Reluctantly Engaged II: Readily Engaged

By Bethy

Rated: PG

Submitted: November 2004

Summary: One Lois-who-has-finally-come-to-her-senses-and-realized-she-loves-Clark + One Lois-still-technically-engaged-to-Luthor = One major roadblock to being Readily Engaged.

Note: This is the sequel to Reluctantly Engaged. I would suggest reading it first. It is currently available on the archive.


Lois's hand stilled on the lock as she went through the familiar ritual. Fortunately, this time her left hand ring finger was bare of any gaudy monstrosity. Had it really only been twenty-four hours since she'd come home from a date with — and proposal from — Lex? It seemed impossible that so much could change in so short a time, and yet here she was. Living proof that one man's proposal could open a person's eyes to the love she had for another man.

Of course, she'd just had a huge fight with said man that she loved. But that wasn't her fault. Well, it mostly wasn't. Okay, so it was sort of her fault — but Clark had still way over- reacted to the news of Lex's proposal! Was it her fault that when it came to Lex, Clark was beyond all reason? No!

Though it was possible she could have handled the situation better. Okay, fine, she *definitely* could have handled the situation better. *Happy now?* she bitterly asked her conscience.

They had been sitting, snuggled together, on Clark's couch. After mutual declarations of love, and some…incredible…mind- numbing…fantastic…unbelievably perfect kisses. Lois touched a finger to her lips. She'd never imagined that kissing could be so wonderful. It was as if he could read her mind — actually, no, better than that. What he did to her was beyond what she could have ever dreamed, so he wasn't reading *her* mind. She didn't know how, but he knew the perfect way to embrace her, to make her feel wonderfully loved, cherished, and, yes, even excited.

If only they hadn't fought. She could still be there. They could be kissing some more. Who knows, maybe they could even be doing…more.

Was she ready for more?

She wasn't sure about that, but anyway, it was a moot point. They'd fought. It would be a while before they even kissed again, let alone thought about more. If they even kissed again.

So they'd been snuggled on his couch. Lois had been resting her head on Clark's shoulder with what she was sure was a blissful smile on her face.

"You know," Clark's voice had broken into her thoughts. "You still haven't told me the story behind all this."

She should have made something up. Said she saw something on television, she'd found a bridal magazine, Lucy had called to say she was engaged. She should have said anything but the truth.

Lied to him? But wasn't that what started this whole thing in the first place? The thought that she'd lied to Lex by not challenging him when he slipped the ring on her finger? No, she shouldn't have lied to Clark. But she wished she'd come up with some other way to tell him. Some way that would have been easier for him to take, some way to prevent him from going ballistic.

Instead, she'd been stupid. Oh, she tried to soften the blow. "You might not like it," she had warned him. "Keep in mind that this is what got me to realize I love you," she'd reminded him. "Ultimately, it's a good thing." Was she trying to convince him? Or herself?

"Okay," Clark had said.

Yeah, right. It was anything *but* okay.

She had thought for a moment, trying to come up with a way to say it that wouldn't sound so…so…so much like another man had proposed to her. And not just any other man, but the only man that Clark had ever actively disliked.

But where to start? With Perry's Elvis story? No, that didn't make sense even when she knew the situation. It would just confuse Clark. With her conversation with Martha? But how would she get into that without stating why she'd called in the first place?

Ultimately, she went with simplicity.

"Lex proposed to me last night."

Wrong move.

Clark had stiffened and said, "Luthor…proposed to you?"

"Yeah." She'd mumbled the words in the direction of her ribcage, unable to look him in the face.

"Lois, you've only been dating him for three weeks. Have you ever wondered what he wants, pushing the relationship so fast?" He pulled back. Partly to face her, perhaps. Partly to avoid touching her any longer, she was sure. "I warned you about him. Don't tell me I didn't. I can't believe you're still seeing him."

"Clark, you promised," she warned him, feeling bereft at the loss of physical contact. Her shoulders felt cold without his arm. And yet, it was that shuttered look in his eyes that left her feeling hollow.

"Promised what? To listen? Well, go ahead, I'm listening." He crossed his arms as if to say, 'and it better be good.'

She shivered as she remembered that look in his eyes. Yes, it was even worse than the loss of physical contact. Unable to face her own couches — they were uncomfortable in the best of times, but in comparison with Clark's couch, and without him, *especially* without him, they were just unbearable — she went to the bedroom. She wanted to be close to Clark. Since that was impossible at the moment, she settled for the next best thing. She changed out of her jeans and t-shirt into an old, faded Kansas State sweatshirt and a pair of pajama shorts. Foregoing her normal nighttime routine, she curled up on top of her covers with the stuffed bear Clark had won her at the Smallville Corn Festival. If she couldn't have Clark, at least she could have what Clark had given her.

"Clark, please," she'd said, trying to be forceful enough to show her earnestness, without being overbearing. "I love *you,* remember?"

His face had relaxed a smidgen at that. Maybe she should have stuck with that line of thought. Murmured sweet nothings in his ear. Kissed him senseless so that the next time Lex's name came up, Clark was too dizzy to care. But had she done that? No. Stupid, Lois, really stupid.

"So…what?" he'd asked, cautiously. Still not moving back towards her, but softening that blankness in his eyes. "You told him, 'I'm sorry, but I've just realized I'm in love with Clark'?"

One look at her face had been enough to enlighten him to the truth. He sprang up from his seat. "Don't tell me you said yes to him!"

She blushed in memory, just as she had blushed then. "No! Not…exactly."

"What? Exactly." Clark had folded his arms, brooking no nonsense.

His uncompromising attitude had caused something to snap inside of her. It wasn't like she didn't have just cause. After all, she'd been through more emotional upheaval in the past twenty- four hours than she'd experienced in…years. Maybe forever. It wasn't like it was every day that she got proposed to by the third richest man in the world, only to realize she didn't love him, and what was more, to realize that she was in love with her best friend and *work* partner!

No, it wasn't like she didn't have just cause.

But that still didn't mean she should have said what she did. It didn't mean she couldn't have found some better way to phrase it, a better tone to use.

A tear slid down her cheek. How could she have let loose like that? Simple. She was Lois Lane. Queen Babbler and Tantrum Thrower. Every word she'd shouted was now scorched into her memory.

"What was I supposed to say, Clark? I was surprised! No, I was *shocked*! I was speechless. I know, I know, it's hard to imagine me speechless, seeing as how it's never happened to me before and probably will never happen again in this lifetime, but it's true! And when Lex slid that stupid ring on my finger, taking my silence as a yes, what was I supposed to do? Take it off? Throw it in his face?"

"No, Lois. N-O. No. Two letters, one word. No. You say it to me all the time!"

"But I didn't *know* what I wanted! What if I decided I *did* want to marry him?"

Oh, why had she said that? Lois stifled a sob. Why on earth had she told Clark that she had thought she might have wanted to marry Luthor? Right after she told Clark she loved him. What kind of two-timing tease was she?

Clark's expression had turned stony, as well it should have.

"I can't believe— I just don't— How could you have even *considered* marrying that bas—monst—thing?"

And that's when she'd said it. Yup, that's when she, Lois Lane, had made the stupidest mistake of her life. Her mouth had gotten into plenty of awkward situations in her life, but this one topped them all. What had ever possessed her to *say* that? No wonder Clark went crazy. What man wouldn't, if the woman he loved, and who professed to love him, said what she had said?

"Watch how you talk about Lex, buster," she had said, "because, *technically,* he's still my fiancée."

Oh, why, oh, why, oh, why, oh, why, oh, *why* had she said that? 'Technically he's my fiancée'? Yeah, that's the way to calm him down. Tell him she's engaged to another man. Uh-huh.

Lois felt like she'd made incredible progress with her emotions and her daring to go further into a relationship with Clark. And together, they'd reached a mutual understanding of love. And those kisses… Finally, Lois quit holding back and just gave in to the sobs. Was that the last chance she'd ever have to experience those wonderful kisses with Clark? Or joke with him? Or cry on his shoulder? Or run to him when the crackpot of the week decided he wanted to kill her? Had she, in the space of a moment and single, idiotic comment, ruined things between them forever?

She sobbed harder, pressing her face into her teddy bear. Please, no. Please don't let everything be ruined. Please.

All she wanted to do was cry herself to sleep and hope that she'd wake up in the morning to find everything miraculously fixed. But she couldn't let herself do that. She had to face what she'd done and figure out how to fix it.

Because she knew two things: She loved Clark. And it was a love unlike any she had ever known. Wait, make that three things: She wasn't going to allow herself to lose that. Him. Whatever.

Resolutely, she wiped the tears away and blew her nose. And returned to her memories. Painful as they were, she needed to reach the end of the evening before she could decide what to do.

After her (incredibly beyond stupid) comment, all the blood had drained from Clark's face. She had never seen him so pale. His expression was one of shock…and the deepest pain she could ever imagine. "Well, then," he had said, his tone almost devoid of any feeling, "maybe you should just go to him then."

No. No. *Clark. Don't. Don't push me away. Anything but that.* But, once again, had she said that to him? Of course not. Instead, she'd retreated into the safe haven of anger and replied, "Fine!" And with that, she'd marched right up the steps and out his door. Straight out of heaven and into hell.

"Fine!" Clark had called after her. "Just go ahead and get in bed with the devil!"

In any other circumstances, she would have had to have the last word, but as she slammed his door, it was all she had been able to do to keep the tears from coming then and there.

But she refused to give into them now. She'd had her moment to wallow in self-pity. Now it was time for action.

She recognized her part in the fight. She'd been an idiot, but it was too late to change that now. She just hoped she could figure out a way to fix the damage her words had caused.

But what about the damage his words had caused? He had hurt her, too! What gave him the right? After all, if he hadn't overreacted to the news of Lex's proposal in the first place, she never would have felt the need to say what she did!

Why had he reacted so extremely, anyway? She knew Clark didn't like Lex, but this went beyond anything he'd ever said or done before. Yes, he'd warned her that he didn't trust Lex, but tonight Clark had called him the devil. A *thing.* As if monster wasn't strong enough for what Clark thought Lex was.

She shook her head. This didn't make sense. This was *Clark.* Clark, who never hated anyone. Clark, who always looked for the good in people. Clark, who got along with everyone. Clark, who'd probably never held a grudge in his life.

But he hated Lex Luthor with such venom that he compared the man to the devil.

What could have caused such a deep hatred? And how could she have not noticed it before?

Well, she'd never exactly told Clark that she was engaged to Lex before, either. But still…

She tried to think back to remarks Clark had made about Lex. Nothing specific came to mind. She just had a general sense of dislike and distrust. She'd always chalked it up to jealousy, similar to Clark's jealousy of Superman.

But that didn't make sense, either.

Clark didn't get jealous. Except when it came to Lex and Superman. Yet, Clark didn't hate or distrust Superman.

Oh, she was so confused!

But one thing was clear. Clark Kent was the most decent man she'd ever known. Even before she'd realized she was in love with him she would've admitted that, and without too much prodding. With that in mind, who did she trust more?

Clark? The only partner she'd ever been able to stand working with? The guy who knew exactly how she took her coffee and was even nice enough to make it for her half the time? The one who edited her copy, supported her crazy hunches, made her laugh and brought over pizza and movies when she was down or scared because another psycho was out to kill her?

Or Lex? The man who assumed she'd marry him without even waiting to get her input on the matter? The man who impressed her with extravagant displays of wealth and flattery, but never bothered to try to see past the mask of Lois Lane, reporter?

Well, that was a silly question. Of course she trusted Clark.

So if Clark Kent said that Lex Luthor was evil, shouldn't she give him a little credit and at least give him a chance to explain himself?

She would. That was exactly what she would do. She would go straight back to his apartment and demand— No. No demands. That kind of attitude was what got her where she was right now, and she didn't much like that place.

She would go to Clark and humbly ask that he explain. She would hear him out and then go from there, remembering that he was both the man she loved and the man she trusted.



*I am not!* she protested. *It's almost three in the morning! I can't barge in on Clark in the middle of the night.*

*Never stopped you before.*

Good point.

Besides, if she was still up agonizing over this, odds were good that Clark was, too. She got up, pulled some sweatpants on over her shorts, grabbed her keys and her license and left.

One way or another, she was going to get this resolved. Tonight.


"Lois? What are you doing out here?" Clark's front door opened behind her and only his quick hand stopped her from tumbling into the apartment. He hadn't been there when she'd arrived, but she couldn't bear to go home again. So she decided to wait. Sitting on the stoop, leaning against his door, she must have fallen asleep.

She turned bleary eyes up to his worried face. She really hated to wake up after she'd had a hard cry. Her eyes felt all crusty and her throat hurt and she needed to blow her nose again. And she was sure she looked a mess.

But she couldn't forget why she'd come here.

"I need to talk to you." Her voice sounded like a croak.

"Oh, Lois." His gaze was soft and sad as he helped her stand up. Her left foot remained asleep and she lost her balance, falling into him.

He reached out to trace the tear tracks on her cheeks and for a brief moment hope flamed in her heart. Clark opened his mouth and she was sure he was going to apologize. But then he swallowed and his expression closed up.

"Don't you think we said enough last night?" Through his hard words she could tell he was in as much pain as she was. And that gave her the courage to say no.

"No, Clark." She gave a humourless chuckle. "Oh, we said plenty. But not the right things."

She took in the circles under his eyes, the stubble on his chin, and knew his night had been as rough as hers.

"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did."

A muscle jumped in his jaw, the only clue to how tightly he was reining in his emotions. "But you did."

Lois closed her eyes to keep the tears back. "Please, Clark, can I just come in and talk to you? I promise, no yelling."

He stared at her for a moment and then wordlessly stepped back to let her pass. He let her choose a seat on the couch and then moved to a separate chair. Nor did he offer her anything to eat or drink. Yes, she had hurt him. Badly.

*But he hurt you, too,* a little insidious voice said. She squelched it. Yes, Clark had hurt her. But grudges and resentment had ruined her parents' marriage. As they ruined friendships. And somebody had to offer the olive branch, even if they'd both been wronged. And she loved Clark enough that she was willing to be that one. She couldn't lose him.

"The first thing I need to tell you is that Lex Luthor is not and never has been my fiancée."

Clark looked up, surprised at that. "He's…not? But last night…"

"Last night I was angry. And hurting. But that doesn't excuse what I said." She paused, trying to figure out how best to phrase this. The last thing she wanted was a repeat of the night before.

"When Lex proposed to me—"

"So he did propose!"

"Please, Clark," she begged. "Just let me finish. Please."

After an interminable silence, he nodded.

"When he…you know what, I didn't answer. He slipped the ring on my finger and took my silence as a yes. But I did not accept his proposal. No, I have not given the ring back yet, but that's because I spent the entire day trying to figure out what I felt for him, which, long story short, led me to realize I loved you. And so I came over here, and…you know the rest. Believe me, Clark, returning his ring is the very next thing on my list. But I needed to talk to you first."

*Please believe me. Please accept this. Please.*

"What did you want to talk about?"

He didn't seem to be warming up to her at all, but at least he wasn't kicking her out. For the moment, she'd take what she could get.

"Clark…could you tell me…why do you hate him so much?" She was so nervous that she babbled on without giving him a chance to answer. "I mean, you don't hate anybody and when I realized that last night I thought you must have a good reason for hating him so much and I love you and I trust you more than anyone I've ever known, so shouldn't I trust you on this? And so I just want an explanation and I promise I'll listen and not defend him, because to tell you the truth, he's kinda slipped down to the level of 'not- worth-my-time' in the past two days, but obviously in your book he's even lower than that, lower even than scum, I think, so I just wanted to know… Why?"

Clark sighed. "I don't have proof."

He was going to tell her. He was really going to tell her! "That's okay." She was afraid to show too much emotion. She didn't want to scare him off. She needed to hear this.

Clark fiddled with his glasses and refused to look at her. At last he said, "You say you trust me more than anyone you've ever known?"


"More than…" He hesitated. She waited. "More than Superman?"

What did Superman have to do with any of this? "Clark, Superman is an incredible person, but…I don't know him the way I know you. And he doesn't know me the way you know me. And so yes, I trust you more than Superman."

Somehow that helped him make his decision. He whispered, almost so low she couldn't hear him, "I trust you, too."

Then he looked up at her and said, "I hate Luthor because he's been trying to destroy me since I arrived in Metropolis."

"But…why on earth would he care about destroying you? You're just a reporter. Okay, an incredible reporter, but still…"

"Do you remember those 'tests' of Superman right after he got here?"

Superman again. Why did he keep bringing up Superman? She didn't *care* about Superman right now! She just wanted to know what the issue was with Lex. She sighed. She said she'd listen. She said she trusted him. And she did.

"Yes, I do." She might trust him, but that didn't mean she wouldn't ask questions. "But what does that have to do with anything?"

"Luthor admitted to me, well, to Superman, I mean, that he was behind them."

"Wait a second. He admitted it to you? Or to Superman?" Not that it mattered who Lex admitted it to. He had been the one testing Superman. He'd put innocent people's lives at risk in order to test Superman's abilities.

"To Superman, technically," Clark said to the floor. "But really…to both of us."

He looked back at her and said, "You see, we're actually…kind of…well… The same person."

Lois blinked at him. That made complete and total sense. Not! Wait a second… "Are you saying that—that you are—Superman?"

He looked miserable. "Yeah."

"Oh." Well, that was an intelligent response. She didn't know what else to say, though. She didn't think she could handle this right now.

So she went back to the subject of Lex. "So you mean that Lex…told you…while you were being Superman…that he was testing you."

"Yes." Clark looked wary. "And he was behind the heat wave, trying to banish Superman, and the explosion of the Messenger, and the Metamide 6, and the Toasters, and countless other crimes, none of which I have even the slightest shred of proof for. He is an evil man who thrives on power and will let nothing stand in the way of amassing more power, which is why he is so intent on destroying Superman. But I don't have any concrete proof!"

"Oh." Yet another brilliant display of wit on her part. It must be in Tahiti. Along with her sanity.

"So…um…" Her thoughts were whirling in crazy patterns, creating a chaotic storm field in her mind. "Since I've seen baby pictures of you…um, you Clark, I mean… And, well, Superman was never heard of before last year… I'm, um, assuming that he — you Superman, I mean — is a relatively new addition?"


She nodded. "Right. Got it." She shook her head. "No, never mind. I don't got it. Explain? Please?" She knew she sounded like a pathetic little child, but she couldn't help it. The emotional drain of this weekend was really catching up to her. Not to mention the lack of sleep, coupled with the fact that the sleep she had gotten was curled up outside, against his front door. Her brain just wasn't working. She really couldn't handle this right now. It was too much.

Couldn't they just forget about the whole stupid Superman thing, and the Lex thing, and kiss and make-up? No? She didn't think so. She forced herself to pay attention to Clark's explanation.

Super powers. Chronic do-gooder. Protect parents. Have a life. Equals secret identity. Oh, well, now it was crystal clear.

Sort of.

But really, it was as clear as she could handle right now. For some reason tears filled her eyes. No! Why was she crying? She had no reason to cry. Stop it. Stop it right now! But of course, her treacherous tear ducts refused to listen to her.

"Oh, Lois, please don't cry." Clark finally moved closer to sit beside her. He reached for her and tentatively pulled her into an embrace. She buried her face in his shirt and held on tight.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I'm sorry."

"I'm the one who's sorry, Lois. I'm so sorry."

She tried to stem the flow of tears, but every time she thought she was okay to breathe again, they recommenced.

As he gently rubbed her hair, Clark continued to speak. "I should have told you. I shouldn't have yelled at you. How could you have known about Luthor? I never told you. I never told you anything. I'm so sorry. I should have told you sooner."

"No." She pushed away from his chest and roughly wiped her cheek.

He looked stricken. "No what?"

"No, you shouldn't have told me sooner. About Superman, I mean."


Lois wiped at her face again. "No. I was dating Lex, who, as you said, hates Superman. Therefore, I couldn't be trusted with that information. But—" she pointed a finger at him, "—you should have told me about your suspicions, even if you didn't have proof, instead of muttering like a jealous fool and ordering me around. Which, as you should know by now, is the fastest way to get me to do the exact opposite."

He at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

"Clark, how many times have you followed along, trusting my instincts, when I've had a crazy hunch?"

"A lot."

"And how many times have you managed to find a major clue in an investigation? How many times has it been you with the hunch and me trusting you?"

"But you always argue with my hunches."

"Well, yes, but I still go with you to test them out. Don't I?"

He rubbed his chin as if trying to remember. So she smacked him.

"I do, Clark, admit it."

"Okay, okay." He held up a hand in surrender — and to block another smack. "You trust my hunches, too. And I should have trusted you. And not ordered you around."

She sat back in satisfaction. "Good. Now that that's out of the way, you should make me some coffee."

"I should—what?"

"Make me some coffee. I need something to perk me up, so that we can decide how best for me to return a certain disgusting piece of jewelry to its rightful, not to mention repulsive, owner."

"So does that mean you forgive me?"

Forgive him? Of course she forgave him! How could she not? Especially considering the alternative. "Yes, Clark. Do you…do you forgive me?"

"There's nothing to forgive."

Lois knew that wasn't true, but decided not to push the point as he got up to make the coffee. She smiled, content. They were not fighting anymore. Not fighting was good. Not fighting meant there was hope that sometime in the near future Clark would want to kiss her again.

"I'm thinking I want to mail it to him," Lois called after Clark, going back to the subject of Lex's ring. "That way I don't have to look at him. And couldn't you just see his face? I could put a note in it. 'Hey, Lex, sorry. I'm in love with Clark. Here's your ring back. Lois.'" She grinned.

"He'd go ballistic," Clark said, entering with two hot mugs of coffee.

"I bet he'd turn purple!" Lois said with glee. "Maybe it would be enough to make his head explode. That would be nice."

Clark laughed. "Drink your coffee, Lois, I think you're dreaming."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Seriously, though, I can't do that. It wouldn't be right. But on the other hand, I have a feeling that he won't take too kindly to being turned down."


She took a sip of her coffee. "Ahh. This is perfect."

They sat in comfortable silence, simply drinking the hot brew and resting in the knowledge that things were right between them.

"So what are we going to do?"

We. She loved it that he said we. He didn't assume this was her problem. It was now theirs. Together. We. What a beautiful word.

"I don't know. Think it'd work to just walk up to him, say, "I'm sorry, Lex, I can't marry you,' hand over the ring, and leave?"

"Probably not. He'll want more of an explanation than that."

Lois sighed. "You're right." A pause. "I really don't want to deal with this."

"I know, honey, I know."

Honey? Honey. She smiled. That was even better than we.

"I guess I could wing it."

Clark frowned doubtfully. "I'm just worried about his reaction. He's not a nice man, Lois."

"You think he'd actually do something to me?"

"I wouldn't put it past him." Clark's voice was grim, and very, very sure.

That gave Lois pause. It wasn't that she didn't believe Clark. It was just hard to reconcile that level of evil with the man she thought she knew.

"I just don't know any other way to do it. I can't mail it to him, I can't do it over the phone. I have to go see him. And it's just cruel to do it in public."

"He deserves cruel," Clark said darkly.

"Clark. Please."

"I know. Okay. But Superman is going to follow you, so that if there's even any hint of trouble…" He let his voice trail off, but it didn't matter. She knew exactly what he meant.

She gave him an impulsive hug. "Thanks." His arms tightened around her and for a moment she let herself rest in the comfort of his embrace. This was definitely where she wanted to spend the next hundred years or so.

After a long moment, she pulled back. And laughed. Clark looked exactly like a puppy who had just had his favorite bone taken away.

"I need to get this over with…honey." She was hesitant about using the endearment, but Clark's brilliant smile proved that it was worth it.

"And then we can come back here and get back to doing that?"

"Count on it. I can guarantee that I'm going to need a hug or ten after this," she muttered and turned to find her purse.


Lois waited in the anteroom to Lex's office, wishing this were already over with. She'd gone home to shower and change and get herself presentable, but it wasn't enough time for her. She wanted to stall longer. She wanted Clark to swoop her up in his arms and take her to some deserted tropical island where neither one of them would ever have to think about Lex again. She was a coward.

But rejection hurt. And even if Lex was as evil as Clark claimed, even though he was a controlling jerk who assumed too much, she hated having to go in there and reject him.

Why? It wasn't like she'd ever had any trouble rejecting suitors before. Or blind dates. Or anyone! Then again… Come to think of it, she'd never really had to get to this point before. It never came down to rejection. By now she had usually scared the guy off. The only men she hadn't sacred off were ones who wanted something from her. Like Paul. And Claude. And Lex. And Clark. Clark? No. Though that pattern didn't bode well for their relationship… No! What was she thinking? Clark was as different from Lex as a man could be — and that was even *without* the Superman factor.

*Clark loves you,* she reassured herself.

While Lex loved only himself. And power. Though what he wanted from her, why he thought she could be an asset to him, she had no idea. It wasn't like she was insecure. On, no. As Clark could attest, she was often *too* secure in herself…so secure in her abilities she quite often ended up getting kidnapped. But she was still realistic. She was a reporter, for crying out loud! A good one. A great one, in fact. But still… What *did* Lex see in her?

Suddenly the door opened and she shoved her self-analysis aside.

"Lois, my pet! Come in."

My pet? *Pet?* Now all he needed to do was pat her on the head and say, "Good doggie." Pet. Hmph.

Instead, he gallantly reached for her hand to bring it to his lips for a kiss. It was fortunate that he didn't go for her lips. She was tired enough and cranky enough that she might have had to smack him for that and somehow she didn't think that would go so well. Fortunate, too, that he halted before he kissed her hand. She might have had to smack him for that one, too. Then again, maybe not. She did possess *some* restraint, after all.

"Lois, my dear, you've lost your ring!" Lex exclaimed, holding her hand immobile in midair.

"Um, not…exactly."

He looked perplexed, but not exactly angry. Yet. "What, then? 'Exactly.'" He mimicked her tone.

*I'm sorry, but I've just realized I'm in love with Clark.* His words echoed in her head and she fought a giggle. Unsuccessfully. She decided she was more tired than she had thought. This was definitely verging on slaphappy.

"I do not see how this is funny," Lex said stiffly.

Of course he didn't. He wasn't slaphappy. And he was a pompous pain in the butt. Why had she never seen that before? So, no, he wouldn't see how this was funny.

"Well, the thing is, Lex," she trailed off. How was she supposed to say this? Suddenly weariness crashed into her and her brain was full of fog. "I've thought long and hard about your proposal and realized that I don't love you and so I cannot marry you." Was that good enough? There was something missing. She could just catch a glimpse of it through the fog…Oh, yeah.

"And here's your ring back," she said as an afterthought, pulling it out of her pocket and handing it over to him.

"I don't understand. You already said yes, darling." He looked truly baffled. Not evil though. Maybe Clark was wrong? No, she trusted Clark. And besides, it didn't matter. She loved Clark, not Lex. So whether Lex was evil or not, she had to end this.

"Uhhh, no, Lex, I didn't." She thought about searching for tactful phrasing, but it continued to evade her in the fog. Finally, she gave up. Lex was a strong man, he could handle a little rudeness. Besides, he'd been the rude one first in assuming she would marry him like that! She remembered how he slipped the ring on without waiting for an answer and anger flared up again. She did nothing to hide it.

"No. You put the ring on without giving me a chance to answer — which, by the way, was really not a nice thing to do, but I suppose it was all for the best, because that made me mad, which made me think, which helped me see my true feelings, okay?"

She paused. Was there anything else she had to say? "And I'm not your darling."

There. All done. She turned to leave.

"Dar—Lois, wait." Lex reached out to grab her arm. "Surely this is a mistake."

"No, no mistake." She tried to remove her arm from his grip, but his hold was too tight. "And would you kindly let go of my arm?"

"Please, can't we talk about this first?" His voice grew harder, but she didn't care.

He was starting to hurt her arm. She wrenched it away from him and rubbed where he'd been holding. Jeez, it was sore. Ten to one she'd have a bruise before she got home. Too bad that wasn't enough to press charges.

"There's nothing to talk about. Good-bye, Lex." She started to turn around but this time he grabbed both her arms and pulled her towards him. She could smell his breath and the raunchy odor of cigars.

In a hard, almost menacing, voice, he said, "Lois, I beg you to reconsider."

Geez, didn't he ever give up? No, probably not. "No, Lex. N-O. No. Two letters. One word. No." Once again, Clarks' words came back to her, but this time she allowed herself to say them.

"You will regret this decision, Lois."

She thought about that. What could he do to her? With Clark around to protect her, nothing. "Hm…nope, can't say that I will." With a false, cheery smile, she pulled free from his grip, waved good-bye and turned on her heel to leave. For real this time. What a relief to have that over with.

And then she heard the gun cock.

Ever so slowly, feeling the plush carpet every inch of the way, she turned back around to face Lex. And his gun. *Where on earth did that come from?* part of her brain wondered.

*Who cares?* another part retorted.

*Well, at least now you know Clark wasn't exaggerating,* yet a third part piped up.

*Shut up!* she told them all. *This is a life or death situation!*

*Big deal. It's not like Superman isn't hovering outside the window, ready to stop the bullet.*

What? She peeked over to the window and caught a quick flicker of red cape in the wind. Oh, yeah. Superman was there. And she didn't even have to scream. How convenient.

She smiled at Lex.

He didn't know how to deal with that reaction, but his hand remained steady on the gun. "I mean it, Lois. You *will* regret this decision."

"Why, Lex? If you really love me, why do you want to kill me?"

"Love?" He snorted. "This has nothing to do with love. It does, on the other hand, have everything to do with control."

He continued to speak and she half-hoped he'd get distracted by his own power trip and give her a chance to knock the gun away from him, but his aim stayed steady.

"You see, Lois, with you as my wife, I could control your actions. I could control what you investigated, I could control what you printed. I could control you. However, if I let you go, then not only will you have dumped Lex Luthor, an impermissible situation, but you will also be out of my control. Also an impermissible situation."

Yup, Clark had definitely not been exaggerating. Not only was Luthor evil, he was also certifiably nuts. Wacko. A few cans short of a six pack. His elevator most certainly didn't go to the top. Even if he did live in the tallest building in Metropolis. The situation and her exhausted state had finally caught up with her. It was all she could do not to giggle.

As it was, she did something equally as stupid. She taunted him. "Go ahead, Lex. Shoot me."

So he did.


Before the police arrived, Superman had restrained Luthor by tying him to his own desk chair with his own whip — which had previously been hanging on the wall as decoration. Every time Lois looked at the expression on Luthor's face, she broke into giggles again. He never expected *this* to happen to him.

Superman raised his eyebrows at her and she retorted, "It's your fault, you know."

He continued cleaning up the glass from the window he'd broken to get in and Lois continued muttering under her breath, knowing Clark understood everything she said — and that Luthor would be going crazy not knowing. "Kissing me senseless. Keeping me up all night. Making me worry and cry and sleep on your stoop. Making me fall in love with you. It's no wonder I'm slaphappy. And then the look on your face when you came crashing through that window… couldn't you at least have opened it? No," she said, looking at the mess. "I guess you couldn't. And I guess he can afford to replace it anyway." The thought made her giggle. Yes, Luthor could afford to replace it now, but he wouldn't be able to by the time Lane and Kent were through with him.

"So, you see, it is absolutely your fault that I'm slaphappy and giggly, so don't raise your eyebrows at me, mister!"

She managed to calm down by the time the police got there. She and Superman made quick work of giving their statements to one officer, with only a few stray giggles on her part, while two other officers read Luthor his rights in preparation to taking him in to the station.

*Since when have I thought of him as Luthor?* Lois wondered. She hadn't noticed the shift, but now she realized that Clark's habit of referring to Lex by his last name felt more comfortable. It fit him.

Superman warned the police that Luthor had an unbelievably large network of resources and recommended solitary confinement and multiple witnesses for all contact. Even between Luthor and officers, or Luthor and the guards.

One of the officers looked at him like he was crazy, but Henderson had come, too, and he took Superman seriously. "Don't worry, we'll be extra careful with this one."

Lois got the impression that Henderson had more suspicions about Luthor than he had admitted to them. Had everyone suspected the man except herself? No, some of the other cops were being more lacadasical until Henderson barked. She wasn't the only one Luthor had duped.

"Would you like a ride home, Ms. Lane?"

Why was Clark being so formal? Oh, right. They were in public and he was Superman. She shook her head to clear it.

"Actually, Superman, thanks, but no. I've got a lot of extra energy right now. I think I'd kinda like to walk it off."

He looked disappointed and she whispered under her breath, sure that he would hear her, but nobody else could. "Of course, if you'd like to find Clark to walk with me, I wouldn't say no."

His expression brightened and she winked.

"I'll see you later, then," he said, his arms crossed across his chest in that familiar Superman pose. "Stay safe."

She smothered her laugh at the awkward formalness even as she waved and started walking towards the elevator. This was definitely going to be interesting. She wondered how well they'd be able to keep up the pretense of reporter and superhero in public, and best friends and lovers in private. Lovers? Where had that thought come from?

Yet at the same time, it fit. She loved Clark. It had taken her way too long to realize it, but now that she had, she knew. This was a forever kind of love. She knew that this was the person with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life. No questions. No doubts.

Part of her was shocked at this unequivocal certainty. Shouldn't she be more careful? She had just almost said yes to marry a monster! And the rest of her relationships had been, without a doubt, disasters. Not to mention the fact that she'd been working with Clark for almost a year only knowing half the person.

Shouldn't she take some more time to get used to this idea?

The rational side of her brain said yes. Be careful. Take it slow. Make absolutely sure that this wasn't a mistake.

The stronger part of her brain, the part that gave her hunches which turned into headline stories, the part that had allowed her to believe Clark's accusations against Lex once she finally listened to Clark — that part said no. Go for it. Make a life with him. Be happy.

And she knew that hot headed, Mad Dog, Lois Lane, who always jumped into danger for a story without worrying about the consequences, was finally ready to take a similar risk for love. And she knew that this time, it would work out. She had a hunch. That was enough.

By the time she'd made this decision, the interminably slow elevator had finished its descent. Lois strode out of Lex Tower feeling free and light. Clark met her on the sidewalk and she couldn't help but give him a huge smile.

"Hiya, flyboy. Walk me home?"

He grinned back and gallantly held up a crooked arm. "M'lady."

Lois linked her arm with his and laughed. She snuggled closer to him as they started walking and sighed. This was comfortable. This was home.

"You know," she started. "That piece of rock that Lex tried to pass off as a symbol of love was the ugliest piece of jewelry that I'd ever seen."

"Oh, really?"

She nodded confidently, not looking at Clark. "Yup. But you know what made it so ugly?"

"No, what?" He had that quietly amused tone in his voice. The one that meant he knew she was going somewhere with her veiled clues and he would be patient, giving all the right responses, until she chose to reveal it to him.

"What made it so ugly was the person behind it, and the intent with which he gave it."

"Oh?" He paused.

She let the silence grow. *C'mon, Clark, read deep into this. Don't be cautious. Don't make me be the only one to take a risk.*

"And what do you think would make a ring beautiful?"

She smiled. *Thank you, Clark.* "Oh," she said, keeping her voice as casual as possible. "A simple setting. Elegant. Not too big, not too small. And a giver who gave it out of love. Who gave it to me as a promise to love me, and cherish me, and protect me for the rest of my life. As a promise for a forever relationship, an equal partnership that would last as long as we were both alive."

"Oh, really?" She could tell he was smiling, too, as he spoke. "And have you seen this ring somewhere yet?"

"No." This time she looked at him and allowed him to see her smile. And her love for him, she hoped. "But I do believe I've found the man I want to give it to me."

*And this time,* she thought, *when _Clark_ gives it to me, I won't be reluctant. I will be wholeheartedly, completely, readily engaged.*


Author's note: I'd like to say thanks to the NC Beach girls for the original idea and encouragement. Thanks to Kaylle for her great help brainstorming and BRing. Without her, this story would still be on my hard drive, wasting away because I was trying to force it to go the wrong way. Amazing how sometimes the simpler solution really is the best one. So thank you, Kaylle.

Also, thanks to all the kind readers who offered comments and support on the fic boards.