By Pam Jernigan, <firstname.lastname@example.org> Wendy Richards <email@example.com> and Sara Kraft <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2005
Summary: A very new Superhero finds a piece of pretty red rock and decides to keep it. Then he shows it to Lois and becomes just a little indiscreet…
Pam: This was the most fun I've had in a few weeks. It was fun writing my bits, and it was fun seeing what the other two would come up with — usually things I hadn't even remotely had in mind, but which worked great. Writing "live" can be scary, but the instant gratification of audience reactions is worth it — thanks to everyone who cheered us on and laughed at our jokes. I've got to thank Wendy & Sara for playing with me and helping me when I was stuck — and thanks Wendy, for keeping it all organized so we could finish and post.
Wendy: I'd forgotten how much fun writing round robins on IRC is! We had a couple of impromptu sessions, resulting in absolute insanity, but this story turned out rather differently. I wrote about half a page and yelled NEXT; Pam took over and within minutes she had everyone on channel in stitches! <g> The peanut gallery was kind enough to continue the encouraging reactions for Sara and me too — thanks, guys! It was fantastic writing with you two, Pam and Sara, and I hope we can do it again some time!
Sara: What an honor it was to write with two of my favorite authors in the fandom. I'm not so sure I was in my league <g>, but I had a blast! This was my third round robin in as many nights, and I found it to be such an entertaining process. Thanks to all the spectators on IRC for the great time and hilarious comments, without which this story wouldn't have been the same! Thanks ladies, it was an honor and a pleasure!
We would like to thank our Archive GE, Larissa, for her friendly and speedy editing of this story.
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of property is intended by this work of fiction, which is not written for profit.
Clark flew towards Smallville and dinner with his parents, feeling exhilarated. His first rescue, and public launch, had gone really well. He'd saved the colonists *and* the launch. No- one had pointed at his Spandex outfit and laughed their heads off. No-one had yelled, "What's Clark Kent doing dressed up like that?" And, best of all, Lois had been *very* impressed.
He smiled. The world was good.
Nearing the farm, he began to lose altitude. And then his attention was attracted by something gleaming red on the ground. He landed and went to check it out. What a pretty red stone! He picked it up. It was warm. And really smooth. And quite beautiful!
Hmm. He considered it. Wouldn't it look nice right in the middle of his S?
It did. It looked beautiful. All sparkly and glowing.
And he felt even happier about his new persona now. So happy that… Yes. He didn't really need to have dinner with his folks, did he?
Thirty seconds later, he was tapping on Lois's apartment window.
It took more than thirty seconds for Lois to respond to the tapping. He passed the time admiring his new decoration. Sparkly! And almost glowing, and all the facets and refractions were so beautiful… when had he seen anything so beautiful lately?
Oh, right. That was when.
He grinned at her sappily. "Hey, Lois, can I come in?"
Her eyes wide, it took her a moment to reach for the window latch and open it wide. "Wow! I mean, come in. Please. I've got so many questions… not that you need to answer any questions, of course, but I'd really like it if you would; I wasn't very inquisitive earlier, just because, well, it was kinda shocking, but normally—"
"Normally, you're a determined and brilliant journalist," Clark replied, while drifting inside. "I could see that right away."
She blushed. "I can't see how, considering…"
"Oh, Perry said you were the best."
For a moment, he frowned. Maybe he shouldn't have said that last bit. There was some reason… he couldn't quite remember it. Ah, who cares? "Wanna see what I found?"
Lois was staring at him. He smiled. "Your eyes are so pretty when you do that."
She just kept staring, the blush creeping back, and started to look uncomfortable. It occurred to him that maybe she was taking this the wrong way.
"But I really like it when you do that hard-boiled reporter thing, too."
"Well, ah… thank you!" She was starting to look very confused. Maybe even suspicious. Some distant corner of his brain tried to tell him that she was dangerous like this.
He should change the subject. That would be a good idea. He walked over to her couch and flopped down on it, slouching back in an attempt to get comfortable. "Why did you ever buy this couch?
"It's just so… stiff," he attempted to explain. "But it looks nice," he added politely. "My mom always told me to be polite, you know. So I am."
Lois walked cautiously across the room, perching on the other end of the couch. Her eyes had lost that wide-eyed wonder. "Yes," she agreed. "You're very polite. You say your mother taught you that?"
"Yep. She's great. Kind of like you. You're great, too."
She smiled softly. "Thank you. So, your mother… she made your costume, you said?"
"Yep, she did. Took her forever — and you should have seen the ones we *didn't* pick." He shook his head. "It couldda been bad. Very bad. This one's good, though." Which reminded him… "And see, I found this red rock!"
She leaned forward to look where he was pointing, right in the middle of his S. "Nice, huh?"
"Very nice," she agreed, her voice sort of breathless for some reason. He was glad she liked the rock, too.
Maybe he should offer to cut off a piece of it and share it with her. A pendant, or something. She'd look pretty good with a pendant lying nestled in her cleavage… or at least he assumed she would, 'cause she hadn't actually shown much cleavage yet.
But that was okay. "You keep secrets, too, huh?"
She blinked, and backed off to the other end of the couch again. "Um… what do you mean?"
"Oh, just… the way you dress and stuff," he said, gesturing vaguely toward her. "But that's okay. I like that better than Cat. Gives me something to look forward to."
She was on her feet now, backing away and starting to look really concerned.
"What's the matter?"
"Listen, Superman… just because I was, well, pretty blown away earlier, that doesn't mean… and how do you know Cat, anyway? Never mind, just… maybe you'd better leave now."
His face fell. "Aww." He brightened with memory. "You wanted to ask me stuff, right?"
She looked conflicted.
A notion of what she was worried about crossed his mind. "I'm not going to do anything to you, Lois. I wouldn't." After a moment's pause, he added, "Dad would kill me."
He wasn't sure if that made her feel safe or if her curiosity had gotten the better of her, but she softened her stance, and took a few steps toward the table to pick up her notebook.
"Okay…" She sat at the extreme opposite end of the couch, still looking wary.
"Want me to sit further away?" he offered brightly. "I don't need chairs, you know. I could just sit anywhere. On the air, I mean. No big deal."
That almost got a smile out of her. "No, that's okay…" She opened the notebook and looked downward. "Um, let's start with what you said earlier. You said you were a friend?"
She seemed a lot more sceptical about that claim than she had earlier, for some reason. "I am here to help," he intoned. He'd thought about this one in advance.
"To help… what, everybody?"
He shrugged. "Pretty much. Whoever needs it. See, there's stuff I can do, so… that's why Mom made me this suit." He tapped at his chest. He heard something plop onto the carpet, but he was too caught up in his train of thought to really care. "I just wanna have a normal life."
Her eyebrows went up. "You've got a strange way of doing it."
"Nah, this is the public part. That's the theory, anyway. I also," he informed her smugly, "have a secret identity. Pretty cool, huh?"
"Oh, really?" She was leaning forward now, looking fascinated. "Who are you in real life, then?"
"Uh-uh. Can't tell you." He smirked. "Wouldn't be a secret if I told you."
She sat back, just looking him over. He smiled cheerily back. "I might tell you later, though. Or not. Depends."
"Depends on… what?" He frowned. "No, never mind, forget I asked that," she added quickly. "I just want to get to know you a little."
He beamed. "Yeah, me too. I like you, Lois. You're… cool. Smart and pretty and… smart. Really smart." He was interrupted by a yawn coming out of nowhere.
"Thank you," she replied cautiously. "So… where are you from?"
"I've been all the way around the world," he informed her. "But I started out in Sm—" Another yawn. A real jaw-cracker. "Huh, guess that the whole rocket-ship-to-orbit thing was tougher than I thought…"
"Maybe you should go home," Lois suggested, in a nice soothing voice. "Where is home, by the way?"
"Oh, it's that way," he said, waving his arm towards the west. "No, wait. Which way's north?"
She shrugged helplessly. "Not really sure."
He shrugged back, his eyes getting heavy. "It's out there somewhere. Second star to the right…"
"Of course. You like Peter Pan, then?"
"Oh yeah, love him. Always liked the flying around thing." A yawn interrupted his chuckle. "You're prettier than Tinkerbell. Or Wendy. Wanna come fly with me?"
Lois inhaled sharply. Flying? With him? Again?
The journey back to the Planet, earlier, had been one of the most exhilarating, thrilling experiences of her life. She'd never wanted it to end. When it had, she'd dared to hope that some day it could happen again.
And now she had the opportunity.
The man she'd flown with earlier had been mature. Adult. Intelligent. With a spark of gentle humour, and a lot of gravitas.
*This* person was… Well, he was *juvenile*! Immature. He was behaving like an adolescent. And the way he'd looked at her, and the innuendos…
Had it been anyone else, she'd have said he was drunk.
She'd deliberately sniffed his breath a couple of times when she'd had the opportunity. But no alcohol fumes had hit her. Either he had such a low tolerance for alcohol that one beer could do it, or he'd taken mind-altering drugs.
Part of her still wanted to throw him out. She didn't put up with being ogled by *any* man. But, as he'd reminded her at least a couple of times, there was a story here. A *big* story. And Perry had made all sorts of promises about the rewards which would follow the reporter who actually managed to get the big Superman scoop.
She was off to a good start. He'd mentioned a mother and a father. He'd skirted away from a few other things, such as where he lived.
*But* — if he could be believed — he'd told her that he had a secret identity.
Wouldn't half an hour more in his company, even if he was drunk as a skunk, be worth the price if she could get more information out of him?
She smiled. "I'd love to fly with you, Superman. You're so very strong. And spectacular when you're in the sky."
He stood and held out his arms. "I knew you'd love it, Lois." He gave her a dopey smile. "It's so much nicer flying with you, too. It's really not the same when I'm carrying Mom or Dad."
She caught her breath. "Do you do that often?"
"Not much." He scooped her up. "Just when they want to go on vacation, or if Mom feels like looking at the stars."
His parents. Get him to talk about his parents.
"So, you carry them. That means they can't fly themselves, right?"
He was drifting through the window. "Of course they can't!"
"So how come you can?"
They were flying up over the rooftops now. And his expression changed, became puzzled. He seemed to shake himself. He frowned. Looked down at her. Looked at himself.
"Lois?" His voice was completely different. "What are we doing?"
Huh? Now what was he up to. "You're taking me flying."
"Uh, yeah, I can see that. But… I don't understand. What am I doing here? With you?"
She stared at him. The adult was back. He was stone cold sober. The kid-like expression had gone completely.
Frowning, she said, "You came to my apartment, Superman. I was… interviewing you. And you offered to take me flying."
Suddenly, he looked completely panicked. "I don't remember that at all! What did I say?"
"What?" Was he insane? Psycho? "Are there two of you or something? Do you body-swap?"
Slowly, he said, "Not that I know of. Why? What did I do?"
Yes, he was definitely panicked.
Quickly, she said, "Nothing. We just talked. You were telling me about your costume. And the pretty red stone you put in the front — you know, in your S."
He really had gone schizo. Didn't he remember anything?
But then he nodded. "I remember that." He glanced down at himself. She noticed that his gaze barely rested on her, unlike earlier when he'd barely been able to take his eyes off her. She felt… oddly disappointed.
"It's gone!" he exclaimed.
She followed his gaze. The red stone was indeed missing.
"It must have fallen out," she suggested. "It's probably on the floor in my apartment. Unless it fell out when you flew us through the window."
"I still don't remember that." He sounded definitely chagrined. "But maybe we could go back and look? If you don't mind, that is. I don't want to intrude."
*This* man could never be an intruder. She smiled warmly at him. "Sure. And maybe we could talk some more? I'll make coffee…"
He turned in the air, a long graceful arc. The city was beautiful from this vantage point, Lois decided. There was definitely something weird going on. And she would love to know what.
He met her eyes briefly, attempting a smile. He really looked petrified, she realized. Well, if he was trying to hide a secret identity, that would track. She needed to know who he was, she decided. The rest of the time, when he wasn't flying around, saving people… or acting like an innocent drunk.
He'd been, well, kind of charming, actually. Sure, he'd said some alarming things. Her cleavage was off-limits. Or, well, at least for the moment it was…
They reached her window, and he slid them gently inside. "Where… uh, where do you think that stone might have dropped?"
He set her down gently, and she stepped back quickly, needing that space between them. "You were over on the sofa, mostly."
He nodded, then approached the sofa gingerly. She didn't see the red stone, but after a moment, he said "a-ha!" and bent down to retrieve it from under the couch. It must have rolled. But how had he seen that from where he'd been standing?
He stood again, and just held the stone in his hand, studying it. After a moment, she prompted, "Well?"
His head slewed around, a look of surprise on his face. "Hey, Lois. Look, I found it!"
Oh dear. SuperDrunkMan was back.
At least this time, she had a better idea of what to expect. "Yeah, I see that. You know, it might be better if you got rid of that. It seems to have some—"
"No," he interrupted, his bottom lip protruding slightly. "I like it."
Well, her chance of stealing it was probably non-existent. But Lois Lane could do crafty. He'd never know what hit him.
"Okay, then." She smiled at him. "You know…" For a brief moment she debated the ethics of getting information out of him like this — he certainly seemed to be under the influence of something.
But what the heck, this was how it was done in the big leagues.
Besides, she didn't have to print everything she found out. Though Perry would skin her alive if he knew she'd even thought that… but tonight had shown her a surprisingly vulnerable… almost endearing side of the hero. He wasn't some god-like creature, but more of a… guy.
Which was almost more impressive. Or at least, maybe. Was "man" a step up or down from "alien"? Considering some of the men she'd known…
He was smiling at her, without a hint of his earlier sane moment of panic. She took a deep breath. "You were telling me about your secret identity."
"Oh, was I?" he inquired, artlessly. "Okay… wait, I wasn't supposed to tell. I don't think."
Looking at his open and confused expression, she just couldn't do it. "That's okay, that can wait till later." Later might be a different story. But if she wasn't going to take advantage of him, she'd better sober him up. After all, sooner or later, he would sober up (wouldn't he?) and if he decided she'd betrayed him… she shivered. She just didn't know what might happen.
"Tell you what, Superman. How about you put that stone right down on the coffee table, where it'll be safe. I'd really like to go flying again."
His smile widened, and he dropped the stone onto the table. "Okay!"
Was this really what she wanted to do? Well, flying, yeah, of course — but passing up the chance to get information… She firmly told herself that she wasn't giving him a pass, she was treating him as a possible informant. Earn their trust first, get lots of good info later.
"Is there anywhere you want to go?" he asked as he scooped her up.
It was on the tip of her tongue to suggest a visit to his place. She repressed it. "Oh, anywhere." He'd probably sober up before they got there anyway. "Take me someplace pretty."
"Yes, ma'am!" Holding her carefully, he floated them back out the window.
Once outside the window, Clark felt the fog lifting from his brain. He blinked several times and then stared down at the woman in his arms. Hadn't they just done this?
"Lois? Uh… Ms Lane, I mean. What's going on?"
"Call me Lois." She actually sounded amused! "I think after tonight we should be on first-name terms. Or, at least, we would be if I had the faintest idea what your name is."
Well, that was a relief. Whatever the heck had been going on here, at least he hadn't told her *that*!
"Were we going somewhere?"
"Well, I asked you to take me someplace pretty."
"Oh." He didn't remember that at all. "Okay. I can do that. And, once we get there, can we talk?"
She sighed. It sounded regretful, somehow. "Yes, I think we'd better."
He headed north and a little west. She didn't speak on the journey, but seemed to take great interest in the scenery. It was turning to dusk now and lights were appearing everywhere on the horizon. Their destination should be nicely lit up by now, too.
It was. Shimmering rainbow lights danced and tumbled over the ridge of the Horseshoe Falls. Lois caught her breath as he flew them past the cliff marking the end of New York State.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
She nodded. "It's amazing! I've been to Niagara before, but I've… uh… never quite had this view."
"I guess not." He grinned. That was twice today he'd managed to stun Lois Lane. For the greenhorn farmboy she'd looked down her nose at in the newsroom, it was quite an achievement.
She remained still in his arms, gazing around her in wonderment at the view. Then, finally, she said, "I guess you'd better find somewhere to land — somewhere a little less populated, maybe?"
"Sure. Let me go upriver a little."
In seconds, he'd found a deserted strip of riverbank and was lowering them to the ground. She slid from his arms, but — to his secret pleasure — needed to grab onto his arm for a moment to steady herself.
"Whoa there. You okay?"
"Um, yeah, I'm fine."
"Okay." He folded his arms and looked at her. "So what's been happening? Why was I at your place? I don't even remember going there, let alone what happened."
She grimaced. "Yeah. There's something you need to know. Do you remember that red stone?"
"The red… oh, sure!" That pretty-coloured rock he'd stuck in his S. "Didn't I lose it at your place?"
"Yes. But you found it again and… Look, Superman, I think it has some sort of… effect on you. When you're holding it — or maybe you just need to be near it — well, it kinda makes you… drunk."
"Drunk?" He stared. "You're kidding! I don't get drunk!"
She shrugged. "Well, you sure acted like it!"
"Like… how, exactly?"
"And very talkative."
He cringed some more. "Um… talkative?"
"Yeah. You were telling me all about your mom and dad…"
"What… did I say?" he asked tentatively. Terrified. Dreading her answer.
"Oh…" She shrugged again. "Just that your mom had brought you up to be polite, and your dad would yell at you if you did anything to upset me, and… oh, that you take them flying."
Oh god. That was bad, wasn't it? Okay, he hadn't said anything to help her work out who he was, but that… *How* could he have said all that?
He hoped that was all he'd said. That had *better* be all he'd said…
She was speaking again. The words emerged almost gabbled. "Oh, and you told me you have a secret identity."
His jaw dropped.
He managed to bring his lower jaw back in contact with its mate, and then he eyed Lois warily. She was actually looking rather embarrassed about the whole thing. But why would she be embar…
Oh, god. Please let him *not* have told her.
He snuck another nervous glance at Lois. She looked shifty now, like there was something she wasn't telling him.
Clark shook himself mentally. Get it together, Clark! Hadn't he decided he needed a wholly separate persona when he was being Superman? He was blowing it big time. His first day as a superhero and he felt like the kid who'd gone to school wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants. He gulped and forced himself *not* to look down. He was going to *kill* Mom.
He took in a deep breath and puffed up his chest. There, that was… slightly more superhero-ish. "Lois, I didn't happen to tell you what that secret identity was, did I?" Clark asked, hoping he'd imagined that squeak. His voice had been baritone, authoritative, demanding.
Yeah, right, he'd squeaked. Hopefully she hadn't noticed.
He raised an eyebrow at her — an authoritative one. Superheroes demanded respect and dignity. He commanded his mind not to wander to the bright red briefs he was wearing *outside* his… tights. Oh, God. What'd he been thinking?
Calm down, Clark. It was sharp. Cool. Debonair, even. Dad hadn't said anything. Dad wouldn't have let him leave the house if he'd looked foolish, right? Though… he had left rather abruptly…
Lois cleared her throat and he tried focusing on her. "Would it be so bad if you did?"
Oh, god. He'd told her. And now she was playing with him. Or… shoot! What if she was trying to call his bluff? No, wait… she was the one bluffing… or not bluffing. Oh, hell! Why couldn't he think straight?
Okay. Breathe. Look suave. Nonchalant. No, wait. He was authoritative. Right. "Well, Lois, yes, it would be bad. Just think, if you knew, if people knew you knew, you'd become a target. You'd be placed in danger."
Whew. Finally something intelligent had come out of his mouth.
Lois seemed to mull over that concept for a moment before she replied. "Good point. Only… how would people know that I know? I mean, it could just be our little secret. I'm good at keeping secrets. I'm a reporter, remember? Sources, informants. All very hush-hush stuff."
Clark sig — caught himself before he sighed. He loved watching her babble. And really, she had a good point. She hadn't taken advantage of him while he was drunk, either. That had to be a plus. He thought, anyway.
Well, okay, maybe… Oh, what the heck. He had nothing to lose, right? By the sound of it, he'd already told her plenty.
"Okay, Lois, you're right. So you won't say anything, right? When I'm dressed in the Suit, you'll treat me like Superman. And when we're at work, I'll just be plain old Clark Kent. Though it'd probably be a good idea if we didn't talk too much when I'm Superman. Don't want people to think they can use you to ge… Why are you staring at me like that? Lois? Oh, good god!!"
Lois felt her knees go weak and her mind go blank. Automatically, she pasted on a smile and dropped her eyes, buying herself some time to think.
Plain old Clark Kent?
Yeah, right. For the second time that day, he'd knocked her speechless. Cover, Lois. She was not going to fall apart in front of her greenhorn colleague. She couldn't let him know how rattled she was. "Oh," she tried to say, then cleared her throat. "Nothing. I just didn't expect you to agree that quickly." She raised her eyes back to his face and tried a more convincing smile.
He seemed to relax a little. "Well, I figured I didn't have much of a choice, really. I just wish I knew how a red *stone* could make me go nuts like that. I mean, what if I'd hurt someone?"
"You didn't," she soothed him, feeling protective toward him all of a sudden. Among other things, most of which she could hardly identify. "You just talked to me. There were a few moments," she continued thoughtfully, "when you seemed, well… you said stuff that made me a little uncomfortable, but you didn't *do* anything." Which meant… what? Darned if she knew. "You know what? I think I need some coffee."
He blinked. "You want to go somewhere?"
Oh, god. He was going to pick her up again. Hold her against that strong chest — the one she'd seen naked just a day earlier — his arms gently encircling her, making her feel totally safe… That scared the heck out of her. "We can't really go anywhere with you like that," she managed to say, semi-rationally. "And we can't talk in public anyway. I was just thinking, you could go get us something."
He raised an eyebrow. "And leave you here alone? Lois…"
Yeah, now that she knew what to listen for, he sounded *exactly* like Clark. "Clark, I'll be fine. It's a nice night, no one's around…" She glanced around the riverbank, peering through the gloom. "I think that's a nice flat rock over there I can sit on. And you'll be right back." A thought occurred to her, and she frowned. "Don't even think about not coming back."
"Lo-is!" He sounded offended.
"No, I know you wouldn't leave me here, Clark," she reassured him, and as she said it she realized it was true. "You're not that kind of guy."
His face cleared. "In that case… I'll go get us some coffee." He levitated upward slowly for a moment — was he keeping an eye on her reactions? She did her best to look blase. "Back in a flash." Suddenly, he was gone.
On wobbly legs, Lois walked over to the aforementioned big rock and plopped herself down on its surface. She sure hoped there was a long line at the coffee shop. And how was he going to go into a coffee shop, anyway, dressed like that?
Well, duh, she answered herself, he wouldn't — he'd go in as Clark. That seemed so bizarre, on so many levels.
Looking back, though, she had to admit it made a crazy kind of sense. Clark did have this sense of confidence about him. She hadn't been able to wither him with sarcasm; in fact, he'd given back as good as he'd gotten. She'd assumed it was just the attitude most good-looking guys developed, and was therefore totally unwarranted. Maybe not.
<Trust me on this, Lois> A memory came floating back. <I am *not* a typical male> Now there was the understatement of the decade.
So where did that leave her? Any second now, he was going to swoosh back in front of her, and she still didn't know how to react to him. So far, he'd exhibited three different personalities!
There were similarities, though. He was polite, for one thing; his mother had taught him well. Considerate, too. Kind of charming. Almost goofy at times. And whether he was Clark, Super, or drunk, he'd really seemed to enjoy talking to her. That realization melted away some of the tension in her gut.
He was nice, and he liked her. If not more, but she wasn't going to go there. She was nice, too — sometimes — and she liked him — sort of — so why not just go forward from here and just see what happened?
She was a little shocked at herself to realize she wasn't even thinking of printing any of this. Wasn't this a story too big to ignore? Or maybe it was a story too big to share.
A coffee cup appeared in front of her, held by a male hand, attached to a smooth forearm, which was encased in… nothing. Her eyes trawled upwards to see Clark standing there in jeans and a t-shirt. "I gotta sit down," she muttered.
Clark grinned. "You are sitting down."
"Oh, yeah. I guess I am. Gimme that." She took the cup and sipped as fast as she could manage, needing the caffeine. "Is this as weird for you as it is for me?"
"Weirder," he replied ruefully, sitting down on the grass opposite her. He'd get his pants wet, came the irrelevant thought. Oh, no, he wouldn't, would he? Not when he wasn't actually in contact with the ground. He looked at her expectantly. "So… what happens now?"
Yes, what was going to happen now?
She decided to test him. Tease him a little. Now she knew he was Clark Kent, she also knew that he wouldn't harm her, despite her earlier fears.
"You mean before or after I print the story?"
He gulped. She stifled a giggle.
Then the look of sheer terror on his face sent guilt through her.
"Relax, Clark! I'm not going to write it!"
He seemed to lose his balance suddenly, tumbling backwards and ending up sprawled on the damp grass. He blushed and scrambled back into a sitting position, this time staying cross-legged firmly *on* the ground.
"No, I'm not. Though I probably should," she added with a grimace. Perry would kill her if he ever found out what she was passing up…
He nodded, his expression grim. "Yes, you should. I mean, if it wasn't *me* you're considering writing about, I'd probably be right there with you working on the story."
She studied him thoughtfully. Would he? Now that she was able to put together her knowledge of Clark Kent together with the little she knew about Superman, a picture was emerging of a man almost unknown in modern times: one with scruples. Ethics. Decency. Even if he was somewhat susceptible to a mind-altering drug.
"I'm not sure you would, Clark," she said slowly. "I think you'd think it was going beyond the boundaries of the public interest and invading Superman's privacy."
Even as she said it, she knew that she was testing herself with the words.
Invading privacy? There was no such thing as privacy. Any reporter knew that.
The boundaries of the public interest? She'd always held the view that there was little which didn't in some way come under the public interest. There were things she wasn't interested in writing about — the sex life of the latest pneumatic Hollywood starlet, for example — but that was still a legitimate story. For a tabloid.
"Anyway," she added, "I'm not writing it. I'd really appreciate it if you'd give me something I *could* write — but your secret is safe with me."
He smiled. It was a blinding, warming, utterly gorgeous smile. And behind those unflattering glasses his eyes echoed the smile.
"And *I* appreciate your discretion. Thank you."
Wow. It'd been a long time since she'd been bowled over by a man. In fact, she'd vowed that it would never happen again. She was far too sensible and self-respecting to allow a mere man to have that effect on her.
But this man was different… and he was rapidly sneaking past all her barriers.
"Though, you know, I'm not so sure about giving you a story," he added. His expression was sober, but she could swear that his eyes were twinkling. "After all, you're the established reporter. The Kerth winner. I'm just the new kid on the block. I'm the one who has to prove himself."
Two could play that game. "Well, don't forget that your red stone is still at my apartment. All I have to do is bring it into work tomorrow…"
"Ouch!" He pretended to flinch. She could tell he was putting it on; there was a broad grin on his face. Then his mouth turned down at the corners. "I'll have to get rid of that thing. Destroy it somehow."
"You'd better not go anywhere near it." Where had that protective impulse come from? And yet she *did* want to protect him. "Leave it to me. I'll find a way to dispose of it."
How, she wasn't sure. Okay, she could just flush it down the toilet, but then it would go through the sewage system and out again somewhere… and given he could fly and he might get called anywhere in the city or even out to sea, that was too much of a risk. Not to mention the risk that someone at the sewage reclamation plant could find it and keep it. Whatever. She'd work something out.
"Thanks," he said again. "And of course I'll give you an interview. I just… won't talk about some things, right?"
"No problem." And, because he was right that he had to make his mark, she added, "I'll stay out of your way the next couple of times Superman saves something, okay? You can have those stories. That should help with Perry."
He looked… surprised. As if it hadn't ever occurred to him that she could do someone a favour.
Why, though? She'd done him several favours tonight, and he'd accepted them all with thanks and a charming smile. Why was this different?
And then she realised. This was business. This was two competing reporters after the same story, and she'd made herself only too clear to him on that subject several times since he'd been hired. She did not give up stories. She did not appreciate anyone muscling in on something that was hers. She'd made it clear that he was competition, and for that reason he was in the way.
Yet just now she'd made it clear that she'd stand back and leave the way clear for him.
Because, in spite of her instinctive wariness with men, in spite of the way he'd rattled her since the day they'd met, in spite of his magnificence in that costume which made her in awe of him, in spite of the way he'd ogled her and behaved like a teenager in her apartment… in spite of it *all*… she liked him.
In fact, could even begin to consider him a friend.
He was looking at her. Staring, in fact. Not the way he'd looked at her earlier. This wasn't the same eating-up-her-body-with-his- eyes look he'd had when he'd been high on that stone. His expression held admiration — and something else, too. A little like that night when they'd been working late together and she'd caught him staring and — because she'd felt unaccountably shaken up inside — she'd slapped him down.
Admiration. Interest. And… intent.
He leaned forward, towards her.
She caught her breath.
He drew closer, and raised one hand towards her face. She forgot to breathe. Without even consulting her, her body was leaning towards him.
And then a bolt of lightning hit her. He was kissing her.
She was tumbling, falling. Kissing wasn't supposed to be this good! It was as if every nerve in her body had suddenly come alive at once and she felt like she was floating.
Wait… she *was* floating! Her feet weren't touching the ground. She broke off the kiss suddenly in astonishment. It took her a moment to catch her breath, then another when she peered up at him and saw the look on his face. Pure, unadulterated bliss. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes hazy, clouded with adoration and a little something she couldn't quite discern. Like he was drunk again, but drunk on… Love? Nah… they'd only just met.
But, still, there was something…
Her breath finally caught up with her and she remembered they were still off the ground. "Clark?"
He continued to gaze at her adoringly. "Yeah?"
"We're floating." She grinned and watched in amusement as a different sort of blush crept over his face.
"Oh. Sorry." He grinned back at her sheepishly and lowered them to the ground. "I didn't even notice." He ducked his head a bit.
He was so cute when he was embarrassed. "That's okay. Took me a minute to notice, too."
They both chuckled, and the fiery spell they'd been under faded to a warm glow. Lois felt herself blush, heat spreading to her cheeks. Clark Kent was definitely no ordinary guy.
Clark had the urge to go perform barrel rolls in the sky. Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined standing right here, right now, with a ridiculously huge grin on his face from just having kissed the most remarkable — and beautiful — woman he'd ever met.
So much had happened in just one week! He'd landed the job of his dreams at the most respected newspaper in the world. Met the most stunning and intelligent woman he'd ever seen — someone whom he could imagine spending the rest of his life with. Found a way to use his special abilities openly for the greater good of the world. Single-handedly saved a multi-billion dollar space program — a fact which was still a little mind-numbing. Inadvertently discovered a rock that could render him intoxicated.
And the most amazing thing of all… He'd found that the world hadn't come crashing down around him just because someone else knew his secret.
Sure, he was a little disappointed and even a little embarrassed that he'd blown his disguise with Lois Lane, but something told him it might just be better this way. Especially since it seemed she liked him. He could only imagine the horrors that might have happened had they started a relationship *before* she'd found out the truth. That would have been messy.
Clark brought his attention back to Lois, who was now drawing circles in the grass with the toe of her sneaker. "So… " he started.
She looked up at him and smiled. The sight made his heart swell. "So…"
"I guess we should head back now, figure out what to do with that rock."
"Yeah, you're right," she sighed.
That wasn't really disappointment he heard in her voice, was it? Had she really enjoyed all this as much as he had? It was probably true, but Clark was still having trouble believing just how well things were going for him. He wondered if she'd say yes if he asked her out on a date. He'd have to try that out later. Meanwhile, they really should get back; it was getting late.
Clark spun back into the Suit and stepped towards Lois, ready to scoop her up again, but he stopped. She was standing there staring at him slack-jawed, and he had the sudden urge to wrap his cape around him, remembering his earlier embarrassment about his "super" attire. He grasped the edge of his cape, fingering the hem. "I think I'm going to talk to Mom about making a different Suit. This one's just too…"
"No? You… you like this one? It's not too… I don't know, loud? Immodest?"
"No, no. I like this one. It's… Super." She grinned.
He groaned, then picked her up. "You should have seen some of the other ones."
"Yeah, you said something about that," she replied, still sounding amused.
Which reminded him… "Just out of curiosity, what did I say again when I was, you know, out of it?"
She tilted her head. "There were a few things about the Planet — comments about Perry and Cat. You mentioned your mom and dad. You told me — very smugly, I might add — that you had a secret identity, but you refused to tell me what it was. I asked you where you were from, but you got distracted and offered to take me flying, which got *me* distracted." She wiggled slightly in his arms and grinned at him.
"Okay, so that was the first part I don't remember," he agreed, trying to concentrate on something besides how incredibly right she felt in his arms. Did she say he *hadn't* told her his secret identity? That tracked, actually, if he could trust his own memories; she'd said something about not having a clue what his name was. "When we went back?"
She sighed. "I was going to give you the third degree, but I just couldn't do it. Don't ever tell Perry that."
"So…" He frowned. "You mean, the first time you heard my name was…"
"When you mentioned it at the riverbank, yeah." She smirked.
He closed his eyes for a moment. "All that, and I give myself away when I'm supposedly clear-headed?"
"Well, I'd probably have worked it out anyway, sooner or later," she consoled him, a little too cheerfully for his comfort level.
"Yeah, you probably would," he conceded grumpily. Smartest woman he'd ever met. Good thing she was on his side.
"Oh, come on, Clark, it's not that bad, is it?"
He looked at her and smiled. "Nope, not too bad. Not too bad at all."
Clark entered work the next morning bright and early, but with a certain degree of trepidation. He'd dropped Lois off outside her apartment building — she'd refused to let him get too close to that red rock. The idea of her protecting him was almost laughable, but he loved that she cared. At any rate, he hoped it was caring, and not just a desire to avoid seeing him act drunk again.
She had kissed him, though. And he was quite certain that Lois didn't go around kissing people she didn't like. So that was something, right?
He looked up to see his editor bearing down on him. "Yes, sir?"
"What are you doing in here?"
Was this a trick question? "Uh… working?"
"Son, do you see Superman anywhere in this room?"
He swallowed. "Well, no."
"Then get out there and find him!"
"Yeah, Clark," Lois's voice chimed in from behind him. He turned to see her smiling wickedly at him. "Superman articles don't just write themselves, you know! You've got to work for them."
Perry beamed. "That's my girl." The smile disappeared. "So get on out there! Both of you!"
Over Perry's shoulder, Lois winked at him. Clark hid a grin. "Yes, sir, I'll get right on that…"
Perry turned and went off after someone else to hector, but Lois stepped toward him. "So, Kent, where've you been?"
Like she didn't know. "Around."
"Well, you may not have heard, but I've nailed down the Superman exclusive." She walked past him, grabbing his arm to steer him back towards the elevators.
"Well, you know I am an award-winning reporter."
"One who's apparently eaten her Wheaties this morning," Clark commented softly as she pressed the button to call the elevator car. "So tell me, how *do* you do it? Do these big stories just come up and knock on your window or something?"
She shrugged. "I have a genius for being in the right place at the right time."
She grinned at him as they entered the elevator. "Well, stick with me, kid, and maybe you'll learn some things."
"I have no doubts about that, Lois." The doors closed, leaving them alone together, and he paused. The banter was fun, but… "What did you do about that rock?"
"Smashed it into lots of sparkly bits. Then flushed them. They'll be nicely diluted. You might not want to get close to the sewage plant for the next few days, all the same."
"Oh, I'm quite happy to avoid it altogether," he assured her. "Thanks."
She smiled up at him, looking almost shy. "You're welcome. Just don't go around picking up any more shiny stones, okay?"
He laughed. "I have learned my lesson. So, we doing an interview this morning?"
"Yes, please — you can come to my place. And I won't even make you sit on the couch."
"Right. Okay, well, we can do that… and then," he added, feeling more confident, "maybe tonight we should celebrate your exclusive."
She glanced sideways at him, sweeping a look up under her lashes that made him catch his breath. "You buying?"
"Sure. Just name the country."
As the elevator door opened, she grinned at him, then dragged him out to take on the world. He had a feeling it was going to be an absolutely terrific day.