By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2005
Summary: It's finally Lois's chance to get to know Superman better — but who knew about the cave and the… LEOPARDSKIN???
Author's note: I owe a huge thanks to Sara Kraft for dropping everything on IRC one night to beta-read the last two-thirds of this story. She gave me instantaneous reactions, laughed in all the right places, pointed out my clunky writing and brainstormed changes with me where they were needed. *And* she went way beyond the call of duty and sent me the file filled with wonderful comments. Thank you!
Also thanks to the readers on the Fanfic Message Boards <www.lcficmbs.com> for all their lovely comments and encouragement. You're terrific, guys!
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended for this work of fiction for which no money has been or will be received.
"*Why* do I always do this to myself?"
In time with his frustrated yell, Clark brought his fist down on the countertop, then groaned as he saw the fist-sized hole which resulted. Oh well. That meant yet another trip to Home Depot. He really was going to have to stop taking out his frustrations on his apartment.
It was all his own fault, anyway. If he was feeling invisible, it was only what his own actions had led to. Superman's primary colours dazzled, while Clark Kent faded into the background in charcoal grey. Yes, there was such a thing as an invisible man, and he was it.
Lois couldn't see Clark for staring at Superman. He'd known that — known it right from the first time he spoke to her as Clark after his debut.
It wasn't so hard to understand, of course. After all, he'd swept her off her feet — literally. He'd appeared in front of her, saved her life and the lives of dozens of others, saved the space program and then flown her back to the Planet. The feats of a demi-god, at least, or a superhero from a Hollywood movie. And, in the movies, didn't the heroine always swoon at the feet of the big, strong hero who saved the day? Clark Gable, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn; all larger-than-life heroes with beautiful women sighing for their attention.
Who noticed Ralph Bellamy when Cary Grant was on their screen? Not Rosalind Russell, that was for sure.
Okay, so Lois overlooking Clark in her awe over Superman was understandable. What was definitely *not* easy to understand was why he kept making it easier for her. Why he kept shooting himself in the foot.
It wasn't enough that he'd singled her out for his first interview as Superman, giving her the exclusive on his origins. It wasn't enough that he revealed that he knew her name. Oh, no. He had to tell her, leaving no room for doubt as to his meaning, that she didn't have to bid for his attention. And, as if his words hadn't been clear enough, he'd *looked* at her. Gazed at her, almost as doe-eyed as she'd been looking at him.
And then, as if he hadn't already dug a deep enough hole for himself, he'd told her that she would always be special to him. If he hadn't stopped himself, amended what he was going to say, before he'd finished his next sentence, who knew what would have happened?
<You're the first person who ever — >
Ever what? He knew she'd wanted to ask. He could tell that she hadn't bought the 'interviewed me' he'd lamely added after a few moments. It had been sheer good fortune that Alan Morris had interrupted them.
<You'll always be special to me, Lois>
What an idiot he was! What a stupid, dumb, knuckleheaded *moron*!
And yet he hadn't been able to help himself. He'd wanted to make her smile again. He'd wanted to wipe out the hurt he'd seen on her face the previous evening when she'd thought that she was nothing more than a face in the crowd from the perspective of the man she believed herself in love with.
And, if he were honest, he liked knowing that Lois loved him. Even if it was only part of him. Even if she wasn't in love with the real him.
He craved the attention Lois gave him when he was in the Suit, because he never got it when he was Clark. So, like a besotted fool, he was encouraging her in her Superman crush, despite the way it made him feel when she trampled over him as Clark yet again.
Like earlier. When she'd dismissed him as Clark yet again. Making it clear that she didn't take his input seriously, that she — as always — was right. Reinforcing his status as the real invisible man in her life.
He'd got to hold her close to his heart a couple of hours earlier, as Superman, and he'd thought that was worth any torture. Now he knew it wasn't.
Well, that was it. As of now, he wasn't going to let it happen again. Ever.
He was through with giving her any encouragement as Superman. From now on, Superman's dealings with Lois Lane would be strictly business. Her infatuation would soon wear off once she saw that he wasn't responding.
Then maybe, just maybe, she'd stop being so dazzled that she couldn't see what — or rather, who — was right under her nose.
It wasn't working.
It has been almost three weeks now. As Superman, he'd snubbed or avoided Lois every chance he got — well, apart from the times when she'd got herself into the usual trouble and he'd had to save her life. Though, to his chagrin, on one of those occasions Lex Luthor had got there before him. He'd had to suffer the humiliation of watching Lois gaze at that insufferable phoney and thank him for saving her.
He'd almost broken his resolve there and then and swept Lois off her feet. Only the reminder of what it felt like to be invisible had stopped him.
Over the same period, he'd been making strenuous efforts to make her see him differently as Clark. To stop her *not* seeing him. At first, things had seemed to be going his way — Perry had teamed them up as partners on a story, a wonderful move from Clark's point of view. It meant that Lois had no option but to work with him, to talk to him, to *listen* to him. They got to spend long hours together. And, finally, he seemed to be getting to know her. She'd actually confided in him about her father, and she'd seemed to welcome the comfort he'd offered her after one awkward encounter with Dr Sam Lane.
But then the Toasters and the Taylors had come along, and his old habit of shooting himself in the foot had resurfaced. It wasn't enough that he'd made the mistake of muscling in on her story. He should have known, of course, that Lois would be angry at any suggestion that she couldn't look after herself. And he should have found another, more discreet, way of keeping an eye on her. But he'd compounded his error by, first, blowing her cover — something that could have got him fired — and, second, humiliating her.
He was lucky that she hadn't tried to get him fired. He was lucky, too, that she was still even speaking to him. Only the fact that he'd offered to leave his name off the byline for their subsequent front-page story, plus follow-ups, had mollified her — it seemed to have convinced her that he hadn't been trying to steal her story.
Now, they were getting along better again, helped by the fact that he'd set aside his scruples and lifted a crucial piece of evidence in their investigation of the Mentamide formula. But it wasn't enough. It still felt as if she didn't trust him, let alone like him.
And now, he was sitting in the almost-deserted newsroom, listening to her extolling Superman's virtues once again. The heroic acts he'd performed. The lives he'd saved. His gentleness and courtesy. The brilliance of his smile. The magnificence of his physique. The magical way it felt to fly with him.
It didn't seem to matter that Superman had barely spoken to her for weeks. She understood. "After all," she was saying, "he's busy. Someone else probably needs him. That's why he flies off so quickly. And anyway, he wouldn't want to show his feelings for me in public. That could be dangerous. It'll happen, I know. When things calm down, when the time is right, he'll come to me."
"He will?" Unable to resist the sarcasm, Clark curled his lip as he spoke.
Lois ignored his tone — or perhaps she hadn't even noticed it. "Of course he will. Clark, he told me that I'm *special* to him! He wouldn't have said that unless he meant it. Unless he intended to follow through." She sighed, her gaze drifting to the large window on the other side of the newsroom. "He's out there somewhere. Saving people, of course. But when he has time, we'll be together. I know it."
Clark sighed too. Had all his efforts over the last weeks been useless? Was Lois really incapable of realising when she'd been… what? Dumped? Couldn't she take a hint? He thought he'd been pretty obvious about it.
Clearly nowhere near obvious enough.
But then, something else she'd said came back to him. Superman was courteous. Kind. Gentle. He was considerate. Evidently, then, too nice to get the message across as loudly and clearly as Lois needed.
That was the problem. Superman was a nice guy. It wasn't as if he was the kind of guy who'd be cruel to a woman when he was trying to end a relationship, even a relationship which had never really existed. He wasn't a jerk.
He sat up slowly, his breathing stilling. That was it. That was the solution.
There was only one way to stop Lois swooning over Superman. Superman would have to be a jerk.
Lois whirled around, almost dropping her car keys in the process. Superman! He'd come.
Of course, she'd known he would, but… well, it had been more than three weeks, after all. And, even despite the confidence she'd shown talking to Clark, she'd begun to doubt.
She should never have doubted him. If only Clark could see her now!
Superman was hovering a few inches off the ground, which increased the difference in their heights. She liked that, though. He was a hero. He was *her* hero. It was right that she should feel small beside his impressive frame.
He'd called her 'babe', though. She'd have to talk to him about that — explain to him that she didn't like it. She was sure he'd understand. Maybe his last girlfriend had liked it or something. Maybe it was considered romantic on Krypton.
"Pleased to see me?" he asked, and she found her voice.
"It's wonderful to see you! I've missed you," she added softly.
He shrugged in a careless gesture. "Oh, you know how it is. Busy, busy, busy. But I'm here now."
He was. Okay, she'd intended to spend the evening catching up with laundry and paying bills, but that could wait.
She smiled shyly at him. "I can see that. Well, you want to come up?" She gestured towards the door of her apartment building.
He moved. And suddenly she was lying over his shoulder, her legs dangling down his back, one of his hands clamped firmly over her butt. She was staring straight down at the sidewalk below, which was rapidly falling away from them.
She gulped. Then forced herself to take a deep breath.
"Or… uh… okay, we could do this… whatever this is…"
His hand patted her bottom. "There won't be any interruptions at my place."
His place? Well, that sounded good. That sounded very good. He'd been so secretive as long as she'd known him. Now he was trusting her enough to take her to his home.
She really was special to him.
Okay, the caveman behaviour wasn't making her feel very special, but that was something they could talk about too. He probably just didn't know how Earth women liked to be treated. Or, for all she knew, maybe he was just teasing her. Having a little fun. They'd laugh about it together once they got to his place.
Wherever his place was…
Where would someone like Superman live? A house? An apartment? Somewhere in the middle of the city, or out in the suburbs? Or in the countryside, even? She couldn't quite imagine him as one of thousands of apartment-dwellers, taking the trash downstairs once a week, doing laundry, ordering take-out. Somehow, that just didn't seem very… Super.
And yet he had to live somewhere.
What was the appropriate sort of home for a superhero? A castle, perhaps, hewn out of rock in the mountains upstate? With hand- carved furniture, and Kryptonian objets d'art displayed in recesses he'd dug out of the granite himself?
Fanciful, Lois. He probably just had a cabin in the woods. That had to be it — they were flying away from the city, from what she could tell. Up ahead, there were far fewer lights and the usual signs of city life seemed to be absent — no fast-food restaurants or billboards advertising the latest must-have electronic device.
Superman had ignored her the whole journey. She'd have thought that he'd forgotten about her, except that every so often he would squeeze her butt. By the third time he did it, she was itching to slap his hand away.
This was *Superman*! The man she loved. Why was she experiencing this overpowering desire to tell him what a lout he was being?
It would be okay. She repeated that silently to herself like a mantra. Once they were on solid ground again, once they were inside his home, they could talk. She could explain tactfully how she preferred to be treated — how decent Earthmen tended to treat the women they loved. And he would be suitably apologetic and he'd promise never to do it again. After all, it wasn't as if he didn't know how to behave at all. He just obviously had some problems getting the hang of this relationship thing. Maybe he'd watched too many episodes of Tarzan, King of the Jungle.
She stifled a giggle. There really was an air of "Me Tarzan, you Jane" about this whole thing.
"We're almost here." His voice cut into her thoughts. He still sounded kind of… odd. Different. Less polite, more forceful.
That was good news, though. She was getting very stiff through being bent over his shoulder. She wished he'd just carried her in his arms the way he usually did. In fact, she should have suggested it once they'd got airborne.
Lifting her head, she tried to squint through the darkness to see where they were, but all she could make out were shadows. Rocks, possibly. And trees. A gust of wind blew suddenly as Superman dipped sharply downwards, and she shivered. At the same time, a wave of vertigo washed over her. The way he was flying, he'd almost tipped her upside down.
She groaned. Instead of the concerned enquiry she expected, he grunted, "I told you, we're almost there."
It was a relief when she felt him touch ground. Yet she still couldn't see anything that even began to resemble a home. He walked unerringly ahead, though, towards what looked like pure blackness. And then they grew closer and she could make out sheer rock face, with a jagged gap several feet from the ground. Superman began to float, and in seconds he'd landed them inside what was obviously a cave.
A cold, damp, smelly cave.
He lowered her to her feet with no trace of gentleness. She shivered again and looked around as her eyes gradually became accustomed to the darkness. And then there was light — he'd lit a candle standing on a wooden stump in a corner.
This really was just a cave. Yet it looked like it was also Superman's home. A spare Spandex suit was thrown over a tree- branch which leaned against the back of the cave. Some branches, moss and other debris she didn't care to identify too closely had been used to create a bed — over which a blanket had been thrown.
A mock-fur leopardskin blanket.
Lois wanted to gag. Superman had *that* bad taste?
"Look, um, maybe my place would —-"
Be more comfortable, she'd wanted to say. But she didn't get the chance. Superman had hauled her into his arms and his mouth descended onto hers, cutting off her words.
Cutting off her breath, too.
Did the man have the first *idea* of how to kiss?
God… his lips were wet and rubbery and rough. There wasn't an ounce of gentleness in him, not in the way his arms formed steel bands around her or his lips were crushing hers. Bruising her, she was sure.
And she'd actually wanted Superman to kiss her! Had dreamed of being in his arms!
The man was a brute. A savage.
And she was out here in a *cave* in the middle of nowhere with him! She didn't even have an escape-route. The cave itself was at least ten feet off the ground, and the ground itself was rocky and uneven. If she jumped, she'd be lucky to escape without broken bones.
Her heart began to beat faster, fear thumping against her chest. What did he expect from her? Was he going to…
Oh god. He wasn't expecting sex, was he?
Because… if he was… she couldn't exactly fight him, could she? He was far, far too strong for her. As it was, she was struggling to tear her mouth away from his, but he wasn't letting her.
Finally, his head jerked back. And she gasped, dragging in air.
"Sorry, babe." He released her suddenly. "Someone needs me. I have to go. But don't worry, I'll be back. Gotta finish what we started, don't we?" And he actually smirked.
This was no Superman she recognised. And yet it was indisputably him. He'd flown them here, after all.
And… what? Was he planning on *leaving* her here? In this damp, freezing-cold cave? While he disappeared off for god only knew how long?
He was striding to the edge of the cave. Just in time, she found her voice.
He turned to face her. "Yeah, babe?"
"Don't leave me here!"
"Huh?" He frowned. "I won't be long. Or — well, I guess I don't know how long I'll be, but I'll come back as soon as I can. Don't worry, babe, I won't forget about you."
"That's… that's not what I mean." She was shivering now. "It's cold here. And damp. Can't you take me home? Or at least drop me off somewhere where I can make my own way home?"
His expression darkened. "You don't want to be with me?"
<No! Of course not! You're a jerk who hasn't a clue how to treat a woman!>
Not a sensible thing to say. Not to a man who was strong enough to snap her in two with his little finger. "Of c- course I do! It's just… it's a lot more comfortable at my place. Maybe I could see you there when you're finished?"
Not that she wanted to. She never wanted to lay eyes on him again. But she wasn't going to tell him that now. Oh no. Once she was safely home, away from this godforsaken place, she'd find a way to dump him. Tactfully, if possible. She'd have to make him understand that she'd changed her mind. She didn't want a relationship with him any more.
In fact, hell would freeze over before she'd willingly come within six feet of the Man of Steel in future!
He seemed to relax at her suggestion. "Okay. So long as we don't have to sit on those couches of yours." He walked back to her, then caught hold of her and threw her over his shoulder again. "I guess I have time to take you back to your place."
<Oh god, what a relief!>
Lois clutched his shoulder, squeezing her eyelids shut in an effort not to let the tears fall. Her hero wasn't a hero after all. In fact, quite the opposite.
Superman was the biggest jerk she'd ever known.
He didn't hang around once he'd deposited Lois in front of her apartment building. For one thing, she thought he was supposed to be answering a cry for help. For another… he didn't know what to say.
He'd gone too far, that was obvious even to him. Oh, Lois had got the message all right. She wouldn't be mooning over Superman again, he'd bet anything on that. She had to be convinced by now that he was a Class A jerk.
What worried him was that he'd frightened her. He'd seen it in her eyes when he'd finally broken off that mockery of a kiss. She'd actually been afraid of him. And he'd seen her gaze flick to that pile of sticks and leaves masquerading as a bed. He didn't have to be a mind-reader to figure out what she was thinking.
He'd never intended to scare her. But it was too late to undo the damage now. Not without undoing the rest of what he'd done, too. If he reverted back to his normal Superman manner, she'd realise that it had all been an act. And, knowing Lois and her Superman crush, there was even a chance that she'd forgive him. He couldn't risk that.
So he had to go. And try to figure out what he was going to do next. After all, he'd told her that he'd come to her place once he'd finished with his invented emergency. He was pretty sure that Lois wouldn't want him there, but still, he'd said he'd come. Didn't that mean that he needed to put in an appearance?
If he did, he'd have to engineer it so that she had a chance to tell him to get lost. There was no way there'd be a repeat of what had just happened. He couldn't frighten her like that again — not to mention that he couldn't have Lois's lips beneath his a second time and *not* kiss her the way he longed to.
He flew home feeling as if a knot was tying and retying itself in his gut. This had been a bad idea. Yet it had seemed so straightforward at the time. Act like a bit of a jerk, shock Lois out of her crush on Superman, problem solved.
A *bit* of a jerk.
Yeah, right. Try massive, humungous jerk.
How was he ever going to face Lois as Superman again?
But it had been necessary. Hadn't it? After all, there was no way she'd still want Superman after tonight. Her inconvenient crush on him would have died an ignominious death.
Of course, she'd never smile at him again in that special way, the way that made him feel as if he were the centre of her universe. She'd never use that tone of voice she reserved just for him. He'd never again feel as if he were ten feet tall, as if he could do absolutely *anything*, when in her presence.
No. He'd just feel like the world's biggest heel instead. Or, worse, if she continued to look as if she were scared of him, like a monster.
It was just as he landed on his balcony that yet another consequence of what he'd done hit him.
Lois was a *reporter*. She covered Superman's rescues. Ever since his first appearance, she'd been Superman's biggest supporter in print. Too much of a supporter for his liking sometimes, but still… a supporter. How was she going to react now?
Visions of forty-point headlines rose before his eyes.
"To the world, he's a hero in Spandex. Gentle, courteous, the saviour of hundreds. But the truth about Superman is far from heroic. In his private life, he's a jerk…"
He had to halt his imagination before it made him physically sick. He deserved every word, of course. But would Lois actually write something like that? Was there a way of preventing her?
Did he even have the right to prevent her?
An agitated knock on his door interrupted his agonising, and he spun into his normal clothes and headed out to see who was there.
Lois stood outside her apartment building for several moments before she realised that she was shaking.
Was she in the middle of a nightmare? This couldn't be happening. Superman couldn't really have behaved like a complete Neanderthal! A selfish, moronic scumbag.
She touched her fingers to her lips. They stung. Yes, he had.
She'd never have believed it if anyone had told her he could behave like that. He'd just never seemed the chauvinistic type. Every single time she'd met him, he'd been kind and considerate and… well, such a *gentleman*!
She probably shouldn't be too surprised. After all, according to all the research on domestic violence, the vicious ones were just as likely to be the mild-mannered guys no-one thought could lift a finger in anger as they were to be thugs.
Superman, a thug? Not so far, at least in his dealings with criminals and with the public at large. But now she knew that he was capable of overruling someone's wishes. And of using his strength against someone.
What if he started doing that to other people?
This was seriously scary. She shuddered.
And there was worse. He was coming back, wasn't he? He'd said that he'd be back once he'd dealt with whoever it was who needed his help.
Well, the solution to that was simple. She wasn't going to be there. Superman could fly in her window if he liked — she couldn't remember if it was open or not — but he'd find an empty apartment. And it would be empty all night if she could manage it.
She climbed into her car and drove off, wheels squealing.
It was Lois. Why had he not seen that one coming?
On the other hand, there was no reason why he should have. When had Lois ever come to his apartment before without having a motive connected to a story?
Unless… oh, god, this *was* connected to a story! She wanted to write the Superman-is-a-jerk story, and she was here to discuss it with him. He couldn't let her write it! No matter how much he deserved her anger and contempt, he couldn't allow her to go public with that kind of story. It would wreck everything he'd tried to do with his Superhero role. No-one would trust him again… He had to talk her out of it.
She marched past him into his apartment. Her colour was high and her heartbeat rapid. Oh god. The sick feeling in his stomach got rapidly worse. What had he done?
Halting abruptly, she whirled to face him. He could see the shock in her eyes. "Oh, Clark, you were right about him!"
"What?" He was stalling and he knew it. What had he done?
"Superman!" She swallowed. "He came for me. Outside my apartment. He just… threw me over his shoulder and flew off with me. I mean, okay, it was a bit macho and I'd like at least to have been *asked*, but I didn't mind that too much. But then we got to his place — Clark, he lives in a *cave*! It's dirty and smelly and damp and cold and… and he's got a *leopardskin* blanket on his bed! And…"
She swallowed again as he stared at her, helpless to speak. What could he say? Guilt was chewing away at his innards.
"He kissed me. If you can call it a kiss. It was… oh, it was *horrible*! It was like he was just grinding his face into — " She broke off abruptly, a flush suffusing her face. "Anyway, it was just awful. The man has no clue how… And I know he wanted… But he was called away, and I made him take me home first. And he's going to go to my place after he's finished with whatever the emergency is and I don't want to see him, Clark! I… can I stay here?"
Clark couldn't prevent a wince at her disjointed, yet still brutally effective, description of his kiss — and yet it was perfectly true. That was precisely the effect he'd aimed for. He'd never imagined, all the same, that when he finally got the chance to kiss Lois Lane again he'd deliberately make such a mess of it.
But he'd had to. He'd had no choice.
No choice? Really?
Hadn't there been other ways of discouraging her? Just *talking* to her, maybe? Pointing out gently and tactfully how he couldn't have a relationship with her? How her crush on him was embarrassing him?
No, he couldn't have. Not after telling her that she would always be special to him. Right there and then he'd ruled out any chance of dealing with this simply. Lois might have accepted that they couldn't have a public relationship, but she'd have tried to find ways of carrying on a secret liaison.
He dragged both hands through his hair. Now what was he going to do?
She'd stopped talking and was looking at him. Expectantly. Worriedly. What had she said?
Oh. Right. "Yes, of course you can stay here." At least she'd given him a question he could answer, instead of expecting him to comment on what *he* had done to her.
She stared at him. "You don't think I should, do you? You think I should face him — tell him I don't want to be with him. Right?"
God. No. There was no way he could put either of them through a charade as embarrassing as that would be. Not to mention that he just couldn't bring himself to act the jerk again. He'd never be able to go through with it.
He looked at her again. The shock was wearing off, he could see, and disillusionment was beginning to set in. Why hadn't he realised he'd feel this much of a heel?
He wanted to hug her. She looked so hurt and vulnerable standing there. But he didn't have the right. Not after what he'd done. He'd been such an idiot.
Finding his voice again, he said awkwardly, "No. No, I don't think you should. I… Just stay here. He'll get the message."
Relief swept over her face, and she sank onto the sofa. "Thanks, Clark. You're a good friend. I… didn't know where else to go."
The seductive voice of temptation suddenly whispered to him. <This is your chance> it murmured. <She's here. She needs *you*, finally. Superman's out of the picture. Go to her. Hug her. Show her that you can be her hero>
He took a step towards the couch, bringing himself closer to Lois. He wanted to speak, but the words wouldn't come.
She gazed up at him. "I just would never have believed that someone who spends his life helping people could be that much of a selfish jerk!"
Oh, yes, he was. Without conscious realisation, Clark rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I guess he is. What he did to you… there's no excuse. But he never meant to frighten you, Lois, I swear!"
Her eyes widened. "How do you know?"
"Because…" He sighed heavily. His conscience had left him no other alternative. "Because I'm Superman, Lois. I'm the one who manhandled you and treated you like I had no respect for you. I called you 'babe' even though I knew you'd hate it, and I almost left you there in that cave. I only wanted to shock you out of your Superman crush. I went too far, and I can't tell you how sorry I am."
There was a loud buzzing in Lois's ears. She shook her head, but it was still there.
She stared at the man standing in front of her. Had she heard him correctly? She couldn't have. He couldn't have just told her…
No. He wasn't. He couldn't be.
He wasn't tall enough, for starters. Or handsome enough. Or strong, or fast, or able to see through things or fly…
He knew that Superman had called her 'babe'.
He *was* tall enough. When he stood straight, as he was doing now. And of course he was handsome enough.
Jumping to her feet, she reached up and seized his glasses. Letting them drop — she didn't care where — she studied his face.
"You bastard. You jerk. You swine. I hate you!"
Before her conscious brain had caught up with her intentions, her fist lashed out, striking him in the chest. Then she was pounding him, pummelling him with her fists, kicking out with her feet. Grunting and yelling as she made contact. Sobbing out every name under the sun she could think of to call him. Pig. Traitor. Moron. Lowest form of life imaginable. Pond-scum. Worm.
And then, slowly, something dawned on her.
He wasn't moving. Wasn't trying to fend her off. Wasn't fighting back in any way. Wasn't even shielding his body from the blows she was inflicting on him. He was just standing there, head bowed, taking it.
As if he had no right to avoid the punishment she was dishing out. As if he deserved it.
Well, he did!
And anyway, he was Superman. She wasn't even hurting him!
Flattening her palms against his chest, she gave a hard shove. He staggered backwards a couple of steps.
"I'd feel a lot better if I thought you'd actually get a couple of bruises."
He grimaced. "Sorry. I can't — ever since I was about ten I couldn't get hurt."
Clark Kent was Superman. All this time she'd been swooning over the country-boy greenhorn who'd actually brought along a story on geckos to his job interview.
How humiliating. She buried her face in her hands as a wave of embarrassment swept over her.
She jerked her gaze up to him again. Without the glasses, he looked so odd. Superman in Clark Kent's jeans and T-shirt. With rumpled hair. "Why did you do it?"
"What? Tonight? Or create Superman?"
"I meant tonight." She began to pace, feeling his gaze follow her as she did. "But you can answer the other too. Why the elaborate charade? Why pretend to be something you're not? Were you laughing at me behind my back the whole time because I didn't realise I worked beside Superman? Were you playing mind games with me?" Unbidden, resentment crept into her voice as she spoke. But she didn't fight it — he deserved it.
"Mind games?" The anger in his voice, so unfamiliar to her, made her turn to face him. Then he sighed, all the fight gone out of him. "No, I wasn't playing games with you, Lois. If I had, I've had had to be playing them with the whole of Metropolis, wouldn't I?" His expression, so weary and — yes, almost defeated — tugged at her, tempted her to forget her anger with him.
But she couldn't do that. She had every right to be furious. After what he'd done…
"You want to know why I became Superman." He bent, reclaimed his glasses and slid them back onto his face. All of a sudden, he was Clark again.
"I think I've always known that I'm different." Now, it was as if he was telling someone else's story. His tone was detached, and he wasn't looking at her. "Things like being able to run faster than the other kids, or not getting hurt when I fell down, or hearing things I shouldn't have — the biggest shock was when I discovered I could see through walls. That's when my parents told me about finding me in a spaceship when I was a baby."
"How old were you?"
He shrugged. "Eleven."
Eleven. While she'd been doing spelling bees and trying to get the highest marks in the class and whispering secrets to her best friend, Clark Kent had been learning that he was from another planet. "That must have been… hard."
"I think on some level I always knew there was something strange about me. It wasn't too much of a surprise to discover I wasn't Mom's cousin's kid after all."
"But to find out that you're an alien…!"
He shook his head. "I didn't know that then. Not for sure. We thought I might have been a Russian experiment or something. Who thought there really was life on other planets?" Again, he shrugged. "I only knew for sure when I found the globe."
"The globe?" He'd said it as if she should know about it.
"Oh, yeah, you didn't see me take it. Remember Trask's warehouse? My spaceship was there. The globe was inside it." Suddenly, he moved, striding to the shelf on the other side of the room. As he lifted the lid of a tiny wooden chest, she saw a glow. Inside, a pearlescent ball rested.
"As soon as I held it, a map appeared on the surface. And something whispered to me just one word — Krypton."
He'd found that when they'd been in the warehouse together. And a *spaceship*. How had she missed it? So much for the great investigative reporter Lois Lane!
She remembered something else. "So… when you came to me at the Planet that evening, you'd only just found out where you were from?"
"Yeah." Suddenly, he was talking about himself again. "I… needed to tell someone. My parents, of course — I'd told them. But finally I had a background. I knew where I came from. And… I wanted to tell someone. You."
It had been on the tip of her tongue to accuse him of using her to further his deception. But the sincerity — the vulnerability — in his tone stopped her.
This was the man who'd told her she was special to him — and she'd been able to see in his eyes that he meant it.
Whatever he'd been up to — either with the Superman act in general or tonight — he hadn't been trying to hurt her. Or laugh at her.
She returned to the couch. "Tell me more."
"Okay." He came over and joined her, sitting at the opposite end. His body language was stiff, awkward. He really wasn't comfortable telling her this. But he was doing it anyway — as penance? Or because he wanted her to understand? If it was the former, she had no intention of letting him off the hook. She wanted to hear this.
"To cut a long story short, shortly after I turned eighteen I was flying too. I had all my powers as you know them today. And I'd already started using them to… help when people were in trouble."
That, somehow, didn't surprise her. She'd already noticed, in the month or so that Clark had been working at the Planet, that he was a congenital helper. Always the first to offer when someone needed something, always quick with a smile or a word to cheer someone up.
"Anyway, my parents weren't too happy about that. They — my dad especially — were always worried that someone would find out about me. That I'd get put in a lab somewhere and dissected like a frog."
Lois winced. But he was right: that was exactly what would have happened had anyone official found out that the teenage farmer's son had inexplicable powers.
"So I was careful. But sometimes it wasn't so easy. That's why I travelled so much — no matter how cautious I was, sooner or later someone would begin to wonder. I'd see the suspicion in their eyes, or notice the way they watched me. And so I'd move on before they could prove anything."
He'd become less stiff as he continued his story. But, as he talked about moving on, she saw sadness in his eyes. She had to resist the urge to reach out and touch him.
Make him move on. There was still more to this narrative.
"Until you came to Metropolis." What had changed? Had he just grown tired of having nowhere to call home? How had he come up with Superman?
"Yeah. Once I got the job at the Planet, I knew that was where I wanted to stay. I didn't want to have to move on again. But I couldn't stop helping if someone needed me. Then you gave me the idea for the costume."
"I did?" How?
"Remember the guy trapped down a manhole?"
The memory came to Lois in a flash, like a movie in slow motion. The agitated workmen. The trapped man rescued, talking wildly about someone who'd saved him. Pointing at Clark — Clark, whose suit had suddenly been torn and dirty.
"How could I have missed it?" Was she stupid? Or blind? How could she not have seen what was under her nose?
"Who expects the ordinary guy they work with to have extraordinary powers?" He shrugged. "Anyway, you said I should bring a change of clothes to work. That's when I thought of the costume. Mom made it for me later than evening."
His *mother* had… She pictured the very tight, very figure- hugging spandex. "I think I'd like to meet your mother."
He looked startled. "I guess… maybe…"
"So you got the costume and came out in the open, right? As a way of helping people without risking your safety?"
"And that of my parents." His expression was very sober — exactly the way she'd seen Superman look when he was handling an emergency situation. "I'm invulnerable. They're not. That's why no-one can know that Superman is really me."
"But you told me."
He met her gaze, and even with the glasses she could see Superman again. "I had to. You came here looking for comfort, expecting me to sympathise with you over what Superman had done to you. I'd have felt like a hypocrite if I'd continued pretending that we're two separate people. *I* did that to you. I had to take responsibility for my actions."
And with that they were full circle. "So why *did* you do it? That's what I just don't understand."
Oh, hell. This was where it got hard. How could he possibly tell her he'd done it to stop her throwing herself at Superman?
Though he'd already told her that he'd done it to stop her swooning over Superman. So he was partway there. Assuming, of course, that she'd heard him when he'd said it.
"It was one of those stupid ideas that seemed to make sense at the time," he said eventually.
"You said…" She frowned, and hurt seeped into her voice. "You said something about discouraging my crush on Superman."
"Yeah, that was about it."
"Come on! You couldn't just *tell* me that you weren't interested?" The twin spots of colour on her cheeks testified to her anger and humiliation.
"No." He rubbed his nose again. "No, because I'd given you every reason not to believe me. And anyway, it wouldn't have been true."
"Oh, yeah, right. I'm *special* to you!" she spat at him.
"You are. That's the whole problem."
"Oh yeah? Well, forgive me for pointing out that the evidence seems to be indicating the contrary."
"You are, Lois. To me — Clark."
Her riposte was immediate and came with an indignant glare. "You just got through telling me you're Superman."
"Only some of the time."
Her expression told him that she didn't understand. "Just tell me why."
"It's pretty simple really. Course, it also shows that I'm an idiot, but I guess you already knew that." Once more, he sighed. "Lois, I fell for you pretty much the moment I first laid eyes on you. You weren't interested, and you told me so. That's fine. You're entitled. But then you fell for Superman the first time you saw me in the Suit. And… he's *me*. I should have told you straight away, once I realised, that there couldn't be anything between us — you and me as Superman, I mean. But I didn't."
"No. You didn't." Her tone was uncompromising, not a trace of understanding in it whatsoever. "Why not?"
"Because… Lois, I was crazy about you! Have you any idea how that feels? And how hard it is to be treated like a… a *door* every day by the person who consumes your every thought? A convenience. Something you use every day but never really notice. Something that's invisible. That's how I felt. Like an invisible man. And then suddenly you *did* notice me. You smiled at me. You wanted to be with me. The way you looked at me… It was so flattering. It felt wonderful. And I wanted to hold onto that feeling. So I didn't discourage you. I should have, but instead I did the opposite. I told you that you're special to me. And then I realised what I'd done."
"You encouraged me as Superman, Clark." Her voice was low, but the anger wasn't there any more.
"Yes, I did. And I guess that's why you think I was playing games with you. I wasn't. I… Lois, I've never done this before. Lived a secret life — had two identities. I'm just learning how to do it as I go along. It's hard keeping the two parts of my life apart. And when I'm with you in the Suit I just haven't been able to learn to switch off my feelings for you. So I reacted… inappropriately. Said things I shouldn't have, all because I wanted you to smile at me again."
"So you decided to act like a jerk as some sort of aversion therapy?"
He nodded. "Like I said, it seemed a good idea at the time. I just… carried it a bit too far."
"I'll say." Her gaze flicked over him. "Babe?"
He flushed. "Um, yeah. I figured you wouldn't like that."
"Believe me, Kent, the last person who called me that was walking bent double for the next week."
"Ouch." He winced.
"Yeah, but you're invulnerable, aren't you?"
Only on the outside. He wanted to tell her that, but he'd bared his soul enough for now. He couldn't take any more confessions.
Was she really that shallow?
No. That wasn't fair. How could it be? She'd had no idea they were the same person. Of course she'd treated Clark differently from Superman!
But, looking at him now, she could see it. There was definitely Superman in Clark, and it wasn't just a physical resemblance. They both had that air of naivete, so unusual these days. And the same strong sense of justice. And caring.
And she had been… well, mean to Clark. She'd alternately ignored him, belittled him and used him as the butt of jokes. She hadn't given him a chance — he'd had to fight all the way to get her to take him seriously. She'd even denied that she found him attractive, warning him off in such a way as to suggest she found him irritating. Then she'd proceeded to flirt with him as Superman at every opportunity. It was no wonder he'd been hurt.
So he had a point. But he was far from blameless himself.
He had deceived her. Led her to believe that he was two different people. Yet what he was saying made sense. She had no idea how she'd cope if she had to live two lives all the time, deal with all the hassles of a second, separate identity. She'd probably end up saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.
She continued to study him as he sat facing her. He looked uncomfortable under her scrutiny, but said nothing. This was Clark Kent, the geeky-looking guy she'd complained about having foisted upon her, the hick from the sticks, the too-innocent-to- be-true farmboy who hid an impressive physique behind over-large clothes, too-long hair and old-fashioned glasses.
And he was Superman. The strongest man alive, who could fly, whose powers were beyond description. And who was also one of the most handsome men she'd ever seen.
Superman Clark Kent. One and the same.
It was no wonder that he kept his identity a secret. And that probably explained the ill-fitting clothes. Why draw attention to the fact that he had a great body? He dressed, and behaved, almost as if he *wanted* to be overlooked as Clark. But then, from what he'd said, it sounded as if he'd been doing that for most of his life. Avoiding notice. Not attracting attention. Staying under the radar. Making sure that he wouldn't be remembered in the event of any strange happenings.
Surely, though, now that he'd invented Superman he didn't have to hide as Clark any more? After all, it wasn't as if anyone in their right mind would assume that Superman would in reality be a newspaper reporter. She'd have to talk to him about that; persuade him that he didn't need to be so self-effacing in order to keep his secret.
His secret! Of course…
"Clark, in case you're worried, I won't tell anyone," she said quickly.
"Tell… Oh!" Relief was visible on his face. "I was going to ask you — well, once I felt you might be receptive to being asked."
"I know why it's important that no-one knows. But I want something in return."
"You do?" He looked a little wary.
"Yeah. An interview. The kind of interview Perry was demanding the week Superman appeared — remember? Oh, don't worry," she added with a sardonic drawl. "I won't make you reveal anything compromising. But there is a lot more you can give me than you have so far. I want the interview that'll give me another Kerth nomination."
Something sparked in his eyes. "You do? And you don't think that I should be in on that nomination? It is my story, after all."
He was a point there, though she was still mad enough at him to insist that it was going to be all hers. All the same… "I'll consider it."
He smiled, and she was swept back to that moment, late one night in the newsroom not long after Clark had started, when they'd been eating Chinese food while going through Dr Platt's report. Their gazes had caught, and Clark had smiled, a friendly, open grin, and something inside her soul had flickered into life.
But she'd immediately squashed it. There was no room in her life for romance. Or so she'd told herself… only to forget that the second she'd laid eyes on Superman.
She was shallow; he was a jerk. Maybe that made them even.
As if he knew the direction of her thoughts, Clark spoke. "About earlier, Lois… I really didn't mean to scare you."
"You were a jerk."
"You made me think Superman was a bully and a chauvinist."
"You made me think he didn't know how to kiss properly."
"You patted my *butt*!"
"I know." Was that twitch of his lips even a hint of a grin? But, before she could decide, his expression was thoroughly apologetic.
"You were going to *leave* me there alone in that awful place!"
But he shook his head. "I wouldn't have done that. I always intended to take you back with me. I just wanted you to think…" Before she could speak again, he added, his tone earnest, "Lois, let me make it up to you. Please."
Did she want him to?
She had to admit it was a relief to know that she hadn't been wrong about Superman. He was still one of the good guys. As for everything else…
"You don't really live in that cave, do you?"
Clark gestured around him. "You see my apartment." Grimacing, he added, "The cave was… well, to be honest, it was all I could come up with. I was sure you were gonna see through me when you saw that."
"Leopardskin?" She invested the word with as much sarcasm as she could manage.
"You really did just want to stop me… uh…" She blushed and dipped her head before continuing. "…falling at Superman's feet?"
"Yeah." He sounded embarrassed too. Good. At least she wasn't the only one.
"Okay. I've stopped."
She looked up again as she said that, and the expression which briefly crossed Clark's face made her pause. Was it… regret?
<You smiled at me. You wanted to be with me. The way you looked at me… It was so flattering. It felt wonderful. And I wanted to hold onto that feeling>
And it all became clear. Superman and Lois Lane could never be together. But there were no rules about Clark Kent…
Though would she ever have looked twice at Clark if she hadn't found out that he was Superman? She had to bite her lip at that. The answer was probably not. But did that really mean she couldn't look at him now? If both of them wanted it? She'd been shallow. She'd ignored him and treated him as if he didn't count. But he'd behaved like a jerk, deliberately, to deceive her. Like she'd already decided, they were even.
Lois let a slow smile creep across her face. "Just tell me one thing, Clark. Do you always kiss like that?"
His eyes widened; she'd shocked the innocent spaceman from Kansas. But then he smiled too. "No, and you already know that."
"I do?" But then she remembered. Trask's plane. Kissing Clark goodbye — a kiss that had scorched her soul. "Oh, yes."
"You look like you need some convincing." Was it her imagination, or had his smile turned sensual?
A warm feeling was growing in the pit of her stomach, and she had the insane urge to run her hands through his hair. "You know, maybe I do."
"That can be arranged…" And, suddenly, he was next to her. His hand curved along the line of her jaw, tilting her face up to his. His mouth hovered inches above hers, and she held her breath, waiting.
The first touch of his lips on hers was gentle, whisper-soft. He was trying to erase the memory of what he'd done earlier, she realised. But then, as his arms came around her, his kiss changed, became more passionate, more intense. This was like no other kiss she'd ever known. All she wanted was for him to carry on doing whatever he was doing to make her feel like that and never stop…
"Is that better?" he murmured against her cheek, some incalculable time later.
"Um… I'm not sure…" She edged closer to him. "I think maybe we need to try it one more time. Just to be sure, you know?"
He chuckled. "Sounds good to me."
It was much later, and really time he should be encouraging Lois to go home. She was snuggled against his chest and seemed as disinclined to move as he was.
"Should I fly you home?" he offered at last.
"Huh? Oh!" Excitement flushed her cheeks for a moment, but then she shook her head. "There's no need. My car's outside."
"Yeah, but I could come and pick you up in it tomorrow morning."
"You could." She hesitated for a moment. "As long as you don't think I'm only in it for the flying."
He smiled wryly at that. The thought had crossed his mind that Lois had changed her attitude rather dramatically on discovering his two identities. On the other hand, she'd been calling him Clark throughout. At some level, he had to trust her.
"You can be in it for the flying if you want." After all, it wasn't as if Clark was *all* he was.
She caught at his hand. "I just don't want you to think that *you* have to bid for my attention. I might have been — well, blinkered for a bit, but I'm getting better. You know, I told you, there really is no such thing as an invisible man."
"You sure about that, Lois?"
"Absolutely. I see you, Clark Kent. And I won't let you hide from me again."
But she was right. He did tend to be self-effacing as Clark Kent. He had good reason for it, too. At least, he had in the past. But maybe he should see the creation of Superman as a way to set Clark free. Maybe, now that Superman was openly doing the Super feats, Clark could be the confident, outgoing person he really was inside.
He tugged Lois close to him again, dragging her onto his lap, and hugged her. She drew back after a moment, watching him.
"Playing the caveman again, are we?" she enquired, eyebrows raised.
"Oops! Sorry." He gave her an apologetic smile.
But she grinned. "I don't know. I think I could grow to like it. So, Tarzan, going to swing through the skyscrapers and take me home?"
"You bet." And, as he stepped off his balcony seconds later, Lois in his arms, he gave a jungle cry.
"Hush! Someone will hear you!" And Lois silenced him with a kiss. Not that he was complaining. There weren't many better ways to be shut up.
"Babe," he murmured against her lips.
"Jerk," she whispered back.
Their mingled giggles faded into the night sky.