By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2005
Summary: The events of "Fly Hard" cause Lois to do some serious thinking about Lex — and about Clark.
Author's note: Very many thanks to SaraK for some very helpful and invaluable beta- reading, to Pam for initial reactions and cheerleading, and JulieS, Pam and Karen for vocabulary advice. ;) Very many thanks, also, to my Archive GE, Chris Carr, for catching my errors and saving me embarrassment. This story was written for my dear friend Kaethel on the occasion of her birthday.
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros. No infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
~ When You Say You Love Me ~
*When you say you love me
The world goes still, so still inside and
When you say you love me
For a moment, there's no one else alive*
— Josh Groban
A knock sounded on his door. Clark glanced at his watch. Who on earth would be calling after four in the morning? Who would even be awake? He wouldn't have been awake himself, but it had been one *weird* night…
He pulled down his glasses to take a look. Why had he even wondered? Of course it was Lois. He strode over and pulled the door open. "Hi."
She'd changed out of the low-cut black evening dress she'd been wearing earlier. She'd looked stunning in that. Every time he'd caught a glimpse of the lacy bra she'd been wearing, or worse, of creamy cleavage, he'd thought that if he'd been a normal man his blood- pressure would have skyrocketed. As it was, he'd been consumed with jealousy at the knowledge that she'd dressed like that for Luthor. Now, in jeans and a sweatshirt, with her hair tied back in a scrunchie, she looked beautiful. "Hi, Clark. Can I come in?"
A week, two weeks ago, it wouldn't even have occurred to her to ask. Regret coursed through him at the realisation. Had their friendship really regressed so far in so short a time? He stood back. "Sure."
She followed him down the steps and into the apartment. "I was hoping you'd still be up."
He turned. Gave her an enquiring look. "I thought you'd still be at the hospital."
She shrugged. "I'm not needed there."
Clark raised one eyebrow. She flushed slightly. "I'm not! Lex got the dispatcher to call his staff when we were on the way to the hospital. Nigel and Mrs Cox arrived not long after we got there, and they're taking care of everything."
No doubt ensuring that the great Lex Luthor got only the best of VIP treatment. Suddenly, he had a sour taste in his mouth.
"Anyway, they'll be releasing him soon and he told me to go home and get some sleep," she finished.
A reluctant grin curved around his mouth. "And, being Lois Lane, you couldn't do as you were told?"
"What do you think?" She was wandering around his living area now, brushing fingertips across this and that item, picking up an ornament and glancing at it briefly before replacing it and moving to something else. The clearest possible sign that Lois Lane had something on her mind.
"So, what is it?"
She turned and met his gaze. "What's what?"
"What brings you around here at four in the morning? Instead of doing what any normal person would and getting some sleep? Stopping *me* from getting some sleep?"
The bite in his tone surprised him, but he couldn't find it in him to regret it. She hadn't a clue what she'd put him through tonight, in all sorts of ways. He'd been worried sick about her, of course, especially those times when her reckless side had reared its ugly head. Too many times for his sanity. There'd been that attempt to pretend that Perry was having a heart attack, which had almost got the editor killed. She'd kept butting heads with their captors. And then had insisted on being the one to access the files for the ringleader, leaving him stuck inside the conference-room practically biting his nails. And having to watch Lex Luthor bleating loudly his concern for her.
Then, of course, having so blatantly brought herself to their captors' notice, she had to be the one taken hostage at the end. She'd almost got herself killed twice falling off the roof. In the end, he'd caught her with seconds to spare.
If he had a few dozen more grey hairs, he'd know who to blame.
But that hadn't been the worst of it. Oh, no. The worst of it had been watching her with *him.*
All evening. The two of them, so clearly a couple. Touching. Exchanging glances. Lois smoothing her hands over Luthor's shoulders in the conference-room in what was so obviously an automatic, unconscious gesture. Lois looking to Luthor, rather than to him or even Perry, for leadership, for support, for ideas to get them out of there. Lois joining with Luthor to put *him* down.
Lois walking away from him outside the Planet building to be with Luthor.
No, she wasn't really his favourite person right now.
He'd get over it, of course. Not that he'd ever get over the sick feeling he had inside every time he saw her with Luthor. Every time he knew she was out on a date with the man. Every time he thought of that man's hands on her, his lips on hers… No, he'd never stop the wrenching, churning sensation those thoughts provoked inside his gut. But he would get over his anger at Lois. Come tomorrow, come Monday, he'd be his usual easygoing self with her.
But not now. Not when she'd caught him with his guard down, in the early hours of the morning after a night when he'd had the life scared out of him time and again. When his nerves were shot to pieces because he'd thought that his closest friends were going to get killed and there was nothing he could do to save them. When he'd found himself helpless, powerless to do anything to get Lois out of danger.
He couldn't be mild-mannered Clark for her tonight.
She was twisting her hands. "Well, I notice you *are* still up and dressed, Kent."
Okay. So she wasn't actually keeping him from his bed. "Yeah." He sighed. Okay, so he really didn't want her here right now, but that didn't mean he had to be rude. "I guess after the night we had I just felt kind of… restless."
Her voice was soft. "Me too."
So that was it. She'd wanted company. And, since her boyfriend was in the capable hands of his trusted staff, she'd decided to fall back on good old Clark.
Oh, what was the point in getting mad at her? He could put up with her for half an hour or so, couldn't he? "So, we're both restless. Want some coffee? Or hot chocolate, maybe, before you go?" He walked into the kitchen; she followed him.
She trailed her fingers across his countertop. "I love your hot chocolate. But I don't know… I mean, it's great for relaxing me, but I don't want to be relaxed right now. I kind of feel I want to stay alert. Oh, I know it's after four, but that's closer to morning than it is night, if you know what I mean…" She broke off abruptly, eyes widening as she caught his gaze. "I'm babbling. Sorry. Coffee would be nice."
"Coffee it is, then." And at least it gave him something to do. "So," he added as he spooned grounds into the machine, "was there some particular reason you came to see me? Other than taking the chance that I might be awake too?"
"Yeah." She crossed to the table and began to examine the wood-grain closely. "I wanted to thank you. For tonight."
He shot her a brief glance, then returned to his task. "For getting us out of there? That was a team effort."
She studied him for a moment. "I'm not so sure."
He looked at her again, sharply this time. "What do you mean?"
She shrugged. "Just that you're the one who seemed to keep your head while everyone else — me, Jack, Lex — were losing ours."
He breathed again. "It was a tough situation. It's hardly surprising tempers were on edge."
"Yeah, well, you stayed calmer than most. But that's not all I wanted to thank you for."
"It's not?" He flipped the switch to start the coffee brewing.
"No." She paused, and he looked over at her. She seemed to have been waiting for his attention, for she continued. "I wanted to thank you for helping Lex. I think you might have saved his life."
He probably had. Without attention, Luthor could have bled to death from that bullet-wound. Shrugging, he said, "It's only what anyone would have done."
"Anyone with your skills, you mean." She traced a figure of eight on the table. "And I know you don't exactly like him."
"So you think I believe not liking someone means it's okay to let him die when there's something I can do to help?" Incredulous, he stared at her.
"Of course not!" She gave him an impatient glare. "I just meant… I know he's not exactly top of your list of people you'd rush to do favours for."
"I still wouldn't let him die, Lois." He rolled his eyes; did she have the first clue about him as a person?
"Well, anyway." She pulled a chair out, then pushed it in again. "Lex asked me to thank you, too."
"I don't need his thanks." It was ungracious, but he didn't care. The last thing he wanted was Lois conveying messages to him from Luthor.
"He knows you saved his life. He's grateful."
"If all you came for was to thank me for helping your boyfriend, then consider your mission accomplished. You can go now."
Her eyes widened, and he thought for a second that there was a flash of hurt there. Quietly, she said, "He's not my boyfriend."
"No? Could've fooled me."
He sighed. "What?"
"Does it have to be like this?"
The weariness in her voice got to him, and he sighed again. He could have pretended not to know what she was talking about, but that would get them nowhere. "No. It doesn't." He turned away for a moment, using the time to take mugs out of a cupboard. By the time he turned back to her, he felt calmer, able to talk about Luthor for once without losing his cool. "And I don't like it either. I… Lois, I'm sorry, but I don't trust the guy and that just makes me hate seeing you with him. I know you don't like the way I feel about him, and I'm sorry about that, but that's just the way it is."
"And it's ruining our friendship."
Her simple statement made him grimace. "I know." He poured the coffee and brought it over to the table. "I have some of Mom's cookies if you'd like them."
Lois's eyes widened, this time in delight. "Martha's home-made cookies? Oh, wow! Yes, please!"
The time it took to transfer the cookies from their airtight container to a plate gave him time to plan his next words carefully. "I hate what it's doing to our friendship, too, Lois. But you have to know that I wouldn't be like this unless… well, unless I thought there was a good reason."
And not just because he was jealous, right? Of course, that would be her next line of attack. He steeled himself in preparation for it.
Lois cupped one hand around the mug of coffee, reaching for a pecan chocolate chip cookie with the other. "Yeah, I know, Clark. I… I know I haven't done a very good job of trying to understand. I've just accused you of… stuff… and resented you for it." She took a bite, then chewed for a few moments. He waited, sensing that she had more to say. "You know, Clark, if you could just give me a *reason*…"
Yeah, she'd asked him that before. But it wasn't a reason she wanted; it was proof. And he had none.
"I think he's not what he seems, Lois." He'd told her that before, and she'd refused to listen. "And, no, I can't give you proof. Or even much evidence. If my instincts aren't good enough for you…"
She was silent for several moments, playing with her coffee. Then, slowly, she said, "I'd expect you to trust my instincts."
Yes, she would. And had, on many occasions. Did this mean she was actually starting to believe him?
"Okay. So suppose you're right and he's not as clean-cut as he seems. I mean, I know he can be ruthless. But that doesn't make him a criminal, Clark!"
Clark looked away. He should have known better than to bring that subject up again.
""But you're saying that he might be," Lois continued. "Well, maybe. Or maybe not. But don't you think I can look after myself?"
He had to roll his eyes at that. "Lo-is. How many times has Superman had to save you in the last six months alone?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, but those were exceptions."
He raised his eyebrows. She flushed. "Okay, a few. All right, several," she amended as he continued to look at her. "And, yes, including tonight. But, Clark, even if Lex was what you suspect him of, he wouldn't hurt me."
Was that true? Clark had seen a different side to Luthor tonight. Well, a couple. The man had, for the most part, behaved precisely as he would have expected: arrogant, needing to be in charge, showing off and playing the commanding leader for Lois's benefit. But he'd also shown courage, despite the foolhardiness of his stupid escape attempt, the one which had resulted in him getting shot.
The bullet-wound had to have hurt. Pretty badly too, by the way it'd looked when Clark had examined him. But Luthor had brushed it off as just a scratch, and hadn't said a word about being in pain. Yet he'd actually passed out — whether from pain or blood-loss Clark wasn't sure. Somehow, he would've expected a pampered, privileged guy like Luthor to have complained and whined about being injured.
Luthor had put himself between Lois and the gunmen on a couple of occasions. When the gang had started firing after they'd first burst into the Planet, Luthor had also thrown Lois to the floor and covered her with his own body. Later, when Lois had been out in the newsroom accessing the blueprints, Luthor had shown genuine fear for her safety. Looking back, he was sure that, if he hadn't talked Luthor out of it, the man would have done something stupid in the name of protecting Lois. Later, when the leader had stated his intention of taking Lois as a hostage, Luthor had attacked the man to try to save her.
On at least three occasions, therefore, Luthor had shown a degree of bravery he wouldn't have expected from a man like him. Even if his behaviour had been reckless in the extreme and had put others in danger. It chagrined him to admit it, but Luthor had seemed to show little concern for his own life in his desire to protect Lois.
And that was the other thing he'd noticed about Luthor for the first time. The man did seem to care about Lois. Up until now, Clark had assumed that the billionaire's interest in her was mainly usurious and only partly based on sexual attraction. Lois was the top investigative reporter in the city. If anyone were going to ferret out the truth about Luthor's activities, it should be someone like Lois. So what better way to neutralise her than to court her? Ask her out. Sweep her off her feet with expensive dinners. Lavish entertainment. The best seats in the house at the opera — where they should have been tonight. Make her see Luthor as a charming, cultivated man instead of a potential story.
He still thought that played a large part in Luthor's interest in Lois. Yet tonight had shown him that there seemed to be more than that. Why would Luthor put his own life on the line for a woman he had no feelings for? Or for whom he felt mild attraction or saw as convenient entertainment?
So perhaps Lois was right. Perhaps Luthor wouldn't hurt her. On the other hand, Lois had said it herself. Luthor could be ruthless. *Was* ruthless. Would a man like that — cold, calculating, hard-nosed, callous — really allow his personal feelings to get in the way if Lois became a problem? If his suspicions about Luthor's relationship with Antoinette Baines were right, Luthor hadn't allowed the fact that he'd been sleeping with Baines to stop him killing her.
An impatient cough interrupted his thoughts. Lois was looking at him expectantly.
"Sorry. Maybe you're right and he wouldn't hurt you. I don't know. I still think he's dangerous, Lois."
She shrugged. "Maybe. But, anyway, like I said, he's not my boyfriend."
He gave her a challenging look.
"He's not! Okay, I've been out with him a few times. But it's not a *relationship*! He wants a date for the opera, I go. Or, if I'm not available, he asks someone else. Or he asks someone else in the first place. I'm sure he's got a black book bulging with phone numbers." She made a vague gesture with her hands. "Look, I like him, that's all. He's charming. Cultured. He can be very good company, Clark!"
He couldn't prevent the sceptical look which appeared on his face.
"He can! Look, okay, I know he was a bit boorish once or twice tonight. But you two just seem to do that to each other. I don't know why it is, but you don't seem to be able to be in the same room as each other without circling each other like two territorial tom-cats."
"You don't know why that is, Lois?" He stared at her, eyes widened in incredulity. Then, as he realised just what he'd revealed by that, he stifled a curse. Why give her any more ammunition to accuse him of jealousy?
It was because he was tired. Worn out, in fact. He couldn't remember when an incident had last drained him as much as this one had. His closest friends' lives in real danger. The threat of a nuclear bomb in the middle of Metropolis, with all the damage that would have done. And he trapped as Clark Kent, unable to get away to be Superman. Prevented from using his powers by one mishap after another. And distracted by the sight of Lois with Luthor. Plus the Jack thing. Yes, he was exhausted, not thinking straight. And not guarding his tongue as a result.
He waited for her to tell him that he had no claim on her. But, instead, she ducked her head, stared down into her coffee and chewed her index finger.
It was time to change the subject. But, as he tried to think of something innocuous, she raised her head and spoke again. "Anyway, I didn't come here to talk about Lex."
"Oh?" He gave her a sceptical look. "I thought you said you came to thank me for saving him."
She flushed. "That was just an excuse."
"I know I'm going to regret asking this, but… why did you come, then?"
Whatever this was, he had a suspicion that he wasn't going to like it. She was nervous. Very nervous. Even if her increased heartbeat hadn't given it away, he'd have known from the way she was playing with her hands.
"I… realised two things about you tonight." She spoke jerkily, not looking at him. "Well, one of them's more about me than you, but it still concerns you. And… and I've spent the last hour, after leaving the hospital, trying to decide what to do about it. And in the end I decided that I had to come here and talk to you. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep if I didn't."
What on earth was she talking about? His earlier suspicion returned briefly. Was it possible that she'd guessed?
No. No, she couldn't have. After all, if she hadn't guessed in all this time, it wasn't likely that she'd have figured it out tonight of all nights. Not when she was hanging on Lex Luthor's arm the entire time. He let out a breath and nodded at her. "Go on."
"The first thing I realised — that's the one that's more about me than you — I want to tell you that first. But I'm scared that once I tell you the second thing you're not going to believe me about that. So…" She chewed her lip. "I'm going to start with the second thing and take my chances."
Clark rubbed his chin. Why did Lois always have to babble when she got nervous? There were times, and this was one of them, when he wished she'd just spit it out. He saw her steal a glance at him and realised that she was waiting for some sort of sign from him. "Okay. I'm listening."
Lois freed her hair from the scrunchie and began to play with it. Had he ever seen her this on edge before? Reluctantly, he reached out and caught her hand in his. "Take it easy, Lois. This is me, remember?"
"Yeah, and we haven't exactly been friends lately, have we? That's what makes this so tough."
"Yeah, we haven't," he acknowledged softly, and squeezed her hand briefly before releasing it. "But, you know, it doesn't have to be like that." Sighing, he continued, "I'm not denying that part of it's my fault, but it does take two."
"So talk to me. I'm listening."
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "This is going to sound weird. Damn, it sounds crazy to me. But I've been over it and over it and it just seems to… fit. Though if I'm wrong you're going to laugh yourself silly at me."
"Quit stalling, Lois." He softened his impatient demand with an affectionate tone.
"Okay. This is it, then. Tonight… I spent a lot of time watching people. You included. I'm a reporter, Clark. It's my job to observe. I guess I don't always do a very good job of that. I don't notice enough about people around me — you especially. Tonight… I'm ashamed to say that I started off thinking like Lex, that you were afraid to do anything to help us. That you didn't have any ideas about how to get us out of there. But as the hours ticked by I realised how wrong I was. I realised that you were trying to keep everyone safe. And you did — you saved Lex, you went after Jack when he made a run for it and brought him back safely, you tried to protect me and you even got up on the roof after me, though I hadn't a clue how you managed it."
So, she'd underestimated him. It was good to hear, even if it did feel like something of a consolation prize from the woman he loved but who was dating Lex Luthor. She'd actually noticed his efforts. He didn't want any recognition, but… well, it was nice.
"Yeah, okay, but anyone would have done that."
"That's not the point, Clark. Okay, I know I'm doing a lousy job of getting to the point, but this is it. I've been very, *very* unobservant where you're concerned. And that's what I finally figured out. I've spent hours tonight putting the pieces together. And I'm still not convinced that I'm right, but… it fits, Clark. It just fits."
Now he was the nervous one. He took a sip of his coffee, hoping that she wouldn't notice his unease.
"I think you're Superman, Clark."
Coffee sloshed from the mug and onto the table and all over his hand.
Simultaneously, he choked and had to smother a coughing fit. More coffee dribbled from his mouth.
Grateful for the distraction, he leaped up and grabbed a cloth, mopping himself down with it before returning to the table to clean it too. Without looking at her, he said, "That's ridiculous! I think the lack of sleep's got to you, Lois."
"No, Clark. And…" She hesitated, and then he felt her hand on his, stilling his movements. "The way you reacted just now, I know I'm right. Aren't I?"
He didn't answer. Couldn't answer. A cold lump settled itself in his stomach.
"It was a number of things. I didn't pay any attention to them at the time, but after… well, one thing made me start putting it all together. And it only added up to one conclusion. That you're Superman."
The cold sensation spread. He felt numb, shaken to the core, unable to function. His mouth was dry, as if filled with cotton-wool. And he knew that if he tried to move he'd shake.
"I didn't start to put it together until I was in the ambulance with Lex. The paramedics had examined him and told him he'd had a very lucky escape, that if the bullet-hole hadn't closed up he'd have bled to death. He asked me what you did, and I told him. He said he vaguely remembered things stinging — hurting like hell, he said. I said you'd poured the juice and stuff over his chest, but he said there'd been something before that — a burning sensation, like he'd put his hand over a gas burner. And that didn't make any sense." She shook her head.
He'd thought Luthor had been completely out of it at that point. He'd actually *felt* the heat vision?
"I said he had to have imagined it. He wasn't exactly clear-headed at the time. But I kept thinking about what he'd said. And the fact that your remedy really did sound so weird. I mean, Clark, my dad's a doctor. And my mom used to be a nurse. I've never heard of anything like that closing a wound, especially not something bleeding as much as that bullet-hole was. So that started me thinking about a few more things that didn't add up."
Clark found his voice. "Such as?"
She shrugged. "Such as what you said just after we were shut up in the conference-room. You went on and on about what sort of risk it would be to go out and try to get to the bomb and the millions of people who could be hurt and that you just couldn't take that chance. At the time I didn't know what the heck you were thinking. And I remembered that I'd told you you weren't Superman. And I thought… what if you are?"
That had been a mistake. He'd known it at the time. Just as that later whispered conversation with Jack had been, when he'd pointed out that he'd calculated all the timings and distances and that doing anything just wasn't possible.
So Lois had worked it out. As had Jack. Had he given himself away to half the Planet staff by his carelessness?
He'd managed to deal with Jack. The kid had been fair, at least — had hinted pretty clearly that he'd figured it out. He hadn't confirmed anything, of course. But a couple of seconds later he'd engineered an accidental meeting between Jack and Superman — and had pretended not to recognise Jack. He'd come from the other side of the building from where the kid had last seen him as Clark, and had walked straight past him as if he were a complete stranger. When Jack had frowned and called to him, Clark had merely given him a puzzled look and greeted him as if meeting for the first time. He wasn't positive, but he was pretty sure that Jack was having second thoughts about the conclusion he'd drawn.
Dealing with Lois was not going to be anything like as easy.
She was speaking again. He forced himself to listen; he needed to know just how careless he'd been and what he needed to do to make sure it never happened again.
"And then there were little things. Like just how did that sprinkler go off? And you knowing what they were talking about — remember, you said 'Dragonetti'? And you covered it up — when I asked if you lip-read you said yes. But I thought, what if you'd actually heard them say it? Then there was all the weird stuff that happened after I was taken hostage. The power-cut, all the noise — I was sure it was Superman. But he didn't appear until after I fell off the cleaners' cradle. *You* got up onto the roof — and the last time I'd seen you, you were handcuffed to Jack and being taken off by Morticia to be killed."
Another chance he'd taken — but he'd had no choice but to do what he had there. And at least it'd been done under cover of darkness, once he'd shot out the lights. The only problem had been Jack… or so he'd thought.
Into the silence, Lois spoke again. "I asked Lex how you got away. He said he didn't know, but suddenly you had Morticia out cold and were yelling at the rest of them to get down and outside. And you weren't handcuffed any more. He said Jack must've picked the lock again. Actually, he thought you were crazy to go back up." She frowned. "That kind of surprised me because he had to have known you were coming after me."
Did that mean Luthor wouldn't have tried to rescue Lois? Though the guy had risked his life for her at least once, so he wasn't sure about that one.
"Anyway," Lois continued, "when I put all that together, and a few other things I've always thought were a bit weird about you, it all seemed to add up. And other things suddenly made sense, too — like why you had Superman's globe. I mean, I *know* you wouldn't steal, so what were you doing with it? And how you got Jimmy and me out of EPRAD that night Antoinette Baines tried to kill us. I remembered how shocked you were to get a paper cut when we were in Smallville. Why you left Metropolis at the same time as Superman during the heat-wave. Why I just can't seem to find you sometimes. And that weird thing you do with your glasses…"
He'd always thought he was so discreet about that… Nervous, feeling as if he was under a microscope, he couldn't stop one hand lifting to the rim of his spectacles. Seeing her eyes widen at the gesture, he snatched his hand away, but not before he saw her nod in something like confirmation.
She shrugged. "So that's what I wanted to tell you. Well, one of the things, anyway."
So that was it. His secret was out.
The one thing he'd dreaded all of his life. Which he'd dreaded even more ever since he'd put on the Spandex.
Strange; he didn't feel the way he'd thought he would. After all, he'd had enough nightmares about this happening to have some idea how he might react. Dread in the pit of his stomach. Terror. Panic. Frantic attempts to cover up, get out of town, protect his parents…
Yet now all he felt was… resignation. And, somehow, sheer bloody anger at her arrogance in telling him how she'd worked it all out. How he'd given himself away. And her cleverness at putting it together.
"Well, say something, Clark!" She gave him a frustrated look. "I didn't have to tell you I'd figured it out, you know. I thought that as your *friend* I should tell you."
What? Did she think she was doing him a favour or something?
Okay, so she'd told him. But she hadn't said a word about what she intended to do. Write the story? Use the information to get some sort of hold over him? Or to get close to Superman?
"What is this, Lois? You think you've found out something about me, so you come round here to play nice?"
Her eyes widened into pools of shock, and her face paled. "Clark? Why are you being so -"
"What? I'm supposed to be jumping for joy that you found out something I've spent my whole life keeping secret?"
He hadn't thought it was possible that she could look paler. "What's wrong with you? What do you think I'm going to do? Splash it across the front page of the Planet?"
He didn't reply; he didn't trust himself.
And it wasn't just whether she'd print the story. It was what she might already have done. She'd been with her *boyfriend* while she'd been figuring it all out. Oh, god, had she told Luthor?
An icy chill settled inside him. What would he do if Luthor knew? What would *Luthor* do?
"That's it, isn't it?" She jumped to her feet and started pacing. "You think I would print it. You think I already did, don't you?" Confusion and shock turned to anger in her voice. "What do you think I am, Clark? What sort of friend do you think I am? Do you really think I'd do that to you?"
She wasn't feigning indignation. He knew her well enough to know that she was genuinely appalled to think he believed that of her.
Well, dammit anyway.
He'd certainly screwed that one up. So she hadn't intended to reveal him to the world — though there was still the small matter of Luthor. Had she told him? From her indignation, and her insistence that she was his friend and wouldn't betray him, he suspected not. Slowly, he began to breathe again.
Except now he had another problem, and it was standing right in front of him, obviously seething with anger and hurt. He was only too aware that Lois didn't give trust or friendship lightly, and what she was telling him was that she'd given him both — but he hadn't trusted her in return.
He sighed and dragged a hand through his hair. She was standing with her back to him, shoulders heaving. He hoped she was just breathing heavily. He pushed back his chair and stood, then walked around to where he could face her. Anger still clouded her expression. She looked away immediately, but he caught sight of her eyes before she did. To his dismay, he saw liquid brightness shimmering in them.
She didn't react.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I just… I didn't know what to think."
"You should know me better than that." Hurt laced the abrupt accusation.
"I know." He sighed again. "You caught me at a bad time. It's not an excuse, but… It's been a horrible night. I was worried sick about how I was going to get you — get everyone out of there without setting off that bomb. And I knew you were relying on me to do it, too. Your faith in me, Lois… it awes me, but it's also a huge responsibility."
She turned to face him. A tear trickled down one cheek. "I thought we were friends, Clark. Why would you think I'd betray you?"
*Were* friends. 'Were' being the operative word…
"Things have been… rocky between us for a while," he said quietly. "But you're right. I do know you better than that. Now, anyway. Whether you'd have given up on such a big story so easily six months ago…" He trailed off, giving her a wry smile.
She didn't return it. "Maybe. I don't know. All I know is that not *once* did it cross my mind tonight that I could print this, Clark. All I thought about was that we're friends and you didn't tell me. Okay, I guess you're going to say there's no reason why you should have told me, but I can't help thinking that way anyway. And the only other thing I've thought about since I worked it out is that I should tell you that I know. So that you don't have to hide it around me any more."
There was no softening of her voice. She was hurt, and distanced from him.
"I'm sorry," he said again. Taking a chance, he reached for her, drawing her into his arms. She didn't resist, though she didn't participate in the embrace, and he let out a breath slowly. "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I should have trusted you."
"Yes, you should!" she muttered against his chest.
He rubbed her back gently. "Lois, this is something I've had to keep hidden all my life. And when I became Superman it was even more important that no-one find out about me. I mean, can you imagine what it would mean for my parents if the wrong people knew that Superman was Clark Kent?"
She was silent for several moments. Then, quietly, she said, "Yeah, I can see that."
"When you said you knew… I panicked. And I know I hurt you."
"Yes, you did." But she still rested against him, her arms lying loosely by her side.
"And I'm going to hurt you again." He drew back slightly from her and waited until she looked up at him. "I have to ask you, Lois. Did you tell Lex what you suspected?"
Her eyes flashed briefly. Then she shook her head. "No. And I wouldn't. Even if you'd never said you had suspicions about him, this isn't any of his business. It's between you and me."
He let out a breath. "Thank you."
She pulled away from him. "I'm still angry with you."
She seemed to need some space, so he returned to the kitchen table and collected their mugs. Pouring fresh coffee gave him something to do. Handing hers to her, he said, "Remember Jason Trask?"
"That nutcase who thought Superman was the advance guard for an alien invasion?"
"Yeah, him. He had it all worked out, Lois. He was right to come to Smallville. And he was right to pick on my parents. I had to tell him who I was or he'd have killed them. As it was, he almost succeeded."
She was staring at him. Her face was pale again, and her breathing had quickened. "Oh, god…"
"Yeah. And he had Kryptonite, Lois. My powers were gone."
"That stuff really can hurt you, then?"
"Hurt me? I think it could kill me." He grimaced. "You mentioned the paper-cut. Remember you came downstairs and found me looking sick? Dad had just shown me the green rock Wayne Irig found. I collapsed. And I didn't have powers for a full day after that. Then Trask exposed me again, just before he tried to kill me."
"Oh, Clark! I had no idea!"
"I know. Anyway, maybe you can understand now why I'm wary of anyone finding out. Even you, Lois."
Her expression softened. "I guess. But, Clark, you *know* I won't tell anyone."
"Okay." He smiled, hoping that this time she'd smile back. And she did — faintly, but it was a start. "And I won't deny that it'll make things much easier if I don't have to make excuses to you any more."
"Yeah, and I can cover for you, too."
That would certainly make his life easier. "I'd appreciate that." He reached out a hand towards her. "Friends?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Friends." And he got a genuine smile as she accepted his hand. Emboldened, he moved and took her in his arms again. This time, she hugged him without reservation.
The distance between them was gone, and a weight vanished from Clark's heart. He had his best friend again, and a new understanding lay between them. Of course, the Luthor issue still hadn't been resolved, but maybe now that she knew the truth about him he could tell her what he — Superman — believed about the billionaire. Maybe she'd be more inclined to listen to Superman's suspicions, too, rather than those of a man she knew was jealous of her relationship with Luthor.
That was probably a conversation for another day. It was very late, and he should really send her home to get some sleep. Or perhaps, bearing in mind just how late it was and how tired she must be, he'd fly her home. He could drive her car over to her place tomorrow.
He had one more question niggling at him. "Do you think anyone else suspected? Perry? Jimmy?"
She tilted her head back to look up at him. "Jimmy? No way. Perry? Not that I'm aware of. Last I saw him, he was complaining about all the damage to his office and how long it would take to get it all back to normal. I know he's no fool, Clark, but I don't think he figured anything out."
"Good." He sighed the word against her hair, his arms tightening around her again. He was safe.
"Clark?" She was stirring in his arms.
"That mixture you got us to make for Lex… did it do *anything* at all?"
"Uh…" He gave her a faintly guilty smile. "Well, it would've helped to disinfect the wound. But I just got you to put it together so you were all doing stuff while I used heat vision on him."
Lois gave him a considering look. "He said that stuff stung like hell. I can only imagine — I mean, orange juice on an open wound…"
"Uh, yeah." He avoided her gaze. It had been just a little petty… but he hadn't been able to resist. Luthor had been getting on his nerves big-time by then.
She swiped at his arm. "Not nice of you, Superman!" But then she giggled. "After the way he talked to you earlier, I'm surprised you didn't give him a few scars while you were at it." She gestured towards his eyes.
"You know I wouldn't do that." About to suggest that it was time he took her home, he remembered something. "Didn't you say you had two things you wanted to tell me?"
"Oh." She flushed and moved away from him. He let his arms fall, and felt her absence keenly.
"What was it?"
But she shook her head. "I don't think it's a good idea, Clark."
He grimaced. "Look, I know I reacted badly to the first thing. I'm sorry about that. Please, Lois, I know it has to be important to you. Tell me?"
"No. Look, I really should go. I'm really glad we sorted this out —"
"Lois." He took the couple of steps he needed to bring him to her, and took her hands in his. "Talk to me."
As he spoke, he remembered what else she'd said — the reason she'd told him about her deductions first. She hadn't thought he'd believe her about whatever this was if she said it first.
He'd failed to trust her over the Superman thing, and he'd hurt her. So maybe here was a way he could make it up to her and prove that he did trust her.
"Lois, I promise I'll believe you. Whatever it is."
Her mouth turned down at the corners. "You won't, Clark."
"Try me. But I promise, anyway." He grinned. "And Superman doesn't break promises. I don't either." To emphasise his words, he squeezed her hands.
"This is a bad idea." She tried to turn away, but he had no intention of letting her.
"Come on, you know I'm stronger than you. And if you won't talk to me, I might just have to fly off somewhere deserted with you and keep you there until you do." Humour might just work.
"No fair, Kent. You know I'm a sucker for flying." What was obviously a reluctant smile appeared on her face.
"Well, okay, tell me what it is and then I'll take you flying," he promised.
She dropped her gaze. "It's not that I don't think you mean it, Clark. I just… think it's better for both of us if I don't say it."
What on earth could it be that would have her so embarrassed? And how did she think he was likely to react? "Lois. We're friends, right? There should be nothing we can't say to each other."
"But you know that's not true. Look at how much we've both avoided saying to each other lately! And anyway, some things are better not said."
"And sometimes misunderstandings and hurt feelings can be avoided if people communicate properly."
She shook her head briefly. "You are something else, you know that? Look, this is embarrassing, okay? And it's even worse now that I know I'm right. It'd be bad enough contemplating saying this to Clark, but it's far worse thinking about saying it to Superman!"
"No." He made a sharp negative gesture. "I *am* Clark, Lois. Superman's no more than a disguise. And, yeah, I behave differently when I'm in the Suit, but that's to protect my disguise. I mean, I can't just be Clark wearing Spandex. Forget Superman. You're talking to Clark."
She was silent for a few moments, apparently taking that in. "All right. Since you're insisting — but if I'm gonna be embarrassed then so are you. So answer me something. I know you said that you think Lex is a criminal and that's why you hate seeing me with him. But — honestly — is that the only reason?"
Whatever he'd been expecting, it wasn't that. Lost for words for several moments, he stared at her. Was she expecting him to admit that he was jealous?
"I don't understand. Are you trying to prove a point or something?"
Her hand tightened around his. "No. I just want an answer."
His gaze dropped. "Lois, you really don't want to hear this, trust me."
"Believe me, I do."
He couldn't back away now. He'd promised to believe her, and to make it easy for her to tell him whatever it was she had on her mind. So, okay. He'd answer her. Deep breath first. "Yes. There is another reason. I hate seeing you with him because it makes me jealous as hell."
He waited for her to drop his hands and move away. To tell him that he had no right to his jealousy. That he had no claim over her. That she — oh god — loved him like a brother.
But she didn't say any of those things. Instead she closed her eyes briefly and let out a long breath. "Yes." It was more a prayer of thanks than an affirmation of anything, and he looked at her, puzzled.
"All right. I'll tell you. But promise you'll let me explain properly before you say anything, right?"
"I promise." This was still making no sense at all, but they were talking far more honestly, more openly with each other than they had in weeks. The awkward barriers were down at last, and he felt closer to her than he ever had. He wasn't going to risk losing that. "Look, why don't we sit down?"
She allowed him to lead her to the sofa, and sat next to him. "Okay. I… you know how I told you a few months ago that I love you like a brother?"
Oh, yeah, like he'd ever forget *that*! He nodded.
"Well… I don't."
"Huh?" She didn't? She didn't love him at all?
"I was wrong. And I just realised it tonight. Clark, I love *you*. Like a woman loves a man. And I can't believe how blind I was not to see it sooner."
She wasn't looking at him. She was gazing down at her lap, and her hands were clenched again. Her heartbeat was far more rapid than it should be.
His own breathing quickened. But, all too soon, sanity returned. Lois loved Superman. He'd known that for a long time. Or, at least, she thought she loved Superman. She had a crush on him, and now that she knew Superman was *him* she was declaring her love to Clark. To Clark whom she knew to be Superman.
He couldn't blame her; not really. They were the same person. So, of course, it would be logical to her. She loved Superman, therefore she loved Clark.
Was it wrong of him to want her to love Clark first? To know that she'd have loved him even if he wasn't Superman?
He felt her gaze on him. Turning, he saw her watching him anxiously.
"I know what you're thinking, Clark. You think I'm only saying it because I know you're Superman. That's why I said you wouldn't believe me. But I realised I love you *before* I figured out about you and Superman. Before I had any idea of it."
Could he believe her? He'd promised to, but this was… this was something he hadn't even imagined. She'd been warning him off her as long as he'd known her. She'd been flirting with Superman as long as she'd known *him*. And then, recently, she'd been encouraging Lex Luthor every chance she got.
But then, he had promised. And this seemed to be their night for honesty…
He reached for her hand again. "Tell me."
She curled her fingers around his. "It was when you came up on the roof. I thought for sure I was going to die, Clark. I didn't know if Superman was going to come in time — I thought he was around because of the stuff in the stairwell, but then he was nowhere in sight. And I knew Fuentes was going to kill me once he got away. And then you were there. I don't even know what I thought you could do, but I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life."
"I'm glad, Lois. But you'd have been happy to see anyone you knew right then."
She shook her head firmly. "No. That's just it, Clark. I know I wouldn't have been that glad to see Lex."
Reluctantly, he pointed out, "Lex actually took a couple of pretty dangerous risks for you tonight. He was frantic when you were looking up those blueprints."
"Why are you arguing Lex's case?" She stared at him. "Trust me, he wouldn't have had the same impact on me at all. I told you, he's not important to me. And even Superman… I know it's crazy, and I didn't understand it at the time, but I was even more relieved to see you than I would have been to see Superman. I just wanted to throw myself into your arms…"
"And I just wanted to grab you and fly away with you," he told her, his voice husky. "God, Lois, when I think how close you came… You fell over the edge of the roof before I could get to you. I almost jumped over after you. Then I saw you land on the cradle and I thought you were okay. Until you fell again… That time I did jump off the roof. No-one saw me, but I'm not sure I'd have cared if anyone had."
"Clark…" Now her voice was breaking, and she was gazing up at him, tears shimmering in her eyes. "I've been so blind — is there any chance you could believe that I love you?"
Before he could answer her, she rushed into speech again. "Oh, you must think I'm an idiot — I mean, you probably don't feel the same way about me, so even if you believe me you don't want to hear my stupid declarations of love anyway —"
"Lois." He interrupted her, his voice low and insistent. "Don't you know how I feel when I hear you say you love me?"
She shook her head, but her gaze never wavered. Her lips parted slightly, as if she were saying a silent 'oh'.
He took both her hands in his and held them tightly. "I feel… alive, Lois. I want to fly as high as I can go and do cartwheels in the clouds. I want to write 'I love Lois Lane' in letters thirty feet high in the sky. I feel as if there's no-one else alive in the world but you and me. I'm the strongest man in the world, yet you can bring me to my knees with just a smile. And you think I don't want to hear you tell me you love me?"
He was shocked when her only response was a tiny choke.
"Clark, I've never heard anything so romantic in my life before!"
He grinned. Suddenly, he just couldn't stop grinning. "And I've never heard anything more beautiful than you saying those three words, Lois."
Her hands clenched around his again. "I love you?"
"Yeah, those." And suddenly he couldn't just look at her any more. Or grin at her. He wanted more.
Slowly, giving her plenty of warning of his intentions, he leaned towards her. She swayed towards him. And their lips met.
The world faded away. Nothing else existed. Only her lips and her arms around him and the beating of her heart. Their hearts.
A long time later, slowly, they disengaged. Lois rested her forehead against his. "Wow. You know what you said about me bringing you to your knees?"
"Well, I don't think I could stand right now if my life depended on it!"
He grinned. "Want to try something else instead?"
"How about those cartwheels I mentioned?"
A wide, excited smile. "What are we waiting for?"
He stood. Spun. Laughed at her shocked face. Gathered her into his arms. And carried her out onto his balcony, up into the early morning sky and into the rest of their lives.
(c) Wendy Richards 2005