why would he have done that if he honestly desired her? Wasn't that what all men wanted?
Maybe what Claude had said about her was correct — that she was a disappointment in bed and a lousy lover. Clark didn't need to complete the act to know that it was true. He was simply sparing her the heartache of having to face her everyday knowing that he'd rejected her afterwards. A true gentlemen — unselfish and always thinking about her even if he didn't want her in that sense.
Most men would have taken the opportunity and slept with, and then dumped her, but of course Clark wasn't most men. He had proven himself to her time and time again, even in the gentle letdown that night. He had simply held her and comforted her in the sweetest way possible. She'd felt loved and cherished if only for one fleeting night, and he never meant a single kiss.
Well, maybe he'd felt *something*, but it was nothing like what she had felt. Men usually thought with another part of their anatomy, not that she assumed that Clark had; he had been the most considerate man she had ever kissed. For a while she had been fooled in to thinking that he cared for her the way she did for him, and *that* had been her biggest mistake. She'd even convinced herself that the lovely roses he'd sent the day they had broken up were a token of pity — simply a way to make up for her inadequacies.
In retrospect, those thoughts had been in self-defense; it was simply a way for her to get on with her life. Recently, mostly late at night, she'd been allowing her thoughts to go over all that had happened between them. But it only left her with a lot of questions. Questions that she was beginning to need answers to.
Even if he didn't think she was lacking in the love skills department, what about after the kissing was over? What about the in-between times? Would she balk and run away again? Granted that she had stuck around Metropolis to become a reporter, but looking back, she had left just the same. She'd turned tail and had run away from the man she loved.
How could she ever approach him to let him know that she still loved him? And how could she ever get up enough nerve to ask him about why he stopped making love that night? Her actions were so contrary to how she truly felt; it was something she couldn't help. Her defense mode kicked in whenever she even contemplated talking to him or thought about a reconciliation.
So what was her first step? She smiled as she thought of an idea.
Maybe Kal could help her with it.
They were lounging on the couch together watching a video late that night when Lois shut the television set off and turned to Kal.
"Kal, we know each other pretty well now, don't we?" Lois asked hesitantly. "I mean, I feel I can ask you something, and I know you wouldn't take it the wrong way. Friends do things for each other, right?"
"Sure, Lois," Clark said, wondering where she was leading him.
"If I had a problem, you'd help me with it, right?" she persisted.
"You know I would, if I could." He could hear the wheels turning in her head, and it scared him.
"First, let me ask you a question. Am I kissable?"
Clark shot her a shocked look as she continued to thumb through a magazine.
"It says here in the Metropolitan Woman's Magazine that in order to be kissable, one of the qualities you must have are full and shapely lips." She studied his reaction as she pursed her lips and waggled them at him.
His eyes grew as round as saucers and he gulped, "They look fine to me."
She turned her attention back to the article. "One of the worst features to have is 'lizard lips', the dry, crunchy, scaly kind that gives you paper cuts if you rub them the wrong way."
"I know it sounds gross, but you know like in the wintertime, you see people whose lips look as if they're going to split wide open if they smile. I think I'm safe from having those."
"No Lizard Lips Lane in here," Clark grinned at her, but was still on guard as to what was going through her head.
"The best kisses are those that are memorable, but leave you *pantingly* wanting more," she read, emphasizing the text. "The language of a kiss is communication without words. At various times you want to communicate attraction, affection, love, passion, lust, and 'I'll miss you, baby'." She scrunched up her face and continued. "Pay attention to what your mate responds to, and what seems to turn him or her off, then adjust your techniques accordingly."
"Why are you reading this? Does this have anything to do with that favor you mentioned a few minutes ago?"
"Sort of. There's a man I know. I'm so attracted to him that I can hardly stand it. I even think my feelings have gone to a deeper level, but when I'm around him, I just freeze up and shut him out. I can't let him know how I feel. It's like there's a force field holding me back from responding to him."
"Why, Lois?" Clark answered uncomfortably as his heart fell hard at her revelation of being attracted to someone else.
"Somebody told me I was incapable of responding to a man, of feeling passion. I think he might be right?"
"What? That's ridiculous. Who would say such a terrible thing?" His cheeks began to flush as he remembered the one night they almost made love.
"A man I was involved with over a year and a half ago, in fact the only man I've ever… slept with." She wrung her hands nervously. "He said I was — it still hurts to say it — a cold fish."
"Oh, Lois! You don't believe him, do you? You're the most impassioned person I know in whatever you do. I know we don't give a lot of details about our lives, but I know you, Lois, and anyone who you love is very fortunate…" Clark stopped, thinking if he continued he'd let everything slip.
"Maybe it *is* true, Kal. I thought I loved this man, this jerk, but… I think there's something wrong with me. But that's what I wanted to ask you. I know we're just friends, and this is embarrassing to say so, but kissing a pillow is not cutting it anymore. I know you won't read anything more into this, so could I practice on you? If I close my eyes and pretend you're him, would you be my guinea pig? You could let me know if I was doing something wrong or awkward."
"Lois, I don't know," Clark teased. "You know if a man suggested something like this it, it would come across as a big, pick-up line." Although he smiled at her, he was not sure if he could pull off what she was suggesting because she might find out how he truly felt about her *and* that he was Clark.
"Believe me, this is not a ploy to kiss Superman, though I'm sure you get a lot of those. But seriously, you never answered me that night when we went flying. Was or is there anyone in your private life you love but can't be with for one reason or another?"
<She's sitting right next to me.> he thought, as he shifted uncomfortably on his seat.
At the sudden sadness in his eyes, she said pleadingly, "See, I knew it! I thought there might be someone; it's in your eyes now. Who is she?"
"Somebody who wishes I weren't around," he said somberly, realizing he couldn't get away this time.
"Oh, you poor baby!" Lois commiserated. "What's her problem? Does she know you're Superman?"
<Proceed carefully, Kent.> "No. She doesn't know I'm Superman. She hardly knows I exist. I thought we might have a chance at first, but all of a sudden she changed her mind. I don't know what happened." He hoped that was sketchy enough; he couldn't give too many details.
"Is she someone you work with? It has to be. You're always here with me when you're not out… " She gestured the flying signal with her hand. "What does she do?"
<Oh, no! Don't go there, Lois!> "You wouldn't be trying to find out who I am again?" He grinned, trying to throw her off the subject while reaching for a cold piece of pizza. "Have you changed your mind?"
"I have to admit that I'm getting curious again. Your disguise must be great if that woman doesn't know that *Superman* is in love with her," she pondered.
<You have no idea, sweetheart.> "My mom says it's really good."
"Either that, or she's galactically stupid," she persisted.
Clark almost choked on his food. If she ever found out the truth, she'd kill him. This conversation was getting too dangerous. She was beginning to get interested in his identity again. It was still too soon.
"I wouldn't say that she's stupid, just… focused in other areas." Although he didn't want to know, he had to swing the conversation. "So what about your, um, interest? What is he like?"
"Are you sure you want to hear this? We might be here for a while. For starters, he's got a great body; maybe built… hmmm, slightly larger than yourself, and he's just gorgeous." She noticed Kal squirming a bit but didn't care. It was fun to see the big guy embarrassed once in a while. "He has the kindest heart I've ever met, one of those people who'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it."
She sighed in remembrance of Clark's well-defined chest when they were trapped in the old freezer. "He's very intelligent, moral and a good person, though being a moral person is highly overrated in my opinion. I think you'd get along very well with him if you ever met."
<In a pig's eye,> Clark thought. "So is he interested in you?"
"No, like I said before, I broke up with him; now he doesn't give me the time of day. I blew it with him; it's all my fault," she said regretfully.
"Lois, it's never all one person's fault, and if this guy is as intelligent as you say he is, he'll notice you." He stopped talking. It was becoming too hard to listen to Lois gush about this other man, yet there was something very familiar about her description.
"So will you do it?" she asked.
"Do what?" Clark said blankly.
"Kiss me, you lunkhead! We've been talking about it for the past few minutes."
"Oh. Lois, are you sure this man is worth all this bother? Not that kissing you would be any trouble, but…" He sighed and shifted nervously. "I don't want to see you get hurt if it doesn't work out with him. You know I just want to protect you."
"I know, and that's very sweet of you; but Kal, I'm in love, for real this time," Lois moaned. "This guy is so easy to love. He has women practically falling all over him, and he doesn't know why. Why I even think I have a chance with him is beyond me, though I'd probably run away again if he ever showed any interest again. Don't do it for him; do it for me."
No, it couldn't be him that she was talking about. He didn't have women falling all over themselves. Had to be someone else, he thought grimly. This might be his only time to be close to her again the way he had been dreaming, the way he remembered, before this other man woke up and realized the best thing in his life was right in front of him.
"Okay. I'm not totally convinced, but if it will give you confidence." He suddenly frowned and asked worriedly, "What if this doesn't work? What if I make things worse for you? What if…"
"Will you be quiet for a second? Stop obsessing. You could never hurt me. I trust you."
He sighed in resignation. "How do you want to do this?"
"Thanks, Kal. I knew you would understand. You're the best friend I've ever had, a big teddy bear in tights." She patted his blue clad arm and laid her head briefly on his shoulder before continuing. "Let me close my eyes. Give me a few seconds, I need to picture him in my mind, then kiss me. Just pretend I'm her, just this once. Don't hold back, okay? I want a big, sloppy wet one. Maybe if I ever get a chance with my guy again, I won't feel so scared to show him how I feel."
At least she would be thinking *he* was pretending to kiss someone else. But the only pretending he would be doing would be thinking that Lois was really kissing him — Clark. She said not to hold back, and he intended not to disappoint her.
He watched her face as Lois closed her eyes and settled forward in her seat toward him. <She is so beautiful,> he sighed inwardly. He observed how her eyelashes lay quivering on her face as she conjured up this other man's presence, a secret smile playing on her lips. Whoever this guy was, he hoped he realized how lucky he was. She heaved a tiny little sigh as he watched her daydream about this mystery man.
How he wished she would open her eyes and look at him the way she was obviously gazing at this man in her mind's eye. <I've got to believe she's thinking about me.> He threw all other thoughts out of his head and captured how creamy her skin looked, how the delicate muscles in her long neck played against each other as she lifted her head in anticipation of the kiss. How much he longed to bury his face in her silky hair, and how inviting her soft lips were. His eyes closed as he leaned forward to meet them.
When Lois shut her eyes, she filled her mind of Clark. Of Clark's intoxicating presence as he stood over her at her desk, his devastating, kind smile and that silly lock of hair that she longed to brush off his forehead. Of him thoughtfully holding her as she fell asleep lying skin to skin on his chest. A gentle hand on her face as he kissed her passionately in his apartment.
She felt soft lips on her own, tentatively at first, then more firmly as she responded and began to kiss him back. As the kiss deepened, her senses swirled. She felt a strong arm circle around her back and a warm hand caress her face on its way to entangling itself in her hair. <Just like I remembered Clark's kiss to be>, she thought dreamily as she allowed her hands to encircle his neck as she pressed herself closer.
They drew apart, and Lois opened her eyes to see that Kal still had his eyes closed. Just when did he become so incredibly handsome?
He still had his hand around the back of her head, and she felt herself being drawn toward him again. She involuntarily pulled in a deep breath as the need to kiss her best friend swept over her. This time Clark's face was replaced by Superman's in her head as she gave herself freely to the passion of his kiss. Her arm wound its way around his neck, and she pulled him closer.
Clark broke it off reluctantly when he realized Lois was gasping for air. He opened his eyes and saw the dazed look on her face. He panicked, "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"Oh no, Kal!" she said taking in a huge breath, surprised at the depth of her reaction to their most recent lip lock. "I don't have super lungs like you do, silly! Wow! You *didn't* hold back! Who taught you how to be such a good kisser?"
"Let's say I was inspired." He looked at her with his eyebrows raised, trying to cover how shaky he was feeling. The second kiss just happened; he hoped he hadn't cross over the line.
"She doesn't know what she's missing," she said, her breath refusing to become normal just yet. She had to keep up the conversation. It wouldn't do to let him know how he affected her, at least until this was sorted out in her head. "So how do I rate? At least I didn't poke you with my nose, or drool all over your face, or give you paper cuts. Or did I?"
"No, in fact you were pretty wonderful yourself," he assured her, covering her hand that was in her lap. "Do you still believe that trash about yourself? Can I take care of the guy who told you that? A couple of hours in a nice smelly dumpster would show him how real garbage lives."
"My hero." She squeezed his hand, noticing for the first time how strong, yet very gentle it was, just like the man it belonged to. "I don't know what to believe any more, but I know I felt something when we kissed." <In more ways than one, buster!> "If I can ever get my guy to notice me again, I hope I don't ruin it by freaking out. Thanks again, Kal, you're better than a shrink."
"I'll be sure to send you my bill," he joked reluctantly, feeling his heart break all over again at the thought of Lois kissing another man. "I'd better get going on my patrols. Can't have Metropolis slide into high crime."
"See you soon." She smiled warmly at him as he rose from the sofa.
He leaned over and placed his nightly good-bye kiss on her forehead, lingering longer than usual. "Good night, Lois. Take care."
"Good night, Kal. Have a safe flight." She grabbed a pillow — although she felt the unfamiliar desire to hold on to *him* again — clutched it to her chest, and settled back down into the couch with a dreamy dazed look on her face.
Clark hovered outside the window for a minute, trying to gather himself before his rounds. It was one the hardest things he had to do, leaving her tonight, but if he stayed much longer he was afraid he'd blurt out everything. Much to his surprise, he heard Lois whisper softly, "Oh, Clark! How I wish…"
Clark couldn't believe his ears. Was he hearing things? Why would Lois be speaking his name? Unless…no! There was no way that it could be possible.
His mouth dropped open as he considered the possibilities.
Lois watched the curtains flutter as Kal left, feeling confused over her new feelings for him. "Oh Clark! How I wish… <we were best friends like Kal and I.>
Best friends. Maybe that was it. This was just a freak coincidence that all of a sudden she had these strange feelings for Kal. Of course! She'd been having romantic notions for Clark, and they had transferred over to Kal.
It was that simple.
There was no other explanation for it.
Sighing, she rose from the sofa and tossed the pillow down where Kal had been sitting a few minutes ago. Her lips still tingled from their kiss, so she decided that a distraction was needed. Ice cream was always an option as she walked to the kitchen and opened the freezer door.
Nothing but a couple of trays of puny ice cubes. Darn, she'd forgotten to restock her supply of comfort food. A couple of pieces of pizza still sat in the box on the coffee table. No, she wasn't hungry.
Yet, she was still restless.
Sticking in a tape of last week's Ivory Tower, she plopped down in the spot where Kal had sat and tried to erase the myriad of conflicting feelings in her head.
After his rounds, Clark landed in an alleyway and spun into his street clothes. He didn't feel like going to his apartment quite yet and decided to pay a long overdue visit to a friend.
It had been quite a while since Bobby 'Bigmouth' Cooper had provided him with information for one of his stories. It had been shortly after the Luthor bust when Bobby had called to inform him that he and his wife, Rose, were making a new start in life by quitting all of their former activities and starting a new enterprise together. For Bobby, it meant not being an informant, and for Rose, quitting her government job as a DEA agent.
Clark opened the front door to The Snitch and stepped inside an upscale, but comfortable bar. Leather booths lined one side of the room, and the rest of the table and chairs were placed strategically around a small dance floor.
He looked around for a moment, then walked over to the bar. A couple of waitresses were working behind the counter and Clark blinked hard when he realized what they were wearing — chicken suits!
One of the waitresses nodded knowingly at him, then walked over to take his order.
"Hi! My name is Karen, and I'm your cocktail waitress." She winked at him and fluffed her feathers. "Can I take your order?"
*Cocktail* waitress?" Clark grinned back at her, noting that the chicken suits were more like dresses with plumage.
"Don't tell me you're going to *grill* me about this costume." She held up her order pad and poised her pencil over it.
"Wouldn't dream of it." Clark hesitated, then asked, "I don't suppose you serve chicken wings?"
The waitress gasped, then answered, "There'd be an awful lot of my relatives running around wingless. How about some peanuts?"
"Peanuts sound great. Is Bobby Cooper around? I'm a friend of his."
"Yeah, he's around somewhere. Probably *discussing* things with his wife again. I'll go see if I can 'hunt and peck' him up." She rolled her eyes at Clark and smiled.
Clark laughed softly. "You seem to have a lot of fun working here. Is the atmosphere always this light? And the puns so terrible?"
"Pays a bit more than *chicken scratch*, but the owners are great. Do you know we finally made the top twenty list of restaurants this past week? This place has only been opened three months."
The waitress started to leave but turned around to ask Clark, "Pardon my manners, but you'd think I was raised in a barn. Want anything to drink with those peanuts?"
"Sure. I'll take whatever you have on tap."
Clark smiled to himself. It appeared as though the Coopers were building a name for themselves already. He looked around taking in a bit more detail this time. There were a couple of closed doors joining to a restaurant and the sign on it read "Chez Grande Bouche". The lights behind the doors were dim, but a few of the staff could be seen clearing dishes and mopping.
Oh, he'd definitely have to return here in the daytime or regular business hours. Looking at the wall behind the bar, he was surprised to see in the far corner of the counter pictures of himself as Superman. There were newspaper articles and eight-by-ten pictures of his alter ego, a couple of dolls and figurines. It was a small shrine.
It puzzled him to see that. He didn't think that Bobby was a big fan of Superman. He thought he'd never get used to the idol worship bestowed upon him. At first, he'd been downright embarrassed to be the focus of all the attention and commercialism that the media and public spent on him. For a couple of months after he'd become Superman, the Miracle Mania had swiftly turned into a SuperMania feeding frenzy, and he had avoided any contact with the media like the plague.
Except for Lois.
Once every month or so after a particularly harrowing rescue, he'd allow her a brief interview for the Daily Planet and was careful to include a couple of other paper's reporters in the interview. He hadn't wanted to call attention to Lois as being the only one able to talk to Superman. She would be an even bigger target for criminals than she was now.
He had also made sure that most of the proceeds from the commercialism and paraphernalia went into a fund to help victims of disasters and other worthy causes. Yet, it kept him fairly busy trying to decide who got what, and he was now in the process of searching for a trustworthy lawyer to handle his foundation. Not an easy task by all means.
The door swung open from the back of the bar, and Bobby walked out.
"Hey ya, Clark! It's about time I saw ya ugly face in here!"
"Hey, Bobby!" he greeted enthusiastically. "It's been a while." He held out his hand in greeting as Bobby came from around the counter and sat on the high backed stool next to him.
"And before you ask, I'm sworn upon penalty of death not to snitch any more. Rose and I have decided to leave the dangerous life behind."
"That's what you told me a few months ago. Don't worry; I won't get you into trouble," Clark grinned.
"Speakin' of trouble… you and Lois still on the outs?"
"For the most part. We're up for an award together for the Luthor story though," Clark frowned. "Guess that's something, I suppose."
He felt his heart flutter a bit remembering their kiss earlier that night *and* the possibility that Lois could still care for him.
"You still got it bad, Kent," Bobby grinned. "Want me to set you two up on a blind date or somethin'? Maybe all you need is good hard shove."
"I don't know, Bobby. I kept hoping after all this time that she'll change her mind now that her career is going well, but she's got a brick wall set up around her now that I don't know how to break through. We've barely spoken to each other."
A feminine voice interrupted. "Hi, my name's Nicole, and Karen is busy fanning herself in the back. She gets that way sometimes."
Clark turned and saw another waitress in a bright yellow shirt with feathers in her hair placing his drink and peanuts on the bar.
"Sounds like she's faking it," the waitress continued.
"Your lady friend. If she didn't care, it wouldn't bother her so much to talk to you."
"I seem to bother her by being in the same room," Clark said dolefully.
"Aw, she'll get over it. Sometimes you just have to let things run their course. Give her time."
"Time? It's been almost a year."
Nicole, the waitress, scrunched up her face and responded, "Ooo! You'd better start groveling." She sneaked an appreciative look at Clark before turning around and heading to the kitchen.
Bobby waited until they were alone before stating, "Glad to see ya finally startin' to talk about her. You were clamming up for a long time. What's changed?"
"Don't know, Bobby. Guess it took watching her build her career and making a name for herself. For a long while, I resented being in journalism for the first time."
"Ya never did say what happened. Rosie and I came up with lots of very interesting reasons."
"In a nutshell, she wasn't ready to start a career and a relationship at the same time. There were some other issues, but I don't think I should get into them. But let's just say that things may be looking up."
"That's fair enough, man. Wish ya luck."
"Who needs luck?" Rose Cooper had come from the kitchen and surprised them. "Clark? Should have guessed it was you from the condition of my waitresses! How ya been?"
"Hanging in there. Great place you have here!"
"Thank ya! In spite of Bobby and I wanting to kill each other on a daily basis, we're having a good time for the most part. It beats chasing white-collar criminals around. Now all I have to chase is Bobby."
"And the world is safe from Rose's cooking," Bobby declared playfully. "She's managing the bar and I supervise the kitchen. I do my best to keep her away from the knives."
Rose swatted Bobby with a bar towel, and Clark could clearly see that they were happy. Rose was as relaxed as Clark had ever seen her, almost a different person from the one he'd first met. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, but she appeared softer too.
"Hey! Why aren't you getting anymore Superman interviews, Clark? I've been looking for articles in the paper." She shuffled her feet, then asked almost dreamily, "What's he *really* like?"
Clark tried to catch himself from blushing. "He's just another guy, only he has superpowers."
"Don't burst her bubble, Clark. Rose here's been ga-ga over the man in blue from day one."
Rose scowled at Bobby. "I just think it's admirable that a being of his power and abilities has chosen to use them for the good of the world." Her eyes focused on an image inside her mind. "And the fact that he's so handsome is just icing on the cake."
Clark knew, without a doubt, whom the Superman paraphernalia belonged to. Seemed as though Rose, as unlikely a candidate as he would have first thought, was a huge fan of Superman.
Bobby rolled his eyes and said, "It's good to know he's a regular Joe. Tell him anytime he wants to stop by, the meal's on us."
"I sure will, Bobby," Clark answered, making a mental note to drop by sometime.
"Same thing goes for you and Lois. We'd love to see you here — together."
"You and I both, Bobby. So tell me more about your restaurant…"
After his visit with Bobby and Rose, Clark decided to walk home. He felt he had sufficiently placed enough distance between the time when he'd left Lois' apartment and being able to think rationally about it.
They had kissed.
One more time he'd kissed Lois, and it had brought back all the emotions and feelings from before, just as if it had been only yesterday.
Had Lois actually been thinking of him while they were kissing, when they were supposed to be thinking of the other people in their lives? She hadn't shown any indication at work that she still had feelings for him. Matter of fact, her downright hostile attitude toward him was very disheartening. Ever since the day they'd said goodbye, she had regarded him with cold indifference. That was not the behavior of a woman who could be in love with him.
How could she love him in his real identity anyway? Except for the first day and when they had said their goodbyes, they had barely spoken to each other except when necessary. She had made it perfectly clear to him that she wanted nothing to do with him.
Unless she was feeling the same way he did about the situation — that it was too hard to be in each other's company without remembering the magical relationship they had started. It had been easy for him to get angry about the whole break-up. He supposed that was why they were always snapping at each other.
But what about those insecurities she had just expressed to him? The ones about her freezing up whenever she was in 'this man's' presence? It made more sense to him now why she was so prickly when around him.
Maybe the first step was to get her more comfortable having him around her, then all he needed to do was to wait for the right time to start a more personal conversation.
He just hoped his future efforts wouldn't backfire on him.
After a restless night, Lois was up and in the Daily Planet before dawn, feeling as though she hadn't slept a wink. Coffee was foremost on her mind, but no one was there to make it, so she suffered through the first hour or two of working.
The morning had begun to grow busier, and Lois was soon lost in chasing down a source for a story. Frustrated after another dead end, she ran her hands through her hair and leaned back in her chair. It was strange how everyone had disappeared already.
She was tired. She couldn't help but to think about Clark last night and about how to let him know that she was at least willing to be friends again — if it was possible after all this time. She felt her heart tug at her insides, and she sighed. God, she loved Clark! Would it ever be the same between them again?
A steaming cup of coffee suddenly appeared in front of her. She turned around to see the heart-stopping smile of her dreams.
"Hey," Clark said softly. "You looked like you could use this." He produced a chocolate donut and set it on her desk.
Clark walked over to his desk and returned with a small tree-like plant for her desk. "I bought this for you, too. I hope you don't mind. Your other one looks like it's half-dead."
Lois stared up into his face and was rewarded with a lopsided grin. Feeling a tiny bit nervous, she responded, "Guess you're tired of seeing me murder plants. Tell you what, you can take care of it, but if anything happens to our future Kerth, the plant gets it."
"Fair enough." Clark activated his super hearing and heard her heart pounding rapidly. She *was* affected by his presence, and this time didn't seem mad at all. He felt his own heart skip a happy beat.
Lois took a deep breath and said quietly, "I didn't mean it about the Kerth award. You can keep it. Just means I'll have to work harder to get my own."
"No, that's okay. You keep it. That'll just mean I get visitation rights, hopefully lots of them. And I'm sure you'll be getting one by yourself before you know it."
The air was suddenly charged with an undercurrent that hadn't been felt between them in months. Lois felt her insides grow weak, and she quickly looked down at her coffee cup to prevent herself from saying something stupid, or worse yet, launching herself full force into his arms.
Jimmy walked up before either could speak again and slapped an envelope on Lois' desk. "This was delivered to Perry yesterday while you were out, and he told us to hash it out between ourselves. The unanimous decision was that you should get it, Lois."
"Unanimous decision?" Lois demanded as she tore into the envelope. "What is it?"
Jimmy grinned at Clark and crossed his fingers behind his back.
"A free night at the Lexor hotel? I don't get it!" She glared at Jimmy and waited for him to answer.
"Um, *we* thought, that it might improve your disposition if you had some time away for yourself. You *have* been biting everyone's head off lately."
"Very subtle, Jimmy," Clark retorted, despairing at the timing of his colleague.
"Improve my disposition?" Lois' face began to turn red. "There's nothing wrong with my disposition!"
Jimmy backed away, making a hasty retreat as Lois turned her fury to Clark. "*You* didn't have anything to do with this, did you?"
Clark lifted his hands and shrugged. "Innocent! I had no idea what was going on."
Lois raised her cup of steaming coffee over her new plant and spilled a couple of drops onto the dirt. "You swear?"
"I swear, scout's honor." He grinned tentatively at her. "Please put the coffee down, and the plant won't get hurt."
Lois eyed him curiously, then lowered her cup. "I always figured you to be a boy scout."
"No scout, just 4H. Won a few blue ribbons with my pig, Hambone."
"Hambone? No, I won't even ask. Anyway, thanks for the coffee and stuff."
"Anytime," Clark replied and turned to go. No sense in pushing things. It was better to quit while he was ahead.
After Clark returned to his desk, Lois reluctantly looked at the contents of the envelope again. Free night, free room service and the promise of a hot tub — preferably with lots of bubbles and a glass of wine. It did sound rather wonderful. She haphazardly stuffed the brochure in the middle of her purse, then got back to work.
Her co-workers hiding in the conference room silently cheered.
After putting in another eight hours at the Daily Planet, Lois arrived home and tossed her handbag on the coffee table. After kicking off her shoes and getting into more comfortable clothes, she collapsed on the couch and thought about her day.
Clark had acted strange at work today. Even after he had brought her the coffee and plant, he continued to refresh her cup and greet her with a smile. He hadn't been that attentive to her since… before her first day at the Daily Planet — right before Cat made that scene in front of everyone, and right before she'd broken up with him and ruined everything.
A knock on the door startled her out of her thoughts. Who could this be? Couldn't be Kal, because he usually came through the window. She hopped off the couch and padded over to answer the door. When she looked through the peephole, she was astonished to see Clark on the other side.
"Clark?" Surprise rose in her voice as she opened the door. "What are you doing here?"
Clark shifted nervously. "Hi! I know you're not expecting me, but I'd really like to talk to you. Do you have some time?" It was different being here as Clark instead of as Kal. He'd better not appear to be too familiar with her place.
"Uh, sure, come in." She took a mental inventory of her appearance: old sweats, too big T-shirt, day-old make-up. Only Kal saw her in this kind of outfit. She hoped Kal wouldn't show up quite so soon tonight, or at least stay away while Clark was here. She couldn't handle both men in the same room tonight, not after the confusion Kal stirred up inside her with that kiss.
They stood awkwardly just inside her door.
"Would you like something to drink?" she asked. Maybe playing the perfect hostess would make up for the way she was dressed. It certainly couldn't hurt.
"No, thanks. I'm fine." This needed to be quick. There was less chance to screw things up if he didn't stay long.
Clark wasn't sure how to approach the subject. This was going to be harder than he thought. Should he ask her out on a date or try to break the ice first? Now that he was in Lois' apartment, all he felt was apprehension at being here.
Lois noticed Clark was nervous. Was he going to ask her out? Looking like this?
"Lois? I was wondering. We had a great start working together and getting to know one another. I know certain things have happened between us, but we don't need to get into that now." He shuffled his feet, then grinned shyly at her. "I was wondering maybe…"
<Ask me out, please!> She mentally crossed her fingers.
"I could ask…"
"Perry to assign another story for us to work on together."
Disappointed, but at least glad for the chance to work together again, she answered, "Sure, let's give it a try. But no funny stuff, you hear?"
"I wouldn't dream of it, Lois. It'll be purely professional."
Darn! She didn't mean to say that. Not a chance to get close to that wonderful chest.
"Gr… good. Let's go to Perry tomorrow and see if he has anything for us. I think with our impending Kerth award coming up, he'll be more than happy to find something."
"See if we can bring back the old Kerth magic."
"Maybe it'll be just like the first time," Clark cleared his throat, then grinned. "I just hope we don't get stuck with a dog show."
Lois scrunched up her face and replied, "I can feel the fleas biting already." She yawned and covered her mouth apologetically.
"Well, it is getting late and…" He turned the doorknob and opened the door.
"It's not too late, but it's been a long day," she said, stifling another yawn.
"See you tomorrow, Lois," Clark said reluctantly.
Lois closed the door behind him and leaned up against it gratefully. His presence still knocked her off her feet. In spite of her shaking knees, she thought she didn't do too badly covering up how she felt. Maybe not wearing her heart on her sleeve wasn't going to be as hard as she thought, at least until the time was right.
Working with Clark at last — it was a dream come true. Perhaps this time they could get it right.
"I ain't finished with you yet, big fella," she whispered with a smile on her face.
In her dreams, Kal's kiss disturbed her. Her mind kept turning to last night. She knew she still loved Clark, but Kal was her best friend. Kissing her best friend felt wonderful, and even thinking about it now left her a bit dizzy. Even though she started off picturing Clark in her head, the second time Kal had kissed her she hadn't been pretending any longer.
But the other night, Kal wasn't kissing her. He was kissing this mystery woman in his other life. A stray thought popped out of nowhere. Maybe if things didn't work out between their prospective others, she and Kal could give it a try.
No! Not her and Kal! If a romantic relationship didn't work out, could their friendship survive? Scary. Or, even more frightening, what if he started seeing this other woman… *That* thought left a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach.
<I *couldn't* be jealous, could I?>
After tossing and turning a few more minutes, she got up to get a glass of milk.
She realized that she wanted to go somewhere, someplace to distance herself from all these strange thoughts flying around in her head.
The promo from the new owners of the Lexor hotel came into focus as it sat on her coffee table.
Was it too late to see if a room was available? She snatched the brochure and flopped herself across the sofa to reach the telephone. She picked up the receiver and jabbed at the buttons on the phone.
A few minutes later, she was tossing a couple of things in an overnight bag and heading out the door.
This was a bad idea, Lois thought as she allowed the doorman to open the room to the honeymoon suite. Here she was trying to get away from thinking about her relationships and now was being thrust into the middle of a romantic hideaway.
Lois groaned. If it ever got out that she spent the night in a gaudy honeymoon suite *alone*, then she would never live it down. Good fortune had it that it was late at night. No one would be around to recognize her.
She abruptly dismissed the bellman, then glanced around the room. Well, she supposed it would do, especially after spying the rather large heart-shaped hot tub in the middle of the bedroom. A long hot soak in the spa would surely go a ways towards straightening out any renegade thoughts she might have about her love life.
After putting away her assortment of things and getting undressed, she slipped into the hot sudsy water and sighed in contentment, a perfect setting to regain her equilibrium. She took a sip of her wine and realized there was no escaping from it.
It was time to reevaluate her relationship with Clark.
Her eyes had drifted shut, and she was already up to her chin in bubbles when the phone rang.
"Hey, it's me, Kal."
"I stopped by your place, and you weren't there."
"So naturally, you got worried?"
His voice grumbled in a low chuckle on the other end. "You know me so well, Lois."
"How'd ya find me? Other than being Superman. I mean you couldn't have searched the whole city."
"I could have done that, but when I didn't hear your heartbeat in your apartment, I let myself in. I hope you don't mind, but I saw your brochures on the coffee table and took a chance on calling you."
"You're always a big worrywart, Kal, but I'm glad you called. I hope I didn't miss pizza, or takeout, or something."
"No, I was just passing by. How's the view?"
Lois scooted up in the tub in order to peek out the window.
"It's wonderful…" She cut off mid-sentence as she observed the lights go on in the building next to her. Three men had just entered a room directly across from her: one wore a holstered gun, another was dressed in black pants, and the last man was in a suit and tie.
Lois thought she recognized the last man, but couldn't quite make out his features. She leaned over the side of the hot tub to grab her binoculars out of her purse.
"Lois? You okay?"
"Yeah, just fine," Lois tried to focus on the room across the alleyway a couple hundred feet away. Her eyes widened as she saw the well- dressed man hand the guy in black an envelope. In response, the guy in black exchanged a smaller envelope.
Lois searched in her purse until she found a small disposable camera. She immediately began clicking away.
"Kal, I can't hear what they're saying! You've got to get over here."
"Huh? What are you talking about, Lois?"
"There're guys in the building next to mine! Suspicious-looking ones! Get over here quick and see what they're saying! I'm on the twenty- first floor facing the bay."
Lois heard the telephone drop and five seconds later a dark figure could be seen hovering outside the office building. Kal was wearing his dark clothes from his pre-Superman days. Two seconds later, he was gone.
Two men had left the room, and the only one left was the thug-looking guy in black. But soon he had turned off the lights and disappeared out the door, leaving the room dark.
She heard the telephone receiver mutter something at her a few seconds later and she picked it up. "Kal? That was fast! Where did you go?"
"On the roof. But I did hear something about them meeting again soon."
"Meeting? Where? What else did they say?"
"That was all I heard, Lois. Even superhearing can't read minds."
Lois snorted in frustration. "Thanks, Kal."
"Why are you in the honeymoon suite in the Lexor hotel?"
"Couldn't sleep. That's all, and it seemed like a good idea at the time."
"If you're sure that's all," Clark waited a couple of seconds before he heard Lois answer.
"It's that guy I was telling you about, Kal. I'm so in love with him I can't see straight, much less sleep."
Clark closed his eyes. Please let it be him!
"Lois, you need to tell him," he said softly, taking a chance.
"I want to, Kal," she responded quietly. "It's something I've got to work on."
"You get a good night's sleep, and don't get too wrinkled in that tub." He then added, "I hear splashing."
Lois laughed. "Thanks Kal, and you won't mistake me for a prune next time you see me. I promise."
"Good night, Lois."
The next morning Lois woke up early to choose her outfit carefully. Wouldn't hurt to be fully prepared to knock his socks off. She'd had brought four different ensembles with her just because she wasn't sure what mood she'd be in when she woke up.
In spite of her plush bed, she had hardly slept a wink that night. Mostly because she was going to see Clark, and partly in anticipation of getting her photos developed.
There was no telling what Perry would say when they approached him with the request for their assignment. "Dog show" was the first thing that came to mind. Clark may have been right. Surely Perry wouldn't want to risk a major story on two reporters who had started a second Cold War in his office. No, it wouldn't be anything important. Just a simple story to break the waters. That was, if they didn't kill each other first.
At least they were talking civilly to one another. It was funny how the prospect of sharing a Kerth award could change your attitude about someone. Still, she needed to keep her heart on guard.
Clark wasn't there when she arrived. Disappointed, she got a cup of coffee and then decided to get to work.
She sat down at her desk and had made a few calls to a couple of sources when she heard Perry bellow from his office, "Lois, get in here pronto!"
Frowning that she might miss Clark when he finally arrived, she hoped her editor wouldn't be long-winded. She checked her appearance in the mirrored frame just in case she ran into Clark on the way out of Perry's office.
Once she entered, Clark's presence immediately threw her off-guard. He gave her a tentative smile as she sat down in the chair next to him.
Perry didn't beat around the bush but went straight to the point. "Lois, Clark tells me you two are willing to bury the hatchet — just as long as it's not in each other's backs, mind you — and try to work together again. I've thought it over and decided the best way to do this and not to waste my time and yours is to put you straight into the lion's den. If you two can survive this assignment, then I think we're on the way to having a number one investigative team at the Daily Planet again."
Lois turned to Clark and asked him pointedly, "Do you know what assignment he's talking about?"
Clark shrugged his shoulders, then motioned for her to pay attention to Perry, who was clearing his throat.
"Lois, you know those photos that you left for Jimmy to develop this morning?"
"Yeah, did those come out? Where are they? And why did Jimmy give them to you?"
"I recognized the guy on the top photo and pulled rank."
Perry pulled a stack of pictures from the top his desk. "Take a look at these. Seems like Senator Ian Harrington is meeting with a guy named Peter Rourke. In this picture, you can clearly see the envelope marked Top Secret. Seems like these guys could be exchanging high security documents for money."
Lois piped in, "This morning I found out the offices are leased to Apocalypse Consulting. Chief? I have an idea."
Perry laughed and interrupted her. "I've already beaten you to the punch. Start packing your bags. You're going on a surveillance operation."
"I guess our dog show assignment is going to have to wait, Clark," she noted with a gleam in her eyes. "I smell scandal."
"I'm going to give you guys three nights in the Honeymoon Suite."
"You and Clark."
"Did you say Clark?"
"What do you think I was talking about before? Yes, I said Clark."
Lois felt a surge of panic shoot through her stomach. "Chief, I'm not sharing that hotel suite with Clark! How would it look?"
"The Honeymoon Suite? Natural."
"Lois, think it through. No hotel's going to sit still for us using it as a base for spy operations. You need a cover. What better cover than honeymooners in the Honeymoon Suite? It's called 'keeping a low profile'."
Perry continued to try to convince Lois. "Besides, how are you going to manage 'round the clock' surveillance all by yourself?"
Clark raked a shaking hand through his hair. This was a tiny bit more than he bargained for when he asked for an assignment with Lois. She was strangely silent now and that worried him.
Out of desperation, he said shakily, "It would be business, Lois, strictly business."
"That's the deal. Take it or leave it." Perry sat back in his chair as a gesture of finality.
Lois bit her bottom lip and then forced herself to look at Clark.
He seemed just as scared as she was.
She sighed. "I'll start packing."
Clark stared at the bellman, then scooped Lois up in his arms. It was rather a benign scoop, but the results were the same. He was holding Lois.
She had a wild-eyed doe expression on her face. Clark ignored it as he put on a show for the bellman's attention and stumbled a bit under the 'weight' of Lois.
"That's it! Hoist her up, big fella! No brownies for you tonight, but I'm sure you'll get some other sweets if you play your card right," the bellman joked while videotaping Clark carrying Lois over the threshold.
Lois struggled against, not Clark, but the annoying words of the bellhop.
Clark put her down but placed a loose arm around her shoulders.
"She's a little shy."
"You'll help her get over it." The bellhop winked knowingly at Clark and bumped his shoulder, nudging him towards Lois.
Clark had just dismissed the pesky bellman only to find Jimmy pushing past him carrying a large bag of surveillance equipment.
His low whistle of admiration as he looked around the room caught Lois' attention. "Wow! This is some place! Too bad you have to work. That hot tub rocks!!"
"Yes, Jimmy. That's why we're here. No other reason than to get a story."
Clark noticed the slight frown on Lois' face and decided to listen to her heartbeat. Yep, she was definitely bothered by this situation. But he wasn't sure whether it was annoyance at the lewd bellman or at him.
"Sure you don't want to stay a while and set this stuff up," she asked nervously. This was too soon, way to soon to be alone with Clark, at least in these conditions.
"Uh, uh! I may like high adventure, but this operation is way too dangerous." He plopped the bag down on the floor and waved goodbye. His head reappeared from around the corner, and he quipped, "Don't forget to kiss the bride, Clark!"
Clark heard Lois roar as she threw a well-aimed pillow at Jimmy's head. "Crack another honeymoon joke, and you're going to end up in a body cast!"
"If you can't be good, be good at it!" Jimmy voice echoed from the hallway.
Lois scowled again, then began to busy herself with setting up the equipment. This was nuts. It wasn't as if she and Clark were here for any other purpose than for gathering information for a story. He even said so.
She eyed the ominous hot tub in the middle of the living room and wished she were at liberty to use it. A long hot soak helped to sooth her frazzled nerves last night. But that was out of the question, at least for now.
She yanked another piece of equipment from the bag, and it tumbled to the ground in a loud clatter. Pulling at the bag in frustration caused another heavier piece of equipment to land on her foot. After she yelped in pain, a pair of warm hands covered hers briefly and took the tripod stand.
"Here, let me."
Lois jerked her hands away from him and sat down, letting him finish setting up the surveillance equipment.
Once the job was completed, Clark sat down next to Lois and was silent for a few moments.
"I know this isn't what we bargained for when we asked for an assignment together, but you have no reason to be afraid of me, Lois."
Scared of what she might see if she looked into his eyes, she merely replied, "You just startled me; that's all."
"Okay." Deciding not to push her any further, he stood up and moved the equipment closer to the window. "I'll take the first watch."
Lois stared surreptitiously at the strong back of her stakeout partner as he sat on the coffee table watching for any signs of life in the building next to them. She'd been pacing for hours now, and hardly a word had been spoken between them. She was very thankful that Clark was giving her the space she needed. It was as though he could read her mind, and the connection between them was beginning to spark once more.
She longed to lay her hands on his shoulders and nuzzle his neck, or run her hands through his hair while kissing his cheek. Funny how her mind was all for it, but when it had come to the simple touch of his hands before, she'd pulled away in fright.
He was so gentle, yet so dangerous to her mental well-being. But maybe she should listen to Kal's advice and try to talk things through, or at least break the tension in the room.
Swallowing hard, she sat down, at a respectable distance, on the coffee table next to him.
He turned his head towards her and gave her a tentative smile. "Hey."
"No luck?" She nodded her head towards the building across the way.
"Not a peep. Guess tonight's not the night."
Clark straightened his back and stretched a bit, then said, "Why don't you take the bed? I'll stay up for a while and make sure they don't turn up after all."
"I haven't exactly done anything. Why don't you get some sleep, and I'll stay up?"
"I'm fine, really."
"No, I insist! You've been sitting here for hours. Your back must be getting really stiff. Go!"
She pointed towards the bedroom and managed a tiny smile.
Clark decided to accept her gesture of consideration and stood up. "Thanks! I'll relieve you in a couple of hours. Wake me up if you get sleepy."
"I will." Lois turned her attention to the camera and pretended to peer through it. She was pleased with herself. It was a start to trying to figure out if she could handle this relationship business. Letting Clark have the bed was one way she could show she cared.
Clark watched Lois through the wall for a few minutes before turning in, or pretending to go to bed. He knew with Lois in the other room, it would be difficult to sleep. But he was happy that she'd made the offer. It was *something*. All they had to do was to get through this assignment one hour at a time.
Clark woke up from light sleep. It took him a couple of seconds to clear his head before remembering where he was — in the Lexor hotel with Lois. Dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, he wandered back out to the living area to see how Lois was holding up.
She was sound asleep on the coffee table. Her head was resting on the wadded up equipment bag, and her feet were still hanging over the edge. She looked extremely uncomfortable and would more than likely wake up with a stiff neck if he didn't do something.
He stared down at her for a few seconds trying to decide the best plan of action to take without getting himself in a heap of trouble. Leaning over the table, he slipped one arm underneath her head, the other beneath her legs, and picked her up.
Her eyes fluttered opened for a second, and she gave him a sleepy smile as her arms wound themselves around his neck. He heard her whisper his name and nearly kissed her on the spot. But instead, he held her a bit closer as he picked his way around the equipment and headed for the bedroom.
The bed was still turned down from his sleeping in it a few moments before, he noted as he leaned over to lay Lois down on the sheets. Her arms tightened around his neck so he stood up straight and waited for her to relax. He hoped to put her down without having to disentangle her arms from his neck and possibly even wake her up.
He remembered the last time he'd held her in his arms — as Clark. He had laid her down on *his* bed as they passionately kissed each other senseless. He grew warm as he stared down at her beautiful features.
Her relaxed hand slid down his shoulder and grazed his chest, coming to rest in the hollow between their bodies. He looked forward to the day when he'd be able to kiss her face, as she slept, to be able to touch her without restraint.
Hopefully, that day would be soon, very soon.
At last, he laid her on the bed, tucked the covers around her and returned for his night watch of the building next to them.
Shuffling in her pink fuzzy slippers, Lois wandered sleepily out in the living area. This was one way to create a bit of distance from Clark; let him see her at her worst, right after she woke up in the morning. If they ever got together again, she'd have to pass this particular test anyway. Better sooner than later. It was probably good to know if her appearance upon wakening would send him running to the hills in terror. Of course, if he hadn't run from her the time that she showed up at the Daily Planet in coffee-stained pants and his old flannel shirt, then he probably wasn't likely to think that this outfit was any worse.
She lifted her eyes and looked for Clark. He wasn't to be found at first, then she spied a dark head of hair bobbing up and down on the floor. He was doing pushups.
The muscles rippling beneath his thin t-shirt instantaneously mesmerized her. Made sense though after she watched him for a couple of moments. With a body like his, he would have to keep it up constantly. Somehow she never imagined Clark working out. He didn't seem at all like the narcissistic type. Not that all people who exercised were preoccupied with themselves. She certainly wasn't indulged with her looks.
Too soon, he turned his head towards her and hopped effortlessly to his feet. He looked at her a second longer than what was comfortable, then tore his eyes away.
"What?" she quietly demanded, feeling self-conscious.
"What?" she repeated a bit more insistently.
"*Nothing*. It's just that, well, you look pretty decent, for first thing in the morning."
Lois felt herself blushing fiercely at his complement. Clark thought she looked decent, if you could define decent. They never had the chance to wake up together that morning long ago. He had left her while she had been sleeping to turn in the news story, which was now up for a Kerth.
Did that mean she totally didn't disgust him, or that he found her pleasant to look at?
Changing the subject seemed like the right thing to do. "I think we need to order room service. Are you up for breakfast? Sure you are. You're a big guy."
She reached for the phone to dial room service. Clark stopped her with a hand on her shoulder and turned her gently in another direction. In her determination to do something to distract herself, she failed to see the tray of coffee and pastries sitting on a small table by the equipment.
"Have a seat. I'll get you some." Clark smiled gently at her and proceeded to pour her a cup from the large thermos. "You like three pink packets and just a touch of creamer, right?"
"How'd you know?"
"I remember everything about you. Chocolate eclair, or cinnamon roll?"
"The chocolate one, of course." She shot a puzzled glance at him, then patted the cushion next to her.
She swallowed tightly as he dropped down next to her. "So do you think this is what it's like to live togeth… um, with someone? Fulltime?"
"I guess. I mean, I've never lived with anyone before… fulltime."
"Me neither. Fulltime."
An awkward silence followed for a few moments. Clark finished his donut before continuing, "My parents made it look so easy, so I've never thought of it as being too difficult."
"Mine made it look like a root canal. They were always fighting. That's why it was a surprise when I woke up this morning."
At Clark's puzzled looked, she injected, "What I'm trying to say is thank you for taking me to bed last night. You didn't really have to give it up. My parents would have fought it out tooth and nail." <We could have shared>, she wanted to add.
She took a nervous bite of her eclair and a bit of cream filling squirted out and dribbled on her lap. Clark immediately grabbed a napkin and began dabbing at the spot. An old familiar thrill raced through her body, causing her to still all her motions at his touch.
"A bit of service goes a long way." He smiled at her when he heard her catch her breath. "Lois?"
The intensity in his eyes changed, turning from warm chocolate to smoldering brown. Feeling a bit emboldened, Lois covered his hand with hers and smiled back. Drat him for his ability to turn her insides to jelly, but at this point she needed this feeling desperately.
"Guess living together can be very scary. At first, I mean."
"There'll be compromises." He turned their joined hands over and began twirling random patterns into her palm.
Clark reached up with his other hand touched her face with his fingertips, then lifted her gaze to meet his own. Time stood still as he remembered the last time he had seen this look in her eyes. They were warm and inviting — just the same as the other night when he, as Kal, had kissed her when she was thinking of the 'other man' in her life. Lois *had* been thinking of him!
There still was the truth hanging between them. He had to tell her he was Kal. But at this moment? Not when he was holding her trembling face in his hand. Not when he needed so desperately to reconnect with what they'd begun so many months ago. Her defenses were lowering, and they had to start somewhere in recapturing what was between them. His hand moved against her cheek and cupped the back of her head.
"Is this too soon? I don't want to be too forward."
She shook her head slowly and waited. His face drew close, and she closed her eyes. This was it! Clark was going to kiss her!
The touch of his lips was a delicious sensation, soft and easy against hers, not demanding, but lingering. All too soon they left, and she felt his head rest easy against hers.
Leaning back against the cushions, he tugged her close to his side as his arm wrapped around her. Her head fit perfectly in the hollow between his shoulder and neck. His lips kissed her temple, and he sighed against her hair, "Let's watch the offices from here for a while. Then there's a place I want to take you for lunch. We need to talk, Lois."
She recaptured his hand and gave it a squeeze. "We sure do."
Clark adjusted the surveillance equipment for Jimmy and stepped back. "There. All you have to do is watch. Remember to page us at the sign of any activity."
"Gotcha, CK!" Jimmy said eagerly. "You guys will be back here in a couple of hours?"
"Yep. That's the plan. We're starting to go a bit stir crazy. Need to get some fresh air and stretch our legs."
Jimmy looked around the room for Lois and saw her rummaging through her purse.
"I guess you need to get away…" He mouthed the next words. "From *her*!"
Clark started to explain that they decided to find a quiet place to talk without having to be distracted by the comings and goings of the office across the alley, but decided otherwise. It was much better to play along with Jimmy than to explain his and Lois' relationship.
"Yeah, we need time alone."
Jimmy rolled his eyes and smiled knowingly at Clark. He couldn't blame Clark for wanting to escape from Mad Dog Lane. Most of the time, she was a pressure cooker about to explode, and people avoided her at all costs. He was surprised that Clark had lasted this long in the ring with her.
To his surprise, Clark turned to Lois and said, "You ready?"
He opened the door for Lois, and she stepped through, smiling cautiously at him.
Jimmy shook his head, trying to clear it. Surely there couldn't be anything else going on between them? Nah. They were just happy to get out of here. He peered through the eyepiece for a moment, then lifted his face. All seemed fairly quiet. They would never know that he had taken a soak in the hot tub.
Clark paid for the hot dogs and handed one to Lois. It was a beautiful day, way too nice to spend it inside a restaurant.
They walked in silence around the park looking for an empty, out of the way bench to sit and eat their lunch. Finally, they found one under an old oak tree over looking the river.
Lois was the first to speak up. "You know, hot dogs can be very under- rated. Sometimes the best-tasting food is simple. I wonder if it's nostalgia or eating something outdoors? What do you think?"
"Could be the company?" Clark said, grinning at her. "At least it is for me."
Lois suddenly squeezed her hot dog a bit too hard and chili came squirting out the side. Fortunately, it landed on the bench seat instead of her lap.
"Sorry," Clark said, laughing. "What is it about you and messy food? This is the second time today."
"I don't know," Lois said, half-distracted as she wiped the bench with her napkin. "Every time I get around you, I…" She looked up suddenly, as she realized what she was saying. The heat rose in her cheeks and she felt the need to back peddle. "It must be your clumsiness rubbing off on me. I swear, I've never seen a grown man struggle over stuck desk drawers and broken copiers like you do."
"So you were watching me? You hadn't given me the time of day for a long time," Clark said, smiling. "I thought you considered me part of the furniture."
Lois regarded him for a moment, then realized she was caught. "Okay! I did think about you just a bit these past months."
"I thought about you all the time," he said quietly.
She smiled hesitantly at his reply, feeling her heart warm quickly with his words. "Maybe I thought about you more than just a bit."
Clark smiled, then took a bite of his hotdog. "You've come a long way since you first started at the Daily Planet. Do you feel like your career is established enough? You've certainly proven yourself in the journalism arena."
"Yeah, but no Kerth to speak of, except maybe the one with you."
"In the past three or four months, you've written several top-notch stories. I bet at least three of them will be nominated next year. But what's more important, how do you feel about your career? Is this the point where you wanted to be?"
Lois thought for a moment before answering, "That's the key to becoming a great journalist. You should never be satisfied with where you are."
"So I guess you're not ready."
She saw his eyes flash with disappointment. "Oh, gosh, Clark! If you mean where I was a year ago compared to today, I'd have to say I'm happy in what I've accomplished so far. I'm sorry I shut you out of my life, but…"
"Lois, no need to apologize. I understood why," Clark interrupted. His jaw set firmly, he looked her in the eye. "Most of the time."
"It wasn't an easy decision," she said, her voice rising in pitch.
"I know it wasn't." He lowered his face to look her in the eyes, then smiled apologetically. "So where do we go from here? Are we just calling a truce to our cold war, or are you thinking about giving us another chance?"
Lois looked into his eyes and wanted to believe the gentle concern she saw staring about at her. Of course she could trust Clark, couldn't she?
"Omigod, Clark! You sure know how to strike fear and panic in a woman! I guess what it boils down to is that I'm still scared. As far as relationships are concerned, I have a high freak factor. I believe I have the answer one minute, then turn around and have to rethink the whole relationship business. It's nothing that you've done, but there are things in my past that I have to let go of." She waved her hands for emphasis. "I *hate* how I'm tiptoeing around the issue, but the fact is, I just don't know. Last time, it happened so fast between us. I know you, yet I don't know you."
Clark regarded her sudden panic attack and came to a decision. "Maybe we should just start over. Take it one step at a time and see where that lands us?" "Yeah, that sounds great."
Clark leaned back into the bench and stretched his arms out over the top of the backrest in a casual manner. "Well, I'd say we should enjoy our lunch and make the most of this beautiful day. Hi! My name's Clark…"
"See! You have to throw it sideways. Sort of like a mini-Frisbee," Clark explained as he stood behind Lois at the river's bank. "It gives it a spin so it can skip across the water."
He drew back his arm and flung the rock quickly. The stone skipped six times, and then sank into the water.
"Impressive! Guess living on the family farm is good for all these unnecessary life skills." She turned a rock over in her hand, gripped it firmly, and let it fly. The rock bounced once on the water, then sank without fanfare.
"Unnecessary, you say? You can't say that skipping rocks isn't a great stress reliever."
"Okay, then. I'll just imagine that branch sticking out of the water is the latest scumbag's head and aim for that." She transferred another rock to her throwing arm and tried once more. This time it bounced two times before sinking.
Clark laughed, then said, "That's not the kind of stress relief I was talking about."
"You have your kind of stress relief; I have mine."
Stepping behind her, he placed his hand on her wrist and led her through the motions of throwing the rock. "A little more wrist action, and then I think you've got it."
"One more time," she said determinedly. After the rock skipped five times, she turned to Clark and smiled smugly at him. "Picturing Ralph's head worked just fine, mind you."
"Okay, I'll give you that." Clark locked eyes with her and felt the familiar magic returning once again. But instead of acting on their emotions like they had done before, he smiled broadly and offered her his hand. "Need help up the path? I think we need to find a playground."
"Playground?" she questioned.
"I think you need to be pushed on the swings."
"And what makes you think that?"
Clark's beeper going off interrupted Lois. He frowned then looked at the number on the beeper. "It's Jimmy. Looks like break time is over."
Lois sighed, and her expression grew serious once again. "Guess it's back to the grindstone. I wonder if Harrington's back."
"Let's go straight to the hotel. By the time we find a phone to call…"
Lois finished his thought. "Harrington could be gone."
Clark nodded towards the path going up to the park, and let Lois lead the way.
A short time later, they were back in the hotel room peering in Harrington's office.
"I swear, guys! It looked like something was going to happen. Two creepy looking men stopped by, left for a moment, and came back."
Lois looked through the eyepiece and asked, "Well, where are they?"
"They're gone. Left a few minutes ago."
"What were they doing there?"
"Just hanging out."
"So you interrupted our lunch for a couple of wannabe thugs just hanging out?" Lois fumed, remembering the relaxing walk she and Clark had been taking around the park. He'd been absolutely wonderful setting her at ease. Starting over had been a good idea, and it had gone a long way to relieve some of the pressure between them. Then Jimmy had called them on Clark's beeper, and the easy mood was over between them. It had been time to get back to work.
"You did the right thing, Jimmy," Clark said, trying to sound convincing. He wished he and Lois could have had a little while longer by themselves. It was so easy to use the surveillance assignment to skirt around their private issues. They had had a few unguarded moments between them, but basically the atmosphere had been quiet and business- like.
He wished he knew why Lois was still so skittish around him. Something wasn't adding up. One moment she was reaching out and grabbing his hand, and the next she was pulling away and acting like he had a contagious disease. He didn't doubt that she cared about him, but breaking through her tough barriers was proving to be rather difficult.
"Um, Jimmy?" Lois' voice cut through his thoughts. "Why are our towels wet?"
Upon further examination, Clark noticed a wet trail running from the hot tub to the surveillance equipment. Lois' eyes had narrowed and she glared at the young photographer.
"Jimmy?" she said faux sweetly. "You haven't by chance been in *our* hot tub, now have you?"
Jimmy sucked in his breath, and his eyes grew wide. Clark approached Jimmy from the back and acted out an animated sniff. "Yep! Smells like fresh soap to me."
"The Planet *is* paying for this! I just thought a little dip would help pass the time away."
"Let me guess! So when you saw activity in the office across the alley — which you were supposed to be keeping a constant eye on — you hopped up, forgot you were wet, tracked water across our carpet, then ransacked the bathroom for towels. Is that correct?"
"Uh…" Jimmy fidgeted under the scrutiny of Lois' intense gaze.
"I think he used your soap. He smells like lilacs," Clark piped in.
Something in the hot tub caught Lois' eye, and she knelt down and fished a candy wrapper out of the drain's strainer.
"My Double Fudge Crunch bars!! You ate my chocolate stash, you little…" She lunged towards Jimmy and Clark caught her deftly around the waist.
"Easy, Lois! Perry wouldn't want you killing Jimmy on company time."
Lois glared at Clark a second and shrugged his arm off. "Ah, ha! No respect for personal items. Expect my bill in the morning!"
"I think I'll head out now. Looks like you guys can take over again. The chief wanted me to… uh, wash his car this afternoon." Jimmy grabbed his camera and backed-up quickly towards the door. "See ya!"
The door shut with a loud bang as Lois turned to Clark, wiping her hands together as though she was ridding them of something nasty.
"I wasn't really going to kill Jimmy."
"I know," Clark said smiling at her. "Good show!"
"That'll teach him to interrupt us again."
"My little Mad Dog," he said chuckling.
"Oh, not you too!" She scowled defiantly at him. "I *never* thought you'd stoop to calling me that."
Lois took a couple of steps toward him, and Clark could see the twinkle in her eyes. "And you're not above calling people names?" he challenged.
"Of course, I'm not. I may grumble a bit, but I keep the name calling above board."
"Hmmm. I seem to recall you calling me something like 'hayseed' long ago."
"Hayseed? Did I call you that? I'll have to remember that one."
She poked him in the chest, and Clark resisted the temptation to grab her and draw her close. He had to remember they were taking it slowly this time. Trust. He had to keep building trust. Whatever it was that was keeping Lois from letting all her walls down was still there. If he wanted to find out what it was and help her, he needed to have her complete trust.
"Oh, boy! I'm quivering in my shoes," Clark retorted as he turned to the surveillance equipment.
"You'd better." Lois peered over his shoulder and tried to see what he was doing. All of a sudden, Clark heard a noise and stood up straight. He peered through the door and identified who was trying to enter their room. It was the maid bringing some more towels to them! Jimmy must have tipped off the front desk on his way out. Thinking fast, he took the equipment and tossed it on the sofa behind them.
Concerned flashed across his face, but he grabbed Lois by the upper arms and pushed her down on the cushions, covering her body with his own. He smothered her cry of protest with his mouth on hers as his hand snaked up her body to cradle her face hoping to reassure her. She struggled against him, her hands beating against his back, not understanding his actions.
On her way to the bathroom to deliver the clean towels, the maid didn't see them on the sofa, but Clark felt he needed to keep up the pretence. The dirty towels would be in clear view when she returned. He kissed her a bit more insistently, hoping that Lois would forgive him for taking such a drastic measure to fool the maid.
He deepened his kiss and felt Lois respond, her lips yielding against his. In the background, he heard the maid exclaim in surprise, but that didn't matter. Lois' arms found their way around his back, and she tugged him closer. Her hands roamed his back frantically, slipping downward to tug his shirt from his pants.
Conflicting memories of two different men flashed in Lois' mind when Clark threw her on the sofa and laid his body on top of hers. The first memory, distant in time, but seeming only like yesterday, jumped to the forefront. With a sneering face and punishing mouth, he had tossed her on the bed carelessly and plundered her without feeling. She struggled against her assailant…
Yet another time, one that was constantly in her dreams, was of the man she loved, and who was kissing her now, and oh, so passionately!
She stopped struggling against him, and let her emotions take over. Her lips melted against his, and she tugged him closer. Suddenly the hard metal of the tripod jabbed her in the back, and the memory of being forcibly kissed on the other man's bed came flooding back.
She pushed against the man on top of her and squirmed frantically against him.
"Get off!" she screamed. "Now!"
The maid let out a yell behind them as Clark pulled himself off Lois, jumping to his feet. Lois sat up quickly, took one look at the maid with the dirty towels in her hand and glanced back at Clark, who darted his eyes slyly to the equipment on the sofa. Suddenly she understood. Clark hadn't been overcome with a bout of passion and lust; he'd been trying to fool the maid.
Within a few seconds of the maid yelling, Lois screamed herself, hoping to scare the maid out of the room. The maid jumped, dropped a towel, mumbled something in Swedish, and practically ran out the door.
Clark shuffled nervously, hoping it wasn't his turn to be yelled at. Lois turned to face him, and instead of anger, he found a scared smile.
He picked up the equipment and placed in on the floor, then sat next to her. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to scare you. I only had a second to react."
"I think so. And it wasn't you — just one of my many baggage compartments flying open in the middle of a flight. I'll be okay. Give me a minute." She reached over and patted him on his hand.
"If you want to talk about it, I'm here," Clark offered, sensing that her perfected distancing technique was in full operational mode.
"There really is no need." She leaned her head back against the cushion and closed her eyes.
Clark waited for a couple of seconds, then sighed. She had closed up on him once again. At least it was a miracle that she hadn't bitten his head off for having thrown himself on her and kissing her senseless. She had been responding to him, at least for a few moments.
Patience. He had to have patience. The problem being that he wasn't sure how much patience he had left when thrown into situations like the one they were just in. Having Lois mold her body to his, having her arms suddenly tighten around him, then feeling her hands on his bare skin as he kissed her brought back memories of the night they had almost made love. The time that *he* had stopped them because he believed he should be noble and tell her everything.
Yes, he believed he should tell her he was Kal, but the timing never seemed right. They were on a stakeout, for goodness sakes, and he had to make sure she was ready to hear the truth. A few months ago, she hadn't wanted to know everything about his normal life. Her confidence had been so shaky in herself and relationships that she had told him as Kal that she wanted to keep their identity secret from each other. So how was he supposed to handle this situation?
To his surprise as he was messing with the equipment, once again, he felt her hand on his shoulder and her voice whispering shakily in his ear, "But you're a great kisser."
He turned towards her and saw that her eyes were calm once again and that she looked rather contrite for having yelled at him. Smiling, he patted the coffee table where he was sitting and scooted over so that she could have a seat if she wished.
He heard her gulp rather noisily, then said, "Guess we keep taking two steps forward and one step back. Suppose it's progress though."
"As long as we keep heading in the same direction."
"Clark? You could be with any woman that you want, yet I've never seen you with anyone else in the past few months. Why is that?
"I'm not seeing anyone because there's never been anyone else I wanted to be with except you. I told you I would wait, and besides," he leaned over to whisper in her ear trying to keep the mood light. "You're a great kisser, too."
She frowned at him. "That can't be true."
"I don't have enough experience to be considered a good kisser, but you should know better. After all, a man like you should have lots of comparisons to draw upon."
"Like me? Lois, I think you have the wrong impression. I don't have a lot of experience dating because I've been waiting for the right woman to come along all my life. At the risk of pushing myself too far, I've already met her, and she's sitting next to me on a stakeout in a very gaudy hotel suite."
"I don't have much experience either. Just bad ones."
"Someday when you're ready, I hope to change that." Clark's face colored slightly. "I mean, the way I feel about you — I'd never want to hurt you, Lois."
She looked into his face, so full of affection and warmth, and was overcome by a burst of emotion. Twisting towards him, she threw herself in his arms and leaned her head on his shoulder. His strong arms wrapped around her, and he buried his face in her hair.
Sniffling, she answered, "I know that, and I'm starting to believe it — and in us."
Clark threaded his fingers through her hair and held her against his shoulder. Should he even dare ask again? He had to. Lois was going through something he didn't understand. If she could only talk about it, then there might be yet another wall broken down between them.
"Lois, are you sure you're okay with what happened before? You seemed pretty scared."
She turned her face into his shoulder and tightened her arms around him. "I'm fine, Clark. Just hold me."
He kissed the top of her head and shifted positions so that she was more comfortable in his arms. "For as long as you want, sweetheart," he whispered. "As long as you want."
"Clark! Get over here! I think something is happening," Lois tossed over her shoulder as she intently peered through the lens. "Clark?"
Darn! He must have gone down to the lobby for some more late night snacks — again. She couldn't believe how much Clark ate, and what was even more astonishing was how good a shape he appeared to be in. After all, she had seen his wonderful chest and strong muscles.
Before she could get too distracted, her attention was drawn once again to what was happening across the street. A light had come on some piece of equipment in the office. Lois focused a bit harder and recognized a fax machine as it spit out a piece of paper on its top.
A possible piece of evidence! She just had to try to get it! Clark was gone for who how knows how long, and it appeared it was up to her to handle this. Checking to make sure she had her lock picking tools, tape recorder, and camera with her, she left the room.
Once inside the building, she calculated the number of stories and windows to where the office would be and set to opening the lock of an office door, praying that she had the right one.
The lock suddenly clicked, and Lois slowly opened the door. The office was dark and quiet, apparently unoccupied. Lois moved quickly to the back room to locate the fax paper that she saw being printed earlier. It was a long shot, but hopefully would reveal some proof that Harrington was accepting bribes.
It was a dud, revealing nothing but some confirmation for some office supplies. Disgusted that her efforts hadn't yielded any results, Lois began rummaging through the desk drawers and file cabinets.
Someone rattled the doorknob and startled her, sending her scurrying for cover. She dove behind the desk chair just as the door opened. Nope! She wasn't about to get stuck hiding under furniture again. She had seen enough of the underside of desks to last her a lifetime. There had to be some way to escape without getting caught.
Scooting over to the window, she pushed on the window, and it swung outwards. One of the benefits of these older buildings was that they were built before central air conditioning, so there had to be a way to get fresh air circulating back then.
She peeked out the window and confirmed that the ledge was really there. During the many hours that she and Clark had been keeping watch, she had planned and plotted her way out of this window so many times, it made her head spin. Yep. The ledge was secure just as she had thought. Her foot tested the stone ledge, and she eased herself through the window until she was completely outside.
The traffic from the street buzzed in the street over, and she was glad she was off on a side street. Suddenly Lois felt the sensation of being watched and that she was not alone. A strong finger tapped her lightly on her shoulder, causing her to jump, and her footing on the ledge slipped.
But not too far. With two hands on her shoulders, Kal set her back on the ledge and steadied her balance, then floated casually besides her.
"Whatcha doin'?" he asked, folding his arms.
"Don't you know you should never sneak up on a person who's sneaking around on a ledge?" she sputtered. "You're violating… the Spying Code!"
"Spying Code?" Kal smirked. "May I ask you something? What laws are you violating now?"
"Well, if you don't get caught, then you're not violating anything. Besides, I'm trying to do my job." She shot Kal a look, then inching her way past the window so the intruder in the office couldn't see her, Lois peered in the window to see who first interrupted her snooping expedition.
It was Harrington! And he was starting to rummage frantically through the desk drawers obviously looking for something. He had the desperation of an animal being cornered as he tore through the contents of the desk, strewing everything about carelessly.
"See," she whispered in Kal's ear. "You almost made me miss this: desperation at its finest."
"I see you scored high on the mercy scale," he stated while placing a protective hand against her elbow.
"Who needs mercy when there's a story to get. Now be quiet, and do your vision gizmo thingy. See what he's looking for."
Just then the door burst open, and Peter Rourke walked in, gun in hand, and trained it immediately on Senator Harrington. Kal moved forward slightly, and Lois stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"Wait! You can stop a bullet in time. Let's see what's going on."
Inside, Senator Harrington stood up quickly and threw back his arms. He staggered slightly backwards, appearing a bit drunk in the process. Recklessly, he waved in the air. "You caught me, so do me in!"
"Way too easy, old man. You know the deal. Now where's the money?" Rourke demanded.
"You've got it all. There is *no more money*! I want the documents just like you promised."
Rourke shook the gun at the Senator menacingly. "You think a bit of information like being in a convicted criminal's pocket for years is going to dry up soon? I don't think so."
"It wasn't my fault! I didn't want to do it. Luthor was so persuasive!"
Advancing towards the wayward senator, he held the gun with both hands and pointed towards the window. "Let's go, Harrington. After the officials pick you out of the ground, they're going to find everything they need to rule this as a suicide. Get moving!"
Lois held the tape recorder up to show it to Kal. In a flash, he had Rourke tied up, and Harrington was standing shocked. "Better be careful what you say around Lois Lane, boys," he quipped.
Stepping back through the window, Lois handed the tape recorder to Kal and said, "Take this and that piece of scum to the police, then get back here to bring me to the station. I have a story to write."
Taking a second glance across the street, she added, "*We* have a story to write."
Kal grinned and asked, "I take it you want me to contact your partner?"
"If you don't mind. He's probably chewing his nails down to the knuckles wondering what is happening over here. He worries — kind of like you do."
Breaking her off, Clark wasn't quite ready for her to put two and two together. He faced the two men and hoisted them up by their jackets. "Let's go, boys!"
"Hey! I wasn't the one with the gun!" Harrington complained.
"No, but you have some explaining to do, along with why you accepted bribes and traded top secret information."
"But I was being forced! By that two-bit…"
"Explain it to your lawyer, bud," he calmly replied as he flew out the window.
Lois watched her friend fly away, glad that Harrington hadn't realized that *she'd* been in his office illegally. Like she'd told Kal, she was just doing her job. Technically, she hadn't been in his office, just outside on the window ledge.
A few minutes later, Kal returned to fly her to the police station to wrap up the case. Lois cornered Henderson and made him promise that she would be the first journalist to get the official police report.
While waiting to be released after giving her statement, she scribbled an outline of an article on a notepad she borrowed from Henderson's desk, wanting to get a head start in case she was given an exclusive right away. Lois was deep into concentration, when a soft voice said, "Hey there."
"Hi, you missed all the action," she smiled, happy to see Clark.
"I caught up with the action on the surveillance tape. I saw your snooping." He grinned at her horrified expression. "Don't worry. There's enough evidence collected here that we don't need it."
Lois frowned at him. "What else did you see?"
"On second thought, maybe it was just Superman just catching a couple of criminals. Didn't he collect you on the street and bring you up through the window? That's what I saw. You'd never break and enter." He gave her an exaggerated wink.
Lois studied him for a second. "You're okay, Kent."
"So are you, Lane." Clark regarded her with a side-ways smile. "I guess our little venture in the gaudy Lexor is over?"
"What would you expect with a name like Luthor attached to it? But I guess we're finished," she admitted rather sadly.
"Guess we'd better gather up our things and check out," Clark said reluctantly.
A couple of hours later, they were finished at the police station and were on their way out the door of the honeymoon suite. Clark sighed as he locked the door for the final time.
Lois stood by his side, her arms full of baggage and equipment, and reaching up on her tiptoes, kissed him on the cheek. "Bye! Thought I'd tell you goodbye here."
"I'm glad," Clark replied, then leaned in and placed his lips lightly on her temple. "I guess we'd better meet our taxi. Ready?"
After slipping into an old pair of sweats and a well-loved T-shirt, Lois was preparing to settle down on the sofa with a book for the evening. It was obvious that Kal was busy with some sort of emergency or rescue, and he probably wasn't going to make it tonight. It was a relief to be finished with the Harrington investigation, but having it wrapped up so quickly was a bit of a disappointment.
She'd wanted to set things right with Clark again. Even though they appeared to have cleared the air, it still bothered her how she had treated him. It had been an instinctive reaction to push him away so abruptly when he'd thrown her on the bed and kissed her to fool the maid. How could he have known that she would fly off the handle that way?
Maybe she wasn't ready for a relationship with him. Maybe it was still too soon. No, it wasn't, she thought determinedly. She'd go to him tomorrow and drag him off so they could finish their talk — that was, after she apologized and explained why she had acted like a scared rabbit. He'd been so understanding and sweet about taking it slow. He made her feel as though she was worth the extra patience and trouble she was putting him through.
She pulled the warm throw over her legs and settled into the soft pillows. The new pillows that Kal's mom had made her were so much nicer than the stiff decorator ones that she had before. One of these days, she needed to twist Kal's arm and get him to take her to meet his parents. She would love to thank his mother personally, not to mention meeting the parents of her best friend.
A slight breeze swept through the room, and Lois looked up and saw Kal staring at her with a frightened, haunted look in his eyes. She immediately jumped to her feet to greet him. He just stood there, fighting some sort of demon, seemingly unable to move on his own any longer.
"Kal? What's wrong?" She took his hand and pulled him towards the couch. He walked behind her in a robot-like fashion, his mind not in the room with them, but somewhere else, a place where Lois suddenly knew she didn't want to be.
She sat next to him and gripped his hand firmly with both of hers.
"What is it, Kal?"
"I couldn't save her. There was nothing I could do. She's gone, Lois."
"Who is gone?" she probed gently.
"This little girl. An automobile accident. I got her out immediately after the crash, but she was too badly hurt. She was awake when I held her. She put her hand on my cheek and told me, 'Thanks, Superman. I knew you would save me.' She fell into unconsciousness right before the EMT's could get there."
"You did everything you could. Please Kal, don't blame yourself."
"She died in my arms, Lois. All the super powers in the world couldn't save her. I didn't want to fly her to the hospital. She had internal injuries, and I could hear the sirens coming. I was afraid I would hurt her more if I flew her somewhere," he continued shakily. "She was so tiny."
Lois looked into Kal's eyes and saw tears glistening in the corners. His chest was heaving in jerky motions as he was trying so hard to fight his emotions.
"Come here, big guy," she said softly, and placed her hand around the back of his head and tugged it towards the hollow of her shoulder. She felt him stiffen and resist her. After a few moments, she felt him give in as the weight of his head buried itself against her neck. She wrapped one arm around him and the other stroked his broad shoulder, comforting him as one would do to a small child.
She held him there, letting her tears flow with his. It was amazing that the strongest man in the world had a heart that was so fragile, so capable of deep caring and vulnerability. She spoke soft soothing words to him, barely noises, as her hands smoothed and caressed his hair.
Sometime during the hours that followed, Lois leaned back against the soft pillows his mother had made, the big super hero's head resting against her shoulder. He lay on his side, his back resting against the back of the cushions with the bulk of his weight off of her.
She lay awake for a time after his breathing evened out, and she knew he was asleep. She was so glad that he had chosen to come to her after this rescue. He could have so easily have gone elsewhere and tried to deal with this on his own — something that she would do, she though wryly — but instead, Metropolis's hero needed her tonight. And she was beginning to realize just how much she needed and relied on him in her life. She was a different person around him than when she was working at the Daily Planet. She could let her guard down and be herself, without the added pressures of holding it together in front of everyone, especially Clark.
Sleep was beginning to overtake her, and she blanked out her mind. The steady rhythm of Kal's breathing made her feel secure for the first time in a long time. He was the one thing that was right in her world, the one thing that wasn't a huge mess, and she wasn't confused, for the most part, as far as their relationship was concerned. Reaching for his cape that was bunched against the sofa behind his back, she pulled it gently over the both of them, tucking them in for the night.
"Good night, Kal," she whispered softly, dropping a whisper of a kiss on his forehead, then rested her cheek against his head and fell asleep.
He rose to semi-consciousness to the sound of a heartbeat, a familiar one that was engrained in his very being. Lois.
He must be dreaming about Lois again.
Warmth and scent began to filter into his senses. He burrowed his face into the welcoming softness and nuzzled it gently. These dreams were becoming more real. It felt good, so good. His hand was resting on something soft and round, and he flexed his hand around it gently. So good, so comforting. His lips parted slightly, and he pressed them repeatedly against the warm silkiness. Murmuring, "I love you," he allowed himself to sink back down into a deep sleep once more.
Such wonderful sensations were being created at the base of her neck. Heaviness rested on her chest and her upper body. Hmmm… something warm and gentle was squeezing the generous flesh beneath her T-shirt. Lois opened her eyes to Kal's face, inches from her own. His cheek was brushing against her jaw, and from the corner of her eye, she could see that he was still sleeping, or he appeared to be sleeping, as he was dreamily planting lazy kisses on her sensitive skin.
And his hand was on her breast!
It was fascinating the way they seemed to fit against each other — the large curve of his hand against the flattened mound of her flesh. Seemed so right, so good… together. Breaking out of her trance, she shifted slightly in surprise to her reaction to the feelings he was stirring up inside her, and to her greater amazement, she heard him whisper, "I love you."
A thrill of adrenaline shot through her body, but then a rock-hard feeling in her stomach sank with a surprising jolt. There was another woman he loved in his other life. He has to be dreaming of her, she thought. Confirming her suspicions, Kal began to rise in the air, floating about one foot above her. Lois was able to scoot out from underneath him, then she sat on the edge of the sofa to watch him sleep.
He was lying on his stomach, still curled in the position from sleeping next to her. He bobbed gently in front of her, his cape swaying softly below him. Her hand rose involuntarily toward his face, but pulled it back jerkily before she touched him. His lashes were long, and he had a vulnerability about him that reminded her of a little child. She was glad he was able to sleep last night. He looked so bone-tired when he arrived last night.
As she watched him rest, she began to ponder about her friend. Who was this woman who held him so captivated? What was her personality like? Was she a blond and ditzy airhead? She had to be if she couldn't see what she had in front of her, Lois thought, becoming slightly annoyed. That was what she wanted to believe, but knowing Kal the way she did, this woman would be special. Kal deserved someone extraordinary. Whoever she was, she was a very fortunate woman to have Kal love her as much as he obviously did.
Her fingers hovered above his face again and felt once more the urge to stroke his disheveled cheek covered with prickly razor stubble. Unable to resist the temptation, she grazed the side of his temple with the tip of her index finger. Her breath caught sharply in her throat as the full realization hit her. This was Superman! Sleeping on her sofa, or hovering above it if you wanted to get the details correct, but he was a virile *man*, one with the desires and passion of any full-blooded male. Not knowing she was holding her breath, air escaped from her lungs quickly as she stared at his face.
This epiphany baffled her. She still felt the tingle from where his hand had rested on her chest moments earlier, and was bewildered by what it had stirred up inside of her. He was just supposed to be her best friend, not another man in her life. Laying her hand against his roughened skin, she studied him in earnest until he lost a little attitude. He probably was waking up, but she realized that she wasn't quite ready to give up this close proximity to him.
She stretched out on the sofa again, and grasped the edges of his cape and tugged gently. He bobbed slightly in the air and then rose to his previous height. Rolling him to his side with more pressure from one side of his cape, she lowered him down next to her inches above the cushions. This time he stayed, and she rested her arm lightly on his chest. Slipping into the hollow of his arm, she snuggled close to him and unknowingly smiled as his arms tightened around her. This was her best friend, and if he needed her, she would be there. Sighing, she closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.
This fantastic, wonderful dream was back: Lois was in his arms again, her curves molded perfectly against his body, her warm scent delicately tickling his senses. Her lips were yielding willingly beneath his, and their tongues dancing to a primal rhythm, slowly at first, then increasing in fervor. His hands had pushed the thin fabric of her nightshirt upward, and now he was caressing the silky skin of her back and sides.
It was just like he had remembered and had dreamt about countless times since their breakup — Lois willingly responding to him as he made love to her. No pretenses, no secret identities, just all of him, loving her completely and without reservation.
He heard himself passionately moan as her hand snaked its way down his spine and settled in to trace lazy circles in the small of his back. This was so real, so vivid. Surely he would be waking up soon as he always had when things started to become interesting.
A tug at his zipper from her other hand suddenly startled him as it slapped against the fabric next to his skin. Did he forget to take his Superman suit off? Superman suit? This was becoming confusing. Who was Lois kissing, and why couldn't he recall what had happened? They had kissed earlier that day when he was with her as Clark. That he remembered. But Lois was playing with the zipper at the back of his suit. Surely she hadn't discovered that he was Kal? Where were the fireworks? Where was the explosion of Lois Lane that he knew was to take place upon his discovery?
In an instant, he was fully awake, although still kissing Lois. Horrified at his behavior, he pulled away from her lips and her sweet body, and sat up, hoping that this was a dream after all, and that he hadn't ruined whatever friendship/romance they had in the works.
Lois appeared just as horrified as he shoved on his boots. "Sorry, Lois. I can't. This was a big mistake. I've got to go."
Still breathing hard from their unexpected kissing session, Clark left with a whoosh and the curtains fluttering wildly in his wake.
Clark paused before walking through the doors of the Snitch and hoped for the last time that he was doing the right thing with this fundraiser. After seeing Rose's Superman paraphernalia behind the bar the other day and believing that he'd be well received, Rose and Bobby Bigmouth seemed to be the logical choice for sponsoring this endeavor. He considered them to be good friends, and he hoped that an event such as this would give their restaurant and bar more exposure to the public.
It was early in the morning and he could hear bustling going on inside as the workers prepared to open before the lunch hour. Clark knocked on the door loudly and straightened his cape at his shoulders.
A worker nearly dropped her stack of clean plates after seeing it was Superman, and opened the door to let him in.
Clark nodded amicably and took the plates from the waitress, and asked, "Is Rose or Bobby Cooper here?"
Her eyes grew wide as a sudden revelation passed over her face, then she dashed to the back. "Rose! You'd better get out here," the waitress's voice squeaked. "Rose!"
With his super hearing, Clark heard a voice from the back room pipe up and sound annoyed, "I'm busy. Can ya wait a few minutes?"
"I don't think so. There's someone here to see you," the waitress insisted.
"Unless it's the Health Department or Superman, they're gonna have to wait until I finish balancing the books."
"It's one of them." The waitress stalled, hoping to drop the bomb on her boss easily.
Rose jumped from her chair grumbling, "I'd just bet Bobby's trying to serve something stupid like alligator burgers caught from something in the Metropolis sewer. That man is gonna have the Health Department all over us."
After turning the corner into the main room, she stopped dead in her tracks and let out a tiny screech. "Superman?"
Clark gave her a friendly smile and held out his hand. "Rose Cooper?"
Rose stood stunned for a moment before reaching out a limp hand towards Clark.
"Hello, Ms. Cooper," Clark said amicably. "I was wondering if I could talk to you. I have a business proposition for you and your husband."
Lois was getting ready for bed a few nights later when Kal appeared by her window. He had not been by to visit ever since they shared that wonderful sleepy kiss the other night.
She didn't know what had happened right before that. All she remembered was she'd been having this most fantastic dream about kissing this someone, his face was a blur, and the next thing she knew, Kal was bolting out of her apartment without bothering to talk about what had happened.
At first, she thought he was only shell-shocked and that was the reason for him leaving so abruptly, but it had been a few days since then, and now she was not so sure. Although she had been angry at first, she thought his actions had something to do with the tragedy he had gone through that same night and decided to cut him some slack.
Even though their relationship was only supposed to be platonic, anything resembling something other than being friends was getting in the way of her relationships again. The first kiss happened because she'd asked him to become sort of test subject, but she had been surprised at the depths of her feelings then. Maybe it was her fault that this whole snowball of emotion had started rolling. There was no going back, the kisses between them had happened, and they would have to deal with the consequences.
Clark had been scarce since they had wrapped up their investigation. He had suddenly decided to take a few days vacation and had been very mysterious as to how he was going to spend the time. It had been very lonely in the newsroom without him, yet in some ways she was glad for the distance. Dealing with these new strange emotions she had just discovered for Kal was not helping her peace of mind. Add to that her burgeoning romance with Clark and it was enough to make her want to spend a whole week in the honeymoon suite just to unwind.
Perry had announced the other day that the Daily Planet was having a pre-Kerth party at a swanky restaurant for the people who had been nominated for a Kerth. It was coming up in a couple of days, and she only hoped that Clark would be there to celebrate with her.
At Kal's tentative rap on the window, she put on her robe and let him in her apartment.
"What? No video or food? Kal, you're slipping," she teased nervously, not wanting to scare him away.
"Come with me," he blurted. "I think we need to do something different."
Without waiting for her to answer, he scooped her up in his arms and hovered three feet above her floor. "Please, indulge me. Just this once," he pleaded.
She studied his face in the instant that they hung in the air. Could he be as concerned for their friendship as she was? How was he handling the death of the little girl? She nodded her head, and Kal flew them out of the window.
The night air was invigorating and immediately cleared any lingering sleep from her head. She was dressed for bed and had chosen casual sleepwear: flannel pajamas, large fuzzy slippers, her robe was warm and comfortable. She had long given up more intimate sleep apparel since Kal had begun his frequent visits at night, though lately she had been contemplating something a bit more revealing and sexy now that she and Clark were back on speaking terms.
The Freudian slip in her thought processes hadn't gone unnoticed by her. She secretly hoped that she and Clark could continue to patch together their relationship and regain what was lost — the magic and the complete sense of connection, a connection not unlike what she and Kal shared. She couldn't let that happen with Kal. If their friendship had been shattered because of her not being able to control her emotions, she would never able to forgive herself. His friendship meant too much to her.
Now he was here and whisking her off to some mysterious place. He set her on the ground located in some sort of woods and led her out into an open area. It was a small, intimate park completely surrounded by trees, completely hidden from the world. A child's playground stood nearby along with a couple of outdoor tables and benches. A picnic basket lay on top of a red and white blanket and a chilled bottle of wine sat next to it.
Clark stood next to Lois, grinning nervously, waiting for her reaction. He'd hoped this would get their friendship back on track. They really needed to talk after his leaving so abruptly the other night. He didn't want to be repairing his relationship with her as Clark as his friendship with her as Kal was failing. Ironically though, once she found out that he and Kal were one and the same, both identities' relationship could be doomed. But once he was on solid ground with Lois again, then he had to tell her. In fact, if the opportunity arose tonight, he would take it. That was one thing he had learned to past few days — life was too short and precious to put important things off. He couldn't keep leading Lois on for very much longer.
Lois looked at the set-up and half smiling, said to him, "This is lovely, Kal."
She was a bit apprehensive. Did Kal think that because they had kissed by accident the other night that there was something starting between them? Even though she was starting to feel something more for him than just friendship, she wasn't quite ready to admit it to herself yet.
No, it had to have something to do with getting their friendship back on the right track. After their kiss and his bolting out of her apartment, she was sure he was feeling uneasy. Besides, he was in love with that other woman. Friends shared wine and had lovely midnight picnics in the park, didn't they?
Deciding that she wanted to see what Kal had in mind when he had set this up, she widened her smile and sat down on the blanket. A small voice inside wondered that if Kal was this romantic to just his friends, then what would he be like to someone that he truly cared for — someone he was in love with.
At that provocative thought, she caught her breath before it became audible and immediately willed the swirling sensations in her gut to go away. No, it was not possible for her to feel anything like that for Kal. Her heart belonged to Clark.
Satisfied with her conclusion, she smoothed the blanket around her and then glanced up to see what Kal was doing.
He was smiling at her — a thoughtful, easy smile that turned her heart over.
"What?" she asked almost shyly.
"Nothing. I'm just glad you didn't protest too much when I kidnapped you." He sat down on the blanket Indian style, then reached into the wine bucket and with a tiny squeeze of his hands, popped the cork on the wine.
"I really enjoyed flying with you and going out the other night. I was hoping we could have more times like that. You were right. We need to do more things."
"So am I getting boring?" she asked, accepting a glass of red wine.
Kal swallowed his sip of wine hard. "No! Was that what you think this is about?"
"No, hardly. But I have been worried about you. Are you doing okay? You were so upset the other night."
"I think I am. When I can't save everyone, it eats away at me." He played with the cork from the wine, turning it over in his hand.
"You can't let it do that," Lois said sternly, sensing his feelings of guilt. "What you *can* do is enough. Please see that."
"I'm trying, Lois, but this time it hasn't been easy. I close my eyes and still see that child pleading with me to save her. My mom and dad have tried to help, but I guess it's something I'm going to have to get through. I think I've found a way as Superman that can benefit some children — a charity benefit. I've been soliciting several sponsors who will match all donations raised. It's the least I can do for little Jessie. That was her name. It's set to open tomorrow night."
"I want to help sponsor a special pediatric trauma center. I've never done a charity event like this before. It's quite an undertaking."
"It sounds wonderful. Is that why you haven't been around much lately?"
"Yeah." He took another drink of his wine. "Frankly, I was too scared to come around after the other night and…" Suddenly Clark straightened up and held his hand out to Lois. "Come on, let's go play on the swings!"
Lois thought it was an odd request coming from him now, considering the topic they had been discussing, but then again, it could be his way of avoiding the conversation.
Clark gulped as he suddenly realized that they had been in a park when he and Lois had lunch in a few days before. And he had invited her to go swinging then also. What was he thinking? It had been as Clark, instead of Kal. Good grief, he was confusing his two personalities. Now that he and Lois were becoming closer, it was getting harder to remember what he'd said and done with her in each personality. Being distracted by the fundraiser wasn't helping him either. And this should have been a midnight picnic with her as Clark!
"Um, we don't have to," Clark balked, reaching for the bottle of wine once more. "I guess I'm still embarrassed about kissing you the other night when we were supposed to have been sleeping."
Stuffing away any disturbing thoughts, she patted his leg awkwardly and gulped the rest of her wine. "No, come on. It might make it easier to talk about if we're doing something mindless."
Lois took his hand and was very aware that he still held it as they walked towards the swing set. She sat down on a swing and stuck her fuzzy slipper-covered feet straight out in front of her. "Push me," she commanded.
After stepping back a couple feet, he placed his hands on the chains and gave her a light shove. Lois swung back and forth a couple times, then leaned her head back and smiled up at him. "You can do better than that," she commanded. "Higher."
In order to comply with her wishes, Clark needed something firmer to push rather than flexible chains and the only thing more solid was Lois. He pushed lightly against her waist, sending her a bit higher than before.
Her stomach dipped and swirled, and she was aghast to realize that it wasn't from the motion of the swing but from the touch of Kal's hands on her body. No! This wasn't the way it was supposed to be!
In self-defense, she ground her feet into the dirt, coming to a halt. Dirt covered her fuzzy slippers, and she frowned upon feeling the grit trickle down inside.
Lois pointed to the swing next to her, motioning for him to sit. "Tell me what this is all about, I mean, really about." She gestured around at the park and the picnic blanket and waited expectantly.
Clark sat down next to her, his cape dragging in the dirt behind him and began to move nervously back and forth. "I'm really sorry about the other night."
"You left so quickly, Kal. I was hurt that you didn't feel that you could stay. I mean, after all we've been through, I thought our friendship could handle anything."
"It was shocking to wake up and realize I was kissing you. I panicked." He paused, then tried to plow forward. "There's a reason I got confused and kissed you."
"You don't have to be embarrassed, Kal. I know you were dreaming about that woman you had mentioned the other night. Isn't that right?" she asked, hoping to quash her confusion with a bit of reality.
"Um, yeah. I guess you can say that," he replied hesitantly.
"Stuff happens, you know, and we can't always control our dreams, so let's forget about it," she answered, her feelings contrary to her words.
"Is that what you want to do, Lois? Forget about it?"
She couldn't answer him right away. Of course, she had to forget about the way she had felt when his mouth plundered hers so sweetly and the feel of his hard muscles beneath his suit. Of course, she had to forget the security and comfort of his embrace in the middle of the night, and the tendrils of something more lapping at her heartstrings.
She was in love with Clark, only Clark. That was the way it had to be.
"It's probably for the best. No hard feelings?" She stuck her hand out towards him.
Clark sighed inwardly as he grabbed her hand. Maybe Lois wasn't ready for their relationship to change. It sounded like she still wasn't ready to consider anything more between them. When he had brought Lois here tonight, he hoped that he could test the waters between them to determine if she was ready for the truth. Yet — as their hands swung easily between them — he couldn't resist touching her, in any capacity.
"No hard feelings," he agreed, but decided to press on. "But I was wondering, maybe it's time you knew the truth about me. Like what I do for a living, my real name, where I grew up. It's been almost a year since we met. I'd like to think that we're past the skittish stage."
"Wow, has it almost been a year? That's so hard to believe." She began to swing easily, moving back and forth with her feet still on the ground. He moved with her in unison, their clasped hands stretched out between them.
"Yep. In four days, it will be one year."
Lois swallowed hard and made a decision. If she had a deadline to work with, she could have everything sorted out and placed in their proper boxes. The Kerth dinner was coming up very quickly, and hopefully, she and Clark would have sealed their relationship. If all went well, she planned on telling him that she loved him. Big decision, she realized, but nothing that she hadn't known for quite some time.
Maybe by then, she would have gained perspective on her and Kal's friendship. She would know the details of his life, perhaps even meet the woman he was in love with, and these weird feelings would go away.
"Our anniversary. What do you think about the idea of going back to the stoop where we first met and you telling me the details of your life? It can be a first annual tradition for us. No matter where we are or what we're doing in life, we'll always meet on those steps. What do you say?"
Clark smiled. It was perfect. "I'll bring the Chinese."
"Little bamboo containers?"
"Wear those black clothes and knitted cap?"
"If you want."
"Can we fly and greet the sunrise?"
"If you're still speaking to me," Clark blurted.
Lois gave him a questioning glare. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, nothing much. I just hope you're not disappointed when you find out my real identity." He turned her hand over and kissed her palm lightly, trying to send her a clue. "It's time you found out."
The tingle racing up her arm left her speechless, as well as Kal's boldness. Suddenly she was scared. Kal might not be as easy to let go as she first thought.
Clark hopped off the swing feeling lighter and freer than he had in a long time. He was going to tell Lois the truth, and in spite of the consequences, he knew he was doing the right thing. Four days. By the stunned look on her face and the race of her heartbeat from his tiny kiss on her hand, their date on the steps was probably the perfect time to tell her.
"Come on. Let's finish the wine."
Lois slumped in the swing and stared at his retreating figure, his cape swishing behind him. Nope! Kal wasn't going to finish that wine without her. She jumped up and raced after him, limping slightly because of the pebbles and dirt in her slippers.
"You just wait a minute, mister! No fair hogging the wine!"
Clark stopped and waited for Lois. He had four days until they met on their steps. Four days…
He sighed nervously and offered Lois his arm.
Lois sipped her champagne and glanced impatiently around the room. Smoothing the front of her dress down, she wandered to the large window that faced the lake and watched the lights twinkle along the opposite shore. In spite of all the gaiety and celebration, there was still something missing, *someone* was missing.
The whole evening up to this point had been lovely. The dinner had been delicious, the atmosphere was perfect, and her co-workers had actually congratulated her on her and Clark's Kerth nomination.
There was probably a very good reason that they were speaking civilly to her tonight. It wasn't hard to figure out that since she was the only one of the nominees to show up, her coworkers were forced to speak to her instead of Clark.
He had called her that afternoon to inform her that he was going to be delayed. His parents' flight was arriving in this evening, and he needed to get them settled in his apartment before he could attend the Kerth celebration.
She supposed that was a good excuse — it was refreshing to hear that he had a good relationship with his parents, something that she never had — yet one fact still remained. Clark wasn't here to share the celebration with her.
The night was turning out to be a dud.
The clanging of spoons on champagne glasses startled her out of her thoughts, along with few rowdy cheers. Lois could see a few people back-clapping someone by the entrance, offering their congratulations.
She stood up on her tiptoes hoping to confirm her suspicions and tried to see above the crowd. A tall dark head was the recipient of all the attention and a familiar one too. Clark had arrived.
Her whole body was suddenly filled with anticipation, and she felt alive again. She'd missed him so much during the time he'd been away. The past few days had only confirmed how much she was ready to have him back in her life, back in her arms. She wet her lips nervously and took a hesitant step towards the crowd.
No, it was better if she stayed in one spot — Clark would find her eventually. She'd just keep him in her sight and hope to make eye contact with him.
Clark accepted the congratulations and the claps on the back good- heartedly. His colleagues were so supportive of his achievements, of his and Lois' achievements, he mentally corrected.
He had hated being away for so long, but there had been so much work to do with the fundraiser. There hadn't been time to drop Lois some hints as Kal like he had first anticipated; finding sponsors had been fairly easy, but time consuming. He had so many particulars to work with, yet felt most of the main details were out of his hands. Trusting the people he had chosen was proving to be hard, but he had to have faith. After all, they were on the same team.
Someone handed him a glass of champagne, and he mindlessly grabbed hold of it. Lois was here. He could hear her heartbeat on the far side of the room, beating rapidly. He couldn't tell if she was upset, or…
After catching sight of Lois leaning casually against a large picture window, his breath caught in his throat. Her dark eyes pierced the distance between them, and he could hear her heartbeat accelerate — just about as quickly as his own heart was beating.
He took a couple steps towards her, but Eduardo grabbed his hand and shook it good-naturedly, halting his progress.
"Congratulations, Kent," the older man greeted. "Glad to see you're on the way to winning another one for the Daily Planet. Great job!"
"Thanks, Eduardo," Clark smiled. "We haven't won anything yet."
"But you will, buddy," he grinned back. "You're miles ahead of the competition."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but most of the credit should go to Lois. She kept me going when I broke my ribs. I wouldn't have made it without her." His last statement had more than one meaning, and Clark knew that his face was telling a tale of its own.
A knowing smile flashed in Eduardo's eyes. "I'm sure it works both ways. You two make a great team. Any chance that you'll work together again?"
"We're trying to work things out. It's coming together slowly." His eyes sought Lois' as he spoke, and Clark felt his cheeks flush, realizing that he wasn't talking about working together anymore.
"I'll let you go," Eduardo motioned his head towards Lois. "I think someone is waiting for you. Give her a congratulatory kiss for me."
Flustered, Clark plowed on through the crowd. How did Eduardo know? Was he wearing his heart on his sleeve already?
He looked over the crowd to find Lois again, and catching her eye, felt his heart turning over in response. Her lips moved, and with his super hearing, he saw and heard her whisper, "Hurry up, Kent."
Resisting the urge to fly over the crowd, he picked his way slowly through the masses and was almost by her side when Perry tapped loudly on a microphone, interrupting the pianist playing in the background.
"Ahem! Everyone! You old goats stop flirting with the fillies and listen up!" Perry's voice boomed out.
"Now I know this was rather strange to a lot of you to have a party before anyone has won an award, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Every one of you nominees deserves praise for your hard work and dedication to the Daily Planet. I'd like everyone to raise their glasses to our own, Lois Lane and Clark Kent for their article on the Lex Luthor corruption, Pete Gates for the series on sports medicine…"
Perry talked on, and although Clark was appreciative of the honor, he was longing to be with Lois. It was impolite to turn his back on his editor, so he decided to stick out Perry's speech until a time when all eyes wouldn't be on them anymore. He could be patient, not too much longer, but it would be worth it.
At last came the raising of the glasses and everyone toasted, the clanging of the crystal filling the air like many singing bells. Clark downed his glass and found himself at Lois' side without realizing how he got there. He hadn't wanted the first time seeing her as Clark in a few days to be in front of the whole newsroom. The crowd was gawking at them, the gossipmongers ready to grab any tidbit they could glean to become fodder for the next coffee break's conversation.
She was so beautiful in her classic black dress. The fabric clung to all the right places, the tiny slit on her skirt, revealing just a hint of her shapely legs. Her hair was swept up into a classic chignon with soft tendrils plucked away to soften the style, revealing an incredible expanse of kissable skin on her neck.
"Lois." Clark swallowed hard as he tried to remove the lump in his throat. "Would you like to dance?" He held out his hand to her tentatively. Strains of a popular ballad were starting to float around them. "We don't have to, I mean, with everyone watching, but I'd love it if you gave me the honor."
Old fears flared up quickly. Lois wanted to hesitate, she wanted to run, to get out while she still could, but she summoned up enough strength to speechlessly nod her head. She reached out to take his hand and moved into his arms as she had done a thousand times before in her daydreams.
She stared at his lips, looking into his eyes was way too dangerous she decided, so she settled on his lips. The fine lines and fullness of his lips were mesmerizing; they were barely parted, and the ends were slightly curled up in a dreamy smile. Mostly people made eye contact, never having the chance to study someone's face this closely, but she wanted to taste them, feel them upon hers, brand his kiss into her soul.
"I've missed you," he whispered honestly.
"Missed you, too," she croaked. Caught up in her trance, she lifted her hand to trace his bottom lip, but her hand was captured as Clark slowly brought their semi-outstretched hands to his chest.
He automatically drew her in a little closer as his other hand around her waist tightened protectively. Liquid heat began growing inside as she remembered how those lips had wreaked heavenly havoc on her mouth and body so long ago. Maybe it was better to not think about those times now, not when she was so vulnerable to him. Lips put on hold for the moment, Lois let her head rest on his shoulder as they swayed slowly to the music, unaware of nothing but each other.
Lois released his hands to wrap both of her arms around his neck. He had one arm around her waist and the other at the back of her neck, cradling her. Clark found his face nestled in her hair, the clean scent of it almost overpowering him. Branding this moment into his soul, he memorized everything he could about the way he was feeling, the music that was playing, the way she felt in his arms, the smell of her…
Although Clark was unaware of it, he was driving her crazy. His fingers were lightly stroking the fine hairs at the nape of her neck, causing wonderful sensations to well up inside her. She lost all sense of who she was — her knees were becoming weak, and her heart was beating in her throat. She buried her face in the hollow of his neck, absorbing the smell of his cologne mixed with his sweat. Who is this man she was so desperately in love with? A top notch reporter, a kind gentle man with a propensity to tease her, devilishly handsome, and by the way he was holding her now, cared for her almost as much as she did him. Her hand crept up to entwine in his hair, kneading the strong muscles in the back of his neck.
Clark's knees trembled at her touch. It took all his mental resolve to hold back, not to crush her in his arms. What did all this mean? Could it be true? Was this the magic back from the days when he first met her? Did he dare to become bolder, to give into the magic that was happening between them? He'd fought it before and wasn't sure if there was enough resolve in him to resist any longer. He lowered his head and shrouded his face in her hair.
Clark was sweating. Fires, earthquakes, meteors and multiple disasters never elicited the response Lois was now kindling inside him. He desperately wanted to loosen his tie, but Lois would have to be moved so that was out of the question. Of course he'd held her before, recently, but this time was so different. This time there was something else, a different level of awareness that had never been there before. He then became aware that he was subconsciously tracing the back of her neck with his fingers and then tried to project all his feeling into those simple movements.
<Feel it, Lois! Feel how much I love you!> He turned his face slightly and tenderly brushed his lips into her hair.
Lois felt his breath in her ear, inhaling and exhaling as they swayed to the romantic lyrics and dreamy music. She didn't know what was happening around her, all she knew was that her senses were on overload. She tilted her head slightly to the side, silently pleading with him to do something with those lips. Why did this feel so right? What is it about this man that made her want to stay in his arms forever?
"Sing for me, please," Clark whispered huskily. "I remember you have the most lovely voice."
Sing for Clark? She'd done it a million times since the White Orchid Ball, but only in her dreams or when she was alone. They were close to the piano, and Lois left Clark's arms for a moment to whisper into the pianist's ear. The musician nodded and smiled at Lois knowingly as he modulated into another key and song.
Her voice started out barely audible, but then the song began tumbling out as the lyrics began to touch her.
Sometimes I wonder why I spend The lonely nights, Dreaming of a song, The melody haunts my reverie, And I am once again with you, When our love was new, And each kiss an inspiration…"
"Inspiration… " Clark murmured as his arms tightened around her.
"But that was long ago, And now my consolation is in the stardust of a song," Lois sang softly.
"Beside a garden wall, When stars are bright You are in my arms; The nightingale tells his fairytale Of paradise where roses grew, Though I dream in vain In my heart there always will remain My stardust melody, The memory of love's refrain."
"Does it have to stay a memory, Lois?" Clark whispered huskily. "I remember, and it was beautiful. What we shared, what we started, was breathtaking. What we could have…"
"I remember too," she said quietly and tightened her arms around his neck. "How could I forget?"
Clark felt her shift her head to the side, and he lowered his head to kiss the area below her ear. As he planted soft, gentle kisses on her neck, he felt her heart beat faster beneath his sensitive lips. Her taste was sweet, and her sighs were telling him that for the moment she was content. In the back of his head, he knew he shouldn't be kissing her, but he threw those thoughts out of his mind and gave in to the feelings that were overwhelming him. They needed to talk.
The dancing couple was totally oblivious to the stares that they were generating by the others in the room. Perry's mouth was hanging open at the fire-hot connection that his top reporting team projected. He wasn't sure whether to be shouting for joy or rushing over to break them up. Lois was completely surprising him, her vexatious attitude toward her coworker was no secret to anyone and this complete turnaround had everyone in shock.
He had a gut feeling that Clark harbored something for Lois — his eyes gave him away when he looked at her — but the display of raw emotion that was evident in the way they were holding and touching each other, well, that was something else. Like a dam finally giving way to the pressure. Not even Elvis looked like that with Priscilla. Perry lasered with his eyes anyone who threatened to disturb them. The whole room of people shifted over to the side at his glares, leaving the couple to enjoy their private moment without disruption.
Lois greatly underestimated the power of his lips on her skin. It was fire. Every kiss burned sweetly as his gentle touch stirred up feelings she'd long tucked away as memories. Needing to do more, she lifted up her face that was leaning against his neck to press a longing kiss against his jaw line.
Clark pulled away slightly and cupped her face with his hand and tilted it upwards till their eyes met. What he saw there was totally incredulous — her eyes said it all. They were darker than he had ever seen them before. Could that actually be desire reflecting in them, or were they mirroring his own? With his eyes not leaving hers, he traced her lips with his thumb slowly. Did he even dare to? He lowered his face…
As Lois' face was gently being lifted up to meet his gaze, she was totally unprepared for the unabashed adoration that she found in his deep brown eyes. Just like before. Never before had a man looked at her this way. Not Claude, never any of the few men she casually dated, no one, except Clark. As he lowered his face down to hers, she stirred up her courage to meet him halfway into the kiss. Her head exploded into a million stars as the room started to spin around her.
They had ceased dancing when Clark had lifted her face. She met him with such a fury that it took his breath away. He lost all reservation and gave into all the passion and love that had been building for such a long time.
Out of breath, they pulled apart and found everyone was staring at them. Clark stood there blushing with his mouth open as Lois grabbed his face with both hands, looked at everyone smugly, and kissed him soundly on the lips once more. Collecting herself, she straightened her dress and swiftly left the room.
Clark stood flustered for a couple of minutes. The people in the room were blocked out of his mind as he tried to stop the room from spinning in his recovery from the kiss with Lois. What kept pounding through his mind was that she had run out on him. He had blown it! He'd pushed her to the limit and now had ruined all the confidence she had built up since he had kissed her in the hotel room.
What was more important was the stark fear in her eyes as she drew away from him. Fear that he never wanted to see in her eyes again ever since that day in the newsroom when she had accused him of stealing her story. The look in her eyes after she had kissed him moments ago was fear, like a haunted animal whose only choice was to run to the nearest burrow. He felt his heart tear in two.
She was still scared… scared of him. Scared of what they could have.
He walked over the window and stared down at the lake. Lois was down below, her silhouette dark against the light shimmering on the water and she was still — like a cutout figure from a picture perfect background. Leaning on the rail, only her hair was moving as the light breeze toyed with it. A large hand landed on his shoulder, and he turned around to face Perry.
"Perry, I ruined everything. She's never going to forgive me."
"Nonsense, Clark. Forgive you what? By golly! Even a blind man could see how much you care for that girl. She loves you too. Work it out."
"Really, Chief?" Suddenly elated that someone noticed that Lois could possibly be in love with him. "But love? I don't know. Maybe I should wait."
"Son. If you don't want to lose her, you better scoot on after her *now*! I don't have time to lecture you, just get out of here."
"Perry…" He stared at the older man for a second, then a small smile turned up at the corner of his mouth. "Thanks."
"Anytime, son," Perry said as he smiled at his top reporter. Ah, young love! He looked around for his wife. Perhaps a quiet stroll in the moonlight was in order.
Clark walked down to the water, his heart pounding even faster with every step he took towards her. What had he done? He'd kissed her in front of the whole newsroom crowd. They had so much to talk about, yet he had given into his emotions. This was getting way out of hand. Now she was upset, and it was his fault — again. When was he going to learn?
But Perry was right; he had to talk to her. Letting her walk away upset was just compounding the situation. He was tired of running away from her and playing these cat-and-mouse games. Tired of loving her so much it hurt, and being afraid to touch her the way he wanted without wondering if she would push him away.
Tired of secrets, duel identities and unwanted promises he couldn't keep. It was time to end this: first as Clark, then as Kal.
Lois had known it would happen. Just like in the nightmares that had plagued her sleep since meeting Clark almost a year ago. She should have known better than to be in the public eye with Clark in front of all her coworkers again. Laughing bitterly to herself, she wished she had a nickel for every time that one of her female colleagues threw a dirty glance her way. Although they never actually said anything to her, she was sure it was because of the way she treated 'poor Clark'.
When Clark asked her to dance, she should have waved off the invitation with the understanding that she didn't want to do it in front of a crowd. Judging by her reaction from just being in the same room with him — heck, the same *building * as him — she should have known it would've been trouble to be in his arms, even for a brief dance. It was all his fault, anyway — why did he have to be so darn handsome? Was it even possible for her to hold a rational thought together while in his company?
Why did the memory of their one night together have to keep playing itself over and over in her mind? Even though they hadn't made love, sleeping nearly naked, skin on skin, had been so intimate. The memory was burned permanently in her mind, and she'd never forget it as long as she lived. They had shared that near perfect night long ago, and now she'd felt it once more; his arms had been around her and his lips upon hers. There was no turning back to the ordered existence they'd established in the newsroom — she wouldn't be able to hold it together anymore. One of them would have to leave or be reassigned — it was over. *She* would have to leave — Clark hadn't asked for this disruption in his life.
But it was Claude's fault! If only she had met Clark first, then she wouldn't have been put through the ringer with that self-absorbed, egotistical manipulator. She sighed and realized that for a city girl, raised in Metropolis, she had been very naive. But the damage was done and she had to get over her insecurities and hang-ups, or she was going to lose Clark.
She could feel his presence behind her, then his hand, warm and shocking, on her shoulder. A shudder raced through her body, and she immediately missed its touch when Clark withdrew it.
"Lois." His voice was low as he tried to swallow the lump in his throat. "Can you please turn around and look at me?" When she didn't respond, he said softly, "I can leave if want you me to."
She shook her head slowly, with great difficulty whispered, "No, stay." It was hard to remain coherent when so close to him again. She wanted desperately to turn around and be kissed senseless by him one more time, but her old fears had returned, leaving her helpless to say what she was feeling. She was unwilling to face him, but she couldn't risk turning away from him again, not if there was a remote possibility that he returned her intense feelings.
She turned around slowly, and his face dropped with concern when he saw teardrops rolling down her cheeks. "Oh, Lois. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to." Clark was at lost for words, and completely frustrated that he didn't understand the circumstances that had made her run from him. He reached out a finger to stroke away a tear that was quivering on her face, threatening to join the others that were wetting her dress. Finding his voice again, he implored, "Please, forgive me; I had no right to kiss you. Now I've ruined everything."
The touch of his hand was almost unbearable in its tenderness as she unwillingly leaned toward it, seeking its warmth and gentleness. The expression on his face was so full of concern for her that she no longer wanted to keep shutting him out.
"Oh no! I'm not really sure why I'm crying. You didn't do anything wrong. I'm so messed up. Now I've got you thinking it's your fault."
"What is it? Please talk to me. I want to understand."
"I think I *need* you to understand. Oh, Clark! I've treated you so badly. It all started when I thought you were like *him*. I wanted you to be like him so I could take out on *you* what he did to me."
She turned away from him once more, placing her palms on the railing and leaning against it. Out of her peripheral vision, she saw him do the same, but at a safe distance of about a foot and a half away.
"His name was Claude Devereaux, and he was the top reporter for the Metropolis Star about a year and half ago. I think I've told you a little about him."
"Just start from the top. I remember the name. Didn't he win a Meriweather Award a few months ago?" Clark saw Lois' fists ball up as they lay on the top railing.
"Yes. With *my* story. The jerk stole *my* story and left me," she said bitterly.
"I'm sorry," Clark replied, holding his breath, only daring to stare at her hands as he hoped that she'd continue to open up to him.
"I thought I loved him. He was smart, and handsome, and very charming. I was the envy of the newsroom when he decided to take *me*, fledging news reporter, under his wing. We weren't exactly partners, but we worked together and helped each other out on our individual stories. I didn't have the juicy ones — they were mainly fourth and fifth page articles — but there was one story I was working on that I hadn't told anyone about. It was going to be my ticket to the big time. It was my chance to prove that I wasn't just another hack reporter trying to play with the big boys.
"I'd been working on it during my spare time, had finally pieced together the final bit of the puzzle, and was going to nail this scam artist who was preying on the elderly — but I needed *his* opinion. I don't know if he suspected that I was working on this before he asked me to sleep with him, but afterwards, I guess my guard was down, or I was blinded by love, or something stupid like that; so I asked his professional advice on it." She paused and swiped at a stray tear running down her face.
"The next morning when I woke up, he was gone. So were my notes and any evidence I'd collected. He even managed to wipe out the related files on my computer. No one would question Claude Devereaux at my desk. He was at my desk all the time, mostly with me, so it was commonplace for him to be seen there. Maybe that's how he found out about the story to begin with. I don't think I'll ever know now. My editor didn't believe me. *No* one believed me. I hadn't told anyone. Claude must have finagled a way with him to keep me out of the office that day. The editor sent me to cover a *dog* show — can you believe it? — and when I refused, he threatened to fire me. Oh, Clark, I was so young then! I know it was only a year and a half ago, but I was so inexperienced! I should have fought harder for what was mine. Instead, I let that jerk walk all over me.
"When I finally collected enough guts to confront him that afternoon, the story was already out, and he was getting accolades for *his* great success. The streamers and balloons were the final straw that caused me to hit the boiling point. I exploded in front of the whole newsroom and made a complete fool of myself. Everyone thought I was jealous of his success because there was no way that Lois Lane could have discovered a story of that caliber."
"What did you do?"
"I went home, put on my schlumpy robe, ate ice cream, threw darts at his picture, and cried. Basically, I wallowed. I hate wallowers." She managed a weak smile, then closed her eyes.
"There's more, isn't there?" Clark asked, as he observed her bottom lip quivering again.
She tightened her lips in an attempt to gather herself and nodded her head.
"It's okay, sweetheart. Go ahead and tell me. I'm listening," Clark murmured, trying to will her the strength to finish her account. He covered her hand with his own, but she drew hers away quickly.
"No! Don't touch me yet!" she whimpered, his term of endearment accentuating the memory of the emptiness that swirled around in her heart at that time in her life. It had all come back again and she wanted to face it, but if Clark touched her, she would lose her composure. No. It was important for her to tell him everything; she was tired of running. Tired of letting her fears get in the way of her relationship with Clark. Inhaling a deep breath, she pleadingly looked up at him. "Let me finish first."
Clark just wanted to hold her, to let her melt against him and to comfort her. But he'd waited a whole year for her to completely open up to him about what had happened to her. He'd failed as her best friend to get her to talk to him; and now as Clark, he was at last about to hear what had caused her so much pain, and maybe even why she reacted so adversely to him that morning after Luthor had been arrested.
"I'd left something very important over at his place the night before. It was my grandmother's locket, the only thing from my father's side of the family that I halfway valued. Anything else, I would have forgotten, but I needed to get that back. So I got dressed and went over to his apartment, hoping I could sneak in, grab it and leave, but he was there. He'd been drinking, not much, probably in celebration of getting away with thievery, but I think he was a bit drunk."
"I walked in the door and he put on the charm like nothing had happened. I tried to ignore him by heading straight to the bedroom to get my grandmother's locket, but I turned around, and he was blocking the doorway. It was obvious by the look on his face that he wanted to pick up where we had left off the night before. I told him to get out of my way, but he grabbed me and kissed me hard. Then I was thrown on the bed and he climbed on top of me…" A shiver ran through her body as she recalled the sordid details. "I guess that's why I flew off the handle the other day and panicked when you kissed me in front of the maid. The tripod poked me in the back and I remembered."
"Lois, he didn't… " Clark said grimly, not wanting to hear what was coming next.
"No," she replied quickly, sensing his growing fear at what the situation implied. "I kneed him in the groin and was able to get out of there. I left him cussing and sputtering, but not before I poured the rest of his bottle of wine over his head."
"Lois, he could've come after you. Why did you risk that?" Clark asked with a tiny twinkle in his eye.
"He wasn't going anywhere. My self-defense instructor trained me well."
He chuckled and drew her head towards him to place a soft kiss on her temple. "That's my girl!"
"Wait," she insisted, lifting his hand from her face and placing it back on the railing. Sighing, she continued, "There's more."
"More?" Clark said, resignedly. How much more did this man put her through?
"The next morning, I arrived at work on time. I was determined not to run anymore. Claude was already there with Cat Grant all over him like a cheap suit. He obviously didn't waste anytime in finding another willing participant in his little games. I wanted to ignore them, nobody was going to believe me anyway, but Cat blocked the way to my desk, and then started accusing me of sleeping my way to the top in order to get a story. Claude joined her and loudly announced that he'd caught me going through his files at home, and that I was attempting to steal his story because I was jealous of his success. He then started telling the whole newsroom how much of a cold fish I was in bed, and what a lousy kisser I was. I couldn't face them anymore; it was too humiliating."
"Couldn't you have gone to your editor? He might have been able to do something. I can't believe…"
"That I would turn tail and run? Clark, no one would've believed me. Claude had everyone fooled, especially our editor. He could do no wrong. He was their star, and I was painted as an opportunist who slept her way around. I couldn't even deny that I had slept with him. I had to face the facts — the Metropolis Star was nothing but a bunch of bottom feeders, and I was their latest kill. So I left town and didn't come back for five months."
"You left everything, Lois! How horrible!"
"He's gone now. After he won *my* award, he accepted a job offer in Canada and married some poor girl named Marnie. I'd dearly love to rub his nose in our Kerth, that is, after we get it."
"I sure hope so, for you," Clark said wistfully, his anger on hold for now so he could pay full attention to Lois.
"Oh, Clark! Then I met you! You reminded me so much of him at first. Don't take offense, but that was how I saw you. My opinion of you was already formed before we even met — I thought you were Ralph, for Pete's sake — and we were after the same story." She paused thoughtfully for an endless moment and continued in a whisper. "Then there was this *thing* between us. I felt it the moment we met but didn't want to accept what was happening. It was almost tangible, and it scared the hell out of me." She let out a breathy laugh. "It still scares the hell out of me, but… I want to get over being so frightened."
"Lois…" Clark said huskily, not wanting to believe what he was hearing. Could she finally be ready for a relationship? He moved closer.
She held her hand up to stop him. "Not yet," she ordered, her eyes pleading with him not to come any closer. "Remember when we kissed in Luthor's office before we had even met? You knocked me for a loop that day, and it was wonderful, not that I wanted it to be, because you were the competition and I needed to be mad at you. But we had that magical time at the ball, in spite of that silly champagne episode and I was beginning to think you were different — one of the good guys. You were a hero to me." She paused, slightly embarrassed at her latest admission of admiration. "I began to get these feelings for you, and it threw me off balance."
"Even the kiss at the ball was supposed to be in pretense, and I believed all the horrible things that Claude said about me were true, but most of all — the thing that terrified me the most — was that I was in the same situation with you again. I was terribly attracted to another top reporter, you had all the information about a story I had been working so hard on, and we almost slept together, but the clincher was when you disappeared the next morning with our story."
Clark threw her a puzzled glance. "But I thought…"
"I know what you were doing — turning in *our* story. That I understand. But Clark, what I still don't understand is why you stopped making love with me the night before. I was willing, yet you stopped. Was it me? Was I doing something wrong? I don't understand."
"Oh, Lois! There was nothing more I wanted to do than to make love to that night. But honey, I want more than a one-stand, I didn't want you to think that all I was after was sex."
"Like Claude," Lois frowned. "I guess I can see that."
"We never had a chance to talk about it, or anything else." Clark sighed. "But there's time to talk about that another time. Please, go on. The next morning…"
"Then the next day, I saw the headline on the paper, and my name was first in front of yours in the byline. I thought for sure you weren't going to give me credit for it, much less top billing. Then when you did, it floored me. My gut feeling told me that you weren't anything like that creep, but after I saw my byline, I knew it was true."
"You deserved that byline. We were partners, even if it were only for that story, you earned that credit."
She sighed, a shudder of regret shadowing her voice. "I was going to give you a chance. I was all set to make amends, but then Cat Grant started in on me in front of the whole newsroom."
"Just like at the Metropolis Star," he murmured as his mind put another piece of the puzzle together.
"There was no way I was going to let her little prophecy come true. Then you kissed me in the conference room, and that time, the only thing I felt was fear. Fear that I was going to drag your reputation down with mine. I couldn't do that to you. So I shut you out, then broke up with you. How was it going to look if the tart from the Metropolis Star went after another top reporter? Clark, I had to do this on my own. I had to prove that I was just as good a reporter as you without hanging on your coattails. Credibility was something that I needed if I was going to make it. I thought you were just mad at me, or fed up with trying to keep me from ruining your reputation."
She straightened up from the railing and smiled at him, setting her chin in a stubborn line. "But I've been making my own name lately. I'm better now."
She was doing it again. Her whole demeanor was changing; she was letting her emotions roll off her back and was preparing to close up on him. There was no way that he could allow that to happen yet, not like the first time at the ball when she'd mentioned that some reporter had stolen her story. He'd let her get away with distancing then, and when she'd turned him away that fateful morning at the Planet. But not this time! Not now when she was so close to letting down all her barriers.
"Are you really better, Lois?" He reached his hand out to touch her face and was startled when she pulled away from him. It was worse than he thought; he had to find some way to get through to her.
"Lois," he began, "I felt it too. From the very first moment I met you, it just happened. I didn't plan or think about it; it just happened. But do you want to know the real reason why I withdrew from you? Why I treated you so distantly? Fear, Lois. It was the fear I saw in your eyes after I kissed you. I never wanted to be the cause of that again. I couldn't trust myself to be around you, so I shut you out. Upstairs, a little while ago, I saw it again on your face and I wanted to die."
He grasped her shoulders gently and turned her toward him, his voice pleading with her now. "Please don't dismiss your feelings anymore. I'm not talking about anything that you *might* feel for me; I'm talking about all this bitterness and hurt that man caused you. Let it out. You've been fighting this hurt for so long. Please, Lois, can I just hold you?"
Relaxing his grip, he let his hands rest on her shoulders as he spoke from his heart. "Lois, I'm not Claude. I'm not out for what I can get from you. There's so much I want to *give* you. I just want to hold you and wipe your tears away. I want to be there when you need me, and I want to make love to you every morning, not just when it's convenient."
They stood that way for several moments, neither one moving, as Clark waited for her to respond. Finally, she spoke, "I know you want this to be about Claude and what he did to me, but it's not. It can't be, not with you, not with the way I feel about you, and I don't know if I can take this step." Swallowing noisily, she continued, "I'm so scared."
"I am too… of losing you."
She let out a small gasp as she looked into his eyes at last. They were suspiciously bright and shiny. "Really?" she said in a tiny voice. "Of losing me?"
He leaned his forehead against hers. "Uh, huh," he sighed. "It would break my heart, again."
Breaking eye contact with him, she swallowed hard and answered, "That's what I'm afraid of too, my heart breaking. I can't go through that again. I couldn't." Her voice broke again. "You're not just saying that."
"No, I'm not," he whispered huskily. His hands rose up to mesh themselves in her hair, and he lifted her face slowly until it was inches from his own.
"Lois, don't be scared," he sighed against her cheek and tenderly kissed away the remaining tears on her face. When they were gone, he wrapped his arms around her and drew her to his chest in a warm embrace. "Just let me hold you." He released a ragged breath. "I just want to hold you."
As Lois felt his secure arms encircle her, the will to fight her tears disappeared. She felt so treasured that moment as Clark's mouth kissed away the moistness on her face. Her lips trembled slowly as her resolve to stay strong melted under his tender touch. Her head fell forward onto his strong chest, and she wanted to burrow her face inside the shelter of his soul. She couldn't will her arms to leave her side; that would be the final act of surrender in a mysterious battle against Clark she wasn't sure why she was fighting anymore.
The fabric of his cotton dress shirt was soothing against her face pressing firmly into the hollow of his shoulder, and in the protective circle of his embrace, she had found a sanctuary — safe at last.
He stood that way, feeling his shirt grow wet from her silent tears. After long minutes, he felt one hand tentatively on his back, then another.
He kissed the top of her head and began to slowly stroke her back gently, more as a comforting gesture than one of an intimate nature, and felt her lean hard against him as her arms enveloped his waist fiercely. He moved one broad hand up to cradle the back of her head and waited.
She finally released her grip and patted the wet spot on his shirt.
"I got your shirt all wet," she sniffed.
"The other side's dry if you need that one." He smiled gently at her as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and led her to a bench to sit down.
They watched the distant sailboats on the lake, their lights blinking red and green as the flap of their sails filled the night with crisp sound. Wind chimes sounded from halyards striking steel masts as the soft waves danced in time; their capricious crests were tipped with muted lights, disappearing when they ducked back into the water again, only to pop up and submerge once more into the shimmering bay.
She snuggled close to him, his arm still draped over her shoulders, his other hand entwined in her fingers. Words spoken between them disappeared; the intense rush of emotions was replaced by the quiet satisfaction of being in each other's arms at last, of both of them trying to absorb what had transpired between them just a short time before.
He stared out over the lake, his heart filled with a peace he had never known before, the peace of knowing his heart was complete, and that he had found what he was looking for — his soul mate. This revelation wasn't new to him; he'd known this since the first time he saw her, only now it appeared that it was coming true. At last, he'd finally broken through the barriers around her heart.
Only one more barrier, and a major one, he thought grimly, that stood between them — when he told her that he was Superman and that her best friend was the same guy who was in love with her. He needed to find the words to say that he had been in love with her the whole time they had known each other, and that he had long broken his promise to just stay friends. A small wave of panic swept through his body. Time was not a friend to him in that aspect — the longer he waited to tell her, the harder it was going to be for her to understand. But that was all about to end.
This was such a pivotal time in their relationship. Would it set their relationship back if he told her that he was Kal now? But he was in the wrong guise. It should be Kal who told her his identity. They did have a date in a couple of short days for his confession, and that would give her enough time to prepare for the truth. If he caught her off guard by telling her now, he might lose the significance of their first meeting. She was just put through the wringer by revealing her past and was still emotionally unstable. No telling how she would react to his news in her state of mind.
Lois stared down at his hand covering her own, his large fingers laced with her smaller ones. She hoped she wasn't dreaming, that she would wake up like so many times before, when the pillow she was grasping replaced images of Clark in her head. She was tempted to pinch him, just to make sure he was real, but didn't want to break the mood. She felt such a relief since her cry. All the bitterness and hurt from Claude's betrayal, the humiliation of Cat's accusation at the Planet seemed to have disappeared for the time being — because of Clark.
Memories of Kal filtered into her thoughts. She was on the verge of having what she wanted for so long with Clark. These feelings for Kal would have to be pushed aside. What exactly were those feelings? It was all a mute point; he had his own relationship to work out, and so did she.
She looked up at the man sitting beside her and found herself studying his profile. He was staring way across the lake, but his lips were twitching as he appeared to be deep in thought. Wow! His appeal was devastating. Even in the moonlight, she could see the contrast of his olive skin lying crisp against the whiteness of his shirt and that wayward lock of hair ruffling in the breeze, and it still caused her to catch her breath in awe. As she mentally caressed his qualities, being near him was making her senses stand on edge once more. The relaxed mood she felt a few seconds ago was quickly disappearing.
His fingers flexed in their grip on hers, and her heightened awareness of him at that moment made that simple gesture send a thrill of longing through her. It was time for someone to assume some action again, she thought with a slight smile on her face; he didn't appear to be taking the initiative anytime soon.
Clark could tell she was looking at him. The thought flashed through his mind that she might be starting to put two and two together and sum up that he and Kal were the same person. It had been becoming more difficult to separate his two personalities now that they were working together again. But at least he remembered to hold her hand differently, he thought as he squeezed it gently, reveling in the soft warmth of her fingers meshing with his own. They'd always held hands as friends, but this wasn't the contact of friendship — this was the more intimate hand holding of a couple in love.
But changing the way they held hands wasn't going to hide from her that Kal and Clark Kent were one and the same person. He was on borrowed time and had to tell her everything soon. Here and now wasn't the time; they both needed a fresh day to face the strain that their relationship might have to endure. There were only forty-eight more hours until they met on the steps and he told her the truth, he reminded himself.
A small hand covered the side of his face, and he turned his head down to look at her.
When he met her eyes, whatever ghosts were chasing her were gone. She was staring at him with the old Lois fire in her eyes, only this time it wasn't *at* him; it was *for* him. His heart accelerated rapidly.
"Clark, please." It was hard to lift her voice above a whisper as she longed to feel him touch her again.
He covered the hand on his cheek with his own, slid it down toward his mouth, and pressed a lingering kiss into her palm.
"Please what?" he said teasingly, not afraid to show how he felt about her anymore.
"Kiss me again," she said with a tremor in her voice.
"Now why would I want to do that?" he answered, kissing her palm once more.
"Because… I think I'm in love with you."
The dark light of desire replaced the teasing glint in his eyes. His lips drew closer to hers until they were a hair's breath away. "I've *never* stopped loving you," he whispered against her lips. His mouth covering hers smothered her sharp intake of air.
Light and easy as the breeze coming off the lake, his kiss was a soft caress, a feather-touching of his soul with hers. He brushed her lips slowly, then paused, allowing their breath to mingle together. The rush of air over the moistness of their mouths was a delicious sensation — the heat of their breath swiftly entwining with the coolness of the night air. Unhurried this time, he pressed his lips to hers again. There was a dreamy intimacy to their kiss now — a tender exploration, a strengthening of the thin cord of connection strung between them.
Clark's hand wound its way through her hair, his thumb stroking slowly the skin below her ear. Lois felt him smile against her lips and hers parted slightly in anticipation of his next intimate touch.
His tongue was warm and gentle upon hers, tracing her bottom lip delicately, tasting and tentatively exploring. She eagerly welcomed him, greeting his sweet invasion with her own, smoothing, gliding and dancing together. His kiss sent shivers of desire racing through her, and she returned it with a primal hunger that sang through her veins.
Fueled by her response, his hand in her hair tightened, tugging her closer, and his kiss became more insistent as passion flared between them.
Upstairs, Perry turned away to let them have their privacy, satisfied that his newsroom would never be the same again.
Lois sat sniffing in front of the television set eating the latest batch of Swiss chocolates that Kal had brought her. 'The Ivory Tower' was in the middle of its torrid triangle love affair, and it was hitting her too close for comfort.
<<How can I choose, Mother?>> Stormi Ceize cried. <<Every time I think about leaving one for the other, my stomach ties up in knots and my heart aches. My soul is being torn in two pieces, and I can't live this way. It's no use. I should join a convent and forget all about men.>>
"Not if I get there first, honey." Lois blurted.
<<Oh, daughter,>> Calamity Ceize said softly. <<You must search your heart and find your true love. Only you can decide.>
"That's right! Tell her what to do, Calamity. You're the one with all the dead husbands!" Lois retorted. <Now I'm speaking to the television set. Oh no! This is bad. Really bad.>
<<But Mother! My heart beats for both of them!!>> Stormi sniffed dramatically and tossed her long blond hair. <<On one hand, there's Bradley. He's so mysterious, but I know he loves me. He sets my heart on fire with just a glance of those deep, dark eyes. Then there's Brandon, who doesn't know I exist as a woman. I'm just Stormi to him, but there's just something about him that makes me love him so. He's… he's my best friend!>>
"Ohh!!" Lois blindly reached over the end table to locate a tissue. After almost sending a lamp teetering off the table, she pulled a tissue out of the box and blew her nose noisily into it.
<Did these people snoop into my personal life or what?> she thought, choking back another snuffle.
<<It's settled then. I'll go to him tonight. Oh, Mother! I'm so happy! Thank you for helping me decide.>> The scene faded as the theme music swelled.
"Who is it? Who did you choose? Oh, drat!" She clicked the television off. She'd missed Stormi's decision while she was blowing her nose.
She was pathetic. This should be one of the happiest times of her life. The man she'd been dreaming about for months had just declared the night before that he was still in love with her and here she was crying in her chocolate. It wasn't even chocolate from *him* — it was a gift from another man.
Clark's parents were in town today and he had called her earlier to see if she wanted to join them. Ever since waking up this morning, she had been feeling down and a bit confused. The last thing she wanted was to make pleasantries with her new boyfriend's parents, so she had told Clark that she was feeling a little off today, probably because of their late hours last night. It wasn't *that* far off the mark, she rationalized.
Last night. Clark had been so wonderful last night. He'd been sweet and tender, and so very handsome — every woman's dream, her god in glasses. Sitting on the bench with him as they watched the sailboats was so romantic, and his kisses — she sighed in contentment — were fantastic. At least she had no doubts about *that* particular insecurity anymore. Everything about it was perfect, even when she broke down in his arms and told him the whole sad story of Claude. She didn't realize how desperately she needed to share that with someone, and now felt completely cleansed of the whole ordeal.
Clark finally deposited her at her door at four in the morning. After several failed attempts to say good-bye, he told her he loved her and tenderly kissed her, then reluctantly left. They had decided to take it slow this time and get to know each other before getting involved as heavily as they had the first time around.
So, it had to be these feelings for Kal that had her stomach all tied up in knots. Was it possible to be in love with two men at the same time? Soap operas did it all the time. She caught herself. In love? With Kal? Oh no! But if she were to be honest with herself, she had to admit that it was true. She was in love with her best friend. In love with… Superman.
Could she have been a little too hasty in proclaiming her love for Clark? After all, didn't people usually 'date' first? The physical attraction between them had been there from the start, but it had been only last night that they really started to get to know each other. Of course, they had been working together the past few days, and there had been times between them when they had talked about topics other than the story they were working on, but last night was the turning point.
On the other hand, it was Kal who she *knew*. All his little fears and insecurities, his hopes and dreams. They had been through so much together, she felt so close to him; especially since the night he had come over feeling so devastated from not being able to save that little girl's life. She knew him so well, except his real name and what he did for a living, but those were only details; she knew the real person he was inside. And tomorrow night she was going to know everything about him. She pushed aside the chocolate she was eating. It felt like a betrayal to Kal to eat them in light of the new level her relationship with Clark had reached.
Why couldn't she have known her true feelings for him before last night? Then, she could have dealt with this new revelation without the complications of now having Clark in the mix of things. She could have taken it slower with Clark, which would have allowed her to examine her feelings for Kal more closely. Now she and Clark had said they were in love with each other, and in some unspoken way, were committed in a relationship. And she did love him — more than she thought it was possible.
How would Kal feel if she said she wanted more than friendship? Before they kissed that one night, she was certain she saw him looking at her tenderly when he thought she wasn't looking. But he was in love with someone else now. Judging from the kiss he had given her while thinking of *her*, he was madly in love with this other woman. He even said so in his dreams a few days ago when she had comforted him. Why did this admission of love upset her so much?
She was afraid that she'd waited too long, and now she'd lost any chance with him. He probably won't stick around much longer. More than likely, this other woman was going to come to her senses and realize what a great guy Kal was. Then he would want to spend time with *her* instead of coming over to her place every night to just hang out. *And* if she didn't get a grip, she was going to lose Clark too. She just had to get over Kal and concentrate on Clark.
There was only one way to do that — it was time for a big pity party. She needed to wallow in her feelings, then forget about them. It was the only way through this sticky situation. Perhaps she should get dressed and find something a bit more substantial to drown her sorrows in.
She was glad Clark was busy with his parents today so that she could concentrate on Kal. She couldn't see him again until her feelings for Kal were resolved. Once Kal was purged out of her system for good, then she could concentrate on maintaining their friendship. She couldn't lose that; it meant too much to her. Pulling on some jeans and a tight- fitting short-sleeved sweater, she briskly ran a brush through her hair and started turning out lights in her apartment. She knew of the perfect place to do this. On the way out the door, she grabbed the box of chocolates.
Lois entered the lighted interior of The Snitch after pounding on the door and insisting to Bobby Bigmouth that he let her in so she could grab a good seat before they opened for business. Bobby had to rush off immediately to supervise the kitchen — he didn't have even have time to get in his usual jabs and barbs, which suited her just fine considering the mood she was in. Once inside, Lois was amazed at the amount of Superman paraphernalia that adorned the walls, tables and even the ceiling. Normally a restaurant, it had been transformed completely into a Superman theme for Kal's fundraiser.
She should have warned Kal the other night that this might turn into a circus and that he needed to be careful. He was so trusting, his heart was so big, that it didn't concern him so much that his name could be misused — he just wanted to help build the trauma center for the children.
Lois looked around the restaurant; it was nicely done in a tawdry sort of way. Superman paraphernalia was posted all over the walls, figurines of Superman graced each table, and reports of Superman's rescues were framed and hung on display. Lois chose one particular booth with a life-size cutout of Kal sitting right across from her. She ordered a cream soda and pulled out her box of chocolates.
She greeted the smiling face of her friend. "Hi there, buddy," she spoke softly as her heart turned over at the sight of his handsome face. It was one of the rare photographs of Kal where he had allowed himself to smile in front of the cameras — a smile that he usually reserved only for her. It had been taken during the first press conference he had given on the day he became Superman when she was in the crowd to offer him moral support. Looking at the cutout alone was not enough to tell her where it had been taken, but she had seen the whole picture in the entranceway of the bar and instantly recognized the place and the day it was taken. She remembered him faltering slightly in his speech. It was barely perceivable to anyone else looking at him, but she could tell he was nervous. His whole countenance had changed when he found her in the crowd and had acknowledged her presence.
So maybe that smile *had been* for her. Now the question was: was that the smile that friends gave each other, or was there more to his feelings even then? Maybe she was crazy to even think he was feeling something for her way back in the early days of Superman. Surely she would have known it, or felt it. Why would he keep it a secret if he had been starting to have feelings for her?
After receiving her drink, she opened the box of chocolates and made a proclamation to herself — when all these pieces were eaten, her feelings for Kal would be gone. Time to get him out of her system once and for all. The proverbial hourglass was now overturned, and the sand was beginning to fall. Eyeing the brown tidbit philosophically, she nibbled a tiny corner. This was going to be a long night.
Clark pulled the baseball cap down on his head and motioned his parents through the door. After finishing a wonderful dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, they decided to stop at The Snitch for dessert and possibly a nightcap. Clark didn't particularly care to visit the establishment again; his visits the past couple of days as Superman were enough for him. It didn't make him very comfortable to see the hero worship bestowed on his alter ego. But his parents had not been to visit the fundraiser yet, so he felt obliged to show it to them. They had offered to see it on their own, but Clark insisted that he wanted to go. The baseball cap he was wearing was just a tiny insurance policy to insure that no one connected him to Superman.
"Clark, this place is so… flashy," Martha commented.
"Tell me about it," he groaned. "Only a few more days, and it's going to go back to its original decor. The money they're raising is being matched by some major corporations, and all the funds are going to build the Children's Trauma Center at Met General."
"You know, Clark, just be careful to whom you lend your name. Every worthy cause is going to want to use it now. I hate to say it, but some might even exploit you." Jonathan piped in with his fatherly two cents.
"I know, Dad. Every time I come here, I wonder if I didn't make a mistake. I should have insisted on more say so in handling all the details. If it weren't for the fact that this hospital will be saving children's lives — that's one area where my powers can't help."
"That's okay, son. Just grin and bear it for a while, but be sure you learn from this experience. It's not like you have a superhero handbook to follow," Jonathan said, patting Clark on the shoulder.
"Speaking of bearing it, they certainly like close-ups of Superman in those tights. I knew that outfit would be a big hit when I designed it."
Clark felt the heat rise in his cheeks. "Mom, do you have to be so loud?"
"Oh, honey! Nobody is listening; they're too busy looking at those pictures."
The waitress motioned to them that their table was ready.
The life-size cutout of Kal was still smiling at her. A sense of loss, and almost desperation, was starting to knot itself in her stomach.
"Oh, Kal. Can you be serious for a minute? This has got to stop. Whatever this is that I'm feeling for you… okay, I'll admit it — this *love* that I have for you has got to go. It's not fair. I have Clark now, and you have… that trollop. She'd better make you happy, that's all I have to say about that," she sighed.
This plan wasn't working as she had hoped. The lump in her throat was making her uncomfortable, and the threat of tears was coming upon her quickly. She picked out an oval-shaped piece of chocolate from the box. Two more pieces left; the sand was about to run out.
Her thoughts raced back to the beginning of their friendship. They were eating Chinese food on the steps of the old building in the middle of the city, and reaching out to each other as total strangers. Their first time flying together — that crazy flight that left her giddy and high. She had been terrified at first weaving among the buildings, but she knew she was safe and protected. Kal would never hurt her and she knew that even then.
She remembered the first time he visited her in the room he had found for her. He was so shy and unsure of himself when he was modeling his suit for her. It still tickled her thoughts when she remembered having to coax him down off the roof. And how much it amazed her how fast they fell into the comfortable pattern of familiarity — they were so connected from the very beginning.
The times he'd kissed her. It was so fresh in her mind that if she closed her eyes, she could feel his hand on her cheek, smell his fresh, woody scent and taste his warm lips.
<*He wasn't kissing me!> she thought as she jerked herself back to reality. It was all under the assumption that they were thinking about the others in their life.
A tear trickled down her cheek and landed in one of the brown-waxed chocolate paper cups scattered on the table. It was time to face up to the facts; she was completely and totally in love with Kal-El and nothing she could do here tonight was going to change that. How was she going to let go of the best thing that ever happened to her?
She remembered the sunrise that he had shown her that first night which had melded into the early morning. It was so beautiful. Now with all her feelings for him coming to the surface, looking back, it was very romantic. His words to her came flooding back:
<<<See the dawn? That's the kind of friend I want to be for you. You may have all kinds of storms in your life, people may disappoint you, circumstances may spin out of control, but you always know the sun will come up the next day. Please know that as long as I am able, I'll be there for you; and just like that sunrise, you can count on me to be your friend.>>>
Friend. He's always been there for her; he'd kept his promise. Promise? That wasn't his only promise that night. She remembered more of their conversation.
<<<So what do you want from me?>>> Kal had asked.
She had answered, <<<I want somebody I can count on. Somebody that's not going to switch horses in the middle of the stream, and leave, or want more than I can give. Someone who won't place new demands on me and will do what he promises. And since you can fly all over creation, some Swiss chocolate would be nice also.>>>
<<<So you want a friend who will stay a friend and occasionally bring you chocolate. I can promise that.>>>
<A friend that will stay a friend…> Oh no! Did she close the door on anything that could have happened between them before they even had a chance? Could he have been holding on to his feelings in order to keep his promise to her? It was very possible. He's always been so protective of her. It was uncanny the many times she had been in danger and he had flown in to rescue her. She fingered the randomly scattered chocolate papers — he had most certainly kept his promise to bring her chocolate.
What about that time at EPRAD just after he became Superman? That moment had been lost to her for so long. Who could forget that wonderful walk in the clouds? After she'd met Clark, all she'd thought about was her handsome reporter. He'd kept her preoccupied for so long, she'd failed to see what was right in front of her — Kal, her best friend, and perhaps, true love.
All of these thoughts were assumptions on her part. Kal had admitted to her that he was in love with a woman at his work who was ignoring him. Maybe when she found out about his real identity, then she could find out where he worked and identify the competition. Perhaps by sizing this other woman up, she could see if she had a chance with Kal.
But what was she going to do about Clark? She *should* think about him for a while. She loved him, so why was it so hard to concentrate on their relationship now? Oh, Clark! How was she going to face him now? He was wonderful and everything that she'd dreamed he would be. A stab of guilt began to gnaw at her insides. The night before had been a dream come true!
But was it the wrong dream? Had she totally missed the boat in who she should had been concentrating all her attention on? What would it have been like if it was Kal that had been kissing her in that beautifully romantic setting by the lake? Had she been in love with Kal this whole time also?
Clark. It was time to think of Clark. Kal was not an option. He is just a friend.
<Yeah, right. Think whatever you want, honey.>
Kal smiled at her from across the table. In desperation, she flung her cloth napkin at his face to cover it up and sighed exasperatedly when it slid down the cardboard and landed on the floor. She grabbed the waitress passing by, and this time ordered a real drink.
Clark had been surprised when Lois declined his invitation to have dinner with his parents. He shouldn't have been; they'd been out so late the night before. Plus, he and Lois had been on an emotional roller coaster the entire night between finally sharing how they felt about one another to Lois telling him the whole truth about what happened before she left town. Just thinking how that man tried to lay a hand on her left him furious. The emotional abuse he had put her through was even worse. It was a good thing Claude Deveraux had moved out of Metropolis. Since he was Superman, it didn't matter where he moved, but if he ever tried to abuse Lois again, it would be a hard stretch to keep his actions within the confines of the law.
Still, she didn't sound like herself on the phone and it worried him. He didn't know if she was having second thoughts about their newly reunited relationship. It was a dream come true, almost. What he wouldn't give if it had been, Kal, her best friend, who she had fallen for. He didn't know how she was going to react when he told her everything, but he was glad he wasn't putting it off any longer. Tomorrow night. It was all going to be over tomorrow night. She was going to be so furious with him for all his deceit, but he deserved it — it was all his fault.
"Earth to Clark?" His mom was waving her hand in front of his face.
He grinned at her. "Sorry, Mom."
"You were a million miles away, honey. Anything on your mind?" Martha inquired.
"Yeah, son. You've been quiet all day. That's not like you."
Clark lowered his face. "Oh, Mom… Dad… You're not going to like this, but I've screwed up royally with Lois. We're seeing each other now and…"
"…you haven't told her you're Superman yet." His mom finished his sentence for him.
"Exactly. But there's more," Clark said grimly. He started shredding a napkin into little pieces. If he told his parents, perhaps they would have some advice for him, or at least, a little parental sympathy for this self-inflicted pickle he'd gotten himself into.
"Spit it out, son. Get it off your chest," Jonathan piped in.
"I've broken a promise that I made to her. The first night we met, she was upset about a past relationship and said outright that she didn't want to become more than friends. I promised I would always stay just friends with her. I've broken that promise to her as Clark, and she has no idea that I'm Kal."
"Oh, honey! Don't you see? You've *been* that friend to her. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn't mean you stop being friends." She patted his hand. "Sometimes they go hand-in-hand."
Giving his mother a sad smile, he continued dejectedly, "If only it were that easy, Mom. I wish it were Kal who she was interested in, but she only sees me as a friend. How can she be attracted to Clark and not Superman, her best friend?"
"You're talking about yourself as if there were two people involved with Lois. Honey, whatever good qualities that Lois sees in Clark, they are there in Superman."
"But Mom, I've made such a mess of things. I've broken my *promise* to her, and she doesn't even know it. How can I still stay friends with her after going back on my word? I didn't know that I was going to fall in love with her when I first met her."
"You couldn't, Clark. But you know that your father and I knew the first time you mentioned her to us — it was written all over your face," Martha said, smiling gently at her son.
He smiled shyly at his mother. "I overheard you and Dad talking that night and that's when I figured it out myself. But then things between us got so complicated when she started working at the Daily Planet. She didn't like me at all as Clark. I know now that it was a reaction caused by someone in her past, and I thought things would get better with time. Instead, they became worse, at least until a few days ago."
"You know what you need to do, Clark." Jonathan's face held a firm expression. "Better not string that girl on for too long. But you're the one who knows her, use your own judgment. Your mom and I will support you in whatever you decide."
"Thanks, Dad. If you and Mom can take care of yourselves for a couple of hours tomorrow night, I plan on telling her everything then."
"Sweetie, don't look so frightened. It won't be that bad."
"Mom, you don't know Lois. It's going to be more than bad. I've been working under her nose for months now. Do you know she made a bet with me that first night that she would recognize me right away in my real identity? That's why I waited to tell her; I was trying to see how long it would take her. Now I'm dead."
"Oh my! You're going to need more than a couple of hours." Martha tried not to giggle. "Jonathan, do you think we'd better go home a little early this trip before everything hits the fan?"
"I don't know, Martha. Clark may need us here to pick up the pieces after Lois is through with him."
"His pieces? Or what's left of his apartment?"
"Maybe even both, dear."
"I'd say our son's in deep cow doo-doo…"
He leaned his head against the wall behind him and groaned. So much for parental sympathy.
Clark followed his parents as they worked their way through the crowd. They wanted to take a look at the bar and dance section of the establishment before returning to Clark's apartment. He was hoping to get them settled in for the night, then take a patrol around the city. Perhaps after that, he could fly to a quiet place where he could think things through, and then, maybe see if Lois was still awake. The anticipation of their talk was eating away at him now. As much as he thought he was doing the right thing when he kept his two identities separate from her, he realized he could have handled the situation *so* differently.
The bright red, yellow and blue lights flashed over the dance floor. A Superman shield in lights spun around the room in a dizzying special effect. Bobby Bigmouth was dancing among the lights dressed in a white retro jumpsuit. Clark grimaced as he looked for a table, and bumped into his parents as they stopped suddenly.
"I think we've reached a dead end. There's no more tables down here," Martha said loudly to the men in her life. "We'd better turn around."
Clark glanced past his mother and froze. He saw Lois in the last booth trying to fend off some lowlife and it seemed like she was succeeding. The loser jumped up from the booth and pushed past them all in his hasty retreat.
Martha looked at her son's face. He had the same terrified look on his face as he had earlier when they were talking about Lois. She followed the direction in which he was staring and her face dropped when she saw a beautiful woman in the booth. It wasn't hard to figure out who the young lady was from the look on her son's face and the description he had given them of Lois.
Even in the lowered lights, Martha could see signs of red-rimmed eyes. She edged past the table and saw that the only company she was keeping was a huge cutout poster of her son in his Superman garb. A couple of empty drink glasses and the remains of a box of chocolates lay scattered on the table. It wasn't hard to figure out that the girl's heart was broken in some way — all the signs were there.
She grabbed her son's arm and whispered fiercely to him. "Clark! What is going on with that poor girl? She looks like she's been put through the wringer and back."
"Mom, that's Lois. How'd you know it was her?"
"Mothers know everything. Haven't you figured that out yet? Clark, what's going on?"
"I don't know, Mom. She said she wasn't feeling well."
"That's obvious. Go see what's wrong with her, your father and I will disappear. We'll catch up with you later."
Clark started to walk over to the booth, but paused suddenly as sirens filled his ears. If he could hear them through this noisy interior, something big must be up.
"No, not now," he groaned as he turned to his mother. "Mom, there are lots of sirens outside, and cries for help! I need to go!"
"Go. I'll take care of Lois. Here, give me your hat."
"Trust me. I'll take care of her until you get back. But don't be too long." Martha said in an authoritative voice, then turned to her husband. "Jonathan, go buy me one of those Superman T-Shirts. I have a lot of work to do."
Fully decked out in her Superman groupie outfit, Martha left her husband eating an ice cream sundae in the restaurant part of the establishment and headed over to the bar section once again. She didn't have a clue as to how she was going to help Lois, but knew she had to try. Her son was so much in love with that young woman and after seeing her troubled face earlier, it was very possible that she was equally in love with him. For the moment, it looked as though Lois needed someone to confide in very badly.
She approached Lois' table and was relieved to see her still sitting there. Her tears had stopped, and now she just looked very sad, staring at her drink as she stirred its contents.
Martha slid into the seat next to the life-size poster cutout of her son, put on a smile and waited for Lois to look up.
"Scram, you slime…" Lois stopped in mid-sentence and stared at Martha. "Thought you were someone else."
"Been getting pestered by the local bar flies? Can you blame them, honey? You're all by yourself, and you're a lovely young woman."
"Listen, I just want to be by myself. Do you mind?" she said bluntly.
"Of course, I don't. But I just had to get a look at this poster. He's such a handsome man, don't you think?"
Martha noticed Lois' eyes as they shifted over to the poster, then the obvious pain that flared briefly in them.
"I bet he's all looks though. I don't know that he has much of a personality. He seems so stiff on television. No doubt you know the type — all muscle, and not a brain in sight. He doesn't appear to be too friendly."
Lois scowled in disagreement. This lady was so far from the truth. If she only knew how loving and gentle Kal could be.
"So what's got you in a snit? Man trouble? That's usually the reason for empty boxes of chocolate and tears."
Lois looked at the strange woman sitting opposite her and wished she'd go away. "I want to be alone. No offense to you, but…"
"Okay, honey. But you know that some other loser's going to try to hit on you again. If I sit with you, maybe they won't bother you. Back before I married my husband, I remember pining over some handsome young man in an ice cream shop. I must have gone through three banana splits that night."
Lois moved her lips in an attempt at a smile. "Ice cream is always a great crutch food too, then you have to diet for two weeks just to get rid of all the calories. You can stay if you want to, but I'm warning you, I'm not very good company."
"That's okay, sweetie. I'll be quiet and let you think. Do you mind if I order us a couple of sundaes? My husband had one before and it looked delicious, although I do think I'm going to get one of those Death by Chocolate desserts to go along with it." Lois nodded her head and took another long drink from her drink. Chocolate, margaritas, and ice cream. If she was throwing herself a pity party, then why not? If this strange woman kept away the lowlife, then her unexpected company could be worth the small intrusion on her privacy.
Martha was true to her word and remained quiet after ordering the sundaes. How was she going to get Lois to start opening up to her? The young woman had requested another drink from the waitress and was obviously not ready to end her self-indulgence. She'd better be patient, no sense in pushing her, because then Lois might close up completely.
She slyly watched Lois out of the corner of her eye as she played with the ice in her empty glass. In spite of the circumstances, it was nice to observe her son's love interest. She appeared to be all that Clark had said about her; beautiful, but sharp intelligence and wit shown in her eyes, even through the confusion and pain that clouded them temporarily.
The order arrived and Lois accepted hers without a word. She barely knew that the other woman was there; she just accepted her presence while trying to sort through the conflicting thoughts and emotions inside her mind. The three drinks she had consumed were starting to make her head feel light, but did nothing to ease the heaviness residing in her heart.
Was this fair to Clark if she started a relationship loving another man? She'd come here tonight to place things in their proper boxes, but the resolution that she needed was nowhere to be found. If anything, she was more confused than before.
A little order was needed. She loves Clark. Clark loves her. But, she loves her best friend Kal, who's in love with someone else. Therefore, Kal is not available and is out of the picture. It should end there. Case closed. No brainer. If this were an investigation, she'd be writing up the story and sending it to Perry.
She pushed the cherry around the perimeter of her bowl, watching how the path it took in the ice cream kept getting deeper and deeper. There was no way out for the small piece of fruit, except by action of her spoon and she would have to be the one to initiate it. It was easy to sympathize with that cherry; the endless circle in which her emotions were racing had no end in sight.
As Lois chased the cherry, Martha hoped that she would break the silence soon.
"So what happened to the guy you had been eating ice cream over?" Lois asked quietly at last.
Martha let out a small laugh. "I married him, honey," she said confidently.
Curious at last, Lois finally took a hard look at the older woman sitting across from her.
"My parents were pushing me to marry a man from the right side of the tracks, and I would have, except that I fell in love with this farmer's son I met on vacation. I had to decide if I wanted to disappoint my parents and this other man, or miss out on the love of a lifetime."
"How did you know it was a lifetime kind of love? Aren't those things found out after the fact?"
"I listened to my heart, sweetie. My parents were mad; this other man was hurt, but he survived. He found a wonderful girl about a year later and I was even invited to the wedding. This probably has nothing to do with your situation, but know that things will straighten themselves out in the end."
"This man you married… what was it about him that made him special?"
"Oh, he was kind and loving; we laughed over anything. I lived in a different state, but with each letter that we wrote, our friendship grew beyond anything I'd ever had with anyone. We shared all of our thoughts and dreams with each other. I was so afraid that our friendship would end if I married this other man; that was why I kept putting him off. When I made myself admit that I loved Jonathan, it wasn't two days later that I received a letter from him saying that he loved me desperately and wanted to marry me!"
"That was fast!" Lois injected.
"Oh, honey! I turned him down a couple of times, but the more my parents pushed this other man on me, the more I knew I couldn't live without my farmer boy. When we were together at last, all the trials that we'd been through and the friendship that we had built made our love so sweet." Martha paused as she dabbed the corner of her eye with her napkin. "It was incredible. Still is. I hope you find the same with your young man."
<Which young man?> Lois asked herself. She dropped her gaze down to her bowl again, then scooped up the cherry with her spoon and brought it to her mouth. As she bit down on the sweetness, she heard Martha say, "Just remember that whatever happens, it's the friendship behind the love that's going to pull you through."
"Thanks, but I think our situation is completely different."
"How's that, if I may ask?"
"My best friend is in love with someone else, and the guy who I've been in love with for a long time, says he loves me too. Things are great, just great… " Her voice dropped off suddenly, brave facade falling by the wayside once more as she found the smiling, still, cardboard face of her best friend.
"Then why are you here?" Martha asked bluntly, hoping to push the right buttons. "Is staring at Superman the answer? We all would like our men to be Superman, but do we really? He probably knows nothing about being a friend. How could he? He's never in one place. What could possess a guy to fly around dressed like that? If he had a mother, I just know she'd be embarrassed to see her son flying around like a clown in a cape. What counts in a relationship is what is built over time. Measuring your man up to Superman is going to cause you trouble. Honey, that's only a suit; you've got to look into their heart."
Lois' mouth dropped open at the stranger's words. Gathering herself, she lit into this misinformed woman in defense of Kal. "I have to ask you, why are *you* here? Have you ever met Superman? Well, I have, and he is nothing like those empty-headed jocks that you're comparing him to. For the record, his mother is very proud of him, and she actually made that suit, I'll have you know."
Tears streamed down her face, unnoticed by Lois as she ranted against this woman who was so mistaken about her friend. "I *know* Superman," she said intensely. "I don't know why I'm telling you this, except that no one will believe a groupie dressed the way you are, but *he* is my best friend. I've never met, nor will meet, anyone like him again and that's not because he has all these super powers, and can lift space stations, and swallow bombs. I love him because he has the kindest, most gentle heart I've ever seen in a person, and he's always been there for me. Even though he's from Krypton, there's more humanity in his little finger than most people have in their whole body. He's been the best friend I've ever had, and I'm so afraid I'm going to lose him because our lives seem to be taking different directions. So don't tell me he's just a suit because I know the man underneath it."
The two women locked eyes, and Martha was shocked by the fierce protectiveness and love that flared in Lois' deep brown ones. She knew then that her work was almost done.
"Have you told Kal?" she asked softly. "Have you told my son that you love him?"
"What?" Lois responded in shock. "Are you… did I hear you right?" Kal's real name wasn't public knowledge. Only she and his parents knew his Kryptonian name.
"I'm his adopted mother. And you're Lois Lane. I'm the one who made the suit, sweetie."
Lois' mouth fell open as she began to believe this woman's true identity. This was Kal's mom! How did she know who she was? Did Kal talk about her to his parents? Of course he did! He was always bringing her cookies or other fattening things that his mom had baked, not to mention those comfy sofa pillows, and he had told her that his parents said hi on many occasions.
"I'm so embarrassed. I've always known that Kal's had this other life; I just never expected to meet you. I've wanted to. How did you know who I was?"
"Kal told us that you work at the Daily Planet. It was easy to find pictures of you."
"You must think I'm a real space case, no pun intended, but I've told you some things that I shouldn't have. Forgive me; I could have ruined everything for Kal if you were a sleazy reporter or criminal."
"But you didn't," Martha said reassuringly, but then an impish smile appeared on her face. "Who's going to believe a woman eating ice cream and drinking margaritas?"
Her mouth fell open once again at the teasing humor thrown at her by Kal's mom. It was easy to see where he picked up that part of his personality. An overwhelming urge to see Kal, the real one, sitting here with his mother, welled up inside her.
"No. I haven't told him. He has no idea what he means to me. Heck, I'd just figured it out myself earlier today, and it's blown me away." She shrugged her shoulders while looking quickly around her. "That's pretty obvious."
"Tell him, Lois; and no, I can't give you any clue to how he feels about you. That's something the two of you need to sort out together." She covered Lois' hand with her own. "I'm so glad I've met you at last. I've always wanted to thank you for all that you've done for my boy. He's told me many times that you are the reason he became Superman and what a good friend you've been to him. So no matter what happens between the two of you, I'm happy to have been able to let you know how much this has meant to me."
"He's helped me so much too. Do you know he found an apartment for me and had loaned money to me when I first arrived in town? Not to mention being there whenever I needed a friend. And all the chocolate." She tapped the empty box. "You have a wonderful son, and I love him so much it hurts. But I don't see how it's ever going to work out. There's another man I love very much, and… I'm so confused."
It was so hard seeing this girl torn up about her son, especially knowing that Lois was confused and so much in love with both of Clark's identities. How things had gotten so messed up between the two of them, she would never know. It was so tempting to sit both of them down and force them to talk, but it was something that the both of them needed to work out together.
She squeezed the younger woman's hand firmly, trying to reassure her. "You are the first woman I've ever talked to about my son. Seeing how much you obviously love him just brings tears to my eyes. I don't know what your future holds, but I know my son couldn't choose anyone finer than you."
Didn't she know that Kal had chosen someone else — Trollop the Wonder Woman? Why wouldn't she know that? Unless either, Kal hadn't talked to his mother, or there wasn't anything to tell her. Kal never actually said that this woman returned his feelings, so just maybe this was a one-sided relationship. It had been days since he'd visited her, but she just assumed that he'd been spending time with 'the trollop' now. Of course, Clark had been keeping her busy, so she could have missed his visits. This was crazy! Where were these new thoughts taking her? And what about Clark?
Tomorrow. She'd tell him tomorrow. Kal wouldn't be the only one with a confession.
Just then, the music stopped, the lights brightened in the room, and a giddy Rose Cooper introduced Superman who had just arrived back from his latest rescue.
Lois felt her heart lurch and her breathing became shallow upon seeing Kal for the first time in days. She felt as nervous as a schoolgirl and very self-conscious — just like she used to feel whenever Clark had come into the newsroom during the days when he seemed so unobtainable. Her insides fluttered again at the thought of Clark, and she despaired at the knowledge that she was totally in love with two men at the same time.
Frowning, Lois turned to Martha. "Did you have to make that suit so tight and revealing? I admit, it's great for me to look at, but look at all these other women gawking at him like he was a prize racehorse."
She unconsciously sighed in admiration, prompting Martha to smile and tease. "You really have it bad, don't you, honey?"
Lois nodded her head and giggled, feeling light-headed all of a sudden, probably from her drinks catching up to her. She waved her hand in the air and tried to catch Kal's attention.
She knew when she had caught his eye — his stare locked onto hers and his face grew pale.
Kal coughed into the microphone and began to speak in a shaky voice.
Totally shocked and flabbergasted didn't even begin to describe how Clark felt when he saw his mother and Lois sitting at their booth, apparently having a great time. His mom, in her brightly colored Superman shirt and his baseball cap, was someone he almost didn't recognize. Her mission to take care of Lois appeared to have been a success, and he was glad his girlfriend's earlier mood seemed to have disappeared.
Yet, it was terrifying to think what had taken place in his absence. His mom and Lois were awfully happy to see him — too happy, he thought with a slight falter of his voice as he greeted the crowd. Judging from the condition of their table, the scattered dishes and drink glasses, they hadn't lacked for anything to do. What was even crazier was that he wasn't sure which one of his guises his mother had revealed herself to Lois. Had she told Lois she was Clark's mother or Kal's mom?
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming tonight," Clark began semi- automatically, making himself forget Lois for just a while in order to get through his speech. "This fundraiser is in honor of a little girl named Jessie Adler who died in a tragic situation. Even though I was on the scene in an instant, I couldn't save her, and…" Clark grew passionate in his speech, relaying how even he with his superpowers had not been able to save a desperately injured child.
"This fund raiser is for all those innocent children who just might have a chance at life." Clark felt a catch in his throat but knew the healing over Jessie's death had finally begun. "We can all be heroes in this endeavor…"
As the audience began applauding, Clark instinctively sought to find Lois, and his eyes almost bugged out of his head. His mother and Lois' arms were looped over each other's shoulders, Lois had his baseball cap on backwards and was pointing wildly at his mother with her other hand, making a swooping motion that resembled flying.
Oh, no! It was worse than he thought, but he had no idea how to find out what was going on in his private life in this very public place. Suddenly, the crowd was converging upon him, seeking to touch him and get his autograph. He had to play host for just a while longer before getting to the bottom of Lois and his mother.
After her quick mood change, Lois found herself rather down again after Kal's speech. It had been fun to pretend to be a Superman groupie with his mom — the secret they shared had set them apart from all the other people in the place. Too soon though, her happy mood had dissipated as she observed Kal. For a while, he seemed rather lost, as though he had been looking for someone who wasn't there.
Maybe he was looking for the Trollop, she thought glumly. Surely that woman wouldn't overlook an event as important to Kal as this, even if she were just stringing him along. If that was the case, then she probably was here, right under her nose!
Turning to Martha, she pasted on a smile and impulsively hugged her. "Thank you so much for sticking with me while I was sorting out my messy emotions."
"You're quite welcome, dear. I just couldn't stand to leave you alone knowing who you were. Hope you didn't mind this old busybody sticking her nose in where it doesn't belong."
"I'd probably still be drowning my sorrows if you hadn't come along."
"If you are sure you're going to be okay, then I'd better scoot. I hate to leave you, but Kal's dad is over on the other side waiting for me. I just hope he isn't trying to run the place now."
"I think ice cream is an antidote for alcohol. I feel fine now, but I promise I won't drive anywhere — I took a taxi here."
"Make Kal take you to visit us sometime — no pressure, but we'd love to have you come visit."
After promising to twist Kal's arm, Lois hugged Martha once more and watched as she disappeared into the crowd. A steely and determined look etched its way onto her face as she surveyed the crowd with a new purpose in mind — finding Kal's trollop.
She didn't think that anyone who was Kal's girlfriend would be so blatantly obvious as to hang around with the Superman groupies. No, she would probably stay along the outer perimeters of the crowd, perhaps even gloating that *she* was the one who had Superman all to herself.
A quick inventory of the booths along the wall only revealed couples and groups of women patiently waiting their turn to ogle Kal. This woman, if her instincts served her correctly, would be a loner.
She wished she had grilled Kal for more information about his mystery woman. But there was that danged promise to keep his identity a secret. Looking back over the last year, she wished she had had the foresight to take him up on his offer to know his secret months ago. Maybe things would have turned out differently.
At last the crowd was breaking up, and Lois had yet to pinpoint any Trollop candidates. What kind of woman was this anyway, not showing any support for Kal? He had said that this woman didn't return his feelings, so maybe she didn't care enough for him to even show up at his fundraiser. It could be that Kal was right when he said that his love for this woman was only one-sided. Suddenly feeling a bit lighter, Lois smiled in relief. Perhaps it wasn't too late after all.
Kal left the stage, heading towards the kitchen, and Lois thought this would be a perfect time to wave him down and say hello. It wouldn't look too suspicious — no one would connect them together in the middle of all these crazed fans.
Ducking around the corner, she stopped dead in her tracks.
Kal was kissing a chicken!
Or… or a woman dressed in a very gaudy waitress outfit. It was the Trollop! She'd found the Trollop!
As Clark worked his way through the crowd, he was anxious to find Lois and face his medicine. Seeing her so broken-hearted before had woken him up. He'd known that Lois needed to know the truth about him, but had only thought that it was for *his* own good. Now after seeing her crying and upset about something, he realized that she may need to know the truth for her own peace of mind instead of his own.
A flash of color — bright yellow and fluffy — caught his attention in the back room, and he recognized one of the waitresses from the first time he came here as Clark. Waving at him with one hand, she was holding a black and white picture of himself dressed as Superman and seemed a bit troubled, not the bubbly person he remembered joking with.
"Hi, Superman," the waitress said shyly as he approached. "I was wondering if you had time to sign one more autograph."
"Of course. Who do I address this to?" He glanced at her nametag. "Karen?"
"Oh, no! It's not for me, but for my brother. He's been stationed overseas, and his whole platoon looks up to you. You're more than a hero to them; you're their inspiration."
"I'd be honored. If you can tell me where he's stationed, perhaps I can drop in and deliver this in person, providing that I won't be putting them in any danger."
"Thanks, Superman. That would mean a lot to them." The waitress reached up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. "You're not only a superhero, but a darn nice guy."
"You're welcome," Clark replied, slightly blushing. But then he caught Lois staring at them with a shocked expression on her face before she turned around and fled out of his sight.
"Excuse me, but I need to fly. If you can leave the info here, I'll be back to pick it up," Clark said urgently.
A big grin split her face. "I'll be working here most days. Now shoo!"
Clark nodded his head at her before heading back into the crowd to look for Lois. The crowd was pressuring him for more attention, and he realized that he'd never be able to get to her dressed as Superman, so he flew over the crowd, out the door, and up into the sky.
After spinning out of his suit, Clark caught up to Lois as she was retreating down the street and touched her arm to catch her attention.
"Clark?" she exclaimed, whirling around in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"Lois, we need to talk. There's something very important you need to know."
Her head still reeling from finding Kal's trollop, she blurted without thinking. "First, let me say something. Clark, I know we have been connecting the past few days and this thing we have between us is very real, at least it's been to me. We had something the first couple of days we met, I felt it then, and I feel it now, but could we have been a little hasty with us?" Lois screwed up her face in frustration. This was not coming out the way she wanted to at all.
She placed her hand on his chest, patting his shirt thoughtfully. "I really do love you, but how can we be sure?"
"Lois, I fell in love with you the first time I met you," Clark said quietly.
"But *how* Clark? You don't know me. Up until a couple weeks ago, we barely spoke two words together other than what was necessary."
He braced himself and smiled. This was the perfect opening he needed to tell her that he was her best friend.
"I do *know* you, Lois." Grasping her hand in his, he leaned forward and kissed her, his lips caressing hers tenderly. He didn't intend it go deeper, but it soon escalated into a sweet, passionate reminder of his emotions. He felt her resist at first, but her lips soon yielded to his.
The warm sensation of Clark's kiss almost erased the turmoil in her heart. It would be so easy to let him sweep her away to that place where she lost all conscious reasoning, but her thoughts turned to Kal and what she needed to do. She pushed Clark gently away.
"I'm sorry, Clark, but I still have some questions. How can you say you know me? That sounds like a line to me! Especially the one where you said you fell in love at first sight. We may have this amazing chemistry between us, but Clark, is that everything? What about being friends? And now you're handing out lines like candy."
"We *are* friends, Lois. And that wasn't a line. Please, there's something I *have* to tell you."
"Clark." She reached up and kissed his cheek, her hand soon following to smooth away the moisture from her lips. "I love you — that I know deep in my heart. I've loved you for a long time. You have to know that, but…"
"What? What is it?"
"I can't tell you." She couldn't let him know she was also in love with Superman. What if he laughed at her?
"Don't ask me to explain. I'm sorry if I'm confusing you. I never meant for that to happen."
Her resolve was firm now, it was going to break her heart to leave him confused, but that was a chance she was going to have to take. Maybe it was better if she pulled up her defenses against him, then it just might not hurt so much.
"I need some time," she whispered, as she closed her eyes and thought of Kal. Her best friend was worth the sacrifice of maybe missing out on a great guy like Clark. Even if it turned out that Kal wasn't interested in her, she needed to take the risk. It was possible that she would end up alone in spite of loving two men at the same time; but she knew that she loved Kal with all of her heart, and she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she never told him.
Clark felt stunned. This is what he deserved for all his duplicity and procrastination. Lois was closing up on him again, and he didn't know why. He didn't know how she could suddenly change her mind… but then again, this was Lois.
Determined all of a sudden, he decided enough was enough. Whatever was going through Lois' mind had to be put straight. And if she wasn't going to talk to Clark, then maybe she'd to talk to Kal.
Stunning her equally, he quickly answered, "Okay, if that's what you want." Touching her cheek briefly, he turned to go back into the restaurant. "My parents are waiting for me."
Lois walked blindly through the streets, not knowing where her feet were taking her. She'd felt the sting of Clark's sudden acceptance of her decision that she needed more time, and yet she had no idea what she was going to say to Kal.
He was in love with the Trollop, and now it appeared that the other woman was beginning to return his feelings. There was a very good chance that she, Lois, was going to embarrass herself by her declaration of love, but maybe it was for the best. Kal would turn her down, and she would be free to get on with her relationship with Clark. There would be no regrets because she wouldn't have left things unsaid.
An undetermined amount of time later, she stopped, realizing that her thoughts had taken her to the one place where she could feel close to Kal and only Kal.
She sat down in her spot and closed her eyes, remembering that silly black hat he had worn and how shy he had been to open up to her. He had shown her the beginnings of true friendship that night, soothed her fears and had given her faith to face the next day.
A slight breeze cooled her skin, and she didn't have to open her eyes to know that Kal had arrived.
"I think you're early," he whispered nervously. "I think we're supposed to meet tomorrow night."
"How'd you know I was here, and never mind, don't answer that." Lois opened her eyes but couldn't meet his gaze. Continuing in a whisper, she blurted, "I'd thought you'd be with her."
"Her? Who are you talking about? My mom?"
Sighing dejectedly, she clarified, "No, that woman, your girlfriend, the one I saw you kissing tonight."
Smiling gently, Clark took her hand, hoping to comfort her. "That was a fan thanking me for an autograph."
"Oh." His words then sunk in. "Oh!"
His hand felt deliciously warm in hers, and she squeezed back even though she was slightly confused at Kal's actions.
"Your mom is wonderful. She helped me see some things clearer, but I'm still so confused."
"I know, Lois, and I'm sorry. I think we need to have our talk now." Clark stood up and pulled her to her feet. "Come on. Let's go back to your place."
"Okay. I have something to tell you too."
Clark scooped her up and flew as quickly as possible to Lois' apartment.
He stepped through the window, taking care not to get his cape snagged on the rough wood again. Lois thought it was odd that he didn't look her in the eyes and acknowledge her the way he always did. He usually had a genuine smile for her that, lately, warmed her down to her toes. Something seemed off. Well, she wasn't going to let his mood spoil what she needed to say.
Feeling a little shy, she jumped out of his arms and jabbed him in the ribs.
"Hey, stranger. Where ya been?" she said playfully, trying to poke him in the ribs. "I've missed you coming around."
"Sorry, I've been busy lately with the fundraiser. You've missed me?" He smiled at her, but Lois sensed that smiling was the last thing he felt like doing.
"Of course, I've missed you. Hug? You look like you could use one." Without waiting for his answer, she wrapped her arms around his waist. He felt warm and comfortable, like the feeling of coming home to a pair of warm fuzzy slippers and a toasty blanket, but she was also aware of his essence, and his physical being. She hugged him tightly and breathed in his scent, not wanting to let him go.
Clark was at a loss. Seeing her was more painful than he imagined it to be. After thinking they had reached a crossroads of sorts, he had been taken aback by being held at arms length by Lois as Clark. If she was about to change her mind about their new relationship status, he didn't know if he could take seeing her as only a friend any longer — not after being able to touch and kiss her as Clark. More importantly, after she heard what he had to tell her, she might never want to be around him again.
Resting his head on top of hers, he held her securely and closed his eyes tightly. This could be the last time he held her this way, and he wasn't going to let go until she pulled away. He had to tell her the whole truth this time. He had blown it as Clark, so he may as well ruin things with her as Kal. At least he wouldn't be living with this huge secret anymore.
To his surprise, he could feel her hands gliding across his back. He pulled slightly away and looked down at her. Her eyes seemed a little cloudy, and he was immediately concerned.
"Hey, what's wrong?" he whispered gently. He pulled back and smoothed a tear from the corner of her eye.
Lois was startled. Why did that seem so familiar? But her question was lost as she sought his face.
<I just love you so much!> she thought. "I've practically stopped seeing this guy that I was dating," she said nonchalantly. "I told him I needed more time."
"Why, Lois? I thought you said you loved him," Clark mentally kicked himself for his line of questioning. He didn't want to spy on himself. If Lois couldn't tell him as Clark, he didn't have the right to know as Superman.
"Sorry. I shouldn't have asked that," he corrected himself immediately.
"It's okay. Come sit down. I want to explain something to you." She disengaged her arms from around his waist and grabbed his hand.
Clark was too mentally drained to argue with her as he let himself be tugged towards the sofa. Perhaps by the time she was finished, he would have worked up enough courage to tell her the truth.
She sat down next to him on the sofa and took his other hand. He squeezed them both gently; he'd better enjoy these last few minutes of tranquility before Mount Lois erupted.
"Kal, listen to me and don't interrupt. This is hard for me, but I need to say something to you, and you have to be quiet. First, there is an important question you need to answer."
"Okay," Clark replied. She was on the verge of major babble mode, and even if he wanted to, he wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise once that started.
"You are the best friend I've ever had in my life, and I don't imagine I will ever find anyone who is as loyal and trustworthy."
"You make me sound like a dog," Clark said glumly.
"No comments from the peanut gallery, please. This is hard enough," she said impatiently.
"Just don't ask me to bark," Clark quipped, trying to keep himself from looking so morose. "You had a question to ask me?"
"Sort of," Lois hedged. She was incredibly nervous, but had to ask.
"Did it ever work out with that woman you were interested in?" she asked quickly. She shut her eyes tightly in anticipation of his answer.
When it wasn't forthcoming, she opened her eyes and looked at him. The pain in his eyes was apparent; he was staring at a spot over her head.
"A plain yes or no will do, but by the look on your face, I guess it didn't. Right?"
"No, there's still trouble," he stated simply.
<Good,> she thought. Next step. Phase two. Question number one.
"Have you ever thought of *me* in that way? Can you say that it has never crossed your mind that maybe *we* could have something?"
Kal looked at her incredulously. "What? What do you mean, Lois?"
"I mean this." She leaned toward him and stopped a few inches from his face. "This, Kal. Have you ever dreamed of me in *this* way?" Her arm wrapped around his neck and she waited.
Was this a trick? He didn't want to answer until he knew the reason why.
"Lois? I made a promise to you a long time ago. Are you testing me?"
"Kal, forget that silly promise. Now, do you ever want this?" She felt his breath on her face grow faster, and she knew then that he wanted her as more than friends. "Do you want me?"
"Lois, that woman is you."
"Me?" Her voice trembled.
"Yeah, the woman I'm in love with is you. It's always been you."
Unable to resist any longer, Clark closed the inch between their lips and met hers with a kiss that was full of hope and a *new* promise. This was a dream come true for him; he was kissing her as Kal, her best friend.
A few breathless moments later, they pulled apart and some puzzling thoughts began to prick at Clark's mind. "What about this man you're involved with? Where does he fit into the scheme of things?"
Her face grew somber, and she swallowed noisily. "Kal, he's a wonderful man. I have to tell you that I still love him, and if it hadn't have been for finally realizing how much I love *you*, I'd probably end up spending the rest of my life with him. Does that change anything? I couldn't let being in love with my best friend get away from me. I've been blind, Kal. You mean more to me than someone who I don't really know. I mean I know this other guy, but not like I know you. Clark and I would be very happy together — he's an incredible man — but I always would have wondered about us, about what we could have shared together. I'm so glad that you feel the same way. I love you, Kal."
"Oh, Lois! I love you too." Clark pulled her to him and rested his head on top of hers, finding it hard to fathom that she really loved both of his identities.
Pulling back, he smiled at her wistfully. "Do you remember that promise I made to you that first night? To always stay your friend and not demand more of you?"
She smiled faintly back at him, "Until just recently, I had forgotten all about it."
"Lois, I've broken that promise."
"You have? That's great, because I have too." She reached up to touch his cheek; she was never going to get enough of touching him. "I think I like it much better this way."
"Wait," he broke in as he drew her hand away from his cheek. "You have to hear what I have to say, because afterwards, you might not feel the same way."
"Oh, Kal!" Lois cried in exasperation. "It's taken me too long to figure out how I feel about you. Anything you have to say to me is *not* going to change my mind."
She was not making it easy on him. Maybe a different tactic was in order. He needed to render her helpless so he could speak, and the only way to do that was to kiss her senseless and perhaps score a few brownie points this way also. He might need them. Well, he had to tell her, face the music and pay the consequences.
He cupped her face with one hand and soundly met her lips, drawing her against his body firmly with the other hand. When he heard her moan softly in her throat, and he could no longer take kissing her without the danger of not being able to stop, he released her.
Her cry of protest was stifle by his dazed, but stern look. "Sorry, but you were babbling, and I *have* to tell you something. Lois, I love you, too. Probably more than you'll ever know." He breathed deeply and searched her eyes. "I love you with a passion I've never dreamed was possible. When I'm with you, you are my world. When I'm not with you, you still are my world, and I don't know what I would do without you."
"Wow! For a space guy, you sure know how to sweet-talk a girl. But you're serious, aren't you? Now I'm worried. What's going on, Kal?" She took his hand and began stroking it gently.
"Remember that first night when we made that bet and you said that you would recognize me if you saw me in my real identity? Well, you lost the bet."
"I lost a bet! Is that what's got you all in knots?"
"Shhh! Please let me finish — or better yet, let me show you."
His eyes swept the room swiftly and found Lois' gaily colored scarf draped over the back of a chair. He snatched it from its resting place and placed it around his neck, tying it up around his neck.
"Kal! Don't tell me you're a cross-dresser!"
He sighed sternly at her, then bunched the scarf into a thin band running down his chest. "I'm no good at charades. Please just tell me!"
He fished around in the back pocket of his suit and pulled out his glasses, then placed them on his face.
Lois' mouth dropped. It couldn't be. Was it really? Clark? She reached up and ruffled his hair. Oh, my gosh! Kal was Clark! Clark was Superman, and she was galactically stupid! All the pain of the past days flashed in front of her heart as she realized that she had agonized over the same guy. All those tears crying over Clark, then Superman, then Clark again could have been avoided if he had told her the truth about who he really was.
But there was also the joy in knowing that she didn't have to agonize over this anymore. The two men she loved were the same. She didn't know whether to kiss him or slug him. Clark was Superman! Kal was her colleague and partner! Clark was her best friend! The tears running down her face were a combination of joy and frustration, relief and resentment. How could he? How could he let her fall in love with both of his identities and not say anything about it? They were supposed to be best friends — or best ex-friends. Cold fury raced through her veins as anger suddenly took over.
Clark watched the tears stream down her face and felt his heart drop to vicinity of his spleen. He'd hurt her just as he had feared. Her expression on her face cut him to his very soul.
"It can't be," she stated blandly. "My best friend would never do this to me. What were you thinking? Were you laughing at me behind my back thinking what a moron I was for falling in love with both of you? Then you stood there and let me break up with you, Clark. Today must have been the pinnacle of your little game. Well, you won, Kal, or should I call you Clark, or do you have another identity that you're not telling me about? Were you disguised as Claude about a year or so back? That wouldn't surprise me."
"Don't. Just let me speak. That's the least you can do while I try to sort all this out. I'm going for a walk, I can't think with you looking at me that way. You and your little hang-dog look is making me even madder than I am, if that's possible."
"Lois, please. I'll go," Clark pleaded.
"Don't you dare!" she blurted in frustration and then continued in a more collected manner. "Listen. I'm just a bit, okay, more than a bit blown over at this moment. I didn't mean that about you being disguised as Claude; it sort of popped out. I think we can work this out, because if we don't, um… on second thought, I think you should leave before I say anything else I regret. When I'm ready to talk, I'll let you know. If I mean *anything* to you, you'll be around to face your consequences."
"I'll be around, and you mean everything to me," Clark promised, feeling a bit more hopeful that she at least wanted to see him again and that she hadn't totally thrown him out on his cape.
Clark turned to leave, but Lois couldn't let him go without one last thing. She grabbed him around the neck and reeled him in for a searing kiss that left him staggering backwards when she released him. "I just need a little time to sort this out."
He simply nodded, apparently still dizzy from her kiss and stumbled out into the night.
Lois slammed the window shut and began to walk furiously around her apartment. She was mad at herself, mad at Kal, but mostly overwhelmed that the two men in her life were the same person, and she hadn't figured it out. Right under her nose, he'd kept his two identities separated from her. But looking back, she hadn't given him any opportunity to tell her. She had made it perfectly clear that she hadn't needed anything but a friend at the time.
After the ball, she'd had railed on him about falling for some guy she'd just met, then the first exposure to the Kryptonite happened. It still puzzled her why he didn't tell her when they were captured in the warehouse, but knowing Clark, he was trying to spare her emotions at a time when they needed everything to figure out how to escape alive. Looking back to that night that she and Clark had spent together long ago, he was probably trying to tell her then, but she had fallen asleep on him. And even before that, she'd kept throwing that promise of only friendship in Kal's face. No wonder he hadn't known what to do.
After that, she had only seen love one-sided, concentrating all her emotions on Clark Kent. She had broken up with Clark in order to salvage her career and had told Kal to keep his identity a secret. No wonder Clark had clammed up — he had been only giving her what she asked for.
Exhausted from the mental merry-go-round she was whirling around on, she sank down on her sofa and buried her head in her hands.
The night was still and the moon was bright as Clark watched the stars above the buildings. He'd been waiting for a couple of hours now and was hoping against hope that she would show. It had been all he could do to give her the space that she needed, and he seriously doubted that twenty-four hours would be enough time for her to process the information that Kal equaled Clark Kent.
He was having a bit of trouble knowing that Lois was ready to ditch the relationship with him as Clark in favor of Kal. That lasted for about an hour before he'd reconciled it in his mind. His mother had been quick to point out that Lois had been so torn up about her feelings for both of his guises — it had not been easy for her to reconcile that she was in love with Superman when she was very much in love with Clark. Lois clearly loved him in both his identities. There was no mistaking that she had been visibly upset last night at the fund-raiser.
Heck, he was still struggling to reconcile himself to the fact that Lois finally knew about both his identities, and that even before that, she had loved both of them. He winced as he thought of how visibly upset she had been the night of the fund-raiser. It had been all his fault for letting her think for so long that he was two different men.
So he had reconciled those doubts, and here he sat, waiting as more fears popped into his head. Now, he had doubts that she'd ever pardon him for all his deception, not with her previous track record with men, or at least her forgiveness would be a very long time coming.
He pulled the hat down on his face as a group of people walked by. They hardly noticed he was there, but their pace quickened as they glanced sideways at him. Smiling in irony, he recalled that just a couple of hours ago, the crowds had once again pressed forward to be near him. What a difference an outfit made.
On the other hand, what a difference a year had made in his life. One year ago tonight he had been ready to leave Metropolis and everything he held dear in his life in order to run away from being discovered. It had taken one small woman to turn his life upside down and set his life on a path that would make a difference in the world.
A tear slid down his face as overwhelming love for Lois filled his heart. No, he would never be the same again, not after meeting and falling in love with Lois Lane.
A taxi pulled up a few feet from the curb and a slim figure got out, arguing about the price of the fare with the driver. Finally, she tossed some bills in the cab and slammed the door, grumbling the whole time.
He rocked back on the palms of his hands and watched her every step as she approached, holding his breath in anticipation.
"Nice hat, stranger," Lois stated as she sat down next to him. "So, who are you, Kal or Clark?"
"I don't know. Who do you want me to be?" Clark asked apologetically, thinking Lois wasn't about to spare him any slack.
"I don't care what your name is or what you do for a living. I don't care if you're a superhero in tights, or a reporter in tasteless ties. I'm simply tired of being confused. I just want the man I love."
Totally disarmed, Clark turned to her. "I don't understand. I thought you'd be mad and wouldn't show up here tonight."
"If I were still mad, I wouldn't be here," Lois said calmly, rather too calmly for Clark's state of mind.
"For your information, this is Kal, your best friend, and Clark, your partner who loves you more than words can express. Lois, I've wanted to tell you for so long, but so many things seemed to stand in the way. The night after the rescue from the warehouse, I did tell you who I was, but…"
"Yeah, I know. I fell asleep."
"Um, yeah. But then there was the time when I offered you my wallet to show you my real identity and…"
"I gave it back to you and made that stupid bet. Go on, you're not finished groveling yet."
Clark smiled to himself, then continued. "The nights we spent in the honeymoon suite, I wanted to tell you then, but…"
"I wasn't ready to hear any love declarations. I was still too scared of my own shadow."
"Are you going to let me take the blame for anything here? Give a guy a break!"
Tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm trying, Clark. In the past twenty- four hours, I've been mad and frustrated, confused and scared looking back on our history. I can doubt myself, our strange circumstances and even our future, but what I can never doubt is how you've stuck by me through thick and thin in the past year. For crying out loud, I broke up with you, and you still stayed my friend, even though I put my career ahead of our relationship. You've nursed me through my fears, stayed in the background while I've built up my professional reputation and have shown me respect in front of my peers. You've been there as my best friend and never asked for anything in return. Kal… Clark, whoever you are, I love you and need you in my life. Both of you. Do you still want me?"
"Still want you?" Clark choked back. "I don't know how you can even stand to be around me. I've lied to you about who I was, broken my promise to you, made you believe I was two different people, and even let you think I was in love with someone else. I don't think…"
"That's the problem. You're thinking too much. Stop arguing with me and just accept the fact that you're forgiven. I may make you pay a bit later, but damn it! I love you!"
"Lois…" Clark croaked, not believing her forgiveness had come so quickly. "I love you, too."
"Your outfit's perfect." Lois grazed her fingertips over the black cotton of his sweater. "This is the man I fell in love with. Not quite Clark and not quite Superman. This is you." She lifted her face and finally met his eyes. "I don't care if you have hat hair, glasses or insecurities, I love you." Feeling that he was finally able to touch her without her screaming at him, he reached for her hand. "You keep saying that — something about you loving me."
"Uh, huh. So what are you going to do about it?" she challenged, moving a bit closer.
Clark leaned in, his mouth close to her lips. "I think…"
"I think I'm going to take you flying."
With a squeal from Lois, Clark scooped her up in his arms, and in an instant, they were flying above the city. Lois pressed her face against his sweater until they had slowed down to a reasonable speed.
"Wow! I can never get over how beautiful the city is from up here. Absolutely breathtaking!" she exclaimed once she'd caught her breath.
"Just what I was thinking," Clark answered, his voice low with emotion. "*You* are breathtaking."
Lois ducked her head in embarrassment, then leaned her head sideways against his shoulder to gaze into his eyes.
"Are we really okay?" Clark asked, his arms tightening ever so slightly around her.
Lois nodded as she reached up to touch his face. Her thumb smoothed his cheekbone in quiet exploration as she studied his features. Her hand wound its way around to the back of his neck, and she played with the hair peeking from under his knit cap.
"Yeah, we're okay. More than okay, in fact." Her fingers wriggled under the band of his hat, causing Clark to drop a few feet in altitude.
Clark smiled wistfully at the woman in his arms. "I can't believe you know everything after all this time. Is it safe to kiss you?"
Lois moved her hand from the back of his neck and dragged a thumb across his lower lip. "Let's just say it'll be a lot more hazardous if you *don't* kiss me, stranger."
That was all the invitation Clark needed. He closed the space between their lips and met hers soundly. The outside world faded as the fireworks in their hearts replaced the stars in the sky.
Their kiss was interrupted when Lois shrieked. Clark's eyes flew open to see the bay only a couple feet away from his face. Their passion had caused him to drop several hundred feet in the air, and now Lois' feet were dipping in the water.
"Kal-ark!" she yelled, pounding him on the back.
Clark pulled away and grinned at her. "Kal-ark? I think I like 'stranger' better, or 'hey you', or…"
"Okay, okay! We'll decide on what I'll call you later. Let's just get my feet out of the bay before my shoes are ruined."
"Only if I can collect my bet."
Lois drew back and looked at him. "Your bet?"
"Yeah, I won. Remember? You never recognized me. You lost; I won."
Lois mouth dropped open in surprise. He was right. Technically, he had won the bet. Then she smiled, "Well, what do you have in mind, flyboy?"
Clark floated them up to the sky slowly. "How about a trip to find the sunrise, and then, who knows where we'll go?"
Lois snuggled against his chest. "Sounds perfect, stranger. I'm ready for anything, as long as it's with you."
"If that's the case, then how about this?" Clark tilted his head down and kissed her lips softly, his kiss slow and unrushed in its thoughtfulness. Her arms tightened around his neck in response as her soul reveled in the love she had found at last. Their lips clung sweetly together before finally pulling away, and the couple flew upward into the night in search of a new tomorrow.
… or not!