By IRC Round Robin writers
Submitted: September 2005
Summary: In this IRC Round Robin, a furry friend saves the day, and Clark lets the "cat" out of the bag regarding a certain secret. Will Clark avoid a catastrophe?
An IRC Round Robin by CrazyWritersRUS, aka Wendy Richards <email@example.com>, Kaethel <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Aria < email@example.com>, RL <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Sara Kraft <email@example.com>, Julie Stars <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The insane IRC writers strike again! Or, at least, only partly on IRC. <g> This story was started during one IRC session and became an email round robin after that. I'd like to thank all of my co- authors in this little furry story, both those who volunteered eagerly and those whose arms were metaphorically bent behind their backs. ;) It's been a lot of fun working with you!
We'd also like to thank our Archive GE Jeanne Pare — editing a story written by one author isn't always easy, but editing one written by multiple writers, all with their own individual styles and idiosyncrasies, has to be a nightmare!
All rights to the characters in this story — with the exception of Pulitzer, who is all ours <g> — belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros. No infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction, from which no money will be gained.
"Hey, hold still, little buddy! I can't get you down from there if you keep wriggling!"
"Grrrrrrrr." The low growl was accompanied by an angry swish of a paw, claws extended. Grey tabby fur stood on end, making the little creature seem twice its size.
"Hey, hey! That's not very nice of you!" Clark again tried to catch the small, trapped cat around its middle, but once more the animal evaded him, jerking back into a cluster of branches and leaves and kicking out with its back paws. He withdrew and prepared to try again. It wasn't that he was afraid of being scratched — the cat could never break his skin — but he didn't want to hurt the poor animal by having it shatter a claw on his hand.
"Such language," Clark murmured, moving closer. "That's really not very ladylike of you." The cat had reared up, enabling him to distinguish its gender. "You know, when I get you down from there we're going to have to have words about your manners."
Slowly, he inched his hand forward, at the same time murmuring softly to the cat. Wide green eyes stared back at him from a tiny face full of panic. He could hear her pulse beating frantically, and sensed that she was ready to bolt, even if it meant losing her precarious hold on the tree-branch she'd been perched on for too long.
Just a few more inches… Yes! He'd got her. Gently, he lifted her, drawing the wriggling, terrified body closer and cradling the cat against his chest. Her heart beat frantically against his, and he focused for a few moments on trying to soothe her, stroking her gently and continuing to murmur to her.
Of course, she clung to him, her claws extending and catching in his Suit. He might be invulnerable, but his aura didn't quite seem to be protecting the Spandex from snags. His mom wasn't going to be happy to hear that he needed yet another new Suit, and all because of a tiny, agitated cat!
Then his fingers encountered something strange — hard and rustling, next to her collar. "What's this?" he asked her softly. He looked down, expecting to see, perhaps, some sort of identity tag which would enable him to find her owners.
Instead, a grubby piece of paper was tucked underneath the faded red collar and tied into a folded knot.
He pulled it out and, with difficulty given he could use only one hand, untwisted it. The writing was instantly recognisable. A jolt shot through him and his altitude dropped a full two feet.
Lois Lane's very shaky handwriting said:
WAREHOUSE TALBOT + FOURTH
Lois. In trouble. His heart skipped a beat. He almost launched into flight there and then, but just in time remembered the little bundle of fur in his arms. She'd be terrified yet again if he went supersonic on her. She'd probably have a heart attack!
Well, she was free of the tree now. He could just put her on the ground.
He glanced down. Oh, no, he couldn't. Roaming free on the ground below — illegally, of course — was a large black German Shepherd. In all probability, the dog was as gentle as a lamb, but he couldn't take the chance that it would instantly make friends with a strange cat. Nor that the cat wouldn't just shoot back up the tree and get stuck again.
Okay, so it looked like he'd have a passenger on his journey to Talbot and Fourth.
Unfortunately, that meant he'd have to go slowly, at least at first. Stroking the cat again to try to calm her — and she was now almost nestling against him, her pulse slowed — he began to drift upwards, trying not to think about whatever predicament Lois was in. Trying *not* to imagine how bad it could be…
Within a couple of minutes, he was hovering above the warehouse. The cat was looking up at him, her expression definitely bemused. Well, she'd probably never come across a flying human before. At least she hadn't rated the experience on a par with a visit to the vet!
Now for Lois. Check before rushing in… be sure that she wasn't being held at gunpoint by someone who could fire a bullet before he could get to her, especially given his current handicap. But he had to be quick, in case… Oh god! She couldn't already have been killed, could she?
A quick X-ray sweep of the building reassured him. It was empty, apart from one untidy and rather disgruntled-looking reporter who sat tied to a chair and gagged.
No gunmen. No bombs. Not even a slow-releasing syringe of poison or some other such instrument of torture. Whoever had captured Lois had obviously been content to leave her here, unable to vent her frustration in anything more than grunts.
A slow grin escaped him. This could only happen to Lois.
Only Lois could think of smuggling a 'help' note out tied to a cat's collar. And only Lois would choose a cat destined to spend the next half-hour of its life trapped up a tree.
The skylight had been shattered some time ago. The remaining shards of glass presented no threat to him. Slowly, casually, protecting the cat as he did so, he floated down through the gap and into the warehouse.
Lois's head jerked up and her eyes widened. "Ooo-ehh-ah!"
The best she could do with his name given her current handicap, he assumed, choking back a shout of laughter.
"Hi, Lois. Did you need some help?" He grinned at her, unable to disguise his amusement.
Some help. *Some* help! She was tied to a chair, and worse, *gagged*, and Superman was standing there, asking if she *needed* some help!
She'd take that mocking grin off his face in seconds. Well, once he untied and ungagged her. She twisted her wrists again. The rope was cutting her skin, and she muffled a whimper of pain.
Half a second later, she was free of her bonds, and Superman was crouching beside her, examining her hands. "Lois, are you all right?" The grin had definitely gone off his face to be replaced by a look of pure concern.
She snatched her hands out of his. "Do I look all right? Tell me, Superman, when you're flying around rescuing people, do you meet a lot of them who, after spending an hour tied to a chair, tell you they're perfectly all right?"
He stared at her and gaped.
"Do you meet a lot of people who are desperate enough to put their life in the hands… paws of a cat who's probably more interested in chasing mice than bringing your precious message to a human being who will *think* that maybe — *maybe* — something's wrong with you and you might need rescuing?"
Superman blinked, then gave her that grin again. She'd seen that one before. He reminded her of something strangely familiar, but she couldn't quite place the memory. "She was stuck in a tree."
"Your cat." He pointed to the furry ball strolling around the room. The tabby was ignoring them completely, busy as she was exploring every single dark corner of the warehouse. She circled around the pile of crates at the back, sniffing them warily, scratching the side of her face against a wooden edge, then jumping up to sit at the very top, where she settled down to observe the world. There was what looked more and more like an irritatingly smug smile on her face.
"*My* cat?" Lois repeated as though she were a stuck record. "If I were planning on adopting a cat, it most certainly wouldn't this one. It needed to be rescued just as badly as me!"
"Sounds like a match made in heaven," he replied — stupid, stupid, stupid, he belatedly realized.
Lois's eyes widened ever so minutely in that fashion that he knew meant he was in for it. Her lips parted, and closed, and parted again as she goggled for words, unusually speechless.
"Are you implying that I can't take care of myself?"
She advanced on him, poking her index finger cruelly into his chest.
"But you just said you needed help — " he fumbled. Great, Clark, he scolded himself as he saw her skin grow rosier.
"I need help now, too?" she growled. "Do you think I'm a mental case on top of being co-dependent?"
He let his jaw fall dumbly. "What?"
Lois didn't answer, however, choosing instead to stalk over to the grey tabby. Her arms snaked down around the small creature just as it was preparing to hop on top of one of the taller boxes.
He walked after her. "Lois? What's wrong? It can't be just this," he said softly, resisting the urge to reach a hand out to her shoulder, which was starkly uninviting at the moment. Sudden tension gripped the air in an evil vice.
She turned, cat in hand. "Superman, are you going to take me home now?"
Clark was, to put it lightly, quite flummoxed at this point. What could be upsetting her so badly? "Of course, Lois. If that's what you want."
He moved toward her experimentally, just to make sure she wasn't going to hiss and spit at him like the cat had. When she offered no protest, he picked her up and folded her against his torso for the trip back to her apartment. The cat, being of a strangely adventurous sort, somehow managed to crawl out of Lois's grasp and perch on his shoulder for the trip back to her apartment. He wondered how he would appear to the casual onlooker — grey, mangy, moth-eaten tabby stuck on his shoulder, angry super-reporter cradled in his arms — but his consideration of the image was brief. His passengers were much more important.
Lois was silent the whole time. Very uncharacteristic of her. And, worse, he had no idea what he'd done to make her this way. He had *thought* his banter with her would be taken as it usually was — with a smile and a flippant rejoinder.
"Lois?" He tried one more time as he set her down in her living room, but her only response was to grab the cat off his shoulder and stalk off into the bedroom.
He shook his head. Maybe he would have better luck as Clark. Without much more thought, he zipped around to her front door, spinning into his casual clothes as he went.
He knocked on her door lightly after only a brief hesitation. Whether it was wise or not to approach her at this point, he wasn't going to leave her so upset. It just wasn't in his nature.
"Lois? It's Clark. I was in the neighbourhood," he called as the sound of his knock rang dully in the air.
"Just a minute," she snapped.
He heard angry-sounding footfalls approach the door.
"Men!" she huffed again under her breath, not caring that Superman could probably hear her outburst, wherever he was. For good measure, she kicked her stuffed bear lying on the floor of her bedroom. Part of her brain recognized the toy as the little teddy bear Clark had won for her on their trip last year to Smallville, and she regretted her action.
But she was too riled up to let that stop her when she was on a roll with her tantrums. Sitting down heavily on her bed, she stopped to pet the cat she held in her arms. The cat that had, in fact, saved her life.
It was only sheer good fortune that she had eluded her captors just long enough to write the note and attach it to the collar of the cat that had miraculously run into the warehouse. Yes, she was grateful to her. And for that matter, she had Superman to thank as well since he had eventually arrived to save the day. Again.
If only he hadn't been so… Clark about it. That was what Superman's expression had reminded her of. When Clark was in one of his teasing modes, he was absolutely insufferable, and it drove her absolutely crazy. At the same time, ironically, she secretly loved the way he paid attention to her and treated her as if she were the most important person in his life. But that had changed just recently.
So many things were so frustrating right now. Not only had she gotten careless and had gotten caught by the thieves she had been investigating, but she had feared for her life for over an hour before her rescue. At any moment, they could have come back to finish her off as they had threatened to do. That and Clark's betrayal had been more than her shattered nerves could take.
Add on Superman's Clark-like attitude, and she had completely lost it. Now, as she sat on her bed free to think, she found herself on the verge of tears. Foremost on her mind were thoughts of her partner. Just a few weeks ago, she had caught him kissing Mayson Drake while half-naked in his apartment.
She had lost him to that hussy and it had been all her own fault. Clark had been hers for the taking for the last year or so and she had been too stupid to know what she had really wanted. He had even told her he loved her once and she had turned him down flat. It had taken that kiss, plus her gut reaction to it, to make her finally realise how she really felt.
And then, of course, that belated realisation had been driven home even more harshly by those horrible, nightmarish days when Clark had been dead. Gone. Lost to her forever, far more finally than just being with another woman. She'd seen him shot, and in that instant known that the only man she would ever love had left her for eternity.
He'd come back, but it was still too late. He now belonged to that Assistant District Attorney with the oh-so-perfect teeth and the obvious dye job. Her relief when Clark was returned to her had given her the courage to try to tell him how she felt, despite his obvious infatuation with that blonde man-eater. Her effort was for naught, though. After yet another lost opportunity, she'd retreated back into her shell, afraid to try again. But that didn't help either since she was still miserable.
How could he have betrayed her like that? He was supposed to stay infatuated with her until she was ready to have a relationship. Sure, it probably would have taken her another ten years or so to be ready, but darn it, he should have waited.
She was being unfair to him. She knew it, but she didn't care right now. She was too busy indulging in a rare — *very* rare — bout of wallowing.
Just then, she heard a knock on the door. Clark's voice drifted through the doorway saying, "Lois? It's Clark. I was in the neighbourhood."
Lois panicked and wiped the tears angrily from her eyes. Of all the people to show up now, Clark was the last person she wanted to see. Not when she had been all weepy and wallowy. She was a mess.
Her anger surged again. "Just a minute," she called to Clark and then went quickly to the mirror to check her makeup. Fortunately, the damage was minimal. Stomping towards her front door with the tabby still clutched in her arms, she didn't even notice that Superman was nowhere to be seen.
She grabbed the doorknob and swung it open hard. "What do you want, Clark?" she growled. Her eyes then went wide momentarily as she took in the sight before her. Her eyes flashed toward her living room briefly, noticing her empty apartment, and then turned back to the man standing before her.
In a sickly-sweet tone, she told him, "Come on in," and gestured for him to enter.
She was still mad. But why was she mad at Clark? That didn't make any sense, and it certainly wasn't fair.
"Thanks," he said cautiously as he stepped inside. He watched her move to the kitchen, picking up the cat on the way, without a second glance at him.
"Lois, did I do som…" He cleared his throat. Shoot. Clark shouldn't know about the cat. "When did you get a cat?"
"Just today," she answered curtly, not even looking over at him as she made her way to the fridge.
He stood silent, not sure what to say, so he just watched her dig around in the fridge for something. So, she was keeping the cat as a pet? Somehow, that didn't strike him as Lois Lane behaviour. Especially since she was readying lunch meat and milk for the cat.
"Lois… you do know that milk's not actually good for cats? Hard on their digestive syst…"
The look of death she gave him stopped him cold. Smart, Clark, real smart.
She put the milk carton and the remainder of the turkey slices back in the fridge and threw the door shut. She still didn't respond as she set the bowl of milk and plate of now shredded turkey on the floor for the cat.
"I know that, Clark, but I didn't exactly have time to pick up cat food on my way home from being tied up in a warehouse for hours!"
Clark was grateful she interpreted the look of shock on his face from her outburst to be one of surprise of hearing about her unfortunate predicament. Otherwise, he'd have been in big trouble. "Y-you were what?!"
"Oh, don't be so surprised, Clark. You know it happens all the time. And I'm always fine. No need for you to worry about me."
Her tone was distant, detached. He really couldn't understand why. Nor why she'd been so brusque with him earlier when he'd rescued her. He'd just been teasing her like he always did.
"Lois, of course I worry about you! You're my best friend; why wouldn't I?"
"Because maybe you're too busy with your girlfriend, Ms High and Mighty District Attorney!"
What? Girlfriend? How did that happen? And why did it seem to bother Lois so much? She was the one who'd told him she wasn't interested, all those months ago.
"Lois, she's not my girlfriend."
She waved him off with her hand. "Whatever. Doesn't matter. Did you want something or did you just come by to lecture me on the finer points of cat care?"
"I was just in the area and thought I'd see you… Lois, trust me, there is nothing between me and Mayson."
"Oh, I forgot. Kisses are usual between business acquaintances. And of course I always take off my shirt when meeting a source. Why should I be mad?" she asked cynically.
Kisses? When had he ever kissed Mayson? His mind went back to that brief visit he had received from her, a few weeks ago, when she'd kissed him… but Lois couldn't have seen that. Not unless… not unless Mayson had told her, or she had somehow seen them through the door or window.
And he opted for the latter. It was so much like her to see things she wasn't supposed to see. Also, from what he'd observed, Mayson and Lois generally avoided each other and he doubted Mayson would share such things with her.
"How do you even know about that kiss? Do you even know what happened before we kissed? Or how we kissed? Or anything?" he asked. She had no right to accuse him of things.
She walked past him into the living room and sat down on one of the couches. "I… I saw you. Okay?" she replied, ducking her head with obvious embarrassment.
"How much did you see?" he asked, calmly now that she wasn't snapping anymore.
"I saw you kiss. And I saw that you were half-naked. And then I left."
He sighed. "Well, Mayson kissed me. And I had no shirt on when she knocked, but she didn't give me a chance to put one on. Lois, I have no feelings whatsoever for her," he emphasised, and sat down next to her.
"No, I don't. Lois, are you jealous?" he asked suddenly, taunting.
"No!" she exclaimed, getting up. "As if. You give yourself too much credit."
He smiled teasingly. "Then why are you so mad? What if I did kiss Mayson?"
"Clark," she said suddenly, eying him with a odd expression.
"Why do you have grey fur on your clothes? You haven't been anywhere near Pulitzer yet."
Pulitzer? Must be the cat. She'd obviously named her. So she was going to keep her! Lois owning a cat… it was almost incredible. Lois didn't do pets. Lois didn't do anything domestic!
But then what she'd asked him sank in. Fur? He had… What?
He glanced down at himself.
"Umm…" He searched his mind frantically for an explanation.
The cat wound herself around his ankles. He took a deep breath. Bluffing time. "Oh! Wonder where that came from? I guess I must have brushed against something the cat's been rubbing against."
Lois gave him an odd look. "Clark, they're on your *shoulder*. And your *chest*! Unless you've been crawling on the floor — and, trust me, I'd have seen you — you didn't get them that way. And I know you haven't picked Pulitzer up. So, unless there's a grey tabby cat somewhere else…" She raised an eyebrow.
He recognised that look. That was the patented Lois Lane on the track of a mystery look. The look which told him that she was well and truly dedicated to finding the solution and she wasn't going to give up until she'd done it.
Doing his best to look irritated, he carefully picked the fur off his shirt and walked past her, heading for the kitchen and her trash can. As he disposed of the messy item, he said, "Does it really matter how I got it, Lois? It's hardly a matter of life and death. And, you know, I'd really like to know just how you came to be tied up in a warehouse for hours!"
He looked up as he finished speaking. As he'd hoped, he'd succeeded in distracting Lois. She was rolling her eyes. "It was all so stupid. I got a tip-off that the gang that's been stealing those new Superman dolls straight from the factory were using a warehouse on Fourth and Talbot for storing the merchandise. So I went there. And my source was right."
"So?" Clark prompted, as she didn't seem immediately about to continue. "How did that translate into being tied up? Don't tell me the Superman dolls overpowered you," he teased.
She glared at him. "It was *stupid*, like I said, Clark. Everything was going fine. They hadn't seen me. I got my photos. I had all the evidence I needed. And I was just leaving when I tripped and some crates got knocked over. That's when they found me."
Judging by her expression, it was clear that, in Lois's opinion, the crates should never have been in her way in the first place.
"They? 'They' being the thieves, I take it?" Yup, only Lois would get herself into that kind of danger.
She sighed. "Yeah. And they had me trussed up tighter than a Thanksgiving turkey before I could even yell 'Help, Superman!'."
"So how did you manage to write the note?" he asked.
And then he saw her face and realised what he'd done. He opened his mouth to amend his words, but her wide eyes and pale cheeks stopped him short.
"A… a… note," she whispered in a breath. "I wrote… a note." She shook her head and blinked. "I wrote a note. I did. I…"
"Since you couldn't yell for help, I figured you'd had to have found a way to call Superman and… a note seemed obvious. I mean, that's what I'd have done if…" He trailed off with a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. It was a lame attempt and he knew it; if anything, the tightening of her lips confirmed that she wasn't fooled. "All right. Kill me now."
Her hand landed on his chest — for support or to push him away, he wasn't sure. "I wrote a note. Yes, yes, I wrote a note, and I got Pulitzer to get it out there for me. And…" The hand punched his chest. Hard. "And I had to choose the one cat in all of Metropolis — " Punch. Punch harder. " — the *one* cat who'd end up stuck in a tree." Punch. Punch.
He grabbed her wrists. "Lois."
Punch. "This doesn't hurt."
Punch. "Why doesn't it hurt?" She looked up at him and finally stopped trying to hit his chest. "Why?"
"I keep a tight control on my strength so you don't hurt yourself — Lois!"
"Oh! Oh." She looked… disappointed. "I guess that makes sense."
"We need to talk."
She took a step backwards. "No."
He reached for her again. "Lois…"
"Lois, say something!"
"Then you're upset."
"So you're happy."
She glared at him. If looks could kill, he'd already be six feet under.
"I don't know what I am!" she blurted after a long pause resembling the pre-eruption of a volcano. "I just found out my best friend in the whole world is the most powerful man on the Earth and… And… Oh, my. Oh. My. God!"
"What?!" he asked in a clipped, gunfire-like tone as she began to pace. Back and forth, back and forth. This was not good. Not good at all.
"My best friend is…" She gestured at nothing in particular about nothing in particular, at least not that he could discern. "I… I…" More gestures. Back and forth. "You! I…" Back and forth.
And then she stopped in front of him with a look of horror, her eyes tracing the contours of his face as if she couldn't quite make something add up. "I dug a bullet out of your shoulder, Clark. *Your* shoulder. Right there, I dug it out." She reached up and ran her hand across his left shoulder. A tear slipped down her cheek and her voice hitched. "And you were lying on the ground, and I thought you were going to die, and that was you all along."
"I'm fine, Lois," he tried to reassure her, but as usual, he had managed to find the exact wrong thing to say, he realized belatedly. All she would need was a few seconds.
This was going to be every bit the horrific scene he had always imagined would happen when he told her. And he steeled himself for it, trying desperately not to let himself crumble in the weight of her teary gaze. Because sooner or later she was going to connect the rest of the dots and -
He shook his head and embraced her anyway. "I'm so sorry, Lois."
"All along!" Lois continued woefully. "A bullet, Clark!" The springs were winding up. "A bul -" Snap. "YOU LET ME THINK YOU WERE DEAD!"
He cringed inwardly as she pulled away.
Clark was Superman. That meant he couldn't die, at least not from a bullet or three. Memories of her grief over Clark's death plus his "miraculous" resurrection just a few days ago washed over her anew. Of course now she knew exactly how Clark had survived Clyde Barrow's bullets. There was no magical cloning process that had helped Superman revive his dead friend.
It was just as well Clark had fallen asleep while she had been pouring her guts out to him, believing she might have been feeling something more for him than just friendship. Her face reddened, not only with embarrassment over her narrow escape but also because of her growing anger.
"HOW COULD YOU?" she screamed at him as she could no longer hold in the flood of emotions. She resumed her assault on his chest with her fists, beating uselessly against him. Tears streamed down her cheeks, blurring her vision.
"Lois, please," pleaded Clark, who grabbed her hands between his own and held onto them. "Let me explain!"
"Get out! Get out! Get out!" Lois screamed, struggling to free herself from his grip. But the toll of her emotions was too great. It was just too hard. Her legs gave way and she began to fall.
Clark held onto her and pulled her into his chest, resting her head on his shoulder. Despite the turmoil, Lois could feel herself calming down slowly but surely, something only Clark seemed to be able to do even when she was mad at him. The great, tearing sobs slowed to the occasional sniffle in just a few short minutes.
She thought back to the dreadful incident just a short while ago. Visions of Clark falling to the floor of Georgie Hairdo's casino went through her mind. And then there was the great emptiness that she had felt over the next day, thinking she had lost her best friend. That had been the worst, believing that her own careless actions had led to the death of her partner. But he had never died in the first place.
Now her world was turned upside down. She didn't know what to think anymore. Everything she had thought was true was seemingly wrong. Clark didn't love Mayson Drake as she had originally believed, but now Clark wasn't even who she had thought he was. He had always been somewhat of a contradiction, facing danger without flinching and saving her life a number of times in the past, yet at other times running away from danger ostensibly going for help which never arrived except in the form of a red cape and blue spandex.
Now with his identity revealed, everything was beginning to make sense. He had disappeared so many times in the past only to reappear moments later in his superhero guise. It was clear that Clark had wanted to keep his identity secret from the world for obvious reasons, but she was his best friend. And he had let her believe that he had died protecting her. That led to the one question that overrode everything else.
Disengaging herself gently, she pulled away from him until she was able to look him in the eye.
She watched the consternation on his face as his hand swept through his hair nervously.
For long moments, he appeared to be deep in thought until finally, he looked up and said simply, "I was wrong."
Apparently at her silence, Clark continued onwards after a few moments. "I didn't even know what I was doing at the time. After I had been shot, I went back to Smallville to hide out. My life as Clark Kent was over, so I didn't even know if I was even going to come back to Metropolis. Of course I had to because Superman couldn't disappear at the same time Clark Kent died. But I honestly didn't know how it would affect you."
Lois looked askance at him in utter disbelief.
"How can you possibly say that after all this time? You didn't think I'd care that my best friend and partner had been killed right before my eyes? Do you really think so little of me?" Lois asked angrily.
"No!" Clark exclaimed in a bit of a panicked voice. "That isn't it at all!"
"Oh yeah, Clark? Then what is it? Why couldn't you have come over here and at least had the decency to tell me that you were alive? That I *hadn't* been at fault for the murder of my best friend because he *wasn't* dead?! That I didn't have to mourn the fact that I'd never told him that I -"
She stopped short. She couldn't tell him that. He didn't deserve to know. She took a shuddering breath. "Why, Clark?"
The anger had abated for the moment, and she was left with an empty, hollow feeling. Clark didn't love her after all. The look on his face said it all. Pure, unadulterated shock. As if he couldn't believe her gall in insisting she'd had the right to know. He couldn't even think of an answer to tell her, probably afraid to do more damage by telling her that she really didn't mean that much to him.
Was that why he got such a kick out of teasing her, accusing her of being jealous? Was it an ego trip for him? Kind of like the attention she'd — foolishly — lavished upon him when he was Superman? A little game he played — How big a fool can I make Lois Lane?
But that didn't follow. Clark just wasn't like that. He wasn't.
Did she really know Clark Kent?
She eyed him carefully. He was still looking stunned.
She… she thought *she* was to blame?! And she… His breath caught again at the mere idea of what she *hadn't* said. Hadn't told him *what*? He couldn't think of what to reply to first. Or even what to say.
"Lois…" he choked out.
"What, Clark?" she asked, sounding defeated, maybe a bit irritated.
Her anger was back. Though not full-force, a fact which he was grateful for. "I… How could you think it was your fault?!" he blurted out, a desperate note to his voice.
She blinked and turned her eyes to a point somewhere to his left, avoiding his stare. Her voice was quiet, and he almost had to use his superhearing to hear it.
"How could it *not* be my fault, Clark? It was my idea to go into the club… Barrow… h-he killed you for protecting me."
He didn't even think; he just gathered her in his arms and held her close. "Oh, god, Lois. I'd die a thousand times over to protect you," he whispered softly to her.
His heart lurched when she choked out a sob. He held on a little tighter. "Don't you know, Lois, I'd do anything for you? I love you," he murmured into her hair.
It took a moment to register why she'd suddenly gone still in his embrace. He'd done it again. Told her he loved her. Told her the last thing she wanted to hear.
Clark stilled, afraid to move, trying to cling desperately to the last moment of calm before the storm.
The moment didn't last long; she pulled away from him.
Surprisingly, her voice held no hints of accusation. "What did you just say?"
"I…" He concentrated on his shoes for a moment. "I'm sorry. I said…"
No. He was sick of apologizing for his feelings! "I said I love you, Lois. And I'm not going to apologize for it any longer. I love you."
She couldn't breathe. He loved her. He was alive and he loved her. And he'd lied to her. Callously.
No, regardless of her uncertainty now where Clark was concerned, she knew Clark didn't have a cruel bone in his body. But it still didn't explain why he hadn't come to her instead of letting her believe he'd been killed.
"Then why, Clark? Why didn't you tell me you were alive last week? When it happened?"
He looked uncomfortable. "Well, what was the point? If Clark was dead, I thought it would be best to let everyone get used to that. Or at least… that was what I thought."
She punched his chest again. "You… you… *idiot*!" she exclaimed, turning away from him. "When will you learn not to make decisions for me? When will you learn, Kent, that you are not in charge of people's feelings? I didn't want to get used to that!"
He laid a gentle, light hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Lois, you're right. I was wrong to keep that from you."
A tear slid down her face and she blinked. She wasn't going to start crying again. "If you really love me, what were you about to do? Disappear and live without me? Some love that proves."
His voice changed. "I didn't want to do that, Lois!" He sighed. "Do you think I didn't torture myself endlessly thinking about you? About how maybe I'll never get to work with you again, or hear you go off on a tangent, or go on stakeouts with you… or invite you over for pizza and a movie and have you fall asleep beside me… don't you think I thought about all of that? But I had to protect my secret."
She whirled around to face him again. Looked at his face. Looked down. Considered her words. It was too early to admit her feelings. He deserved to suffer before that. Protect his secret from her, he said? Did he think she was going to print that news? That she was going to go running out into the streets yelling out that Clark Kent is Superman? "Okay, I didn't know," she said finally.
He looked uncertain. "Didn't know what?"
"That you didn't trust me."
He cringed. "I do, Lois."
How dared he. "Then why did you feel you had to protect your secret from me?" she almost yelled out. She noticed to her horror that she was shaking. "How… how *dare* you tell me you love me, trust me, how dare you say all these things to me and then tell me you were still going to protect your secret from me?"
He reached out and grabbed her arm. "Lois, listen to me. I know I was wrong. I said that. I know I was wrong."
"Yeah, you bet you were wrong." She was not going to cry again. She was not going to cry again. She was not going to cry again. She took a deep breath.
"And Lois, I do love you, and I trust you, and I should have known better than to turn away from you." His face was now dangerously close to her face.
"Oh, Lois, you can forgive me. Say you can. I don't know what I'll do if you don't."
Could she forgive him? It would be so easy to forgive him. Just say yes, and then lean in…
"I don't know, Clark." She looked down. Safer that way. "I want to."
The desperation in his voice tore at her heart. Just look up, lean in for a bit… give him hell later…
No. She couldn't forgive him until she was absolutely sure she could. "Clark, don't do that. Don't beg me. I need to know… I need to know everything."
His voice turned urgent. "Anything, Lois, just ask."
What *did* she want to ask him? She could start with why he didn't tell her even before the… the incident in the casino. "So why didn't you tell me? Ever? What were you waiting for? Assuming you were ever going to tell me."
He gasped quietly, but didn't say anything.
"Well? Is there a reason?" she urged.
"There is… do you really want to know?" he asked, sounding reluctant.
Good God, why was he stalling? Was it something horrible? Did he really not trust her? Did she want to know?
Yes, she did. She had to know. She had to know to forgive him.
"Yes, Clark… Oh, God, just say what it was."
He paused before saying anything, and then touched her cheek tenderly. "Because I love you, Lois. I love you, and you love Superman. And… it kills me every time when I see how differently you treat us. Me."
He… he was jealous of himself? She considered his words. Yes, she supposed she did treat Clark and Superman differently. She thought of Clark as her best friend, and… she did love Superman. For a while. But not since several months ago… and she *had* entertained the idea of Clark as a date, before he had gone and made it clear to her that he didn't feel anything towards her.
Which was clearly another lie, but one she supposed she could live with.
Suddenly, cupping her face in his hands tenderly, he pulled her towards him and brushed his lips over hers. A second later he came back with slightly more pressure.
Clark was kissing her.
Superman was kissing her.
Clark, who was also Superman, was kissing her.
And it was nice.
More than nice. It was amazing. The most fantastic kiss she'd ever experienced.
She pulled back, reluctant, nervous, silent, and stared into his hooded, brown gaze. She felt just like she had when she'd kissed Superman, that time on the air strip after the pheromone scare. Or that time when he had flown up to stop the Nightfall asteroid.
That was Clark! a small voice interjected.
She narrowed her eyes. Yes, it felt like those times with Superman. But it also felt like that time in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor, when she'd practically been bowled over by his prowess. Shooing the maid away had seemed like some event happening at the end of a distant tunnel. She'd spent a full span of minutes wondering how on Earth the hick from Kansas had learned to kiss like *that*.
The urge to drown in his desirous gaze was hard to resist, but she looked at him. Really looked. Probably for the first time, she realized.
He appeared relaxed, almost drugged, and remained still and quiet under her scrutiny. His lips were parted slightly, and warm breath fanned out. He swallowed tightly, convulsively, as though he were trying to remember how to breathe and wasn't quite being successful at it. As though he were the one drowning, not her.
Drowning in a kiss…
In one kiss, she'd brought the most powerful man on the planet into a stupor.
And for the first time, the image of her cape-clad hero coalesced with Clark.
And it made sense.
Superman was her Clark.
The man she'd once told she would love if he were ordinary as he'd stood there in all his spandex glory. He had bristled. Made a confusing statement that he couldn't see how he could believe her, under the circumstances.
Under the circumstances.
She had always wondered about that.
The *circumstances* were finally clear.
Jealous of himself. She had half-heartedly decided earlier that it was feasible. Now she really understood, and the truth was like a finger of ice, slipping down her spine. She'd professed to love him, *all* of him, after thoroughly rejecting his other half, the half that he seemed to cling more tightly to when describing himself.
As far as her relationship with Clark, she reluctantly admitted she hadn't been perfect either.
He was right. She did treat him differently — as Superman and as Clark.
Superman got fawned over. Gazed at adoringly. Thought about wistfully. She'd told Superman that she loved him and wanted a future with him.
Clark got… overlooked.
No, worse than that. Clark got laughed at. Sneered at. Dismissed.
<I'm sorry, Clark, I just don't feel that way about you>
Yet what she'd said to him wasn't true, and she'd already realised it. Acknowledged it. Given up denying it.
She *did* love Clark. Had loved Clark for a long time. She'd just refused to let herself admit it.
"I'm scared, Clark." The words escaped without any conscious effort on her behalf, and when she heard them pierce the lengthy silence she flinched.
Raising her gaze to his again, she caught sight of his troubled expression for only an instant, before it disappeared to be replaced by a concerned frown. "Scared? Why, Lois? Scared of… You're not scared of *me*, are you?"
"No!" She had to rush to reassure him. She'd hurt him enough. Too much.
She chewed her lip for a few moments before trying to explain. "Of… of myself. Of the… the *stupid* things I do when I fall in love. Of just winding up in another federal disaster — but this time with someone who means more to me than anyone ever has before. If it went wrong — you and me — I think it would kill me."
Lois scared? Lois terrified to take the risk of a relationship?
But that didn't make sense. She'd come within seconds of marrying another man just a few months ago. That wasn't the action of someone who was afraid to jump into a romantic relationship for fear of being hurt.
Or was it?
He'd suspected all along, after all, that she wasn't in love with Luthor. Had never been able to figure out why she'd been dating him and, most of all, why she'd agreed to marry him. She'd never actually denied it when he'd accused her of not being in love with the man, after all.
This, though, made sense, at last. If she hadn't been in love with Luthor, then she wouldn't have been exposing herself to the same risk of being hurt. Whatever she'd been seeking by deciding to marry him — companionship, security, a safe haven against all the changes that had been happening all around her at the time — Luthor wouldn't have had a chance of breaking her heart. Because she wasn't in love with him.
His jaw slackened. The significance of what she'd said was just sinking in.
*She would be risking her heart if she had a relationship with him.*
She'd just told him that he meant more to her than anyone ever had before.
*She was in love with him.*
And, just like that, he knew what to say.
"Lois." He took a step towards her and gathered her into his arms. "Lois, don't you know that nothing worth fighting for comes easy?"
She met his gaze, her brown eyes shimmering. "And you think I should fight for you?"
He shook his head, giving her a wry smile. "You don't need to fight for me. I'm already yours. You've got me — hook, line and sinker." He paused, bringing one hand up and caressing her face. "I mean, you take risks every day of your life. I'm sure you've taken years off my life with all your narrow escapes. You of all people *know* that risks are part of daily living."
"Yeah, I know, but…" She sighed. "Okay, maybe I'm a coward, but I don't want to get hurt again the way I was before."
"I can't promise that I'll never hurt you." Only a fool would promise anyone that. "I can swear that I love you more than my own life and that I'll spend the rest of my life proving it to you." He dipped his head and kissed her again lightly. "But anyway, Lois, you love me, don't you?"
"And are you going to stop loving me if we don't become a couple?"
This time she didn't react immediately. But, after a few moments, she shook her head. "I've tried, Clark. I've been trying for months not to love you, and it's not working."
"Just like I couldn't stop loving you even when I wanted to." He gave her a gentle hug.
"When I was so horrible to you?" Her voice rose, becoming almost shrill. It was rare that Lois would allow anyone to see her upset. He hugged her tightly.
"You were never horrible. You just… didn't feel the same way as I did."
"I was horrible!" she insisted. "And all because I was trying to tell myself that I wasn't in love with you."
"You loved Superman," he had to point out. The knowledge still hurt, but he couldn't pretend it hadn't happened. They had to acknowledge the truth if they were to move on.
She nodded. "Yeah. Though you were probably right all along. It was just a crush — I mean, how could I really be in love with someone I barely knew?"
She sounded bitter, and suddenly Clark knew that he couldn't allow her to take all the blame. "It wasn't like that. Not really. You knew me — Superman — better than you realised. Better than I realised. There were times when I know I couldn't have gone on without you. Plus, you'd never have felt the way you did about Superman if I hadn't encouraged you."
"Yes." She met his gaze. "You did encourage me. That's why I thought maybe…"
She didn't finish the sentence, but he knew what she meant. That was why she'd thought she and Superman could have a future.
"I know." He touched her face again. "I'm sorry. I… made a lot of mistakes. But I'd never had a secret identity before…"
"And it never occurred to me that my best friend could disguise himself as someone else."
"But now that you know…" He drew back and searched her face. "Are you willing to take a chance on me, Lois? Knowing all about me? That you're not just getting the guy you work with, but someone who has to fly off all the time to help other people? I'm not going to be a very reliable boyfriend, I gotta warn you of that."
Lois grinned. "I'm hardly going to be the perfect girlfriend, am I? My job always comes first, I work crazy hours and I'm always getting into trouble."
She'd bounced back already. Clark grinned back at her. That was his Lois, and he loved her. "It sounds like we're a perfect match."
She was about to reply, but then something small and furry began to wind itself around their legs. He looked down. The tiny cat looked back up at him and started purring.
"Looks like Pulitzer approves," Lois said with a smile. "I guess you've got yourself a deal, Clark Kent. If you're sure you want me…?"
"Oh, I'm sure, trust me!" And he tugged her close to him again and the world melted away as he claimed her willing lips with his own.
And, somewhere in the deepest recesses of his subconscious, he might just have heard a faint "Meow!".
(c) CrazyWritersRUs 2005