By Kaethel <email@example.com> and Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2004
Summary: A few weeks after Lois's almost-wedding to Lex, Clark decides it's time to pick up the pieces of their relationship… and maybe build something new.
The infamous Wendy-and-Kaethel team hadn't co-authored anything in almost a year, but when the date of Pam's birthday, along with the Fanfic Message Boards' first anniversary, approached, we decided we couldn't let this occasion pass without doing something. April 9 was not only the day the Great Goddess Pam Jernigan <bg> was born, but it was also the day the www.lcficmbs.com site got online, and so we wanted to celebrate both events with a story. And for this particular situation, what better subject than the first anniversary of Lois and Clark's encounter? One of us (three guesses who <g>) was of course delighted at the idea of playing with a premise set right after Lois's almost-wedding to Lex, and so we started to write. Here's the result, and we hope you enjoy it! Feedback is of course very welcome at both the email addresses above. :)
We would also like to thank very much our Archive GE, LynnM, for her friendly and helpful editing.
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.
A Year Ago Today
Chapter 1: Reconciliation
She heard the knock. It was the third time someone had literally pounded on her door, and regardless of the fact that it was way past opening hours as far as she was concerned, she couldn't be bothered rising from the bed and checking to see whether it was something important. Lois Lane was taking the night off. There was nothing that couldn't wait, was there?
The Planet would reopen in two weeks, and there would be enough late night work then. In the meantime, she intended to enjoy the rest of her vacation to its full extent, and whoever was disturbing her at nine in the evening could take a hike for all she cared.
Besides, she was pretty sure that whoever was waiting for her to open the door either held a camera or a notepad with a series of questions on her aborted wedding. She didn't feel like giving the press what they wanted. She had always thrived on writing the news; she had never meant to *be* the news.
She focused her attention back on the engrossing book she had been reading before she was so rudely interrupted. Burning Passion. How could she have turned down such an enticing title? And by one of her favourite authors, too. As soon as she'd spotted it in the bookstore down Washington Road, she'd made a grab for it. So far it was living up to her expectations: the heroine was someone she could relate to, falling in love with the wrong man and failing to see that her best friend was a hundred times better than any other man she had met in the past.
Just like Janet, Lois had failed to see what was right under her nose. She'd had her chance and missed it because she was too stupid to care about a man who wasn't as extraordinary as Lex or Superman…
Clark would have been the right man for her. He would have been caring, tender and loving. He would have known how to make her feel cherished and safe. He would have understood her need for independence. He had risked everything to prevent her from making a fool of herself. He had claimed he was in love with her in case it stopped her from accepting Lex's proposal. He had lied to her.
She looked down at the book in her hands. Anthony wouldn't lie to Janet. He was already crazily in love with her, and in the middle of chapter eight there was one of the best declarations of love she'd ever read in modern fiction. Not to mention the fantastic love scene that took place in chapter ten! She couldn't wait to get to those and read them in context.
She could almost hear Clark admonishing her about reading the end of a book before she even started it. Clark had never had a clue about her reading habits. She didn't read the end anyway; she browsed the middle pages to check for romance, and if these scenes didn't appeal she didn't bother going through the opening chapters.
Another knock. Why, but this one didn't easily give up, did he? He could stand out there all night for all she cared. She was *not* going to move.
She was on her feet in less than a second, striding in rapid steps to the door and unbolting it with trembling hands. Before she could think through a coherent greeting, he was standing in front of her, all tall and masculine, dressed in black jeans and a crisp white shirt. In his hands were a bottle of what looked like French wine and a bouquet of roses. Yellow roses. On his face was a smile she'd never thought she would see again.
"Am I… interrupting something?" He couldn't help but glance down at the book she was holding to her heart. Burning Passion, huh? So Lois hadn't lost her taste for cheap Harlequin literature.
She must have seen the direction of his gaze, for she quickly hid the book behind her back and ushered him in. From the corner of his eye, he saw her slip the offending opus behind the cushions of an armchair.
"Not interrupting anything, no! What are you doing here? Let me take your coat. Do you want to drink something? Coffee? Do you still drink coffee? With sugar and milk? Wait, no, you take cream in your coffee. I didn't forget."
She stood behind the kitchen counter, smiling but a little breathless, and he felt warm inside at the sight. She was just as beautiful as the last time they had seen each other, maybe even more so.
A whole month had passed since they had decided to patch things up. A whole month during which they hadn't seen each other at all. A whole month during which he had agonised over calling her. He had frequently reached for the phone, but no believable pretext had come to mind; what could he tell her? That he missed her? That he longed to see her again? Even asking her how she was coping with the fiasco of her wedding wasn't something he felt he could do. There was too much keeping them apart, especially on that topic, and so he had relied on Perry to tell him how Lois was doing. According to his former editor, she was dealing with it much better than one would expect her to.
Many times, though, he had wished he could find it in himself to pick up his phone and call her. He wanted to give her support. He wanted her to know that he would always be there for her, that regardless of his feelings on Luthor, he had never wished her so much hurt.
He couldn't. The truth, even altered, was not something Lois wanted to hear. He had made her uncomfortable enough when confessing his love for her, and even taking that back hadn't eased the discomfort between them. He would not make that same mistake again, especially if he wanted their friendship to go anywhere.
He had spent the past month obsessing about his relationship with Lois, reliving every moment of the past year and looking for a way to change what had happened, until, last week, he had felt tired of his own fear of damaging their friendship again. By staying away and giving her space, he wasn't doing much for their friendship either. And tonight was the perfect occasion to surprise her!
"Cream, yes," he confirmed her earlier guess. "And plenty of sugar."
"Some things never change," he heard her mutter as she made a grab for the jar of instant coffee.
Indeed, he thought with a chuckle. Some things never changed: Lois still didn't know how to make real coffee. Feeling more confident, he joined her in the kitchen area and took the mugs out, falling back into a routine he hadn't realised how much he missed.
Falling back into the company of the woman he'd tried to pretend he hadn't missed.
Of course he'd missed her. But this, tonight, was where they started afresh, putting the events of the past few months behind them completely.
He moved towards the counter, laying down the flowers and wine which she'd made no effort to take from him. Not from deliberate neglect, he was sure. Lois was nervous and just a little panicky. The jerky, awkward movements she used in preparing the coffee, and the wary glances she gave him every so often, would have told him that even without the aid of his Super senses in detecting her increased heart- rate.
He made her nervous. Which was comforting, in a way, since she'd had the power to send his heart into an erratic beat and dry his mouth up from the moment they'd met.
But her nervousness, he knew, wasn't from the same cause as his. She was awkward in his company precisely because of the constraint which had been between them from the moment she'd rejected him for Lex Luthor — a constraint even their 'forgive and forget' conversation hadn't eliminated.
Well, tonight he intended to banish it for good. Lois had suffered enough from her bad judgement over Luthor, and he missed his friend. He had to find out, once and for all, if they really could recover what they'd once had — if she could become as comfortable with him as she'd been until Luthor had destroyed everything between them, and if he could push his true feelings aside and settle for her friendship once more.
"So." She came around the counter, holding out a mug of coffee to him. "It's… a surprise to see you here, Clark… a nice surprise, I mean," she amended quickly, her fingers trailing lightly over the bud of one rose. "I was just kind of wondering… I mean, why? The flowers and everything? They're beautiful, by the way," she added with a shy smile. "You haven't come around here for ages…"
Always asking the direct question, Clark thought in admiration. That was his Lois. Even when the question was difficult to ask, as her hesitancy showed.
"Do you know what today is?" he asked cheerfully, smiling at her over the top of his coffee-cup.
At the apparent non sequitur, she gave him a puzzled look. "Um… Friday?"
"Yes, but the date." He knew that he was being enigmatic, but was enjoying the mystery too much to let her off lightly.
"Uh… July 17th? I still don't get it."
"What happened a year ago today?" he enquired.
"A year ago…" He could almost see the wheels turning in his partner's brain as she counted back the months. "July 1994… We were in the middle of the Messenger investigation."
"Well, yeah, a few days after the 17th," Clark pointed out.
Lois turned her attention back to the flowers, almost absently pulling one single rose out of the protective cellophane wrapping and touching it to her lips. "So… Wait a minute!" she exclaimed triumphantly. "You started work at the Planet!"
"Not till the day after," he reminded her with a grin. "Today's the anniversary of the day we met."
She looked up at him again and her eyes widened. "You actually remembered that? And that's what this is for?"
He nodded. "I thought it would be fun to celebrate it. After all, it's been a pretty great year."
Lois bit her lip. "Has it? Even after… well, the past couple of months? After I was so stupid…?"
"Lois, why let a couple of months spoil the memory of a terrific year? Sure, I wish it hadn't happened too, but it did and it's over and it's time we did what we said we'd do and put it behind us for good."
She looked down at the rose again. "I hurt you," she said softly. "I know I did. You tried to tell me, over and over, that he was dirty. And you even tried to stop me marrying him by telling me that you… care about me. And I wouldn't listen."
Clark shrugged, hoping that his expression didn't give away the flash of pain he felt at the memories her words invoked. "Lois, like I said, I would've done anything to stop you…"
Her smile was fleeting, bittersweet. "If you say so, Clark. Anyway — " Suddenly, her expression changed, a bright, wide smile banishing the sadness. If only it was genuine, he thought; he knew Lois too well to be fooled by her dissembling. "This is really sweet of you. I love roses, and this colour is so beautiful. And wine! This looks expensive, too," she continued, her words tumbling out at a pace which, he knew, was meant to discourage interruption. "I should put it in to cool -"
"Yellow's for friendship, Lois." The calmly-spoken words made her head jerk up again, and she halted in the act of placing the bottle in the fridge.
"Yeah." He gave her another brilliant smile. "We are friends, Lois. Not even the past couple of months can change that. And I thought it was about time I told you. This… just seemed an appropriate time."
She closed the fridge door, having set the wine inside. "We met a year ago today?"
"We sure did." He grinned at her. "I was a naive country boy with a fistful of stories from small papers around the world, with not a clue about how to impress an editor like Perry White, much less how to behave around a smart, ambitious city woman. I'd just given my interview my best shot and he was trying to let me down gently — and then you came barrelling into his office demanding that he listen to you about this guy who you thought had a great story."
A reminiscent look spread over Lois's face. "And he asked me what happened to that mood piece he'd assigned me."
"And you said you weren't in the mood," he finished for her with a grin. "I admired your smart comeback — it was all I could do not to laugh, which was definitely not the best thing to do given I was still holding a tiny shred of hope that Perry might decide to take a chance on me. I admired your determination to fight for what you wanted."
"You were pretty determined, too," Lois commented. "What made you decide to go after the Bernhardt theatre story?"
"I thought…" He trailed off, suddenly aware that he was about to lie. He couldn't tell her the truth, though. The truth would widen the rift between them and crush the ruins of their friendship. But lying wasn't going to put their relationship back on a sound footing either. He hated himself when he had to conceal the truth from her for the sake of his secret; now he had to be extra careful not to let her see his feelings for her.
"You thought…?" She was staring at him questioningly.
He was lying to save a friendship that had been endangered by those feelings she didn't welcome. He was lying to protect her. "I thought there was no better paper than the Planet. There was no news organisation I'd have more liked to work for. Perry seemed to care a great deal about that theatre story — he assigned it to his best reporter after all. And so I decided to tackle it myself." He shifted nervously and leaned against the counter to hide his discomfort under an apparently relaxed appearance.
"Geez, and I thought it was because you couldn't bear the thought of not working with me!" Her tone was joking and her eyes twinkling. Oh, how he had missed that!
"Are you kidding? Perry made it clear to me during that first interview that you weren't the easiest person to work with. I should have run away right then. Considering his determination to partner us, it's a wonder I'm still here to tell the story." He grinned, giving her the merest hint of a wink. Yes, that looked relaxed, too. Didn't it?
She laughed, and he felt his heart do a little somersault. She playfully poked his chest. "You survived, though."
Instinct made him catch her hand in his before she could remove it from his chest. She didn't resist. She didn't look scared either. In fact, she was the picture of cheerfulness; their banter seemed to have resurrected the light that had been absent in her eyes since their fight. He ached to take her in his arms; not with any underlying passion, but just because he missed their physical closeness. He released her hand. "I did."
Things weren't the same any more, Lois thought with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Before her engagement, his thumb would have brushed her palm and lingered there before he released her hand. Before her engagement, he would have pulled her into a hug. Now, he clearly didn't want any ambiguity between them; he was probably afraid that she would misconstrue any tender gesture as more than it was. She should be happy with their friendship. It was already more than she deserved after what she had done to him.
For a moment, she had been foolish enough to believe that he would declare his love for her again. No, not again, she amended quickly. The first time had been a lie, an excuse to keep her from making the biggest mistake in her life. He had sounded so sincere, though. So fierce.
Looking away, she focused on draining her coffee; it gave her a few seconds to regain her composure and put the regrets from her mind.
"More coffee?" he asked as she put her mug down on the table.
She nodded, reaching for his cup as well as her own, but he forestalled her. "I'll get it." She was about to protest, then remembered that Clark knew his way around her apartment almost as well as she did — and if he felt comfortable enough to fall into the old routine, she wasn't complaining.
And besides… she was able to watch him as he grabbed the kettle and poured boiling water into the mugs, then expertly stirred the coffee and added low-fat cream to her taste. She could make out the muscles of his back under his shirt. Her gaze lingered on his strong shoulders. She raised her hand as if to touch him; his sudden turn startled her and she took a hasty step backwards.
It was a miracle that he didn't spill coffee all over his shirt; his embarrassment was visible, but he had recovered quickly enough. She grabbed the mug of steaming liquid with a nod of thanks. She cupped her hands around it and took a tentative sip. Too hot. There went her excuse not to make small talk. And yet silence should be comfortable. Clark was her best friend. Why would they need to chat to be at ease with each other? Why couldn't things get back to the way they were before she became an idiot?
Clark set his mug on the counter beside him and looked at her directly. His eyes seemed to bore right through to her soul… She dismissed the thought as it crossed her mind. What on earth would make her think that?
"Come here," he said, extending his arm towards her.
Wordlessly — *thoughtlessly* — she did as he requested.
She felt him wrap his arms around her. One hand pulled her head against his shoulder; the other rubbed soothingly against the small of her back. She sighed and relaxed against him, her arms coming around him in a gesture that still seemed natural.
How had he known? That was exactly what she'd needed, but how…?
"I wish we could go back in time," he whispered against her hair. "I wish you could forget what I said to you." She heard him sigh. "I wish you could trust me again."
She pulled away and looked up into his face, struck by the obviousness of his regret. "I do trust you! Clark, there's no-one I trust more than you!"
There was no-one she had missed more than Clark Kent during the months of her engagement. There was no-one she could love more than him.
She gulped as the word was finally put on her feelings. She was in love with Clark. She craved for his touch, ached for the mere sight of him, and she trusted him with her life. Clark wasn't just the right man for her. He was the one and only man she could ever consider living with. He was the only one who could give her friendship and romance…
But he didn't love her. His declaration of love had only served one purpose: to make her aware of what she could never have. Oh yes, she trusted him.
"You're scared to let me touch you," he argued, and she could feel his hold on her tighten a little, as if afraid she would extract herself from his embrace. "I can't say I blame you, but if this is going to work, we've got to get past this."
"I'm not scared, Clark!" she exclaimed. "It's just… I don't know how you can even bear to touch me! After what I did… how I treated you…"
"Lois." His voice was soft, calming, reassuring. "That's all water under the bridge. We agreed that, remember? And I want my friend back."
She relaxed against him, his words having taken a weight off her mind. Oh, she still wanted more from him than he was willing to give, but just having her best friend back was more than she'd ever dreamed possible. More than she'd thought she deserved.
It felt so good, so wonderful, to lay her head against his chest, to feel his heart beating steadily beneath her ear. He felt so warm, so solid, so *Clark*.
She wanted to snuggle up against him, to caress every inch of that warm, inviting chest, to feel his arms stroking her, touching her. His lips lowering to meet her inviting response…
Catching her breath, Lois pulled away from Clark. This just wouldn't do! He was here as her friend. He'd been talking to her as her friend. He'd hugged her as her friend. It was so wrong of her to want more from him. And she couldn't possibly give him any reason to guess how she felt…
"The flowers," she mumbled, seeing his surprised, questioning look. "They need putting in water… they'll die if I don't…"
She found a vase after opening, then closing, several cupboards. Holding it under the tap to fill it, she managed to spray water all over the place, drenching herself in the process. Ignoring the fact that the vase had only a tiny amount of water in it, she took it to the counter and fumbled unsuccessfully with the wrapping on the flowers.
Warm hands covered hers, pushing them gently aside. "Here. Let me."
Lois moved away, feeling useless, as Clark carefully arranged the flowers in her vase and topped it up with more water, adding the flower food supplied by the florist. As ever, he performed the domesticated task far better than she would have done. Yet another reason why she'd missed Clark so much — but that paled into insignificance next to the real reason she'd missed him.
He was essential to her happiness. And that was why she'd been miserable this past month when, despite having agreed to put the past behind them, he'd kept his distance from her.
But now that he was here, now that he'd finally broken down the invisible barriers which had lain between them, she couldn't even think of anything to say. There was no topic of conversation which didn't somehow run the risk of venturing onto dangerous territory.
<How's your big story going?> No, definitely not sensible, in light of the fact that Clark had been assigned to cover the unravelling of the Luthor empire.
<Seen any good movies lately?> Nope, not with Death of a Tycoon on half the screens in Metropolis — it had been someone's idea of a joke to resurrect that one.
<So, you got any vacation planned?> Oops. No. Definitely not! Not when Clark, like most of the Planet staff, had been on enforced vacation for two months during the period of her engagement to a mobster and murderer.
As an alternative to starting a conversation, Lois picked up her coffee again and took a sip — then almost spat it out again in disgust. It was nearly stone cold.
She heard a bark of laughter from close by. "You let it get cold again, huh?"
"Yeah." She grimaced. "I'll just zap it in the microwave -"
"Naah," he said, shaking his head. "Forget it. Why don't you let me open the wine? That's why I brought it, after all — so we could celebrate our anniversary."
He made them sound like an old married couple. And yet, Lois realised, in many ways the comparison wasn't that ludicrous. She'd just been remembering how well Clark knew his way around her kitchen and how familiar his presence was in her apartment. He was at home there, just as she was in his place.
They knew each other so well, too. Despite the awkwardness on a personal level which had been there between them for too long, as work partners their knowledge of each other was near-perfect. She could almost anticipate what Clark would think of something she'd propose, and she knew that he was equally familiar with her reactions. Occasionally they even finished each other's sentences, which was strange — almost scary — and yet at the same time comfortingly familiar.
And even on a personal level, despite the awkwardness, they were so familiar with, used to each other. Clark knew her, she was aware, better than anyone. That had been part of the problem; part of the reason why she'd run away from his feelings for her. He knew her so well that it scared her.
Yet, despite all that, they weren't that close. They didn't have the same easy relationship as that old married couple she'd envisaged. Besides the obvious, of course, there were other differences, the main one being that horrible distance which had been between them for the past month. No — ever since she'd started dating Lex Luthor.
Clark had hated that. And he'd tried to warn her that Luthor was bad, but she'd ignored him. Called him jealous. Accused him of hating to see her happy. She'd never apologised for all that.
And then he'd got desperate, telling her that he loved her — which, he'd said after it was all over, that he'd only done as a last-ditch attempt to try to stop her accepting Lex's proposal. She'd had her doubts about that explanation for a while: if it had only been pretence, a tactic, then why had he looked so utterly devastated when she'd rejected him? Why had the pain reflected in his eyes made her wish that there'd been any way she could have given him a different answer?
Regardless, even if his later explanation had been the lie, nothing had changed. Clark had clearly decided that she wasn't for him. And, even though he'd welcomed her back into his life as his friend, there'd been that distance between them ever since.
Which he'd decided to breach tonight. For the first time since he'd come through her apartment door, she relaxed.
Clark was her friend again. And, even if she was the one who wanted more now, she was more grateful than she could say for what she had.
A year ago today, he'd told her, they had met. She'd treated him appallingly: insisted on believing that he was some sort of useless greenhorn, and even when he'd shown beyond any doubt that he was not, she'd still held him at a distance, dished out sarcasm and put-downs, and in general made it clear that she didn't welcome his presence. He'd taken it all — and given her some well-deserved treatment in return along the way — while making clear that he was there to stay.
He'd been incredibly patient, and had wound up being the best friend she'd ever had. The person who had turned out to be more precious to her than anyone else in her life — and whose friendship she'd carelessly tossed away in the belief that something else was better.
How incredibly stupid she had been. How arrogant and thoughtless. How cruel.
He had made the effort to come to her tonight, to break down the barriers, to show her that he wanted their friendship back the way it was — and she owed it to him to respond every bit as openly, *and* to trust him not to let old wounds get in the way. He'd forgiven her for what she'd done to him, so perhaps it was time to forgive herself — and to let herself accept what he was offering.
The friendship of the most wonderful man she'd ever known.
Lois was distracted again, Clark noted as he reached into the fridge for the wine-bottle. It wasn't as cold as he'd like, so he took advantage of her obvious abstraction and blew on it until the glass felt chill beneath his hand. Then he deliberately attracted her attention.
"Hey, partner, where do you keep the wine-glasses?"
She started slightly, but then her expression relaxed into a smile. "I thought you knew where everything was in my apartment!"
"Hey, I have to keep you around for something!" he teased in response, then busied himself with the corkscrew while she found the glasses. Once he'd poured the wine, he handed her a glass and then raised his own in a toast.
"Happy anniversary, Lois. It's been a great year — working with you, getting to know you, becoming your friend."
She clinked her glass against his. "Happy anniversary, Clark. And… thank you," she added softly, biting her lip.
"For what?" The wine and the flowers, he realised belatedly, ready to tell her that it was nothing — in fact, they had only been an excuse to see her, a way of taking that first step to see if they could return to normality.
"For forgiving me for all I did to you — and for still wanting to be my friend," she replied, guilt in her tone.
"Lois." He took a step closer, his free hand reaching out to her, touching her shoulder — rising to brush against her cheek. "I told you. I *want* you as my friend. What we had — what we *have* — is far too precious to throw away because we both made mistakes. Please, let's just forget it, okay?"
She stared up at him, not retreating from his touch, her lips parted as she met his gaze. "Okay." The whispered word gave him her agreement.
He couldn't look away. The look in her eyes held him spellbound. The heightened atmosphere drew him beyond any thought of being sensible, of guarding his feelings, his instincts.
Lowering his head, he brushed his lips across hers.
Chapter 2: In Vitrum Veritas
It wasn't happening. Clark wasn't kissing her, his lips teasing hers into a response, one arm sliding around her and pulling her hard against him. She was vaguely aware of the glass of wine being taken from her hand to be put away somewhere — probably on the counter. She didn't care. All she cared about was that Clark's embrace had none of the friendly comfort of his earlier hug. It wasn't happening, she thought stubbornly. He wasn't sighing against her mouth. His hand wasn't tangling in her hair. It couldn't be happening. It was all a dream.
A dream come true.
She pulled away with a gasp. Clark's eyes were still closed and his lips were reddened from their kiss. It was real. Just like the hands holding her firmly to his chest were real. Just like the look of pure fear when he opened his eyes was real.
"Oh God, Lois, I'm sorry!"
His hands dropped to his sides and he took a step backwards, obviously eager to put some distance between them.
Sorry?! What the heck was he sorry for? For giving her the most wonderful kiss she had ever experienced? For making her knees feel so weak that she wasn't sure they could still hold her upright? For making her heart hammer so loudly against her chest that she thought it would burst?
She opened her mouth to protest, but no sound came out. Grabbing a handful of his shirt in her fist, she tugged her back to him and kissed him again, determined to show him that he had nothing to be sorry about.
His response was immediate, the passion that he latched onto her soothing the mild concern lingering on her mind as she launched herself at him. He had initiated their first kiss, but he had look so terrified when she had pulled away… she couldn't believe that he didn't want that, though. He wanted it every bit as much as she did, and this time she was determined not to waste any time.
She trapped him against the back of the counter and started to work on the top buttons of his shirt, only half aware of where her need was taking them.
The word, mumbled against her lips, didn't really register. The first button came undone. She attacked the one below.
She was mildly conscious that Clark's own exploration of her back had stopped and that he wasn't responding to her kiss any more. Her concentration was all set on the third button, which came undone surprisingly easily. Her fingers slid to the next one.
This time Clark had pulled away, and despite a mind clouded with desire for him, she noticed that he didn't look fully involved in their activity. He grasped her hands, effectively interrupting her ministrations on his shirt. His breathing was laboured; he made no attempt to sneak out of their embrace. She kept her chin high, challenging him to deny the attraction between them.
"I do want this," he said as if replying to her revolted thoughts. "But it's so sudden, and I'm not sure… if there's gonna be something between us, I want to be sure it's not just a spur-of-the-moment whim."
The evening was definitely turning out very differently to what he had expected, Clark mused as he absently stroked the hand that was still poised at one of his shirt buttons. He had been terrified that Lois wouldn't welcome his friendship, that she would throw him out, flowers and wine along, with a 'thank you and goodbye'. Knowing Lois, the 'thank you and goodbye' would probably have been optional.
And yet here they were, entwined in an embrace than was much more intimate than he had ever dared dream about. And she had kissed him. True, he had initiated their first kiss — and at the time he had been convinced that the move was foolish enough to grant him the kick in the rear that he had expected upon knocking on her door — but he had pulled away. And instead of sending him out, Lois had kissed him again, without restraint. Without fear.
The same woman who had told him a few months earlier that she didn't harbour any kind of romantic feelings for him was actually in the middle of an attempt to undress him! The realisation was both exhilarating and frightening, and amidst the shreds of consciousness that remained at the border of a mind filled with mad desire, he felt a little lost.
She seemed taken aback by his concern that this sudden turn of event might just be a momentary thing. Had he sounded like he had just accused her of trying to coax him into a meaningless one-night stand? He knew Lois wasn't the kind to sleep with a man for the sake of sex. In the year he had known her, she had only dated one man — the one man she had almost married — and regardless of the way that had turned out, it proved at least that Lois sought commitment as much as he did. Didn't it?
But commitment with him? Surely that was too much to hope for.
"What do you want from me, Clark?"
Taken aback by the question, he started and let go of her hand. He bit back a groan of protest when she removed it from his chest, leaving a cold spot where its warmth had engulfed him until then.
What did he want from her? At this very moment, lots of things, chief of all more of the sweet torture inflicted by her kisses.
"I want my friend back," he started carefully, unsure where this conversation was taking them.
She laughed, though it sounded nervous and fake. "Obviously that's not gonna happen. Not with what's just happened. I sure can't go back to being friends with you. Just friends, that is."
"Clark, when did you lie to me?"
Fuelled by more courage than she had ever felt in her life, Lois stared up at Clark, aware that her face reflected confidence that had little to do with her current state of mind. She was out of her mind. That had to be the reason why she had not only launched herself at her partner so shamelessly, but was now demanding to know what feelings he had for her, if any.
She was putting everything that she cared about on the line. It was a pass or break moment, and she knew it; if Clark claimed once again to have used fake feelings to prevent her from marrying Lex, then not only would she live through one of the worst humiliations of her life — Superman's rejection being probably relegated to second place this time — but she would also lose the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Her best friend.
The man she loved.
There was no way they could go back to being friends after such a kiss. It would be hypocritical to even try. She knew that as long as she breathed, she could never put it out of her mind; if Clark asked her to forget what had just happened between them, she might just as well die on the spot. Facing him at work every day and knowing that he didn't feel the same way about her as she felt about him would be taking the ridicule one step further than she was prepared to.
<I do want this> he had said when he had pulled away. He had immediately reassured her that he wasn't rejecting her. But he was a man. Of course he wouldn't turn his back on a woman who was offering to him so shamelessly, even if the woman in question happened to be his best friend.
But this was Clark! Clark wasn't like the men in her past. She had never even seen him with a woman since they'd started working together. All right, there had been Toni Taylor, but he had said he was just investigating her link to the Metrogang, and she had believed him. As for Cat, there had never been any kind of serious evidence that she and Clark had dangled from the chandeliers, as she'd so subtly put it back then.
He was looking wary now. That wasn't good, was it? He was going to tell her that friendship was all she could have. He was ignoring her question…
"I lied…" he began.
He wasn't ignoring the question! She heaved a sigh of relief, then grimaced inwardly as she realised that she still had to wait for his answer.
"I lied… when I told you that I'd lied," he said, and immediately bit down on his lip.
"You did? Oh, thank god!" Lois exclaimed.
His head shot up again. "Thank… god?"
She nodded mutely.
"You've… changed your mind?"
She started playing with the hem of her top. "More like… realised what I really wanted. *Who* I really wanted."
"I thought that was Superman." The words were said very softly.
Lois flinched. "I guess I deserved that."
Suddenly, her hands were gripped tightly in his. "No. You didn't. That was… cruel. And unfair."
"It wasn't," she exclaimed. "Clark, that's exactly what I did. I turned you down — and went running to Superman. And I didn't even have the decency to hide it from you — I asked you to find him for me."
"That's not what I'm talking about," he said, giving her hands a warming squeeze. "I mean since then. You haven't… well, run after him since. I figured you'd given up on him — or realised that you didn't love him after all."
"I don't really know what I feel for Superman," Lois admitted. "For a while, I was pretty mad at him — he wasn't exactly nice to me that night, Clark. But then when I thought about it, I realised that he probably had a point. And — well, maybe I don't know him as well as I thought I did." She took a deep breath; that admission had cost her. "But, Clark, he wasn't the one who stopped me from saying yes to Lex at the altar."
"No," he conceded. "Perry and Jimmy and Henderson did that."
"No," she countered. "You did."
"I didn't!" Clark exclaimed. "I was outside… Lois, I couldn't come into the church. I just couldn't watch you giving yourself to… him."
"That's not what I meant," Lois began, hope beginning to grow inside her at Clark's admission that he couldn't bear to watch her marry Lex. "I meant… the reason I said no to Lex was -"
"You said no?" He sounded incredulous, and his hands tightened on hers.
"You didn't know? It was just before Perry and the others burst in — the archbishop asked me if I took Lex to be my husband and I said no. I just couldn't do it, Clark — and it wasn't because of Superman. It wasn't just because I didn't love Lex Luthor, either — it was because I loved *you* too much to do something irrevocable like that," she confessed.
Now it was all out in the open; she'd told Clark exactly how she felt. And, if he wanted, he could crush her just as she'd crushed him. He could reject her. He could tell her that he just didn't feel that way about her. He could tell her that, under the circumstances, he didn't believe her — mimicking Superman's words.
And yet he'd told her that the lie he told was the one outside the Daily Planet.
Which meant that he hadn't been lying when he'd told her that he loved her that day in Centennial Park.
She took a step closer to him again, looking up at him with, she was sure, her heart in her eyes. "Clark, I love you. I think I always did, but I was too scared to admit it."
He dropped her hands, but before she could feel bereft he had raised his hands to her shoulders. "Lois, I love you too. I thought… I thought I'd wrecked it all by telling you how I felt — I knew you didn't want to hear it. I knew you were in love with Superman. I never thought you'd rush off and accept Luthor, but the way he was sniffing around you — the way he'd just butted right in and proposed to you — I got scared and told you how much I love you. The only thing I could think of, afterwards — I mean, after the wedding and Luthor's suicide and everything — was telling you that I didn't mean it. I thought that was the only way I could get you back as my friend."
"Clark… if you only knew what I was going to say to you…" Lois began, but he shook his head.
"I don't know, Lois — if you had said something different then, I might not have wanted to believe you. I mean, it was too soon…"
He was probably right. No, he was definitely right. Why should he have trusted her then? She'd have claimed to be in love with three different men in the space of two months.
"But you believe me now?" she asked him, holding her breath for his answer.
He nodded. "Yes. I do. Apart from anything else, Lois, the way you just kissed me…"
"You liked it?" Now she felt herself beginning to smile.
"Are you kidding?"
Clark raised his hands to cup Lois's face and bent down to her. He paused for a long moment before bringing his lips to hers, simply savouring the moment.
Lois loved him.
Him, Clark. Not him, Superman.
And she'd realised that she loved him on her wedding day. She'd said no to Luthor.
She'd said no. If Perry hadn't interrupted the wedding, she still wouldn't have married that monster.
She'd said no!
And now — now, they were finally able to be honest with each other about their feelings. She loved him.
He lowered his head the final couple of inches necessary to cover her lips with his, and kissed her again.
Sheer heaven. And she never wanted to let go.
Lois wrapped her arms around Clark's neck, this time determined not to start ripping her partner's clothes off. She wasn't sure whether he'd really objected or not; whether his hesitancy had all been because he wasn't sure of her feelings for him or because he… well, from what she knew of Clark, he wasn't exactly a bed-hopper. So maybe he'd been a touch embarrassed by her enthusiasm?
But he wasn't in the least objecting to the fervency of her kiss. And nor was she to his.
One of his hands slid into her hair, while the other moved to hold her about her waist, pressing her body tightly against his. He deepened the kiss in the same moment, his tongue meeting hers in a wild, passionate dance of the senses which made her feel weak at the knees — and more alive, more aware than she had ever been before.
She loved Clark Kent. And he loved her.
Finally, and yet it was too soon, he broke the kiss. Eyes dazed, hair mussed, he stared down at her. "Lois… my god, that was amazing!" he gasped.
"You're telling me!" She clung to him still, reluctant to let go — and not even sure that she could remain standing if he let her go.
"Why did we waste so much time?" he muttered, staring at her as if committing her face to memory.
"Because I was stupid. Idiotic. Blind!" she said.
"Hey!" He shook her lightly. "You're not allowed to call the woman I love stupid!"
She reached up and kissed him again in response. It was several minutes before either of them could speak again.
Lois detached herself from his arms at last, not because she wanted to, but because she knew that if one of them didn't do something, they'd wind up taking things faster than she was really ready for.
Clark knew it too; he gave her a rueful smile as he tugged his shirt back into position. "Whew. I guess that was kind of getting out of hand."
"Yeah." She shrugged embarrassedly. "I…uh… how about some more wine?"
"Yeah. Sounds like a good idea." Clark ran a hand through his hair and strolled over towards the window, looking the picture of relaxed ease — though Lois knew only too well how *not* relaxed he was. They each needed a couple of minutes, she thought, and busied herself with getting the wine-bottle out of the fridge again and emptying the now- warm wine from their glasses before refilling them.
Then, Clark's glass in her hand, she turned towards him again. He was standing by her large casement window, apparently gazing out into the dark night sky. His back was to her, and for a moment she admired his lean, very male physique.
Her gaze shifted to the window, her attention caught by something outside. No, some*one* outside.
A face. A very familiar face, but in profile.
A strong jaw, firm chin, high forehead, lips turned up at the corners slightly as they always did when he was thinking about something pleasant…
Superman was outside.
But what was Superman doing outside her apartment window? Why didn't he come in? Why was he just hovering there, watching her and Clark?
She moved, opened her mouth, about to say his name. "Su -"
And the image moved. The *reflection* moved.
And she realised that that was all it had been. A reflection.
He turned to face her, and the clues all dropped into place.
All the lies, all the excuses, all the pain… Superman. She had told Superman that if he were an ordinary man, she would love him just the same. Her hand reached for the support of the counter.
He frowned at her, and through the buzzing in her ears, she heard him ask something that sounded a lot like "Are you all right?"
She nodded mutely, terrified that he'd walk up to her and take her in his arms. She would collapse if he did.
Clark. Clark was Superman. No, Superman was Clark. Or was it the other way around? Which one was the real man? Which one was the lie? Clark had to be the real man. He had an apartment, a job, friends… he was her best friend. Superman had an official job, too. And that was it. Was Superman a lie then? He was above the rest of the world, standing for truth and justice, and he was a living lie… He was not the perfect man she had admired. And loved. She had loved the image of perfection, and instead she was faced with the image of…
A man who made mistakes.
A man who lied.
An ordinary man.
Oh god. She'd told him that she would love him just the same if he was an ordinary man. She had turned down that ordinary man only hours earlier.
A man who hurt.
She'd hurt him badly. She had known from the look on Superman's face when she confessed her love for him that he was devastated by the way she had thrown herself at him so shamelessly, and now it all made sense. Not that he didn't have anything to be blamed for — after all, he had given her too many mixed signals as Superman. If he had always put a clear distance between them while wearing the suit, she might have got the message. Instead, he had waited until it was too late. He had let her fall hopelessly in love with the image of what he was.
An image. An image mirrored in the glass of her window. Clark Kent. Superman was Clark, and Clark was no lie. Clark was real, solid, vulnerable and loving.
"Lois, are you okay?"
He was close now, a concerned look on his face. That beloved face; with the glasses on, she hadn't seen anything. She had been blind. But then, she hadn't wanted to see, had she? The truth was far more risky; the truth wouldn't have let her turn Clark down in the first place. The truth would have knocked Superman off his pedestal.
His hand touched her arm, and she shivered uncontrollably. There were so many embarrassing things she had told Clark about her devotion for Superman. He had never taken advantage of the situation; she had to give him that. He could have had her anywhere he wanted if he'd just said the word, but he had waited patiently until she saw what was right under her eyes.
"Oh, god, Clark. I'm so sorry!"
"What for?" He stared at her, and she realised. While she'd just had the most momentous revelation of her life, he had just been standing there waiting for her to pour the wine. He didn't have a clue about what she now knew. That she'd finally seen the real man. The man underneath both of the suits he habitually wore.
She had to tell him that she knew.
But… how? Should she just come right out with it? "Clark. I know you're Superman." But what if he was angry? After all, how did she know that he wanted her to know about it? He'd kept it secret for a reason. Maybe she was the last person he'd want to share that knowledge with. After all she'd done to him, after the way she'd thrown herself at Superman like a groupie dazzled by the Spandex.
"Lois?" He stepped forward and grasped her hands in his, again setting aside the wine-glass she held. "What's wrong?" His gentle, concerned voice and the worry in his expression practically brought tears to her eyes.
She shook her head. "I'm fine, Su — uh, I mean *Clark*! I'm fine. I'm fine."
He frowned. "Did you almost call me…? Lois?" The concerned look disappeared, to be replaced by a penetrating gaze — one she knew well from having worked with Clark the journalist for the past year.
Lois bit her lip again. She had two choices. She could lie to him — tonight, of all nights, when they'd kissed and declared their love for each other and when she'd finally told him how sorry she was for what she'd done to him — or she could tell him the truth. That she knew. And then there would truly be no secrets between them.
"I know, Clark," she said quietly, nervously.
"Huh?" His puzzled shake of the head told her that she needed to be more explicit.
"Clark. I know. That you're Superman, I mean."
"Oh?" He seemed surprised, rather than angry or upset. "How? Did I say something — do something — to give it away?"
She shook her head. "It was a complete fluke, Clark — you were standing in front of the window, and your reflection… I saw it and I thought Superman was outside…"
His eyes widened, and he gave a sudden bark of laughter. "Now that's something I never even thought of! Lois, if you knew how it's been the past year, watching everything I said, everything I did, in case I slipped up and let someone guess."
Lois remained silent, unsure what to say. She felt like apologising for having found him out, but wasn't even sure that was appropriate.
Then he dropped her hands and enfolded her in his arms instead. "I'm so glad you know, Lois," he told her, his tone heartfelt. "You've no idea how much I've wanted you to know. And do you know what I was thinking when I was standing over there by the window?"
"Well, apart from thinking about how lucky I am that you love me and how much I want to kiss you again, I was wondering how on earth I was gonna tell you that I'm Superman, because if we really are going to be a couple you had to know. Have to know. So it's kind of a relief to know that I don't have to work out how to break the news to you…"
He leaned down for a kiss and she surrendered to the soft pressure of his lips on hers, revelling in how natural it felt. Her arms looped around his neck, and she kissed him back with reckless abandon, safe in her boyfriend's love.
Clark was her boyfriend. The thought made her feel strangely giddy and excited, and she grinned against his lips. He pulled away, his concentration broken by her amusement.
"To think *I* was afraid of breaking the news to you!"
He gave her a puzzled look. He was so cute when he was confused, and she revelled in the new turn in their relationship that allowed her to reach up and smooth back the hair from his forehead.
"I think I sort of understand why you didn't tell me before. I didn't do much to deserve you, did I?"
"It's not that," he protested, and she felt his hold on her tighten a bit. "But ever since Superman made it onto the scene, I've been afraid of being eaten up by this character I've created."
"You're Superman, though."
"Not really. Fame and glory aren't my thing. I don't want to be put on a pedestal or admired for what my powers make me able to do."
"I don't think it's your powers that people admire. What's amazing about you is that you have all those abilities that make you the most powerful being on Earth, and you use them to help people. The same powers in the hands of someone other than Clark Kent wouldn't make people look up to him in the same way."
He kissed her. Fiercely. Passionately. With more strength than he had kissed her before, and with something akin to despair. She returned the yielding demand of his lips and opened her mouth under his, granting him the solace he so obviously needed. His hands roamed her back and tangled in her hair, his motions betraying his state of mind. Her hands stayed still at his waist, and she tried to soothe her boyfriend's disquiet.
He ended the kiss with a gasp and rested his forehead against her. "I was terrified you'd go through with the wedding," he whispered breathlessly. "I don't know what I would have done if you had. I kept thinking that I didn't do *everything* to prevent you from marrying him, that I should have given you what you wanted, and…"
"… and let me destroy any kind of chance we had? Clark, if you'd given me Superman that night, I probably would have turned Lex down, yes. But I would also have fallen into a relationship that wasn't honest."
"I would have told you everything."
"And if you had, what do you think would have happened?" She felt him tense in his arms, and she hurried on before he could imagine all sorts of horrors. "Yes, I would have run off, but not for the reason you think."
"I didn't —"
"I would have run off because I wasn't ready for that. Not for your secret, but for loving a man who wasn't perfect. A man who made mistakes, who was vulnerable, who wasn't always right. I wasn't ready to love you, Clark, because you could hurt me. I knew that almost as soon as we first met. I was scared of falling in love with you; you were nice and easy-going, and when you kissed me for the sake of our cover, I had to quash that little voice at the back of my head that begged me to take things further. When you said you'd been in love with me, I freaked out."
"What made you change your mind?"
"You walking out of my life." It was her turn to hug him tighter. "It took that separation to show me that I was fooling myself all along and that I needed more than your friendship. I was scared, yes. I'm still scared. But I'm even more terrified of missing that second chance we've been given."
"I didn't expect a second chance at all," he murmured against her lips. "But I'm seizing it. Right here, right now."
As his lips closed over hers and coherence left her mind, Lois's last thought went to the book stuffed under the cushion of one of her armchairs. Janet might think that no man could give her more than Anthony and, until a few hours ago, Lois had ached for that kind of love where declarations and tears mingled, where kisses made the heart ache, where mystery and adventure drove one to pure passion.
Burning Passion was nothing to what she and Clark had. Selfless friendship. Complete understanding. Unlimited trust. And passion that knew no boundary.
A lifetime kind of love.
(c) Kaethel and Wendy Richards 2004
<email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>