Rival Derailed

By Wendy Richards <wendy@lcfanfic.com>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: April 2005

Summary: Linda King's flirting with Clark bothers Lois so much that she snaps and… stakes a territorial claim on Clark.

Author's note:

Many thanks to Kaethel for her — as always — invaluable beta- reading and giving me just the reactions I needed to hear at crucial points. ;) Thanks, too, to everyone who showed such enthusiasm for this story when it was posted to the Lois and Clark Fanfic Message Boards <http://www.lcficmbs.com>.

This story was written in honour of the second anniversary of the Fanfic Message Boards, and also to celebrate the birthdays of Pam Jernigan and Rivka, who chose a pretty good day to be born. ;)

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.

***

A birthday story for Pam and an anniversary story for the Fanfic Message Boards

"Back off, Linda. He's taken."

Clark Kent stared at his partner, dumbfounded. Had someone kidnapped Lois Lane and replaced her with Cat Grant while his attention was distracted?

If there was one thing he'd depended on where Lois was concerned, it was that she would never lay claim to him openly like that. That was the whole point. Sure, she hated that Linda was flirting with him, making obvious her availability and willingness. But Lois was supposed to react the way she'd done time and again over the past couple of days: a fašade of rolling-eyed irritation about the fact that another woman was coming on to him, together with insistent denial that she was feeling anything even remotely close to jealousy. Yet at the same time she would find excuses to snipe at him. Open hostility towards Linda, both to the other woman's face and to him, was also to be expected, together with an undercurrent of possessiveness — but not, of course, because Lois was jealous.

That was how she was supposed to behave. That was how she'd been behaving. That was how he'd expected her to carry on behaving.

She wasn't supposed to stake a territorial claim on him.

So much for the plan. He and Perry would have to do some speedy rethinking. Unless, of course, he took the obvious way out right now. It would be simple. It would take only a few words, and perhaps an incredulous, sneering laugh.

All he had to do was deny that Lois had any claim on him at all.

Then he could get up, abandoning her, and walk Linda to the train station as she'd asked. And stay away from the Press Club for considerably longer than the short walk would take.

That would absolutely guarantee the end result they'd planned for, and quicker than he'd expected.

But… *Lois had said he was taken*.

Lois had implied that he was taken *by her*.

How could he ignore what that meant to him? Even if she'd only said it as a tactic to make Linda stop coming on to him. Even if she'd retract it once they were alone.

And yet he had a job to do. A mission to accomplish. A mission which could only be accomplished *successfully* by antagonising Lois badly — which, part of him had thought when the plan had been formulated, might even be a good thing.

She'd been blowing hot and cold with him for a while, after all, with no serious intent in mind. Her behaviour occasionally came close to flirting, while at other times she made him feel like an irritating bug she was about to step on. As soon as Linda had come on the scene and made her interest in him clear, Possessive Lois had appeared — but that hadn't meant anything. She didn't want him. She just didn't want anyone else to have him.

This… this was unbelievable.

He smiled regretfully.

"I'm sorry, Linda." Turning to Lois, he gave her a blazing smile and reached for her hand. "Like Lois said, we're seeing each other."

Lois gasped. And Linda looked shocked.

"Anyway," he continued, getting to his feet, "I'll be happy to walk you to the station, Linda. I'll be back in a couple of minutes, honey," he added to Lois.

The last thing he saw, as he walked out of the Press Club with Linda, was Lois's wide-eyed, almost thunderstruck, expression.

***

Why had she said that? What had *possessed* her?

Lois pushed her plate away and buried her head in her hands. Of all the idiot things…!

What must Clark be thinking?

And, worst of all, what was she going to say to him?

Okay, so she'd been trying to get Linda to stay away from him for the last couple of days. But that *wasn't* because she had any personal interest in Clark! Like she'd told Linda in the restroom, she was just trying to protect Clark from her scheming. That she wouldn't let Linda use him and discard him. And that was because Clark was her *friend*. Nothing more than that.

Now… well, okay, she might well have succeeded in warning Linda off, though even that wasn't assured. After all, Linda hadn't exactly respected boundaries before, had she? She'd moved in on Paul despite knowing that Lois was with him.

Lois sighed. It was even possible that, by staking a claim on Clark, she'd only presented Linda with more of a challenge. Now, instead of just flirting with Clark, she'd go all out to steal him away.

She was probably starting right now…

A squeak of dismay escaped her and, embarrassed, she looked around cautiously. Good. No-one seemed to have noticed.

But really, what had she been thinking? She'd made things worse, not better! What was it about Linda King that the woman only had to be in the vicinity for her to start acting like a complete moron?

And Clark had said he'd be right back. If he'd meant it, then he'd be here any minute.

<Honey…>

Oh, god. Oh, god…

She couldn't face him. Not now. He'd want an explanation, and she simply didn't have one to give him. Not to mention the fact that she wasn't even sure she could look him in the eye.

Grabbing her purse, she slid quickly out of the booth and practically ran for the door.

***

"I thought you said your relationship with Lois wasn't defined?"

Linda was clinging to his arm. He almost laughed. She was being so obvious. Not that he would have minded too much if his original plan had still been on track.

"Well, it wasn't — then." But it had sure become defined in a matter of seconds! To outward appearances, anyway. Though going along with it had left him with a bigger problem. How was he now going to achieve the objective of finding out what the Star was up to?

Though… maybe the original plan wasn't so dead in the water after all. The way Linda was looking at him…

She really wasn't a woman's woman, was she? What sort of woman would make a play for someone else's boyfriend?

If it wasn't for the fact that he had an ulterior motive, he'd give her a brush-off she couldn't misunderstand. But… Instead, he smiled at her.

She smiled back in what he recognised as a deliberately sultry manner. "Well, if you ever feel like *re*-defining yourself… personally or professionally…" As she trailed off, she stroked her free hand down his arm.

Well, his plan was definitely still a possibility.

"Well, here's the station." He detached her hand gently but firmly. "Goodnight."

Her expression made it clear that she was about to detain him further. Her eyes half-closed, she curved her mouth into a seductive smile and tilted her head to one side. "Clark…"

He shook his head, smiling apologetically. "I have to go, Linda, Lois is waiting for me."

For a moment, she looked as if she would protest, but then she shrugged, as if to concede defeat. For now, anyway, her expression suggested. "Goodnight, Clark."

***

Clark hurried back to the Press Club. But the table was empty.

He checked his watch. He'd been gone less than ten minutes. Why hadn't she waited?

But then, this was Lois. The irrational frequently seemed to be rational as far as she was concerned. With a wry grimace, he left the club to head over to Lois's apartment.

He'd take the slow route. That would give him time to work out how to provoke the reaction he needed to get the plan back on track.

***

She was busy. She was very busy. Far too busy to worry about what her partner might be getting up to with Linda King.

So much for him agreeing with the lead she'd given him. He'd still left with the witch!

What was it with men? Did they all think with their trousers? Could none of them see past a cleavage and a… well, a maybe sort of, if you looked at it from the right angle, pretty face? She'd thought Clark was better than that. But then, he'd been letting Linda flirt with him ever since she'd had to introduce the two of them. He'd let her waltz off with him at Preston Carpenter's ball. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, he'd even gone to lunch with her.

So, if he was so *obviously* interested in Linda, why had he backed her up when she'd said he was hers?

Oh, what did it matter! She didn't *want* Clark to consider himself hers, anyway! That was why she'd left the Press Club, after all. She still had to decide what the heck she was going to say to Clark when she saw him.

Maybe she could just say that she was sick of the way Linda was pestering him. Batting her eyelids at him. All over him like a rash. That it was getting in the way of the two of them doing their *jobs*. After all, Linda worked for a rival newspaper. One, moreover, which was scooping them *all the time*. The last thing they should be doing was allowing a Metropolis Star reporter to hang around them.

Maybe he'd buy that. Or maybe not. After all, he'd already accused her of being jealous just because she'd tried to warn him off that… that *person* who had the temerity to call herself a reporter.

Sighing, she applied herself to the tiles around her sink. How could her kitchen have got into such a state? She hardly ever used it! It wasn't as if she was one of those messy cooks who spilt bits of food or liquid everywhere. The place should be pristine!

Scrub. Scrub. Cough because that cleaning cream smelled *awful*. Scrub. Pause to wipe hair away from face. Grimace because cleaning cream smears ended up on hair.

Okay, now she remembered why she hated clean -

A loud, insistent knock sounded at the door. Clark. It had to be. Oh, god. Oh, god. She wasn't ready to see him yet.

She could just not answer. Pretend she wasn't in…

"Lois? Lois! I know you're in there!"

Too late. Though how did he know she was there? She was already opening the door when she realised. He'd been calling her bluff, hadn't he?

He marched into the apartment, clearly annoyed. He didn't even greet her. "Why didn't you wait for me? I was gone *ten minutes*, Lois! I came straight back, like I promised!"

She avoided his gaze. "I had… things to do." To get away from him, because his nearness was making her uncomfortable in ways she didn't want to think about, she marched back into the kitchen.

He followed her. She swallowed, then put the island between them.

Clark glanced around the apartment, then focused on the cleaning materials which she'd left piled around the sink. "I see. Cleaning your grout was so important that you couldn't wait for me?"

Anger blazed. "Well, you went off with Miss Pushy, didn't you? You expected me to sit there on my own and wait for you like a Stepford wife, did you?"

He blinked. "I expected you to wait for me like my *friend* would! Because I'd asked you to!"

He was angry too. That made it harder. Of course, she could just tell him that he had no right to question her actions. No right at all to demand that she do *anything*. But, apart from the fact that she really didn't want to fight with Clark right now, he had a trump card if he chose to use it. All he had to do was remind her that she'd given him that right by what she'd said.

By the fact that she'd staked a claim on him, a claim he hadn't denied.

Her hands twisted. This was awkward. "Okay. I know you think I should have waited. But I just didn't want to, all right?"

He leaned against the counter dividing the kitchen from her living-room. "You were running away, Lois. Admit it."

Indignation flared. "Of course I wasn't!"

He rolled his eyes. "You and I both know you were."

"Oh yeah? And, if you're so clever, Kent, tell me why I was supposedly running away!"

She realised her mistake instantly. But it was too late.

"Because you told Linda I was taken."

Bluff it out, Lois…

She grabbed her scraper and bent over the tiles again, trying to give the appearance of focusing her entire concentration on her task.

"Right. And you believed me? Come on, Clark! I just got fed up with her butting in all the time —"

"I don't think so."

Her head shot up. He was watching her with that expression he *had* to know drove her crazy. The one which said that he could see right through her. That he knew she was trying to put one over on him. And that he wasn't fooled for one second.

Something had got into Clark tonight, though. He wouldn't normally call her bluff so directly. He had to be very sure of his ground — and very sure that she wouldn't tear him to pieces for it.

"What do you mean, you don't think so?" Hands on hips, she glared at him.

He shook his head. "Oh, come on, Lois. You weren't just bluffing her to get rid of her. You've hated the way she's been flirting with me. You're jealous, aren't you?"

"No *way*!" But she felt her face flushing.

Clark didn't answer. But the way he was looking at her left her in no doubt of his thoughts. He didn't believe her. And he wasn't even pretending to.

He grinned, and it wasn't friendly. It showed satisfaction, at her expense. "Well, Lois, if it makes you happy to believe that…"

She dropped her cleaning materials and stood upright, glaring at Clark. Anger warred with humiliation. Protesting wasn't helping her any. For whatever reason, tonight he wasn't in the mood to pretend to buy her excuses. The only thing she could do now to save herself further embarrassment was to throw him out. But, somehow, she didn't want to do that. She had a weird sensation that their relationship was on some sort of precipice, and that if she made the wrong move it could change forever.

The trouble was, if she made the *right* move it could change forever too.

And which move was right and which wrong?

Choking back anger, she took her courage in both hands and appealed to the better nature she, of all people, knew Clark possessed.

"Clark, don't push me! I'm still trying to figure out why I said it myself!"

***

The breath whooshed out of him.

He was pushing her. Deliberately. He'd come here with the express intention of getting the plan back on track. Of provoking a fight.

But, in the process, he was hurting her.

Why hadn't it occurred to him that this would hurt her?

Maybe because they fought all the time. Fought, made up, fought again. It really was no big deal in their relationship. Underneath it all, they both knew that their friendship went deep enough that a few fights could never hurt it.

Except that he'd never deliberately set out to provoke her into a fight before. And this time — for the plan to work — he'd have to ensure that she stayed mad at him for days.

It had seemed so easy when he and Perry had talked it over. The small matter of creating a rift between Lois and himself which would last for… well, for as long as it took had seemed like a small price to pay. Nothing he couldn't handle. Now, though, he loathed the thought of it.

"I'm sorry. You just took me by surprise, that's all. I mean, I know she irritates you, but — unless us being together really is what you want, which I kind of doubt since you've done everything you can to warn me off ever since we met — wasn't it a bit drastic?"

His softer tone seemed to soothe her a little. She sighed, then came around the island to stand closer to him. Her expression was conflicted. What was going through her head now? But, after a few moments, she seemed to come to a decision, though it wasn't one which made her look happy. Resigned would be more appropriate, perhaps.

"I wasn't going to tell you this. For one thing, it's pretty darned humiliating for me, and it's not something I like to remember, let alone talk about. But I guess maybe you need to know about Linda King and why I wouldn't trust her as far as I could spit at her."

He caught his breath. Lois never opened up about herself to anyone. Not if she could possibly avoid it. They'd been friends — best friends, she'd even admitted to him — for months now, and he still felt he knew way too little about her. Oh, she'd told him about Claude, but if she hadn't thought she was about to die that was one secret he'd never have been privileged to know about. He'd practically had to drag out of her the reason her relationship with her father was so poor.

If she was about to open up to him again, this was serious. Linda King wasn't just getting to Lois because of some trivial fight in the past, exacerbated by the fact that she was scooping the Planet and flirting with him. This went deep.

"Okay," he said quietly. "I'm listening."

"This doesn't go beyond this room, right?" Her eyes flashed and strain was visible on her face.

He reached out and touched her arm. Just lightly, a brief caress which was over as soon as it had begun. "This is me, Lois. When have I ever betrayed anything you've told me in confidence?"

She bit her lip. "I guess." And then, face averted, she began to talk. About a guy she'd admired — wanted — in college. The editor of the newspaper. And how she'd struggled to get his attention. About stumbling across a real scoop, a great story which was guaranteed to make him sit up and take an interest. And about a best friend who stole the story and wrote it under her own name, then proceeded to date the guy.

A best friend named Linda King.

Another stolen story. It was no wonder being scooped upset Lois so much. It was no wonder that she'd been so suspicious of him when he'd arrived at the Planet. And, in the circumstances, it was very surprising that she'd stolen his story back in their early days — though, he figured now, very out of character.

When he spoke, his voice was soft. Sympathetic. "So she stole a story and stole a guy, and now she's doing it again?"

She whirled to face him. "Don't flatter your — !" She broke off abruptly. "Yes." The word sounded as if it was dragged from her.

Bile rose in his throat. He couldn't possibly go through with the plan now. She'd already experienced too many acts of betrayal from people she'd trusted and cared about.

And she'd just admitted that what she'd said in the Press Club had been more than just an act to get rid of Linda.

"Lois." He took a step closer to her. She didn't move. She just watched him, her expression wary. Nervous. Like she expected to be hurt or humiliated.

"She's not going to steal me away from you, Lois."

Even as he said it, he was expecting the slap-down. The incredulous laugh. The astonishment that he could even imagine that he was hers to be stolen from.

But she met his gaze, her own anxious and almost… hopeful. "She's not?"

He shook his head. "Don't you know? Lois, I haven't even noticed any other woman since I met you!"

Her gaze fell. "I knew you were… attracted to me… But I thought I'd pushed you away so much that you weren't interested any more."

Oh, she'd done a very good job of trying to push him away. But there was something about love — the love he felt for her and which hadn't abated one bit since the day he'd first seen her and fallen head over heels — which compelled him. It would take more than he could possibly imagine to stop him loving Lois Lane.

Besides, he understood some of what made her behave the way she had. He'd recognised the mixed signals she was sending out — particularly this week and her reaction to Linda King's flirting. Either she didn't want him for herself but simply didn't want anyone else to have him either, or she was skittish. Running scared of commitment — to anyone.

One of them had to take another risk here. And Lois had already taken several.

"Oh, I'm interested." He waited until she was looking at him again. "Not that it's easy for me to admit that, Lois — just so you know that this true confessions stuff isn't all one-sided."

She nodded slowly. "I guess."

"So?" he prompted. When she gave him a questioning look, he elaborated, asking what he desperately wanted to know. "So? Is the… interest… one-sided? Or did you really mean it when you told Linda I'm taken?"

She didn't answer his question. "You told her you were taken. That we were seeing each other. Why did you do that?"

He raised his eyebrows. "What? Did you expect me to call you a liar in front of a woman I knew you seemed to hate? Answer my question, Lois."

He held his breath. This time she hesitated, and then finally nodded slowly. "I meant it. I mean, I… wanted it to be true."

A sigh escaped him, and he closed his eyes briefly as a rush of joy coursed through him. "Then it is. It will be."

"Really?" For the first time in the entire evening, she looked happy. Excited.

"Really." He extended a hand to her. She took it and stepped closer to him, her face raised to his. And he looked down at her and felt his heart skip a beat. Did she want him to kiss her?

But reality intervened. He couldn't yet. Not without telling her the whole truth about what was going on here.

He squeezed her hand, then said, "There's something I need to tell you. It's not all been on Linda's side. I've been deliberately getting friendly with her."

She dropped his hand as if it had burned her. "What?"

"It's not like that, Lois! It's all a… a ruse. I'm not attracted to her. I mean, she's nice-looking and I'm sure she's a lovely person, but — I have an ulterior motive."

Suspicious, she glared at him. "What motive?"

He sighed. They'd somehow managed to go back a few steps in the space of less than a minute. Lois really did have a low trust threshold.

"You know that I came to the conclusion that at least one of these accidents the Star's been scooping us on wasn't an accident. I think none of them were. I went to Perry and told him that I think someone's staging them deliberately and making sure that a Star reporter is always tipped off in order to scoop us. Remember when I had lunch with Linda?"

Lois's sour expression showed him that she remembered only too well.

"She got a phone call from Preston Carpenter — and apparently all he wanted was to find out where she was. To check up on her. And I got the impression that he does that a *lot*. Right after the call, we heard the sirens. That thing with the elevator was right across the street from where we were."

Lois visibly caught her breath. "So Linda and her boss are putting people's *lives* at risk just to make the Planet go under?"

He grimaced. "I don't know if she's involved or not. But that's what this was all about. I was going to go undercover at the Star. I played along with Linda to try to get her to persuade me to work with her — I didn't think that would be very difficult, and it wasn't." Smiling wryly, he added, "She asked me this evening."

Lois's face paled. "And you said yes?"

Immediately, he shook his head. "Not… yet. Lois, the plan was for me to fight with you. Badly. And then I'd have an excuse to walk out and join the Star."

Before he could stop her, she was on the other side of her living-room. "You were going to stage a fight with me, were you? So that's why you came over here!" The shuddering sob which escaped her cut him like a knife. "Well, consider yourself fought with! You can go to Linda now with a clear conscience."

"Lois!" He stared at her, aghast. "Haven't you listened to anything I've been saying here? Have I fought with you? Haven't I just *told* you what Perry and I planned? I can't go through with it. I don't want to fight with you. I love you!"

He heard her sharp intake of breath. "You… do?"

"Of course I do! Lois, you had to have known that!"

Slowly, she shook her head. "I knew you… liked me. Were attracted to me. But I never thought… I've been too horrible to you for you to love me!"

He couldn't stop himself grinning at that. "Only some of the time. I love you, Lois."

If he'd expected her to reject his feelings, to tell him that she couldn't return them, or even that she liked him — wanted to date him, even — but love was out of the question, he'd been wrong. She stared at him, amazement in her expression. "Wow."

"Wow?" he repeated. "Is that good or bad?"

"It's… wow! Clark, I had no idea… I thought… maybe I was the only one having these feelings."

"What feelings?" Incredulity, hope, wonder and joy battled inside him.

"That… maybe I'm in love with you."

"Wow!" Yes, that was definitely the right word.

In three paces, he was beside her. And then she was in his arms. This time nothing stopped him covering her lips with his.

And this time their kiss was real, not a ruse.

***

Wow. The simple, expressive word echoed in her mind over and over. Wow. Just wow.

Articulacy deserted her. All thoughts fled. Her brain was mush, her body cotton wool. If Clark wasn't holding her, she'd probably be lying flat out on the floor.

All from a simple kiss.

Though not simple. There was nothing simple about this kiss. It was amazing and sinful and breathtaking and earth-shattering and soul-shaking and utterly, entirely complex. It complicated everything, yet at the same time it made everything so straightforward. Gave her perfect clarity.

She loved Clark. And that was the simple truth which swept away all confusion, all lies and uncertainty.

Relaxing in his arms as the kiss ended, she started planning. They loved each other. They'd agreed to be a couple. So they could start dating, spending time together. Openly. Honestly. Without any more silly games -

Wait.

Honestly? Without games?

Clark had been playing games when he'd come here.

<…the plan was for me to fight with you. Badly…>

She pulled out of his arms. He looked at her, a question in his eyes. "Lois? Is something wrong?"

"Yes." Hurt, she wrapped her arms around her middle. "How can I believe you when you say you love me?"

He was good at the bewildered expression. Too good. She could almost believe him. "Because I do, Lois!"

"No. How can you say you love me and plan to deceive me like that?"

"Huh?"

"This thing with you planning to defect to the Star, of course!" She was yelling. She hated that she was doing it, but she couldn't help it. "You're supposed to be my partner! Why didn't you tell me what was going on?"

He grimaced. "That was Perry's idea. He thought it would look more convincing if you thought I'd defected for real. We figured Linda knows you well enough to smell a rat if you weren't in full-scale hostile mode with me."

"And you went along with it?" So much for love. He didn't trust her.

He sighed. Clark was a great sigher. He had them down to an art, didn't he? "Lois, I didn't want to — but I had to agree that Perry had a point. Linda really is a hot button where you're concerned. And, okay, I didn't know why then, but still. For the plan to work, you had to be furious with both me and Linda. And if you were in on it… well, Perry wasn't sure it would work."

So now even *Perry* didn't trust her to do her *job*? She was an investigative reporter! How many times had she gone undercover? And in far trickier situations than this. What did they think she was? An amateur? Why hadn't Clark stood up for her? He was her *partner*! He knew she was damned good at what she did.

No. They'd — *Clark* would — prefer to make her look a fool in front of Linda King. Again. History repeating itself, to the tune of Linda's crowing.

She turned away. She didn't want to look at him. Not now. Not when he was standing there, looking so… so gorgeous and earnest and…

Deceitful.

"You don't trust me. So how can you claim you love me?"

***

What…?

How could they have gone from blissful, wonderful, soul- shattering kissing to outright hostility in less than five minutes?

Though it wasn't really hostility. Lois was hurt. Again.

This plan had been a *really* bad idea…

"Lois." He advanced on her and caught her shoulders in his hands. She shrugged away.

He sighed. "Lois. Please, listen to me."

"And what? What are you going to tell me this time? More lies? Come on, Clark. The truth's staring me in the face, only I was too stupid to see it a minute ago."

What was she talking about? "I haven't lied to you!"

"Oh, that's real funny." She laughed, but he heard the hollowness of it. "You said you love me. But if you loved me you'd never even have *thought* about using me like that. Going behind my back, making me look a fool, hurting me…"

So that was it. He should have realised. He'd just told himself only a few minutes ago what a low trust threshold she had.

"Lois, of course I trust you!"

She swung around to face him. Her face was ghostly white, and her eyes looked like dark, over-large smudges. "Yeah, right. You couldn't prove it by me."

How could he prove that he trusted her? *Could* he prove it?

And he stilled as the answer came to him. Of course he could. All he had to do was take a leap of faith — and, since he was already asking her to take a similar leap to trust *him*, it was probably a fair exchange.

"You want proof?" Slowly, he advanced on her. "I can prove it, Lois. If *this* doesn't prove that I trust you *and* that I love you, then I don't know what can."

"What are you talking about?"

He ignored her question. "Give me your hand, Lois."

"What? Clark, whatever crackpot idea —"

He seized her hand and placed it on his shirtfront. "Slide your hand under my shirt," he instructed her, suiting action to words by pushing her fingers between his buttons.

"Clark, I do *not* want to grope your ch — *what* have you got on under your shirt? It's all shiny and…" She trailed off. To his satisfaction, she was looking slack-jawed. Thunderstruck, in fact.

"That's… Superman's suit, isn't it?"

"It is." He waited.

"Why are you…?" She halted. Swallowed. Blinked several times. Then, in a strangled voice, continued. "Clark, tell me you're not Superman."

"Sorry, Lois, I can't do that." With the note of amusement that had crept into his voice, he heard himself sound exactly like Superman.

Lois obviously thought so too. Her eyes widened and her gaze shot up to examine his face. She reached up, too, her hand fumbling awkwardly with his glasses.

"Let me." Carefully, with proper respect for the frames, he removed them.

"You still don't *look* like him…" Doubt and disbelief shaded her voice.

With his free hand, he brushed back his hair. "How about now?"

"Oh, my…" Her hand fell away and she took a step backwards. Pale-faced, she seemed to sway. He reached out, in a movement faster than she could follow, and caught her.

"Come on, you should sit down. I guess I should have anticipated this would be a shock." He led her to the sofa. She sank down onto the cushions. He sat beside her.

"You… you're… him…"

He'd achieved the impossible. He'd actually reduced Lois Lane to speechlessness.

***

She couldn't even look at him. This was impossible. It wasn't happening. How could it be happening?

Clark couldn't be Superman.

Superman was… tall and dashing and daring and courageous and noble and ethical and handsome and kind and… such an inspiration to everyone around him. He also had *incredible* powers. He flew!

Clark wasn't… He didn't…

Actually… Clark *was* tall. And he could be dashing, she guessed. Daring? Courageous? He'd saved her life a couple of times, at least. And he was one of the very few people who stood up to her when she was in full Mad Dog Lane flight. Noble? Actually… yes. Ethical? Absolutely! Among her acquaintance, only Superman could match Clark for ethics. And he was undeniably handsome. Not that that had stopped her trying to deny it for too long. And he was kind — he was one of the kindest people she knew.

In every way, Clark's qualities matched Superman's.

"But you can't fly!"

Clark's soft laugh informed her that she'd said that aloud. She cringed.

"Actually, I can. Want me to show you?"

Embarrassed beyond words, she buried her face in her hands. A movement beside her told her that Clark was standing up. She ignored it.

"Look at me, Lois."

She couldn't. How could she possibly ever look him in the eye again? An inarticulate sound escaped her.

"I didn't hear that, Lois."

God, he was persistent! "I can't," she muttered.

"You can. If you don't do it willingly, you know I'll make you." She had no problem believing the threat. Oh, he'd do it without hesitation.

Slowly, unwillingly, she raised her head. Opened her eyes. Looked at him.

He was hovering two feet off the ground. In her living-room.

Superman, in Clark's clothes, was in front of her.

"But… but… how… when… *why*?"

He drifted to the floor. "Which do you want me to answer first, Lois?"

"This isn't *fair*!" she exclaimed. Her voice sounded strangled, and she cringed. "You've been… been *him* all along, and… I never guessed, and you let me…" She flung her hands up to cover her face. "Oh, god!"

Strong, warm hands covered hers. Tugged them gently away from her face. And his face was in front of hers, familiar brown eyes unobscured by glasses gazing warmly into hers as he knelt in front of her.

"Lois. Listen to me. This isn't something to get upset about! I told you because I wanted to prove to you that I trust you. You're my friend — you're the woman I *love*, and I wanted you to know. Can we get past the embarrassment here and talk about this?"

Embarrassment? That didn't even begin to cover it! "Clark, I… Do you have any *idea* what an idiot I feel right now? No, not an idiot. A complete and utter *moron*! A… a *hack*, a brainless , stupid, imbecilic *blind* fool who couldn't see what was right under her nose! And that's before I even get into the way I treated you — mmph -"

She halted for the simple reason that she was physically incapable of saying anything else. Her mouth was paralysed by a very effective mechanism.

Clark had leaned over and kissed her.

Her eyes drifted shut. When he kissed her like that, how was she supposed to retain any remnant of coherent thought? When his hand slid into her hair, caressing her, bringing her closer to him, how was she supposed to focus on *anything* other than how good his lips tasted? Or the warm, fuzzy, tingly-butterfly sensations coursing through her?

Of their own volition, her hands moved. One buried itself in his hair, which was springy and soft beneath her fingers. The other stroked his shoulder, his back, his neck. He was warm and solid and entirely male… entirely Clark, the way he'd felt in her arms mere minutes before.

Mmmm… she could get used to this…

***

He didn't want to. But, finally, Clark lifted his head. Lois clung to him, moaning a protest, trying to tug him back to her.

"It's okay. I'm not going anywhere." He caught her hand and squeezed it for reassurance.

She stared at him through glazed eyes. "Promise?"

He grinned. "Promise." His thumb caressed the back of her hand. "Now do you believe that I love you?"

She caught her breath. "I'm still trying to take all of this in, Clark… Super — I don't even know what I'm supposed to *call* you now!"

"Clark." He stifled the pang which struck him at her words. After all, how could she know? "I've always been Clark. Superman came later — a lot later. Actually, mostly thanks to you."

She blinked. "Me?"

"Yeah. But could we talk about that another time? It's not important right now." What was important was getting things straight between the two of them. Their *relationship*.

"I guess." Her fingers tightened around his. "I understand why you told me. It's a pretty huge gesture, isn't it? How can I say you don't trust me when you've told me this? I mean, there's got to be a reason why no-one knows…"

"Yes." He became serious. This was important, and she had to understand. "Well, I don't have to tell you what it would do to me, do I? Or my parents. This *has* to be a secret. Everything I have — everyone I love — is at risk if this secret gets out."

"I can see that. And you trusted *me*…"

"Why not, Lois? I love you. I told you that."

She nodded. "Yes. And I do love you, Clark. I just…" She chewed her lip, and he reached out to caress her face.

"Lois, it's okay. I understand a lot more now than I did before this evening. I know trust's an issue for you."

"It is. But you make me feel… I don't know… humble, Clark. I should have trusted you. You've never given me a reason not to. I know that."

He shrugged faintly. "I did agree with Perry not to tell you about our plan. And I kept Superman a secret from you."

She shook her head. "Those aren't important things. They're… trivial details, really."

He couldn't help laughing at that. "Am I hearing right? Lois Lane calling Superman a trivial detail?"

She blushed. And he loved that. It made him want to pull her into his arms and hug her to him in a crushing, loving embrace. It made him want to kiss her and tell her how much he loved her until she was blushing for another reason entirely.

"I don't mean that Superman's not important! I just mean that you've never lied to me or let me down about anything that really matters. And that's what I should have remembered."

"But this mattered — I know that." He slid back onto the sofa to sit beside her, slipping his arm around her shoulders. She came to him, settling against him as if she belonged there.

And she did. Always.

"What matters now is that we're a team, Clark. And we still have to get to the bottom of what the Star's up to."

"True." He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "Though right now I can think of more interesting things to do."

She laughed and swiped at his free hand, which was busy stroking circles on her knee. "Later, lover boy. First, I have an idea…"

***

Lois flung the door to the editor's office open. It hit the wall behind with a satisfying crash.

Perry's head shot up. "Lois! What do you think you're —"

"I *quit*!"

"What?" He jumped to his feet. Shock and even fear showed in his eyes. Lois had to look away to smother her grin.

"I've had it with Kent, Chief! I just can't work with him any more! So I quit. I'm sure there's plenty of other papers will be delighted to hire a three-time Kerth winner."

The editor swallowed. Gulped. His mouth opened and closed several times, reminding her of a fish. Finally, he said, "But, Lois, haven't you heard? Kent's already quit. He's gone to the Star!"

"Oh?" Perfect. Just the right amount of surprise and indifference in her voice. "He should fit right in there." She shrugged. "Oh, well, the Planet's going under anyway, so it shouldn't matter if we both quit. And I'd rather get out now before I'm forced out, if you know what I mean." She gave Perry a false smile. "I know you understand, Chief."

"Lois —"

"I'll be clearing my desk for the next few minutes, then I'm out of here. You can tell Payroll to send my final cheque on."

"Lois! You can't do this to me!" Perry came out from behind his desk and headed towards her.

She tilted her chin upwards. "Too late, Chief. I'm already doing it."

"But, Lois, after everything —"

She shrugged, and this time didn't smother her grin. "You should have thought of that before you told Clark to fight with me so he could walk out."

Perry's jaw went slack. "You *know* about that?"

"What? That he's only working at the Star so he can spy on them? That he and you were in cahoots together to fool everyone, *including* me?" She rolled her eyes. "Of course I know."

"And… that's why you're quitting? Because Kent deceived you? But, Lois, that was my fault! I'm the one who told him not to tell you —"

Carelessly, she told him, "I know that too."

"Okay. I see what this is, Lois. You're angry with Kent for going along with it." She recognised the tone, one deliberately intended to soothe. Perry really was pulling out all the stops here. She had to admire his determination. "But you have to see why it was necessary. The survival of the Planet depends on it!"

"Actually, I'm not angry with Clark." She trailed a finger idly around the frame of one of Perry's Elvis pictures. "I'm furious with you, though."

He swallowed, clearly halting whatever he was about to say. His gaze followed the movements of her finger and she could see alarm in his eyes. Good. "Uh… I'm sorry about that, Lois. But there was a very good reason not to tell you —"

"Oh yeah." As if just remembering, she continued. "I'm too personally involved, right? I wouldn't be able to look convincing about Clark's defection if I knew?" She crossed her arms and, when Perry nodded, smiled in satisfaction.

"So tell me this, Perry. How convincing have I been here?"

"Huh?" Now she had him totally, gratifyingly confused.

"I'm quitting, right?"

"Well, that's what you said —"

"Oh, good." Another smile. "I convinced you."

The penny began to drop. Shock was replaced by confusion, then realisation. Anger and relief combined in his expression. And then he gave a short bark of laughter. "I get it. This was revenge for me not telling you."

"*This* time, Perry." She let her eyes flash at him. "Just don't let it happen again."

"Who's the boss around here?" he grumbled. "Okay, okay. Point taken. Now get back to work!"

She grinned. "Yes, boss." Lois 1; Perry 0.

***

Her voice was so beautiful. "Hi. I was hoping you'd call."

"Yeah. It's been kind of difficult to find a safe moment."

"I miss you."

Warmed throughout, he answered, "I miss you too."

"You've only been away half a day and already I feel like half of me's missing."

Later, he'd tell her what her words, and the emotion behind them, did to him. For now, they had to keep this brief. "We'll see each other in a little while. At the Orani Jewels presentation."

"Yeah." He could hear the smile in her voice. "I promise I'll be suitably bitchy."

He laughed. "I'll look forward to it."

"Not half as much as I'm looking forward to seeing you." Anyone seeing him right now would think his expression was the sappiest they'd ever seen. But he didn't care. He was unbelievably happy. "When?"

"Well," he murmured, choosing his words carefully, "you know that *Clark* can't be seen anywhere near your place?"

"Yeah." The disappointment in her voice made him melt.

"But I'd suggest that you leave your window open."

"Mmmm." She was almost purring. If only he could be with her right now… but he had to get back to Linda to carry on the act. "I think that can be arranged."

"Later," he promised. And he had plans for later…

"I'll be waiting."

"I love you," he whispered.

And, just before he pressed the button to end the call, he heard her response. "I love you too, Clark." A giggle. "Remember, you're taken."

He was. Very much taken. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

THE END

(c) Wendy Richards 2005

<wendy@lcfanfic.com>