Any Time at All

By Janet Owens (aka TicAndToc) <ticandtoc@earthlink.net>

Rated: PG

Submitted: February, 2007

Summary: Does Clark really mean what he said? Really, really mean it? Maybe Lois should just sort of… test that out…

EXTRA AUTHOR'S NOTE — I've included a very brief synopsis of the episodes alluded to in this story, because I know of at least two readers (hi, M. and M.A.!) who haven't watched the series.

This story was inspired by some lines from a story called Montrose's Toast, by Phil Atcliffe (at http://www.lcfanfic.com/stories2/montrose.txt on the Archive). It's a good story, by the way — definitely worth reading. The lines in question are these:

*From Montrose's Toast, by Phil Atcliffe —*

"Oh, thanks, Clark," sighed Lois, taking a sip. It was, as always, just how she liked it. "I need this right now."

"Any time, Lois," he replied, taking up his usual perching position on the edge of her desk.

Lois looked at him for a second, and her eyes reflected a certain amazement as she thought, 'Any time… You *mean* that, don't you? You always have…

~~~

This story takes place a week or two after Pheromone, My Lovely. It assumes the reader knows the basic story line to this point*, including Lois and Clark's run-in with Jason Trask in the airplane and Lex Luthor's attempt to drive Superman out of town by manufacturing the heat crisis.

*(But just in case you don't: Soon after Superman's debut — before much was known about his invulnerability — a xenophobic federal agent, Jason Trask, went after Lois and Clark in an effort to find — and kill — Superman. His plan? Throw both reporters out of an airplane to lure Superman, and then set off a missile to kill him.

Then a debilitating heat wave in the middle of winter was blamed on Superman's use of his powers, and he was forbidden to use them. Clark, feeling nothing could be done about it, left the city, while Lois, who refused to accept that Superman was to blame, kept digging for the true reason.

And finally, as part of a bigger scheme, a chemist tested out a pheromone compound on the Daily Planet staff that caused them to lose their inhibitions and act on existing attractions to others. Lois focused exclusively on Clark and actively pursued him; he (unaffected by the chemical) refused to take advantage of her. (Superman didn't make an appearance until after the chemical had worn off — although he pretended to be affected, and he and Lois shared a passionate kiss). Once everything was back to normal, Lois had a hard time with her behavior versus Clark's.)

Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended. This story was written for fun, not for profit.

Special thanks to LabRat, who beta-read this story for me; your comments, as always, helped me fine-tune this into a better tale. And to Tricia, who GE'd it for me.

***

Lois looked up as Clark set a full cup of coffee on her desk. "Oh, thank you, Clark," she said gratefully. "I really needed this." She took an appreciative sip, and as always when Clark brought her coffee, it was just how she liked it. The right strength, the right amount, and the right extras added to it — and just the right temperature, too. The coffee Clark brought her was never so hot that she had to wait to sip it, and never so cool that it went cold too fast, either.

She looked up at him again, over the rim of the cup. He'd perched on the edge of her desk and was smiling down at her. "Thank you again, Clark," she repeated softly, smiling back at him.

His own smile softened. "Any time, Lois."

She looked into his gaze, and realized abruptly that it wasn't just a line with Clark. He really meant it.

She must have looked a little startled, because his gaze turned quizzical.

She quickly looked back down into the cup, hoping he wouldn't ask her any questions.

"Lois?"

"CK!"

Saved by Jimmy. Her mouth quirked at the thought.

She watched Clark as he moved to meet Jimmy, who had an armload of background information Clark had requested.

Any time, he'd said.

She thought about that.

He'd meant it — *really* meant it. And he always had, hadn't he?

Clark took the papers from Jimmy and turned toward his own desk. He was probably going to try to wrap up this particular story before the end of the day.

They were currently working on several stories together, but Perry still gave them separate assignments at least a couple of times a week, and they usually spent an hour or two working individually on those. She had some editing to do on one of her own stories, as a matter of fact; it wouldn't get done if she spent the afternoon watching her partner.

She returned to her own work, but she kept thinking about Clark's words over the course of the day.

Any time, he'd said.

Covertly, she watched him work. His hair — that lock that fell over his forehead was out of place again. He'd taken off his jacket and rolled his sleeves up to his elbows, and his tie was loosened just slightly. His forearms were strong, lightly tanned and lightly haired.

She watched him as he read a document with total concentration. She'd been reluctant to admit it in the beginning, but he was good at what he did. She'd never tell Perry, of course, but she was glad Clark was hers.

Her partner. She was glad he was her partner. They worked well together; they… complimented each other.

Any time, he'd said — and he'd meant it.

Hadn't he?

Maybe she'd imagined that… that look in his eye that had convinced her he really meant it. That even if it was inconvenient for him, if she needed something, any time, he'd do his best to get it for her.

Maybe she'd read too much into his words.

But no — this was Clark, and she knew Clark. Knew him well enough now to know that he *had* meant it, in a way few people who said it did.

Any time.

So did that really mean any time? Any time at all?

Any time at all… That meant he'd drop whatever he was doing if she needed him?

Why would he do that?

<You know why.>

No.

It was because he was her friend. Just that.

And he *was* her friend. Her… best friend. She watched him pensively. He was her best friend, and maybe really her only true friend.

She looked down quickly as he finished the document he'd been reading and reached for another. She didn't want him to catch her staring. And she needed to get on with her own work, too.

But like a song stuck in her head, the refrain kept repeating. Any time. Any time. Any time at all.

***

Lois woke abruptly, heart pounding. The room was dark but familiar, as were the usual city sounds, muted through the closed window. She looked at the clock — one-thirty a.m.

She'd been dreaming.

Dreaming of Trask, and that terrible moment when he'd thrown her out of that airplane. Of those first few terrifying moments of free-fall, when the wind yanked away even the thread of her scream and she'd known — *known* — that Superman wouldn't be able to hear her. She'd kept screaming anyway, and she'd screamed again in her dream…

…And her yell of alarm had woken her up. She was safe at home in her own bed, and it had just been a dream.

But her heart still pounded, and she needed… something.

Or maybe…

Maybe someone. Maybe talking would help.

She could talk to Clark, couldn't she?

She wanted to talk to Clark.

Without taking the time to talk herself out of it, she picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number.

He answered on the third ring, his voice dark and smoky. She must have woken him up.

<Of course you did. It's almost two a.m.>

"Clark?"

"Yes." His voice strengthened at once. "Are you all right, Lois?"

She couldn't help smiling slightly. Woken out of — probably — a sound sleep, he still recognized her voice instantly, and was instantly concerned for her. No recriminations; no "Do you realize what time it is?" — instead, his first question reflected concern for her.

"Lois?"

"I need…" Her own voice was scratchy from sleep, and she cleared her throat.

"Lois, are you all right?" he repeated, concern obvious in his voice.

"Yeah… um… bad dream…" She trailed off. Now it sounded kind of… juvenile, calling him because she'd had a bad dream. Everyone had bad dreams now and then, but everyone didn't call their… didn't call for help. They just… dealt with it.

"Do you want me to come over?" Clark asked, sounding like he meant it.

This was Clark. He did mean it.

"Um, yeah… if you don't mind…"

"I don't mind." His voice softened a little.

Well, if he *was* coming over… "Could you…"

"Yes?" Was there a hint of laughter in his voice?

"…bring chocolate?" she asked. He probably would, for her.

He laughed softly. "Yes, I can."

***

"Goodnight, Lois." He stood in her doorway, smiling down at her.

"Goodnight, Clark," she replied quietly, and watched him start to turn away. "Clark?"

He turned back. "Yeah?"

"Thanks."

He smiled. "Any time, Lois."

She watched him go, returning his little wave as he turned the corner by the stairs.

There it was again — 'any time.' He'd been asleep — she knew he had. He had to have been asleep, and yet he'd come over. Willingly, bearing chocolate ice cream and a video.

She closed the door and leaned against it.

Any time. Any time at all.

Nobody had ever treated her like Clark did. Nobody had ever cared about her the way Clark did. And he was just her friend. Best friend, but… just her friend.

He'd told her, after the pheromone incident, that he just wasn't attracted to her. And he obviously wasn't, since he'd withstood her advances so easily.

But that was okay — what she needed was a friend. Not a… not something more. But… what would it be like — to have Clark as… more than a friend?

<It would be good.>

No. She'd tried all that. Tried romance, tried trusting someone with her heart — and look where that had gotten her. Story stolen and heart broken. Well, pride dented, anyway.

But Clark… She could trust Clark.

She could. There were aspects of his life he kept hidden from her — when he made those stupid, transparent excuses to leave, for instance. He had something — someone? — going on the side, and he didn't want to talk about it.

But she could trust him, anyway. Couldn't she?

Clark *did* care about her. He'd meant what he'd said — 'any time.' He *had* meant it; she'd seen that in his eyes.

And if he did mean it — any time — it really meant *any* *time*. Any time at all.

She could call him, any time, and he'd come.

Wouldn't he?

He had tonight. She could probably call him — any time — and he'd come.

Unless… whatever it was he did that he kept so private got in the way.

Maybe she should test that out. Maybe she'd imagined that look in his eyes that had made her think that when Clark said 'any time' he really, really *meant* any time.

She should try that, then. Just sort of… test it out.

With a sigh, she headed toward her bedroom.

***

Lois looked at the clock, phone tucked between shoulder and ear as she listened to the rings. Six-thirty a.m. — time she should be leaving for work.

One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Maybe he'd already left.

No — there was Clark's voice, not so dark and smoky as last night. Sounding more like her partner, Clark.

"Clark?"

"Hi, Lois. What's up?" he asked cheerfully.

"I need your help…"

Instantly, he was asking, "What do you need?"

"My car won't start."

The car certainly wouldn't start if the battery was dead. And it was. She'd deliberately gone down and turned the dome light on last night — well, early this morning — after he'd left.

"I'll be right over," he was saying now, "and take a look at it."

"Thanks, Clark."

***

"Thank you, Clark." She glanced over at him as she waited for the light to turn green.

He'd come over, and had studied the car's engine, poking under the hood and having her try to start it. "I think it's your battery, Lois," he'd finally said, wiping his hands on the towel she'd dug out of the back of the car.

"The battery," she'd repeated, beginning to feel guilty. She couldn't tell him what she'd done. Deliberately… manufactured car trouble on a battery that was… "New," she'd blurted. "…It's new."

He'd nodded. "Yes — it looks pretty new. But maybe…" He'd smiled at her, raised his hands, palm out, toward her in a 'now, don't get mad' sort of gesture, and continued, "…but maybe you didn't shut your door all the way — or something like that. You know — if the light stays on, it can run the battery down."

"Oh. Yeah." She'd worried briefly that he knew what she'd done, but his manner had indicated otherwise. And upon reflection, she'd concluded that it was just the type of thing Clark would say if she'd really had a dead battery.

Well, she did have a dead battery. But it was the kind of thing he'd have said if it was a genuine battery death, rather than murder. Battricide. Whatever.

Anyway, he'd asked for cables, and when she'd admitted she had none, he'd gone looking for the apartment manager and borrowed a set from him — and a jump from the manager's car as well.

Now they were driving in to the Daily Planet together, and she'd just finished promising him that from now on, she'd carry jumper cables in the car.

"You're welcome, Lois. Any time," he said now, with that smile he seemed to reserve just for her.

She returned her attention to the road as the light turned green.

Any time.

***

At six p.m., as most of their co-workers were leaving for the day, Lois looked over at Clark. He'd been in and out all day, and they'd worked together on a story midmorning, but for the last hour or so they'd each been finishing up work of their own.

And from the look of it, he was getting ready to leave, too.

She gathered up her own papers, setting them aside in a loose bundle. Then she took a deep breath and asked, "Clark?"

He looked up and smiled. "Yes?"

"I need…" She faltered, staring back at him as he looked at her questioningly.

As she continued to hesitate, he got up and came over to her.

She looked up at him. What was she doing? Sending him on an errand just to test him.

"What do you need, Lois?" he asked softly.

She stared at him. "I…" She shouldn't do it. Shouldn't just… make stuff up to test his… His what?

<His… devotion. His commitment.>

No.

He crouched down at her level, beginning to look worried. There was pretty much no one left in the newsroom by now, so they were alone in their little corner of it.

"What do you need, Lois?" he repeated, resting a hand on the arm of her chair.

She found herself staring at it. What would he do if she took his hand? Took it and held it… "Um…" She couldn't meet his gaze, sure that her eyes would give her away.

She looked down. What should she need, anyway? "Uh… Motrin," she mumbled.

Yes. That would work.

"Ibuprofen," she added in a slightly stronger voice, still not looking at him.

Clark gently touched her cheek, turned her to face him. "Are you okay, Lois?" he asked, concern written on his face and shining from his eyes.

She smiled weakly. "Yeah." It was little more than a whisper.

He frowned. "Maybe I should take you home…" he began. His hands were on the arms of her chair, blocking her in, and she had to suppress a startlingly strong urge to lean in to him, slip her arms around his neck, and rest her head against him.

"Clark…" What could she say, though? "Just…" Just forget it? He wouldn't. She'd have to follow through. "Just… can you get me some ibuprofen? …Please?"

She needed to thank him gracefully when he got back, and then just quit this whole silly test thing.

He gazed at her a moment longer, eyes scanning over her face as if he could diagnose whatever was wrong — whatever was supposed to be wrong. "Will you wait here?" he finally asked.

"Yeah…" she said faintly, and he finally rose to his feet. "I'll be right back," he promised, and was gone, striding up the ramp in ground-eating paces. At the top of the ramp, he paused briefly, then turned away from the elevator and stepped through the stairwell door.

She felt even worse. Apparently, the poor man was so concerned about her that he felt the elevator was too slow. He was probably going to run down every flight to the lobby.

With a sigh, she turned back to her desk, and began to gather her things.

***

He was back in a surprisingly short period of time, stepping out of the elevator and starting down the ramp even as she looked up at the sound of the elevator doors. He must have moved awfully quickly; as a matter of fact, he must have run all the way. He wasn't breathing hard, but then he was in very good shape. He'd probably caught his breath in the elevator on the way up.

She felt even guiltier, leading him on just to test his… his loyalty? Testing his 'any time,' anyway. Surely he'd just proved whatever it was she needed him to prove? The poor man had just run — literally — to the store for her. For something she didn't even really need.

"Here, sw- …Here, Lois," he said softly. "I brought some water for you, too." He set a small bottle of ibuprofen on the desk, then uncapped the bottle of water and handed it to her.

"Oh…" She took the water bottle, holding it against her with her forearm, and awkwardly picked up and opened the ibuprofen bottle, shakily dumping a spill of tablets into her other hand. "Thanks, Clark, I -"

She stopped as he dropped to her level again and took her hand gently. "Wait, Lois," he said, cradling her hand in his and uncurling her fingers, which had closed automatically around the pills. "How many?"

Suddenly breathless, she managed, "Three."

He took the extra tablets out of her hand, leaving three, his fingers brushing fleetingly against her palm. Taking the bottle from her other hand, he dumped the extra pills back in and capped it as she curled her fingers around the ones she still held — and the fleeting sensation of his touch.

He watched her, eyes dark with worry, as she swallowed the tablets and drank some of the water.

"Can I take you home?' he asked quietly.

"Um…" Hadn't she imposed on him enough?

"I'll walk you home if you don't want me to drive you, Lois. I just don't want to worry about you."

She felt even worse. She was a big faker, and she was putting her good-natured partner to a huge amount of trouble.

But she wanted to walk home with him. It was much more appealing than driving, which took way less time.

She looked at him, smiling tremulously, and nodded. "Thanks, Clark. I'd like it if you'd walk with me."

***

The walk turned out to be a very nice idea. Clark treated her like he always did, except that he kept her hand tucked into his arm. But he spent the slow walk gently teasing her and talking of this and that.

It was comfortable and ordinary, and she felt better about sending him out on her useless errand — and she didn't want their small journey to end.

Too soon, though, they reached her apartment building, and within way too few minutes, they stopped outside her apartment door. "Feeling better?" he asked seriously.

"Yes, thanks." She paused, looking up at him. "Clark, thank you. For… for all the things you do for me…"

He smiled that toe-curling smile of his. "You're welcome, Lois. Any time."

He leaned forward and she caught her breath. Was he going to…? Her heart fluttered, and -

And she knew acute disappointment as he gently kissed her cheek.

"You're my best friend, Lois," he said simply.

"And you're mine, Clark," she told him solemnly.

Disappointment? Was that what she felt? She watched from her doorway as he walked away. But if he had kissed her, wouldn't it have changed everything? She returned his wave and then slowly closed the door.

Being Clark's best friend was enough. She didn't need more.

<Uh huh.>

She didn't.

Why was that such a difficult concept?

<Because you *want* something more.>

She shook her head. No. She didn't.

Did she?

<Any time, Lois.> Any time. He'd said it again tonight, and his words — or the anticipation of his kiss — had fueled a slow-burning fire inside her.

He had kissed her once — no, twice — before. In the airplane, when she'd been trying desperately to come up with a plan to foil Jason Trask. And during the unseasonable heat wave, when Clark had decided to quit the Planet and leave the city. He'd come into the newsroom, where she'd dozed off over her search for the true cause of the heat wave, and had woken her and kissed her goodbye.

The kiss in the airplane had been a ruse. A futile attempt to distract Trask and his men, to communicate her plan to Clark. Adrenaline had fueled her pounding heart and her shortness of breath. Nothing more.

<Uh huh.>

Just adrenaline.

And that night, in her dreams, she'd relived Superman catching her in his arms. And they'd flown back to the Planet, where he'd left her while he'd diverted Trask's bomb, and in her dream, it had suddenly been Clark standing on the roof of the Planet, holding her in his arms and rising into the air.

Clark's appearance in her dream had to have been borne out of what she'd finally admitted had been her genuine concern for her partner's safety that day.

But his second kiss, that night at the Planet, had shaken her — although she would never have admitted it to Clark. That gentle, chaste, but strangely passionate kiss had haunted her dreams for weeks afterward. She'd convinced herself it was the stress of the whole situation that had affected her.

<Yeah, right.>

Yeah. Now she wasn't so sure that was the only reason.

She sank onto her couch. She had definitely wanted something more, tonight. She had wanted… Clark. His kiss. She closed her eyes and slumped back into the couch cushions. "Now what do I do?"

***

At noon the next day, she sat watching him surreptitiously. He was working on his part of their most current assignment, fingers moving over the keyboard, eyes fastened on the computer monitor, immersed in his story.

She shouldn't test him on 'any time' any more. She didn't need to. He'd meant what he said.

Without meaning to, she said, "Clark?"

He looked up and smiled. "Yes?"

Now what? "I need…" she hesitated, looking around the newsroom in inspiration.

"Coffee?" he asked, apparently thinking she was looking over at the coffeemaker.

That would work. She nodded. "Yes — coffee. Please?"

He was already rising. Any time, he'd said, and it still looked like he'd meant it.

Once again, her mouth worked independently from her reason. "From… not from…" She stopped again. Hadn't she just told herself she wouldn't test him any more?

He grinned at her. "I know. Not Daily Planet coffee. Gourmet coffee. From Metropolis Coffee. Double Mocha."

She couldn't help laughing. "Yes."

"Okay," he said cheerfully. "I'll be back shortly."

And he was.

***

The following evening, Lois sat at her desk in the empty newsroom. She'd finished updating her part of their current story, and was waiting for Clark. He'd had something come up, but had said he'd be back by the end of the day.

So she'd wait a little longer before she left.

She didn't know where he'd gone this afternoon; he'd left with one of his vague excuses that reminded her that he had interests that didn't include her. That he wasn't

<…and shouldn't be…>

at her constant beck and call.

She was firmly resolved not to ask him for anything when he returned. She had already asked for coffee again today, which he'd gotten with his usual cheerfulness.

And she'd asked him for lunch, which he'd also gotten without any complaints, coming back with soups and salads from their favorite deli. They'd eaten together at her desk, and she'd enjoyed the simple meal and the conversation.

She'd just come back, herself — from a late interview — about an hour ago, to find that Clark hadn't returned yet. It was after hours, and most of the other Planet employees had already gone or were on the point of leaving by then.

She'd seen that his briefcase was still on his desk, though, so she knew he hadn't left for the night.

And now she was the only one left in the newsroom.

With a sigh, she shuffled idly through a stack of papers she'd just sorted -

And the headache slammed suddenly into her head with freight train force, almost knocking her back in her chair.

Usually she had at least some warning; dimly, she realized now that it had been lurking there at a very low level ever since she'd arrived back at the Planet, but she'd been preoccupied with her thoughts and had ignored the initially slight pain.

Until now.

Now it exploded into a full-fledged migraine. With her eyes squinted almost shut against the pain-induced light sensitivity, which made the dim room seem as bright as stage lights, she fumbled in her bottom desk drawer.

Finding the little box Dr. Randall had given her, she took one of the migraine pills she had for these episodes, washing it down with the cold dregs of her coffee. She kept one box in her bottom desk drawer, and she had another box at home just like it.

The two boxes — a total of six pills — usually lasted her at least a year. Often longer. She seldom had an attack, but when she did, it was usually a bad one. No halfway measures for Lois Lane, even with migraines, Perry had said once.

She'd been unlucky enough to not get much warning this time, either. Usually the pills helped the most if she took one when she felt a migraine approaching, not when it arrived with guns blazing.

So chances were good that this pill wasn't going to help much.

Through the pain, one thought repeated.

<Clark.>

Clark. She wanted Clark.

She couldn't see to drive, but he would help her. Any time, he'd said. Ironically, he was gone somewhere — and this time, she really needed him. This time it was not a pretense.

But the newsroom stayed empty.

With the pain stabbing mercilessly at her, almost all she could think about was getting home, lying down and sleeping. Holing up in the dark and sleeping this pain away.

And so she'd have to do this on her own.

After a moment of gathering her determination, she stood carefully. Her head pounded, and as she took a step, her vision blurred and her balance failed, and she grabbed for the edge of the desk, sitting down hard and almost sliding off the chair.

The jarring landing made the already pounding pain even worse, and with a groan, she rested her head on her folded arms on the desk.

She'd just…

…wait a while…

Maybe the headache medicine would kick in…

…soon…

…Clark. She wanted Clark…

"Lois?"

"Clark…" she whispered. The pain was making her hear things. Making her imagine he was there.

But no — he *was* there, his hand gentle on her back and his voice soft. "Lois? Are you okay? What's the matter?"

She lifted her head and looked at him, squinting against the light. The newsroom lights at their night settings were considerably dimmed, but in her light-sensitive state, they might as well be the sun shining directly into her face.

"Lois?" he asked again, and she heard the alarm in his voice.

"Clark…" She whispered it. "I have a migraine… Waiting for the…" It was hard to think, through the pain. "…Um… waiting for the…" She waved vaguely at the box still sitting on the desk. "For those Max-whatever pills to work." She tried to look up at him. He was considerably closer now; he must be squatting or kneeling by her chair. "I can't see very well…" She paused, then whispered, "It hurts…"

"Oh, Lois," he said tenderly, and the first of the tears she'd been trying to suppress spilled over. She felt his hand brush over her hair gently. "Can I help? What can I do?"

"I need to lie down… need to sleep." She turned more fully toward him. "Clark…"

She wasn't really crying — not really. Even though she wanted to.

A single tear or two — a few tears — wasn't crying.

She needed to sleep, but getting home was going to be extremely hard.

Clark would help her, though, if she asked. Eyes still squinched almost shut, she reached toward him.

"Clark… can you take me home, please?"

In answer, he stood up, then stooped and lifted her carefully into his arms.

"Oh…" she whispered, arms creeping up around his neck of their own volition. She hadn't meant he had to carry her…

…but his arms felt so comforting.

She should tell him she could walk…

…In a minute or two she would…

She turned her face into the hollow of his neck and shoulder, shutting out the light. His arms tightened slightly and he murmured something, but she couldn't tell what it was.

She felt him turn and then they were moving steadily up the ramp. He was carrying her so effortlessly. She felt secure and safe

<loved>

in his arms.

Clark was… her own personal super hero.

The fleeting thought swelled briefly — somehow, it was important. Something she needed to tell him? Or something she needed to follow through, maybe. But in the next moment it left her mind; the medicine was dulling the pain somewhat, but it also made her very drowsy.

The next thing she knew, Clark was saying softly, "Lois, sweetheart — I need your keys. We're here at your apartment."

She kept her face tucked against him, the warmth of his skin and his familiar scent offering comfort. "Oh…" She didn't remember the drive.

"Lois?"

He wanted something… keys. "In my… pocket… purse… um…"

Even through the pain, she heard the gentle humor in his reply. "I'll find them." She sank back into the dreamlike state he'd woken her from.

A few moments later, she came out of the fog long enough to realize that he must have found them, because he was carrying her inside and then into her bedroom. Then he was placing her gently on the bed, and she felt the loss of his warmth. She wanted to reach for him, but she was too sleepy. There was fog all around and the pain finally receded like a tide — still lapping at the shore, but fading outward.

She slept.

And dreamed of Clark.

In her dream, he stroked her hair, and kissed her cheek. In her dream, she turned her head to meet his lips. In her dream, he kissed her — and in her dream, her dream self kissed him back.

***

The next morning, she wasn't surprised to find Clark at her door when she answered the knock.

"Hi, Clark," she said, stepping back so that he could enter.

"How are you?" he asked seriously, eyes roving over her face as if he wished he could see inside her head to check for lurking migraines.

She smiled at him again. "I'm fine now. Those headaches usually don't last more than a day."

"I was worried," he said softly.

"Yeah — I know it must have seemed pretty scary. I don't get them often, but when I do, they're bad. I usually have a bit of warning — not much but enough to take one of those migraine pills. That usually helps, but this time I was… I got distracted and left it too long this time." She tucked her hair behind her ear.

<You didn't go home because you were waiting for Clark to come back, and you were thinking about him and ignoring the pain.> Squelching the thought, she added, "Anyway… thank you, Clark. For taking care of me — helping me to get home."

"Any time, Lois," he said warmly.

Any time. The words were like a mental security blanket. Last night, she'd really needed him — and he'd been there for her, just as he'd said.

Any time.

They left her apartment together. "We'll have to walk, or take a cab," she said. "Since I left my car at the Planet yesterday. You didn't drive me home, did you?"

He glanced at her but didn't reply right away, and she went on. "You must have been incredibly lucky to find a cab so quickly — although you know what? I don't remember any of the drive. I only remember you carrying me."

"Let's walk," he suggested. And then, "You're right, I didn't drive you home. You were more than half asleep the whole way, though."

She laughed and tucked her arm in his as they strolled toward the park. If they cut across the center, it was a shortcut to the Planet. "You're very strong, though — or very brave. You must have carried me all the way down in the elevator and through the lobby, and then you did the same thing at my apartment."

"Something like that," he agreed laconically.

She looked up at him and grinned as they walked along. "I hope you didn't hurt your back or anything. I must have been pretty much dead weight."

He grinned back. "I'm fine, Lois. Remember I spent my childhood on a farm." He winked at her. "All those hay bales, you know…"

She laughed, as he'd clearly meant her to. "You're not comparing me to a bale of hay, are you, Kent?"

"Of course not, Lois," he said with a straight face. "…More like a couple of sacks of feed corn."

She bumped him with her hip. "Oh, well. Good. As long as it's not a bale of hay," she said with a straight face of her own, and after a startled minute, he burst into laughter.

He slipped one arm around her shoulders in an affectionate hug, which she returned with a hug of her own around his waist, and they ambled on toward the Planet together.

***

When they reached the Daily Planet's lobby, she hesitated at the doors. She shouldn't ask him, but… "Clark, I need -"

"Coffee," he finished for her with a grin.

She laughed. "Yes." She did need coffee. And there was a Metropolis Coffee kiosk on the other side of the lobby, so at least they didn't have to go far. She attempted to tug him gently in that direction.

He hesitated, resisting her, a sudden look of distraction on his face.

He almost looked like he was going to make some excuse, and she caught her breath. Was this it? The end of his 'any time'? Her heart sank.

But then he refocused on her. "Coffee," he repeated with a grin. "I'll get it — you go up. I'll meet you in the newsroom." Turning back toward the lobby doors, he added, "The usual?"

"Yes, but… Clark, why not just go over there?" She gestured at the Metropolis Coffee kiosk, which was doing brisk business.

He frowned. "They were out of your favorite yesterday," he said. "I'll just run down the street to the other one."

He was so good to her. Maybe… What if he *did* feel more for her than friendship?

"Clark?"

He was already at the revolving doors. He turned back to her. "Yes?" She looked into his dark eyes, felt the warmth of his smile… and chickened out.

"Can I buy?"

"Nah — I've got it. You can buy next time."

"You always say that, Clark."

He laughed. "I'll be back." He pushed through the doors and was gone.

With a grin, she headed toward the elevator.

***

He was in and out several times during the morning; each time for something he didn't mention. She didn't know why he didn't tell her where he was going, but she wasn't going to ask him point blank. They were partners; if he couldn't — or wouldn't — tell her what he was up to, then she didn't want to know.

She didn't. And she wasn't hurt that he didn't tell her — his best friend.

She wasn't.

Maybe 'any time' just meant… almost any time. Or maybe… she wasn't the only 'any time' person in his life.

So twice during the day, she interrupted him with needs. And he never complained, never questioned her — he just got what she needed.

The first time wasn't intentional. Not really.

He arrived back in the newsroom from wherever he'd been just as she was trying to decide if she should wait for him before going to lunch.

"Hi, Lois," he said, stopping at her desk. "Have you had lunch yet?"

Still no explanation for where he'd been. Not even a comment — no sorry-I-got-tied-up, or I-had-to-go-meet-a-source, or anything. Some perverse part of her made her say, "No, but I'm just too busy to go out. I'm going to have to eat at my desk. Would you be willing to get me a sandwich?"

By the time her brain got a hold of her runaway tongue, it was too late.

"Good idea," he said cheerfully. "I've got some catching up to do, too."

And within twenty minutes, she had a sandwich with sides — chips and coleslaw — and a Metropolis Coffee sitting in front of her while she looked across at him working at his own desk, sandwich, sides, and coffee in front of him as well.

And because her stupid pride had insisted she was busy, she was eating her lunch alone at her desk and working on a story she'd already gone over twice, instead of sitting in the park or at their favorite deli- or even beside him at one of their desks — talking to Clark.

Barely an hour later, he dashed off again, and she had to force down her disquiet. Where was he going now?

In the early days of their relationship, she'd have been afraid he was holding out on her over — or trying to scoop her on — a story. Now, of course, she knew that wasn't true. But he didn't talk about where he was going — just made dumb excuses and left.

Maybe there *was* someone else. After all, he had said he just wasn't attracted to her. Maybe he'd met someone. Maybe he was getting phone calls from someone else — some woman — who needed something. And maybe he was saying 'any time' to her, too.

So the second time she needed him for something, it was pretty much right after he got back.

She sat across from him for a while, maybe fifteen minutes or so, watching as he got ready to work on one of their stories.

Watching him, and trying to decide what she was going to need this time.

He moved a stack of papers to one side of his desk, and she looked down quickly so he wouldn't catch her watching him. He reached for a second stack of papers.

Papers…

Information. She could need some information…

On an old story, maybe…

"Clark," she began, and he looked up immediately.

"What's up, Lois?" He smiled at her, and she felt bad — for a minute or two.

Then she remembered the other woman. If Clark had to start juggling this other woman's needs as well as Lois's, and his workload on top of that, something would have to give. Regardless of whether she was his best friend or not, he'd start to pull away from Lois.

He'd start telling her he was too busy.

And she'd be back to being on her own.

It wasn't that she couldn't be self-sufficient. She'd been independent — and prided herself on it — for years. So she'd cope, of course. It was just that… Clark made her feel special. Made her want to be part of that… thing that people had when they were… well, more than friends…

"Lois?" His voice interrupted her thoughts. And that was fine; they'd been getting a bit too… whatever.

She straightened her shoulders. Copies of notes. For her current story.

Okay.

"Um… would you get me a copy of the information on file about the old Central train station, please? It's for the renovation piece Perry gave me. You know… you've got the companion piece on the new train station." She needed a reason why she couldn't get them herself. "I'm…" A good reason. "I'm waiting for a phone call, or I'd go myself…"

She'd already photocopied all that information this morning while he was out doing… whatever. It was stashed in a file in her desk — and there it would stay when he brought her the new set.

She couldn't let on that she already had the information.

Clark was going to have to stop what he was doing and go into the archives for the article. For information she already had.

He'd probably say no to this request. It wasn't even — technically — his story at all, even though he had an assignment that made a great companion piece. Actually, Perry was used to them collaborating a bit on individual assignments like these; as a matter of fact, he probably even counted on it sometimes with stories such as these two.

But Lois could so easily send Jimmy for her copies — although, fortunately, he wasn't around at the moment. But it was part of his job description as researcher, anyway. He didn't do all the work, of course —they were expected to research their own stories as much as they could. But if a reporter or columnist was tied up with something — like Lois's phone call — they could call on Jimmy.

<Fictional phone call.>

Yeah, yeah. Fictional. Whatever.

Anyway, normally they'd call on Jimmy for help if there was a meeting or phone call hindering the research, or if the research that was needed was hard to find. Jimmy had a knack for ferreting out hard-to-find information.

And though Jimmy wasn't around at the moment, he could probably be found easily enough.

She braced herself for Clark's refusal.

But wait — apparently, he had no complaints about her errand, or about being interrupted. He was nodding amiably and saying, "Sure — just a second, Lois."

He gave her the full version of his special smile, and she almost 'fessed up.

But he was continuing, "You've got good timing, partner — let me just save this, and I'll send it to you. You can read it over, if you would, while I get you that stuff. And then you can tell me what you think when I get back."

And within a few minutes, she was sitting at her desk, watching him cross the newsroom toward the elevator. The archives were one floor up, so this wasn't exactly a quick little trip across the newsroom to the fax machine or the coffeemaker or something like that. This involved going up to the archives, searching for and pulling the article, photocopying it, and putting the file back.

As the elevator doors blocked him from her sight, she sighed and turned to the story he'd sent her.

***

She was rereading the same paragraph for the third time, more interested in watching for his return than she was in proofreading, when he stepped through the elevator doors and came down the ramp toward her, notes tucked under one arm. Smiling, he perched on the edge of her desk.

"Here you go, Lois. He gestured toward his part of their story, which she was supposed to be reading. "So — what do you think of that?"

"Oh… It's good, Clark." It *was* good. He was an excellent writer. His style was quite different from hers, but it complemented hers perfectly. It was one of the reasons why they made such a good team. "I haven't read it all, yet, though…"

"Okay," he said agreeably. "If you want to go over it with me, I'm all ears."

Setting the papers he'd brought her on the corner of her desk, he rose to his feet. She watched as he moved around to his own desk and sat down. He hadn't complained about getting her the information; he hadn't even sighed heavily.

She couldn't keep testing him like this; it wasn't right. It wasn't fair.

She should just tell him what she'd been doing. "Clark?"

He looked up. "Yeah?"

But not right now. Not here in the newsroom where anyone could hear her. "Thank you. For getting that info for me."

He smiled at her. "You're welcome, Lois. Any time."

She smiled back. She couldn't help it.

***

And now here it was, the end of the day again. And here she sat, in the darkened newsroom, waiting for Clark.

He'd gone out yet again, maybe two hours ago, on some suddenly remembered errand.

This time, though, he'd looked… She wasn't sure, but he looked a little… not really irritated, but… maybe resigned was a better word. So either it was something to do, genuinely, with work — although he'd have likely told her who and what it was — or maybe, whoever or whatever it was that was demanding his time was beginning to wear thin.

Maybe it *was* work-related. He did that sometimes — forgot meetings or whatever. She'd be hustling off to meet one of their contacts, and he'd arrive late, or just in time — and once or twice, not at all. Then he'd be genuinely contrite when she called him on it later, and she'd tease him about it, and he'd tease her back.

She smiled involuntarily, shaking her head. He was a fascinating mixture of sophisticated — all that travel, probably — and nice. Almost na´ve, really. That — the nice, and even the na´ve — was probably due to that Kansas upbringing.

He really was a pretty great guy.

<And sexy.>

She squelched the thought automatically.

But then… No. She wasn't going to suppress it — why should she, when it was true?

And where had that thought just come from?

<Oh, come on. You've always known it.>

But…

<You've been testing him, on his any time at all — why do you think you're doing that?>

She was just seeing if…

<You're trying to decide… if he loves you. Why else do you care if he really means any time at all? You think it's because he loves you.>

No.

<No. You're right — it's because you *hope* he loves you.>

No.

<Yes. Loves you. Loves you like… that.>

She heaved a sigh. Yes. That was why she'd been testing him.

But he'd told her just a few short weeks ago that he wasn't attracted to her.

She stood and gathered her things. It was time to go home. She had to think about this.

<You don't have to think about this at all. You've known what you wanted for months now. You just haven't admitted it to yourself, much less Clark. Until now. And now that *you* realize it, maybe you should tell *him*.>

Where was a Walkman when you needed one? She needed something to drown out that irritating, persistent inner voice.

The Baby Bumblebee song. That ought to do it. If she even let herself *think* about that song, the tune would be stuck in her head for hours.

Maybe even days.

But whatever it took to distract that annoying inner voice…

<I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee, won't my mommy be so proud of me…> Moodily, she headed up the ramp, and when the elevator arrived, rode it down to the lobby.

***

Lois sat at her kitchen table, leaning her chin on her hands and staring at nothing. Even the song hadn't helped for long.

She'd been sitting like this for quite a long time. Thinking about Clark. Remembering things he'd said or done, and trying to fit them into one of two columns in her mental score sheet. Into the 'Yes, He Does' column or the 'He's Just a Friend' column.

She'd been sitting here long enough to know two things. The first was that the mental column thing wasn't working, and the second was that her apartment felt empty.

Empty and lonely. She needed…

<Clark.>

Yes. All right, yes. That was what she wanted — to have him here with her. Here with her at… She looked at the clock.

Three o'clock in the morning.

She hadn't heard from him since she'd left the Planet. He hadn't called.

Maybe she should call him.

No. She needed more than just the sound of his voice. What she really needed was just… Clark.

Maybe… Well, she wasn't very sleepy. Maybe she could use a walk.

Maybe go by his place — if she was out already.

<Yeah, right.>

"Shut up," she muttered aloud, and stood up. A little walk was just what she needed.

Half an hour later, she stood looking at Clark's door. His place was dark; he was probably sleeping.

Her breath caught as it suddenly occurred to her — what if he wasn't alone?

She sat down on the step.

What if he wasn't? Wasn't alone?

What if whoever it was he'd been seeing was there with him now? What if they were…

She groaned involuntarily. No.

She was too late. She'd dragged her feet and denied how she felt about Clark, and now it was too late.

"Lois?"

She jumped. "Oh!" She looked up to see Clark himself standing in front of her on the sidewalk. "Oh, Clark." She got to her feet. "You startled me."

He was wearing jeans and dark t-shirt, and he hadn't been to bed yet — obviously. He hadn't even been home yet.

Then where had he been? And… with who?

"Lois, what are you doing here? Are you all right?"

Why hadn't she just stayed home? "Um…" What possible reason could she give him for finding her on his front step at almost four o'clock in the morning?

"Lois?" he asked again. "Are you okay? Here — come inside." He moved past her and unlocked his front door.

"Oh — no. No. I'll just go home…" she began.

"Lois…" He drew her name out.

"No, Clark," she repeated. "I —" She couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Lois." He drew her gently to him and enfolded her in an unthreatening hug.

Her eyes stung as she leaned in to him. She wanted him to hug her because… well, because he wanted to, not because he thought she needed a hug. Burrowing into him, she remembered what she'd finally acknowledged. She wanted him to love her.

<To love you like you…>

Like she loved him.

"I…" She pulled away. "I need to go, Clark."

"Lois," he began.

"I just… I need to go, Clark," she repeated, somewhat desperately.

"Let me come with you."

"No."

"Lois…" Again, he drew her name out.

She looked at him, fighting tears. She would not cry.

Any time, he'd said. But it wouldn't be any time any more if he had someone else.

"Clark, I need…" her mouth said before her reason could step in. Something about that phrase, 'any time,' had her blurting out what she needed every time she saw him.

"What, Lois? What do you need?" His eyes, even in the dim light of not quite dawn, looked dark with worry.

Despite herself, tears began to spill down her cheeks. "I need you to let me go home."

He shut his eyes briefly, then opened them again to gaze down at her. "I… don't think I can, Lois. Not now."

What? What did he mean? Why not? "Clark?" Was he trying to find a way to tell her about… whoever it was he'd met?

He countered with more questions of his own. "Why, Lois? Why did you come over here tonight? And what's wrong? Why can't you talk to me? Did I… do something to upset you?"

"No…" Yes. He was pulling away from her. She'd finally realized — too late — that she loved him.

But he just wasn't attracted to her. She'd had her chance — back when they'd first met, he *had* been attracted to her — at least briefly. But now he'd moved on. "There's nothing wrong, Clark… I was just out walking, and… and…" She gasped in a sobbing breath, and her unruly tongue kept babbling. "I know… I guessed, Clark."

"Guessed what, Lois?" he asked sharply. He looked alarmed, and his obvious dismay at her words made it all worse. He was her best friend, but he was upset that she knew about…

Despite her best efforts, the tears came faster.

"I know you've met somebody… somebody else, somebody you don't want to talk about… And — and I know you said you weren't attracted to me, but I…" She trailed off because he was looking at her in stunned disbelief.

He shook his head. "Lois —"

She made an impatient sound and turned away, stepping blindly down the stairs — and missed.

Before she could even shriek, he caught her.

"Oh," she said on a gasp, and looked up into his face.

He looked grim, and without a word, he scooped her up into his arms and strode inside.

"Clark…" she began.

He kept moving, down the stairs into the main room, and sat down on his couch, still holding her, and settled her on his lap.

It was heaven — and hell — to be sitting like this with him. She began to struggle, but his arms tightened around her.

"No," he said to her silent attempts to flee. One arm was around her waist and the other held her head to his shoulder.

She stopped struggling, and had to fight the treacherous desire to simply melt into him.

She'd have to reason with him. "Clark," she started again, trying to pull back far enough to look up at him.

His arms remained tightly around her. "No," he repeated, his voice deeper and firmer than usual. It was a more commanding tone than she'd ever heard him use, and yet, somehow it was strangely familiar. "I finally have you where I want you, and —"

She stilled completely. "What?"

His arms loosened slightly, and she pulled back, propping her arms against his chest to support herself, and stared into his dark gaze.

He stared back at her, a muscle jumping in his jaw. His clear, finely-brewed-coffee eyes had deepened to rich chocolate. "Lois…"

"Say that again, Clark," she said softly.

"I finally have you where I want you," he said again, his eyes beginning to light with some powerful emotion.

<Love.>

She stared at him, aware of a dawning sense of hope. "What are you saying, Clark?" she whispered.

And he smiled at her, that smile that he saved just for her. "I'm saying — there is no one else. There has never been anyone else. It's only ever been you, Lois."

"But… you said you just weren't…"

"I said I guessed I just wasn't attracted to you," he finished. "I lied, Lois. I had my reasons —" He sighed, mouth twisting slightly. "Which I'll tell you about in a few minutes. But first…"

He cupped her cheek tenderly, slipping his fingers into the hair along her temple. "There's no one else, Lois. I think I fell for you the moment I saw you." His eyes searched hers. "I'm saying that I love you," he whispered. "I am in love with you, and I love you — with all my heart."

And she let go. Let go of her tension, and melted into him, slipping her arms up around his neck.

"Oh, Clark." She was almost crying, but for joy this time, and laughing with it. "Oh, I'm so glad. I love you, too. I think maybe I have for a long time, but I only just figured it out…"

He stopped her talking by turning slightly and shifting her into the angle of his arm and shoulder, then gently cradled the back of her head and kissed her.

She'd kissed Clark before, but not like this. This kiss was powerful, deep, and passionate, and it made the other two kisses he'd given her pale in comparison.

<Three kisses.>

Yes, all right — this was their third kiss, and boy-oh-boy, the third kiss sure was the charm. It was earth-shaking and toe-curling and… and…

And so familiar.

She pulled back, gasping, and stared at him.

Three kisses, indeed.

She'd shared a deeply passionate, toe-curling kiss with someone else a few short weeks ago — and no two men could kiss in exactly the same way.

And her discovery sure would explain why Clark hadn't reacted to her attempts at seduction a few weeks ago. It wasn't that he wasn't attracted to her; it was simply that he hadn't been affected by the pheromone.

Her eyes narrowed as she gazed at him, and his softened in understanding before he closed them briefly, nodding.

Lies upon lies, it seemed. Clark had told her he wasn't attracted to her to explain how he seemed unaffected by the pheromone.

And *Superman* had lied when he'd acted like he'd been affected by the pheromone.

*Superman* had lied. Because…

Because Clark, the bum, had wanted to kiss her?

She started to laugh. Bringing both arms from around his neck, she removed his glasses. He made no protest, simply gazed back at her in patient bemusement. Setting them down absently on the couch beside her, she pushed his hair back off his forehead with her other hand and gazed into the face of her best friend — and soon, so much more.

Finally, she framed his face with both hands, caressing his jaw in spite of herself. "Clark, you brat…" she began sweetly and softly, "where were you tonight?"

He gave her the exact same grin he must have given his mother every time she caught him raiding the cookie jar. "Yes, well… therein hangs a tale…"

THE END

***

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

Metropolis Coffee Company is a real place. It's in Chicago, just a couple of blocks from Loyola University, and it's a pretty friendly place. Their website is here: http://metropoliscoffee.com/.

This: http://www.mediahistory.umn.edu/time/1990s.html is a timeline of "media history" in the 1990s. It includes historical milestones in, well, media: telephones, movies, bar codes, television, internet, cell phones, game stations, music players…

Lois had to want a Walkman because MP3 players haven't been invented yet. <g>