By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2004
Summary: In this adaptation of the episode "The House Of Luthor," Lois realises that she never meant to marry Luthor. She turns to the one person she always thinks of, whenever she needs a friend.
Author's note: This story was written in celebration of the birthday of my good friend Kaethel. And since it's Kaethel, the story is an adaptation of The House of Luthor — don't blame me; she's the one who's obsessed! Many thanks to my terrific beta-readers, Yvonne and Elena, for their support, encouragement and pointing out of my idiotic errors. ;) As ever, you guys are wonderful!
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
*You don't ever notice how I stare when we're alone
Or wonder why I keep you on the phone
I've made it obvious
Done everything but sing it
(I've crushed on you so long but on and on you get me wrong)
I'm not so good with words
And since you never notice
The way that we belong
I'll say it in a love song*
— from Obvious, by Westlife
"This is wrong. I wanted the doors off the master side balcony to be sliders. French doors make the room look smaller."
"Lois." Lex's voice was patient but long-suffering. "We're discussing our future bedroom here, darling. Don't you want it to be perfect?"
Concentrate, Lois, she told herself. What was wrong with her today? She'd managed fine for the last few weeks, hadn't she? What was the problem? Pasting a smile on her face, she returned her attention to the blueprints Lex was holding under her nose, forcing herself to examine them. Taking in the details, she stared up at her fiance in disbelief.
"Lex, the master bedroom is three thousand square feet. That's more than twice the size of my apartment!"
"Of course it is, Lois," Lex replied, sounding as if he was addressing a small child who was slow at understanding. "Your apartment is… well, I'm sure it was perfectly acceptable when you were just Lois Lane, reporter. But you're going to be Mrs Lex Luthor, and we want a home suited to our standing in the community, as well as somewhere which will give us the privacy we need when we're away from the city. You wouldn't want the servants in hearing distance when we're alone together in our bedroom, would you?"
Alone. Together. In their bedroom.
Alone in a bedroom with her husband.
She had to stifle the gasp which instinctively came to her at that. In a matter of weeks, she would be sharing a bedroom — and a bed with Lex. But she'd known that, surely. Why was she only now feeling this sudden sense of shocked realisation?
She had agreed to marry Lex. She was wearing his ring. The church was booked. She had already had several fittings for her dress. The invitations had been sent out.
<Wake up and smell the coffee, Lois!> she told herself sardonically. <You're getting married. What did you expect would happen after the wedding — that he'd kiss your cheek, thank you for everything and then just walk away? That your life would get back to normal?>
If only her life could get back to normal…
Lex was speaking again, and she forced herself to focus. "What about the exercise area?" he was asking. "Should we put it back on the ground floor?"
Exercise area, Lois mentally repeated. She could say something sensible about that, at least. And that was one part of Lex's grand plan for a huge ranch outside the city which she did like. "No, I think this is right," she countered, pointing at the space set aside for the gym equipment. "It'll be great to get out of bed and have that stair climber staring me right in the face saying 'Now, Lois. Now'." She made herself smile at her fiance.
"But, darling, that'll be my line," Lex said smoothly.
<Oh, god, how corny…>
Before she had time to change the subject, Lex's mouth covered hers.
He'd kissed her before, of course, many times. His kisses were… pleasant, enjoyable. They didn't strike any real sparks in her, but then she didn't think that hers did for him either. She had decided some time ago that Lex's interest in her arose more from a shared sense of beliefs and principles, a feeling that they had compatible interests, a conviction that she would be a suitable wife for him. If they weren't entirely compatible sexually, that didn't matter so much, she thought. They could manage, and anyway it wasn't as if either of them was going into this expecting passion or excitement.
But suddenly this kiss was sending alarm-bells ringing.
He was much more demanding than usual. His lips pressed hard against hers, and his tongue was forcibly demanding entry to her mouth. His arms, fastened tightly around her, were pulling her close to his lean, strong body — he was a lot more muscular under that corporate-suited exterior than he appeared, she realised — and it was very clear from his actions and incoherent mutterings that he was fast losing the calm control she always associated with Lex.
Maybe… Lex didn't share her vision of their future sex life after all?
Oh, she really didn't like what he was doing to her… But he was her fiance, after all. She'd said that she would marry him. She couldn't just knee him in the… well, whatever, as she would with any other guy who dared to manhandle her like that. She'd said she'd marry him… Had she been out of her mind?
His wandering hands suggested that he wasn't intending to stop at a kiss either. Lois tore herself out of his grasp and sat back, grabbing hold of the plans in a deliberate attempt to put some distance between them. But, with a decided glint in his eye, Lex was moving towards her again, reaching for the plans.
Okay, she had to play hardball here. Smiling widely at him, she said pointedly, "Thank you, Lex, for understanding about my wanting to wait… for our wedding night. I just want it to be special."
The smile he gave her in return was almost feral, and held a veiled warning. "It will be," he promised.
Rescue arrived then in the shape of Lex's assistant; Lois had never been so pleased to see the woman. Having knocked at the door, Mrs Cox hovered in the doorway, her usual supercilious smile on her lips. "Lex, could we run through your schedule for tomorrow?"
Lex looked torn; he was clearly anxious to speak to his assistant, but he glanced at Lois with an expression which told her that he considered they had unfinished business. Well, as far as she was concerned, they'd finished their business for the moment.
Scrambling to her feet, Lois said lightly, "In that case, I'll leave you to it, Lex. I have to get to work anyway, and I know how busy you are…"
His hand automatically came to cup her elbow. "But, Lois, we haven't finished looking at the plans yet. Did we decide on the twelve-car garage, or the fifteen?"
"I'm sure that whatever you choose is fine, Lex," she told him, edging away and towards the door. "We'll talk later, okay?"
"Yes, we will. And you know you don't need to work. As far as your employer is concerned, you can stop any time. After all, you do have a wedding to prepare for." He leaned towards her, planting a brief kiss on her cheek; his expression as he drew away told Lois that Lex wasn't fooled at all by her excuse. He knew that she was acting strangely, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.
The trouble was that, as far as Lois was concerned, she wasn't acting strangely at all. After almost two months, she was finally coming to her senses.
Lois drove to the LNN studios in a daze, assaulted on all sides by thoughts. A country ranch — a *mansion* — of almost one hundred thousand square feet! For just two people?
Well, of course, knowing Lex, there would be servants. And he'd have to accommodate his personal office staff, whom he would insist on having to hand at all times. So Nigel would need his own suite, and no doubt that irritating, omnipresent Mrs Cox too.
And Lex had said that he wanted children, so they would need extra bedrooms. But… *ten* bedrooms? Six reception rooms? An entire office suite? Servants' quarters occupying at least ten thousand square feet? Seven bathrooms, not including the his and hers ensuite bathrooms as part of the master suite?
And a *fifteen-car garage*? Even if Lex chose the twelve-car version… who on earth could possibly need that many cars?
Was this really how the rich lived? And how could she ever get used to it? Did she even want to get used to it?
Lex's kisses. Why hadn't she known how repulsive they were? How could she ever have got close to a man who aroused no feelings at all within her other than revulsion? What on earth had made her think that she could ever share her body with him? And yet Lex oozed suave sophistication. How could she possibly have known that he would turn into an… an animal?
But maybe it wasn't Lex's fault. After all, she'd never really felt anything very much when intimate with a man. Claude had been… okay. Nothing to make her want to repeat the experience, even if he hadn't stolen her story. And as for her first time… well, if she never had to remember how that had gone again, it would be too soon!
And yet it wasn't true to say that she'd never felt anything in a man's embrace. She'd been kissed by Superman, after all! And that had been… just… wow. It had been just a kiss, but all that stuff in those romance novels about the earth moving and stars exploding… well, it had happened. Superman could have swept her off her feet and flown her back to his… well, his lair or wherever it was that he lived and had his way with her and she would have been with him every step of the way.
It wasn't just Superman who could make her feel like that, either. Lois felt herself flush as she remembered another very heated — and completely unexpected kiss.
A kiss she had shared with Clark.
She remembered it very clearly. They'd been on a plane, and Jason Trask had outlined his insane idea: to push her out and see if Superman would somehow realise that she was in danger and come to rescue her. And then they would kill Superman. Terrified, but thinking on her feet, she'd demanded to be allowed to say goodbye to Clark. The idea had been that she would kiss him briefly, then whisper her plan to him.
Only it hadn't quite worked out like that…
She'd seized his face between her palms and kissed him. He'd been startled for a moment, but had then kissed her back… and a conflagration had erupted. Passion had flared between them which had left her stunned.
She'd only just managed to drag herself away and give him his instructions.
That hadn't been the only time. There'd been the occasion when they'd been undercover in the honeymoon suite — he'd kissed her to distract the maid's attention from their surveillance equipment. And again she'd been caught up in a blaze of desire. Despite the protest which had risen automatically to her lips once he'd released her, she'd been disappointed to discover that the kiss had only been a ruse.
Yes, both Clark and Superman could manage to make her *feel* when they kissed her. Yet the sweetest kiss of all had been the brief touch of his lips to hers Clark had given her that awful time when he'd quit his job — last winter, during the heatwave, that was when it had happened.
She was attracted to both Superman and Clark. And yet she'd chosen Lex Luthor — a man she was neither in love with nor attracted to.
Well, she'd thought that she was attracted to him, hadn't she? Otherwise she would never have accepted dates with him. But that kiss had made things very clear. She wasn't attracted to Lex at all. And she couldn't even begin to imagine being married to him.
So why on earth was she planning to marry him in just two weeks' time?
But she wasn't really. That was the problem! It was never supposed to have gone this far.
She hadn't actually planned on marrying Lex when she'd accepted his proposal!
<Then why the heck did you accept him, Lois?>
The voice in her head was so clear; Clark could have been sitting right beside her in the soft-top Mercedes. Oh, great. Now she was channelling her former partner.
<And best friend, Lois. Or did you stop thinking of me as your best friend when you turned me down?>
Of course her conscience would have to sound like Clark. After all, he'd assumed the right to act as her conscience during the year they'd worked together.
He was right, though: she had stopped thinking of him as her friend. But then, he'd stopped acting as her friend, hadn't he? He'd stepped out of the role himself the moment he'd told her that he was in love with her. With a few words, he'd changed everything. How could he expect her to act as if nothing had happened?
It wasn't as if he'd behaved as if nothing had happened. He'd changed too, right from the moment where she'd had to tell him that she didn't feel the same way about him. And yet she'd had to say it, hadn't she? She *didn't* feel the same way. She had been, after all, in love with someone else. *Was* in love with someone else.
Though, thinking back, Clark had seemed okay that afternoon — well, as okay as he could possibly have been, given that she'd just rejected his declaration of love. It hadn't been until the following day that he'd turned bitter and unpleasant. He'd probably slept on it and then decided that he had the right to be upset and angry, she thought. Even though she'd never given him any reason to believe that she returned his feelings… even though she'd made it obvious time and again that she was in love with Superman.
<Yeah, you were in love with Superman — and yet you're marrying Lex Luthor!>
Lois parked the car in a vacant space in the LNN lot, climbing out and walking wearily towards the main news building. She was *engaged* to Lex Luthor, she told her conscience firmly. There was a difference!
<The difference being?>
"I never intended to marry him!" she exclaimed, causing a passer-by to give her a puzzled, then wary, look.
Put like that, she supposed she did sound like nothing more than a flake. Oh, it was a mess! But she didn't have time to think about it now. She had work to do.
Later that evening, Lois finally left her office and headed down to the car park. Work had kept her so busy that she hadn't had a moment to work out what she was going to do, and she had no doubt that Lex was expecting to see her for what was left of the evening.
Well, he could want. But he wasn't going to get. She was going home.
She had a lot of thinking to do, primarily — but not exclusively — about how she was going to extract herself from this mess. It wasn't just a matter of telling Lex that she wasn't going to marry him, though she already knew that ending her engagement was not going to be simple. She'd come to know Lex fairly well over the past month or so of their engagement — not as well as she should, she was beginning to realise, but still well enough to understand that he could be very territorial when it came to something he thought of as his possession. And, she was beginning to realise, in Lex's eyes she was very much his possession.
What had she been thinking?
She hadn't, that was the problem.
She had a lot of not-thinking to make up for — and she intended to start with a phone call she should have made a long time ago.
But, back in her apartment, Lois simply sat and stared at the telephone. It had been weeks since they'd spoken, she reminded herself. The last time they'd seen each other, at Perry's retirement party, they'd parted on a very bitter note. What if he didn't want to speak to her? What if he hung up when he heard her voice?
On the other hand, if she didn't make the effort, she would never know…
Fingers shaking, Lois dialled the number she knew by heart, and waited, barely breathing, for him to answer.
"Hello?" His voice sounded just the same as ever, and she immediately felt warm inside.
"Hi. It's me," she ventured, only after she'd spoken wondering if she should have given her name. It had been a month, after all. Supposing he didn't remember her voice?
Silence. Maybe he didn't remember after all, she thought, a lump gathering in her throat. Or maybe he did, and didn't want to speak to her…
"Hi. How are you?" Okay. He did remember her. But was he pleased to hear from her? She couldn't tell. His voice was giving nothing away.
Lois forced herself to swallow. Okay, so far no clues as to what her reception was going to be. She would have to play this carefully. "Terrific," she lied. "You?"
His tone was enthusiastic, but… Lois wasn't sure. Was he feigning it, just as she was? Maybe he was being every bit as careful to keep up the act of sounding fine, when… he wasn't fine.
She decided to take a chance. After all, that was why she'd called him, wasn't it? "Clark?"
"Yes?" He sounded wary.
"I miss you."
There was another pause. Then, his voice soft, he said, "I miss you too, Lois."
He missed her! Then maybe this wasn't a mistake after all. She was about to speak again, but Clark got in before her. "Well, it's kind of late. I guess I should go to bed."
He was going to hang up! "No! Wait!" she exclaimed.
"Yes?" Now he was definitely cautious.
"Clark… can we talk?"
She heard him sigh. "Lois, it's late."
"It's not too late for us, is it?" She knew he'd only been referring to the lateness of the hour, but still…
He understood her meaning. "Lois, haven't we said everything there is to say? I don't think…"
"Please, Clark!" she exclaimed, interrupting him. This would be her last chance, she was sure. She could feel her one-time best friend slipping away from her by the second. If she couldn't get through to him now, she knew she would have lost him, perhaps permanently. "Please. I need to talk to you. Can I come over? Now?"
"Lois…" He sounded weary, and not, she thought, from tiredness.
"Please, Clark! This is important."
"It's always important with you, Lois." But she thought his tone had changed; the weary frustration had been replaced by resignation. With maybe even a faint hint of wry amusement.
"I need you, Clark," she said softly. "Without you, this past month… I just don't know how I've managed."
"Oh, you don't need me." Now his tone was sardonic. "What with your brand-new important job at LNN and your brand-new fiance, soon to be husband, and your shiny open-top Mercedes… what on earth do you need a washed-up, unemployed farmboy reporter like me for?"
"That's not fair, Clark," she protested, but a tiny voice inside her was telling her that it was only too fair. "Please," she added. "I really do need you. Things… aren't what they seem."
He hesitated; she could almost hear him thinking, debating with himself. Then, just as she thought he was going to end the conversation without another word, he said quietly, resignedly, "I'll be over there in ten minutes."
Clark dropped down in the alley just behind Lois's apartment block, still asking himself what he was doing there. He'd told Lois on the phone that he didn't think they had anything left to talk about, and he'd meant it. But she had always been able to get under his defences. All she had to do was use that particular tone of voice and he was putty in her hands.
Even now, when part of him wanted to hate her.
She was marrying Lex Luthor in barely a couple of weeks' time. Luthor — a man he despised, and whom he believed to be a criminal.
And, as if that wasn't bad enough, she'd torn his heart to shreds when she'd rejected his heartfelt declaration of love and then thrown herself at Superman's feet, making insincere claims that she'd love him even without his powers.
So why was he here now? Why wasn't he just taking flight again, getting the heck out of anywhere in Lois's proximity?
Because she'd asked him to come. Because she'd said please. Because she'd said she needed him.
Anger and frustration welled up inside him as he marched up the steps into Lois's apartment building. He didn't know who he despised most right at that moment: Lois for her duplicity and shallowness, or himself for his inability to walk away from her. His weakness.
How had he come to let her wrap her tentacles around his heart? Just what had she done to him to make him need her so much? She was eating away at him from the inside, slowly destroying his heart. She was like some sort of poison, a virus which had worked its way into his system and which refused to let go of him. And it seemed that there was no cure.
So here he was once again, voluntarily walking into her den, offering himself once more as a sacrifice on the altar of Lois Lane's vanity.
He was a fool. An idiot without the self-discipline to carry through his resolve never to see her again.
Grimacing, he tapped on her door.
The first thing he noticed about Lois when she opened the door was that she seemed very nervous. And unsettled.
For an engaged woman, preparing to be married in just two weeks' time, she certainly didn't look happy.
"Thanks for coming, Clark," she said, stepping back to let him enter. He glanced at her briefly as he passed; she still looked the same Lois whom he'd worked alongside for almost a year. Funny; he'd expected her to look different, somehow. More like Lex Luthor's fiancee than Lois Lane, reporter. And yet there she was, dressed in the same jeans and sweatshirt he'd seen her wear on several casual occasions in the past. It was very disconcerting.
"How did you get over here so quickly?"
Oh. The one thing he hadn't thought of when he'd told her he'd be there in ten minutes. He didn't drive, and it was at least an hour's walk from his place to hers. Time for another of the little lies he'd used with her throughout the past year. "I was lucky — I got a cab right outside my building."
She accepted it, much to his relief, nodding distractedly. "Can I get you some coffee?" At his quick shake of the head, she offered instead, "Tea? I think I have some of that stuff you like… oolong? Or I have milk — at least, I hope it's still fresh. I haven't exactly done a lot of shopping lately. There's probably soda…"
"Lois." He cut across her, knowing that he was being brusque but not caring. "I don't want anything to drink. I just want to know what you want."
His tone, plus his formal, closed-off stance and the fact that he was keeping his distance from her, clearly got through to her. Good. She realised that he wasn't exactly thrilled to be in her company.
"Oh." Her expression was crestfallen. "I… I hoped we could talk. I didn't realise you really hated me this much," she added in a low voice, turning away from him. He heard the little choke as she continued, "It's okay, Clark. I — just go, okay?"
Damn. She was crying.
With two strides, he was behind her. He cupped her shoulders in his hands, tugging her back against him; his defences crumbled even further now that he was holding her against him. But then, he'd never been immune to her tears.
"I don't hate you, Lois," he admitted. "I don't think I ever could. I don't like you very much right now, but… well, that's just the way it is."
"That's okay," she said, in little more than a whisper. "I don't like myself very much either, so why should I expect you to?"
Okay, this was bizarre. None of what she was saying made any sense. But what was clear was that his one-time best friend was miserable.
He'd wanted her to be miserable. He'd lain awake at night dreaming up scenarios in which she'd realise what a mistake she'd made and would come to him begging him to forgive her, and he'd laugh in her face. He'd imagined her finding out the truth about her fiance before the wedding and being horrified, then coming to him to tell him that he was right all along.
Now, faced with Lois in a highly upset state, he realised that he didn't want her to suffer after all. He was too soft- hearted for his own good, he supposed. But still… he loved her.
"Lois, tell me what's going on," he said, turning her so that she was facing him. "Come on — let's sit down."
She wiped her eyes roughly before joining him on the couch. "Sorry. I don't know what came over me there. I guess it was just a bit of a shock to realise… but then, I should have known. We haven't exactly been close lately."
"No, we haven't," he agreed. "It's… difficult, Lois."
She sighed. "Yes."
Then, suddenly, her expression changed and he saw the old Lois, the fighter, return. "Yes, it's difficult," she said bitingly. "You can't accept that I chose someone else. That I was honest with you and didn't lead you on — that I told you as nicely as I could that I didn't love you the way you said you love me. Clark, I'm *sorry* that I had to reject you. You really think I wanted to hurt you? You think you don't mean anything to me? That I wanted to lose your friendship over this?"
Clark was about to protest that it wasn't as simple as that. That it wasn't the fact that she'd turned him down, but that she'd offered herself to Superman and claimed that she'd love him as an ordinary man not hours after rejecting the ordinary man. But, he realised, he couldn't tell her that.
There was still more to it, and he could give that to her with both barrels. "I can accept you not returning my feelings, Lois. I can even live with you being in love with Superman. What's kind of hard to accept is when you go off and agree to marry a rich guy you barely know and who I know you're not in love with," he said, knowing that he was sounding sarcastic but not caring. "You accept his proposal knowing that I've told you he's a crook. And you think I should just ignore all that and carry on being your friend?"
Was that what she'd thought? Had she really been as selfish as Clark was making out?
Actually, the truth was that she probably hadn't thought at all. Hadn't thought that Clark was entitled to be hurt that she'd rejected him, and even more entitled to feel that way after she'd accepted Lex's proposal.
She could tell him that he'd had no right to expect that she would return his feelings. She could also remind him that she'd been as tactful and caring as she'd been capable of — but then, he'd said he accepted her rejection. It was the rest which left him angry and bitter.
And, of course, he had a point. She had gone off and said she'd marry a man she didn't love.
Biting her lip, she turned to him again. "I am sorry, Clark. I never meant to hurt you. And I guess I did think that you'd still be my friend, which was pretty naive of me, I admit."
His anger seemed to be spent; he gave her a weary smile, though there still wasn't much evidence of friendship or affection in it. "I could probably have coped with that, Lois. Even after that day… But you went off and got engaged to Luthor! How was I supposed to feel about that?"
Frustrated, she exclaimed, "But I never actually meant to marry him!"
Clark stared at her, wondering if she had actually said what he thought he'd heard. He had. The words repeated over and over in his mind.
She hadn't intended to marry Luthor?
"Then why the heck did you accept his proposal?" he demanded.
And then the answer to his own question came to him. It was obvious.
She was about to speak, but he cut across her. "Wait a minute," he said, his tone sardonic. "You were hoping that Superman would find out and change his mind. You wanted him to come to you and tell you that he was wrong to turn you down. You wanted him to beg you to break your engagement and be with him instead. Isn't that it?"
The immediate flush on her cheekbones and her guilty expression told him he was right.
"Lois, what the hell did you think you were doing?" he demanded, almost more appalled at this than he had when he'd heard that she'd accepted Luthor's proposal. "You agreed to marry a man you don't love, a man you claim to have absolutely no intention of marrying, to try to blackmail Superman into telling you that he loves you? Are you *crazy*?"
Her gaze dropped to her knees and she nibbled at her lip, before muttering, "Yeah, I think I was." A tear glistened in the corner of her eye, and Clark's anger faded as quickly as it had arisen. As irritated with himself as he was for being swayed by her tears, though, he reached out his hand and covered hers where they lay on her lap. She cast him a quick glimpse; he saw the misery in her eyes and all the protective, loving feelings he'd had for Lois over the past year, and which he'd thought he'd buried, came flooding back.
He still loved her. He still wanted her. He still needed her in his life.
The hatred, the bitterness, the feelings of betrayal — they seemed less important suddenly now that he was faced with a Lois who was distressed and who knew that she'd made a mistake in getting engaged to Luthor.
"What are you going to do?" he asked quietly.
She looked down at her lap again, and his gaze followed hers. Next to where his hand lay, covering hers, a large, ostentatious solitaire diamond winked. Freeing her hands, she tugged at the ring and removed it.
"I'm not going to marry him," she said, and although her voice shook there was determination in it. Then suddenly she smiled, and it was a smile of relief. "Oh, Clark, you don't know how good that sounds! I'm *not* going to marry him! I'll have to tell him tomorrow. He's not going to be happy, but I'm suddenly happy again for the first time in weeks."
"I'm glad," Clark told her with sincerity. "Not just because I hated the thought of you marrying him, but because I really do think that he's dangerous."
She gave him a considering look. "I guess I should get you to tell me why — I never let you before. But — tomorrow? I think I've been through enough upheaval for tonight."
It was a start. They had taken a first, cautious step towards rebuilding their friendship. There was a long way to go yet, he knew; he had a lot of painful memories to bury, and she had to earn his trust once more. But he wanted to trust her again. He wanted to be her friend again. With that knowledge, it could surely be done.
And she had already edged past the barrier she herself had erected between them weeks ago by actually asking him to tell her why he didn't trust Luthor.
Clark nodded. "Sure."
Lois felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off her mind. She wasn't free yet — she still had to talk to Lex and give him back his ring — but she'd taken the first big step. She'd climbed off the non-stop rollercoaster she'd been on from the moment she'd said yes to Lex.
No; probably from the moment she'd said no to Clark.
Stealing another glance at her one-time partner, she allowed herself to wonder, for the first time, whether she had actually been crazy to deny that she had feelings for him.
<Clark, I just don't feel that way about you>
She did feel something for him. Of course she did — otherwise why had his absence from her life over the past few weeks hurt so much? Why had she, every day, hoped for some form of contact — a phone call, a knock at her door, a reply to the wedding invitation? Why had Clark's silence mattered so much more than Perry's or Jimmy's or anyone else's?
She'd answered him instinctively, allowing the barriers she'd erected against him from the day they'd met to dictate her response. And yet Clark had sneaked under those barriers long ago. He'd become a friend like no other. She'd confided in him, trusted him, sought him out for companionship, run to him when she was scared.
She'd run to *him*. Not Perry. Not her mother. Not Jimmy. Not any of the men in her contacts book. Not any of her friends from her NOW chapter. No; when she'd been in need of support or even just of companionship, she'd gone to Clark.
He wasn't just a friend. Was he?
"If only you'd kissed me that day in the park… then I might have known how I felt."
It wasn't until Clark stared at her, his expression stunned, that she realised she'd said the words aloud.
Then, slowly, giving her plenty of time to pull away, Clark raised his hand to cup her face. Holding her lightly, he swayed towards her, and then their lips met.
With a sound which was almost a sigh of relief, Lois slid her hands into his hair and kissed him back, her lips parting as she instinctively deepened the embrace.
Lex's kisses over the past few weeks had left her cold — and his kiss that morning had repulsed her. Clark's kiss reminded her of what a kiss should be. The feelings he evoked in her were the same as before. The kiss on the plane. The kiss in the Lexor. The kiss when he'd left Metropolis.
It was all so obvious — why hadn't she seen it before?
She was in love with Clark.
<But what about Superman?>
She and Superman had unfinished business; Lois felt that very strongly. And she needed to resolve that sooner rather than later. Even if she had just worked out where she'd gone wrong with everything in her life — even if she and Clark had just taken an amazing, blissful step towards something she wanted to explore further.
Breaking the kiss, she smiled at Clark, stroking his face with her fingertips. "I can't believe I was so stupid. That I didn't see what we had."
He gave her a wry look. "I thought you never would see it. That it was only me who felt it — this thing between us."
Lois bit her lip. "I did feel it," she admitted. "I was just… running away from it. It scared me, Clark. And plus… I was blinded by — I guess infatuation, though it feels like a lot more than that."
"Superman," he said, grimacing.
"Yeah, Superman. And when he rejected me, I think I just stopped acting rationally. I was so mad… I was so hurt. I just wanted to force him to realise that he was wrong. And I thought that if I could make him jealous…" She paused, shrugging. Now that she'd finally put into words what had motivated her to accept Luthor's proposal, it sounded so stupid. So juvenile, in fact. The behaviour of a silly teenage girl.
That unfinished business was nagging at her.
"Yeah?" His expression was open, the look he gave her caring. Loving, in fact.
"Can we take this up again tomorrow? I… need to deal with Lex, and that's going to mean quitting my job at LNN too. But once that's over, you and I need to have a long talk."
He nodded. "Yes, we do. Like you said, it's about time I told you everything about why I think he's dirty — including what Superman knows."
Superman? Superman knew stuff about Lex and hadn't told her?
So he hadn't just ignored the fact that she was engaged to marry someone else despite her declaration of love for him; he'd also failed to tell her the very important information that her fiance might be a criminal!
But that wasn't Clark's fault. She stood, and he got to his feet as well. "So, I'll see you tomorrow?"
She nodded. "Count on it. Can I call you as soon as I'm free?"
"Great." He hesitated, then leaned towards her again. She met him halfway in another sweet, dizzying kiss which started to make her regret sending him away. But before she could think of asking him to stay, he broke the kiss and smiled at her. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay? And — you be careful."
She nodded. "I will. And, Clark?"
"I… I love you."
His expression lit up in a brilliant smile. "I love you too, Lois." Then, his hand on the door, he added, "Goodnight."
As the door closed behind him, Lois sank back onto her sofa.
Would it really have been that easy all along? Had all she needed to do was tell Clark that she was sorry, that she'd been wrong, that she wanted another chance? That she didn't want to marry Lex? For weeks it had seemed as if there'd been an insuperable barrier between them. Even when she'd been trying to persuade him to come over, she'd felt doubtful of the possibility of success. When he'd arrived, he'd been so cold and distant that she'd thought there was no chance of salvaging anything of their friendship.
Oh, she'd been so incredibly stupid!
But it was almost all over now. A great weight had been lifted from her mind. She had taken the decision to break off her engagement — and at last she'd opened her mind to the possibility that Clark had been right about Lex all along. She'd finally believed him, and that had clearly pleased him.
And they'd taken the first step towards making their own relationship closer. She'd finally admitted that she'd been in denial about her feelings for him, and miraculously he still felt the same way.
Clark loved her. And she loved him.
But before they could be together openly, she had to free herself of other entanglements. Lex she could deal with tomorrow. Right now, that other bit of unfinished business required attention — even more urgently in the light of what Clark had just told her.
She stood up and grabbed her coat and keys, then let herself out of her apartment.
Clark walked down the steps from Lois's building, still stunned. What the heck had just happened in the last ten minutes?
He'd been ready to leave right after she'd told him she wanted to talk about Luthor, but tomorrow. He'd been about to walk towards the door, relieved that she was no longer marrying the man, tentatively happy that they'd begun the path towards rebuilding, renewing their friendship.
No; that comment of hers, the one he knew he wasn't supposed to have heard, about a kiss. That he should have kissed her when he'd told her he loved her.
He hadn't even stopped to think what she could have meant by it. He'd just reached for her and kissed her.
And she'd swayed towards him, meeting his lips willingly, with yearning.
Their first real kiss, and it had left him weak at the knees, heady with sensation, aching with longing. The power of her kiss was as effective as Kryptonite — she'd left him drained. But blissfully so.
It had been hard to leave, knowing how much he'd wanted to kiss her again. Longer. Deeper. With everything that he had — and with everything that she had. It had been torture to pull away from that second kiss, just before he'd left her.
But he'd done the right thing. Lois had said she needed time, that she'd had a lot to deal with that evening — including making the decision to dump her fiance. It wouldn't be sensible to rush her into something she might not be ready for — something she might regret in the cooler light of day.
Something she might regret?
He paused in the act of starting to spin into the Suit. Something that she might regret. Now, only now, did it occur to him that her comment, their kiss, even her declaration of love could be explained by something as simple as…
She'd spent the last two months as Lex Luthor's fiance. Being with him. Spending all her free time with him. Kissing him. Probably doing even more with him.
He'd thought that she was happy, but on seeing her this evening he'd noticed the strain that she couldn't hide. From what she'd said, from her admission that she'd only accepted Luthor's proposal to put pressure on Superman, it was clear that she'd been under considerable pressure ever since she'd let the man put that ostentatious ring on her finger. It was only natural that she'd be relieved — hugely relieved — to be able to put the charade, if that was what it was, at an end.
So relieved that she'd tell her one-time best friend that she loved him? That she'd kiss him with longing?
He shouldn't be having doubts, he told himself, and spun into the Suit. Taking off rapidly, he reminded himself that all he had to do was trust her. And not even for very long — just until the following day. Just until she called him and said she was ready to talk. He could do that, couldn't he?
And then he saw her. Hurrying down the steps, walking rapidly up the street. To her car — that ostentatious, ridiculous convertible Luthor had given her. Unlocking the car. Getting inside. Starting the engine. Driving off.
She couldn't have decided to deal with Luthor now, could she?
Alarmed, he followed her, flying high overhead so that she wouldn't see him. But she didn't take the turnings which would lead her to Luthor's penthouse. Instead, her manoeuvres through the city streets were taking her in the direction of the Daily Planet. Or… what had once been the Daily Planet.
It didn't make sense. Why was she going there? Why, at almost midnight, had she chosen to pay a visit to a burned-out shell of a building which had once been a thriving, busy newspaper office?
But that, he realised, was probably exactly why she was going there. He'd sensed, during their conversation, that she had a lot of regrets. Things — people — she had missed and perhaps had felt that she'd lost forever. And, of course, the Daily Planet was where all that she'd lost, all that she'd missed, belonged. Had once belonged.
A trip down Memory Lane? Exorcising her regrets? Making a promise to herself to try to put right at least some of what had gone wrong?
Still, he didn't like the idea of her being here alone, especially if she intended to go inside — the building had been made safe by firefighters and the insurers, but only to the extent that it wasn't going to collapse. It certainly wasn't safe for entry by someone who knew nothing about dangerous buildings. On top of that, the electricity supply had been cut off, so it would be pitch-dark inside.
He hovered above as she went inside. Tensed in breathless fear as she climbed the damaged stairwell, gripping onto the handrail for support. Stared in puzzlement as she pushed open the door leading to the roof — and then froze at what she did next.
Standing on the roof, hands on her hips, Lois — in no apparent danger at all — yelled, "Help! Superman!"
So that was it. That was why she'd sent him away. She'd wanted to talk to Superman — make one last attempt to win him for herself.
<But she said she loves me…>
What other reason could she possibly have for wanting to see Superman right now? he asked himself bitterly. He'd been right after all; Lois hadn't really meant the kiss or her declaration of love. She still wanted Superman.
How could he possibly have forgotten about her real reason for saying yes to Luthor? Or the way she'd thrown herself at him, in his Superman guise, on that horrible night?
She wanted Superman. But she wasn't going to get him. He turned, ready to fly away.
But then a better idea occurred to him. Once and for all, he would make it clear to Lois that he was off-limits. Not interested. Completely unavailable so far as she was concerned.
Making his expression as stern as he could possibly manage, creating an impassive mask that even Lois Lane couldn't possibly pierce, he floated down to land some feet away from her.
"You called for me, Lois. And yet you don't seem to be in any sort of danger. I assume that there is some important reason why you required my presence?"
Well, he'd come, but he wasn't happy about it. The hostility was coming off him in waves. He stood some distance from her, his cape billowing in the light summer breeze, his arms crossed in front of his chest as if his expression wasn't sending out enough 'back off' signals. He clearly wasn't a happy Super-hero.
But nor was she a happy non-rescuee.
She didn't give a damn about Superman's mood. He was obviously mad at her for some reason, but she was just as mad at him. Probably even more so.
"Yes, I wanted to see you," she told him tersely. "I want some answers from you. Now."
He seemed taken aback by her tone, the mask slipping briefly to reveal a surprised blink of his eyes. What? Had he thought that no human would ever have the temerity to be annoyed with him?
"It would help if I knew what the questions are," he said, not relaxing his stance.
"Okay. Let's start with why you chose not to tell me what you know about Lex Luthor. You were prepared to let me marry a man who — according to Clark — you believe is… 'dirty', I think is what Clark said. A criminal." She glared at him. "Just where do you get off not telling me about something like that?"
Again, she had the sensation that she'd completely floored him. But after a moment the distant expression returned. "I understand Clark tried to tell you."
"Yes, okay, I should have listened to Clark," Lois muttered, resenting being put in the wrong — after all, she was the one with every right to be mad at him! "But that doesn't excuse what you did. You should have told me!"
"When, Lois?" he asked, his voice deceptively mild. "When you threw yourself at me in your nightgown? Or once you had the guy's ring on your finger?"
Stung, Lois turned away. This wasn't going as she'd expected. Superman was supposed to have been taken aback and ridden with guilt by her accusation. He wasn't supposed to answer her back! He wasn't supposed to be making her feel as if she was the one in the wrong.
"I don't know why I even thought I wanted to talk to you," she snapped, turning back to glare at him. "Just go. I'm sure there's someone somewhere who wants you."
"I didn't say anything because you wouldn't listen to Clark when he tried to tell you," Superman said, sounding frustrated. Giving an expressive shrug — at last, he'd altered his stance from that off- putting arms-crossed posture — he added, "Why should I assume that you'd listen to me?"
"Of course I'd listen to you!" Lois exclaimed. What on earth was he talking about? She hadn't listened to Clark because… oh, because Clark had just been jealous, she'd thought — and anyway, he'd never actually said anything very specific anyway.
"You would have?" There was genuine surprise and uncertainty in his voice now.
Lois sighed. She'd really been so incredibly wrong about Superman, hadn't she? She'd thought she understood him, as he understood her. But their two last meetings alone, two months apart, showed her that he hardly knew her at all. He certainly didn't think very much of her, either.
"You should have told me," she said flatly. "I thought you were my friend, and friends should look out for each other. But I guess," she added coolly, "you haven't been my friend for a while, Superman."
When he didn't answer, she added, "I suppose you took Clark's side when I turned him down. Not that I can blame you too much for that. But still…"
Suddenly, he moved. He'd been standing in the same place for so long that seeing him take a step towards her almost unnerved her.
"I am your friend, Lois," he said quietly as he came to a stop in front of her — in easy touching distance. "I haven't been a very good friend lately, that's certainly true," he added in regretful tones. "Maybe I can make up for that now? I know it's kind of late, but do you want me to tell you what I know about Lex Luthor?"
Lois shook her head. She wanted to hear it from Clark now, not Superman. Apart from feeling that she owed it to him to listen to what he had to say, after her previous treatment of him, she didn't really like the thought of the full extent of her idiocy exposed in front of the Super-hero.
"No. Thank you," she added, almost as an after-thought. "Clark's going to tell me tomorrow. I take it he knows everything you know?"
"And I've already broken off the engagement, by the way."
He inclined his head. "I… noticed the absence of the ring. I'm glad." Somewhat awkwardly, after a moment, he added, "I hope it wasn't too painful a decision…"
Lois shrugged. "I wasn't in love with him, Superman. But you know that anyway, I guess," she said, remembering with excruciating clarity the way she'd behaved when he'd come to her apartment. She winced then, realising that she'd given him an opening to ask just why she had accepted Lex's proposal — an explanation she really didn't want to have to go into with him.
But, to her relief, he didn't ask. He took an awkward step towards her, reaching for her with one arm extended. The hug was brief, but warm, and when Superman stepped back he smiled at her for the first time since he'd landed in response to her call.
"Sure." She returned his smile, realising that it felt very good to have got past all that awful stuff with Superman, then remembered the other reason she'd wanted to talk to him — the bit of 'unfinished business' which had been on her mind earlier. "Actually, there's something else I wanted to ask you — if you don't mind?"
"I have a few minutes. So go ahead."
"It's…" She hesitated, awkward about referring again to that dreadful night. "Look, I'm not going to embarrass either of us by repeating what I said to you the last time we… talked. I just wanted to ask you about something you said."
He looked abashed. "Uh… Lois, I said some things I didn't mean, that night. Specifically… I'm sorry for that crack about your robe. I should never have said that. I *would* never…"
Lois waved his apology aside. "I know that. I mean, it's nice to hear you say it, because I was pretty shocked at the time, but it's not important. That's not what I wanted to ask you about."
Now he looked wary again. "What's that?"
"Remember you said that you didn't believe me when I said I'd love you even if you were an ordinary man? You said 'under the circumstances' you didn't see how you could," she reminded him.
He nodded; she noticed a muscle twitching in his jaw.
"What did you mean by 'under the circumstances', Superman? What circumstances?"
Oh, he knew what circumstances, all right, but that wasn't something he'd had any intention of telling Lois.
Lois had proved him wrong time and time again tonight. She'd surprised him at her apartment, and she'd done it again here, now. He hadn't trusted her. He'd been so sure that she was about to throw herself at him — Superman — again, but instead she'd berated him.
Now, she wanted an explanation for something she was quite rightly puzzled by.
It wouldn't be too difficult to explain away — but did he really want to?
If Lois really loved him — Clark — then he'd have to deal with this anyway, wouldn't he?
He took a deep breath. "Under the circumstances… that you'd already turned me down as an 'ordinary man', Lois."
It was only as he said the words that it occurred to Clark that he really should have rehearsed this speech. Or at the very least spent some time preparing to deal with her reaction. This was Lois, after all. She was every bit as likely to fly off the handle and rage at him as she was to storm off in disgust. Or throw things at him. Or play it cool but spend time thinking up an appropriate form of revenge.
She did none of those things.
Instead, she went pale. Her jaw slackened. She actually took a step backwards. And, although she opened her mouth after a few moments, no words emerged.
"Lois!" Worried, he caught at her arm. "Are you okay?"
"I…" Her voice cracked as she tried to speak, and she took a shuddering breath. "As… as well as I could be when you spring something like that on me!"
"Uh… yeah, I guess I should've led up to it a bit," he said apologetically, slipping his arm around her in case she did the unthinkable for Lois and fainted.
"I guess I know now why you didn't tell me about Lex," she said, her tone still strained. "I mean, I'd already refused to listen to you… but surely you knew I'd be more likely to listen to you as… well, when you're like this!" She gestured at his costume.
"You're right, and I should have thought of that," he admitted. "But, you know, Lois, I've always hated the fact that I could say something to you as myself and as Superman, and you'd only take me seriously as Superman. I… guess I was partly being stubborn by not talking to you as Superman." "And — " She broke off, looking up at him with an apologetic look. "You had every right to be mad at me for that. I wasn't fair to you, Clark."
"I don't think I was fair to you either." He dropped his arm from around her shoulders and moved a few feet away. "We had too many secrets between us, Lois. I'm glad we've got them all out into the open now."
Clark caught her gaze, taking note of the interested curiosity which had replaced her initial shock. "I've wanted to be honest with you for a long time, Lois. And so…"
In a deliberately exaggerated movement, he went into a spin, coming to stop a few moments later in the jeans and polo shirt he'd been wearing just half an hour earlier when he'd left her apartment.
"…I want you to know the real me. Clark. Not Superman, and I guess not really an ordinary man either — just me. Superpowers and farmboy all in one," he added with a self- deprecating grin.
The shock of discovery was just about dying away — but Clark's little spin manoeuvre almost caused Lois to faint once again. How had she missed just what her partner was hiding? How had she failed to notice that Clark Kent was no ordinary guy?
Oh, she had a long list of epithets and descriptions which she could apply to herself for missing the real Clark Kent. Though, strangely enough, she wasn't berating herself any more strongly than she had been earlier, when she'd finally admitted her feelings for him to herself.
She had dozens of questions for him. Hundreds, probably. But top of her list was just one: she needed to know that he still loved her. That Clark, now having revealed himself as Superman, the man she'd made such a fool of herself over, hadn't changed his mind about her because she'd been so idiotic.
"Lois?" His concerned voice broke into her thoughts.
She met his gaze again.
"Are you mad at me?"
He seriously thought that she was mad at him? While she was actually wondering whether he still loved her?
Well, she probably could have been, she thought on reflection. But then, she'd been so stupid, so idiotic herself over the past couple of months that any transgressions on Clark's part seemed miniscule next to hers.
"Are you mad at me?" she countered.
"Lois!" he growled at her. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Okay," he said. "Yes, I was mad at you. But that was earlier. You know I'm not mad now. How could I be?"
"Oh, I don't know," she drawled, trying to hide her fears from him through the apparent casualness of her tone. "Maybe me telling you I'm not in love with you and then throwing myself at you a few hours later? And claiming that I'd love you if you were an ordinary man… and then accepting Lex's proposal because you turned me down?"
Clark shrugged. "I haven't behaved much better, Lois. You know that. I could have told you all this a long time ago — including why I think Luthor's dirty. And I didn't have to be so mean to you that night."
She took a step towards him, hope in her heart again. "So we can kiss and make up, then?" she asked cautiously.
He grinned, reaching out for her and swinging her into his arms. "That sounds like the perfect idea."
Up on the roof of the Daily Planet, the building where it had all started, Clark wrapped his arms around her, lowering his lips to hers as she took his face between her palms, bringing his face down to hers. The lights of the city, spread out around them and beneath them, paled into insignificance next to the explosion caused to her senses by Clark's kiss.
Not Lex. Not even Superman. She was being kissed by the only man she ever wanted to kiss her again. And if she'd thought that Clark's kisses were amazing before, this one took her breath away. She felt as if she was floating.
And then she realised that they were actually floating.
Breaking the kiss, Clark grinned crookedly at her. "Sorry. That happens sometimes when I'm not concentrating. And you kind of make it difficult for me to concentrate!"
Lois laughed. "I'm not sorry about that!"
"Good." He smiled again, then bent to brush his lips across hers once more. "I always hoped you'd see it too, Lois," he added softly.
She reached up to kiss him quickly before answering. "You did? See what?" She knew what he meant, but wanted him to tell her once more the way he felt about her.
"The way that we belong, Lois." He touched his forehead to hers. "The way I've felt we've belonged since the day I first saw you."
"I'm sorry I was so slow to see it," she told him. "But I love you now, Clark. It might have taken me a while to see it, but I got there in the end."
"And that's what matters," he assured her, before claiming her lips again and at the same time, she realised a few moments later, swooping upwards with her in his arms.
"I always wondered which was better: kissing or flying," he explained when she broke the kiss and looked at him quizzically.
"And…?" she asked, curious.
He grinned again. "Neither. Flying *and* kissing is the best of all."
And, as he suited action to words, Lois decided that she wasn't going to argue with that.
(c) Wendy Richards 2004 email@example.com