By Caroline K. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: May, 2007
Summary: After the events of Season 2's "Chi of Steel," Clark issues a challenge to Lois.
"Thank you for a wonderful dinner," Lois said, offering her partner's mom a hug as she was taking her leave.
Martha laughed. "Don't thank me, thank Jonathan. He's the one who 'made' it."
Lois giggled as Jonathan rolled his eyes.
"Hey, it's not like you've never ordered dinner before," he said. "When you were taking that sculpture class, I didn't have a home-cooked meal for three months."
"I know, honey, and everyone here can see that you're just wasting away." Martha made a show of patting her husband's generous stomach, and Lois laughed again. She always enjoyed being with Clark's parents, and even when they teased one another as they were doing now, it was clearly in fun and never made her feel uncomfortable, as her own parents' constant sparring had.
"I think you look wonderful," Lois said, hugging Jonathan, too. And she meant it. She wouldn't change a single thing about either of the Kents. It meant so much to her that they considered her family, even if she didn't quite have the nerve to take that thought much further. "Thank you for dinner."
"You're welcome, Lois. We're glad you could join us."
"I'll walk you out," Clark said. He and his mother seemed to be having some sort of conversation with their eyes, but Lois couldn't imagine what it was about. She pretended not to notice as she wished the Kents goodnight one more time and let Clark usher her out onto his front stoop.
"Sorry about that," Clark said, nodding in the direction of his apartment.
"Sorry about what?"
"My parents. They're not normally so…"
Lois shook her head. "Your mom said I was family. I kind of like that."
It could have been an innocuous question, but she felt her insides flutter a little at the intensity of his gaze. "Well… yeah," she said, talking fast to hide her nervousness. "I mean, you know what my family is like. And we're best friends, Clark. The least you could do is share your nice, normal parents with your best friend."
He smiled, but she thought it seemed a little wistful. "I'm happy to share my parents with you, Lois. You know that. I just didn't want them to make you uncomfortable."
She shook her head. "Not a bit."
"I'm glad." He shifted a little and there was a moment of silence between them while the city hummed in the background. She rifled through her mind, looking for some way to prolong the conversation, and glancing at Clark, she had the feeling he was doing the same thing. It was a small moment of awkwardness and probably meaningless, except that there seemed to be more of those between them these days than there used to be. Since Christmas, every conversation between them had seemed to be crowded with things that weren't being said.
She took a deep breath. "I guess I'd better…"
They both broke off, laughing. "What were you going to say?" she asked.
"Never mind. It wasn't important."
"Cla-ark," she said, sounding as threatening as she could. "Don't do this. You know I'm going to get it out of you eventually, so why waste time arguing about it?"
He flashed her a grin. "I was just going to say that you really had Perry and me fooled the other day with that mustache. I'd have walked right by you and never recognized you."
"You *did* walk right by me — twice," she informed him smugly. "Which just goes to show that you still have a few things to learn about being an investigative reporter."
He folded his arms and gave her a look of mock outrage. "Is that so?"
"Sure. You were supposed to be looking for evidence, and you walked right by your own partner! Obviously, you weren't paying enough attention."
"I was looking for *financial information*, and Perry was the one doing the looking, anyway. He let me know that I was just there as window dressing."
"And I'm sure you made very *nice* window dressing, but that doesn't change the fact that when you're on assignment, you need to have your wits about you."
"Gee, Lois. Could you be a little more condescending?"
"I'm not being condescending!"
"You just called me window dressing!"
"No, *you* called you window dressing. I just agreed." She gave him a triumphant smile.
"That night, all I was supposed to do was give Perry a reason for being at the club, and that's what I did. It doesn't mean I'm not every bit as good an investigator as you are. I bet if the situation had been reversed, you wouldn't have recognized me either."
"You mean if I walked by you when you were dressed as a woman, I wouldn't notice?" She looked him up and down and grinned at the mental image of Clark in drag. "I'm sorry, Clark, but I don't think that's a look you'd be able to pull off."
He laughed. "Maybe not dressed as a woman, but that's not the only disguise in the world. I bet I could come up with something that would fool you."
"Like that ratty beard you wore when you were undercover at the Metro Club?" she scoffed. "Yeah, that was a good one. It took me all of three seconds to recognize you."
"Hmm." He didn't look offended in the least. In fact, he had a gleam in his eye that worried her considerably. "All right Miss Lane, what do you say we make it a challenge?"
"What kind of challenge?" she asked suspiciously.
"I have one week — one week to come up with a disguise that fools you completely. If I do, then you'll owe me…" He looked at her thoughtfully.
"I'll owe you what?"
"A kiss," he said finally, and something about the careful way he was watching her told her that the suggestion hadn't been made lightly. "And I don't mean a peck on the cheek."
She stared at him, feeling as though the bottom had dropped out of her stomach and her legs had turned to spaghetti. Had he really just said…? "You want a… a…"
"Kiss," he repeated softly. "A *real* kiss."
"But… why?" she blurted.
He raised his eyebrows at her.
"I mean, you've kissed me before."
His mouth quirked in a shy smile. "That's how I know I want to do it again."
"You do?" Her question ended on a high-pitched squeak, and she didn't like it one bit. She was pretty sure she'd had the upper hand in this conversation at one point, but somehow, she'd lost it completely with all this talk of kissing.
He nodded. "Yeah."
He wanted to kiss her. He wanted a *real* kiss. And that had to mean something — something huge — because Clark wasn't the type of guy who went around kissing women he didn't… care about. And now they were standing on his stoop, talking about kissing, and it felt completely surreal, except that she knew it wasn't, not really. Thinking back over how things had been between them the last couple of weeks — heck, the last couple of *years*, if she were honest with herself — she had a feeling that this conversation, or some version of it, was inevitable and always had been.
"So, if you were to win — which of course you *won't*," she said, because she was Lois Lane and never lost at anything if she could help it, "and if this kiss actually transpired, what exactly would it, uh… mean?"
"Well," he said, "this kiss would mean that I'm just as good an investigative reporter as you are, and that I won the challenge."
"Oh." She feigned a sudden consuming interest in a nearby alley cat. So maybe she'd just imagined that there could be something more between them, she thought, as the cat twitched its tail at her. Maybe all those awkward silences hadn't meant anything at all.
He stepped a little closer — close enough that she caught a whiff of the aftershave he wore, and the scent of him was so masculine and so sexy and so *Clark* that the cat was forgotten, and it was all she could do not to step into him and bury her face in his neck. But no, she couldn't do that, because they were partners and they were in the middle of a conversation and… well, there were lots of reasons and she'd list them out later, when she could think straight. Right now he was looking down at her so intently that she could barely think straight, let alone make a decent list.
"Any *subsequent* kisses, however…"
"Subsequent?" She stared up at him, wide-eyed.
He nodded. "Subsequent. It means 'coming after'."
"I know what subsequent means," she said, stepping back and putting a little more distance between them. "What makes you think there will be any *subsequent* kisses?"
"Oh," he said, in a voice like softest velvet. "That's easy. I plan to make this a very *good* kiss."
"*Very* good," he said again. "Earth-shattering. Mind-blowing. Life-altering."
"Definitely. And I have two particular lives in mind."
"Lives," she repeated, sounded as dazed as she felt. "Lives that will be… *altered* by this kiss of yours."
"You seem to think quite a bit of your talents as a kisser," she said, because that's the kind of thing she *would* say, normally, when she wasn't about to melt into a puddle on his doorstep. She'd be doubtful and belligerent and difficult, and he would expect that from her because it was the way she was. It wasn't the way she was feeling at that moment, though.
No, at that moment, she was wishing they could skip right over this challenge business, which was silly anyway, and get on with the kissing. She had a feeling that kissing Clark might be one of the few things in life that actually lived up to its hype.
"Well, I don't have a lot of recent practice," he said, "but I think with the right partner, it'll come right back to me."
"Like riding a bike," she said inanely, because her mind was busy rejoicing that he hadn't been kissing anyone — and *particularly* hadn't been kissing any annoying blond assistant DA's — lately.
He smiled. "Something like that."
"Well, that's all very…" She waved a hand vaguely. "But you're not going to be able to fool me, so your prowess as a kisser will just have to go unproven. What do I get if I win?"
"What do you want?" he asked, and with practically any other man in the world, the question would have been suggestive, would have made her uncomfortable, but this was Clark, and even though the prospect of kissing him (<<A life-altering kiss!>> her brain edited helpfully) made every nerve in her body tingle in anticipation, there was nothing uncomfortable about it, nothing disturbing about his question.
<<I want the kiss!>> The words were practically dancing on her tongue, but she refused to let them pass her lips. She had to maintain her dignity in this business, and if possible, she had to ask for something that would still leave room for kissing.
"One day," she said. "One day in which you have to do everything I say."
His eyes narrowed; he knew her too well. A year ago, he'd have fallen for it without question, but now he was a little older and a little wiser in the ways of Lois Lane.
"Nothing humiliating," she promised. "Nothing awful. Just a whole day when I get to call the shots."
"And how would that differ from any other day?" he asked dryly.
"Oh, ha ha." She gave him a dirty look. "So, do we have a deal?"
He leaned toward her, his sudden nearness making her breath hitch and her heart pound. "We have a deal," he murmured, and he was so close now that she was just *sure* he would close the tiny distance between them. Her tongue skimmed over her lips in anticipation, wetting them slightly, and she saw his eyes track the small motion hungrily.
<<Smoldering.>> The word popped into her head, probably the result of reading too many romance novels — but dear God, it was the perfect word for what was happening between them just then. His eyes were smoldering, and she felt as if the heat of his glance was melting her insides. Since when did Clark Kent have that effect on her? How long had he had the power to reduce her to *this*? And what in the world had made him decide to unleash it that night?
And then, incredibly, he was drawing away, leaving her with a small smile on his lips that told her he knew perfectly well what he'd just done to her. "Goodnight, Lois."
"I… you…" <<Dignity!>> she reminded herself sternly just in time. "Goodnight, Clark." She sounded a little breathless, maybe, but that wasn't because of Clark Kent and his smoldering. Not at all. She'd just had a big meal… all that garlic… it could just be gas, like Martha had said. Not that gas was dignified, either.
Oh, God. She needed to get out of there. She needed to kiss Clark Kent even more, but since he obviously didn't plan on cooperating, she needed to get out of there before she made a complete fool of herself.
"Goodnight," she said again, and then she was practically running down the steps to her car.
"Drive safely," he called cheerfully, which made her want to smack him. Hard. But she'd have the last laugh. He'd made a mistake in proposing this silly 'challenge.'
There was no way Clark could disguise himself well enough to fool her.
*One Week Later*
It had been, Lois reflected sourly, the longest week of her life. She had spent seven days on full alert, which was every bit as exhausting and nerve-wracking as it sounded. She had been looking for Clark Kent under every beard, beneath every hat, and behind every newspaper, and all she'd succeeded in doing was convincing a growing number of men — and two very large women — that they were being stalked by a crazy person. None of them had been Clark in disguise.
By Wednesday, her nerves had been so frazzled that her work had started to suffer; Perry had called her into his office twice that day to throw her stories back in her face. "Rookie mistakes, Lois!" he had bellowed. "What's wrong with you this week?"
How was she to answer that? How was she to explain that even though there was a life-altering kiss on the line, Clark Kent apparently couldn't be bothered to disguise himself a little? Maybe he had changed his mind, she fretted. Maybe he'd forgotten the challenge. He certainly hadn't said anything to *her* about it, instead carrying on as if nothing between them had changed, as if the exchange on his doorstep had never taken place, as if he'd never smoldered a day in his life.
But he had. *He'd* smoldered, and *she'd* melted, and she'd spent every night since then fantasizing about it — fantasizing about him and about the day they'd spend together when she won the challenge. Her fantasies all started with the kiss he'd described, but in the privacy of her bedroom, they didn't stop there. There were *definitely* subsequent kisses in her fantasies. All *sorts* of subsequent things happened in her fantasies. If even a few of them actually came to pass, she thought "subsequent" just might become her favorite word in the English language.
But how could she collect on the bet if Clark didn't even *try* to win? It would be just too humiliating to demand a kiss or anything… *personal* from him under those circumstances. So she'd win the challenge by default, and then she'd spend a whole day making him clean the dust bunnies from under her furniture or something. It was an utterly depressing thought.
She glanced over at Clark, whose fingers were tapping out a rapid tattoo on his keyboard. Did he fantasize about *her*, she wondered, or had he just been teasing her that night on his stoop? She didn't believe he was capable of that — not really — but she couldn't explain his behavior this week, either. She glared at his broad back, but he never even looked up.
"Lois!" Perry's voice rang out across the newsroom.
"What now?" she muttered, and she thought she saw Clark's eyes flicker in her direction, but he quickly turned back to his work. "Yes, Chief?" she said out loud, holding her breath in anticipation of another chewing-out.
"Great job on this Superman story!" he exclaimed heartily, giving her most recent story an approving thump. "Looks like you're back in the swing of things."
"Uh, thanks, Chief," she said, feeling her breathing return to normal. "I'm glad you like it." Superman had saved a whole family when their pleasure boat had capsized in Hob's Bay, and the story of the dangers they had faced and their ultimate rescue had wound up being more dramatic than even Lois had anticipated. It had practically written itself, in fact.
"Love it," he said. "It's got drama and excitement, and, of course, a happy ending. It's going on the front page of the City section tomorrow. Say, how'd you get wind of this, anyway?"
"Actually, Superman came to me." And for the first time, it occurred to her that that was a little unusual. He was always generous with quotes for stories when he was approached, but he seldom sought her out and handed her a story on a silver platter. He was far more likely to do that with Clark. But this time, he'd not only sought her out, he'd practically interviewed himself. He'd stopped her outside of the Daily Planet that morning, and the story had spilled out of him, fully formed. She'd done little more than take copious notes, and then he was thanking her and flying away.
"Well, I'm glad he did," Perry said, giving her practically the first smile she'd seen from him that week. "Great job, darlin'."
"Thanks, Perry." She smiled, relieved to have finally done something right that week.
Perry left her then to return to his office, and Clark stopped typing and glanced her way. "Congratulations," he offered.
"Uh, thanks." She wondered if he was envious of her scoop, if it bothered him that this time Superman had come to her, but she didn't see any sign of that in his expression.
"I was wondering," he said, rising from his chair and walking over to lean against her desk. "Your place or mine?"
He'd lowered his voice so that he wouldn't be overheard, and the sound of it, the intimacy of it, seemed to shiver up and down her spine. She raised her eyebrows at him, determined not to let him see the effect he was having on her. "I beg your pardon?"
"The challenge," he said, in that same soft voice that seemed to wrap itself around her, comforting her and thrilling her at the same time. "I need to collect my prize, and this isn't quite the atmosphere I had in mind." He glanced pointedly around the busy newsroom and then repeated, "So… your place or mine?"
"Collect *your* prize!" she exclaimed. "When did we declare *you* the winner?"
"Are you saying you recognized me?"
"Oh, I see what you're doing," she said, smirking at him. "You thought you'd bluff me. You let me spend a week driving myself crazy chasing after every man in Metropolis who looks anything like you, and then you *claim* to have been in the restaurant I had lunch in yesterday, or on the sidewalk outside the Planet this morning, or at the press conference at the mayor's office on Tuesday, and you figure I'll just fall into your arms. Sorry, Kent. It's not gonna work."
He smiled at her, and… oh, God. He was smoldering again. Just the least little bit, but she saw it and felt her body react to it. After a week of fantasizing about him, she was an easy target, and all he had to do was look at her *that way* — that way that told her he wanted her as much as she wanted him — and she really *was* ready to fall into his arms, damn him.
"I'm not bluffing, Lois, and I can prove it. But not here. So…"
"My place," she said quickly, before he could ask again. Given Clark's effect on her equilibrium these days, it would be better to do this on home territory.
"All right," he said softly, "though… my sofa is a lot more comfortable."
<<Well there *was* that…>>
Wait a minute! How did they get to be doing anything on the sofa, when as far as she was concerned, he hadn't even won the bet? "We'll make do," she said sharply, trying not to let him see how much he was affecting her. She had the feeling it was a wasted effort, though. Her partner had seemed to be at least one step ahead of her on this one from the moment he'd proposed the challenge.
"I'll meet you at your place at seven tonight, then," he said, smiling at her in a way that made her stomach turn a somersault. And then he slipped away, back to his desk, leaving her more frustrated and confused than ever.
Clark arrived at her apartment right on time, but instead of looking confident and self-satisfied, as he had that afternoon, he looked distinctly nervous — almost afraid.
"Come in," she said, gesturing him inside. "Do you want coffee?"
"Uh, no. But thank you," he said, giving her a small smile.
"All right." She perched on the edge of one of her love seats, suddenly feeling nervous herself. Maybe whatever had gotten into Clark was catching. Or maybe it was just that whatever happened that night, she had the feeling that it was going to change their relationship forever. Obviously, they both were viewing this 'challenge' as an opportunity to explore something new between them, but that wasn't the sort of thing they could ever go back from. Whether he won or whether she did, she had the feeling that they were about to take a huge step into the unknown.
Clark perched on the love seat opposite her, fidgeted for a few seconds, and then bounced up and began to pace in the confined space of her living room. She watched him, mystified. "Clark?" she asked, not even sure what the question was.
He stopped pacing and wheeled around to face her. "The first thing I wanted to say is that I'm not going to hold you to the terms of the challenge. If I tell you what I have to tell you, and you don't want me to kiss you, then I won't. I'll go home; I won't… expect anything else."
"Is that what you're hoping is going to happen?" she asked.
"No," he said quickly. "Definitely not. I just… you might be mad, and I wouldn't want… I wouldn't hold you to the kiss if you didn't want it."
"All right," she said slowly. "So…?"
"Well, I wasn't in the restaurant you ate in yesterday," he said, sounding as though the words were being dragged out of him. "And I wasn't at the press conference at the mayor's office, either. You know I had that interview with John Knight that day, and…"
"Those were just examples, Clark," she said, interrupting him. "I didn't really think…"
"…but I *was* on the sidewalk outside the Planet this morning," he blurted, talking over her, picking up speed. "You were right about that. And I'm not bluffing, Lois. I was there. I… we… talked. We had a conversation."
"That's impossible," she said flatly. "The only person I had a conversation with was…" <<Superman,>> her mind supplied. The only person she'd had a conversation with on the sidewalk outside the Planet was Superman. He'd approached her. He'd given her a story. He'd given her a story that was so coherent that it had practically written itself.
And he'd been able to do that… because Superman was a journalist.
He was her partner.
"Oh, my God," she whispered, closing her eyes, wanting to block out the truth of his duplicity… of her own blindness. It came crashing down on her anyway — wave after wave of painful truth.
"I *knew* I could win the bet," he said, falling to his knees in front of her. "I knew because I've been winning that bet for almost two years now. I've wanted… I've wanted you to know me, to recognize me, but you never did. But lately… lately I've been thinking that things could be different. That if you knew… if you knew everything about me… that we could be… we could be more. I want that so much, Lois. I've always wanted it." His voice wavered a little, and he took a deep breath to steady it. "Please look at me," he said softly. "*Please*, Lois."
She opened her eyes then, and as her tears spilled down her cheeks, she looked at Clark Kent and really *saw* him for the first time. At some point in his speech he'd removed his glasses, dropping them carelessly to the floor beside her sofa, and the eyes he'd kept so carefully hidden behind them were looking at her mournfully, begging her forgiveness. She knew she should say something, but no words would come, so she reached out and gently touched his face as the two men she'd known blurred and became one.
He leaned into her touch… turned and pressed a kiss into her palm. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry for every single lie I've ever told you. I mean, there were reasons at the time, but… but if you'll just give me a chance, I swear I'll never lie to you again."
"I don't know what to say," she said, in a quivery voice that didn't sound at all like her own. "I think it's going to take me a while to know… exactly how I feel about this."
"I'll wait," he promised. "And in the meantime, you can ask me any questions you have. You can yell at me all you want. Or hit me! I'm invulnerable — I can take it."
She smiled at that and swiped at her tears. "Well, where's the fun in that?"
He drew a shuddering breath and returned her smile. "I'm sure you'll think of something."
She probably would. She'd probably have a great deal to say to him on the subject once her mind caught up with her swirling emotions. But for some reason, this didn't seem to be the time for yelling or hitting or even for asking questions. Her best friend was kneeling before her and confessing his greatest sin, which was essentially that he saved people's lives in his spare time. As sins went, she could think of far worse ones.
"So," she said. "I guess I really did lose the bet."
"Well, yeah, but like I said, I'm not going to hold you to…"
"Oh, no you don't." Her arms went around his neck, and she tugged him closer. She breathed in his scent, which was still masculine. Still sexy. Still *Clark*. She looked into his eyes, which were still Clark's, too, no matter what he did in his spare time. They were Clark's eyes, and they were shining with such love for her that she wondered how she'd missed it for so long. She knew that like the truth about Superman, the truth about Clark's feelings for her had been staring her in the face for a very long time. She'd just chosen not to see it, but that was a mistake she would never make again. "You're not going to get out of it that easily. The deal was that if you met the challenge, you got a kiss… right?"
"Right," he said, his mouth curving in a smile.
"Well, then, what are you waiting for?"
"This moment, Lois," he said softly, and then he leaned forward and finally captured her lips with a kiss that was a sweet mixture of tenderness and passion. He drew back and gave her a look so intense that it stopped her breath. "My whole life, I've been waiting for this moment."
Author's Note: This story was written for my friend LaraMoon. She requested a "story about a challenge" and this was the result. Thank you, Lara, for the inspiration! Thanks also to GE Classicalla for her many helpful suggestions :).