By Meredith Knight <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: October 2004
Summary: After the pheromone episode, Lois's ego is a little fragile and she's not eager to spend time with Clark in the Honeymoon Suite. However, both the partners manage to surprise each other…
I want to state right up front that I settled on this title before I Googled the phrase and discovered that it was the title of a song on a Johnny Cash album (described in one review as "the low point of the album", in fact). I trust the song and my story have absolutely nothing in common. <g>
Secondly… where this story came from. Well, I was reading LabRat's _Epiphany_ one day, and I read one of her fascinating little insights into Lois's mind, and — as it does occasionally — a tiny voice said in my head, "Yeah, but what if…" And the birthday of a dear friend of mine was coming up, so I thought what the heck — this seems like a perfect little bit of WAFF for a birthday present. Maybe even a little nfic romp.
That was before my Muse woke up. HAH!!!! I don't think she knows the meaning of the word "short", though she had it yelled at her often enough over the ensuing weeks. She didn't even get the nfic part right. I ask you… why don't they make Muses like they used to?
But Wendy finally got her birthday present. It's a little longer than I intended, and it has considerably more angst, but, well, I think she's not *entirely* averse to long, angsty stories…
I realise that the start of the story reads like a novelisation of the episode, Honeymoon in Metropolis. Please bear with me; it won't last too long.
Unusually for me, this story assumes that the episodes of S1 took place in the original transmission order instead of production order, so that _Honeymoon in Metropolis_ follows straight after _Pheromone, My Lovely_ and the events of _Witness_ have not occurred. Recognisable settings, characters and dialogue belong to Warner Brothers, DCC, and all the usual suspects. I'm borrowing them for fun and not for profit. Special thanks to Dan Levine for the script of HiM, from which I reused a fair amount of dialogue.
And a host of thanks is due to my wonderful beta-readers for help, encouragement, nagging and the occasional kick — LabRat, Sara and (unbeknownst to her) Wendy herself. <g>
Lois stared at Perry, silently willing him to give her plan the go-ahead. She could feel her nerves jangling, the familiar excitement building in her gut. This story was going to be *big*, and it was all hers!
Perry gave her a measuring glance. She put an extra ounce of pleading into her face, and saw by the reluctant twinkle in his eye that she'd won. Fighting back a triumphant smile, Lois turned to survey the other staff members who were waiting to hear the boss's verdict.
"Okay, you guys have got three nights," Perry said.
Lois had brought this lead in on her own — she sure as hell didn't need any help following it up! She whipped her head around and saw Perry's twinkle deepen. "Guys?" she spluttered.
"You and Clark," Perry said calmly.
Clark… oh no, please, not Clark! Not in the honeymoon suite… One of the married reporters, maybe, or even Jimmy — she could crush any inappropriate notions Jimmy might have with a single well-chosen sentence… "Did you say 'Clark'?" she asked, foolishly.
Perry nodded, and Clark and the others chimed in with what they no doubt imagined to be humorous confirmations.
All Lois could see before her mind's eye was the horrifying picture of the last night she'd spent in Clark's company — passed out on his bed in a harem costume after having spent the entire day trying to seduce him.
She cut across the annoying banter. "Chief, I am *not* sharing that suite with Clark. How would it look?"
Perry gave her a blank look and started to lay down the law about making the stakeout look "natural". Lois listened with half an ear, her heart sinking lower with every word.
Didn't he know what reporters got up to on these occasions? Not that she'd ever joined in, of course, but every single time she'd been paired with a male colleague on an all-nighter, the jerk had assumed that the programme included sex with her in addition to their professional duties. She'd had to get physical with most of them — though not quite in the way they'd anticipated — before they'd finally backed off. It was one of the main reasons she'd taken up Tae Kwon Do.
Clark was the only reporter, male or female, she'd ever managed to work with. In fact, if truth be told, he was pretty near to her ideal partner… not that she'd ever breathe a word of that even to Perry, let alone to Clark himself. The last, the very last thing she wanted was to spend the next three nights fending him off, and ruining their carefully balanced professional relationship.
<Not to mention what'll happen if you decide not to fend him off,> said the little voice at the back of her mind that Lois habitually chose to ignore.
"It would be business, Lois," Clark put in. "Strictly business."
Yeah, right. Like she'd never heard *that* one before!
But what could she do? Short of dragging Perry into his office and explaining exactly what she was concerned about — and even then, he'd probably just give her the speech about maintaining a professional distance. And if she stuck to her guns, he'd threaten to give the story to Clark and another female reporter… maybe even Cat…
What was Cat doing in the investigation, anyway? She was just a gossip columnist, for heaven's sake! As for what she and Clark would get up to in the honeymoon suite… the beat of jungle drums filled Lois's memory, and she shook her head irritably.
"That's the deal," said Perry, confirming Lois's fears. "Take it or leave it."
What option did she have? "I'll take it," she said sulkily.
"Just don't try anything funny," Clark said to her with a smirk as the others dispersed. Lois gave him a disgusted glare.
It was obvious what was at the forefront of *his* mind!
At last, they'd all gone. The bellhop, driving Lois crazy with his knowing leers, till Clark could see her physically biting her tongue to prevent herself blowing their cover. Jimmy, gazing with wide-eyed wonder at the opulence he'd probably only ever imagined before today. Cat, impertinently familiar with the room's hidden features, sneaking sidelong, suggestive glances at Clark whenever she thought Lois would notice. Clark had cringed inwardly at every glance; Lois had become noticeably more tight- lipped with each one, responding to Cat's eventual insouciant farewell with a muttered "Finally!"
Even room service had been and gone now, leaving Clark and Lois tete-a-tete over the sort of repast that a pair of newly-weds might favour before embarking on their first official night together: a platter full of nibbles such as a loving couple might enjoy feeding to each other, and a dish of sinfully rich chocolate mousse to share.
Unfortunately, neither the privacy nor the prospect of chocolate seemed to be soothing Lois's nerves. Her heartbeat had accelerated when the door had closed behind the room service waitress, and she started nervously every time Clark moved. He'd offered a few conversational gambits, but her monosyllabic responses had finally dissuaded him from trying again.
Clark helped himself to the last curl of smoked salmon, popped it into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.
Lois was gazing fixedly at her wine glass, running her thumbnail over the hand-cut pattern.
"Do you want first crack at the dessert?" he asked. His voice sounded over-loud, even to him.
"What?" She looked up at last, but her eyes rose no higher than his chin.
"Dessert." He gestured at the dish. "They haven't provided a second plate. Why don't you go for it, and I'll have whatever's left?"
He gave her a friendly grin, and saw her flinch. Her eyes slid away from his face to the mousse. "Okay!" she said with patently false enthusiasm, and picked it up.
She froze momentarily as he rose to his feet, relaxing again as he turned away to open the bag Jimmy had delivered. "I'll start getting the equipment set up," he said.
It gave him something to do other than watch her as she spooned the creamy confection into her mouth. Even from across the room, with his back to her, he was aware of her every move; but either his distance or the chocolate was finally having a calming effect on Lois. Her heartrate was slowing and her movements were less jerky.
He knew what the problem was. Barely ten days ago, the newsroom had been sprayed with a pheromone compound that removed its victims' inhibitions, and Lois had developed a king-sized crush on him, Clark. If he'd been affected too, they'd probably have spent the next couple of days making passionate love; as it was, he'd had his work cut out to prevent her doing something she'd never have forgiven herself — or him — for. The memory of her lips and her body pressing against his still brought him out in a cold sweat… Only the realisation that Lois's everyday conscious mind had nothing to do with her behaviour had saved him from taking advantage of her. And even then, it had been a close call — he'd been on the brink of giving in when she'd finally come to her senses.
And that must be weighing on her mind as much as it was on his. She'd been mortified when she'd realised, or remembered, what she'd been doing in the "seven veils" costume, and it had taken all his powers of persuasion to convince her to stay and help him investigate instead of running away to hide. When they'd discovered what the pheromone did, he'd lied and said he wasn't attracted to her — the only possible explanation apart from the real one, that the compound didn't affect Superman — but she was obviously still terrified that he'd bring the incident up again, or that he'd make a move on her.
To tell the truth, so was he. Since that night when he'd paced the floor in torment while she slept off the effects of the chemical in his bed, his sleep had been filled with sweaty dreams of having her in his arms again — and in those dreams, his conscience didn't step in and force him to resist the temptation.
There was one other thing that made it still harder for him to forget the incident. They'd shared one kiss where she'd been in full possession of her senses, and where neither of them had held anything back. She'd thought she was kissing Superman… if she'd had the slightest suspicion that it had been Clark responding with every red blood cell in his body, he'd have been dead by now, Kryptonite or no Kryptonite.
He was still fiddling with the surveillance equipment, and Lois was putting down her bowl and spoon. He hastily finished erecting the tripod and aiming the camera at the brightly lit office windows opposite before she could come to join him. He didn't think that having her up close was a good idea right now.
"All done," he announced cheerfully, turning back towards the room service trolley. He grinned. "Good dessert, was it?"
Lois looked down at the empty dish and clapped a dismayed hand over her mouth. "Clark, I'm sorry — I didn't -"
"That's okay," he assured her quickly. "You know I don't -" <- have to eat?> He caught the words back just in time. "- don't mind, as long as you enjoyed it," he finished hastily. "Shall I get rid of that trolley?"
He *had* to remember that he had more than one secret to protect, he told himself angrily as he positioned the trolley outside the suite door and checked that the "Do Not Disturb" sign was in position. Better he let his suppressed feelings for Lois slip than she guess his other identity!
Lois had seated herself in the middle of the couch and was busy familiarising herself with the controls of the massive sound recording system. Clark looked at the smallish space on either side of her, then considered and rejected the recliner that had been giving Cat a sensual massage earlier.
"I'll use the bathroom now," he said. "Change into something more comfortable."
Oh no — he hadn't really said that, had he? Blushing furiously, he turned on his heel and headed for the sanctuary of the bedroom — where his clothes had been put away on the right — and then to the bathroom.
Lois's nerves tightened as the minutes lengthened. Any moment now, she'd find out what her partner considered appropriate clothing for an all-night stakeout. Would it be a bathrobe, loosely tied and showing half his chest, like the one Trevor had affected in that seedy motel near the airport, back when she'd been little more than a rookie? Or red silk boxers, like Arnie when they'd been investigating the hotel that had turned out to be little more than an upmarket bordello? A towel, like Jerry on the overnight ferry trip? Though at least Clark had the sort of body that looked good in just a towel, if her memory was correct… no, she mustn't go there.
Hopefully he would at least come out of the bedroom wearing *something* — unlike Julio, when they'd attended the mystery mansion weekend together. She'd helpfully pointed out to Julio that it was a good idea to keep some padding between you and the rest of the world at all times. Right after she'd demonstrated, with a capable knee, exactly where a man might be glad of padding.
Reliving past victories wasn't helping her. She'd been waiting all evening for Clark to make his move, and by now you could have played a violin sonata on her nerves. If she'd been young and naive, she'd have been fooled into thinking that he had nothing more than a quiet night's sleep on his mind.
Lois snorted. She hadn't been that innocent for a long time. All men were the same: they took their pleasure wherever they could get it, and then moved on to the next victim. If they couldn't get it straight away they'd hang around for a while — sometimes even long enough to get married — but it didn't stop them moving on in the end.
Clark would make his move, all right. The only question was when.
The bedroom door opened at last, and Lois drew a deep breath and prepared for battle. But when she raised her head, Clark was walking calmly into the room, clad in sweatpants and a T-shirt. His hair, damp from what must have been the world's quickest shower, curled invitingly against the bronzed skin of his neck. What would it feel like to run one's fingers through those thick, dark locks?
"All yours," he said casually. Then, as if he could feel Lois's eyes on him, he looked at her suspiciously. "What?"
"Oh — nothing," she said hastily, wrenching her eyes away from where his T-shirt clung to the muscular chest she'd remembered accurately. "Just… you look okay. Out of your work clothes, I mean."
Idiot! What was she doing, giving him an opening like that?
But he merely nodded, looking faintly gratified. "Thanks."
He moved towards the couch, and Lois shot to her feet. There was no way she was letting him sit down next to her, clothes or no clothes. "So, what do we do now?"
He shrugged. "I saw a pack of cards somewhere. Want a game of something? Old maid?"
She thrust the thought away, panicking. "We're here to work, not play games!" Oh great, another magnificent straight line.
But once again, he seemed oblivious of the opportunity, sitting down at one end of the couch and looking warily up at her.
"I'm going to bed," she said tautly, edging towards the bedroom door. "You can take first shift. Wake me when they show up."
Her hand was on the doorknob when Clark cleared his throat. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
She looked at him enquiringly.
"It's our first night here… alone… together. What about our sleeping arrangements?"
At last. She nearly laughed with relief. "What do you suggest?"
He fumbled in his pants pocket, pulled out a coin. "How about we flip for the bed?"
Oh, very smooth, Clark. Skate into it gently, get her thinking she's safe, lie about the coin toss and then offer to share… "How about I get the bed, I lend you a pillow?"
"How about we alternate nights?"
Yeah, right. "How about we don't?"
She saw his lips tighten. He obviously wasn't getting the cue he wanted. "Well, it's a big bed. How about we share?"
Bingo. Here came the hard sell.
Lois shifted her stance, waiting for Clark to make his approach. Tell her they might as well make the most of their time together. Make a grab for her. Her knee was ready and waiting.
Only he wasn't moving. He was still seated on the couch, patiently waiting for her answer. Almost as if they weren't working from the same script…
"How about we alternate nights?"
"Deal." He looked away at last and started fiddling with the controls in front of him.
Lois hurriedly retrieved a pillow and sheet from the bedroom and dropped them on the couch beside him, barely registering his murmured "Thanks." Then she marched back into the other room, shut the door behind her with a soft click and leant back against it, her heart thudding painfully.
What had just happened out there?
He'd manoeuvred her into agreeing to let him have the bed tomorrow night, sure. But what about tonight? He was hardly going to leave her alone for the rest of the night… was he?
She looked thoughtfully at the bedroom door. She could lock it… only he was supposed to wake her when Congressman Harrington and his friends arrived. If they arrived. Otherwise, he'd presumably wake her when it was her shift on watch.
If she locked the door, he'd just have to bang on it and yell till she woke up. There was no danger of alerting the bad guys — the only way sound could get from one building to the other was by using their super-duper, hypersensitive directional microphone. But banging and yelling could be overheard elsewhere in the hotel…
She left the door as it was and went to investigate her clothing. Sure enough, it had been unpacked into the closets on the left. She resisted the temptation to snoop through Clark's clothes — what if he caught her? — and picked out a white T-shirt and some grey knit shorts. She tossed them on the bed and sat down at the dressing table to remove her makeup.
She was brushing out her hair — one hundred strokes, morning and night — when a loud thump from the lounge startled her. She relaxed almost at once. Only Clark… and it didn't sound like dropped equipment, so he'd probably rolled off the couch onto the floor.
Of course. Neat trick, farmboy. He'd roll off once or twice more, at appropriate intervals, then come through here complaining that he couldn't be expected to sleep on such a small piece of furniture, and begging to share the bed. She'd be much more vulnerable once she was already undressed and in bed.
Lois rose to her feet, tempted to stick her head out of the bedroom door and tell him not to bother. But something — she wasn't sure what — stopped her. Instead she turned towards the bed and slowly began undressing, putting each garment away neatly as she removed it. Shoes. Watch on the nightstand. Jacket and skirt. The lacy white blouse she'd chosen for the bridal touch. Pantyhose. Underwear.
And then, without even looking at the nightclothes she'd laid ready, she pulled the sheet back and stepped into the bed.
The satin kiss was cool and soft against her skin. Her naked, inexplicably heated skin. She settled her cheek against the pillow and closed her eyes.
What in heaven's name was she doing?
Any minute now, Clark was going to come sidling apologetically through that door and, unless she put up some pretty convincing resistance, climb into bed with her. And he was going to find her buck naked.
Was she actually contemplating sleeping with him? Was that what this was all about?
Was she really so desperate that she was going to jump at the first available opportunity to sleep with a reasonably attractive — well, okay, outrageously attractive — man?
Surely not. She just didn't need that kind of trouble in her life.
And yet… She was missing *something* in her life. The nights out, where she couldn't find anyone interesting to talk to and ended up watching from the sidelines as the people around her had a great time, told her that. The nights in, where she watched soppy soaps and wept into her tub of double chocolate fudge ice cream, told her that.
The molten feeling inside when she thought about sharing this bed, where she'd been so lonely last night, with the man she was starting to think of as a friend told her that loudest of all.
Mad Dog Lane was lonely and desperate for company. What would the office grapevine make of that?
A whisper of sound from the lounge caught her ear, and suddenly her heart was in her mouth. Here he came.
What was she going to do?
But the bedroom door didn't open. Instead, Clark's muffled voice drifted through it. "Good night, Lois."
<Why don't you come and join me, Clark?> The words were on the tip of her tongue before her mouth dried in sudden shock. She couldn't say that!
"Lois, good night!"
She wet her lips, thinking. If she didn't answer, maybe he would come to investigate?
This time the words were drawn out in a singsong voice. "Good ni-i-ight, Lo-is!" Obviously he was prepared to keep this up all night.
"Good night, Clark!" she snapped.
The tears took her by surprise, oozing down her cheeks to wet the satin pillow. She'd been so wound up about how to respond when he tried to seduce her, that she hadn't even considered that he might not want to…
<You should have known,> that annoying little voice said smugly in her head. <He didn't sleep with you last week, either, and then you were flinging yourself at him.>
But that was different!
Different because… because he'd known she was under the influence of that drug, and it wasn't really her doing it.
<Try again, Lois,> the hateful voice said. <He was under the influence of that drug too. If he'd been the slightest bit attracted to you, he'd have jumped at what you were offering.>
Lois opened her mouth to deliver a stinging rebuttal, then closed it again.
It was true. That was what this was all about. Clark had turned down the chance of sex with her when she'd been all over him like a case of chickenpox for the best part of two days — and although she'd been deeply relieved that things hadn't gone any further, it had also rocked her self-confidence.
Her behaviour tonight wasn't about scoring points over Clark, or even about the absence of a meaningful relationship in her life. It was simply that she needed to prove — to herself, if not to Clark — that she was desirable.
And that was the saddest motive of all.
Still… lying here leaking tears wasn't going to change anything. Now that she'd been forced to confront her feelings, she had to work out what to do about them. Otherwise she'd just keep having these yearnings she couldn't control, and she'd just keep feeling like a mousy failure every time Cat swept by, flaunting her considerable and oh so available assets.
Lois sat up and fumbled in her bag for a tissue to dry her eyes, then turned the pillow over and lay down again on the dry side.
If she needed to prove her femininity to herself, the most sensible thing to do would be to have a brief fling with… somebody. Not Clark; somebody completely unassociated with the Planet. She knew from experience how sleeping with a colleague set the office grapevine humming. She'd even made a private, personal rule against doing it again — something she'd conveniently forgotten over the last couple of weeks.
The only trouble with that plan was that she found the whole idea ludicrous. The mere thought of sleeping with a casual acquaintance was — well, off-putting. A total turn-off. Downright disgusting, if she was honest.
In fact, she couldn't really see herself sleeping with anyone other than Clark. Clark… or Superman…
Her heart skipped a beat, before she caught herself up. How ridiculous could she get? Aside from a gruff declaration of love and that stunning, toe-curling kiss while he'd been under the pheromone's influence, Superman had never shown any personal interest in her. He might be slightly attracted to her, in some microcosmic although highly unlikely way, but in her saner moments Lois knew quite well that he would never act on it.
And even if he did, by some unfathomable turn of events, actually sleep with her… what would she feel like afterwards? She couldn't bear it if Superman came to despise her. As he would.
Because she must never lose sight of the fact she'd had burned into her by every boyfriend she'd ever had. Men were all the same. No matter what they said beforehand, once they'd been between the sheets with you it was never the same again. Maybe they couldn't help respecting you less, but the fact remained that sooner or later they drifted away and moved on to someone else, and you were left to pick up the pieces.
So where did that leave her, and her badly dented female ego?
Stuck in a hotel room with Clark for three nights…
And what would happen if they did sleep together? Not that it would, obviously, since he wasn't interested — but just for argument's sake?
Things would be different with Clark. For one thing, she wasn't in love with him. When he turned round at the end of the stakeout and explained that he wasn't interested in a long-term relationship, it wouldn't matter. She'd have proved what she wanted to prove, and she wouldn't be devastated by the loss of a relationship she didn't want either.
Professionally… that would potentially be more awkward. No doubt the gossip about what they'd done would make the rounds of the newsroom, just as it had with Claude. Strangely, though, the thought didn't bother Lois as much as it had once done. She'd earned her place at the top of the Planet food chain; she had three Kerths under her belt and, after her articles on Superman and all the other amazing stories of this remarkable year, no doubt she'd have another soon. A fling with a colleague, no matter how well publicised, wasn't going to change that. Nor would she ever make a fool of herself moping after Clark the way she'd done with Claude.
Clark had slept with Cat in his early days at the Planet, and as far as Lois could tell, he hadn't stooped to boasting about it. Not that bedding Cat was exactly a rare achievement — but as far as Lois could remember, all of the no doubt highly coloured tales had stemmed from Cat herself. Clark hadn't even confirmed the rumours; in fact, he'd tried to deny them at first, before he'd realised that the cat was well and truly out of the bag.
So perhaps the newsroom rumour mill would be cheated for once?
And if Clark's loss of respect for her extended to her professional skills… well, she'd managed for years without a partner. Good as he might be, Lois could do without him if he grew too big for his boots.
So what was there to prevent her having a fling with Clark?
<The fact that he's not interested?>
He was interested enough in Cat, Lois retorted indignantly. It just wasn't possible the man could sleep with Cat and then turn down a liaison with her… was it? Maybe he'd just been afraid that he'd lose his prestigious position as Lois Lane's partner if he took advantage of her. Surely, if he realised that she was interested…
The little voice seemed to have been silenced at last, though Lois had a funny feeling it was merely biding its time, waiting to pop up with a "Told you so" at some future juncture.
Meanwhile, she had two more days in this suite, alone with Clark. A lot could change in two days. She'd just have to wait and see what came to pass.
The click of the lock in the Apocalypse office suite woke Clark instantly. He groaned and, forgetting where he was, rolled over. This time, however, he caught himself on the way to the floor and floated up onto his feet, collecting his glasses from the table as he passed.
A quick glance through the window showed Congressman Harrington, Rourke and the muscle man returning. Clark quickly checked the camera and turned up the speaker on the tape recorder, then went to wake Lois.
She was curled up in one corner of the huge bed, wrapped in a satin sheet scarcely paler than her skin, breathing deeply and peacefully. Clark hesitated for a moment, but she'd been quite clear that she wanted to be woken. He reached out and touched her shoulder. It was bare.
He caught his breath, and his stomach did a little sideways skitter.
This was no time to be indulging adolescent fantasies! He steeled himself to bend forward and speak into her ear. "Lois? Lois!"
Her eyes opened slowly; she looked confused. And adorable.
"Lois, wake up. They're back."
"What?" She turned her head to look at him and, unbelievably, smiled sleepily. His heart flip-flopped.
Then she rolled onto her back and stretched. The movement pulled the sheet down almost to her waist, and before he could stop them, Clark's fascinated eyes followed it.
She was wearing… nothing.
Abruptly, the hand still resting on her shoulder was sweating. Clark snatched it back as though the touch had burnt him. He dragged his eyes away with an effort, turning his head to focus on the window.
"Harrington and the others are back," he gabbled. "Time to get up. I'll be, um, with the camera."
He turned and bolted from the room, the blood hammering in his ears.
By the time Lois emerged from the bedroom, he'd managed to recover most of his composure. If Lois guessed how he felt about her, he was sunk. At best, she'd turn back into the viper- tongued virago he'd first been partnered with; at worst, she'd refuse to work with him or even — if she construed his interest as harassment — get him fired.
He needed to play it cool. Let her think his reaction in the bedroom had simply been natural embarrassment at catching an acquaintance in an awkward situation. And certainly never let her know that her mere presence in the room was doing crazy things to his stomach.
He kept his eyes trained on the window as she approached. She brushed past him and took up a position next to the camera, just in front of him. To his relief, she was now decently dressed in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
She raised a pair of binoculars to her eyes and studied the scene in the Apocalypse offices while they listened to Rourke and Harrington discussing "system specs" and "test results" and the "re-vote". At one point Clark cleared his throat softly, and Lois must have taken it as a hint, because she turned to offer him the binoculars. Her shoulder brushed his chest. The shoulder he'd had his hand on when…
He closed his eyes. "No, pl… uh, no thanks."
Oh, real cool, Kent! Why not just tell her you're lusting after her and be done with it?
He opened his eyes cautiously to gauge her reaction, but she'd turned back to the window again, the binoculars to her eyes. Was it his imagination, or was there something different about her stance? Not tension, exactly, but the way she was holding herself… She raised one hand to her face to capture an errant strand of hair, then pushed the whole silky mass of hair back over her shoulder, exposing the smooth, elegant line of her neck. Clark hastily focused his eyes on the office windows again.
The conference concluded with Rourke predicting dire consequences for Harrington if anything went wrong, and Harrington turning ghostly pale. Moments later all three men had left, this time switching off the lights behind them.
Lois lowered the binoculars and turned to Clark with a sigh. This time, he took a casual step backwards and their bodies didn't make contact.
"I don't have a clue what they're talking about," she said pensively, "but whatever it is, it's big."
Clark nodded. "We do know one thing. Harrington is Chairman of the House Defence Committee, and they're talking about a re-vote. They must be trying to reverse a recent committee decision."
"So we put Jimmy onto researching all the recent committee decisions, first thing tomorrow?"
They smiled at each other. The moment lengthened, turning into something different… more intimate. Clark's mouth dried.
Lois raised both arms and slowly pushed back her hair again. The movement thrust her breasts forward against the thin T-shirt, and Clark's eyes dropped involuntarily. A long moment passed before he could wrench them back to her face. She was watching him with an unreadable expression.
"It's one-thirty," he said. His voice was hoarse, and he cleared his throat awkwardly. "We'd better get back to bed. I can't see them coming back tonight."
Lois took a step closer to him, and her tongue came out to lick her lips. He resisted the urge to back away. Play it cool… "Yes?"
She looked past him towards the couch. Her brow furrowed as she took in the mess of feathers from his damaged pillow, but she looked back at him, evidently dismissing it. "You know, I was thinking — you were right, earlier…" She paused to search his eyes, then continued in a low voice, "It's a big bed. We could share…"
He stared at her uncomprehendingly. What exactly was she getting at? Was this her way of saying she trusted him? Or — God forbid — was it some sort of test? Was he supposed to decline the offer?
She hurried into speech again, sounding slightly nervous. "You know, we wouldn't want the staff to guess that one of us slept on the couch… And there's a complimentary bottle of champagne in a cooler next to the bed. Not that it's all that cool any more, I suppose, but it'd look odd if we haven't touched it -"
"Okay, Lois." His voice still sounded strained, but it stemmed the babble. "I mean, it's up to you. I can't pretend the couch is very comfortable."
She beamed as if he'd taken a load off her shoulders. He'd obviously passed some sort of test, though he couldn't imagine what or how. "The bed is. Very. Come on, then."
She brushed past him again, heading for the bedroom, and he felt the now familiar tightening in his gut. He paused to scoop up his bedding and switch off the light, then followed her, wondering anxiously just what he was letting himself in for.
Lois had switched on her bedside lamp and was perched on the edge of the bed, wrestling with the top of the champagne bottle. Clark hovered for a moment before deciding that offering to help was probably a bad move. What he could do, though, was ready the glasses in case the champagne was too eager to follow the cork. He collected them from the side of the cooler and skirted the bed to sit cross-legged on the far side.
One thing was certain — the bed was plenty big enough for two people to sleep comfortably all night without touching. It occurred to him to wonder what a honeymoon couple who, presumably, wanted to touch all night would do with that expanse… oh, no. He couldn't afford to go there!
Lois wrested the wire cage free from the bottle at last. She grinned triumphantly and shifted to face him, swinging her legs onto the bed. "Nearly there, partner!" she said, waggling the bottle for emphasis.
There was a loud bang, and the cork shot over Lois's shoulder and across the room, followed by a gush of champagne. Clark rolled onto one elbow and held out the glasses to catch the flood, but Lois ignored them; giggling, she leaned back and put the bottle to her lips, sucking at the rushing foam.
Transfixed, Clark watched the sensuous movement of her lips… the muscles working in her throat… the flow of golden liquid eluding her mouth to splash down her chin and onto her shirt… Her back was arched and her otherwise unfettered breasts were straining at the thin fabric. Time seemed to stretch and slow to a standstill.
The flood became a trickle and stopped. She lowered the bottle, breaking the spell. Clark suddenly became aware of his own heavy breathing and strove to control it, but he couldn't drag his eyes from the vision before him.
"Your shirt's wet," he said stupidly. The patch of champagne stretched from Lois's neck down over most of her front; the shirt was clinging to her curves, almost transparent in the intimate lamplight. Clark drew a ragged breath.
The delightful vision shifted, moving towards him. Lois was bending forward. Mustering his self-control, Clark dragged his eyes northward to focus on her face, wincing slightly in anticipation of her slap.
It never came; instead, she reached out with the bottle and carefully filled the glasses he was still holding out. There wasn't even a trace of anger on her face. In fact, the hint of a smile played around her lips for an instant when she looked up and met his eyes.
She leaned over and carefully seated the remaining champagne back in the cooler. Then she sat up and shot an unreadable glance at him. "I'd better get this off," she said.
She grasped the hem of her shirt and carefully bunched up the wet fabric in one hand. Then, in one swift movement, she lifted the shirt over her head and shook her hair free.
Clark closed his eyes, swallowing convulsively. Sweat was prickling on his upper lip.
What was she doing? Testing his self-control? Hadn't he paid enough already, resisting her advances for an entire evening while she danced in front of him, shedding veils from her costume and pleading with him to consummate their eternal devotion?
And this time, she knew exactly what she was doing…
Clark wanted to jump up and flee, get as far away from her as possible. Trapped in the middle of the bed, leaning on one elbow with two brimming champagne glasses clutched in his slippery fingers, he could only lie still and hope desperately that she would tire of her game and return to the calm, professional facade he was used to. Of course, he *could* levitate off the bed and fly away, but that would merely turn a difficult situation into a disaster.
The mattress sank beside him, and his eyes flew open. But Lois was merely settling onto her pillows, tucking the sheet decorously under her arms. Clark's jangled nerves relaxed a little. More of her skin was showing than he was used to, but no more than if she'd been in an evening gown. And far less than at the beach…
His unruly imagination instantly produced a picture of Lois in a bikini, smoothing sunblock onto her legs, and his entire body tightened painfully. He bit back a groan. Lois — the real, live Lois — turned on her side, propping her head on one hand, and spread the other delicately on his chest.
"Are you all right?"
He'd never in his life been less all right. He wondered for an insane moment whether her fingerprints would be etched into his chest forever.
The light from behind her gilded her hair and the curve of her shoulder, leaving her face in shadow. Her eyes were dark, mysterious, unfathomable pools. He didn't dare look away from them. If she cast even a glance downwards, she'd know exactly what effect she was having on him. If she didn't already.
Her hand moved on his shirt, stroking the fabric lightly.
"Lois, what are you doing?"
She cocked her head, and her hand stilled. Then she smiled.
"I'm relaxing, Clark. You know… You said last night you didn't think I had it in me. Well, you didn't realise I was taking pictures of a congressman being bribed at the time, but I decided you were right — I should relax more. And it's more fun relaxing with two, don't you think?"
Her hand moved again, one fingertip tracing an imaginary pattern on his shirt.
"I'm not very relaxed," he blurted out.
She chuckled, a low, throaty chuckle that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. "Maybe some champagne will help."
The teasing finger left his chest at last. She lifted the nearest glass from his grasp and raised it. "Here's to three nights of relaxation together!"
Feeling unable to echo the toast, Clark took a cautious sip from his own glass.
Was Lois tipsy? Was that why she was torturing him so mercilessly? But no… she'd had a single glass of wine with dinner, and that had been hours ago. Whatever she was playing at, she was doing it stone cold sober.
She was sipping slowly, savouring the taste of the champagne, watching him closely. She smiled when she saw his attention return to her and switched her glass to the other hand so that she could flip her dark hair over her shoulder. The sheet shifted and drew taut.
Clark hastily drained his glass and set it down with a clatter on the nightstand. If that sheet came down again, he was out of here. His control wasn't going to last much longer.
Lois was rolling away, too, and setting down her half-empty glass. The sheet moved smoothly with her, as if glued in place. Clark had seen that effect in the movies, and hadn't believed it then; now it startled him. Did all women learn some sort of special trick that…
He'd spent too long thinking. Lois had rolled back and, somehow, ended up much nearer to him. She was still decently covered — just — but her lips were inches from his own, and her hand was once again drawing patterns on his shirt.
"Feeling any better?" she murmured, and then her face moved closer… out of focus… and her lips touched his.
A voice at the back of his brain somewhere was yelling at him to run, but the blood pounding in his ears was rapidly drowning it out. He didn't seem to be able to move. Her lips stroked his softly and her hand inched up his chest, drew a line of fire across the side of his neck, and buried itself in his hair.
He gave an involuntary groan, and instantly her tongue invaded his mouth, stroking gently but insistently. He'd shared a passionate kiss with her once before, just days ago, but this time… this time she was kissing him.
He closed his eyes and surrendered. Subsiding onto the bed, he reached out and drew her body towards him, moulding her pliant length against him as he returned her kiss in full measure. He froze momentarily as his fingers met the naked skin of her back, beyond the edge of the sheet, but she shivered and arched against him. Encouraged, he began to explore her satin curves, stroking and kneading the firm muscles and following the line of her spine up into her silken hair.
Their tongues danced and tangled as their mouths melded. Both of them were uttering little excited moans, mouths and bodies moving together in harmony. She tasted of champagne, with a distant, lingering echo of chocolate.
He couldn't resist. He tore his mouth free of hers and planted moist kisses down her chin and onto her neck, savouring the traces of the spilt champagne.
"Yes, Clark… oh, yes…"
He rolled her onto her back, bending over her eager body, his lips and tongue moving on to taste the skin of her chest. Both of them moved simultaneously to pull the sheet down, then Lois was fisting her hands in his hair as he covered her with nibbling kisses. Lois moaned and quivered under him, inflaming his senses, narrowing the world until there was nothing but their two bodies.
Then she was pushing him away, and he was whimpering in protest as his lips left her skin. "My turn," she whispered, rolling him onto his back and tugging his shirt free from his sweatpants. She rose to her knees beside him and Clark felt a roller-coaster mix of disappointment and anticipation as he noticed that she was still wearing her shorts.
Thought vanished as she slipped her hands under his shirt. He'd found her touch tantalising with his shirt between them, but this was a thousand times more… more. He hissed as she raked her hands up his sides, lifting the T-shirt as far as his armpits; then she bent and pressed her lips to his skin.
Sensation shot through him, and he groaned. Next second, without lifting her head, Lois had straddled his lower body and the agonising pleasure redoubled. He could feel her skin caressing his abdomen and the gentle pressure of her midriff against his sweatpants.
"Lo-isss…" It was somewhere between a hiss of delight and a plea for relief.
She sat up slowly and gave him an intense look. Her eyes were dark and smoky, the pupils distended with desire, and he knew his must look the same.
"Let's get your clothes off, Clark."
He grasped his T-shirt obediently, then saw her hand snaking towards his glasses. "Those first."
"No." Without conscious volition, his hand shot up, arresting hers an inch from the side of his face.
The shock hit him like a deluge of cold water. Like the Arctic Ocean at midwinter. He saw it hit her, too.
"Lois — what are we doing?"
She moistened her lips. The movement of that small pink tongue almost jolted Clark over the edge again, but he kept his eyes firmly fixed on hers.
"We're having sex, Clark. At least, we're going to."
She shrugged. Her eyes were no longer so huge or so dark, and she was starting to look embarrassed. "We're alone in the Honeymoon Suite for three nights. We both want to. We're both adults. Why shouldn't we?"
"And… after those three nights are over… what then?"
She sat up, wrenching her hand away from his grip, and crossed her arms over her breasts. "We go back to normal. Colleagues. Partners, if you can behave yourself."
"I thought you had a rule about sleeping with colleagues."
She flushed. "Well, I'm willing to suspend it. One-time-only offer, Kent."
"No." He sat up abruptly, tugging his shirt down over his torso, and she scooted sideways off his legs. He swung them off the bed and took a few steps towards the window, affording her a modicum of privacy. His entire body was aching, screaming at him to get back on the bed and finish what he'd started, but he couldn't. He just couldn't. "No, Lois… I'm not interested in a one-night stand. Not even a three-night stand. I'm sorry."
"You had a one-night stand with Cat." Her voice sounded younger, more vulnerable… almost scared.
"Oh, God…" He groaned and dropped his face into his hands. "Why won't *anyone* believe me? I never slept with Cat. She made up all those stories to, I don't know, salvage her ego or something." He pushed his hands through his hair. "I'm twenty- seven, Lois, not seventeen. I want to find a woman I can share my life with and settle down with her, not sleep around."
There was a tense silence. When Lois spoke again, there was a razor edge on her voice. "A woman like me?"
The back of Clark's neck prickled. He'd said too much.
"I didn't say that, Lois."
"Fine," she snapped. He heard her get to her feet, stomp to the wardrobe and get a clean shirt. "Good," she added, her voice muffled by its folds. She stomped back to the bed, ripped back the sheet and climbed in, then snapped off the light. "Good night."
Clark stood there numbly in the darkness.
Had he, or had he not, just blown any slight chance he'd ever had of Lois's friendship — or anything more?
He rather thought he had.
And what was he supposed to do now? Assume Lois's invitation still stood, and creep into the farthest corner of the bed to spend an uncomfortable night jerking awake every time she moved? Or sneak back to the couch and try to forget everything that had happened since Harrington and Rourke had left?
Lois was being no help at all. She was lying stiffly on her side, turned away from him. He might have thought she was asleep if he hadn't been able to hear her tumultuous pulse and her ragged breathing… her unsteady breathing… which sounded almost like…
"Lois, you're not *crying*, are you?"
Oh, *great*. Not content with taking the last ounce of her self- respect and trampling it in the dust, now he was refusing to go away and leave her alone to lick her wounds.
And anyway, she was *not* crying! Tears might be trickling out of her eyes and soaking the pillow, but it was just a physiological response. There was no way on earth she was crying over a… a *hack* from Nowheresville who didn't even have the good taste to… to…
… to think she was worth sleeping with.
<Told you so.>
She couldn't help it; her throat closed tight over her misery, and she let out a sob.
At once she felt his weight depress the mattress, way over on the far side of the bed, and then a feather-light touch on her shoulder. "Lois, can I… do you want to talk about it?"
"Clark, please don't humiliate me any more!"
There was a pause. Why didn't he just go away? Was he getting a kick out of laughing at her?
"It was bad enough that I threw myself at you once and got rejected," she blurted out when the silence got too much for her. "I just can't believe I'm such a fool that I let you do it all over again!"
The hand tightened briefly on her shoulder, then he spoke very softly. "I didn't mean to humiliate you, Lois."
"No? Well, congratulations, Clark — you did it without even trying. Twice. I should have known after the first time that you weren't interested, but I guess I was just too stupid to believe it. Well, I've got the message now, Clark, so you can relax — I won't bother you again. And I don't want to talk about it, thank you very much."
He ignored the last part. "What — you think I'm not attracted to you?" He sounded incredulous.
"Well, duh! That's what you said after we both got sprayed, wasn't it? Except I got it into my thick head that you were just being gentlemanly, and you'd feel differently if you knew I meant it. Obviously you were turned on tonight — I mean, I could hardly miss that, could I? I'd have to be blind as well as… unfeeling… I mean… but men get turned on by any sort of come- on, don't they, at least that's what they claim, but when it came to the crunch you just couldn't stomach the thought of sleeping with Mad Dog Lane, could you?"
To her horror, her voice was shaking and tears were cascading down her face. She shrugged his hand away. "Cat salvaged her ego by making up stories," she muttered under her breath, feeling for a tissue on the nightstand. "How am I supposed to salvage mine?"
Apparently the Lexor Hotel didn't see fit to provide for newlywed crying fits. She gave up the futile search and covered her face with her arm instead, suppressing the sobs that were building up inside. She'd exposed enough of herself already — no doubt her pathetic insecurities, as well as her inept attempt at seduction, would be making the office rounds by Monday…
The lamp on Clark's side of the bed clicked on, and she burrowed her face further into the refuge of her arm. His weight left the bed, and the bathroom door opened and closed. Then he was back. "Here."
She shifted her arm and peered out cautiously. He was holding out a wad of tissues.
"Th-thank you." She took them with a trembling hand and blew her nose hard, feeling a fresh wave of tears threatening to overwhelm her. After everything he'd done tonight, how *dare* he be so thoughtful?
As she wiped the tears from her face, he settled himself some distance behind her; then the warm pressure of his hand was back on her shoulder. He cleared his throat.
"Lois, I think you're forgetting something."
"Like what?" she snapped.
"Like… what I said to you when you woke up on my bed last week."
Why was he playing games with her? She couldn't remember his exact words. The first thing she'd been conscious of was a splitting headache, and then horror at the way she was dressed — undressed would be a better description. And in between…
… she'd thought Clark was crazy, because he was offering to… to…
<"If you still want me, I'm yours.">
She sniffed, then blew her nose again.
"Yes, well, I guess I'd worn down your resistance or something," she muttered in embarrassment.
"Oh, Lois… you hadn't been wearing down my resistance. Not then. You'd been sleeping off the effects of that perfume. And I'd been pacing round my living room for about six hours… thinking about you in my arms… and my reasons for resisting were getting less and less convincing." He paused for an endless moment, then spoke very quietly. "Of course I wanted you. I still want you."
He sounded… embarrassed? He certainly wasn't comfortable saying it. Was he just lying, to make her feel better? Or was this another game, to lull her into acceptance and then humiliate her again?
Lois rolled onto her back and looked at him. He scooted away a few inches to maintain his distance, but then he met her eyes squarely.
He wasn't lying. There was embarrassment in his eyes, all right, and more than a little fear — *fear?* — but no deceit.
"What are you afraid of?" she said abruptly.
His cheeks reddened. "Afraid?" He looked away, biting his lip. "You don't pull any punches, do you?" The colour was ebbing from his face again, leaving it pale and strained.
He drew up his legs in front of him and wrapped his arms round them. He looked like a little boy… defensive, but oddly vulnerable. He spoke, haltingly, to his pillow. "You have a rule about sleeping with someone you work with…"
"Getting involved with someone I work with."
He grimaced. "Well, yeah… Lois, I think I know what would happen if we slept together. You'd enjoy it at the time — at least, I hope you would — but then later, you'd panic about what we'd done and whether I was going to tell anyone, or expect anything more from you… and about the fact that you'd let someone inside your defences for once… and pretty soon, you'd refuse to work with me or even speak to me."
Most of the newsroom staff would be delighted with a guarantee that Lois wouldn't speak to them… "And that would be so terrible?"
He bowed his head. "Yes, Lois… that would be terrible."
"I suppose you wouldn't be my partner. But you're a good reporter, Clark. You don't really need me. And you can't imagine Perry would fire you."
Clark gave a snort of laughter. "If it ever came down to a choice between us, he'd fire me quick enough." He paused, apparently weighing his words very carefully. "But it isn't being your partner I'd miss most. I… I think we're starting to become friends, Lois. Of all the people I've got to know since I came to Metropolis, you're the one I think of as a… friend. And I'd hate to lose that because we'd done… something stupid."
She felt suckerpunched. She couldn't breathe. This… this *gorgeous*, charming man, who'd managed to strike up friendships with practically everyone in the newsroom, no matter how unlikely — this man valued *her* friendship so much that he refused to throw it away on a brief, irresponsible fling?
Concentrating hard, she managed to suck in a lungful of air. "Why me, Clark?"
He smiled suddenly. The strain dropped away from his face, and it positively shone. "Because you're bright, and funny, and you don't take any prisoners. Because you're a brilliant reporter — I can barely keep up with you, even on a good day. Because you care about the job you do, and the people you write for, and you're loyal to the bitter end where your friends are concerned…"
"You really came through for Superman, Lois, during that heatwave. Everyone in Metropolis had given up on him — including me — but you just kept on fighting, and in the end you solved it, in time to keep him from leaving. He owes you a debt he can never repay. And so do I. Never doubt yourself, Lois. You're the best reporter I've ever seen, and the best friend. And it doesn't hurt that you're also beautiful and… very sexy." His voice dropped on the last two words, and the smile had gone.
Lois picked at the sheet, embarrassed. If only she could believe what he was saying. Believe that it was true, not just that he meant it.
"The rest of the Planet staff don't agree with you," she blurted out. "They hate me!"
He raised an eyebrow. "The rest of the Planet staff are, without exception, in awe of your professional ability," he said deliberately. "Personally — well, most of them are terrified of you. But then, you've gone out of your way to cultivate a reputation for tearing limb from limb anyone who gets in your way — haven't you?"
Damn him. He knew her far too well. "Guess so," she mumbled.
The brilliance of his smile robbed her of breath again. "Exactly. Perry and, to some extent, Jimmy are the only ones who've been able to get close to you — presumably because they've never been dumb enough to threaten you."
"You're not scared of me."
The smile faded slowly. "I'm not scared of you yelling at me, if that's what you mean. And I don't rate your chances of tearing me limb from limb. But if you ever start seeing me as a threat — on a personal level — then you'll show me the door before I can blink. And that scares me."
She couldn't look away. She was drowning in his eyes, in the longing she could see there. Longing for… what? Her brow furrowed.
"So… you're saying that you find me attractive. That you… want me. But you care too much about me to risk our relationship for a brief fling."
The sudden tension was electric. Clark's eyes were still fixed on hers, but the fear was back in full force. There were even droplets beading on his forehead. The man who hadn't had a hair out of place throughout the Metropolis heat wave was sweating.
"Clark… are you saying that you're in -"
"No!" For the second time in one night, he'd succeeded in startling himself as much as her. He swallowed, then continued more quietly, "No, I'm not saying anything of the sort, Lois. Because if I did… it would probably ruin any chance I have of ever being… your friend."
She could feel herself blushing from head to foot. Her heart was thundering so loudly he must surely be able to hear it. Her head was spinning; she couldn't manage a single coherent thought.
She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and rolled over with her back to him. She didn't know if she'd ever be able to look at him again. Her cheek fetched up in a sticky patch of tears.
"Damn you, Kent." She wasn't even aware she'd opened her mouth till she heard the words, but it sounded like her voice — only hoarser. "I offered to share my body with you, not my heart."
She heard him sigh softly. "I know."
She closed her eyes. If only she could shut him out of her life as easily as she could out of her sight.
Her heart contracted painfully at the thought. It seemed as if she could barely remember the time before he'd arrived at the Planet. She didn't like to think of it… she'd been so lonely. She'd be lonely again if he left, only this time she'd know what she was missing…
"I guess I've blown it completely, haven't I?" His voice held a vast, painful regret. And dull resignation. Her heart twisted again, but she didn't speak.
He shifted on the bed. He was unfolding, lying down behind her. Still not touching her.
"And I didn't even get any fun out of it," he resumed with gentle self-mockery. "I tell you what, Lois… you tell me there's no possibility of a long-term relationship between us, and we can spend the rest of this stakeout doing whatever you like."
A shocked giggle burst from her lips, then she felt a rush of red-hot desire at the thought of her body once again locked with his. "Oh, Clark!"
He was just doing it to put her at her ease. But oh, how tempted she was to take him up on it. Except that she couldn't rule out a long-term relationship with him; in fact, the very thought set her pulse hammering twice as hard.
"Clark — how do I know I can trust you?"
There was a long, thoughtful silence. "I don't think you can know, Lois," he said at last. "I think it's just something you have to try, and see if it works out."
Curiously enough, the non-answer soothed her fears as heartfelt protestations would never have done. But still… "I don't know if I can do that."
He didn't answer. Perhaps there was nothing to say.
She cracked one eye open and peered at the alarm clock. "It's three in the morning. We should get some sleep — there's work tomorrow."
"I'll go back to the couch, then." He started to get up.
"Clark, wait!" He froze. She wet her lips. "Clark… would you stay? Just… just to hold me?"
"No funny business?"
She smiled weakly. "No funny business. I promise."
The light clicked off; then she felt his body stretch out and come to rest behind her, still on top of the covers. This time they were just barely touching. His arm came up and draped itself comfortingly over her shoulder. She unwrapped her arms from around herself and gave his arm a quick, friendly pat.
"Good night, Clark."
"Good night, Lois."
It was a long time before she slept.
Clark unlocked the door and quietly let himself into the suite. Lois had been fast asleep, cuddled up against his side, when he'd heard the sirens; ideally, he'd be able to sneak back into the bedroom and she'd never know he'd left.
Then his super-hearing picked up the sound of the shower. No such luck.
Would the fact that Lois had woken up alone make things more or less awkward this morning? Clark simply had no idea. No etiquette book he'd ever read had covered how to behave the morning after you'd refused to sleep with your reporting partner and then gone on to declare, almost in so many words, that you loved her.
Just thinking about it opened a dizzy whirlpool at the bottom of his stomach. Clark gulped and busied himself packing away the surveillance equipment. He just had to cling to the fact that, against all the odds, she hadn't told him to get out of her life. Yet.
By the time Lois emerged from the bedroom in a smart business suit, the equipment was safely stowed in Jimmy's holdall at the bottom of a wardrobe and Clark was sitting on the couch, reading the front page of the Daily Planet. He looked up and smiled.
"You look ready to tackle the day."
Lois's tense face softened. "Yeah, well, lots to do." She waved a vague hand in the air. "We'd better get those tapes to the Planet as soon as possible."
He nodded. "I ordered some breakfast — I hope that's okay. I'll go take a shower."
He got up and crossed the room towards the bedroom door. He was a few paces away when she looked up and met his eyes shyly. "You were gone when I woke up. I didn't know where you were…"
He shrugged easily. "I had some spare energy to burn, so I went for a run."
Instantly her eyes dropped and her cheeks flamed scarlet. Clark felt his face grow hot, too. His hands clenched and unclenched as he struggled for something — anything! — to say. "Lois, I… I *really* didn't mean that." His voice sounded squeaky. "I, uh, I think I'd better go shower before I make it any worse."
Safe in the bathroom, he turned the shower as hot as it would go and stood under it holding his breath, in a futile attempt to punish himself for his idiocy. He was walking a knife-edge with Lois; push her one inch too far and he'd lose everything! He swivelled the shower control straight over to cold, but it beeped and winked at him as the water turned gradually to lukewarm. He growled under his breath; the luxury fittings just had too many safeguards built in.
And talking of luxury fittings… The heart-shaped sunken jacuzzi caught his eye as he stepped out of the shower and reached for his towel. That was where Lois had been when he'd called her to check up on her, two nights ago. His imagination pictured her chin-deep in bubbles, then flashed to what she would have looked like, turning to stare through the window at the offices opposite… kneeling up to take photographs…
His body leapt into renewed life, and he groaned. How on earth was he going to get through two more days of enforced intimacy when everything around him reminded him of the siren he'd held in his arms for a few, too achingly few minutes before he'd been so *amazingly* stupid as to turn down what she was offering?
<Get a grip, Clark. You did the right thing.>
But was he going to be able to keep doing the right thing? And what was the right thing, anyway, in the current circumstances?
<Just keep your head. Follow her lead.>
That sounded like something his mother would say — if she had the least idea what a mess he'd got himself into. Clark cringed at the idea of her ever finding out. Still, that probably meant it wasn't bad advice. And it was the best he had available.
He dressed in work clothes, with an unusually sober tie, and went reluctantly back to the living room. Lois was ensconced behind the Planet now, and didn't speak when he entered the room. He hovered awkwardly near the window for a few minutes before the doorbell chimed.
"That'll be breakfast," he said thankfully, and strode over to the door.
The food was once again laid out on an insulated trolley. Clark tipped the impudent bellhop and watched him out of sight down the hallway before dropping his gaze to the floor outside the room.
The florist's box stood at his feet, where he'd left it earlier. He'd bought it in a light-hearted moment after dropping the would-be mugger off at the police station, while thinking about how beautiful Lois had looked when he'd left her. Now he wasn't at all sure it was a good idea.
But he could always blame it on the management, if he had to. Slowly, nervously, he opened the box and placed the single rosebud in its elegant glass vase on the trolley, then wheeled it into the living room.
"Breakfast is served," he said, with all the cheerfulness he could muster.
Lois folded the paper and looked up. Her gaze fell at once on the rose, and a smile spread across her face. Clark felt the knot in his stomach loosen. He whisked the cloth off the rest of the trolley. "Coffee and pastries for Madame; scrambled eggs and bacon on toast for M'sieur," he announced. He picked up his plate and sat down at the opposite end of the couch from Lois. "Bon appetit!"
She gave an exaggerated shudder. "I don't know how you can eat that stuff first thing in the morning," she said, helping herself to coffee.
Clark nearly laughed; he'd been up long enough for three Superman rescues already. "Amazing how a good run whets the appetite," he said lightly. Then he re-ran the words in his head and darted a nervous glance at Lois; but she was gazing dreamily at the rose.
"I wonder what that rose means," she mused aloud.
"In this case, I think it means 'Good morning, partner, I hope you slept well,'" he quipped.
She smiled. "No, I mean… the language of flowers. It's not red, is it? Kind of a deep peach colour. Almost a dark pink."
"Coral," he said shortly. He hadn't thought much about the colour when he'd bought it; its tightly furled beauty had simply reminded him of her.
"So what does a coral rose stand for?"
Didn't she know when to drop a subject? Clark picked up a fork from the trolley and began to eat.
"D'you know, Clark?" she persisted, turning to look at him.
He swallowed, feeling his stomach clench tightly once more. "Lois… do you really want to hear it?" he growled.
Her eyes went wide, then her face flooded with colour and she wrenched her gaze away. "Oh look, pain au chocolat!" she said hurriedly, and busied herself with eating.
The constraint lasted all the way to the Planet. They spoke only briefly to each other, their eyes sliding past each other but not meeting, both of them careful to avoid touching. Cat picked up on the tension immediately, of course, and Clark could feel her watching them curiously all through the discussion of Rourke's possible motives for bribing Harrington. He heaved a silent sigh of relief when Perry called a halt and he could finally escape to the sanctuary of his desk and his e-mail.
It was a shock when he looked up from filing the last new message to find Cat perched on the corner of his desk. She crossed her long bare legs provocatively as he pushed his chair back. It reminded him of Lois's behaviour the previous week; only in this case, the effect on him was wholly different.
"Can I help you, Cat?"
She gave a predatory grin. "I was just wondering how you enjoyed the honeymoon suite last night," she said in a low voice. "You and Lois seem a bit… jumpy, this morning. Not getting along?"
Clark shot an involuntary glance at Lois's desk. Her face was turned towards her monitor, but from the complete absence of expression on it Clark was fairly sure her attention was riveted on himself and Cat.
He leaned back and gave Cat a thin smile. "If you must know," he said pleasantly, not troubling to lower his voice, "Lois promised to disembowel me with a camera tripod if I put so much as a toe out of line. I'm treading very carefully."
The noise from the surrounding desks, which had ceased as he started to speak, resumed at a slightly higher level. Cat bent forward and fiddled with his tie.
"Poor baby," she pouted. "That must be so… frustrating for you. But you know where to come if you feel the need for more… stimulating company, don't you?"
As Clark cast about for a neutral reply, a glacial voice spoke behind him. "Excuse me, Cat. If you've finished with my partner -" There was the faintest of stress on the last two words. "- we have a surveillance operation to attend to."
Cat sat back warily, and Lois took Clark's arm as he rose from his chair. "See you tomorrow," Lois flung over her shoulder, towing Clark towards the elevators.
The silence as the elevator doors closed was a lot less chilly than it had been on the way up. Lois broke it after a minute, her eyes fixed on the knot of Clark's tie.
"Thank you," she said shyly.
"For what you said to Cat." She gnawed her lip for a moment before adding, "You don't go much for the male ego thing, do you?"
"I've got my fair share of ego," he said cautiously. "I don't feel any need to be known as a stud, though, if that's what you mean."
She nodded, smiling slightly. She was still holding his arm. Her eyes slid up to his mouth. "Clark…"
He could hardly breathe. "Yes?"
The elevator doors whooshed open, and Lois jumped. "Let's find a cab," she said unnecessarily, and exited the elevator like a jack rabbit.
The suite was clean and tidy again when they entered. The breakfast trolley was gone, but the rose, Lois saw with a lift of the heart, was standing on a side table. Its petals had started to open.
She glanced at the carpet in front of the couch; it was innocent of feathers once more. It seemed so out of character for her partner not only to make a hole in a pillow, but to punch that quantity of stuffing out of it. But perhaps he'd been as frustrated as she had.
As she still was.
Lois sneaked a sideways look at her partner as she hung up her coat.
Shut up with him first in the Planet elevator, then in the cab, she'd been hard pressed to keep her hands to herself. By the time the hotel elevator had reached their floor, she'd been contemplating hitting the emergency brake and having her way with him right there.
Was frustration the only reason she could barely keep her hands off him? Or was it something more? Because it wasn't only that splendid body he kept hidden under his baggy suits, or his magical mouth, that she remembered when she closed her eyes; it was his quiet gentleness. His irrepressible sense of humour. His seemingly inexhaustible patience with her moods. The way his eyes twinkled when she launched into the patented Lois Lane babble in the middle of a discussion. His ready support, both out on the job and in the newsroom.
The way he'd gentled her back to a fit state for work when she'd felt ready to die of embarrassment after her pheromone trip — when he must have felt much the same way she did now.
No one she'd ever met in her life made her feel as safe as he did. Which was ridiculous, when his feelings for her threatened everything she'd striven for so long to build up. Her reputation as a ruthless go-getter. Her emotional detachment from her colleagues. Her careful self-sufficiency.
Try as she might, she couldn't manage to conjure up any of her usual panic at the thought of emotional intimacy. The prospect of a serious relationship with Clark filled her with a mixture of heady excitement and quiet joy.
Clark was throwing a puzzled look at her. How long had she been standing here, idly smoothing the folds of her coat?
She turned casually away. "We'd better get the equipment set up again," she said.
Clark followed her through to the bedroom and hauled the heavy bag out of the wardrobe onto the bed. They set about reassembling the equipment in silent concert, she loading a fresh cassette into the camera while he set up the tripod.
The tripod he'd mentioned to Cat. Lois bent her head to hide the smile creeping over her face.
Clark took the reloaded camera from her and started to screw the tripod into the base. Then he suddenly lifted his head as if listening, and froze. The next second he'd tossed the whole assembly onto the bed next to the holdall and, with one smooth, effortless-looking tug, doubled the bedclothes over on top of the lot.
His eyes found Lois's. "The maid's coming back," he said.
She hadn't noticed a thing; he must have excellent hearing. She looked dubiously at the bed. The equipment was covered, but it was fairly obvious there was something bulky under there. And if the maid tried to straighten the covers…
So, some extra cover was called for. Nothing she hadn't done before.
She took a deep breath, then sat down. "Kiss me," she said, scooting backwards into the middle of the bed.
He put one knee up on the mattress, but he was frowning worriedly. "Lois -"
They didn't have time for this! Lois grabbed his tie and pulled, letting herself fall backwards. A split second later he followed, landing half on top of her — surprisingly lightly, considering his size — and she wrapped her arms around him.
Then their lips met, and everything else faded away.
The last time they'd kissed, she'd been clinging to the conviction that their interaction was nothing more than physical. This time, she knew that Clark wanted so much more from her, and to her delight she found she could give it freely, holding nothing back.
Their tongues swirled and mated in a dance as old as time. Lois tugged Clark's shirt up, desperate for the feel of his skin, and he groaned softly as she raked her fingers across his back. Dimly, she heard a voice say something about towels and then a "Sorry," but it barely registered.
Hours later — or was it only a few seconds? — Clark broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers, breathing heavily. His tie and shirt seemed to have vanished, and Lois could feel cool air on her own midriff and his hand warm against her back.
She ran a gentle finger across his shoulder blade, and felt the instant surge of tension through his body. His lips found her temple. "Oh, Lois…"
"'What are we doing?'" she quoted shakily.
She felt him smile. "Actually, I was going to say something about getting the camera set up. But since you mention it… I have no idea what we're doing."
She hesitated. It seemed too soon — could she really be sure? Yet she couldn't bear to go back to their earlier wary circling. She looked deep within herself for fear and uncertainty and found only… love. And trust.
"I think," she said softly, "we might be heading towards… making love."
His head snapped back in shock; then he was framing her face in his hands and staring intently into her eyes. "Lois — are you saying…"
She nodded shyly. "Yes, Clark. I think I've been falling in love with you for a long time; I just… stopped fighting it."
His smile seemed to light up the room; it certainly lit up her heart. He lowered his head and kissed her again, this time gently and reverently, savouring her slowly. The sweetness of it melted every bone in her body.
Then he was hugging her fiercely against him, laughing in delight. "Oh, Lois, you have no idea… I never thought I'd hear you say that!" He pressed butterfly kisses on her forehead, her eyes, her cheeks. "I love you, Lois Lane."
She pushed his head back so that she could see his face as she said the fateful words for the first time.
"And I love you, Clark Kent."
For a moment he just gazed at her, taking it in. She put up a hand and smoothed the errant lock of hair away from his forehead. Still he gazed, examining her face minutely as if he wanted the moment to last for eternity.
She moistened her lips and broke the silence. "So… what does a coral rose mean, Clark?"
He chuckled softly. "A single rosebud stands for beauty and youth. No thorns means love at first sight. And coral means… desire."
The air seemed to sizzle between them. His eyes darkened slowly and she was drowning in the simmering passion she could see there… framed in the dark rims of his old-fashioned glasses.
She frowned, wanting to see his face without barriers for once. She moved her hand and then hesitated. He'd reacted so strongly last time…
"Can your glasses come off now?" she asked with a smile.
And there it was again. The flash of blind panic, followed by instant withdrawal. This time he was actually on his feet, heading for the door.
"Clark! What is it?"
He changed course and fetched up against the window, hands spread wide against the glass, almost as if he wanted to beat his way out.
"Just… give me a moment…" he said in a strangled tone.
For a man who normally seemed inoffensive to the point of invisibility, he was radiating an incredible impression of barely contained power. Lois had a sudden wild fancy that if he didn't let off steam soon, he would explode… and that she and a good portion of the Lexor would vanish in the blast…
She shivered. Looking down, she found her bra still in place; she drew her blouse back up her arms and buttoned it decorously. Then she settled herself against the headboard and waited for Clark to speak.
<"How do I know I can trust you?">
She couldn't. He'd been lying to her practically since he'd first met her.
But he didn't have a choice! If anyone knew he was Superman, his life was effectively over!
<You can't build a relationship on a lie. If you can't tell her, you can't have her. It's as simple as that.>
But… how did he know he could trust her?
The irony was staggering. All the time he'd been working to build her trust in him, he'd simply never thought about his trust, or lack of it, in her.
What had he said to her? "I think it's just something you have to try, and see if it works out."
Except that if he tried it, and she published his secret, not only his own but his parents' lives would be shattered. Was that an acceptable risk?
He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the cool glass. He needed to stop stoking his panic with thoughts about the consequences, and start thinking clearly about the real issue. About Lois.
She'd published the article about Kryptonite… but then, he'd taken good care that she hadn't believed it was real. Would she have suppressed that part if he, or Superman, had asked her to? There was no telling.
She'd defended him staunchly throughout the heatwave controversy, and finally solved the mystery in time to stop him leaving Metropolis. She was firmly in Superman's corner, that was for sure. Would she continue to be, if she knew him to be her regrettably fallible, repeatedly untruthful partner?
She'd said nothing to anyone about Superman kissing her last week. It had been Miranda's vengeful tongue which had spilled that little tidbit to the tabloids. Lois had consistently refused to confirm or deny the story.
Would she consider his true identity to be on a par with the question of whether he'd kissed someone in a moment of madness — or would her readers' right to know outweigh his right to privacy?
<… you have to try…>
He turned. Lois was sitting right at the top of the bed; her arms were folded over her chest, and her knees were drawn up.
She had no idea what the problem was. And every second he delayed telling her was borrowed time.
At least she was still there.
He crossed the room in a few strides and sat down beside her, staring earnestly into her face. She allowed him to take her hands.
"Lois, there's something I haven't told you about myself. And you have to know before we go any further. But… I'm scared to tell you."
Her eyes searched his face. She didn't seem to be angry, only puzzled. "Is it something very bad, Clark? Do… do your parents know?"
"Yes, they do. They've always known. And… no, it's not so very bad. In fact, you might even think it's good. But it's not just my secret. It concerns… Superman. And the people close to him."
Her eyes widened. "Clark, I'm not sure you should be telling me Superman's secrets."
He shook his head. "You'll understand when I tell you. The only thing I'm worried about is whether, when you hear what it is, you'll decide you should print it."
"I can hardly know that till I've heard it, can I? But, Clark… you know what it is, and you haven't printed it. So you probably don't need to worry about me doing it."
Her faith in him took his breath away; at the same time, his guilt at deceiving her swelled like a cancer in his stomach.
He took a deep breath and lifted a hand to his glasses. He pulled them off, folded them neatly, and put them down on the nightstand. Then he turned to meet Lois's gaze.
Her eyes travelled over his exposed face, and the puzzlement deepened.
She still couldn't see the truth. She needed a push before she could put it all together.
"Lois… why do you think I wasn't affected by the pheromone last week?"
"Because you weren't attrac… oh." She frowned. "Because you weren't sprayed?"
"I was sitting right next to you and Jimmy. I definitely was sprayed."
"Then I don't know why. Do we have to have these guessing games?"
She was starting to sound annoyed. Clark hesitated. He had a feeling she'd take it better if she worked it out for herself.
"Okay, let me put it another way. Why do you think Superman kissed you?"
She flushed a brilliant red. "Clark, is this about me and Superman? Because you really don't have to worry about it. I mean, I know I was a bit attracted to him — well, very attracted to him, if you must know — but it was completely unrealistic, because obviously he's way out of my league. It was just like having a crush on a pop star."
For the first time ever, Clark realised, the thought of Lois's feelings for Superman didn't bother him at all. In fact, they suddenly made sense. If she'd been fighting her attraction to him as Clark, it wasn't too surprising that she was also attracted to him as Superman. He smiled.
She obviously hadn't noticed his reaction. "And as for him," she hurried on, "he was just reacting to the pheromone. Kissing me didn't mean any more than me coming on to you -"
"Oh? And what did that mean?"
"It just meant… I just… oh, Clark, I was in love with you and I just couldn't help myself. Okay, so that's a bad example — but, Clark, it was like Perry and that cleaning woman. Superman might be a teensy bit attracted to me, but normally he would never act on it. Clark! Why are you laughing at me? Do you get a kick out of embarrassing me like this?"
"No, my love. You're just so close to the truth, and you still can't see it. Lois, Superman wasn't affected by the pheromone. He's immune."
She gaped. "But then… why…"
"You were closer the first time. He's in love with you, and he just couldn't help himself."
"Why are you telling me this?" She looked flustered, almost dismayed. "Are you trying to push me towards him? Or do you want me to choose between you? Because if you do…" She reached out to grasp his shoulders. "I've finally realised that my friend is better than a pop star, any day."
He cupped her cheek in his palm. "What if I tell you you don't have to choose? In fact, Lois, you can't really have a relationship with me without having one with Superman, too. Oh, no — it's nothing kinky. You see… Superman lost his head and kissed you because you'd been driving him mad for two days, trying to drag him into bed."
He couldn't be saying…
His eyes were fixed on hers, full of love and laughter, and a hint of passion, and a lurking fear. As she stared at him in the lengthening silence, the laughter faded and the fear deepened.
And now she knew why his uncovered eyes looked at once so familiar and so strange. Because she'd seen them a hundred times before, but never — except in daydreams and nighttime fantasies — filled with warm emotion. And she'd never seen them on her partner's face.
Except it had always been her partner's face.
She shivered. Her eyes travelled to his hair. Yes, flatten that and slick it back, and his whole face would look different.
Her eyes slid downwards, past the sensuous mouth that so recently… No. Down to the strong neck and the broad, muscular chest. Cover that with blue spandex, add a red cape…
Her hands were still resting on his shoulders. His naked shoulders. She snatched them away, trembling, and tried to wrap her arms around herself.
He caught one hand, carried it to his lips. "Lois…"
"Omigod," she whimpered, shutting her eyes tightly, "I was seducing Superman!" What must he think of her?
"Lois, please stop it!" His other arm came round her, pulling her against that magnificent chest. At the contact a shock of desire shot through her, completing her bewilderment.
"I'm Clark," he said huskily. "I've always been Clark. Superman's just an act I've been putting on for a few months so I could help."
The thought of her solid, dependable partner was a rock in the maelstrom of confusion. She clung to it gratefully.
Her solid, dependable partner could fly. Lift rockets into space. Bounce bullets off his chest. The whole concept was completely unbelievable.
As unbelievable as Superman himself.
If such a man existed, was it so incredible that he should happen to be her partner? It explained such a lot — the whole pheromone episode, Superman's sixth sense about any threat to her, Clark's inexplicable absence at any hint of danger… his ridiculous junk-food diet, which had somehow never put a spare pound on his body…
And if you turned it around — Superman had bad days, occasionally played a practical joke on an overbearing colleague. He got tired after a long night at work… or after a tough rescue? He got despondent at times, lost his faith in himself and other people. Needed cheering up, and occasionally a good shake.
He was pretty far from the godlike perfection she'd always envisaged… which made him, perversely, perfect for a mere mortal like her.
Cradled against his warmth, she'd stopped trembling. She shifted slightly, and the movement of his skin against her cheek set off another wave of desire. This time she welcomed it gladly, feeling its molten heat coil in her belly, sending out tendrils to warm every part of her.
She cleared her throat. "Is that it?"
She tilted her head back and gave him a stern look. "Is that all you wanted to tell me? Because if it turns out later that you have a Kryptonian wife, or you're actually a body snatcher from the planet Zog, then I'm going to be pretty upset."
He gasped, snorted, and then went completely still as her deeper meaning penetrated. "No… I think that's pretty much all I had to tell you," he said deliberately, in a deep voice that ignited the fires banked inside her.
"Good." She lifted one hand to caress his cheek. "Well, let me assure you that the public has absolutely no right to know what Superman does in his spare time. Especially if it includes this…" She lifted his hand and placed it on the top button of her blouse. "… or this…" She drew a finger across his chest, and he hissed softly. "… or this…" She twisted her hand in his hair and tugged his face down to plant a hungry kiss on his lips.
Some time later, as the last of their clothing hit the floor, a stray thought occurred to her. "Clark? Did we remember the 'Do Not Disturb' sign when we came in?"
He twisted round and appeared to focus on the blank wall. "The maid must have put it up when she left," he said, relaxing.
"Mmmmm." It sounded almost like a purr. "You could be a useful guy to have around."
"I'll show you just how 'useful' I can be…"
"Was that your first time?"
"It showed? Did I -"
"Oh, no." A low chuckle. "You have nothing to worry about in that department. No, it just felt as if you were… exploring. Discovering delightful secrets. It was wonderful."
"Oh, honey… *You're* wonderful. And I can't imagine doing this with anyone but you."
"Mmmmm…" A pause. "You know, if you wanted to, we could do it again."
"Lois… are you hungry? It's after two."
"Starving. All this exercise. Mmmmm — ow! What the… Oh. The camera's still on the bed." A giggle.
"Some 24-hour surveillance, Lane. And how's a man supposed to keep his head when you — ohhhhh…"
"I tell you what. You set up the camera, lover boy, and order us some pizza, and I'll fill the jacuzzi. It's plenty big enough for two…"
They were dozing after further exertions in the sunken bathtub, the remains of two large pizzas strewn on the floor around them, when Clark caught the sound of footsteps in the offices opposite. He opened a reluctant eye and craned around to check.
"Lois? Wake up, honey. They're back."
She stirred and settled even closer against him. "Mm-mm. Don't want to move. Tell me what they're saying."
Marvelling at her rapid adoption of his super-powers, Clark obediently repeated the conversation word for word. The two men discussed the failure of some sort of naval test, then Rourke told his henchman to close the shutters so that they could watch a video of the simulated test outcome.
Clark craned around again, then gave a disgusted snort. "Lead- lined."
"What do they mean by that?"
"No, that was me. The shutters are lined with lead — I can't see through them."
"Are the walls lead-lined?"
She rolled her eyes. "So find a spot where you can watch through the wall!"
Why hadn't he thought of that? Clark rose out of the bath in one fluid movement and reached for a towel, grinning as Lois rolled under the water and came up spluttering. Then he ran for the door, dodging her vengeful pizza missiles.
He'd once feared that if she knew the truth she'd treat him like the two-dimensional superhero she'd worshipped. Instead, she was right back to treating him with familiar mock contempt. Only now there was an added dimension, too… they were lovers… The thought warmed his heart as he located a suitable vantage point.
The warmth left him abruptly as he watched the video. Rourke was calmly planning to wipe out a couple of hundred miles of American coastline, including Metropolis itself, with a giant tidal wave!
Lois emerged from the bathroom in a robe as the office shutters opened again. Clark floated down from the ceiling and shared what he'd seen with her, feeling panic squeeze his chest like a giant hand. "Lois, what happens if we can't stop him?" he finished.
Lois's eyes were flashing fiercely. "We *will* stop him," she said with conviction. "Clark… can you get into the offices and look in that filing cabinet?"
He shrugged. "I can read what's in it from outside, if it's not lead-lined…" He focused. "… and it isn't. It'll be safer not to break into the offices — they might disappear if they think we're onto them." Lois's determination was rubbing off on him, he realised, quelling the panic and allowing him to think clearly.
"Go on, then. Get dressed." She gave him a little push towards the bedroom.
"I'll have to do it as Superman. Too risky, otherwise." He stepped back and caught her eye, then spun quickly into the Suit. He halted just long enough to watch her reaction before heading for the door at super-speed, leaving her standing motionless, her mouth agape.
Superman still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Clark grinned cockily to himself as he flew up the empty stairwell to the roof.
Reading the contents of the filing cabinet was child's play. The last traces of panic vanished as he assimilated the details of the devilish plot. Rourke wanted to sabotage testing of a defence system to be supplied by Luthor Technologies, so that he could sell the government his own system instead. If it succeeded, the sabotage would cause the tidal wave. But, armed with this much knowledge and with a good thirty-six hours in hand, they'd be able to persuade the Navy — or, failing them, Luthor himself — to cancel the test.
Lois was on the phone when he got back to the hotel. She was running a gentle finger over the full-blown petals of the coral rose as she talked. "Very well, thank you… yes, me too… oh, he's just walked in."
She thrust the phone at him with a sigh of relief. He grinned at her, gave her the thumbs-up, and lifted the phone to his ear. "Hello? Oh, hi, Mom! You there, Dad?"
His mother's laughing voice came clearly over the line. "Clark Kent! What *are* you doing booked into the Lexor Hotel's honeymoon suite with Lois Lane?"
He could feel himself reddening. He swept his cape aside and subsided onto the couch. If they only knew… "We're undercover, Mom. How'd you find me?"
"Perry White gave us the number, son," his father put in.
"You and Lois… is that… does everybody know?" Martha asked.
"Mom! We're running surveillance on the offices across the road, not…" He halted in confusion, realising that whatever he'd been about to deny was, in fact, exactly what they'd been doing for most of the day.
He blushed vividly, and heard his mother put her hand over the phone as she tried to suppress a giggle. Lois seated herself on the couch beside him. Her head was ducked and her hair had swung forward to hide her face; he couldn't tell what she thought of his parents' sudden intrusion into their romantic idyll.
"Just business, then, son?" Jonathan said casually. Too casually.
"Just…" Clark grinned. Time to turn the tables. "Just hang on a moment, will you, Dad? Lois is right here." He muffled the phone carefully. "Lois — I'm supposed to visit my parents next weekend, on my day off. That's probably what they're calling about. Would you… I know they'd love… if you wanted to…"
His voice dried up again. It was way too soon. Lois would never dream of letting anyone else knowing about their relationship yet, least of all…
"Are you inviting your girl home to meet your parents, farmboy?"
It sounded impossibly gauche. He winced. "Yeah, I guess that's exactly what I'm doing."
She lifted her head and slanted a glance at him. She was smiling mistily. "I'd love to."
His heart leapt. "Oh, Lois…" He wrapped his free arm around her shoulders and dropped a swift kiss on her hair.
The phone squawked indignantly. He raised it to his ear. "Mom, Dad — short of an asteroid hitting the earth, I should be able to make it home next weekend. Would you mind if I brought Lois with me?"
There was a deafening silence. Then Martha spoke hesitantly. "Would you like us to pick you up at Wichita airport, then, honey?"
The grin spread all over his face. He stroked Lois's head, nestled next to his 'S' emblem. "No, that won't be necessary. I'll be bringing her the usual way… Knows what, Mom? I can't imagine what you're talking about. I have to go now — bye!"
He hung up on his father's shocked exclamation and his mother's wail of protest. Lois looked up, laughing. "And I thought you were so well brought up, Clark. I expect your parents are busy wondering who's been teaching you such wicked ways."
He reached out and pulled her closer. "Speaking of wicked ways…" he said. "I think we have enough evidence to put Rourke and his friends where they can't make any more mischief for a very long time. Would my love like to get onto that right away? Or…" He raised a suggestive eyebrow. "… would she prefer a flight to the bedroom first, courtesy of Superman Airlines?"
She pretended to consider, her head on one side, tracing his 'S' with one finger. "I've always loved flying with Superman. But I think the bedroom's getting just a *little* bit passe." She sneaked an impish look at him through her eyelashes. "You know something? I don't think I've ever made love on the ceiling. Have you?"
Lois glared irritably at her screen. There was something amiss with the article, but for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what it was.
It didn't help that she couldn't concentrate for more than five minutes at a time, either. She sneaked a sideways look at Clark's desk and frowned. Clark was affecting her work, even when he wasn't there.
Especially when he wasn't there.
He'd been absent again when she'd woken this morning, and when she'd turned on the news she'd seen why — a hazardous goods vehicle had crashed through a busy intersection, and between the injuries, a vehicle fire, the chemical spill and the resulting traffic jam, Superman and half of Metropolis's emergency services had had their hands full. Clark had barely made the morning meeting, hurrying in from the stairwell with one hand fiddling with his gaudy tie. Lois suspected he'd flown as far as the Planet roof and done a quick change on the way down the stairs.
He'd vanished again just before lunch-time, and Lois had had to cover for him with Perry, saying that he was meeting a source. She'd really been looking forward to having lunch with him, too; maybe at the Fudge Castle, two blocks away, where they could talk in relative privacy. Instead she'd bought a limp salad sandwich from the machine downstairs. Half of it was still lying forlornly on the corner of her desk.
When Clark had actually been in the newsroom, it hadn't been much better. She'd barely been able to look at him without being submerged in torrid memories, but Clark had been… good old Clark. Her pleasant, friendly partner; nothing more.
Was the honeymoon feeling already over for him?
She'd known it could happen. She'd warned herself about it. And then, like a cretin, she'd laughed and said that it wouldn't matter to her.
It mattered. The very thought of having to see that coldness, that indifference in his eyes was agony.
He was probably already regretting asking her home with him next weekend.
Lois felt her eyes prickle, and pride stiffened her spine. She might have abandoned her principles far enough to fall head over heels in love with her partner, but on no account was she going to make an exhibition of herself at work. If tears were called for, she'd shed them at home, in private.
She peered into her mug, grimaced, and poured the cold dregs into her fern. She could do with the extra boost only a hot cup of real coffee with real cream and real sugar could give her.
But when she looked over at the break area, her eyes widened in dismay. No fewer than five of the newsroom gossip mongers were huddled around the coffee machine; worse yet, Cat Grant, who'd only just breezed in wearing a costume composed of leather straps and very little else, was going over to join them. There was no way Lois was running that gauntlet, caffeine or no caffeine.
As she stared resentfully at them, her view was suddenly blocked by a suit jacket. She blinked, and a colourful tie swam into focus. Then Clark's hand deposited a steaming mug and a large chocolate-frosted doughnut in front of her.
"Bank robbery," he said softly. Then, as she started and looked up at him, "You okay?"
A surge of joy at the sight of him was immediately followed by sick apprehension. She swallowed. "Thanks," she said. "I was just thinking about another cup."
Her body was as tight as a drum. She pushed her chair back and stretched her arms, arching her back slightly, hoping it would dispel the tension.
Instantly, the look of mild concern on Clark's face was blotted out. His gaze dropped from her face to her chest, his eyes blazing with sudden desire. Her body flamed into life, as though he'd touched her intimately. For the space of a heartbeat they hung there, neither breathing, caught like flies in amber.
Then he closed his eyes, and his mouth set into an expression Lois was coming to know well. The one which meant he was fighting for control. When his eyes opened again, all trace of passion was wiped out, neatly hidden beneath his usual friendly veneer.
As neatly as he hid all traces of Clark when Superman was on display.
He gave her a half-smile. "I'd better write up the Superman story," he said, and retreated to his desk.
Lois let out the breath she'd been holding and picked up her coffee. Her heart was doing a crazy little dance. He felt as much for her as ever; he was simply being careful not to show it in the newsroom. Which was what she wanted.
What she'd thought she wanted.
She took a sip of coffee, then looked up at the break area. As one, the gossip group turned away to look out of the window.
Lois picked up her doughnut and ate it slowly, thinking hard.
Claude had spread the story of their night together around the newsroom. He'd said she'd thrown herself at him, and made her out to be frigid, too. She'd been a laughing stock for weeks.
"I don't feel any need to be known as a stud." Clark seemed hardly likely to share any intimate details with anyone… and there was no way he thought of her as unsatisfactory.
Lois licked a stray piece of chocolate from her finger, then wiped her hands carefully on the paper napkin.
No one — certainly no woman — who knew she'd slept with Clark was likely to laugh. They'd be green with envy. And if Clark really did want a long-term relationship — and somehow it was getting more and more difficult to doubt him — then they'd find out sooner or later, anyway.
Clark had been typing steadily, his eyes fixed on his screen. Now he sat back, read through what he'd written, and nodded in satisfaction. His hand moved and pressed the Enter key, sending the article to Perry.
Lois scrolled back to the top of the Harrington/Rourke article. "Clark, can you come and give me a hand?"
He got up and came round to stand behind her. "I can't get the start of our article right," she confessed, and he bent forward to look at the screen.
His hand came to rest on the back of her chair. It wasn't touching her, but she could feel its warmth on her tingling skin.
"Put your hand on my shoulder," she murmured under her breath, knowing he could hear her.
His body tensed. "It'll set people talking," he said in her ear.
"We've just spent two nights in a hotel together," she pointed out. "They're already talking. We may as well give them something to get their teeth into."
He gave a tiny gasp of surprise. "Lois, I don't mind, but are you sure? I thought you…"
"Didn't want my name coupled with yours? Clark, you've changed my mind about a lot of things this weekend." She turned her head and shot a gleam up at him. "I guess that's one of them."
He smiled back, and his hand moved to cup her shoulder. She nuzzled it briefly before turning back to the screen. "So, this article…"
"Why don't we start with Harrington's record in office, and a mention of his family life? Yes, I know it's touchy-feely, but it hooks the readers…"
They tussled cheerfully for the next twenty minutes, hammering out the best possible story between them. Finally Lois hit the Enter key and sat back. "Another banner headline for Lane and Kent," she said with deep satisfaction.
Clark's hand tightened. "If I didn't know you better, I'd think you were actually pleased to be sharing a by-line," he said.
She tilted her head back. "Mmm. And that's not all I'm willing to share, either. Tell me, partner — do you get a good view down my front from there?"
He gave a shocked gasp, then covered it with a cough. "Lois!"
"Guess not," she said in a disappointed murmur. "You could always take your glasses off, though…"
He straightened, releasing her shoulder. His eyes had darkened. "Lois, you know exactly what you're doing to me," he growled softly. "If you keep this up, everyone else is going to know, too."
She cocked her head. "You're going to drag me into the store room?" she asked innocently.
His eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to retort; then he shot a sudden look around. A hush had fallen, Lois realised, and she sat up abruptly.
Lex Luthor was striding towards them across the newsroom, brushing Jimmy out of his path like a fly. There was an urbane smile on his face, but his eyes were flickering suspiciously between her and Clark.
"My dear Lois," he said, reaching her desk and leaning forward to take her hand. "You look more radiant than ever. I had to drop by and thank you for stopping that madman Rourke in time. I, as well as half the east coast of America, owe you a debt of gratitude."
She didn't like the way he was looming over her, smiling his proprietorial smile. It reminded her of the way he'd fawned over her hand, uttering fulsome compliments, when he'd been high on the pheromone. Surely he ought to have recovered by now?
She got to her feet, eliminating his height advantage, and withdrew her hand. "Thank you," she said graciously, "but it wasn't just me, you know. Clark and I did it together." She turned to Clark and laid her hand on his sleeve.
He smiled warmly at her. "Oh, you're the brains of the outfit," he said. "It was all your idea to investigate their filing cabinet."
She met his eyes. There truly wasn't even a hint of professional jealousy in them. How had she struck it so lucky?
Lex cleared his throat, and she turned back towards him. He was looking at the spot where she'd touched Clark, and his expression reminded Lois of the way he'd looked after she'd kissed Superman in front of him.
"Kent." His gaze met Clark's. Was it her imagination, or was there a nearly audible clash of steel? "You're to be congratulated on your choice of partner, if nothing else."
"Thank you." Clark's arm came round her shoulders. "I'll do my best to hang onto her."
Lex ignored the arm and stepped closer to Lois, dropping his voice confidentially. "My dear, I've been trying to reach you all weekend. I have tickets for the opera tonight — Madame Butterfly. Can I persuade you to join me on such short notice?"
Clark's arm loosened. Lois reached up to keep it from withdrawing. Didn't he know when to stop being a gentleman? And surely he couldn't think she would even contemplate accepting?
"It's very kind of you, Lex," she said clearly, "but Clark and I have plans for tonight."
Lex's mouth tightened and he shot a disbelieving look at Clark. A vein was beating in his temple. "Very well," he said, giving a half-bow. "Perhaps another time." Before Lois could think of some way to discourage the idea, he'd turned on his heel and was striding back towards the elevators.
"You and Clark have plans?" came a nearby drawl. Cat had come up silently, drawn to the scene as the moth to the flame.
"Well, Perry booked the honeymoon suite for three nights," Lois said coolly, "and I never did get my weekend off. I figure he owes it to me."
"You're going back to the hotel?" Jimmy put in, eyeing her suspiciously. "You think the bellhop's dealing drugs or something, don't you?"
Lois picked up her coat and purse. "Tonight he can deal in nuclear weapons for all I care. Total relaxation is what I'm after. Coming, Clark?"
He glanced at his watch. "Lois, it's only four…"
"Clark, we've been on twenty-four hour duty for the last two days, and we've just turned in two excellent articles. That ought to be enough for Perry. Let's go."
He grinned and reached for his coat. "I'm with you."
He escorted her to the elevators with a hand in the small of her back. As they stood waiting, their backs to the newsroom, he whispered, "They're already speculating about what we're going to be doing tonight, you know."
He sounded amused rather than concerned. She shrugged, grinning. "They would have worked it out soon enough."
"I thought you said I had a right to a private life?"
"Oh, no, Clark." She chuckled. "I said Superman had a right to a private life. He just flies in, saves the day, and vanishes again. You, on the other hand, work in an office, with an office grapevine."
The elevator chimed, and the doors slid open. They stepped forward together.
"They've been talking about your private life since the day you first arrived here," Lois continued. She turned to face Clark and, very conscious of the myriad watching eyes, spread her hands on his chest. "I'm just making sure that in future, when your name comes up, mine comes up with it."
She tugged gently on his tie, and his face tilted towards hers.
Right on cue, the elevator doors closed.
Copyright Meredith Knight, February 2004.