By IRC Round Robin
Submitted May 10, 1998
Summary: It's flashback time to the second season, before "The Phoenix" but after "Season's Greedings" and "Metallo", when Lois and Clark were best friends and partners, but clearly on the edge of something *more*. This "in between" story speculates on what off-screen events might have triggered Clark to finally ask Lois out on a date, and Lois to accept.
An IRC Round Robin by EmmyRose <email@example.com> ; Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; Kirshnera <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Zoomway <email@example.com>; AMCiotola <AMCiotola@aol.com>; ChiefPam <firstname.lastname@example.org>; DorDor <email@example.com>; Chrispat <firstname.lastname@example.org>; debz ; Lansbury <email@example.com>; THWacky <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Demi <email@example.com>
The scent of caffeine was a lingering aroma in the newsroom of the Daily Planet as Clark Kent emerged from the elevator. It seemed like a regular morning for Clark, colored by a simple rescue of a cat in a tree. Not even the sun could shine more brightly, in his eyes, than the smile of a child.
However, the morning seemed anything but average for his partner-in-byline, Lois Lane. As he walked closer to her desk, her voice, in its most animated tone, was dripping with sugary sweetness. She must want something, he mused.
"Andrew! Oh, dear. How long has it been?" she chimed. "Oh! Five years?" Lois' face fell for a moment. "Um … I've been … busy," she continued, sinking back into her chair. "I was just wondering if you were going to the Alumnus Association's meeting in D.C." Lois bit her lip in anticipation.
Even on the telephone, Lois knew how to get to the heart of the matter. Clark tapped Lois on the shoulder. Lois whipped around and motioned in a frantic wave for Clark to be quiet.
"Okay … " Clark sat on the edge of her desk.
Lois threw the latest edition of the Daily Planet at him. "Page four."
** Thaddeus Franklin, "Man of the Decade" **
Clark did a double take when he read the header.
"No, Andrew. Wasn't talking to you." She darted a look Clark's way. "I was just thinking that it would be a great way to … uh … " Lois struggled. "Reunite? Taking advantage? Me? Lois Lane?" she exclaimed. "Never!"
Clark suppressed a laugh. Apparently Andrew didn't. Lois hung up the phone with a loud crash.
"The *nerve* of some people." Lois clenched her fists in the air.
"Oh, yes, Lois. The nerve." Clark smiled and shook his finger at her. "So, what's up, Lois?"
"It's only *the* event of the year—no, make that the decade." Lois pointed to the page four article.
"Um … Lois … "
"I *have to be there … I just—"
"Um … Lois!"
Before Clark could answer, Perry appeared at the door of his office and bellowed, "Lois, Clark! Inside, NOW!"
Lois and Clark exchanged quizzical looks and then turned and entered Perry's office.
"Is there a problem, Perry?" Lois asked as she perched herself on the corner of Perry's desk.
"It depends, Lois. How successful have you been in scaring up an invite to that Midwestern University Alumni shindig in Washington?"
"We … er … I … er … "
"I thought so," Perry said with more than a hint of irritation in his voice. Heaving a heavy sigh he turned to Clark
"Chief," Clark interrupted, "would you mind filling me in on what's going on? I'm a little out of the loop this morning."
Now it was Lois' turn to sigh. "Like I was saying before, Clark, it's the story of the decade, Thaddeus Franklin, computer whiz, the man who broke Bob Fences' monopoly on computer operating systems with his program Doors93 is going to be given an award at Midwestern State University's Alumni meeting."
"The boy's apparently gun-shy around the press, never given an interview, and I want the Planet to be the paper that finally snags him," Perry interjected.
Clark nodded and then picked up the paper and smiled at the picture of Franklin. "I can't believe old TK finally made good on that dream of his to change the world."
Perry cleared his throat. "TK?" he asked.
"Sure," Clark replied. "Thaddeus sounds kind of … dorky … so we all called him TK."
Lois stared at him. "We?" Perry echoed her sentiment.
"Well," Clark explained, "he was an old friend of mine. We went to the same university."
Lois' shocked countenance changed rapidly to anger. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"You never asked," was Clark's reply.
At this point, Perry jumped into the conversation. "So you went to MSU?"
"Yes … "
"And do you have an invitation to this reunion?"
"Yes … "
"What a lucky break this is!" he exclaimed. "Thank you, Elvis!!"
Clark pulled something out of his pocket. "I have the invitation right here. It's for me and any 'significant other we're dying to meet'."
Perry shook Clark's hand. "Congratulations, son." Then he shook Lois' hand. "I'm so happy for you!"
Clark was lost, but Lois got it. "The wedding's next June, hope you can make it!"
"I'll be there," he grinned. "But don't invite too many of Clark's college buddies."
"Oh," said Clark. "I guess I've got a significant other?"
"So you two go to this reunion, have a good time, and … "
"Get the story, of course," Clark finished.
"You've got it!" Perry said. "Good luck. Go pack."
"It's not 'till the weekend," Clark protested. "And it's only Wednesday!"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Don't procrastinate. Darling," she added with a smile.
"Oh-kay," Clark said, and he and Lois left the room.
"Well, this is shaping up to be a really good day," said Lois. She wouldn't have to go with Andrew, that loser. Clark was much more tolerable, even pleasant to be with. Not only could she get the interview, she might actually have a good time while doing so.
"What are you grinning about, Lois?" he asked.
"Oh … nothing. Can't I be pleased about getting the interview of the century?"
Clark hadn't thought that it looked like her usual hungry 'I've got a *story*' grin, but he shrugged it off. She was allowed to be happy.
Though, Clark thought, it was odd that Lois didn't become 'intense' over the pairing that had been foisted on her by Perry. Clark shook his head. It didn't make a lot of sense, but he had felt his heart skip a beat when Lois had said "darling".
He glanced up at her when he returned to his desk, and then was embarrassed to see she had been looking at him. He hadn't expected that. It was disconcerting. She *never* was looking at him when he sneaked a look at her. At least it seemed Lois found it just as awkward. She swept a strand of hair behind her ear, forgetting a pencil was tucked there already. It was propelled backward and hit the floor.
Clark knew a good excuse when he saw one. He retrieved the pencil and carried it back to Lois. He held it up as he leaned against her desk. Were her ears red?
"Thank you," she said curtly, grabbing the pencil.
"You're welcome," he said, enjoying the blush being on her cheeks for a change.
Lois took a deep breath and began typing furiously, all the time well aware that Clark had not budged. She finally dropped her hands with an exasperated sigh. "What!?"
Clark smiled. "Nothin'," he said casually and walked slowly back to his desk. He saw the pencil sail past him. Oh yes, Clark thought, this was more like it.
Clark stood at the luggage carousel contemplating the last couple of days. The awkward glances, the smiles that came and went just as quickly when noticed accidentally. Now they were in Washington, and the hotel confirmation letter seemed like a tonic in his jacket pocket. One room. It was perfect.
"Okay," Lois said as she hurried up to Clark. "I rented the car so we're all set. Did you get the hotel rooms confirmed?"
"Mm hm," Clark said, lifting his one suitcase, and all three of Lois'.
"Good," she said, trying to hide her surprise at Clark being able to carry so much weight. Then again, he was dressed casually, and she could see his powerful back beneath the fabric.
"Lois, you want to drive? Lois..?"
"Huh … oh, yes, of course I'm drool … driving!"
After what seemed like an eternity, they finally got their car from the rental booth.
Walking out to where it was parked, Lois stopped dead in her tracks. "That's the best they could give us?" They stood there looking at a 1989 Yugo.
Grumbling, Lois climbed into the driver's side and reached over to unlock the other door for Clark, who was putting their luggage in the trunk. His superhearing picked up Lois saying something about The Club and who would want to steal this piece of cardboard they call a car. He slipped into the passenger side while trying to hide his grin.
"Clark, this doesn't even have a radio—I mean come on, even the crappiest of cars have at least an AM radio."
"Well, Lois, there are better things to do than listen to the radio."
"Oh, like what?"
Before starting the car, she turned and gave Clark her brightest smile. She didn't know why she did, but it felt good. Not to mention she was rewarded with a smile back. She felt her insides melt. She felt as if something big was gonna happen this weekend and she didn't mean the story Did I just think that? Lois asked herself.
She found her way out of the airport and started to head north toward the hotel.
"Okay, Lois, you need to follow the 395, otherwise known as the Beltway, for a short distance until we hit downtown D.C., then we gotta find Pennsylvania Avenue, ya know the one with the big white house on it?" He grinned.
Lois drove north into the city. She hadn't gotten too far before she realized she had no idea where she was. "Stupid traffic circles," she muttered under her breath.
"Where are we supposed to be going again?" she demanded impatiently. Clark checked his notes. "The Willard Intercontinental."
"Thank you, that's very helpful. Now could you tell me which street it's on?"
"Pennsylvania and 14th Street," Clark replied, checking the map he'd gotten from AAA before the trip.
"Yeah, but is that northwest, southeast, what? How many times does Pennsylvania cross 14th street?"
"Hmm, good question." He studied the map a few moments longer. Lois took the occasion to animadvert bitterly about city planners who built a city on horizontal, vertical, and diagonal streets instead of a more sensible grid.
An hour later, after much confusion, they finally reached their hotel. Lois was so grateful to have arrived that she'd have sworn nothing else could possibly upset her. Until she found out they were booked into only one room.
"*What*? How could you??" Lois hissed at her former partner.
"Well … " he began sheepishly, only to be cut off by a voice from behind him.
"Clark! Man, it's good to see you!"
Clark turned, and smiled brilliantly. "Jeeber! Great to see you, too." He dragged Lois forward. "Meet my fiancie, Lois Lane."
Lois glared at him briefly, letting him know that this was not over, but then managed to get into character, smiling at the newcomer. "Pleased to meet you … Jeeber?"
"A college nickname, Ms. Lane," 'Jeeber' explained, gallantly kissing her hand. "My initials are GB, so … "
"You guys were big on nicknames, weren't you," Lois smiled. "Like TK, for instance?"
Clark shot her a warning look; they didn't need to be quite so obvious about this, but she ignored him. Jeeber laughed. "I guess Clark told you about him, huh? Yeah, he always hated Thaddeus. I tell ya—names are so important. Now, when you have kids you won't do that to them, will you?" He grinned broadly at the joke, and elbowed Clark in the ribs.
Lois forced a laugh. "Oh no, Clark and I won't name our kids anything awful, I can promise you that." A covert glare at Clark drove home her point; by the time she was done with him, he'd be lucky to have kids at all, and certainly never with her.
"Well, your kids will be grateful." Jeeber gave them a jovial grin. "When's the date anyway? I need to make sure to keep it free."
"Oh … that's great." Clark was stalling and getting 'that look', the one he had when he had forgotten to return a video, pick up his mail, or missed his barber appointment—anything embarrassing. "Yeah, the date … "
"We haven't quite settled that yet," Lois came to the rescue. "We had hoped for spring, but with two large families and numerous friends to accommodate, it's not easy."
"Ah, I see. Well, Clark *was* popular back in school. And with you, he's certainly got … "
Now it was Lois' turn to get uncomfortable. But just as Jeeber was about to finish his sentence, there was a honking noise from the entrance way and then a bellhop came up and signaled Jeeber.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Jeeber shrugged. "I think my cab has arrived. Nice to have met you, Ms. Lane. I'm looking forward to seeing you at the reception tonight."
Both Lois and Clark smiled politely, then turned back to the task at hand. Their baggage was still parked in the lobby. Clark was just about to pick it up when the bellhop returned, picked up the suitcases and motioned them to follow him.
Lois hesitated, wanting to turn back to the reception desk to again try to find a solution to the room problem. Just then, however, the hotel's front doors opened and in came a noisily chattering group of women just about their age.
Momentarily distracted, Lois made a face and was about to comment to Clark when she noticed him first paling and then blushing slightly. As if on cue, one of the women, the one leading the group and wearing a pink dress and a matching feather hat, took notice of them, started to wave frantically, and let her high pitched "Hey, Clarkie!" ring through the lobby.
Although she was still mad about having them booked into one room, Lois didn't want her partner to be subjected to that attack, nor did she feel ready to face it.
She made up her mind, grabbed Clark's hand, and pulled him after the retreating figure of the bellhop who had turned around and was looking at them questioningly from the elevator doors. They made a rather hasty retreat in the direction of the elevator, Clark letting out a sigh of relief and Lois mumbling under her breath.
The elevator deposited them on the fifth floor, and the boy led them to their room. Once the baggage was inside, and the boy tipped and gone, Lois glanced around the room, taking inventory.
The room was clean and homey looking, comfortable enough. But … it being located in the side wing of the hotel should have given her warning.
Clark had finally found his voice again. He was mumbling something about the hotel having been overbooked. But that wasn't all.
There were two easy chairs and a table, TV, wardrobe … everything for comfort. But only one bed. Not even a sofa. So if neither of them was to sleep on the floor, they'd need to share.
Whoever had arranged for this was going to pay. She turned to face Clark.
"Okay, buster! Whose bright idea was this?"
Clark had the grace to blush. "I'm sorry, Lois. I figured if we were supposed to be engaged, we would have one room. I thought there would be two beds."
"Oh yeah? And what if I happened to be an old-fashioned girl, who believed in being patient?"
Clark snorted, "Yeah, right.," earning a poisonous look from Lois.
"Just what is your opinion of me, anyway? Just because I had the bad judgment to confide in you about Claude, does that give you the right to judge my morals?" Lois was really seething.
Clark gulped. "Lois … please. I'm really sorry. It was a mistake. I haven't had much experience in the relationship thing, myself."
Lois harumphed, not mollified, and Clark proceeded to dig himself in even deeper.
"Um … I mean … if I ever get engaged … I kind of thought … well, I kind of hoped … oh. I don't know!" He ground to a stop looking at Lois helplessly.
Lois threw him a look of exasperation. "Honestly, Clark, I pity the woman you ever get engaged to. She's probably going to need ESP. You're hopeless."
Clark looked at his feet. That hadn't gone too well. He was beginning to despair that they would ever get through this weekend still speaking to each other, when the phone rang. He went to answer it gratefully.
"Hi, Perry. Yes, we're here … "
Lois wandered to the window as Clark talked to Perry on the phone. Despite her words to Clark, it wasn't anger that churned in her gut. It was nervousness. And real attraction.
Despite their competitive streaks and their arguments, she had always been aware of Clark on a purely feminine level. She was human, after all. And she wasn't blind. She knew that other women found him as attractive as she did. But the idea of taking things further than partners, further even than friendship, both tantalized and terrified her.
She glanced at the bed. The single, lone bed that she was supposed to share with Clark. Her buddy. Her partner. Her pal. Her closest friend who probably had the nicest buns in Metropolis.
Realizing that she was staring at the buns in question, she jerked her gaze back to the window. Good Lord, what if Clark had seen her staring at him? "Get a grip, Lois," she muttered.
She heard Clark hang up the phone and experienced a jolt of panic. She wasn't ready to face him yet. Him or that bed.
"Everything all right with Perry?" she asked brightly, grabbing her bag from the table.
"Yeah, everything's fine." Clark watched her with that puzzled expression that she found endearing.
"Great. I'll be right back." She dashed into the bathroom.
Clark watched the bathroom door slam. What had gotten into Lois? One minute she was tearing into him, the next minute she was Suzie Bright Eyes and dashing into the bathroom as if nothing was wrong. Very odd behavior. Which of course was normal for Lois.
He resisted the impulse to look through the door and make sure she was all right. He couldn't violate her privacy like that, so he settled for knocking on the door. "You okay in there, Lois?"
"Just fine, Clark!" came the cheerful reply. "Be out in a minute!"
He pursed his lips and frowned at the door. Something was definitely up with her, and knowing Lois, it could be anything.
A knock came from the hallway door. He hesitated, then went to answer it. With his mind still on Lois, he was totally unprepared for what happened next.
"Clarkie!" Melanie Griswold, the curvy blond in the pink dress who'd almost cornered him in the lobby, threw herself into his arms. He stumbled backwards, spitting out the feather from her hat that had somehow got caught in his mouth.
"Isn't this great?" She hugged his face to her generous chest and grinned conspiratorially at him. "I bribed that cute little bellhop to let me up here. I've missed you!"
He knew it was going to happen. It never happened any other way.
The bathroom door clicked open behind him. He tried to turn, but Melanie wrapped around him like wet wallpaper unbalanced him. They both tumbled backwards on to the bed.
Lois came out of the bathroom, raised her eyebrows and said in that *tone* of voice he knew so well, "Puh-leeze, don't let me interrupt."
If looks could kill, Melanie would be dead, Clark thought, and he would be pretty close to the critical list himself.
He quickly got off the bed brushing feathers off his clothes and pulled Melanie from her horizontal position.
"Lois, *dear*, I want you to meet Melanie Griswold."
"Don't be so formal, Clarkie," Melanie chided. "You used to call me Melly during our all-night study sessions."
Turning to Lois she extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Lois," she said with an artificially sweet smile.
Lois matched Melly's grin with a tight smile of her own. "And it's a pleasure to meet you, *Melly*."
An awkward silence hung over the room for a few moments until Clark spoke up.
Clark looked at each of the women standing in the hotel room. He thought to himself he'd better get them out among other people before they started exchanging sweet-tart comments about one another. "Lois, sweetheart, where did you say you wanted to go to dinner?"
"It doesn't matter to me. The reception starts in a few hours, so wherever you want to eat is fine with me."
Before Clark could reply, Melly jumped into the conversation with the grace and ease of a woman who was used to getting her own way. "A group of us have made reservations at the Red Sage. Why don't you join us? We have plenty of room."
Clark looked at Lois. She raised her eyebrows in a questioning movement. Clark smiled at Melly. "We would love to."
Lois walked over to where he was standing and very skillfully put her arm around his waist. "That would be wonderful, precious."
Clark could feel her fingernails as they dug into the flesh above his belt and he gave a small groan, not of pain but of excitement, as he felt her hand move slowly over the area she'd just assaulted.
Lois had always known Clark was in great shape but it wasn't until she pressed her hand into his waist that she realized the soft tissue of skin covered a body of steel. Her reaction to this new bit of information made her heartbeat quicken. She hastily moved away. "I'll get my things and I'll be ready to leave whenever you two are."
As they entered the Red Sage, to the threesome's surprise they were greeted by …
… one of the President's aides leaving the restaurant. He glanced over. "Ms Lane, Mr. Kent. Here in Washington covering the President?" he asked, sounding friendly, yet nervous.
"No," Clark shrugged. "Just an alumni get-together."
"Thank God," the man whispered, then said more loudly, "well, enjoy your stay in our fair city."
Lois glanced over to a small art display of a skeletal man astride the skeleton of a horse.
Melly crinkled her nose. "That is just horrid."
"Not at all," Clark smiled. "It's a common figurine to commemorate—"
"'La dMa de los muertos'," Lois finished his sentence.
Clark smiled broadly. "I'm impressed."
Melly sighed. "I'll get a table," she said flatly.
"I've been to Mexico for the festival, Clark," she said, and looked up at him. His smile was sometimes unnerving. Clark shifted his glance to the figurine, not sure what to make of Lois' sudden discomfort.
"Me too, but I went with my parents as a little boy. I'd like to go back some day."
Lois nudged him with her elbow. "We have a honeymoon coming up." Their eyes locked.
Clark swallowed. "Sounds good."
"We have a table," Melly said. The couple did not take their eyes from each other. "We have a *table*," she repeated.
"Oh," Lois blushed. "Let's … eat."
Clark let out a long sigh as he followed the two women to the table. He was feeling … what? Spring fever? He couldn't concentrate. All he could think of was dumping Melly. He'd never thought in such terms before. Lois seemed to be crawling all over his higher logic functions, civility and everything else. He … loved it.
He pulled out a chair for Melly, but kept his eyes on Lois. If Melly needed a brick wall, she needn't look far. He was holding her chair. "Thank you, Clark," she said cheerily, trying to recoup a loss she had no prayer of recovering.
Clark pulled out Lois' chair, handed her a napkin and scooted his chair next to hers. "We can share the menu … if that's okay, sweetheart."
Lois blinked a couple of times and grabbed the left half of the menu. She knew Clark was being unintentionally rude, but.. she loved that. That it was entirely unintentional meant his interest was singular.
Melly was about to try getting closer to Clark one more time when Jeeber walked up. He pulled a chair from the other side of Melly and sat down between her and Clark. Melly, miffed at being pushed out of the way, slid her chair away from Jeeber.
Lois couldn't help but feel grateful. She smiled, "Hi, Jeeber, nice to see you again." Before he had a chance to reply, several others walked up to the table.
She picked him right out of the group. He stood tall, but still shorter than Clark, with dark hair, darker than Clark's. But for a wealthy and powerful man who was about to dominate the computer world, passing Bob Fences by a few million, he did not seem too sure of himself. On the other hand, Clark always walked with confidence. Why am I comparing him to Clark, she began to wonder.
Clark stood up and he and TK did some kind of secret handshake thingy that looked like something only fraternity brothers would know.
"Hey, TK, it's been a long time."
"I know. How's everything, I hear you're a hotshot reporter."
"Ah, well, nothing compared to a hotshot computer whiz." Clark turned and was about to introduce Lois to him when suddenly Melly appeared and slid between Clark and TK.
"TK darling!" she said as she wrapped her arms around the startled man and gave him a big hug. "It's been ages and we have so much to catch up on!" That said, she grabbed TK by the hand and began dragging him off from the rest of the group to a more private corner of the restaurant.
TK shrugged and smiled. "Talk to you later," he called over his shoulder to Clark as Melly hustled him away.
Lois gave Clark a little shove. "What was that all about? The nerve of that woman, breaking in on your conversation that way?! Are you going to let her get away with that?!" she demanded, and then added with a frown, "Does she greet every man she used to know in college like that? She's going to break some poor man's rib one of these days."
Clark opened his mouth to attempt to answer just as the waiter, whose name tag said Bill, came up and asked for a drink order. They sat down at the table again. Lois was still in full spate.
"And why didn't you introduce me? Here I am pretending to be a devoted fiancie and you don't even think about introducing me. How can we keep a cover if you won't even act like we're engaged?"
"I was about to, Lois … I'm sorry." Clark decided his best bet was to act humble. "I'll introduce you to him tomorrow, between meetings. That'll give us a better chance to talk anyway."
"Hmpf. You'd better," Lois grumped, but she could be patient if she had to. And a group dinner in a crowded restaurant was not the ideal circumstance for an in-depth interview anyway. She consoled herself by deciding to observe TK tonight, sort of a passive interview.
Her resolve didn't last long, however, as drinks arrived and the reunion crowd began to loosen up and enjoy the evening. Even Clark unbent much more than she was used to seeing; it was almost like seeing him back at that corn festival in Smallville.
This was an alumni meeting, not a specific class reunion, but this particular subgroup had all graduated within a few years of each other, so they were all acquainted. And they were all, to one degree or another, very curious about the woman Clark was engaged to.
"So, Lois," Melly asked sweetly, "how did Clark and you meet? He's always been so quiet, I didn't think anyone could catch him."
Lois smiled at the woman she had unconsciously labeled a rival. "Oh, we work together." On a sudden whim, she added, "All those long stakeouts, late nights … we really bonded, didn't we sweetheart?" She glanced over at Clark, with laughter in her eyes, wondering what his reaction would be to her act.
He was gazing down at his dinner roll, shredding it, and she was surprised to see a wistful smile on his face.
Belatedly, he looked up, and the heat in his gaze took her breath away. A second later, it was gone, and she blinked, almost convinced that she'd imagined it.
"No, actually, Melly," he replied softly, never taking his eyes from Lois, "it was love at first sight."
Melly smiled brightly and quickly changed the subject, turning the conversation back to more general topics.
The rest of the evening passed quickly for Lois. She found it disturbingly easy to act as if she were head over heels in love with Clark … and he was a better actor than she would have thought, given how bad he was at lying. If she didn't know better, she'd swear that he was completely in love with her.
Before she knew it, the meal was over, and it was time to leave. The relaxed mood lasted until Lois and Clark reached the rental car, and realized they were alone together.
They stood in front of the car a little awkwardly. Eventually, Clark cleared his throat and started to fumble for the car keys. Eventually, he got them into the lock … but the lock obstinately refused to be opened.
Once she realized what the problem was, Lois giggled, breaking the tension. "I *knew* we were in trouble when I first caught sight of this … car."
"Well, it's not so bad. It didn't break down on us. Let's just see if we can't fix it … "
He pulled the key out of the lock, breathed on it, and reinserted it back into the lock, giving Lois a reassuring smile. Then he gave it a skilled little twist and came away with the bottom half of the key in his hand and the front part locked securely in the door.
Lois turned her eyes heavenward. "Men."
Taking out her key, she walked around to the other, as yet undamaged door on the driver's side. When her key wouldn't open the door either, she pulled a hairpin from her pocket, opening the door in two seconds flat. "See. Easy," she said. "You'll have to climb in on my side and scoot over, though."
"No problem," Clark made his way by her, brushing against her as he somewhat awkwardly clambered across the driver's seat and the gearshift.
"Careful with the stick," Lois warned belatedly just as Clark's pant leg got caught on the stick and he bumped into her, halfway pulling her down with him on the driver's seat.
When they had disentangled themselves from a confusion of arms, legs, steering wheel and stick, both were out of breath.
Feeling a little awkward, Lois blushed and looked at Clark, finding his gaze upon her. Seeing Clark blushing in response, she cleared her throat. "Well, you better get into that seat *carefully*. We need to get a move on, or we'll never make the reception."
Once they were finally settled in the car, Lois started the engine. They left the windows open and drove fairly slowly despite Lois' earlier warning to hurry.
The spring air was mild and smelled faintly of … something sweet … cherry blossoms? Lois wished there was time to see those. If she was honest, she would much rather spend the time with Clark than go to another official meeting. Much as she had enjoyed seeing him with his school contemporaries, she had had enough of that for one night … and the reception was bound to be more formal.
She sighed and settled back in her seat, taking a firmer hold of the steering wheel and resigning herself to her fate.
And then there was a noise and bump as the car jerked under her. Alarmed, she stepped on the brakes and managed to steer the car over to the side of the road before it completely sagged on the passenger side.
The passenger door still refused to open, so they had to clamber out the same way they had gotten in. Once that was accomplished, they walked around and took inventory. Not only did they have a *very* flat flat tire but it looked like the whole wheel was about to come off.
"We'll need to change the wheel," Clark diagnosed, only to find that there was no spare in the trunk.
"Looks like we're stranded," Lois said, trying to sound remorseful.
"Not even a phone close by," Clark responded. "Or did you see one?"
"No. Just this park here … and deserted office buildings over yonder."
"Well, the main street should be over that way through the park." Clark nodded in the general direction.
A walk through the park with a guy she … found interesting … wasn't so bad, Lois thought. Out loud she said, "Well, then we have to try that."
That said, they tried in vain to lock their car and set out towards the park, she slipping her arm through his unobtrusively after a few steps.
"Actually," Clark said as they began to walk, "we're not all that far from the Tidal Basin, maybe we could take a side trip and see the cherry blossoms. They can be a pretty spectacular sight."
Lois nodded in agreement and snuggled a little closer to Clark as the wind picked up.
"You're getting cold, maybe we'd better go back."
"No, I'll be fine. Let's keep walking. I haven't been to Washington as a tourist since I was in grade school. This is real treat for me," Lois said, giving Clark a warm smile. "I think the Lincoln Memorial is down near the cherry trees, right?"
"Actually, it's the Jefferson Memorial."
Clark took off his jacket and draped it over Lois' shoulders.
They walked together in silence for a few moments, then Lois spoke. "So exactly how did you meet the *renowned* Thaddeus Franklin?" she said with a sly grin.
"Are you interviewing me for background material?" Clark asked, returning her grin.
"No, I really want to know how you two met. Did he play football too?"
"TK?! Hardly. He was never really a team player, you know."
"More of a lone wolf."
"You know the type. Single-minded, focused, always thinking of work and little else."
Lois nodded and laughed nervously. "Yeah, I know a few people like that. So what brought you two together?"
"We go back quite a few years. His mother and my mother were childhood friends. In fact they were neighbors until Betsy moved out west with her family. She and Mom kept their friendship alive through cards and letters but lost contact until they met again at a friend's wedding. I was about nine then and TK was the same age. We had a ball at the wedding. So you could say we met that day and have been friends ever since. As time went by our friendship grew. His father was really busy with the family business he inherited from his father so he didn't have much time to be with TK."
Lois listened as Clark continued talking about his friend.
"I remember one summer TK came to stay with us at the farm. At first he was like a fish out of water. But by the end of the summer we all hated to see him leave. In fact for many summers after that he would come and visit, always working right alongside me and Dad in the fields, never complaining about any of the hard work. I always teased him he could bring his butler along but he knew I wasn't serious."
Lois stopped as they came to a crosswalk. "Let's go this way."
They changed their direction and now were heading towards the Washington Monument in the distance. "Are you sure you don't want to go back?"
"No, I enjoy listening to you talk. Tell me more."
Clark continued. "We kinda lost contact when we were about fourteen. His father decided to send him to a prep school back east. We stayed in contact but it wasn't until I decided to go to MSU that he called and said he was going there too. We became roommates and are still friends."
Lois looked up at Clark and realized there were so many things about him she didn't know. She wanted to know.
They were on the Mall, passing the Washington Monument and heading towards the Lincoln Memorial when she caught a movement to the left of them. Her hold on his arm tightened as she sensed something wasn't right.
Clark turned his head, also sensing the presence of someone else. But when he saw that someone, his worried look disintegrated.
"Jacie! How are you?" he asked.
Lois was surprised. "You know her? What am I saying? Of course you know her. You know everybody here."
The woman walked up to them. "I didn't think I could tail Clark for very long. He always did have a sort of a sixth sense."
"Jacie, this is Lois, my fiancie."
"Oh, how nice! I'm—"
Lois interrupted. "Wait, let me guess. Julie Cassano? Jess Cartwright?"
"No, Jacie Person." She had a puzzled look on her face.
"Oh, um, I thought JC was another initials name," Lois explained sheepishly.
Jacie giggled a little. "No, it's my real name. So, Clark, how've you been?"
"Fine, fine. As you can see," he said, gesturing to Lois.
"Yes! Congratulations on your engagement! That's wonderful." Jacie turned to Lois and whispered, "We're going to have to exchange stories! I'll let you know what you're getting yourself into!"
Lois smiled. Despite herself, she was starting to like this woman.
"Sure. Sounds good."
"So, Jacie, how have you been?" asked Clark.
"Oh, fine. I got myself hitched, too."
"Congratulations," Lois said.
"Anybody I know?" asked Clark.
"Nope. His name's James. So, where are you guys off to?" she asked them.
"We were going to go see the Lincoln Memorial. And then maybe buy a new tire for our car."
"Uh oh. Trouble?"
"You could say that," Lois said, sounding slightly annoyed. "But we're going to have a good time here anyway. Aren't we, sweetheart?"
Clark smiled. "We sure are!"
Lois couldn't help but think back to the situation with their hotel room. Maybe a very good time indeed.
"I can give you a ride if you need," Jacie offered.
"Thanks," said Clark. "We'd appreciate that."
"Would you like to come see the Lincoln Memorial with us?" Clark asked.
Lois couldn't help but wince at the offer. She suddenly didn't want Jacie tagging along. It wasn't anything against Jacie; she just wanted to be alone with Clark. So she was greatly relieved to hear Jacie say, "No, I have some errands to run. But I could pick you up here insaytwo hours?"
"No, that's okay," said Clark. "We'll get back on our own. Don't worry."
"All right then. Bye, Lois, Clark. Have a nice time!"
"Bye, Jacie. It was nice meeting you."
They parted company, waving goodbye to each other.
Clark looked down at Lois. "Are you sure you want to see the Lincoln Memorial? It's still a good distance away on foot."
Lois could hear the concern in his voice and knew it had to be about the flat tire. "How about we postpone that for a later time when we don't have to worry about car problems?"
Clark was relieved to hear her say that. "I'm glad you understand. I think we should call the hotel for them to send a tow truck for the car. I'll ask them to send us a limousine to take us to meet the others."
Lois nodded in agreement to that. "Just make sure you remember where they're taking the car. But, Clark, are you sure we should use a limo? What will Perry say when he sees that one on the expense account?"
"I thought we could swing by and ask TK to join us. Now our next problem is to locate a phone."
Lois looked sheepishly at her shoes as she opened her purse and handed him her cell phone.
"You had this all along? Why didn't you say something before now?"
She shrugged. "Just wanted a cheap tour of the city, I guess."
Clark smiled and ordered the limo, then returned the phone. "Well," he Said, "I hope you weren't disappointed in the 'cheap tour'."
"No," she said airily. "It did make me wonder something, though."
"Why Superman chose Metropolis instead of Washington, D.C. If any city was begging for help, it's this one."
Clark laughed softly. "Well, maybe D.C .seemed too partisan, and politics is harder to save than a collapsing bridge. Besides," he said, looking right into her eyes. "There are a few attractions in Metropolis that can't be found anywhere else."
Lois looked into his steady gaze. It seemed more comforting than disconcerting for once. "But don't you ever wonder, Clark? There are so many places in the world he might be of better help."
Clark sighed and looked up into the sky. "I know. I was in Kuching—"
"It means 'cat city'," he smiled. "In Sarawak."
"Ah, Borneo. I remember your 'gecko' story."
He laughed again. "Yeah, I was pretty naive thinking that would get me on the staff at a great metropolitan newspaper."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. What about Kuching?"
"The rain forest there caught fire when I was staying in the capital. Even that far away you could feel the heat. It was like the air itself was on fire. It was the middle of the night but the sky glowed red in the distance, and a blur of black smoke above it. It was like God took His thumb and smeared the sky. I … I wished Superman existed then … could have helped.."
Lois put a hand on Clark's arm. She felt like comforting him, as if he were taking the whole thing personally. "He can't help when he's not there, Clark. He does what he can."
Clark shrugged and forced a smile. "I know, and maybe that's another reason he chose Metropolis. A big city, lots of news reaching out everywhere. He can stay on top of what happens in the rest of the world."
"Makes sense," she nodded. "You know, you have a very romantic past—" she cut herself off. She'd meant to say "adventurous"—how Freudian could she get?
"What was that?" Clark was looking at her with at least a trace of astonishment.
"Huh … ?" Lois bit her tongue, feeling a blush rise to her cheeks.
"Oh … past … It's way past the hour." She fought down a pang of regret at the next words she was going to utter. "We better hurry to meet that limo if we want to at least catch the end of that reception."
"Yeah. We'd better."
Had he caught that slip of the tongue? Had he been able to see her blush? She had been standing with her back facing the nearest lamp. So … probably not. Anyway, it would be better to get the conversation back to safer ground.
"Where is the reception, anyway?"
"Union Station," he said as they started walking towards the street.
"That sounds like a train station … "
"Well it is … I mean it was. But they renovated it. It's really pretty now. I still remember it from the way it used to be. I was just out of high school then, visiting a friend here."
They had fallen in step easily, and she had slipped her hand through his offered arm without much thinking. 'Hurrying' to meet the limo turned into a leisurely stroll. Lois sneaked a glance up at her companion's face. Clark was relaxed and smiling as he recounted his first visit to Washington, D.C., a "farmboy on the town" adventure.
"Is your friend going to be here tonight, too?" she asked.
"No," Clark sobered momentarily. "He was in a motorbike accident that same fall. He died on the way to the hospital. I never saw him again … "
"I'm sorry." She squeezed his arm slightly.
"I wish … "
"Hey, you sound like you're blaming yourself. You're not Superman, you can't be everywhere at once."
"No. But … he was from Kansas originally. Only moved here with his parents during his senior year. He wanted to come back to Kansas with me at the end of that summer … I persuaded him to stay and accept the scholarship he had been offered here."
Lois again looked at him. He might not be Superman, but he still shouldered a lot of the blame for the mishaps in the world. And her heart reached out to him. At a loss for words, she stopped and hugged him instead.
They had almost reached the street. They stayed in the embrace for a long moment. When they parted, Clark smiled down at her and said quietly, "Thanks." Then, cocking his head and peering over the rim of his glasses, added. "Our limo has arrived."
"Let's face the lion's den," she replied, again falling in step with him as they headed towards the waiting car.
As they crossed the last few yards of the park, one of Lois' heels sank into the soft grass, and she stumbled. Clark caught her before she fell, but not in time to prevent her from wrenching her ankle.
"Lois, are you all right?" Clark's concern was evident in his voice and in his anguished expression.
Lois' ankle was hurting, but she couldn't help a small chuckle. "Clark, this wasn't your fault either." She disengaged herself from his arms and started to walk toward the limousine, but pain shot up her leg and she collapsed to the ground with a moan.
Clark instantly swept her up in his arms and carried her to the limo, settling her into the back seat and climbing in next to her.
He picked up her foot and examined her ankle, surreptitiously lowering his glasses for a quick x-ray. Thankfully, nothing seemed to be broken, but her ankle was swelling.
"Take us back to the hotel," he ordered the driver over Lois' protests.
"Clark, we're going to miss that reception. What about the story? Perry will kill us."
Clark released her foot and lifted one hand to cup her cheek. "Lois, you are more important to me than a story. You need to get some ice on that ankle. We'll just have to meet up with TK some other time."
Lois didn't quite know how to react. On the one hand, she was furious with herself for spoiling their chance to get the story, but on the other hand, Clark had just let another tantalizing glimpse of his real feelings to show.
She reached up and covered his hand with her own, turning her head to place a small kiss on his palm. "You know, I'm really beginning to enjoy having a partner."
If I could only tell you how much you *really* mean to me, Lois, Clark thought, " … but I guess this isn't the time or the place," he mumbled.
"What did you say, Clark?"
"I … er, I said I guess we're pretty near the place, our hotel, I mean. Right, driver?"
"Yessir, it should only be ten or fifteen minutes or so at this hour. No traffic; they sort of roll up the streets around here. Most of the hotshots on Capitol Hill have too many power lunches to party at night."
"Well, as long as we're not going to see Thaddeus tonight maybe you can tell me a little bit more about your friendship," Lois said.
"More background material?"
"Clark … "
"Okay, okay, Lois, what is it you'd like to know?"
"Well, you two were close friends at one time, but now you're not. Why is that?" Lois asked, her eyes searching Clark's face despite the gathering darkness in the car.
Clark shrugged. "We just sort of drifted apart after graduation."
"Your lives were going in two different direction, maybe?"
"Sort of. TK always knew where he was going and what he was going to do. There was never any question in his mind. He was going to be one of the Masters of the Universe."
"And you wanted to be a reporter?"
"Well, I wanted to write, that was for certain, but not necessarily for a paper. I wasn't sure of anything when I left school. That's why I traveled so much. I guess I was looking for something."
"What was it?"
Clark shrugged again.
"Well, have you found it?" Lois asked, suddenly apprehensive.
Clark gave her a shy smile. "I think so."
He took her hand and squeezed a little.
She smiled back at him, her heart racing. Wow … Then the driver turned the limo and headed into the hotel parking lot. Clark got out and lifted Lois out behind him.
The limo drove away, leaving them in the parking lot, Clark holding Lois in his arms. As much as Lois liked it, it *was* kind of an embarrassing situation.
She suggested that he put her down and just let her lean on him. They could take the elevator. It wouldn't be too far, especially since they were right in front of the door. So he set her down gingerly and put an arm around her waist. She leaned on his shoulder, putting a minimum of weight on her ankle. In this way, they hobbled through the doors and to the elevator.
They took the elevator up to the fifteenth floor and limped down to room 1538. Clark used his key to open the door, and they went inside.
He set her down on the bed. "Do you need anything?" he asked.
"No, that's okay. But thanks."
"Okay … " he started to say, but she interrupted.
"Wait. Actually, I need to do this," she said. She stretched up and kissed him quickly on the lips.
"Thank you—for everything," she said to his startled face.
Clark couldn't help but smile at her. "You're welcome," he whispered.
Neither one moved for almost a minute. But then the situation changed from enchanting to awkward as nothing happened, and Lois giggled to break the tension.
"Do you wanna … watch a movie or something?" she asked him, running a hand through her hair.
"Sure," he said. "They have cable here." He took the program listings off the top of the TV and handed it to her. "What looks good?"
Actually, my friend, *you* look pretty good right now, she thought, but she took the booklet and read the list of movies. "'Ghost' is starting in a couple of minutes on The Movie Channel. How about that?"
"Okay." Clark found the channel and lay down next to Lois on the bed. To his delight, she snuggled up close to him.
The movie came on, and neither one of them minded anymore that they had missed the big party.
"Ouch," Lois sighed.
Clark looked at her, a worried look on his face. "Everything all right, Lois?"
"Yes … well, no," Lois answered. "Actually, my ankle hurts."
Clark got to his feet. "Don't move, Lois. I'll be back in a minute."
Move? How could I move? Lois thought.
After a few minutes, Clark returned with some ice and put it gently on Lois' swollen ankle.
"Oh, that feels great, thank you, Clark." Lois looked up into his eyes.
His hand had moved from her ankle to her leg and rested there for a moment.
Suddenly the quiet moment was ended by the sound of a gunshot.
"What was that?" Clark looked around, not knowing what had happened. He had lost himself so completely in Lois' eyes that he had forgotten about the movie.
Clark gave a self-conscious laugh when he realized that the shot had only been part of the movie they had turned on, but not really followed.
Clark felt a soft tug at his hand. He looked at it. It was still lying on Lois' leg, and now her hand was covering his.
"Oh, Clark." Lois' voice had reached that Laura Petrie pitch. Clark looked over at her. Her eyes were filled with tears.
"Lois, what's wrong, is it your ankle? Do you need a doc—"
"No," she sobbed. "This is *so* sad."
"Oh … let me turn it off—"
"You do, and you die!"
Clark sighed with exasperation. "You just said —
"I know what I *said*, but it's a good cry," she said and pulled a tissue from the nightstand. "I mean, there they are, so in love, and then =BAM= in one lousy … second … oh God," she whispered. She looked up at Clark, her eyes and lashes glistening with tears. "That was you, too."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Lois, don't take this the wrong way, but I have *no* idea what you're talking about."
She put her hand on his chest. "You. It was almost you. Clyde shot you … you were dead."
Clark's face burned. "Lois," he said softly. "I'm okay. I didn't turn into a ghost, or possess Whoopi Goldberg, or jump through a subway. I'm okay … I'm here."
"I know, but—"
He put a finger over her lips. "But nothing. It happened. I had to come back, you owed me $11.95 for your half of Jimmy's birthday present."
Lois laughed even as she cried. "Why can't we ever have a *deep* conversation?"
Clark shrugged. "Switch the channel to 'My Dinner With Andre'."
Lois laughed again. "Or I could bring up your cross-dressing father if we watched 'Tootsie'."
They both laughed. Clark leaned over and hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "Okay?"
Lois sniffed. "Yes. Okay."
"Good," he smiled. "Besides, you're much more attractive than Demi Moore, and I have it all over Patrick Swayze."
Lois threw a tissue at Clark. "You wish!"
Clark made a face of mock surprise. "You don't think so? I'm a pretty good dancer."
"Well," she considered. "Yeah, you're a pretty good dancer, but I don't think you could lift me over your head like he did with Jennifer Grey. "
Clark folded his arms. "You'd be surprised, Lois."
"Not so much anymore." She smiled at him. "Remember, I have you all figured out … well, almost."
He looked at her for a moment contemplatively, then agreed. "Almost."
She studied him as he bent forward to take the wet rag from her ankle and replace it with a fresh cold one from the bowl with the ice water. She tensed for a moment as the cold rag made contact with her skin, then relaxed as the sensation passed, easing the throbbing pain a bit more.
Just a few hours ago, she had been so mad at him when she found out that they were to double up, and that the shared room only had one bed on top of that. She could have killed him. Then that thought made her mentally wince again. Not killed … but … gotten him.
And now … here she was, together in one room with him, her partner and her best friend. They had played "couple" at the dinner earlier, and she had to admit that she had enjoyed it. Then the walk in the moonlight and the smell of cherry blossoms that she hadn't wanted to end. She'd been dreading the reception and the formality and wishing for a way out. Seemed like she had gotten one.
She winced a little when Clark touched her ankle. This way out was a little painful, but she gladly put up with it. Watching that movie had gotten her emotions so close to the surface. She longed to tell him how she felt as she had on that night when she had nearly lost him. More so actually. He had become her partner and her best friend before that fateful day, but since then, when she was honest with herself, she had known there was more.
Now as she looked at him, watching him trail a gentle finger up and down her exposed calf, he glanced up at her. "You know, it is getting late. Think you can stand it if I taped that ankle for you?"
"Huh … ?"
"Well, the swelling has gone down. It would be good if you had some support around it so you don't move it too much in your sleep or strain it more."
"Oh, sure. You'll need to get 'equipment' then?
"No. I've got it together with the ice." He smiled, pulling out an ACE bandage from his coat pocket. Then he removed the moist rag and began to carefully wrap the bandage around her ankle, watching her face for the slightest indication of discomfort.
In the beginning, she held her breath, expecting her ankle to start hurting again, but Clark's fingers were careful and gentle, well versed in what they were doing.
When he was done, he looked at her. "How does that feel?" When she smiled at him reassuringly, he extended a hand to help her up, adding, "Try to stand on it."
She took an experimental step and then another. "All right. I won't run a marathon with this, but a lot better. Thanks."
Picking up a pillow and a blanket from the bed, he said, "Well, time to turn in, I guess."
"Where are you going?" she heard herself ask.
"Well, I'll be sleeping over … " he nodded into the direction of the farthest corner of the room.
"That's all right," she said quickly. "This bed sleeps two."
"Are you sure?" he said, uncertainty written all over his face.
"I'm sure." She smiled. "I trust you, boy scout. Besides, they have a Gideon's here somewhere. We can always put that in the middle … "
He grinned at that and nodded. Returning to the bed, he replaced the pillow and blanket.
They got ready for bed in less than five minutes, not undressing all the way, settling on the big bed. First they were each at opposite ends, but then in silent agreement they moved closer together, and with their hands touching the other's, were asleep within moments.
Sometime about midnight, Clark was startled awake by the sound of fire engines. He started to sit up, but realized that Lois' head was nestled on his shoulder. Somehow it just felt right and he hesitated before easing out from under her.
To his dismay, she woke at once. "Where are you going, Clark?"
"Um … " he gestured toward the bathroom.
Lois grinned. "Oh."
"Go back to sleep. I think I'll go down to the lobby and get you some aspirin while I'm up."
"Okay," she mumbled sleepily, and Clark sighed with relief. He went into the bathroom and pulled on his pants and a shirt before exiting the room. As soon as he was in the hall, he spun into his Superman costume and flew off to do what he could to help Washington.
The next morning Lois found that her ankle was much better, although for safety's sake she kept on the ACE bandage. As they rode down in the elevator on their way to the alumni breakfast meeting, she kept sneaking glances at Clark.
It had felt somehow right to wake up in the same bed, and she had been surprised to discover he didn't even snore. She had awoken when he finally crawled back into bed at two a.m. and just naturally settled her head back on his shoulder. He hadn't even blinked, just wrapped his arm around her and seemed to fall right back to sleep. She, on the other hand, had been tempted to do a little exploration, but had restrained herself and eventually drifted off too.
"So, do you think TK will be at this breakfast meeting?" she asked.
"There's a good chance he'll be there, he always was a big fan of breakfast," Clark said with a grin. "Or at least he was when he visited our farm during the summer."
Lois giggled. "It might be that he was a fan of your mother's cooking."
"Well, that's true too, but I guess we won't know anything until we get there." And they walked arm in arm into the hotel's cafe.
Lois and Clark took a seat at a centrally located table, so that they could watch the other guests arrive. As if on cue, Thaddeus Franklin walked through the Round Robin's door.
He smiled as he saw Clark and made his way across the crowded restaurant to their table.
"'Morning, TK," Clark said as he stood. "We didn't get a chance to talk much last night, join us for breakfast?"
Clark held his hand out to his old friend, but TK pushed the hand away and encircled Clark in a huge bear hug. Both men spent the next thirty seconds greeting each other with claps on the back.
"How are Aunt Martha and Uncle Jonathan?"
"They're doing great. Mom really enjoyed the new computer and fax you sent them for their anniversary. Dad's still a little computer shy, but Mom's working on getting him to come online. She got them hooked up to AOL in hopes it would spark his interest."
"I am not surprised about Jonathan, but I will tell you one thing—once he decides to join the cyber-world, Aunt Martha won't be able to get him offline."
TK looked across the table and again back at Clark. "Who is this and where have you been hiding her?"
For the first time since TK joined them Clark looked a little embarrassed by his old friend's remarks, but before he could introduce them, TK reached across the table with outstretched hand. "I'm TK Franklin and you must be?"
Before she could finish, Clark moved to Lois' side and placed a territorial hand on her shoulder. "TK, I would like you to meet my fiancie, Lois Lane."
"Your fiancie? Why haven't I heard about her before this? I was just speaking to your parents last week when I couldn't get you, to see if you were coming, and they didn't say a word about it." TK began to shake his friend's hand and gave him a nod of approval. "I'm envious of you, ol' buddy. She is gorgeous."
TK moved to Lois and placed a small kiss on her cheek. "You are about to marry one of the last good guys left. I hope you will be very happy together."
Lois seemed touched by TK's sincerity. "I'm already happy, and you're right, Clark's about the last of the good guys. In fact," she said, glancing at Clark, "he's so good that he isn't asking for an interview that we would dearly love to have with you for the Daily Planet."
"But since I've never been known for *my* good manners, could I have an interview?"
TK stared at her a moment and then looked back at Clark, whose mouth was still agape, then started laughing. "You got it, Ms. Lane. Ask away. It was worth it to see Binks speechless."
Lois sighed with relief and dug her notepad and pen out of her bag. "Thank you, and call me Lois. I'll only ask a few—Binks?"
Clark shook his head at TK, which TK ignored. "You mean Clark here never told you he was called 'Binks' in high school? The senior year, wasn't it?"
Clark adjusted his glasses and then took a gulp of water. "I … I don't remember."
Lois looked over at Clark and put her hands under her chin. "Come on, Binks, you don't want our marriage to start with secrets."
Clark sighed. "It was nothing, Lois—"
"Nothing good," TK laughed. "You see, Lois, your fiancie ended up playing a mean game of football in college, but in high school he just couldn't seem to make high enough leaps for interception. Well, there was this poor old two-legged dog named 'Binks', and—"
"Ah," Lois smiled. "He couldn't jump any better than a two-legged dog!"
TK laughed and nodded, and then looked thoughtfully at Clark. "Funny thing is, you'd think when Clark turned eighteen, he learned how to fly or something."
Clark spewed water and began to cough. Lois patted his back. "Take it easy, Binks."
"Thanks," he frowned. "I think you need to start that interview … Stretch."
Lois smiled and nudged Clark with her elbow. "Okay, TK, what was the big influence?"
"Yes. What inspired you to pursue the software market."
"Well," he said, and thought a moment. "I had something of a mathematical talent, but mainly it was having no life, no girl and no job, which also might explain why Binks isn't rich, but a lot happier."
Clark smiled self-consciously and shifted his gaze downward for a moment, out of modesty. TK nodded and returned his gaze to Lois, who, although not oblivious to her partner's polite deference, was still intent on the interview.
"So, if you could go back and change something, anything, about your life, what would it be? Or would you change it at all?"
"Wow" TK cleared his throat and glanced up at Clark. His eyes were smiling when he quipped, "She gets right to the point doesn't she?"
"Yeahyes, she does," Clark agreed, tossing Lois a knowing glance which carried with it a healthy dose of admiration and … something else?
Lois had to wrench her gaze away from Clark's in order to concentrate fully on TK. It was a state of affairs she had already chastised herself for, and yet there was something in the way he smiled at her, and glanced at her today … something that made her warm inside and nearly took her breath away. She swallowed just as TK began to speak once more.
"Well," he paused briefly in thought, " … I guess if I could go back and change one thingI might have taken Bin—Clark's advice."
Lois raised an eyebrow and watched the computer genius of the western world regard Clark respectfully. To say that the exchange surprised her would have been an understatement and a half. When TK didn't elaborate, Lois chimed in, back to reporter-mode. "Advice?"
"Yeah … a few years back, he told me that no matter what I was searching for, no matter how hard I worked, or how many hours I devoted to my career dreams, I needed to take time out and just … be me. I think of all the things I'd ever go back and change, I might have spent a few more summers on a farm." He grinned at Clark. "Hey, who knows, I may even rush out after breakfast and go grab one for myself!" Clark and TK both began to laugh.
It was only when Lois did not laugh that Clark's own expression sobered and he met her contemplative stare. At his scrutiny she finally smiled, a little, and nodded. But after a moment during which no one who did not know Lois the way Clark did would have even recognized something was amiss, she had recovered completely and returned to the interview with a smile.
"Well, TK, you sound like a man who's come a long way from his old college dreams. What does it feel like to have achieved so much and now have the world, well, literally, at your feet?"
>From there the interview segued to different portions of TK's life and childhood, his company and his financial goals. Clark interjected with one or two fairly innocuous questions, but for the most part he watched Lois. Watched her because he knew that, not very long ago, TK's remark had touched something inside of her, and that whatever it had been she would likely need to talk about it later on.
When all was said and done, TK once again complimented Lois on her interview and told her he'd be looking forward to reading the article whenever it came out.
Lois and Clark had both thanked him for allowing them to be the first to speak with him about his life, and he had brushed it off, slapping Clark on the back as he stood to leave and reminding him to "*Call* sometime! I may be a billionaire, but I'm not made of stone!" He winked and sauntered off into the foyer of the hotel, leaving Lois, pad in hand, regarding Clark, who watched both his college buddy and his partner almost simultaneously.
Finally, after long moments, Lois spoke. "Clarkhe seems so sad."
Clark stared at Lois and then nodded slightly. "A little, I guess. His mother died last year and he's an only child. I guess he's lonely and … "
"That may be part of it, Clark, but that's not the primary reason he's sad."
"Then what is?"
"I don't think your friend TK has ever been in love. He has all that money and fame and no one special to share it with. That's really sad. I just hope that … " Lois' voice trailed off and she was silent.
"That's not going to happen to you, Lois. I'm sure of it," Clark said reassuringly.
Smiling broadly, he took her by the hand and, after paying the bill, led her out into the lobby.
"Where are we going?
"Well, we've fulfilled our obligation to the paper," Clark replied. "Now we are going to play tourist. How would you like to finish that cheap tour from last night?"
Lois smiled. "I'd love that." Her face fell. "But my ankle … ?"
"We can take the tour bus or I can always carry you again. What do you say?"
"How about the tour bus? I don't want you to hurt yourself carrying me all over the city."
With that, Lois and Clark joined a tour group coming together outside of their hotel. Lois was the typical tourist, reading the brochures and taking pictures of everything they saw.
The bus deposited the tourists at a central location near both the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"Lois, are you sure you want to try and climb those steps?"
Before she could answer, Clark lifted her into his arms and started towards the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She made a half-hearted attempt to stop him but decided she loved the feeling of being in his arms.
"Clark, maybe you shouldn't do this. I don't want you to pull anything. Why don't you put me down and let me lean on you the rest of the way up?"
"I'm fine, Lois." And to prove his point he took the last two steps in a single bound.
He placed her before the giant statue of the dead president. Both stood in awe as they read the words carved into the monument.
"Thank you, Clark. I have always wanted to visit here." She turned to walk away and was met with the beautiful view of the Washington Monument. Off to the left, she could see the long black wall of names of the Vietnam Memorial.
As before, Clark lifted her into his arms and carried her down the steps. They both heard a group of foreign teenage tourists who were practically in awe over his actions. He placed her on a bench and sat down next to her.
"Again, thank you, Clark." She looked closely at him, just realizing that he hadn't even gotten winded from carrying her. "How do you do it, Mr. Kent? How do you carry a grown woman up and down those steps and not even become short of breath or break out in any visible sweat?
Clark adjusted his glasses. "I … uh … was breathing hard, but it wasn't from the carrying part," he said, and smiled. He wasn't kidding. Having Lois in his arms was a cardiovascular workout of the emotional kind. Not to belabor the point, he asked her how her ankle felt.
"Much better. Good enough for the dance, if he alumni dance is still on."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "You sure?"
She stood up. "See? Besides," she said, looping her arm through his, "didn't you say you were as good a dancer as Patrick Swayze?"
"Not *as* good," he laughed.
There was a pleasant breeze as Lois and Clark stood at the rail of the 'Spirit of Washington' as it began to glide down the Potomac. Lois looked at the moonlight glinting off the water, and Clark looked at her. She was dressed in *that* dress. He thought it looked like burgundy, but it was deep violet.
He shook his head. She looked so sexy. When would he have the guts to just ask her out? It was definitely getting to the point that if he didn't make some move, another guy would, but would she say yes? Maybe a test.
"The band is playing 'Moonlight Becomes You', and since that describes how you look, it would be a shame not to share this great envy thing I could have from the other guys."
"Dance with me, Lois," he whispered.
Lois took his arm and walked to the dance floor. She put her arms around him and felt her breath catch. Sometimes being so close to him had a beautiful hurt. An ironic thought, but it did. She was feeling lately that she needed more in her life than headlines and deadlines, and what that 'more' was had never seemed very clear until she was this close to Clark. Would he ever be ready to take their friendship farther?
They began to sway to the old tune.
"I love this song," Clark said.
"Do you?" Lois smiled, and then held him tighter. Maybe it was the night, or the music; there was some eerie 'deja vu' going on, but she couldn't quite place it.
"Yeah. My parents had a lot of old 78s and would dance in the kitchen. "
Lois laughed softly. "The kitchen?"
"They said it had a floor like the old Stardust Ballroom … the one in Kansas City."
"I like your parents. It's probably how you ended up such a romantic." Lois bit her lip. The words had tumbled out before she had a chance to stop them.
Clark knew she'd made herself uncomfortable with that confession, though it made his heart several degrees lighter. He dipped her.
"Perry's not the only one with smooth moves," he said, bringing her back up. "Romantic enough for you?"
She laughed. When she looked in his eyes, she saw gentle teasing there, affection, and … something more? There was just a trace of uncertainty, too, she was sure, but the way he held her secure in his strong arms made her feel bolder.
Picking up on his lighter tone, she smiled at him and saw her smile reflected by the sparkle that lit his eyes. "Did the Nigerian princess teach you that one?"
"No," he grinned, elegantly dipping and bringing her up again. "But I've been … around."
Then the music came to a stop. They stopped also, looking into each other's eyes and smiling. The music picked up again, at a faster beat this time. They started to move, but when Clark noticed that she was favoring her foot slightly, he immediately stopped, leading her off the dance floor.
For a moment she considered protesting, but when he led her to a group of chairs and table in a quieter corner, she made up her mind that having a chance to rest and chat a little wasn't so bad. Maybe …
"Are you hungry?" His voice cut into her thoughts.
"No … but thirsty." She settled back into the chair he had pulled out for her.
"They have punch over there. I'll get you … "
Then there was a splash from the back of the boat, and a scream … followed by more as people began running aft.
"Stay here," Clark's voice said. Then he was gone.
Of course Lois didn't stay. She wouldn't have been an ace reporter if she could forgo the chance of a story at this nice but somewhat boring reception.
When she had made her way through the crowd, however, and reached the rear of the boat, there wasn't that much to see. An unconscious man was lying on the deck, with the ship's doctor working over him. Presently, the man began to stir, coughing and bringing up water from his lungs. She was about to turn back when she noticed a second wet figure a little off to the side, huddled in a blanket. She didn't have to take a second look.
"Clark!" she exclaimed, rushing toward him. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," he grinned. "Just wet."
He was glad that he had remembered to not take his street clothes off. It wouldn't help if she had seen him in the suit. The spandex would dry fast on his skin underneath.
"Well, then let's get you someplace where we can get you out of those wet clothes."
"Actually, Lois … you know what?" Clark smiled at her concern.
"What?" She couldn't help but smile back. Here they were on what had quickly become one of the most romantic evenings of her life, except that now Clark was soaking wet, leaning on the starboard rail of the boat after having just rescued a man from drowning. Yup … this was definitely part of an "average" day. She sighed.
"I know they rent formal attire in the front. I can just go change right here, and we can stay … " He glanced up hopefully at her. "That isif you still want to?"
Lois' eyes lit up. "Yeah." She spoke softly, dipping her head in a way that signaled she was still a little shy; it made Clark's heart skip several beats. "I'd like that very much."
"Okay." He swallowed. Moving to pass her on his way towards the front of the boat, he realized that some way, some how, their hands had found one another when she'd come running up to him. As if on cue, they became vividly aware of their fingers intertwined.
As his fingers slid over hers to their very tips, Clark never took his eyes off of her. The way she touched him, the way her smaller hand had fit inside of his, and the way she seemed to hesitate when he pulled away all combined to make Clark more than a little light-headed. He let out a short breath and straightened his glasses, which were … wet, to say the least.
For long moments, the tips of their fingers remained touching, and their eyes locked. It was Lois who finally broke the silence, but she did so without speaking.
Wordlessly, she moved forward until she stood so close to Clark's warm body that she could literally feel the heat rising off of his chest … his arms … his breath near her skin. Clark caught his breath, as Lois slipped her arms back around his neck, despite the dampness of his shirt. He tossed her a look of uncertainty when she began to move still closer, if that were possible.
"Lois … " he breathed, feeling lucky that he could speak at all. "I should … change?" The last sentence had been intended as a statement of fact, but it had quickly turned into a moot question when Lois laid her head against his shoulder and molded her body to his.
"Shhh … you promised me a whole dance," she whispered. "We'll miss the song if you leave now.."
Clark had already shut his eyes; the nearness of her body, the smell of her perfume mixed with the airy river breeze was intoxicating. He wrapped his arms around her waist without even thinking and spun her around onto the open deck.
They stayed that way, swaying back and forth to the music from inside the boat until a gust of wind ruffled Clark's already damp jacket. He glanced down at Lois in concern. "Aren't you cold? You probably shouldn't have.."
Then Lois did something which Clark had never anticipated, never dreamed possible before tonight. She took in a deep breath without saying a word. With one hand she reached forward and placed her fingers against the side of his face and she traced his jawline before leaning forward on tiptoe.
They were barely an inch apart; Clark could feel her breath on his skin and he knew he'd never wanted anything more in his entire life. If this was a dream then he never wanted to wake. "Lois … " he whispered one last time before meeting her advance half way, pressing his soft lips against her own and knowing that once taken, the experience would remain etched in his mind forever.
It was slow … surreally slow when they began kissing. Clark felt his arms tighten at her waist and felt her hands brush over the back of his neck. It was the most incredibly tender moment.
Lois opened her eyes slowly, watching her partner do the same, and noticing the slowness with which he seemed to return to reality. She smiled up at him. "No … " she whispered.
After a moment of delirium, Clark swallowed and found he was able to speak. He gazed into her eyes, two dark pools he had been so lost within only moments before. "No?" he asked.
"I'm not cold." Lois' smile widened into a grin and Clark had to accompany her. She was … incredible. He pulled her into his embrace once more and wrapped one arm around her before she continued. "But I do think you should change … " This time she nudged him with her hip. "You still owe me the rest of the cheap tour," she winked at him, "on foot."