By Carol M. <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Missy G. <email@example.com>
Submitted: Nov. 2006
Summary: Thinking Lois has chosen Dan over him, Clark has moved on… to New York. His new apartment is conveniently close to Central Perk, a popular place to gather. And there, he meets some new friends… A multiauthored story by Carol M. and Missy G.
Some time ago Missy and I started writing this for Annette — for her birthday. It is a crossover with one of Annette's other favorite shows — Friends. One day I read her Reader's Choice and she mentioned in there that she wished someone would write one, so here goes…
Very special thanks go out to my co-author, Missy, and our BRs Elena, KatieS and Anna [who spent countless hours letting me paste to her in IM and helping with characterizations].
Unfortunately [or fortunately, depending on your perspective *g*], the characters took on a life of their own and due to real life issues on my part, it took FOREVER to get finished and even longer to submit to the archive.
The story begins at the end of Whine, Whine, Whine in the Lois and Clark timeline and after the Friends come back from England and Ross' wedding to Emily and after Phoebe has the triplets in the Friends timeline.
None of the characters contained in this story belong to any of us and none of us are going to make any money off of it.
And without further ado…
Clark took one last, long look around his apartment. He would miss it. It had been a good home for him the last two years. He didn't want to leave but he certainly didn't want to stay. Not after what he'd seen earlier. There was no way he could stay in the same city, much less the same state anymore.
His mind kept playing the same scene again and again — Lois walking into her apartment with *him*…
It had ended. She'd told Superman it was over and that there was someone else. It had been confirmed when he had seen them on the steps talking and sharing some intimate conversation.
Well, it was obvious who the other man in her life was and it wasn't him. All they'd been through, becoming best friends, deciding to date and then that wonderful kiss, seemed like it didn't matter to her. It was like it had never happened.
Guess he'd run off one too many times, given one too many lame excuses, and now he had lost her. It was his fault for thinking he could juggle both ends of his two identities. If only he had trusted her enough to tell her the truth about who he was. But now it was too late.
Lois was in love with Dan Scardino.
He sighed and folded the last box flap under.
It was time to move on.
"Monica! Come here!" Rachel waved her roommate towards the window.
"What?" Monica tossed her magazine on the chair and joined Rachel. "WHO is that?"
They stared out the window and down just a little bit, excited by what they were seeing.
Ugly naked guy was moving out.
And a really hot guy was moving in.
Ten minutes later they were sitting on the balcony in lawn chairs, sipping iced tea, watching for a better glimpse of this new guy.
A blond head poked through the window leading outside. "What's up?"
"Hey, Phoebs! Pull up a chair." Monica poured some tea into the extra glass she'd had waiting for Phoebe when she arrived.
"Oh, thank you."
Rachel leaned up to peek over the side of the balcony again. "Oh! Oh! Oh! There he is again!"
"Who?!" Phoebe rushed to her side. "Ugly naked guy?"
"Nope. New guy."
Phoebe's jaw dropped as the new tenant emerged from the back of the apartment. "He's hot!!! What're we gonna call him?!"
Rachel sighed and stared off into space. "Just call him 'all mine'."
Monica snorted. "Yeah, right. Like you've got a chance with him."
Rachel glared at her. "And why not?"
"Well, first, you'd have to meet him and then you'd have to get him to ask you out. Face it, all we're gonna get to do is enjoy some eye candy."
"Hey, it could happen!"
Phoebe giggled. "Not if I get to him first."
They watched as the man returned to the bedrooms and then gasped when he came out.
He was wearing a pair of what seemed to be sweat shorts and then nothing from the waist up. He poked around in a box and then pulled out a shirt.
"NO! NO! NO!" All three yelled in unison.
"It's a *sin* to cover up that chest!" Phoebe was practically hanging over the side of the balcony.
"I *know!*" Monica rested her arms on the side and sighed. "But think of all the times we might get to see him…"
They sighed in unison, wearing identical far away expressions.
"Hey, what's going on out here?" A head full of tussled brown hair poked out the window.
"We're watching bare chest guy move in." Phoebe jumped up and down just a bit, clapping.
Chandler moved out of the window and peered across the alley. "He's got a shirt on."
"He didn't a minute ago."
Rachel sat back down. "We can't call him naked chest guy. How about…" She sipped thoughtfully at her tea, basking in the warm sun. "…really yummy guy?"
Chandler shook his head in disgust. "You can't call him that! Are you going to *eat* him?"
Rachel opened her mouth.
Chandler glared at her. "Don't say it."
"Fine. How about… super cute guy?"
Phoebe shook her head. "Great abs guy."
"No…" Monica and Rachel answered together.
Another head popped through the window. "What's going on?"
Chandler gestured towards the building across the street. "They're watching a new guy move in."
Joey looked. "He's kinda hot."
"JOEY!" Chandler stared at him.
"What?!" Joey shrugged. "Just because I think he's hot doesn't mean I'm…" he sputtered.
"I know, but still!"
"We're trying to come up with a name for him."
Monica sat up straight. "Sexy naked guy!"
Rachel sat back and pouted. "He's not naked."
"Sexy half-naked guy?" Monica sounded a bit desperate.
"How about hot shorts guy?" The question was posed thoughtfully.
"JOEY!" All four spoke simultaneously.
"I like it!" Rachel turned to stare back at the guy across the street. "Who are you, hot shorts guy?"
Phoebe pointed. "He's leaving!!!!!"
"What?" Monica rushed to Phoebe's side. "No, hot shorts guy! Stay!"
"Stay! Stay! Stay!" The three women chanted together.
And then the door closed. Somewhere overhead a boom sounded.
Phoebe looked up. "What was that?"
Rachel sighed. "Doesn't matter. Show's over." She picked up her glass. "Nothing more to see."
Rachel followed Phoebe and Joey back into the apartment.
Monica started to follow her when a gentle hand on her arm caused her to stop.
"Monica…" Chandler looked at her with soft blue eyes.
"What?" She could see something… undefined on his face.
"Are we…" He pointed to each of them. "…okay?"
"What?" She was genuinely surprised by the question. "Of course we are!"
"Well, after the whole thing with the male nurse…" He stared at his feet and shuffled a bit. "And now *hot shorts guy*… Are we okay?"
"Yes we are." She reached up and placed a gentle hand on the side of his face. "I'm happy right where I am, but if I didn't act all excited, what would Phoebe and Rachel think?"
"You could say you don't think he's that hot after all?" Chandler asked hopefully.
She just stared at him. "Be realistic here. He is *hot*! To say otherwise would be… just *wrong*!" She turned to look inside and satisfied herself that their friends were occupied and then gave him a swift, hard kiss on the lips. "But you're still the only one I want to be with."
Chandler looked through the window too and then gathered Monica in his arms and just held her for a minute. "Thanks. I needed to hear that."
A tap on the glass of the large picture window caused them to jump apart.
Rachel waved them inside. They looked nervously at each other and then left the balcony.
"What was all that about?" Rachel queried.
"All what?" She couldn't have seen the kiss. Could she?
"That hug. Is everything okay?"
"Um, fine." Chandler looked at Monica, desperately trying to come up with some excuse. "I, uh…"
"Shrunk his favorite socks."
Chandler jumped in. "Yes, I did. I'm very sad about this."
Joey looked at Chandler panic-stricken. "Not your lucky socks!"
Chandler nodded seriously. "Yes. They're shrunk. I may have to give them to Ben."
Joey just stared at him. "Ben is *not* old enough for those socks."
Chandler turned to look at Monica. "I was wearing those socks when…"
Phoebe jumped in. "When what?"
Chandler shifted nervously. "When, um, the, um, last time, um… Oh, gosh. What's for dinner?"
"Chandler, why don't I teach you how to do laundry later?"
"No, I'm good."
Monica's eyes grew wide and she spoke through gritted teeth. "I'll *teach* you how to do *laundry* later."
"Oh, um, okay, sure."
Joey started to whine. "Let's just go out. It'll take too long to make anything here."
Rachel tossed her hair. "As long as we can sit outside. This is the first *really* nice day we've had all spring."
"Let's go then!" Joey led the way out the door. Rachel and Phoebe followed him.
Monica put a hand on Chandler's arm to stop him. "Lucky socks?"
"You're the one who started it."
She smiled shyly. "And you were really wearing them when…"
He smiled back. "Yep." He leaned in to kiss her, softly and gently this time. "And you're still the most beautiful woman in any room."
"Aww!" She kissed him again. "Wanna skip dinner?"
"Will you teach me how to do laundry?" He grinned impishly.
Monica's head rested on Chandler's chest. "And that's how you do laundry."
"I'm not sure I got it. Can you show me again sometime?"
Monica giggled. "You bet."
Sounds of chatter floated into Monica's room and she sat up straight, clutching the sheet to her chest. "We've got to get out of here."
"What'll we do?"
"Well, get dressed!"
They quickly dressed and Monica used her fingers to comb through Chandler's hair and then her own.
"Why were we in here?" Chandler stared at her wide-eyed.
"Why do I always have to come up with the excuses?!"
"You're better at this than I am!"
"I'm a better liar than you are?!"
"No! That's not what I meant at all!"
"Then what did you mean?"
"You're smarter than I am! You think better, quicker!"
"We don't have time to argue over who's smart! Think of an excuse!"
There was a knock on the door. "Monica," came Rachel's voice. "Are you okay? We missed you at dinner. Is Chandler in there with you?"
Monica and Chandler exchanged panicked looks. "I'm fine, Rach. And no, Chandler's not in here. Why would he be?"
"He didn't come to dinner either."
"What do you mean I'm not in here?" Chandler hissed.
"He didn't?" She called to Rachel. "You can't be in here!" She hissed back.
"Then where am I?"
"How the heck would I know?"
"Can I come in, Mon?"
Monica looked around. "Under the bed. Quick."
"Just a minute, Rach!"
"I'm not getting under the bed!"
"Is there someone in there with you, Monica? It's Richard, isn't it?!"
"What?! No! I'm just talking to myself." Monica motioned for Chandler to get under the bed.
He rolled his eyes and complied.
Monica smoothed her shirt and then opened the door to let Rachel in.
"Are you sure there's no one else in here?"
Monica laughed nervously. "No. Who else would be in here?"
Rachel eyed her suspiciously. "You're not hiding hot shorts guy are you?"
Monica snorted. "As if."
"Seriously. I heard two voices."
"You were imagining things."
Rachel gave her a look of disbelief and then shrugged. "We're going to go get ice cream and thought we'd find out what happened to you and Chandler. Wanna come?"
"Um, no thanks."
"And you don't know where Chandler is?"
"I told you… *I don't know*!"
Rachel peered around her. "Why isn't your bed made?"
"I, uh, decided not to make it this morning."
Rachel's eyes narrowed. "You always make your bed."
"Well, I decided not to today," Monica answered defiantly.
"Okay. Well, we're leaving. Talk to you soon." Rachel looked around and then left.
Monica shut the door behind her and leaned up against it, breathing a sigh of relief. "She's gone."
Chandler's head emerged from the other side of the bed. He propped himself up on his elbows. "So, no ice cream?"
Monica grinned at him. "Nope."
"Wanna show me how to do laundry again?" he asked, grinning.
Lois dug around in the bottom of her ice cream bucket and came up empty. Darn. Third gallon of ice cream finished in the past two weeks. She sat the container on her lap, looked in the small handheld mirror and sighed. Yep! The blemishes were still there. All the chocolate she'd eaten lately was catching up to her — big time!
This had to end soon. She couldn't keep going on this way. Who knew that a broken heart would be so hazardous to her complexion? It was all Clark's fault! She closed her eyes and tried to shut out the mental image of his empty apartment. She had been too late. And Clark had been too much of a coward to see her in person. Instead, all he'd left was a short note telling her that he couldn't stay in Metropolis and that he was moving on.
No explanation. No lame excuse.
He was gone and she was heartbroken.
Drat him anyway! Who did he think he was to leave her just when she had made up her mind that it was *him* that she had chosen? Just when the picture had become crystal clear, he had muddied up the waters again by moving on.
She didn't even have the friendship of Superman to fall back on. A few days after Clark had disappeared, Superman held a press conference informing the public that he was now going to be based out of New York for a while. The police department needed his help in rounding up the latest outbreak of gang wars. Crime was at an all time high in New York and the city officials hoped that his constant presence there would help them get things under control.
Superman… now there was a thought. Maybe he knew where she could find Clark, if only for the reason of giving him a piece of her mind. Of course, she'd have to find Superman. The superhero had been spending all his time in New York lately and now that she thought about it, he hadn't visited her since he'd left five months ago.
In frustration, she tossed the empty carton across the room and watched it barely miss the kitchen sink. Oh goody! Another mess to clean up. She looked at the pimples on her face and frowned. If she was going to hunt down Clark, then she'd better stop eating all this junk food and get back to a healthier diet. It would take her at least a week to make all the arrangements if she was going to take a trip to New York.
Her heart lightened briefly as she wondered if one of her sorority sisters still lived in New York. It was worth a try.
Rachel sipped on a cup of coffee, dreading another day of work at Bloomingdale's. She was tired of her job and *so* wanted to find something new.
"Mon, what would you think if I quit my job?"
"Well, my first thought would be 'how would you pay your half of the rent?' but otherwise I think you might be happier somewhere else."
"Well, I wouldn't quit without having something else, but this isn't my dream job like head chef at Alessandro's is for you."
Chandler sat down next to them, smoothing his tie as he spoke. "You could do what I do."
Monica turned to look at him. "And just what *do* you do, Chandler?"
"Well, I um, well, I um…" He shifted uncomfortably. "It has something to do with numbers…"
Ross entered the coffee house and flopped himself in one of the chairs. "Emily *still* hasn't called."
"What do you expect, Ross? You said your ex-girlfriend's name during your vows." Monica put a hand on her brother's arm.
"That was *months* ago and we've talked since then, but she hasn't called in like 2 weeks. She said she had a few more things to think about and then she'd call back." He slumped even further. "I don't *wanna* be the two divorce guy!"
"Well, the first one isn't technically your fault. I mean who would have known that Carol was…" Chandler stopped as Ross glared at him.
Ross covered his head with his hands and groaned. "Do we *really* have to bring up my first wife's orientation so often?"
"Well, you have to admit it *is* kinda funny."
"I don't think it is and I'm afraid that my bosses aren't being very understanding. They're going to fire me if I'm not careful."
Rachel stood and stretched. "Why would they fire you, Ross?"
"Because I'm too distracted or something like that."
"What?" Chandler sipped at his cup. "Not much market for depressed paleontologists?"
"Well, I'm sure it'll be fine." Rachel picked up her purse and her to-go cup. "I've got to get to work. I'll see you guys later." She moved to step over Monica's feet but didn't step high enough. She tripped and the lid came off her coffee cup and landed smack in the middle of Ross' lap.
Ross jumped up and tried to brush at his pants. "OW! OW! OW!"
"Omigod!! Ross, I am so sorry!" Rachel looked frantically for some napkins. "Are you okay?"
Ross fumbled with his belt buckle, then his button and pulled down his pants.
"ROSS!" The cry came from all sides.
Ross tugged his shirt down to cover his underwear, cursing the fact that all of his boxers were in the laundry.
Monica held her hand up to shield herself from the sight of her brother's legs. "Pull them back up anyway!"
"ROSS! No pants! I like it!" Joey walked into the coffee house, with Phoebe on his heels, and immediately began to undo the buttons on his jeans.
"JOEY! NO!" The cry again came from all sides as Joey continued to struggle.
"Damn button-flys." He looked up. "What? Why not? Ross has his pants off!"
Rachel sighed and flung her hair over one shoulder. "I've got to go. I'll see you guys later."
Monica explained to Joey what had happened and he reluctantly buttoned his jeans back up, taking the seat vacated by Rachel.
He perked up as he remembered his reason for coming to the coffee house in the first place. "I got a job!"
"Great!" "Awesome!" "Where at?"
"Well, I regot a job."
Monica raised an eyebrow at him. "How do you 'reget' a job?"
"Well, Drake Ramoray is coming back for a couple of days on Days. They said they might make it permanent again. AND WILL YOU STOP STARING AT ME?"
Phoebe started. "Oh, sorry. I was just trying to see you as a button-fly kinda guy. And the image just isn't there."
"Well, these aren't my jeans. They're Chander's. Mine were all dirty."
"Oh, well, yeah. Chandler is definitely a button-fly guy."
"And on *that* note…" Chandler stood. "It's time for me to go do my number thing."
"Yeah, and I've got to change before I head to work." Ross finally pulled up his pants.
"Me too." Monica took one long last drink of her coffee. "We've got a big party coming in tonight and we're going to be short-handed as it is."
"You're leaving me?" Joey whined. "I just got here!"
"I'm not going anywhere." Phoebe informed him. "I don't have to give *any* massages today."
They waved as their friends left Central Perk.
Joey eyed his blond friend. "You know, you could give *me* a massage today."
"Joey, you know I don't do *those* kinds of massages."
"No, really, I'm serious. I could use one to help me relax before I head back to work. I'm nervous. I really want to do well, so they'll make it a regular role again."
Phoebe grinned. "Well, okay then. Let's go!" She grabbed his hand and they left the coffee house.
Clark walked down the few steps into Bloomingdale's men's department. He had a meeting with his publisher later that afternoon and his parents were coming in the next day. Earlier that morning he'd realized that he hadn't worn anything but sweat shorts and T-shirts since he'd moved in. If he was going to show his folks the town he needed to be presentable.
He'd opened his closet door and everything that stared back at him reminded him of his former life… in Metropolis… with *her*.
He'd only been back a couple of times as Superman and he'd left quickly, not giving any interviews, telling reporters on one occasion that he was often needed elsewhere and wouldn't be speaking with them as much as he had in the past. He'd rather have not gone at all, but people would get suspicious if Superman and Clark both disappeared from Metropolis at the same time. And he really couldn't have ignored that warehouse fire — not with toxic chemicals involved.
Fortunately, he had enough money saved up to go on a mini-shopping spree for some new clothes and Bloomingdale's seemed like the place to go.
He piddled around pulling out that shirt, discarding those pants, unsure of what he really wanted.
"Um, excuse me. Can I help you?"
The voice startled him, but he managed to put a smile on his face as he turned around. He was surprised when his heart skipped a beat. Well, maybe not a whole beat but at least half of one. There was a lovely young woman standing there looking at him with mild amusement.
"Actually, I'm looking for some new clothes but I'm not quite sure what I want."
"I could tell. How about I help you find something?" She smiled at him and her eyelashes fluttered just a bit.
If Clark didn't know better, he'd think she was flirting with him.
As he followed her towards a rack of shirts, the thought occurred to him. Why couldn't she be flirting with him? He was a moderately attractive man — or so he'd been told — and she had no idea that he was still pining over a lost love.
And why was he still pining anyway? It had been months since *she* chose *him* to be with. She'd obviously moved on and so should he. He made up his mind, then and there, that what might have been was not going to keep him from what might be.
Rachel couldn't believe it when he turned around. It was hot shorts guy! She'd watched him practically every night since he moved in to ugly naked guy's apartment. Sure, it was voyeuristic, but he made it so darn easy, sitting there on the couch in sweat shorts that tended to ride up just a bit and when he was shirtless… Well, it was safe to say that she, Monica and Phoebe were glad that he'd rearranged the living room so the couch faced the window.
She wondered if he had any idea that he was spied on and decided that he didn't. If so, he'd pull the curtains shut more often. It was just as well that he had no idea — there were so many days that the eye candy just hit the spot.
She reached a rack of Ralph Lauren clothing and stopped, turning to make sure that he was following. "We haven't been properly introduced." She held out her hand. "I'm Rachel."
"Clark. Clark Kent." His hand was strong and his grip was firm but gentle at the same time. She felt her breath being taken away by just that small amount of contact.
"Well, Mr. Kent…" She was surprised when he interrupted her.
"Call me Clark, please. Mr. Kent is my dad." He smiled at her.
She lost her train of thought completely. That smile wasn't done justice across the street and through two windows. Up close and in person she realized that it could light up a room.
A hand waved in front of her face and she was brought quickly back to reality. "Oh, sorry. Clark. Right. What kinds of things are you looking for today?"
"Well, my closet needs a complete makeover. I have a meeting with my publisher this afternoon and my parents are coming into town tomorrow and they want me to show them around. I need a suit, certainly, and some clothes for a night out, but not too fancy. I'm taking them to a couple restaurants and to a play."
Rachel looked around and an idea formed in her mind. "Let's see — first thing we need to do is measure you." She went to the counter and picked up a measuring tape. She was very good at determining the size of a customer by sight alone, but she wasn't about to pass up the chance to measure *Clark*. She sighed waffily and then hurried to his side as she noticed another personal shopper finishing up a sale. No way that she was going to let someone else horn in on this sale! Besides, Jodie was a man-grubbing little hussy and she wasn't going to get her hands on Clark!
"Okay, Clark," she said, returning to his side. "Let's figure out what size you are."
"Let's start with your arms. Hold them straight out." Clark complied and she skimmed one hand along his arm, relishing the feel of hard flesh underneath the loose fabric of his shirt. She stopped at his shoulder, where the seam would fall and held the other end at his wrist then looked at the number. "Well, you'll need a 'long'. How about chest size? Keep your arms up."
She stood next to him, standing slightly on her tiptoes. She reached around with both arms until her hands met on the other side of his broad chest. She was incredibly tempted to just run her hands over his chest and back, imagining what it would be like to be in those incredibly strong arms of his, but tried to remain professional and just take the measurement. "Well, 44 long it is."
Rachel took a deep breath, trying to calm her fluttering heart beat before measuring his waist. "Now for pants." She reached around his waist — not as difficult this time — and… "34 inch waist." Another deep breath in. She knelt down then looked up at him, tossing a bit of hair back over her shoulder. "Um, I don't suppose you know your inseam, do you?"
Clark laughed. That was a very nice laugh. He held out his hand to her and she gladly grasped onto it for support as she stood. "34 there, too."
Was it her imagination or did he hold on for just a smidge longer than necessary?
"Now for your neck." Rachel stood in front of him and stood on her toes until she could reach up around his neck. Her arms stretched around until they met in the back. As she pulled the tape measure towards the front of his body, she stumbled just a bit. It was an accident, but oh, what an accident it was!
Her hands rested against his strong chest, her body against his. It only took a fraction of a second for him to wrap his arms around her to keep her from collapsing completely.
"Are you okay?" His breath was soft on her face, playing just a bit with the tendrils of hair along the sides of her forehead.
Rachel was amazed at how gentle his hands were as they rested on her waist, steadying her after her almost fall. She knew she would carry this moment in her mind for a long time to come. The imprint of his fingers on her hips would last for an eternity. She'd never take a shower again.
She looked up and was amazed to find concern in his eyes. She'd only known him for a few minutes but he appeared to be genuinely concerned about her well-being.
"Are you okay?" he repeated.
She shook her head just a bit and stepped slightly back. "Uh, yeah. Um, do you know your neck size? This is just a bit too dangerous for me."
Was it just her or was there something palpable in the air?
She managed to tear her eyes off those deep chocolate pools she was finally getting a good look at, stepping reluctantly out of the circle of his arms, and turned to pull out a pair of pants. "I think these will look good on you. You won't want to dry them, because they'll shrink, but that's okay." She wound her way through the racks towards the nearby rounder of shirts. She pulled one out and held it up next to the pants she'd selected. "Extra large?"
"Well, why don't you try this on and we'll see how it fits and go from there." She led him to the changing area and showed him to a fitting room. "I'll be out here when you finish changing."
As soon as the door shut behind him, Rachel felt her knees go weak and she grabbed on to the counter to support herself. IT WAS HOT SHORTS GUY! She reached for the phone, muttering to herself, "Answer! Answer!"
"HI! You've reached Monica and Rachel's…"
Dang it! Monica wasn't home! Who was she going to tell about this?! She hit the hang up button and started to dial Phoebe's number when she heard the door open behind her. Wow! He was a fast changer!
She turned and almost gasped. He had no right to look that good! How was a girl to keep a coherent thought in her head?!
"That's good then?" She watched as he looked critically at himself in the full length, three-sided mirror.
"You look very nice, Clark."
"Yeah." She brushed her hands along the back of his shoulders, reveling in the feel of his muscles under her hands. "See how this hangs off of your shoulders? And where the cuffs hit on your wrists? That's just the right size." She tugged a little at the waistband of the pants and ran her hands lightly down the sides. "These fit perfectly right through your hips. Not too loose, not too tight. We'll have to get you a belt to go with them, but that's no big deal."
She bent down as gracefully as she could and straightened out the hems, giggling a little to herself as he flexed his toes a bit. "When you're not wearing shoes, you want the hem to almost reach the floor. These are just the right length." She looked up at his reflection in the mirror. "What do you think?"
He stood with his hands on his hips and studied himself in the glass. "I think I like it."
She stood up, noting how their reflections looked next to each other in the mirror. "Why don't you go back in and I'll get you a couple more things to try?"
Over the course of the next hour, Rachel found herself telling Clark all about herself, while learning relatively little about him. Oh, he talked about growing up in Smallville, but very little about what he'd done after that, just that he was most recently from Metropolis and that he was a writer. Of course, she already knew that last bit of information, but it wouldn't do to let on that she'd watched him with his laptop on more than one occasion.
He'd had his heart broken, and fairly recently at that. Oh, he hadn't said so but she knew. It was in the way he said, or didn't say, certain things, particularly about his time in Metropolis. Well, she could help him deal with that. If he'd let her.
"Well, Clark, I think you're all set." Rachel folded each of the articles of clothing as she rang them up. She saw him blanch a bit as the total continued to rise. She took a deep breath; she wasn't really supposed to do this — only for family and they turned a blind eye towards the occasional close friend — but this was an exception. For Pete's sake, she spent more time with — okay, okay, looking at — Clark than just about anyone. She typed in a number after she'd rung everything up and 20% of the total suddenly disappeared.
"What was that?"
"That was the 'you're a really nice guy who looks like he needs a break' discount."
"What?" He shifted uncomfortably. "You don't have to do that."
"I know, but I want to."
"Rachel, really, I wouldn't want you to get in trouble."
"Oh, don't worry about it." She waved him off then lowered her voice. "I'm thinking about looking for another job anyway. Besides, I'm not undoing it so you'll just have to deal with it."
Clark smiled at her and handed her a card. "Thanks, Rachel. You're the best."
She handed him his card back and the piece of paper to sign. "Well, I don't know about *that*…"
He laughed. What a wonderful laugh! "Well, I'm grateful anyway."
A voice called from across the store. She looked up into his beautiful eyes. "I guess I better go." Her voice was softer than she'd intended.
"Me too." He held out his hand and she grasped it gladly.
"I hope things go well with your publisher." She couldn't tear her eyes — or her hand — away.
"I'm sure they will."
"And I hope your parents have fun while they're here too."
The voice was more insistent now. He didn't seem to want to let go either. "I've really got to go."
"Maybe I'll see you around, Rachel."
"I hope so." She reluctantly let go of his hand and watched his retreating back as long as possible, smiling when he turned to smile at her one last time.
Clark left Bloomingdale's with several bags of new clothes. It had made a sizeable dent in his savings, but if things went as he hoped, he'd get an advance on his manuscript this afternoon.
He couldn't stop his thoughts from wandering back to the lovely young lady who had helped him. Rachel was beautiful. There was no doubt about that. And she was certainly interested in him. But was he ready to move on?
Well, he knew his sizes, but he hadn't thought twice about letting her take his measurements. And holding her when she fell *had* been kind of nice.
Maybe he'd take the chance. If he saw her again, maybe he'd ask her out.
Rachel practically ran into Central Perk. "Monica," she started, slightly out of breath as she tossed her bag on the table. "You will *never* guess who came in today!" Monica jerked her head towards the tables as Rachel jabbered on. "Hot shorts guy! He came in and wanted to buy clothes. And guess who got to help him?" Monica jerked her head again. "ME! His name is Clark and he's a writer." Rachel swooned, her head falling against the back of the couch momentarily. "He is so incredibly nice. He didn't just want me to help him pick out some clothes, he wanted to get to know me. He asked questions about me. He listened to the answers…" She sat up and shook her hair just a bit. "And what is wrong with your head?"
Monica answered through clenched teeth. "He's over there." She jerked her head towards the table behind them.
"Oh no!" Rachel slid down the couch until only the top of her head would be visible from behind. "Did he hear me?" she whispered.
Monica tossed a sly glance towards the dark-haired man. "I don't think so."
"Oh, good." She turned to peek over the back cushion. "Oh my God! It's him! I helped him pick out that suit."
"Monica! Rachel!" Phoebe sat on the couch next them, slumping down herself. "What are we hiding from?"
Rachel motioned backwards with her head. "It's hot shorts guy!"
"Oh! Where? Where?" Monica and Rachel immediately shushed her. "Oh. Sorry." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Where? Where?"
"Right behind us, at the table, in the suit."
"Oh! Oh! It's hot shorts guy!"
"I know! I helped him pick out that suit!"
Phoebe looked it up and down approvingly. "Nice."
"You have impeccable taste, Rachel."
Rachel grinned. "I know."
"So is he going to ask you out?"
"I don't know, Phoebs." She sank back into the couch. "I hope so, but I'd have to talk to him again."
Monica chimed in. "He's right there!"
"Go for it!"
"You think?" Rachel's doubt showed on her face.
"Sure, Rach! Go!"
Rachel took a deep breath and stood up. "Here goes." She smoothed her skirt and walked over to the table where Clark sat. "That's a nice suit."
He turned and looked at her, a broad smile crossing his face. "Rachel! Hi."
Rachel spun around momentarily, her eyes raised to the ceiling as her friends watched. "Hi, Clark." She fingered the button on the sleeve of his suit coat. "You know, someone had great taste when he helped pick out that suit."
Clark grinned again. "What makes you think it was a he?"
Rachel sat on the stool across from him. "Oh, it was a she?"
"Was she… cute?"
Clark laughed. "Yes, she was cute."
"Aw. Would you…" Rachel played with the napkin sitting on the table. "… ask her out sometime?"
Another laugh came out of his gorgeous face. "Maybe."
"Well, I would but my parents are going to be in town."
"Oh." Rachel looked a bit sad.
"But I'm not doing anything tonight."
"Really?" Rachel brightened up.
"Well, you want to… maybe… go out for dinner? I know this great Chinese rest…"
Clark leaned in just a bit, flirting with her. "If you want great Chinese, I know the best place. Not too far from here either."
"Oh. You know great Chinese? And you haven't even lived here very long." Rachel was impressed.
"I make it my business to know good restaurants wherever I live."
"Oh? Oh and how many places have you lived, Mr. Kent?" Rachel tossed her hair just a bit.
"All over the world."
"A couple hours away."
Rachel thought, sure she could stump him. "Tokyo?"
"For a few months."
"All over Africa. Spent almost a year traveling."
"Spent several months there."
"How many languages can you speak?"
Clark laughed. "Well, some better than others."
Rachel laughed with him. "Beijing?"
"Ah ha! Gotcha!" She felt rather than saw Phoebe trying to eavesdrop and waved her away with a hand, grateful when Phoebe went to get another cup of coffee.
Clark grinned. "I actually lived in a little village along the Yangtze River."
"Drat!" Rachel smiled coyly. "So you could order dinner for us tonight in Chinese?"
"Sure can. Tell you what…" Clark checked his watch. "I have a couple things to do, but I could pick you up in about three hours?"
Rachel eeped to herself. It wouldn't do for Clark to know she lived within viewing distance of him. "Actually, I have a few things to do myself. How about we meet back here at…" She checked her own watch. "…quarter to eight?"
Clark grinned at her as he stood and pulled a couple bills out of his wallet. He tossed them on the table. "Sounds great to me. I'll see you then."
"Bye." Rachel watched his retreating back. As soon as he was out the door, she stood and walked dreamily towards the couch, sighing as she sat next to Monica. "I have a date with hot shorts guy." She sat up straight. The tone of her voice changed dramatically. "I have a date with hot shorts guy in *less than three hours*!"
Monica's face grew very serious as she stood and grabbed Rachel's hand. "Crisis date mode. Let's go." She yanked Rachel off the couch and practically ran out the door.
Rachel called as she was pulled behind. "Phoebe, grab my purse. Come on!"
Phoebe set down her cup of coffee, grabbed Rachel's bag, and took off after them. "Wait for me! Wait for me!"
Clark fidgeted as he waited for Rachel to reenter Central Perk. He wasn't sure what had possessed him to agree to go out with her. Sure, she'd been really nice to him, what with the discount and all, and he'd made the deal with himself to ask her out if he ever saw her again, but still. He wasn't over *her* yet and he knew that. If Rachel was half as intuitive as she seemed, she knew it too.
She must have been okay with it then because she was the one who asked him out. Even with his stomach of steel, nerves were still doing a number on him. He could only imagine what it was like for a human male.
A hand placed softly on his arm broke him out of his reverie. "Clark? Are you okay?"
He turned and smiled. She looked beautiful. "Hi, Rachel. Yes, I'm fine. I was just… thinking."
"So," He watched as she tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Where is this Chinese place you know?"
"Actually, I was thinking… how about Italian? I'm dying to have some bucatini all'amatriciana."
She looked at him and blinked. "Excuse me?"
He laughed. "It's a dish with spaghetti-like pasta with holes in it, kinda like long, skinny spaghetti, and a tomato, pancetta, onion and chili pepper sauce."
"That sounds incredible. But, um, what's pancetta?"
He laughed again. "Bacon."
"Oh, I like bacon."
"So what do you think?"
"Sure." Rachel smiled impishly at him. "I bet you know a great Italian restaurant too."
"Sure do. Trust me?" Clark smiled back at her, surprised to find himself enjoying the flirting. He'd never really enjoyed flirting before except with… He shook his head — he couldn't let himself think about *her*.
She looked at him, a bit of caution in her eyes. "That depends. You're not taking me to Italy, are you?"
He couldn't help but laugh again. He hadn't laughed this much in a long time. A sudden thought sobered him up. She couldn't know, could she? That he was Superman? No, of course not. He smiled at her. "No. Just a restaurant I know near here."
"Well, let's go then."
Clark offered her his arm, surprised by the tingle he felt from the contact. "Let's go."
"Alessandro's?" Rachel couldn't believe it as she stepped out of the cab.
Clark looked a bit surprised as he helped her out. "Yes, you know it?"
"My best friend is the head chef here. Monica will be *thrilled* to know you count it as one of the top Italian restaurants in the area."
"You know Monica?"
"She's my roommate."
"Yes." They walked in the front door. "How do you know Monica?"
Clark shrugged. "I asked if I could meet her one time. I wanted to compliment her on her orecchiette alle cime di rapa."
"And *what* exactly is that?"
Clark laughed and squeezed gently on the hand that rested in the crook of his elbow. "It's short pasta with turnip-tops, anchovies and olive oil."
"And why hasn't she ever made this for me?"
Clark chuckled. "You'd have to ask her that."
The maitre d' looked quizzically at them. "Can I help you?"
"Kent, party of two."
He looked down at his reservation book. "Certainly, Mr. Kent. Follow me, please."
Clark stepped back slightly and allowed Rachel to go ahead of him, his hand resting gently on the small of her back. He held her chair for her and then sat down himself.
"Can I interest either one of you in a glass of wine?"
Clark looked questioningly at Rachel who nodded slightly. "Can we have a fiasco of the house Chianti please?"
"Certainly, sir." The maitre d' handed them both menus. "Enjoy your meal."
Rachel leaned in slightly. "Um, Clark. I don't know how wine affects you, but a *fiasco* of Chianti?"
Clark laughed again. "A fiasco is a type of bottle. We're getting a bottle of Chianti."
Rachel laughed with him. "That's okay, then."
A waiter appeared carrying their Chianti. He poured a little bit for Clark to try. Clark nodded his approval and the waiter filled both of their glasses.
"Have you decided?"
Clark looked at Rachel. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. I want that oreo-thingamabob you mentioned earlier."
Clark grinned. "Orecchiette alle cime di rapa, for the lady and I'll have bucatini all'amatriciana."
"Very well." The waiter made a couple of notes on his pad and left the two alone.
"So, Clark, how did the meeting with your publisher go?"
Clark took a sip of wine. "Very well. He's pleased with the progress I'm making on my novel and gave me a very nice advance."
"Good. Can you tell me what it's about?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't think it's a secret. It's about a newspaper reporter who travels around the world."
She grinned and took a piece of bread out of the basket the waiter had brought. "A bit auto-biographical?"
Clark smiled back at her. "A bit. Though I did freelance writing when I traveled, not for a specific paper. I never settled in one place until…" His voice trailed off and he stared into his glass of wine.
"Until…?" Rachel prompted.
"Until I moved to Metropolis. I worked for the Daily Planet for a couple of years." He finished the rest of his glass in one big gulp, trying to erase the memories that threatened to surface.
"THAT'S where I know you from! They keep a copy of the Daily Planet in the break room at work. I KNEW your name was familiar." She snapped her fingers trying to think. "You wrote with someone else a lot. Lisa… Lori…"
Clark poured himself some more wine, wishing desperately that it would have an effect on him. "Lois. Lois Lane. Best reporter I ever knew."
Rachel sat back, a satisfied look on her face. "Lois Lane. That's it. You two wrote most of the Superman stories, didn't you?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably. "We had our share." Superman and Lois Lane — how much more difficult could this conversation get? "Look," he said as he fidgeted with his napkin. "Lois and I didn't leave things on the most friendly terms when I left. I'd really rather not talk about it."
Rachel munched thoughtfully on a piece of bread. "You were in love with her."
Clark had a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face as he stared at her. "What makes you say that?"
"It's obvious. Her name makes you uncomfortable and you just drank about half the *fiasco*," she grinned, "of wine while talking about her." She settled back in her chair and took a sip out of her own glass.
Clark sighed and swirled the red liquid just a bit. "We went out a couple of times — once really — but she was my best friend and I did think I was in love with her." He shrugged. "She found somebody else." He sat forward and smiled at her. "You don't really want to talk about this do you?"
Rachel shook her head. "No." She grinned impishly. "I'd rather hear what Superman's like."
Clark groaned. "If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that…"
"You'd be rich?"
The waiter returned and set a steaming plate of pasta in front of each of them. "Orecchiette alle cime di rapa for the lady and bucatini all'amatriciana for you, sir."
Their conversation slowed to a halt as they began their meal.
Rachel managed to speak around her meal. "Clark, this is incredible."
Clark smiled at her. "I thought you'd like it."
She used her best puppy dog look on him. "Could I maybe have a bite of yours? Please?" She stuck her lower lip out just a bit. "It looks SO good."
Clark laughed. "Sure." He cut up a bite and twirled it onto his fork. He reached across the table and fed it to Rachel.
"Mmmmmmmm." Rachel savored the taste, chewing slowly on the pasta. "Monica has seriously been holding out on me. This is absolutely amazing. I am so glad you suggested coming here. This is so much better than Chinese!"
"I'm glad you approve."
The rest of the meal passed in relative silence, each enjoying their entree and each other's company.
Clark surprised himself when he ordered brownie a la mode for dessert. He knew it was delicious — he'd had it before and the rich chocolate brownie with chocolate chips and fudge icing with ice cream and hot fudge and caramel was calling his name. He was here with Rachel — and having a very nice time — and it wasn't the cake he'd shared with *her*. He'd bet Rachel would want to share too.
Sure enough, she did, but somehow it didn't bother him, sharing with Rachel. She used her own spoon — they'd brought two — so it wasn't as like the last time as he'd thought it might be. As hard as it was to believe, as often as he'd thought he'd never get over Lois, he was finding himself really starting to like Rachel.
"Are you sure I can't walk you to your apartment?" This wasn't how Clark had been raised, to drop his date off at a coffee house.
"Really, it's okay. Would you like a cup of coffee first? If it won't keep you up I mean?" Rachel didn't want the date to end but she certainly wasn't ready to show him exactly where she lived, either.
"Sure." Clark couldn't believe it. He found himself actually wanting to spend more time with her. He wasn't ready to go home and face the memories of Lois Lane. Here… Here with Rachel, he could face the future. Maybe not with her, of course — he didn't know her THAT well yet — but with someone… else. Someone who wasn't Lois.
They sat on the couch and chatted for a while longer, each regretting that their time together was almost up. The coffee shop was starting to close down and they'd have to go their separate ways.
"Rachel?" A voice interrupted their conversation.
"Joey! Hi!" She shifted so she could get a better look at her friend. "Joey, this is Clark. Clark, Joey. Joey is a friend of mine — he lives across the hall from me and Monica."
Clark stood and reached out a hand. "It's nice to meet you."
Joey looked at him skeptically. "You're not taking advantage of Rachel, are you?" He looked down at her. "'Cause I can take care of him for you if you need me to."
"JOEY!" Rachel glared at him. "Clark is a very nice man. You don't need to protect me!"
Joey reached out to take the hand Clark was still offering. "Okay. But if anything happens to her, you have to answer to me." He clenched his hand around Clark's as hard as he could and was amazed when, no matter how hard he gripped, Clark's hold was always just a bit more firm.
Clark finally released Joey's hand and turned back to Rachel. "Are you sure I can't walk you home?"
Rachel shook her head. "Joey lives right across the hall from me. He'll walk me home." She turned to her friend. "Meet you outside in a minute?" Her glare dared him to do otherwise.
"Sure. I, uh, promised Chandler I'd get some croissants for breakfast in the morning. I'll be right out."
Clark waved just a bit towards the other man. "It was nice to meet you."
Joey half-glared back. "Yeah, you too."
Rachel grabbed Clark's hand and led him outside. "Don't let Joey get to you. He just wants to protect me. He's a good friend."
Clark nodded and realized that Rachel was standing close enough to him that he could almost feel her in his arms again. But he couldn't. Not yet. It was too soon.
The feeling in the air was almost palpable. Finally, he decided that a hug would be safe… just what he was ready for. He put his arms around her and felt hers wind around his waist.
"I had a great time tonight, Rachel."
"Me too, Clark." She squeezed just a bit then moved back, out of the circle of his embrace.
"Can I call you?" He surprised himself by asking it.
"You better." She pulled a piece of paper out of her purse and dug frantically for a pen. When she found one, she scribbled her number on the paper and handed it to Clark. "I hope you call soon," she added shyly.
"I will," he promised.
"Rach, you ready?" Joey interrupted the moment again.
She tore her eyes away from Clark's. "Yeah. I'll talk to you later?"
Clark nodded. "Bye."
"Bye." Rachel turned and headed down the street with Joey, turning once to find Clark watching them as they walked away. What a guy!!
Rachel slammed the door to the apartment she shared with Monica.
Monica hurried out of her room, tying her robe as she came. "What?"
Rachel tossed her purse onto the couch and glared angrily at her disheveled friend. "You *met* him?"
"Clark!" She tossed her hair. "Hot shorts guy!"
Monica gulped guiltily. "Yeah, I did. Once. He complimented my orecchiette alle cime di rapa once."
"I know! And that's the other thing. Why haven't you made that for me before?!"
"How do you know?!"
"Clark took me to Alessandro's for dinner tonight!"
The door opened and Joey's head popped in. "Hey, is there going to be a chick fight?"
Rachel took a shoe off and threw it at the door. "JOEY!"
He'd pulled the door shut to avoid the shoe but opened it back up. "I wanted you to wait for me to get my popcorn! That's all!"
"JOEY!" Her other shoe followed the same trajectory as its mate.
"Okay! Okay!" His voice faded as the door shut.
"So how was your date?" Monica walked to the kitchen and tried to change the subject.
"It was *incredible*," Rachel told her. "But that is entirely beside the point. Why didn't you tell me you met Clark?!"
Monica pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. "It was like the first week he was here and I wasn't entirely certain it was him. He was really nice and then I forgot about it." She shrugged. "End of story."
"Sure." Rachel eyed her skeptically and then decided to let it go. "Anyway, the date was incredible. He is SUCH a nice guy!"
"I know! I know he's been in several times since I talked to him." She waved a hand at Rachel. "I didn't talk to him again, but I knew they were talking about the same guy. All the waitresses are totally in love with him. They say he tips really well too."
"I believe it. He wanted to walk me all the way up here, but I couldn't let him. He'd know we spied on him all the time!"
"Did he kiss you?"
Rachel dropped to the chair. "No. But he gave me a really nice hug. And he said he'd call me." She sighed happily. "Being in his arms was incredible."
Monica sank onto the couch. "I bet," she replied just as dreamily.
The door to Monica's bedroom opened and a disheveled and mostly dressed Chandler emerged holding a pair of shoes.
Rachel looked from one to the other. "Um, Monica, what was Chandler doing in your room? And why isn't he wearing any shoes?"
Monica and Chandler exchanged panicked glances.
"I, um…" Chandler waved one hand towards Monica's room
"He, um…" Monica's eyes grew wide.
"A mouse." Chandler had a stroke of inspiration. "I was looking for a mouse."
Monica jumped up. "That's right." She pushed Chandler towards the door. "I thought I heard a mouse in there and I asked Chandler to find it for me."
Rachel thought for a moment. "But Chandler's more scared of mice than you are, Monica."
Chandler turned back towards Rachel. "Hey, I can be pretty brave when I have to be."
"Please." Rachel rolled her eyes. A thought occurred to her but she immediately dismissed it.
Monica grabbed Chandler's arm and pushed him out the door. "Thanks again for looking for that mouse for me, Chandler." She pulled the door half-shut behind her and whispered, "What are you doing? I told you to stay in there!"
"I have to pee!" Chandler whispered back.
"Well, go. I have to talk to Rachel. Just… just hold it next time."
Chandler opened his mouth to respond but was stopped by a door in his face.
Monica went back into the living room to find Rachel peering out the window towards Clark's apartment. "And now you're spying on him?"
"Well…" Rachel turned. "He's on the phone."
"Not to you!"
Monica grabbed her water and sat on the couch. "Tell me all about it."
Rachel settled in next to her. "Well, he's traveled the world and is writing a book about it. He moved here from Metropolis where he worked for the Daily Planet for a couple of years." She crinkled her nose. "And he's in love with his ex-partner."
"EX-PARTNER?" Monica screeched. "He's…"
"No!!! OHMIGOD!!! NO!!!" Rachel jumped up and danced around a bit. "His work partner. Her name's Lois and they were best friends and went out on one date and he's in love with her. I can't *believe* you would think that!"
"He was, right? Past tense."
Rachel sat down. "I don't know." She sighed heavily. "Maybe."
"Or maybe…" Monica's eyes lit up. "Maybe he needs you to help him get over her!"
"Maybe. Or maybe…" The phone rang, interrupting her.
Rachel stared off into space as Monica answered the phone. A muted screech, combined with a phone in her face, brought her back to reality.
"Oh! Wow!" Rachel took the phone, cleared her throat, and tossed her hair before bringing the receiver to her ear. "Hi, Clark." She listened for a moment, then headed towards her room. "I had a great time too." Another pause. "Your mother? Really?" The door started to close behind her. "Tomorrow night? Sure."
The door shut, leaving Monica alone in the living room, wondering what on earth Clark could have said.
Clark's phone had been ringing when he walked in the door. It was his mother and, of course, she'd wanted to know where he'd been. There had been no Superman reports so she knew that couldn't have been it.
When he told her he'd been out on a date, she immediately wanted all the details. And then, of all things, she insisted that if he thought he liked Rachel, he should invite her to dinner with them the next evening.
And so he'd called her up and now she was going out for dinner with them the next evening. He just hoped that this wasn't a big mistake. Sure, he'd had a great time earlier that evening, but was he really ready for her to meet his parents?
Well, it was too late now. And his mom knew how to be discreet — most of the time anyway. He'd trust her.
Rachel was sitting on the couch in the coffee house, chatting with Monica, Joey and Chandler, when Clark and his parents arrived. She stood to greet them, unsure exactly what the protocol would be at this point. She wasn't his girlfriend, but giving Clark a handshake just didn't seem right.
He helped her out by making the first move and she gladly returned his quick hug. She felt some electricity as he placed his hand on the small of her back and turned her slightly towards his parents. "Mom, Dad, this is Rachel. Rachel, these are my parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent."
Rachel extended her hand first to one, then the other. "Mr. Kent. Mrs. Kent. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure's ours, Rachel. But please, call me Martha." Martha smiled at her and put her instantly at ease.
A cleared throat behind her caught Rachel's attention and she turned. "These are my friends, Monica…"
"How *you* doin'?"
Chandler kind of nodded his head, a gesture no one quite understood.
Clark nodded to each of them in turn and his parents smiled kindly. He then turned back to Rachel. "Are you ready?"
"Sure." Rachel grabbed her purse. "Let's go."
They were headed towards the door when a blond whirlwind almost knocked Jonathan over. "Sorry." The blonde suddenly grabbed Rachel and twirled her around. "Rachel, you have to hear this!"
Rachel looked helplessly at Clark. "Um, Phoebs…"
"No, you have to! Bring hot shorts guy too!"
"No, it's okay, really. He can come."
"It's about my babies!!!! Well, my brother's babies!!! Okay, okay — they're both our babies!!!"
Rachel took one look at the shocked faces of the Kents and felt the need to explain. "She had her brother's babies." She tried to wrench her arm away from Phoebe, but struggled as she continued. "Really, it's okay. Her sister-in-law couldn't have children and so Phoebe…" She tugged on her arm some more. "…loaned them her uterus." She finally tore her arm away.
Clark cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably.
Rachel hurried on. "She was their surrogate."
Looks of understanding crossed their faces. Martha leaned around Rachel and looked kindly at Phoebe. "That was very nice of you."
Phoebe smiled. "It was, wasn't it?" She jumped up and down. "Baby girl Chandler rolled over!"
Chandler jumped up and whooped before sitting back down quickly. "What?" He fixed his tie. "That's what my dad said whenever I got tackled at football practice."
Rachel straightened her sleeve. "That's great, Phoebs, but we're actually on our way out."
"Oh, right." She looked Clark up and down appreciatively. "Have fun."
Monica chimed in from the couch. "How was your dinner last night, Clark?"
"It was delicious as always, Monica." He turned to his parents. "Monica is the head chef at the Italian restaurant I was telling you about. She makes an incredible swordfish dish."
Martha turned to Clark. "Clark, you know what sounds really good? Instead of going out tonight, would you make us some of your cannelloni?" She turned to the rest of the crowd. "Clark lived in northern Italy for a while and he met this wonderful lady named Elena. She taught him how to make the most incredible, authentic Italian dishes."
"What?" Monica exclaimed. "You know how to make authentic Italian?!"
Clark shrugged. "Yeah."
"And you think my restaurant is great?"
He grinned. "It's some of the best Italian I've ever had outside Europe."
She turned and grabbed his hand. "Will you marry me?"
Everyone but Chandler laughed. Rachel filed that away for future reference and turned to Clark. "That sounds *wonderful*, Clark."
"Are you sure?"
Martha waved slightly to the group. "It was nice to meet all of you."
Jonathan copied the gesture. "Yes, and, um, congratulations on the babies."
The foursome turned and headed out the door.
Monica called after them. "Bring me leftovers!"
Rachel laughed. "If there are any!"
Martha turned to Rachel and whispered conspiratorially, "There's never any leftovers when Clark cooks."
As they left Chandler turned to Monica. "You would marry *him* because he could cook Italian?!"
"Shyeah. Who wouldn't?"
Joey nodded seriously. "I would."
Chandler twisted to look at him. "You would?"
"Sure. And he's cute too." Joey shrugged. "What?"
Chandler gave an exasperated sigh. "What about you, Phoebs?"
"Oh, no. I wouldn't marry him because he cooks good Italian."
"I'd marry him because he's *so* hot." She took a nonchalant sip of her coffee, oblivious to Chandler's look of incredulity.
Ross entered the coffee house and sat down, looking down the street as he did. "Who was Rachel with?"
Phoebe smiled slyly. "Hot shorts guy."
"What?!" Ross sat up straight.
"Yep. They went out yesterday and now he's cooking her and his parents dinner."
"What?!" It was practically a shriek.
Joey suddenly sat up straight, his eyes as wide as saucers. "Check out what just walked in!"
The entire group turned to see a striking brunette look around a bit uncomfortably. They watched as she walked to the counter and ordered a cup of coffee. Gunther brought it to her and then she spoke. "Does, um, Rachel Greene come here? Someone told me she did…"
Monica called to her. "You're looking for Rachel Greene?"
The woman nodded. "We went to college together and I'm in town, looking for someone else, actually, and thought I'd look her up." She walked towards them. "Do you know her?"
Monica nodded. "She's my roommate. You just missed her."
"Dang." She smiled. "My name's Lois."
"I'm Monica. This is Chandler…"
Chandler did the head nod thing again. "Hey."
"…my brother, Ross…"
Ross put on what was supposed to be a charming, sexy smile but failed miserably. "Hello."
"…and that's Phoebe…"
Phoebe looked Lois up and down. "Hi."
"…and that's Joey."
Joey stood and moved closer to her. He held out a hand. "How *you* doin'?"
Lois shook his hand quickly and tried to wipe it off unobtrusively on her blue jeans. "Is there somewhere nearby where I could get a room? And you could tell her to call me?"
Monica stood up. "You can stay with us!"
"Really. You may have to sleep on the couch, but there's plenty of food and actually — you can see into the apartment where Rachel is now. Her date lives right across the street. We'll know when she's on her way home."
"If you're sure…"
"Definitely. I'm making lasagna for dinner tonight, you're welcome to eat with us."
Lois sat down next to Monica. "Thank you. That's very nice."
"So, Lois, tell us about yourself."
Lois started talking, a bit uncomfortably at first, but then warmed up and enjoyed her chat with her new friends.
Rachel sat on the couch in Clark's living room, chatting amiably with Martha Kent when Clark suddenly charged out of the kitchen.
"Mom, can you watch the sauce?" He tugged at his tie. "I forgot I, uh, don't have any bread."
"Sure, honey. Go." Martha stood and shooed him off.
"I should be back in a few minutes." He practically ran out the door.
Rachel followed him with her eyes. "He seems like he's in an awful hurry just to get some bread." A boom shook the windows slightly. "What was that?"
"What *was* that?" Monica looked around the room. "There's been a lot of those lately."
Lois took a sip of her coffee. "Sounded like Superman to me."
"Really?" Phoebe's eyes glazed over. "He's *SO* hot! And that spandex…!"
Lois smiled. "Yeah, I've heard that a lot when he was in Metropolis all the time. I wrote a lot of stories about him and he stopped by my apartment a few times." Her brow furrowed. "I haven't seen him near as much lately though. Maybe he left when…" Her voice trailed off.
"Nothing." Lois smiled at them.
Joey grabbed at his stomach. "When's dinner, Monica? I'm *so* hungry!"
"Let's go. I just need to put it in the oven."
Rachel went into the kitchen with Martha. "Is there anything I can do to help? I mean, I'm not much of a cook, but…"
"No, honey. I just need to stir the sauce a bit." She peeked under a saucepan lid. "And it looks like the spinach is almost done. Must be time to start the noodles." She dug around in the cabinets and found a big pot and filled it with water.
"So, Martha, what's life like in a small town?"
Martha leaned against the counter. "It's different than the big city. It's a lot slower paced, everybody knows everybody else. Not as much crime or 'big brother' government."
Rachel thought that over. "I don't know that I'd like living in a small town. I mean, I don't know everyone in my apartment building. And I like it that way."
They heard the windows shake as there was another boom nearby.
Rachel looked to the sky. "I feel a lot better knowing what that is now. I feel safer knowing that Superman is nearby."
The door to the kitchen opened and Clark entered, looking slightly disheveled but with a loaf of garlic bread in his hand. He set it down on the counter and gave his mom a hug. "Thanks, mom. I've got it from here. Could you two set the table?"
At Martha's nod, Clark got out the plates and silverware and glasses and handed them to the two women.
Martha rolled her eyes as she headed for the door. "In front of the television, where else?"
Clark laughed. "Of course."
Lois walked around the apartment. "You have a lovely home, Monica."
"Thank you. If you look out the window and down a bit, you can see hot shorts guy's apartment."
"Sorry, the guy Rachel's going out with. That's what we called him before we knew his name."
"I see." Lois looked out the window and down and it was apparent which apartment Monica meant. She saw Rachel helping to set a table. "There she is."
"Seeing hot shorts guy should help cheer you up some. He makes *really* nice eye candy."
"I don't see the shorts guy."
Monica walked to Lois' side. "I don't see him. And he's probably not wearing shorts now anyway. He was wearing a suit earlier." She looked down towards the other building. "Maybe he's making dinner? He was cooking for them tonight."
Lois shrugged. "Maybe I'll see him later." She turned and missed the kitchen door opening and a man in a suit coming out. "That smells delicious, Monica."
"Mom, I can't believe it. I don't have any Frascati. All I have is some red wine." He tugged at his collar again. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Martha looked up from the far side of the table. "No problem, Clark. I'll check on dinner."
"Thanks, Mom. I'm sorry, Rachel. I'll be right back, I promise."
"It's fine, Clark." Rachel waved a hand at him. "Besides I love Frascati, so it's worth it." She sent her best smile his direction.
Clark nodded and headed out the door.
"Is he always like this, Martha?"
"What do you mean?"
"Forgetting stuff, not having everything on hand?" Rachel set down the last fork. "I mean, I know he didn't plan on having all of us over for dinner, but I would have guessed he'd be more prepared."
Martha shrugged. "I think we just caught him by surprise."
Jonathan emerged from the back of the apartment and sat back down in front of the television. "Hmmm, news flash says Superman is helping at a train wreck, but they don't think anyone is hurt too badly."
Martha's brow furrowed. "I hope everyone's okay."
Rachel stood behind the couch and leaned on it. "Have you two met Superman? I mean I know Clark has…" She brushed her hair back with one hand. "Is he as nice as he seems to be?"
Jonathan nodded. "We've met him a couple times. He's a nice guy."
Martha patted her husband's shoulder. "Personally, I'd prefer someone like Clark. I mean Superman is nice, don't get me wrong, but he doesn't seem…" She searched for the word. "…*real*. He's too much like a superhero and not a real person."
Rachel thought about that for a minute. "But, he is a superhero. How else is he supposed to be? And…" Her brow furrowed. "…I've never met Superman, but I think I'd like Clark better too. He's…" She thought and finally borrowed Martha's word. "…real."
Martha laughed. "I'm sure he'd like to hear you say that."
Rachel smiled shyly. "Maybe I will. Later."
Monica and Lois were the only two in the living room. Ross had decided to go home and pine over Rachel and wonder if things could work out with Emily instead and Phoebe had gone to watch a brutal foos ball game between Joey and Chandler while they waited for dinner to cook.
Lois fingered the fringe on one of the couch pillows.
Monica curled up in one of the chairs. "It's a guy, isn't it?"
"The person you're looking for. It's a guy, right?"
Lois nodded and smirked a bit. "That obvious, huh?"
"Well, I have some recent experience in the 'not sure what I feel about a guy and don't want to drive him away' department."
"Yeah." Monica appeared to weigh some possibilities in her mind. "If I tell you something, can you keep a secret? Even from Rachel?"
Lois nodded. "I keep secrets all the time. It's part of my job."
Monica mulled it over a bit longer. "You know Chandler?"
Lois nodded again.
"We've been seeing each other for months now, but no one knows it."
"It happened at Ross' wedding. The rehearsal dinner didn't go so well for me and I went to see Chandler. I was half drunk, and so was he, and we ended up sleeping together. Ever since then…" She stopped for a moment. "The wedding didn't go very well for Ross and we decided to not tell anyone. At least not at first and now… Well, I think I really like him, maybe even love him, but I'm not sure how he feels."
Lois nodded slowly. "I think I can relate. I worked with this guy. He was so sweet, especially after *my* wedding didn't happen. In fact, I stopped the wedding because of him. I wanted to be with him, not my fiancee. So I said 'no' at the wedding. He was there for me when I needed him to just be my friend. Then we went on a date and shared the most incredible kiss. A bomb killed this other woman who was crazy about him, and he thought of as a friend, during the kiss, though, and then things were never the same."
"I kinda started seeing this other guy, Dan, and then I told him it was over. I didn't want to be with Dan. When I went to tell *him* though, he was gone." A lone tear traced its way down Lois' cheek.
Monica sat up straight. "I've got just the thing. When I'm feeling down about Chandler, I look for eye candy." She stood and walked to the window. "There." She pointed. "Eye candy."
Lois stood, not sure eye candy was quite the right medicine, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. But all she saw was an empty living room and a swinging kitchen door. She'd missed him.
Clark reentered his apartment with a bottle of wine and a weary look on his face. "Sorry that took so long. It was harder to find than I thought."
Martha gave him a sympathetic smile and patted his arm as she walked by. "No problem, Clark."
Jonathan stood from the couch. "Well, the latest news brief said Superman got everyone out of the train okay, even one person who was pinned but not hurt too badly." He stretched. "Is there anything I can do to help, son?"
Clark nodded. "Well, everything should be about ready?" He looked questioningly at his mother who nodded. "I guess just help bring it out."
Everyone nodded and followed him into the kitchen.
The buzzer on the oven turned Lois and Monica's attention away from the apartment across the way and back to their location.
The door flew open and Joey barged in. "I heard the timer! Is it ready?"
Monica rolled her eyes. "Sit down and chill out."
"But I'm *hungry*!"
"And you'll get your food! Just sit."
Chandler and Phoebe followed him through the door, albeit more slowly, and they all sat down to eat.
Lois sipped at a glass of wine and went to stare out the window at the city lights. Where could Clark be? And would Superman help her find him? She had to find Superman first, but she'd heard him several times earlier so he must be around.
Her eyes traveled down to the apartment Rachel's new boyfriend lived in. He must be some kind of hunk for Monica to be so worked up over him, especially if she was seeing Chandler.
A movement caught her eye and then her breath caught in her throat. "MARTHA?!" She barely managed to get the word out.
Monica moved to her side, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "That's his mom."
"That's Martha Kent."
"Yeah, you know her?"
Lois turned from the window and walked back into the living room. She sank onto the couch and managed to set her glass of wine down before she put her head in her hands. "Oh, God. I'm too late."
"Clark. Clark's who I'm looking for. He left Metropolis before I had a chance to tell him…"
"Tell him what?" Joey asked.
It came out as a near sob. "That I love him."
Martha walked out of the kitchen, sure the others were right behind her and surprised when they weren't. She turned to see what the hold up was, but Jonathan practically tiptoed over her in his efforts to leave.
He grinned and whispered to her, "They're washing the dishes together."
Martha smiled back. "I like her." She took his hand and headed towards their guest room.
"She's not Lois."
"No one is, but Lois has moved on and I'm glad Clark is too."
"She seems nice enough."
There was enough of an undertone in his voice that Martha stopped just inside their temporary home. "Jonathan Kent, you don't trust anyone. You were just starting to be comfortable with Lois and the fact that Clark might tell her the truth. *Clark* was just starting to be comfortable with the idea. I can't imagine him thinking about telling Rachel on their second date, so you don't have to worry about that."
Jonathan grinned sheepishly and put his arms around her. "You know me so well."
She smiled back at him and then kissed him soundly. "I've had lots of practice." She kissed him again. "Now, let's leave those two alone." She winked. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready to turn in."
Jonathan winked back. "Me too."
Martha pulled back suddenly. "Almost. I'll be right back." She kissed him again. "Be waiting?" She wasn't sure Clark would truly be happy with anyone but Lois, but Lois had moved on and Clark was trying to, too. She could certainly do her bit to help. She was his mother after all!
Clark and Rachel were laughing as they exited the kitchen. "You know, Clark, I've never had so much fun doing dishes! And the dinner was *incredible*."
He grinned at her. "Thanks. I'm glad you liked it."
Rachel stopped as she looked around the living room.
Someone had lit some candles and there was soft music playing.
Clark sighed. "Looks like my mom's playing cupid."
"Aw, I think it's sweet." She turned towards him and rested one hand on his arm. "She seems really nice."
"My mom is wonderful." He smiled a bit wistfully and looked around only to see that the door to his parents' room was shut. "I guess my folks have turned in. Well, it would be a shame to waste this ambiance. Would you like another glass of wine or a cup of coffee or something?"
"Coffee would be wonderful. Decaf if you have it. I was up too late last night." No need to mention that it had been daydreams of him rather than the last cup of coffee that had kept her up. The feel of his arms around her, the thought of what his lips would feel like…
She shook her head. That was dangerous territory now. Until he was ready to kiss her, those thoughts would have to stay out of their dates. He was obviously still a bit hung up on this other chick, but he was coming around. She was sure he'd felt the same electricity she had when their hands touched while passing the bread or while putting the dishes away.
She sat on the couch and waited for him to come back with her coffee. Maybe tonight…
Clark took a deep breath and walked back into the living room. He had had a really good time with Rachel. She'd been comfortable with his parents and they certainly seemed to like her. He hadn't liked running out earlier, but there hadn't been much choice. Fortunately, neither emergency had taken too long but the train wreck *had* taken something out of him.
It hadn't been a man who was pinned like his dad mentioned, but rather a little girl, about five. She wasn't hurt badly, but her cries had torn his heart out. He couldn't have worked any faster without risking the stability of the whole structure.
Obviously, he couldn't have corrected his dad, but he'd seen support and sympathy in his parents' eyes and even a touch of concern in Rachel's. During dinner, she'd asked if he was coming down with something, that he didn't quite look right. He'd shrugged it off, knowing that physically he was fine.
He smiled as he handed her the coffee. "Here you go. Two sugars and a cream, right?"
She smiled back at him. "Very good. I'm impressed."
He was amazed at how easily he slid onto the couch next to her and even more amazed when his arm found its way along the back of it.
He was more than a bit confused by the tingle he'd felt every time they'd touched, even though it was briefly. He finally chalked it up to the attraction there would be with any beautiful woman, especially as nervous as he'd been. His senses must have been on a bit of overload.
He closed his eyes and was astonished at how comfortable it was to have Rachel relax against him, her head resting in the crook of his shoulder. He could hardly believe how natural it felt to rest his cheek on her hair.
He never thought he'd feel this comfortable around another woman.
If only he could stop imagining she was someone else.
They sat in a companionable silence, commenting every once in a while on the music or the lights twinkling outside.
"Oh, Clark! Look!" Rachel sat up and stared out the window. "It's snowing!" She set down her coffee and turned to him, her hands resting on one of his knees.
Clark was surprised at how the loss of the warmth of her next to him affected him, while at the same time his leg seemed to heat up.
"It hasn't snowed in New York this early since I was a little girl."
She settled back in against him. "I love watching it snow."
Clark smiled. "I do too, when it's like this. Kansas blizzards I could do without, but this is… perfect."
He could feel Rachel sigh against him. "Perfect."
He found his hand gently rubbing circles on her upper arm.
She sighed again. "It's getting late."
"I don't want you to go yet." He could hardly believe it as the words came out, but it was true. He had definitely enjoyed the evening and didn't want it to end. If the night ended and she left, all he would have was thoughts of another woman filling his mind
She turned to face him. "I don't want to go."
Lois didn't know what drew her back to the window — maybe it was the snowflakes falling silently on the big city — and she certainly didn't know what caused her to look down at the apartment she knew to be Clark's — maybe it was morbid curiosity — but certainly nothing prepared her for what she saw.
Clark was sitting on the couch with Rachel and they were looking intently into each other's eyes.
Somehow she couldn't turn away.
Rachel's face moved closer to Clark's, and then her lips were on his. She felt her breath being taken away as she leaned into him. The kiss was soft and gentle, sweet and almost innocent, but still the most incredible kiss she'd ever experienced.
And then all too soon it was over.
Clark smiled gently at her and she found herself drawn back to him. Her head rested in the crook of his shoulder, her insides churning at what she had just experienced. She could feel his hand rubbing gentle circles her upper arm and she felt like she was going to float away.
Clark closed his eyes. What was he doing? Somewhere deep inside he knew there was no future for them and yet he'd let her kiss him. He couldn't just push her away. Something ingrained wouldn't let him be so callous, but he knew just the same that he would have to tell her — and soon.
Lois couldn't watch anymore and finally turned away. It was really over.
Clark finally shifted. "Rachel…"
"I know. It's getting late. I really should go."
"I know. I had a nice time tonight."
"I'd like to see you again."
Clark smiled at her. He'd tell her the next time. No reason to ruin this lovely evening. "Sure. I'll walk you home."
"That's really not necessary."
"I want to."
"Really, I can take a cab."
"Are you sure?"
She nodded. She'd have to have the cabbie drive her around the block a few times and then drop her off at her building. One day soon she was going to have to tell him where she lived.
Clark waved to Rachel as her cab drove off. He turned on his super-hearing hoping there was nothing else that would need his attention for the rest of the night.
He was shocked when a familiar sound tuned in.
Someone was crying.
*Lois* was crying.
And she was nearby.
He ducked into a nearby ally and spun into the Suit as he took off. It took only seconds for him to realize where she was and he landed gently on the balcony.
It tore his heart out to see her curled up on the couch in this apartment. He couldn't have imagined it would hurt this badly, not after he thought he was over her.
He knocked gently on the window, startling her. It took her a minute but soon she was out on the balcony, launching herself into his arms.
He held her as she wept into his S, her sobs rocking him to the very core. The location of this balcony was not lost on him. He had realized very quickly that she would have been able to see into his apartment from inside.
He didn't understand, if she had seen him with Rachel earlier, why it would affect her like this. Unless, of course, Dan had hurt her and she'd come looking for her former best friend…
After a moment, the sobs began to slow and Lois moved out of his embrace.
"I'm sorry, Superman. I've messed up your suit." She sniffled and swiped at her eyes.
"It's okay, Lois. But what's wrong? And why are you in New York?"
She leaned against the window. "I came looking for you. I was hoping you could help me find Clark."
"Clark? Why?" What on earth could she want with him? Unless his previous supposition was correct, Dan was waiting for her in Metropolis.
"He left without saying good-bye…"
"That was months ago, Lois."
"… and without knowing I love him." She continued over his interruption. "I had gone to tell him things were over with Dan and that I wanted to see where things were going with us and he was gone."
"You what?" The information, stated so matter-of-factly, had sent his thoughts reeling. He'd seen her walk into her building with Dan and knew that she'd made her choice. Was it possible that he had been wrong?
"Dan had come to my apartment and I told him that there was nothing for us, and then I went to Clark's apartment to tell him and it was empty. He was gone." She walked to the edge of the balcony and stared at the snowflakes still falling gently. "Why isn't it cold out here? It's snowing, but it's not cold."
"The snow isn't actually sticking to anything. I'd guess it's in the mid-30s, so it won't. And you are dressed rather warmly."
"Yeah." She turned back to him. "Did you know Clark's in New York too?" He nodded. "He lives right there." She pointed towards his window. "He was with another girl tonight. He kissed her and I saw him. He's moved on."
Clark took a deep breath. "We've talked about it, Lois. He saw you and Dan walking into your apartment and thought you'd made your choice."
"Why didn't he talk to me?"
"You'd have to ask him that." It wasn't that Clark was trying to avoid the question; it was that he didn't know how to answer.
"I *thought* he wanted to be with me, wanted to see where we were going, but then he was gone."
"Why did it take you this long to come look for him, then?"
"Because I thought I could shrug it off and live how I did before he came into my life. I've had to learn the hard way that I can't live without Clark because he IS my life."
The door inside the apartment started to open. "That's probably my friend I've been waiting for." She smiled at him. "Thanks for letting me cry."
"I'd like to see you again soon."
"Count on it." He smiled back at her, trying to hide the turmoil of emotions swirling inside him. "I've got to go."
Clark took off into the sky, leaving a tear-stained Lois behind.
Monica ran out of her room as Rachel entered the apartment. "How'd it go? How'd it go?"
"You mean you didn't watch?!" Rachel tossed her purse onto the counter and shed her coat.
"No." Monica glared at her. "What do you take me for?"
"Oh, give me a break. You didn't peek?"
Monica's face fell. "Only once."
Rachel grabbed Monica by the arms. "He kissed me!"
Monica jumped up and down with her. "Yay!" She stopped suddenly and wondered where Lois had gone and what she would think about that.
"He's an incredible kisser." Rachel saw someone climbing in the window. "Who's that?"
Before Monica could answer, Rachel got a good look at the stranger. "LOLO!"
Lois smiled half-heartedly. "Hi, RaeRae."
Rachel ran across the room and gave Lois a big hug. "What are you doing here?!"
"I was looking for someone and heard that you were here so I stopped by Central Perk and found Monica."
Rachel turned to Monica. "This is Lois Lincoln, one of my sorority sisters."
One corner of Lois' mouth turned up. "I don't go by Lois Lincoln anymore."
"Really? Did you get married?"
Lois sat on the chair, back to the offending window. "No. I moved out when I was a senior in high school after a big fight with my dad. When I started college, I used my mom's maiden name — Lincoln. I joined the sorority really in a fit of… rebellion maybe?" She shrugged. "Not sure, but you and I both know I never really fit in there."
"True." Rachel curled up on the couch. "So what are you doing now?"
"I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet."
Rachel felt her heart drop. She glanced at Monica, who nodded slightly. "The Daily Planet? Wow. That's prestigious."
"Yeah. I love my job, I really do, but I've been thinking about moving on."
"Really? Why?" Rachel thought she knew, but hoped against hope…
"My ex-partner and I… we were dating and then, well, it's a long story, but he left, without even saying goodbye. I miss him and I think I don't want to be there anymore without him."
Rachel stood and went to the freezer. "You know what you need?" She pulled out a carton and dug in a drawer for a spoon. "Rocky Road ice cream." She handed it to Lois. "It always helps."
Lois stuck the spoon in and took a slow bite. "Dan was Rocky Road. Clark was chocolate. I miss chocolate."
She snapped out of it. "Nothing. Really." As badly as she felt, she didn't want to make Rachel feel worse.
Monica jumped up. "You're in luck. I have chocolate too!"
Rachel turned to stare at her. "We do?!"
"Um, yeah." Monica rummaged through the freezer. "I hid it from you. Here."
Lois took the chocolate carton from her and held both of them in her hands, staring from one to the other in turn. "I've missed chocolate." She sighed and handed it back. "But I can't have it anymore."
Rachel sat on the table in front of Lois and took the ice cream from her. She held Lois' hands in her own. "Honey, I know."
"I know about you and Clark, and I know you know I was with him tonight."
"We went out for dinner last night and he told me about you, but I didn't know it was *you*, the whole last name thing. And then you saw me over at his place tonight."
Lois nodded sadly. "It's over. Any hope I had for the two of us is gone. It's obvious he's ready to move on, and…" She smiled at her old friend. "… I can't think of anyone better for him."
"But, Lois, he's still in love with you."
"Because he thought you were with someone else. But I can tell. I was hoping, that in time, I could help him get over whoever it was, but knowing it's you and how much you obviously still love him…" Rachel took a deep breath, knowing she had to do what she was about to, no matter how much it hurt. "I can't stand in the way."
"That's nice of you, Rachel, but how can you be sure?"
"He kissed me."
"I know." Lois looked at her hands. "I didn't mean to spy on you, really."
"I know." Rachel smiled. "A woman can tell though. When he kissed me, I could tell that he was thinking of someone else."
Lois thought about it for a minute. "Are you sure?"
Rachel nodded. "I'm sure."
Lois grinned a bit. "He's a good kisser, isn't he?"
Rachel laughed. "Definitely. He doesn't have a brother, does he?"
Lois laughed a bit herself. "No, he was adopted, actually." A light bulb went off. "You know what? I ran into an old friend, Joe, earlier today. You'd love him!"
"Yeah, he was a football player in high school, we dated a bit but never really clicked. He's moving to New York next month and is in town scouting out some places to live and stuff. Maybe you could show him around?"
Rachel smiled. "Maybe. But, um, let me talk to Clark first?"
Lois nodded. "Sure."
Rachel gave her a hug. "Thanks, Lois. You know, I've really missed you."
"I've missed you too, RaeRae."
Clark flew out of New York and finally settled on an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic.
Glad he was impervious to the cold, he knew he'd be sitting there until sunlight rose over the near-freezing ocean.
He was a swirling turmoil of emotion. He'd had a wonderful time with Rachel and the kiss had been very nice.
He forced himself to admit that that was all it was… very nice.
Not earth-shattering like when he'd kissed Lois.
And now to find out that she was in love with him… Well, it was a sticky situation.
Rachel… What did he feel for her? He'd only known her for about 36 hours, but they had a good time together. He'd had a lot of fun the last two evenings, more fun that he'd had in a long time — except he was always thinking about Lois.
And there was the rub. He still loved Lois. Having seen her — even as Superman — and held her in his arms — though she didn't know who it really was. When she'd touched him, he felt like his skin was on fire, even through the suit.
So what was he going to do?
He did what he used to do — when he was trying to decide what to do or where to go. Make a list of the pros and cons of staying in New York, even though he knew now that there was no future for him with Rachel — at least for now — and trying to move on or going to Lois and seeing what would happen there.
A little bit of heat vision and there were two headings melted into the ice — New York and Lois.
Under Lois went things like stubborn, pig-headed, in constant need of saving, occasionally selfish, and all of the other things he found annoying or irritating about her.
When it came to writing under New York, he could only think of one thing:
He shook his head and burned a hole where that had been and wrote under it, more carefully:
It took several hours of thinking to get to that point but he finally knew the only thing he could really do was end things with Rachel and try to find his way back to Lois.
"Clark, we need to talk." Rachel sat down next to him on the orange couch in Central Perk.
Clark sighed. "You're right. We do."
They spoke at the same time.
Rachel tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. "Let me go first." When Clark nodded, she took a deep breath and started in. "Things aren't going to work out with us, Clark. You're still in love with Lois and I know that's where you really want to be."
Clark nodded, amazed that she could read him so well. "You're right. And I'm sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry for?" Rachel looked genuinely puzzled.
"For not realizing it sooner."
Rachel sighed. "Clark, we've known each other for like three days. And unless I'm very mistaken, you haven't dated anyone else, so how could you know for sure that you weren't ready to move on?"
Clark sighed too and then nodded. "You're right and you're being really cool about this."
"I know." Rachel grinned at him.
"I really did have a good time with you the last couple of days, but I really do still love Lois."
"I know. And she's already offered to set me up with someone else so…"
"She has?" Clark's eyes narrowed a bit. "How do you know Lois?"
Rachel cleared her throat just a bit. "We were, uh, sorority sisters in college. She's in town looking for you."
Clark eyed her quizzically. "Why didn't you mention that before? When we talked about her the other night?"
"Well, she used her mom's maiden name in college — something about a big blowout with her dad."
He nodded slowly. "Yeah, Lois and her dad haven't been on the best of terms for a long time."
"And I haven't talked to her in years so I had no idea what her real name is."
"How do you know she's in town then?"
Rachel took a deep breath — time to come totally clean. "She stayed at my apartment last night. And she already knew about us seeing each other."
"How on earth…? One of your friends?" Wait! Lois had been staying in the next building over when he saw her as Superman the night before. Did that mean…
"No. See, um, I live right across the street from you."
Clark raised an eyebrow at her. "Really?"
Rachel nodded. "We can see into your apartment from our window.
A thought suddenly occurred to him. "Do you spy one me?" He prayed they hadn't seen anything they shouldn't. He'd been much more careful here than he'd ever been in Metropolis. The apartment was just too easy to see in — and he knew that. But how could he not have realized that there were people who could see him, and possibly spy? Good thing Diana Stride wasn't around anymore! And to think he moved the couch so he could work on his laptop and get sun at the same time!
Rachel hung her head guiltily. "Only sometimes, when we're down a bit and we think that watching a good looking guy could cheer us up. And, uh, she, uh, saw us kiss last night."
Clark winced, less worried about his secret and more worried about Lois. "She did?"
Clark took a deep breath before asking his next question. He already knew how she was — he'd seen her, but he had to ask anyway. "How is she?"
"I think she's okay. We talked last night and I told her I thought you were still in love with her and we agreed that I could talk to you first. She'll be here in a few minutes."
"She will?" Clark couldn't help but be a bit excited. He was going to see Lois again and maybe they could start all over.
A familiar voice interrupted them. "Rachel, I need to talk to you."
Rachel looked annoyed at the interference. "What, Ross? I'm in the middle of something here."
Clark smiled at her. "It's okay, Rachel. Go ahead."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Go ahead, but I'd like to talk to you later."
"Definitely." Rachel smiled softly at him.
Ross led Rachel to one of the tall tables and sat down across from her. "I talked to Emily last night and she wants to work things out."
"That's great, Ross!"
"The thing is…" Ross took a deep breath. "I have to move to London."
He cut her off. "No, really, you're obviously moving on, and I do love her and I want to work things out, so I'm going. I quit my job and I leave on Monday. And Susan has a great job offer there too, so she and Carol and Ben will be moving too."
Rachel had tried to interrupt him and tell him that things between her and Clark were going nowhere, but he hadn't given her the opportunity. "Monday? That's fast."
"Yeah, but it's really what I want."
"Then, good. Go." Rachel was surprised that she wasn't more upset about his leaving, but dating Clark, even for a couple of days was enough for her to realize that she didn't want to be with Ross. Maybe she had once, but not anymore.
Maybe she'd outgrown him. Whatever it was, she was ready to move on and she was glad he was too. And maybe being thousands of miles away would make it possible for both of them to really do so. Lois had told her all about this Joe guy late the night before and he sounded really wonderful. Maybe she could find someone new.
"Anyway, I wanted you to know first. Everyone else is going to be in your apartment in a few minutes and I'm going to tell them all then."
"They'll be sorry to see you leave."
"I know, but I think it's for the best." Ross stood up. "I better go, but I just wanted to tell you first. And, uh, good luck with hot shorts guy."
"His name is Clark."
"Whatever. I hope you're happy."
"I will be." So what if it wouldn't be with Clark? Ross didn't want to listen to her so she'd just let him believe what he wanted.
Ross looked at her for a minute and then turned and walked out, holding the door for a woman who entered.
Clark knew she was there even before he heard her voice.
He heard the slight crack in her voice and stood to find her launching herself into his arms.
He gladly wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in the base of her neck. He breathed in her scent, taking in every little nuance of her being.
"Oh, Clark." Her voice was barely a whisper. "I have missed you so much!"
"I've missed you too, Lois."
"You have some explaining to do…"
"… but you could tell me you were Superman and that's why you left and I wouldn't care!"
Clark swallowed hard. He'd have to tell her that truth soon.
The wheels in Lois' head were turning as she held Clark as tight as she could, never wanting to let go. And in the moment she made the Superman comment, she knew it was true. Superman had held her last night and now Clark was holding her and she knew they were the same man. As it settled in and she felt Clark's breath tease the hair on her neck, she knew it didn't matter. Oh, he'd have to explain, and probably fly her all kinds of places to make up for it, but it was okay. She had Clark back. She pulled back suddenly. "You saw me with Dan, didn't you?"
"What?" What on earth was she talking about?
"I told *you* there was nothing between me and *Superman* and that there was someone else in my life and then you saw me talking to Dan, didn't you?"
Clark's eyes widened as he realized the implications of what she'd said and how she'd said it. How could she have figured out his most important secret in the time since he'd seen her the night before? She obviously hadn't known then. "Yeah, I did."
"And you thought I meant he was the man in my life."
"Yeah." The answer was softer this time as he remembered the pain that tore through him when he'd seen them together.
"I hadn't even planned on seeing him that night, but he was there and I had to tell him that it was over. Then I went over to your apartment and…"
"I was already gone."
Lois nodded and sat on the couch. "You didn't even say goodbye."
"I know. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left like that." Clark sat next to her.
"And if you ever do it again…" Lois wiped the tears off of her cheeks.
"Again?" Clark had a hopeful look in his eyes. Maybe even now that she knew the whole truth, she'd give him a second chance.
"Yes, again. If you leave me like that again, I won't take you back."
Clark grinned at her. "Then I guess I won't leave."
Lois ran her finger along the side of his face. "I've missed your smile."
"I've missed everything about you."
A throat cleared behind them. "I hate to break up this little love fest…"
Clark and Lois managed to tear their eyes off each other and turned to Rachel.
"Sorry, Rae." Lois tried to look chagrined, but failed.
"Sorry to interrupt, but is Joe coming soon?" She had a hopeful puppy dog look on her face.
Lois checked her watch. "He should be here any minute."
"Who's Joe?" Clark asked.
"A friend of mine from high school I saw at the airport yesterday. He's moving to New York and I thought Rachel might show him around."
Clark grinned at Lois. "I know of an apartment that I hope will be available. If you think Perry might have an opening."
"I know he does. They hired some putz named Ralph to take your place and he's…" She shuddered, unable to find words to describe him. "Perry said the other day that if I found you, he'd gladly let Ralph go and hire you back."
"Great. Well, then if Joe is interested, he can have my apartment and I may just have to head back to Metropolis."
Lois shifted her body so that she was nestled against him. "No may about it, mister. You're coming back to Metropolis with me, and Joe…"
"What about Joe?" A new voice caused them to turn around.
Lois stood. "Joe! It's good to see you!" She introduced him. "This is my friend, Rachel, I told you about and this is Clark… my partner."
Joe shook hands with both of them. "It's nice to meet you, but what were you saying?"
"Clark's been living in New York and is moving back to Metropolis so his apartment is going to be available."
"That's great. I've heard it can be really hard to find an apartment in this area and this is just where I'd like to live."
Rachel tossed her hair. "Well, I live in the next building over so I'll be glad to show you around."
Joe smiled at her. "That'd be really nice. Oh, Lois, I ran into Peggy yesterday too. We're supposed to get together sometime soon, for old time's sake."
Lois smiled. "Well, tell her I said hi."
"I will." Joe smiled at Rachel. "So when does this big tour start?"
"How about now?"
"Sounds great. We'll see you guys later?"
Lois and Clark nodded and waved as their new friends left the coffee house. "And now you and I are going to talk. Is there an empty alley around here somewhere?"
Clark groaned. "There's a handy roof. Come on." He took her by the hand and led her out the door.
Clark stood on the roof of his building and grinned at her. "I've always wanted to do this in front of you." He tugged at his collar and then began to spin. When he stopped, Superman stood there in his place.
Lois' mouth hung open. "Wow. I don't know what to say."
"Say you'll fly with me."
Clark moved towards her and then scooped her into his arms. "Then let's go." They took off into the sky, secure in each other's arms.
Lois tried to work on a speech for Clark, telling him all of the things she wanted him to know about how the last few months had been for her and how mad she was about the whole Superman thing. Well, not mad really. Hurt. Of course she was hurt. He'd lied to her for years now and then left without a word and… She tried to work herself into a frenzy but found that she was unable to. Not when she was flying over the eastern seaboard in Superm… Clark's arms.
A cloudbank of brilliant oranges and reds and purples appeared on the horizon as the sun began to set. Lois was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. She almost didn't notice when Clark stopped to hover over the clouds.
"Why are we stopping?" Lois looked puzzled.
"Well, we're over a populated area and there's a lot of clouds here but we're not on any flight paths…"
"So that way no one can see me when I do this."
Clark lowered his lips onto hers and through her closed eyelids Lois could see the brilliant red of the sun disappear beyond the distant horizon. Her head spun as Clark pulled her closer until she could feel their hearts beating in unison, faster and faster until their staccato rhythm drowned out all of her other senses.
When they finally pulled apart, the stars shimmered above her and the moon bathed them in a warm glow.
Clark smiled at her. "You said that earlier. But you're right. Wow."
Lois picked at the S on his chest. "I'm trying to be mad at you."
Clark swallowed hard. "Is it working?"
"No. And I wish it was, but it's not."
"Well, I have to admit that I'm pretty glad it's not."
Lois smiled up at him. "You should be, flyboy. Just because you're invulnerable doesn't mean…"
"I'm not invulnerable to you. I never was."
"Good. Now, before Perry fills that position at the Planet, we better get moving. But not before you kiss me again."
"Your wish is my command, milady."
Clark kissed her again, the stars swirling around them until they could hardly breathe. Moisture creeping up her legs made Lois start to shiver.
Clark pulled back as she shuddered in his arms. "We're not going to be able to do this often."
Lois looked at him, puzzled. "Why not?"
"Because kissing you makes me lose altitude. Not a good plan."
Lois looked around and realized that they were up to their knees in clouds.
Clark swooped her up into his arms. "Metropolis, here we come!"
Clark landed them on the roof of the Daily Planet and spun back into his Clark clothes.
Lois watched him in awe. "I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching you do that."
Clark grinned at her. "And I don't think I'll ever get tired of doing this." He pulled her close and gave her another soul-shattering kiss. "Let's go."
Lois straightened her wind swept hair and they headed down the stairs to the newsroom.
"Well, hell's bells, Jimmy. Look what the cat drug in!"
Jimmy turned to see Lois and Clark heading across the newsroom, hand in hand. "Clark!"
The long lost reporter stuck out a hand only to find himself enveloped in the arms of the young photographer. Clark laughed. "Hi, Jimmy."
"Man, I have missed you, CK."
"I've missed you, too. All of you."
Jimmy turned to Perry. "Does this mean we can get rid of Ralph now?"
Perry groaned. "I don't know about that, but there is an opening in classifieds." He turned to Clark. "I hope this means you're back, son."
Clark took the older man's offered hand. "I sure am, if you'll have me. I know I left kind of suddenly and all but…"
"That job is yours as long as you want it."
"Then I'll take it." Clark grinned at the editor. "It's good to be back, sir."
"We're glad to have you, but Lois, I didn't think your flight got in until tomorrow."
Lois and Clark glanced at each other wide-eyed. Lois spoke first. "Well, it didn't. But, um, we ran into Superman and he offered to fly us back."
Clark nodded. "He also said that the gang problems in New York have improved so much that he's thinking about moving back to Metropolis.
"That'd be great." Perry looked directly at Clark as he spoke. "We've missed him around here."
Clark swallowed hard. There was no doubting what Perry meant. Well, he hadn't become editor because he could yodel so it was probably only a matter of time before he'd figured it out, anyway.
"Son, your old desk is yours again. It's about time someone put it to good use. And don't worry about the stuff in it now. It'll be gone in a few minutes." Perry leaned his head out the door. "Ralph! Get in here!" He turned back to his favorite reporting pair. "Now, you two better get to work before I change my mind."
"Yes, sir!" The two spoke in unison.
Clark found himself in a familiar spot on Lois' desk. "Now what?"
Her phone rang at just that moment and he waited while she 'uh huh'd' for a few minutes. She stood up, a wide-eyed grin on her face. "That was Bobby Bigmouth. Some corpses were found in the river. And get this," she continued as she grabbed her purse. "They're headless."
Clark smiled to himself as he followed behind the whirlwind known as Lois Lane. It was definitely good to be back. No, not just back. Home.