By Phil Atcliffe <Phillip.Atcliffe@uwe.ac.uk>
Submitted January 21, 1998
Summary: Lois and Clark are fighting again, and it's all because they're both too nervous to try more than just friendship. Perry's fed up, and decides it's time to do something about the situation, with a little help from … William Shakespeare?!
I think you can guess what inspired this one … <g> The time, continuity-wise, is early second season, so neither predatory assistant D.A.'s nor brain-dead DEA agents have emerged from under their rocks (can you tell that I didn't like those two — particularly the Sardine? B-P ). However, since my memory is all too fallible, certain other details may not be in exact sync with this.
Disclaimer: Not even all the story is mine, only the idea of applying the basic concept to L&C, and where that led. All else is the property of Time-Warner and various subsidiaries, December 3rd Productions and, of course, the Bard of Avon. I'm not challenging anyone's copyright, nor am I authorised to use these properties; I just had the fun of writing this up, and that and any comments from the "gods and groundlings" — that's you lot out there (hint, hint … ) — are all that I will receive "for my pains".
Once again, heartfelt thanks go to Gay Devlin for her help and encouragement — PA]
Perry White emerged from his office just in time to see Lois Lane storm out of the newsroom in the direction of the Ladies'. For just a moment, he was lost in admiration at her ability — the ability of the entire female half of the human race, for that matter, Lois being an outstanding example — to overcome the vast changes in fashion that had taken place over the years. Lois was her usual no-nonsense self, all business and power-dressing in a suit with lines so sharp that they could cut steel, but she couldn't have achieved a more emphatic flounce if she'd been wearing a bustle!
Then his mind came back to reality and he groaned inwardly as he looked at the annoyed face of Lois' partner, Clark Kent, staring after the rapidly-disappearing figure of the woman. They'd obviously had another dust-up, which was *not* something he wanted to have to put up with right now. They were the best reporters, both individually and as a team — *especially* as a team — that he'd ever worked with, but they could *not* sort out their personal lives, and when they had another of their periodic fights, his whole newsroom went to pot because his best people were mad at each other and everyone else was more interested in *them* than in working!
He looked around the room, noting with some satisfaction that heads that he knew had been staring fascinatedly after Lois had hastily ducked back to their desks and computers before he could catch them wasting their time. This was good — with a bit of luck, they might even do some work since they had to go through the motions in order to "fool" him.
There was, however, one exception to the ranks of lowered heads and concentrated demeanours, and that was Jimmy Olsen, who had been caught a long way from his darkroom or any desk at which he could claim to be working. To his credit, though, the young man wasn't still gazing down the now-empty corridor, but was looking over at Perry in a familiar fashion, as though he was hoping that the editor might want him for a job. Perry gave him marks for quick thinking — if he hadn't seen Jimmy only a few seconds ago, as enthralled as anyone else in the newsroom by the latest episode in the Lane and Kent saga, the bright, eager pose might well have worked.
Now that he thought about it, Jimmy was probably the best person to tell him what was going on this time … So he beckoned to the kid, bellowing, "Olsen! Get in here!" before returning to his office.
Jimmy skidded to a halt outside the office door, having picked up on the exasperated note in the Chief's voice. That tone usually meant big trouble for someone, and Jimmy decided that if *he* didn't want to be the target for the editor's wrath, enthusiasm and efficiency were the order of the day. He opened the door somewhat tentatively, and closed it behind him carefully before stepping up to Perry's desk with a slightly worried, "Yeah, Chief?"
Perry sighed deeply. "Jimmy," he said wearily, "What the blazes is goin' on with Lois and Clark *this* time?"
"Uh … well, Chief, I missed the start of it — I was bringing Lois some photos that she'd asked for … " Perry waved at him to skip the self-justification and get on with it. " … but when I got within earshot, they seemed to be arguing about how reliable one of Lois' sources was. As near as I could tell — you know what they're like when they get into one of their fights … " Jimmy rolled his eyes, and Perry merely nodded — he knew. " … Lois was saying that this snitch of hers had fingered someone and that they should go somewhere straightaway and … um, 'wring it out of him', whatever she meant by that, and CK was saying that they needed more evidence before they tipped their hand, in case the guy was being framed. This went on for a couple of minutes, and they were both getting more and more het-up about it, and then Lois said that she didn't need any corroboration, she could tell when someone was rotten … and I guess she was pushing too hard, because CK said something like, 'Oh yeah, the way you could tell about Luthor?' — and that was it."
"Oh, Judas Priest!" moaned Perry, putting his head in his hands. This was worse — *much* worse — than he'd thought. It was bad enough that they were fighting, but for Lois to have driven Clark to the point that he'd mention *Luthor* … "Dammit, Jimmy, we have got to *do* somethin' about those two! They're drivin' me crazy — not to mention themselves and everyone else in the place!"
"Uh … okay, Chief, but what do we do? You're not going to split them up, are you?"
"What? No, no … I want them working together; they're the best damn team I've seen since … oh, Norcross and Judd, I guess." He grimaced. "And look what happened to *them!*"
"Norcross and Judd. Don't worry about it — they were long before your time; I'll tell you about them sometime." Perry paused and his voice became softer and more thoughtful — and worried. "Trouble is, I can see the same thing happenin' all over again..!"
"What?" asked a puzzled Jimmy.
Perry looked up at him, returning to the present with a slight wrench. "Oh, never mind … " Determination surged up in his voice. "Like I said, we have got to do somethin' about those two. Lois and Kent are never goin' to stop these fights of theirs until they get their personal lives sorted out. And maybe not even then, but at least there's a chance that they might stop lettin' their love lives interfere with their work — and, incidentally, distracting the whole damn newsroom!"
"What do you mean, Chief?" Jimmy wasn't as ignorant as he was making out, but he could see that the Chief had something in mind, and he thought that the older man would explain it better if he started from scratch. 'Hey,' he thought, 'this is an *interviewing* technique — how about that?'
"Now, Jimmy, you know as well as I do that Clark's been carrying a torch for Lois right from day one. Unfortunately, she's never been interested in him that way — not until now, anyway — and she's put him through the wringer over and over again, what with Superman and Luthor … "
Perry was about to go on, when Jimmy interrupted, "'Not until now'? Chief, you mean … "
Perry grinned. "Oh, yeah … " He became serious again. "Jimmy, you might not believe it, but Lois means a lot to me. In a lot of ways, she's like the daughter I never had … "
'Oh, yeah, like the whole newsroom couldn't tell, Chief … ' the young photographer thought, before once again concentrating on what his boss had to say.
" … and I reckon I know her better than just about anyone — except, maybe, Clark, and there are some things I know about that woman that even *he* doesn't. And one of them is that Lois is finally comin' to see what's been right under her nose for the last year or more. Trouble is, she doesn't know what to do about it; she's been hurt bad by romance at the office — first that louse Claude, and then Luthor movin' in on her last year — and she's scared that the same thing might happen again."
Jimmy's eyes were wide, and he was visibly impressed by the insight that his boss was showing into Lois' character. He listened with even more interest as Perry went on, "More than that, she's suddenly found herself with something that she's never had at work before — a partner who's also a real friend to her — and she *likes* it! It probably surprised the heck out of her, but she likes bein' part of a team — *that* team — a lot, and she doesn't want to lose it. 'Lane and Kent' is so important to her that she's hesitating about trying anything closer, in case it doesn't work out.
"Now, I don't think she's got anything to worry about. The same things about Clark that make her comfortable to work and pal around with him will go a long way towards makin' her happy if they get together, and I don't think anyone has even scratched the surface of that boy as far as what he's capable of doin' for a woman that he loves. But Lois isn't gonna look, even though it might be the best thing for both of them, because she's too scared. And Clark won't make a move because Lois has spent so much time puttin' him down, and it's gonna be a while before he's confident enough to try.
"Which leaves *us* with them both pussyfootin' around each other, nervous, frustrated, and havin' silly fights over nothing! And what the heck are we gonna do about it?!"
Jimmy screwed up his face in thought. "Beats me, Chief," he said after a short silence. "I mean, what *can* we do?"
"I don't know, son, I just don't know … " Once again, silence reigned in the office as Perry sank into a deep reverie and Jimmy, having racked his brains to no good effect, waited patiently, and *quietly*, for the editor to surface again.
It took a while, but eventually Perry turned his head to look at Jimmy, and he frowned slightly as he gazed at the young man. This rather un-nerved Jimmy, because a frowning Perry usually meant trouble for somebody. His nervousness was not relieved at all when Perry continued to stare at him for some time before finally asking, "You much of an actor, Jimmy?"
This threw Jimmy completely. An *actor?* He had to stop and think before answering, "N-not much, Chief. I was involved in a couple of things in school … but I was more on the stage crew side than *acting* … Why?"
"We-ell-ll … " drawled Perry, "I just had an idea. It might be crazy, but it might just do the trick with those kids." He shifted slightly in his chair and, settling back, went on, "Sometimes, you just have to remember that people have been around for a long time, and they haven't changed much … "
'Yeah, so?' thought Jimmy, as he also got comfortable, recognising the signs: this was likely to be one of his boss' rambling discourses, and they could take quite a while; he just hoped that it wouldn't involve *too* many Elvis stories …
" … so, pretty much every problem that someone has today has been had by someone else — *lots* of someone elses — back in the past, and if they solved it back then, there's a good chance that the same solution will work now. You just have to look for the solution.
"Now, a couple of weeks ago, Alice dragged me out to see a movie at one of those art-house theatres. I have to admit, I didn't want to go at the time, but now I'm glad I did. Y'see, it was an English film, starrin' a lot of English actors — and a couple of Americans, too — based on one of ol' Will Shakespeare's comedies. It was good, too, but where seein' it has come in handy is that part of the plot is about these two people who spend all their time arguing, until their friends trick 'em into realising that they love each other. It seems to me that a dose of the same medicine might just get Lois and Clark movin'. What do you think?"
Jimmy's eyebrows went up. "Uh … heck, I dunno, Chief. What do we have to do?"
"Well, in the movie, this couple's friends arrange for each of 'em to overhear phoney conversations in which they find out that the other one loves them madly, but hasn't said anything because they're certain that he or she doesn't love them back and will just make fun of them." He smiled as he saw a look of dawning comprehension cross Jimmy's face. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I reckon we ought to try somethin' similar on our two. Like I said, it's crazy, but it just might work — and I don't think we're gonna make matters any worse by tryin'."
Perry gazed up at the ceiling reflectively. "Now, you and I ought to be able to fix up Clark, but Lois is gonna take careful handling. We could try, but I'd really rather get someone else in on this, so that neither of 'em suspect that we're doin' exactly what we're doin'. Who could we get to help..?"
Jimmy, still somewhat amazed that Perry would even *think* of such a thing, much less plan it out in detail, found himself grinning as he was drawn into the plotting; and, he suddenly realised, he knew just the person to join in the fun — at least, he *hoped* it would be fun. If Lois found out..! "I got an idea, Chief. Lois told me that her sister Lucy is coming for a visit next week. Lucy and I have been out a couple of times, and I was kinda hoping to see her again while she was in Metropolis. How about if we ask her to help?"
"Lois' *sister*—? You think she would?"
"Oh, yeah, Chief. Lucy's said a few times how much she wishes Lois would find a nice guy, and I know she likes CK."
Perry looked thoughtful for a few moments. "That's good thinking, Jimmy. Okay, you talk to Lucy as soon as you can … and *I'll* talk to Alice! That way, we can have men working on Clark, and women on Lois … " He laughed. "It's gonna be just like the movie!"
"Lucy?" Lois called as she opened her front door and carried in her bag, a pile of folders and two bags of Chinese take-out. She set everything down on the kitchen counter and went to close the door and put on the safety locks before repeating the hail.
Lois poked her head into the bedroom, calling again. No Lucy. She stood in the doorway for a few seconds, wondering where her sister could be … and then raised her eyes to the ceiling in exasperation and went over to the refrigerator.
Sure enough, there was a note on the fridge:
Dear Lois, Am having dinner with Jimmy. Don't wait up. Love, Lucy
'What, again?' snorted Lois to herself. 'That's the … what? *third* time this week? I've hardly seen Lucy since she got here!' Lois had been looking forward to spending some time with her sister, not to mention having a good old-fashioned heart-to-heart talk with her. Lois had something that she wanted to get off her chest, and who could she talk to about that sort of thing if not her sister?
Of course, that did mean that said sister had to *be* there, instead of gallivanting off every night with Don Juan Olsen..!
'Oh, well,' Lois sighed, 'I shouldn't complain, really — Jimmy's a lot better than her usual class of boyfriend … ' And then, perhaps to her surprise, the wistful thought came, 'I could wish for half her luck.' She shook her head, dismissing that, and got out a couple of plates and some cutlery, serving herself from the take-out before perching on a stool at the counter and starting to eat.
She really needed to talk to Lucy— to *anyone* who'd listen and not interrupt, but Lucy for choice, because she knew what to do — and what *not* to do — while Lois was letting off steam. Once upon a time, the two sisters had been each other's closest confidante. They were still close, but time and separation had eased them apart slightly.
These days, if she absolutely *had* to talk about something — an infrequent, but depressingly regular occurrence — Lois would go and find Clark. For some mad reason, he was quite happy to sit and let her work it out of her system. Then, when she was finished, he'd say something — a comment, a joke, even an anecdote from his life in Smallville or his travels — and they'd start to talk about it … and, by the time they were finished, she'd at least have a plan of action in mind. Even if he did sometimes think she was crazy.
But she couldn't do that this time, because it was *Clark* that she needed to talk about! She badly wanted to sort out a few things in her own mind: just how she felt about him, and what he felt about her, for a start. It was a moot point as to which were more confusing, her own tangled emotions towards Clark, or his on-again, off-again feelings for her; either way, she needed someone to use as a sounding board, someone who would listen and understand while she tried to work out what to do.
'Aaarrrggghhhh!' she half-growled, half-screamed to herself. This was getting her nowhere — again! And she *had* to work it out, and soon, because her confusion was starting to spill over into the rest of her life — including her work, and *that* could not be tolerated, whatever the true situation was. That had been shown, all too clearly, by the silly contretemps that they'd had today — and, worst of all, it had been *her* fault.
Clark was right; they did need to check out her snitch's story, and normally she'd have been the first to say so. But today, she'd been so eager to get out of the office and *do* something — *anything*, rather than sit there and try to work when, or so it seemed lately, all she could do was think about Clark, or brood about only being able to think about him — that she had blown up, quite unreasonably, when he'd only been trying to get her to adopt a professional approach to what had the makings of a *big* story.
But she hadn't been able to stop herself; she'd felt hemmed-in, constricted, restrained, and she'd lashed out at him as the cause of all her troubles. Once she'd calmed down, though, it was only too obvious that *she* was the real cause. Of course, he hadn't helped with that crack about Lex, but the very fact that he'd even mentioned the man meant that she'd gone too far — way, *way* too far, because Clark *hated* Lex … as much as he could hate anyone, good-natured farm boy that he was. And, she had to admit, he'd been right about the louse, right from the start.
So, she was going to have to apologise to him — *again!* — which she wasn't looking forward to. Not that he made it any harder to do than it was intrinsically, not like some people she could name. He didn't lord it over her, crowing that he was right and she was wrong; if anything, he usually seemed rather apologetic himself that she even *had* to apologise to him, and he usually seemed to be as eager as she was to forget the original disagreement, and to move on with their lives, their work and their partnership.
What made it worse, though, was that she had no real idea where he wanted their "moving on" to end up. Ever since the wedding fiasco and Lex's suicide, he'd been a mystery to her, at least as far as their relationship went. He'd done his best to get things back to "normal" as she'd put the pieces of her life back together after Lex's … well, you could really only call it an attack. She'd re-built her life in parallel to the re-building of the Daily Planet under the new ownership of Franklin Stern, and Clark had … well, been *Clark*, one of the (to her astonishment) biggest and most important pieces, and one that she had been able to rely on, to use as a solid foundation as she assembled the rest into something like their former shape.
Not that the end result was going to be exactly the same; it couldn't be, because she'd had to face up to the fact that she'd nearly *married* one of the biggest crooks in the world — she'd been right there, in front of the Archbishop, before she'd come to her senses — and she, the great prize-winning investigative reporter, hadn't suspected a thing about his true nature and the hollowness of the facade that he showed to the world in general, and to her especially. That was pretty damn humiliating, particularly when Clark had warned her about Luthor again and again, and she … she'd *defended* Lex — against her own partner! — with all the nastiness and blind pig-headedness of which she had to admit that she was capable.
Lex had led her on like a cow with a ring in her nose; the master manipulator, he'd played on her fears and ambitions and insecurities like she was a musical instrument, and she'd fallen for it all, despite anything anyone — even Superman, but especially Clark — could do.
She shuddered at the thought of what life with the real Lex Luthor would have been like: ridiculously luxurious, yes, but she would have been the original bird in a gilded cage, because there was no way that Lex would have let her be what she wanted to be. No, his idea of her "fulfilling her potential" would have been for her to fit in with everything *he* wanted, to subjugate all her needs and desires to his. *That* had been made oh, so clear when he'd destroyed the Daily Planet to get her, and then expected her to be happy as a *television* journalist! She couldn't imagine him ever wanting to share his "business" with her — of course, given the nature of some of that business, that was just as well. Unless, of course, in his monstrous egotism, he thought that she'd *want* to help him in his endless grab for power, simply because that was what *he* wanted. She winced; that sounded all too likely, and it fit perfectly with everything that she'd found out about him after his downfall.
But then, when she finally got to the altar, it was Clark who had saved her from that, even before Perry had burst in with the police and stopped the wedding. She just couldn't contemplate a life without Clark Kent in it somewhere, and all the comfort and material wealth that Lex was offering her couldn't fill the void that would be left— had already *been* left — by his absence.
So she'd said no, she couldn't marry Lex, and then the cavalry had arrived and Luthor's downfall, both figurative and literal, had been as complete as it was sudden — and final. And the architect of that downfall, the man who'd never been fooled and had strived unendingly until he brought Lex's true evil out into the open, was … Clark. Oh, he couldn't have done it alone; Perry was the leader, and Jimmy and a few others had all worked like Trojans, but the driving force behind the team, Luthor's true nemesis, was Clark Kent.
It had taken her quite a lot of effort to find that out. In the frenzied aftermath of Luthor's death, when she and the rest of the Planet staff were rushing around madly, trying to re-build the paper, cover the usual city, national and international news, *and* report on all the incredible revelations that were emerging from the massive, combined City-State-Federal investigation of LexCorp, its erstwhile owner and everything he had ever touched, it seemed as though a 24-hour day was just barely adequate to get everything done — and they were loving every minute of it. But nobody ever mentioned what had started it all — at least, not to her. Other than what she'd been able to glean from rival news services and the stories that had appeared in the "emergency" editions of the Planet that they'd managed to put out, she had had no idea, and no-one ever talked about, *how* they'd cracked Luthor's shell.
She wondered if she'd ever find out everything that they'd had to do to penetrate the careful veil of respectability and innocence of any wrong-doing that surrounded everything that Lex Luthor did. It had been hard enough, requiring threats, intimidation, wheedling, bribes and the calling-in of a huge number of favours to simply discover what little she knew now.
She certainly wouldn't ever find anything out from *Clark!* Ever since they'd had time to breathe after the non-wedding and the rebirth of the paper, he'd been as uninformative about non-work-related matters as … as that teddy bear he'd won for her at the Smallville Corn Festival! She felt as though he'd …
distanced himself from her somehow, and was doing his best to keep that distance between them, except when they were working; he'd even taken to running off at times when they *were* working, and *that* troubled her more than anything.
And yet, if she needed help, or some emotional support — he was annoyingly good at knowing when she was down or feeling upset, whatever the cause — or someone to pal around with, or even a hug, he was right there, as solid and dependable as a rock.
All of which confused her terribly, and worried her. She couldn't reconcile the Clark who'd told her before the wedding, almost desperately, that he loved her, even if he had taken it back later, with the … well, not cold — never cold, not Clark! — but reserved person whom she saw these days. She recognised the man who had moved Heaven and Earth, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, to save her from a disastrous marriage, in the guy who helped her when she needed it (whether she realised it or not), but how did he relate to the *other* Clark, the ever-so-slightly aloof one who had an unfortunate tendency to run out on her at odd times?
She frowned. Come to think of it, he'd always been prone to vanishing on occasion, and some of his excuses when he ducked out were pretty lame..! She just hadn't noticed it before — or, she admitted in a flash of honesty, more likely, she hadn't been paying attention, and had been *pleased* when he'd faded out of the picture.
Lois grimaced. Maybe he'd got tired of the way she'd treated him … maybe he was tired of *her!* And yet … and yet, he was there when she needed him …
She snorted internally. This wasn't getting her anywhere. She needed someone to talk to about this, and Lucy wasn't there. She looked at her plate and the collection of take-out containers, then over at the phone, and thought for a moment or two. 'Well,' she mused, 'If I can't talk to anyone *about* him, I may as well talk *to* him … ' She walked over, picked up the phone and hit a memory button. A few moments later, the dial tone became the familiar brrr-brrr of a ringing phone, which stopped after two repeats when the receiver at the other end was picked up.
"Hi, Clark, it's me. Look, Lucy's out having dinner with Jimmy … yes, *again* … that's what *I* said … Anyway, I bought all this Chinese food — you know, one of those 'dinner for 2' special offers — and now I don't have anyone to share it with. I was wondering, if you haven't eaten yet, would you like … Great! Yeah … yeah … oh, that'd be terrific. Okay, I'll keep everything warm till you get here … Fine … Right, see you then. 'Bye … "
Lois hung up with a warm smile on her face. Had she been paying attention, she might have been surprised at just *how* warm it was, but she was too busy looking forward to an evening with Clark for that to register.
Lucy stared at Jimmy across the table, her mouth open, her eyes wide and a delighted — or was it horrified? — snigger just waiting its chance to burst from her throat, but somehow not quite daring to. "Are you *serious?*" she half-yelped, half-squawked.
"Oh, yeah … " he assured her. "The Chief says that Lois and CK really like each other, but each of them is scared to take the next step 'cause they don't know what the other one thinks about them. So if we can just … give 'em a little push, to help them build up some confidence, they might stop being so nervous and get together. And then maybe they'll stop fighting so much. Whaddya think?"
That, to Jimmy's mind, was the real question. He'd been slowly, and carefully, working up to asking Lucy for her help for the last few days, and tonight he'd finally felt brave enough to take the plunge and tell her about Perry's match-making plans. He was doubly nervous about this because he liked Lucy, a *lot*, and didn't want to get in her bad books — *or* have her tell Lois what her crazy "friends" at work were up to. The potential combined wrath of *two* Lane women was more than he cared to think about!
After an aeons-long silence (or so it seemed to Jimmy), Lucy giggled, although what that meant, even she couldn't tell. She couldn't decide if she liked the idea or not, and was mostly amazed at Mr White, Lois' tyrant of a boss (well, from everything *she'd* heard, he sounded like a bit of a tyrant; Lois always said that he was like a good chocolate praline — hard as a rock on the outside, but soft as butter inside) coming up with such a wild scheme. Her head whirled, and her mind ran through the gamut of emotions while stumbling over her reply: "What do I think? I think … you're crazy, both of you … it's a *great* idea … Lois will *kill* us … let's *do* it!"
"Great!" replied Jimmy, seizing the opportunity to give Lucy a hug. She hugged back, rather pleased that he'd finally felt comfortable enough with her to do that; okay, it had been some time since they'd seen one another, but … Besides, if this didn't work, a hug might be the only pleasant memory she'd have of Jimmy and Mr White's sudden lurch into insanity …
After gently, and somewhat reluctantly, letting her go, Jimmy surprised Lucy yet again by pulling out a cellphone. "Ooo, look at you," she teased, smiling. "Been promoted lately?"
Jimmy's mouth quirked. "Nah, no such luck," he said ruefully. "The Chief let me have this so I could call him tonight after I talked to you." He suited action to his words by hitting a memory button. After a few moments, he began to talk into the phone. "Chief? Jimmy. I've just talked to Lucy. She thinks it's a great idea … she also thinks we're crazy, but she'll help." There was a short pause before he went on, "Yeah … okay … now? … Sure, if Alice doesn't mind. Lemme check with Lucy — hang on a minute."
He covered the phone with one hand and turned to Lucy. "The Chief wants us to come over to his place for a 'strategy session' with him and Alice. You up for it?"
"Yeah, of course," said Lucy, feeling more and more amazed by the minute. Not only had Mr White thought this up, they were actually going to *do* it! While Jimmy began to talk to his boss again, Lucy sat back in sudden quiet contemplation of the whole thing. 'Lois needs someone,' she mused, 'and Clark is a really nice guy. They deserve one another. It's just that … I want my sister to be happy, but I never thought I'd be involved in something out of a Shakespeare comedy to get her a boyfriend! But, if that's what it takes, then I guess it's worth a try.'
Her attention snapped back to the here-and-now as Jimmy put away his phone. "Okay," he said, grinning, "The Chief and Alice are waiting for us. Let's go!"
With that, he grabbed her hand and headed for the exit and his motorcycle, dragging an amused Lucy with him by sheer force of enthusiasm. She laughed as they left the diner, but somewhere in the back of her mind, a little voice was asking, 'Just what have I got myself into here?' She didn't know, but she hoped that, whatever it was, it would turn out to be fun …
Clark hit the "Return" key to send his article to Perry for editing. With a sigh of relief, he leaned back in his chair and stretched. Today had been *quite* a day, and he would be glad when he could go home. Lois had already left; she'd been a bit shaken up by that business with the drug dealers, even though Superman had intervened before she was in any real danger. He was sure that she'd been relieved, despite her vehement protests, when he'd insisted that she'd more than pulled her weight on the story and he could finish it up without her help.
The newsroom was pretty empty, as usual for that time of night; the day shift had nearly all left, and the night crew were mostly out and about, looking for news. Which meant, to the conspirators surreptitiously watching Clark as he tidied his desk and got ready to leave, occasionally casting glances over at Perry's office as he waited for the final approval of the latest piece from Lane and Kent, that this was about as good a time to make their move as they were likely to get. Lucy was planning to try to "give Lois the business", as she called it, at home that evening, so they needed to do likewise with Clark while they had the opportunity. Getting to each of them separately was not easy, and the last thing the four would-be matchmakers wanted was for one of the pair to have overheard their "conversation" while the other one hadn't; Perry was particularly concerned about this, because if, despite their best efforts, the men and the women couldn't co-ordinate their snow-jobs, he'd have to come up with reasons to keep Lois and Clark apart until they both "found out" about the other. Fortunately, he had a couple of ideas about how to do that, but he didn't want to have to use them because he would *not* be popular, especially with Lois, and because keeping those two apart was problematic at the best of times.
Perry looked up from his copy and whispered to Jimmy, "You ready, Jimmy? This looks okay, so I'm gonna give Clark the all-clear to leave … "
Jimmy swallowed, suddenly feeling a bit queasy now that it was game-time, so to speak. "Uh … yeah, Chief … I guess so … "
His boss got up from his desk and headed for the door of his office, pausing to place a fatherly hand on the young photographer's shoulder. "Relax, son," he whispered, "Just take it easy and follow my lead. You've only got one real line, and then I'll do most of the talking. But we do have to catch Clark's attention with your line, so make it good!"
Jimmy wasn't sure whether Perry's "re-assurance" had made him feel better or worse, but he didn't have much time to dwell on it because the editor went over to the door, yanked it open in his usual style and leaned out to yell, "Clark! This is fine, so you can get outta here if you want!"
Clark waved a hand and called back, "Thanks, Chief! See you tomorrow!" Perry waved back and disappeared into the office again as Clark got up, stretched again, pushed his chair into his desk and began to stroll towards the elevator.
His progress was followed by two pairs of intensely interested eyes — well, one intensely interested and one intensely *nervous* — and when he came to the steps up out of the pit, which put him about as close to the wall of the editor's office as he could get, Perry flicked a finger at Jimmy, who, in a voice that, despite his best efforts, was a bit high-pitched, began, "Gee, Chief, are you sure? I mean, *Lois*, in love with CK? That's kinda weird!"
Perry grinned when he saw Clark stop dead in his tracks at that, but he quickly turned away from the window as he saw the reporter dive to one side, out of sight from the office but where he could hear what was being said. 'Gotcha!' he thought to himself, before he replied, in a carefully just-slightly-raised voice, "Not really, Jimmy. I've known Lois for a long time — a lot longer than Kent! — and I don't think I've ever seen her like this before. Not as much, anyway; she was showin' a few of the same signs when that piece of French trash, Claude, was foxin' her, but that was nothin' compared to what she's been like lately!"
"Well, gee, Chief … " mumbled Jimmy, visibly desperate for inspiration; fortunately, some god or angel (or, possibly, devil) was listening, and he managed to get out before too much time had passed, "So what's the problem? CK's a great guy, and everyone knows he likes Lois. They oughtta be real happy together!"
Perry smiled, proud of Jimmy's ability to think on his feet. Fortunately for his peace of mind, the editor had no idea that the man he was attempting to fool might have been able to see that smile, right through the office wall; even more fortunately, Clark wasn't looking, only listening, fascinated despite the uneasy feeling that he was invading someone's privacy. "Well, maybe, son. You say that everyone knows that Clark likes Lois, but I'm not sure that *Lois* knows that! And even if she does, which I doubt, that doesn't mean that it's automatically gonna be all smooth sailing for them."
Unconsciously slipping into his accustomed role as purveyor of wisdom to the masses, and particularly to one James Bartholomew Olsen, Perry leaned back in his chair and began to wax philosophical. "What worries me is that even *I* don't know how Kent feels about Lois — not now, not after everything she's put him through over the last year or so. Okay, they work well together — hell, they're the best reporting team I've seen for years, if ever — but that doesn't necessarily make for a happy life together *outside* of work. They may even be good friends, but that isn't any guarantee, either! And I just don't think that Lois could take another disappointment like that, not now …
"Y'see, Jimmy, Lois has been hurt too many times when her personal life got tangled up with her work, and it's made her scared of pretty much any sort of relationship deeper than friendship, especially when it's with the guy she works with. And if you and I can't tell what Clark thinks of Lois these days, how in the name of Elvis and Priscilla is *she* gonna know?"
Perry paused for a moment, as if lost in thought, before going on, "And, I have to admit, if Clark isn't interested in Lois as anything other than his partner, I can't blame him. She's really given him the run-around since he started here; she didn't want him as a partner in the first place, and then, once she finally did accept him as more than … what was it? A "hack from Nowheresville"? — he had to put up with her gushing over Superman all the time, and *then* there was Luthor … Frankly, Jimmy, if Clark was *ever* interested in Lois that way, it'd be a miracle if he *still* was."
"Ah … " said Jimmy, struck by the catalogue of obstacles that their friends had overcome even to get to where they were at the moment, and suddenly worried that this attempt to bring them together might *not* be such a good idea … But, committed now, he tried to keep his end of their "performance" going. "Um … so what do we do, Chief?" — which was as much a real question as it was part of the conversation.
"I dunno, son … I'm not sure that there's anything we *can* do. They'll just have to work it out for themselves; I just hope that they get on with it and, when they do, I've still got a newsroom left!" Not wanting to over-do it, Perry decided that enough was enough and wrapped up their playlet by waving one hand at Jimmy and saying, in a weary tone that was by no means all fake, "Anyway, we got better things to think about right now. You get me those photos for page 7, and then you can call it a day, too. I'll be right behind you, as soon as I put the early morning edition to bed."
"Right, Chief." Jimmy made for the door, but turned back just before he opened it to grin at the older man and ask, "Anything else you need, Chief?" He knew darn well that there wasn't, but he wanted to give Clark time to get away unseen. Perry, who knew what Jimmy was up to, merely grunted and waved a dismissive hand at him as he turned back to his work — all perfectly typical and natural, if just a little slower than usual.
Outside the office, Clark was stunned. His hands had clenched unconsciously when Perry had mentioned Claude — one day, he was going to have to look up that … that *fink*, and have a little chat with him about the way he treated women (one woman in particular) — but that had been forgotten almost instantly as his boss went on about Lois and her feelings for him. This wasn't possible — *was* it? His mind whirled, but before he could so much as think about … anything, really, his attention was caught by the sound of Jimmy at the office door. Quickly, he dashed for the stairs.
Once hidden from view, he zipped up to the roof at super-speed, spun into the suit and flew off, soaring high over the city and into the overcast which had hung above the eastern seaboard for most of the day. He had to think about this, and he needed some privacy to do it in.
He emerged from the clouds to find himself floating above a vast sea of moon-lit white; at another time, he would have taken a few moments to enjoy the cool beauty of the scene, but right now he was concentrating on what he'd just heard, and *that* had his complete attention once he'd checked to see that he was alone up there.
Lois, in love with him? Could it possibly be true? He fought down a surge of joyful hope and forced himself to consider the situation dispassionately — or as much that way as he could manage. Had it been anyone but Perry saying that, he'd have dismissed the idea as idle gossip, probably with a rueful reflection on how desperate the newsroom rumour mill had been ever since Cat Grant had gone overseas; but from *Perry* … he just couldn't dismiss it out of hand.
The Chief was right — he *did* know Lois better than anyone, although that wasn't necessarily saying much. Lois was a very private person, and it sometimes surprised Clark that *he* had come to know her as well as he did. It was almost as though she'd opened up to him against her will, very gradually and reluctantly showing him facets of herself that she normally kept well hidden. But for all that, Clark knew that his boss had an insight into Lois' mind and personality, born of long association, years of experience and the man's own shrewdness, that he could only envy, and dream of, one day, emulating.
*And* there was the famous White sensitivity to what went on at the Planet; the Chief's feeling for the pulse of the newsroom and the activities of his staff was legendary, and occasionally scary. Just how the editor knew some of what went on there (and elsewhere) while he was supposedly busy in his office, was a mystery to his subordinates. More than one reporter had been known to wonder if parapsychologists looking for evidence of telepathy, extra-sensory perception, or maybe even *ghosts*, should come and watch their boss in action. That the man hadn't picked up on the double life of one of his reporters was something that occasionally puzzled Clark, even as it reassured him that his disguise was working.
So, if Perry White said that he thought that Lois Lane was in love with Clark Kent, the idea *had* to be taken seriously, however mind-boggling it might seem.
*Clark* felt seriously boggled by it. He had hopes, of course; he'd always hoped that, one day, Lois would come to love him as he loved her, to care for him as himself, not as Superman, but he hadn't expected it to be soon — and certainly not *now*.
He'd done his best to rebuild her confidence in herself, and in the two of them as partners and friends, after the debacle of her near-wedding, but it was— *had* to be a slow process if the end result was to be worthwhile. Lois had been severely tried by the whole business with Luthor, both emotionally and … professionally, for want of a better word. She'd been deeply shocked by the revelations of Luthor's true nature and activities, and, typically for her, she'd bitterly castigated herself for falling for his snow-job. The fact that the entire city of Metropolis had blithely accepted the man at his own estimation for *years* cut no ice with her — Lois Lane should have been able to see through his facade, or at least suspected *something* …
What made it worse, as far as the two of them were concerned, was that Clark had tried to warn her about him, and she hadn't listened. That he had never trusted Luthor, whereas she had gone >from normal reporter's curiosity about the reclusive "philanthropist" to almost marrying him, had thrown her off-balance, and Lois never reacted well to being on the defensive. Her supposed blindness was a constant irritant in their relationship, and matters were not helped by Clark's own Big Secret — if she was like this after finding out the truth about Luthor, how on Earth would she react to discovering that he was Superman? It wasn't an enticing prospect …
So he'd taken back his declaration of love, and Lois' protective barriers, always strong, had slammed back up. He had resigned himself to having to work his way through them in much the same way as he had when they'd first met; at least they were still friends, so he was starting a bit further forward this time.
But it *had* to be that way, just as he'd had to lie about his feelings for her. Lois had had so many bad experiences in her relationships with men that she was scared to trust anyone (especially anyone male) with her true self, and he knew that the only way that he could achieve his goal was to prove himself worthy of her trust. Oh, he could have made a play for her while she was vulnerable after the wedding, but the *last* thing that he wanted was to catch her on the rebound from Luthor. She'd have felt betrayed when she learned his secret, and she'd have been right. He couldn't take advantage of her that way …
Darn it, he loved Lois Lane, and that really said it all. He loved her — *all* of her, including the less conventionally appealing aspects of her complex personality — and wanted her to love him with her whole heart and mind, which included those same aspects as well as the caring, compassionate side of her that few people were aware of. To do that, though, she had to regain the fire and drive that made her the reporter (*and* woman) that she was and that he had fallen for, and that had been muted in recent months — although he was beginning to see traces of it in the last couple of weeks, he thought.
But, until now, he had been sure that she would need more time to recover, so he hadn't pushed, hadn't made any moves — hadn't done anything, really, other than do his best to be her partner and her friend, and to be there if and when she needed him. Eventually, when her insecurities had faded, he would see if there was any chance of a romance between them, and if there was, he would tell her the truth. Then, if he was *very* lucky and survived her anger, they might be able to go on to what he wanted— what he hoped they *both* would want, with no more secrets between them. But that was in the future.
Or *was* it? That was the question, wasn't it? Could he possibly have missed the signs that Perry had said that he'd seen? Was she giving off the kind of signal that he'd wanted to receive for so long, only for him to miss them because he was being careful not to spook her? Had he kept himself under such tight control around Lois that she thought he didn't care about her? Could she *possibly* think that after everything that they'd been through together?
Clark grimaced. He didn't know, and the thought troubled him deeply, even as it held out the prospect of granting his most fervent desire. His brain was beginning to feel like it was stuffed full of cotton as his mind went over and over what he'd heard, how Lois had acted (and *re*acted) towards him that day, the day before, last week …
He shook his head; this was getting him nowhere, although where the answer to this dilemma lay, he had no idea. What should he do? He couldn't let Lois go on thinking that he didn't care about her, even if she only wanted him to be her friend, but neither did he want his hopes and dreams to drive her away as they had done in the not-too-distant past. And, of course, she was mad at him right now, which hardly augured well for a heart-felt discussion about their feelings for one another, whatever those might be.
But, for all that, the only option that presented itself to his mind was to simply ask Lois how she felt about him. At least that way, he'd have a lead from her that he could follow. Of course, she'd immediately ask him why he was asking her this, and he wasn't looking forward to answering *that* question.
Running over all the ways that such a conversation might go, and what the reaction of the woman he loved would be to each variation, Superman drifted slowly between the clouds and the stars, his eyes not seeing the beauty of his surroundings because his mind was concentrated on another beauty …
Lois lay on her bed, *very* glad that the day was over. She was feeling more than a little washed out, both physically and mentally, and wanted nothing more at the moment than to just lie there and relax. Eventually, she knew, she'd have to get up and order dinner, but right now, calm and quiet were her top priorities. She just wished that she could stop thinking quite so hard …
That business with the pushers had been a bit scary, even for "Mad Dog" Lane. She was used to dealing with crooks, ranging from street thugs all the way to super-villains and politicians, but there was something so … not quite human in the complete and utter lack of feeling of this bunch — but then, if they'd had any human compassion in them, they wouldn't be pushing drugs, would they? — that it had spooked her. And then Clark had scared her to death when he'd started insulting the big gorilla who'd been guarding them. When he'd been dragged outside by the thug, she was half-sure that she'd never see him again, or if she did, he'd be beaten to a pulp.
She was *so* relieved when Superman came crashing in to free her. She'd tried to tell him to help Clark, but she'd gathered that the big guy had already taken care of it, which was an even bigger relief. That relief was mixed with some confusion: when the police had arrived, very shortly thereafter, she'd gathered that they'd come in response to a call from *Clark!* How he'd managed that, she had no idea. Nor could she *find* him …
It wasn't until the cops had dragged the sullen druggies away — those that were conscious — and Superman had flown off, that she'd managed to locate Clark, sitting comfortably and, to all outward appearances, unscathed, at the head pusher's desk, going through the guy's accounts for the last year! She hadn't known whether to clobber him or throw herself into his arms; she'd settled for a brief, muted show of relief, mixed with a little indignation, then had begun a steady campaign of questioning as to what had been going on.
Clark hadn't been very forthcoming about what he'd actually been doing, but she'd brow-beaten him until he admitted that he'd been deliberately baiting the guard to get the goon to take him outside for a beating — which was just what Clark wanted. Once out of the storeroom in which they'd been kept, he'd somehow got away, contacted Superman (just *how* did he do that, anyway?), and retired to see what he could dig up while the Man of Steel cleaned up the gang.
All of which sounded fair enough, as far as it went … except that there were one or two points that didn't quite ring true. For instance, the guard-gorilla had been out cold with a large bruise on his jaw. He'd been woken up by the police (with the aid of, yes, a bucket of water) as the two reporters were leaving the building; as they'd gone past, talking, the guy had noticed Clark, who'd had his back to the group of cops and crook, and he'd cringed away in what looked like abject fear. Why would a great brainless lump like him be so scared — and of Clark?
She began to ponder this, and what it might mean, but before she could get too involved, she was distracted by the sound of Lucy arriving home. This was a pleasant surprise — she'd been expecting her sister to be out on the town again — so she gave up on trying to figure out yet another mystery about Clark Kent and got up and went out into the living room.
"Hi, sis!" called a smiling, bouncy Lucy as she fluttered around the kitchen, getting out plates, glasses and assorted cutlery. "I got some *great* pizzas from a place Jimmy told me about— *not* the Italian-Chinese one, so don't worry! I mean, a chow mein pizza?! And some cream soda, 'cause I noticed you were getting low on it. I know there's lots of chocolate ice cream in the freezer, so we've got all the makings of a perfect dinner … Does that sound okay, or do you have to go out tonight?"
"No, no … " replied a bemused Lois. "I … don't have to work, and I hadn't made any plans. I was kind of expecting *you* to have some … going out with Jimmy again, I mean — you have been almost every night this week!"
"Yeah, I know … " said Lucy, blushing a bit, although not for the reason that Lois might have thought. "But he's busy tonight — like someone else I know, working for the Daily Planet can play havoc with his personal life. And besides, I *did* want to spend some time with my big sister while I'm here … "
"Oh … " smiled a pleased Lois. "That's great, Luce. I was kinda hoping we could do that, too. There's … a couple of things I wanna talk to you about … "
"Sure. No problem." Lucy grinned inside; Lois wanting to talk usually meant that she needed a sounding board while she thrashed something out with herself, and from what Jimmy and Mr White had said, it didn't take much imagination to guess what she had in mind. 'Hmmm … looks like they were right. Okay, so how do I do this?'
Then, as though really seeing her sister for the first time that evening, or perhaps just noticing her overall air of tiredness, Lucy said in a concerned voice that successfully hid a sudden leap of inspiration, "Hey, are you okay, sis? You look kinda beat … "
"Gee, thanks, Luce," Lois replied with just a hint of sarcasm. "That's *just* what I needed to know right now … Actually, you're right; today was on the nerve-wracking side, and a nice peaceful dinner with you would be really good."
Lucy didn't say anything, hoping that Lois would follow her usual train of thought when she was like this. She did. "I … think I'll go have a quick shower," Lois murmured. "Freshen myself up a bit. And we can eat in … say, 10 minutes?"
"Sure, go ahead. I'll warm things up, and we can dig in as soon as you're ready."
Lois headed for the bathroom. Once she was out of sight, Lucy punched the air in elation. 'Yes!' she thought. 'That gets her out of the way. Now to set this up … ' She picked up Lois' mobile phone and retired to the opposite corner of the living room from the bathroom. Once she heard the shower go on, she dialled the Whites' home number.
"Hello, Mrs White?" she whispered when someone answered. "Lucy. Look, I'm all set here. You call me back on Lois' number — *not* her mobile — in about 5 minutes. Let the phone keep ringing, even if I don't answer; I want to catch Lois as she steps out of the shower, and there's no way of knowing when that will be. Got it? … Yeah, just like we rehearsed … Okay, see you then. 'Bye."
Lucy closed down the phone and returned it to Lois' handbag. She darted into Lois' bedroom and turned off the sound on the phone extension, then shot back out into the living room and did likewise on the receiver there. Then she went to attend to dinner, looking over her shoulder every few seconds, checking the "incoming call" light on the phone.
However, before there was any sign of a call, she heard the shower stop. She quickly ducked down behind the counter, rattling a few pots and pans as she thought furiously. 'Now what do I do?' Her careful plan was coming apart, even before she'd started!
But then Providence smiled: Lois came out of the bathroom and called, "Be with you in a couple of minutes, Luce. I'm just going to dry my hair," as she walked into her bedroom. Lucy heard the hair-dryer start up and let out a huge sigh, which she hoped was hidden by the noise of the dryer; it was a nice, quiet one, but Lois ought not to have heard her, though she *would* be able to hear her on the phone if she pitched her voice right. This would work just as well — even better, because now Lois would be able to follow the entire "conversation" rather than have to work out what was going on from what she heard Lucy say; all Lucy had to do was warn Mrs White!
As if on cue, the call light began blinking. Lucy dived for the phone and hissed, "Hello?" Much to her relief, it was Alice. "Listen," she whispered urgently, "Lois is in the bedroom, so she'll be able to listen in on the extension. Call me back in about a minute, okay?" She then hung up, praying that Lois had been too busy to notice the call, and turned the phone's ringer back on.
The dryer kept running, and there was no other sign that Lois had even known that there had been a call, so Lucy checked dinner, which was warming nicely, and took a few deep breaths to ready herself for her role. She hadn't quite finished when the phone rang, and she jumped a little in surprise, but recovered quickly, calling out, "I'll get it," before once again going over to answer it. 'Here we go … ' she thought as she picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Oh, hi, Mrs White," she began softly — but not too softly — after Alice had identified herself. "Thanks for calling. Yeah, I can talk now, provided we're quick; Lois is drying her hair, but she ought to be a while yet."
Lois could hear Lucy's voice even above the hair-dryer, but wasn't paying attention. Until, that is, she heard her own name, at which point her ears pricked up and, almost unconsciously, she concentrated so as to make out her sister's carefully-pitched murmur. Who was Lucy talking to, and why did it make a difference that *she* was drying her hair? She tip-toed over to the door and listened.
Lucy grinned when she saw the light under the bedroom door disappear, blocked off by a pair of feet, and raised her voice slightly. " … yeah, Lois did look kinda beat when she got home. Of course, that's not unusual for her … No, I haven't had a chance to talk to her about that … or anything, really, though I was hoping to do it tonight. We were just going to have dinner and catch up on things a bit — I haven't seen a lot of Lois since I got here — and I thought I might be able to slip in a few feelers then. It's gonna take a while, 'cause Lois doesn't like talking about herself, you know that … "
'Talk to me about *what?* And who is Lucy talking to?' Lois glanced towards the bedroom extension, but she didn't want to leave her current position, lest she miss something. So she stayed where she was, but her eyes kept straying that way even as they widened with surprise at Lucy's next words.
"Yeah … yeah … Really? Oh, that's a shame; Clark is *such* a nice guy, but you know Lois … "
'*Clark?!*' Lois thought to herself, startled. 'What is Lucy doing, talking to someone about Clark, and why doesn't she want *me* to know about it?' She dived for the bedroom extension, her need to be quiet making her steps into a kind of ungainly tip-toed prance, but she didn't notice; whatever was going on, she *had* to find out about it!
Lucy heard the click as Lois picked up the extension and grinned again. 'Oh, sis, your ears must be burning … and you ain't heard nothin' yet! But you're *going* to … ' And she began to make sure Lois did just that: "She really doesn't know how lucky she is, you know. I mean, there are girls out there who'd *kill* for someone like Clark to feel like that about them — I might, myself! Not with Clark, of course — what would be the point? He's only ever had eyes for Lois, the whole time I've known him.
"Not that *she* knows that. Not Lois — if a guy doesn't fly around in blue tights and a cape, or isn't the third richest man in the world, she hardly notices them if they're not involved in a story she's writing. Not *that* way, anyway. Not even a hunk like Clark … It's a real shame … "
"Yes, it is," agreed Alice. Her voice had a slight tremor in it, and she paused as she tried to remember exactly how she was supposed to say the next bit, but even before she could begin speaking again, she heard what had to be a muffled gasp from the phone. The thought of surprising Lois so much that she hadn't been able to keep quiet gave her more confidence as she went on, "Perry's getting really worried about him … "
'Alice? Lucy's talking to *Alice* … about *Clark?!*' Lois was stunned. Her mind raced: this was obviously a continuation of another conversation that they'd had before; how … when … *why* had they been discussing herself and Clark? For a few seconds, she just stood there, a perplexed frown on her face, until Alice's voice caught her attention, and she realised that, despite the receiver jammed into her ear, she'd lost the thread of what the older woman had been saying. She blanked out the crazy speculations that her mind had begun to come up with, concentrated on the phone and listened, hard.
" … so Perry thinks that Clark's close to giving up," Alice said, "and he's not at all sure what that's going to mean for the paper. A year ago, the two of them might have been able to continue as partners; that's all they were at the time, although Perry is pretty sure that Clark was in love with Lois even then. But now … well, he thinks that Clark couldn't stand a re-run of the Luthor business. Quite apart from the bombing and the shut-down of the paper, it must have killed the poor boy to see Lois in that *horrible* man's clutches … What on Earth did she see in him? I never liked him — too smooth by half — but Clark and I seemed to be the only ones who saw that.
"Anyway, if Lois gets involved with another man, Lex Luthor or not, Perry doesn't think that Clark will stay around to see his dreams shattered a second time. He'll go. Heavens, any newspaper in the country would snap him up."
"Boy, I bet Mr White's not happy about *that!* He'd hate to lose Clark."
"Oh, yes! 'Lane and Kent' are his pride and joy, but he wouldn't stop Clark. The Planet staff are like a second family to Perry, and he's a big teddy bear at heart under that 'editor face' that he puts on, so he wants his people to be happy. And Clark will never be happy — not *really* happy — at the Planet if Lois can only ever see him as her work partner."
"Oh, poor guy … "
"Yes, it's sad. Perry says that Clark's been trying to get over Lois lately — keeping his distance, being strictly professional around her — but it's not working. He loves her too much, and only a clean break will do any good. Unless Lois comes to appreciate Clark as a man, and not just as her partner, I'm afraid 'Lane and Kent' are doomed."
"Well, like I said the other night, I'll try to find out what Lois feels about him, but it's not going to be easy … "
Lucy chattered on, supposedly planning to subtly grill her sister but not confident that it would do any good, but Lois didn't hear it. Her hand fell away from her face, taking the receiver with it, but she didn't notice. She stared into space, her eyes wide, but she didn't see the familiar confines of her bedroom. Her mind was ignoring all external information as it went round and round the single train of thought that was all that it could encompass. Alice's words rang, repeatedly, in her ears: 'Clark was in love with Lois … he loves her too much … loves her … *loves* her …
'Ohmigod! Clark loves me! No, no, he can't … *can* he?'
Lois put the phone down automatically and flopped down on the bed. Outside in the living room, Lucy heard the clunk of the receiver; actually, she'd have had to be deaf *not* to hear it, because Lois hadn't made any effort at all to muffle the sound — Lucy had heard the rattle of the handset in its cradle in the bedroom! She giggled and whispered ecstatically to Alice, "We *got* her! That was brilliant, Mrs White! You were *great!* I don't think Lois knows what hit her!"
Alice laughed softly. "I think you're right. Oh, wouldn't I like to be a fly on the wall there, right now? What are you going to do when she comes out?"
"I don't think I'll have to do anything. If I know Lois, she'll want to think this over, and she won't want me around while she does it, so she'll probably go out. So you won't miss much anyway."
"Oh … *what* a shame," Alice replied mischievously. "We better hang up. Keep me posted."
"You bet!" Lucy grinned. "Catch you later." She rang off and headed back to the kitchen, struggling to keep something approaching a straight face. Lois would be emerging in a couple of minutes and Lucy didn't want to give the game away, even if her big sister *was* totally zonked out by the "news" about Clark.
"Zonked out" was not a bad description of Lois at the moment, as it happened. She was still sitting on her bed, staring into space and totally oblivious to everything outside her own head. How long, left to her own devices, she would have remained like that … well, the question suddenly became moot as one hand, until now resting on her thigh, slid off and into the flow of hot air from the long-forgotten hair-dryer, also on the bed. The heat of the airstream was enough to make her pull her arm away, and that action brought her back to the world.
She jumped to her feet and looked around the room, almost wildly. Suddenly, her bedroom — the entire apartment — seemed miniscule and confining. 'I've got to get out of here,' she thought. 'I've got to think about this, and I can't do it here … '
A rattling noise came from outside, and her head snapped around to glare at the door. 'Lucy! Oh, God … I can't possibly think about this properly if she's here!' The need to get out became overwhelming, and Lois was galvanised into action: she charged over to her wardrobe and grabbed a pair of jeans, a shirt and a sweater. She dressed almost frantically — not quite up to the speed of Clark's spin-change, but not bad for a mere human — pulled on a pair of comfortable shoes and, flinging open the bedroom door, strode purposefully into the living room.
Her sudden entrance startled Lucy, so that she didn't have to dissemble much as she asked, watching Lois pull on her coat, "Lois? What gives? Are you going somewhere? Dinner's nearly ready … "
'Oh, hell … ' Lois' mouth quirked as she wracked her brains for a plausible reason for leaving so abruptly, especially when she'd said earlier that she was looking forward to a quiet evening with her sister. 'Why would I rush off like this normally?' Not that there was anything normal about this situation, but that didn't matter; she *had* to get out of here so that she could *think.*
"I'm sorry, Luce. I … I … have to go see one of my snitches … Bobby! Bobby BigMouth, yeah, that's who I have to see … I … I … have to go get him some food; that's how I pay him! 'Scoops for Food', that's Bobby's motto … he's even got it on his 'business cards', can you believe it?" Lucy hadn't said anything, so Lois rattled on, "He's … he's been keeping his ears open for anything he can find out on that corruption story I've been working on, and I … forgot that he said that he might have something for me tonight. I'll … I'll be a while … I have to go get Bobby something different to eat; he gets bored with ordinary take-out … unless he's in one of his patriotic moods … so don't hold dinner for me, I'll get something when I get Bobby his 'fee' … " By now, Lois had grabbed her coat and was heading for the door. "Gotta go. 'Bye, sis … "
Lois dived out of her apartment and charged down the hall and out of the building as fast as she could. Behind her, Lucy flopped onto the couch and finally let loose the laughter that she had been holding in all the time Lois had been talking. She hadn't said a word while her sister had been babbling — she'd hadn't been *able* to!
'Oh, Lois … ' Lucy thought, once she'd regained some measure of self-control. 'If you only knew … ' But then, her thoughts turned to Lois and her new-found dilemma, and that calmed her down even further. 'I just hope you make the right choice, sis. You need someone, and you need to realise that you need someone — and Clark just might *be* that someone. Give him a chance — give *yourself* a chance!'
There was no point waiting up; if Lucy knew her sister, Lois might not be back for hours — or at all. It wouldn't be unheard of for Lois to stay out all night when she was like this. One thing was certain: her sister definitely had something to think about!
Lucy looked around for her purse and rummaged in it. Somewhere in there was the card with Jimmy's scrawled number of that cellphone that Mr White had given him. He hadn't returned it yet, so she thought she'd give him a call and they could compare notes on their night's work …
Lois reached a local main drag and began to wander along it. The street was well-lit and sufficiently busy for it to be safe enough for her to relax her attention to her surroundings and concentrate on the … mind-boggling news that she'd heard not long before.
'Well, it sure boggled *my* mind,' she mused. 'It's … it's … so incredible … I can't believe it — or can I?'
She shook her head. This was starting to feel like too many other times recently, when her mind would go round and round something — the puzzle of Clark's behaviour, to be specific — to no good purpose. 'I gotta work this out. No matter how long it takes this time. Thank God that Lucy didn't object to that … lame excuse … I made..!
'Oh, my G— I sound like Clark!
Lois was stunned. She'd had to get out of her apartment, had to get away from Lucy so that she could think, and without telling her sister the reason why, so what had she done? She'd come up with an excuse on the spur of the moment, not caring how dumb it sounded (even if it was a perfectly reasonable thing for her to do, at another time, in another place), and she'd … left. Just like Clark.
Was *that* why he was always rushing off? Did he absolutely *have* to leave, but couldn't explain why to her because … because *she* was the reason?
Was that it? Did he love her so much that sometimes he couldn't stand being with her when he thought that she didn't care for him in return?
It made sense. It made a *lot* of sense. It explained *so* much … his support and his reserve, his vanishing acts, his general wariness around her — except when they got into an argument. Even *that*, a sudden leap of realisation told her, was part of his … unique way of caring for her; he'd guessed that her self-confidence had taken a blow from the whole Lex mess, and so he'd set out to help her get it back by, of all things, *fighting* with her — baiting her so that she'd fight back and thereby regain her inner strength.
Lois stopped and shook her head again, almost in disbelief; she was astonished and touched that anyone would do that for her. When she thought about it, that *Clark* would do this was even more astounding, because, by making himself a target for the aggression that she needed to let out in order to get past the frustration and self-doubt that was Luthor's legacy to her, he ran the very real risk of having her grow to dislike, even loathe him, as a direct result of what he was doing to *help* her. And she didn't doubt for a minute that he knew that …
This was … *beyond* incredible! He valued her so highly that he was trying to help her become the woman she'd been a year ago — a woman who had never hesitated to express her uncomplimentary opinion of him, who had belittled him and treated him like the unwelcome imposition that he was (or so she'd thought, then) — because that was what he thought *she* needed. He was putting her needs ahead of his own — had *anyone* ever done that for her before?
What made it even more extraordinary is that he must have come to value that woman … 'Come on, Lois, admit it: he *fell in love* with that woman!' … even though she— *I!* — treated him so badly. What on Earth had she done to earn that?
She looked up at the clouds, lit by the city lights, and her eyes began to sparkle with tears. It all made sense now; all the confusion had gone, all the questions had suddenly been answered by one simple fact.
'Clark loves me!'
Her mind lingered over that, and she was amazed at the joy that was welling up inside her at the thought. But then she remembered what Alice had said: that Clark "was close to giving up" — which had to mean giving up *on her* — and that sobered her, although it couldn't dampen the sudden rush of feeling completely.
'What am I going to do?' For a gloriously giddy moment, she entertained the idea of running all the way to Clark's apartment, but her imagination faltered at the point where she arrived at his door and pounded on it, demanding instant entry. 'What would I do when I got there?' she wondered. 'What if he's out?' And then, with a sudden surge of apprehension, 'What if he's *in?!*
'Okay, okay … just hold on a minute, girl,' she told herself. 'Let's think about this, calmly and rationally. I've just found out that Clark is in love with me, and has been for a long time — or so Perry thinks,' she admitted somewhat reluctantly. 'Assume he's right — assume that everything that I've just thought about is right — what does that mean?'
'What do you *want* it to mean?' another part of her shot back.
'I … don't know.'
'Well, you better make up your mind, because if Perry's right, Clark's near the end of his tether; if you don't decide for yourself, he's likely to make that decision for you, and you know what he'll decide … '
"No!" she cried, and then stopped, startled by the sound of her own voice and the fact that she'd said it aloud. "No … "
No, she couldn't let that happen. She couldn't let Clark just walk away thinking that she didn't care for him. If he loved her that much — 'What's this *if* business?' she asked herself, almost angrily. 'There is no if; he *does* love me— he *must!* — then he deserved to know how she felt. If only she had a better idea herself …
'Don't give me that,' came the reply from inside her. 'You know perfectly well how you feel about him; you're just scared to admit it!'
'No, no … it's not that simple.'
'Yes, it is! Why were you so happy to find out why he's been running off? Why are you so worried that he might leave? Why are you so convinced that, and I quote: "he *does* love me— he *must!*" Come on, Lois, face it — that's more than mere friendship. You love Clark.'
'Oh, God … I do. I *love* him … '
Stunned anew by this revelation, she started walking again, her pace slower and more relaxed than before. Not that she felt particularly relaxed; if anything, she was tenser and more on edge than she had been before she left home. The difference was that, this time, she knew the cause of her unease.
'Why am I so scared of loving Clark?
'Because every other man who I've ever cared for has deceived me and wanted to control me. Is Clark any different?
'He *is*', she realised. 'He must be, or why would he risk so much to help me?' It occurred to her that she had asked herself something important only a few minutes before: had any man, in her entire life, ever put her needs ahead of his own? Clark had, repeatedly. The only other person who even came close in that respect was Superman, and he … well, he did it for everyone. Okay, he'd told her that she was special to him, but how special could she be to a guy who had an entire planet to look after? He'd always be her friend and watch out for her, she was sure, but was anything more than that even remotely likely?
Probably not. But *Clark* … Clark was holding out the prospect of a real relationship, something that, deep down, she knew that she'd always wanted, but had brainwashed herself into "believing" wasn't possible, not on terms that she was prepared to accept. Or, rather, he would hold it out if he had any reason to believe that she wouldn't turn him down like she had a few months ago. She must have hurt him terribly then …
'Oh, Clark,' she thought, her eyes misting, 'if you can go through all that and *still* love me, how can I help but love you back? And I do, I do … it just took me until now to realise it. I only hope that I haven't left it too late; please, keep on loving me for a few more days, and I'll make sure you know how I feel … now that I know myself!'
She raised her eyes to the night sky again, to see the moon shining brightly. It seemed appropriate, somehow, although she couldn't quite think why. Then she remembered a line from Shakespeare, from "Romeo and Juliet":
"Lady, I swear by yonder moon … "
Lois' eyebrows went up at the thought; in a way, that was what she had just done — sworn by, or at least under, the moon to tell Clark of her newly-discovered (or newly *recognised*, for they were of longer standing than she cared to think about right now) feelings, something that she intended to do at the first suitable opportunity. Then she giggled — whatever else he may be, Clark was certainly no *lady!*
"Okay, so I swear by yonder moon, *laddie!*" she murmured to herself, chuckling. "The only question is when and where … "
She turned around and headed back towards her apartment, thinking hard. Now that she knew what she wanted to do, the famous Lane organisational skills were coming into play; it was going to take an effort to do this, but she wanted to get it *right*, for both their sakes.
She passed a delicatessen, and her stomach rumbled in protest at the smell. She paused for a moment; she had a lot of important planning to do, so she'd better get something to eat — besides, she'd told Lucy that she'd eat while she was out, and it would be better to keep up her cover story. She didn't want to talk to Lucy about this — not now, not yet. The feelings were too new to share just yet, and, as much as she didn't want to think about it, there was also the possibility that she— they *all* — were wrong about Clark. She'd tell Lucy about overhearing Alice's call after things had worked themselves out … one way or the other.
Lois went into the deli and began composing a "working dinner". She wouldn't be doing any reporting tonight, but she would be concentrating on something potentially as important to her. It was a startling thought, that, for Lois Lane, but it was also something that was … exciting, and she was determined to see it through, just as she would have a major story. First, though, she needed food …
Jimmy looked up from the computer screen as the elevator doors opened, and watched Lois step out and head for her desk. She looked a bit weary, as well she might after a day like today. He saw her glance over towards Clark's desk, and lowered his head quickly to hide a smile at the disappointed look that flashed briefly across her face when she saw that *he* was sitting there, rather than the desk's owner.
After thinking over the events of the previous evening, Perry had decided to let things stew a little. This he did by the simple expedient of putting into action his contingency plan, which amounted to giving Lois and Clark separate assignments — repeatedly. Fortunately, it was a relatively busy time for news, so, as each of them finished their current story, Perry would shove them out the door again — *alone* — and had kept both of them on the hop, all day. The result of all this was that, by the evening, they had barely seen each other for more than a few minutes, if that, since they had said good morning to one another upon arriving at work.
This, the conspirators had no doubt, would add a certain frisson to the atmosphere when the would-be lovers met for the first time after their respective "revelations"; more to the point, it would hopefully mean that they'd arrange to meet and talk fairly soon. Perry was concerned that Lois would pull further into her shell if she had too much time to think; much better for everyone if she was swept along by events before she could brood overly. Of course, keeping them apart today was something of a risk, but worth it; with any luck, the separation would encourage them to get together that same night, and Lois would commit herself before she was able to think of reasons not to. Perry was certain that, once he knew how Lois felt about him, Clark wouldn't let her get away.
The elevator arrived again a few minutes later, and both Lois and Jimmy turned to see Clark step down into the newsroom. Lois gave him a blinding smile. Jimmy, glancing over to catch her reaction, only caught the edge of it, as it were, but the sheer happiness on Lois' face and the beauty that it revealed were enough to make him gasp; Clark caught the full effect and it just about floored him. As it turned out, this was just as well, because it gave Jimmy a chance to recover slightly, quickly close the programs and files that he was working on, and scuttle to another reporter's desk just as Clark reached his own.
"Hi, CK!" Jimmy called. "Sorry to have to borrow your computer, but the conference room machine is tied up … "
"That's okay, Jimmy," Clark replied, somewhat absently, as he dropped into his chair. Clark wasn't particularly worried about the young man using his computer while he was away; Jimmy, for all that he was the Planet's hacker par excellence, never poked around in fellow staffers' personal directories unless asked to, and it wasn't as though Clark kept anything on his machine that he minded people seeing — eventually, anyway. Lois, on the other hand … well, suffice it to say that anyone — even Clark — who used *her* computer did so under the threat of MAE: Mutually Assured Embarrassment. Mess around where you shouldn't, and you could expect to be on the receiving end of a spectacular, *public* act of revenge.
Speaking of public … what could have produced a smile like *that?* He wasn't sure that he'd ever seen Lois look like that before, not even when she was in "moony-eyed cheerleader" mode, totally enraptured by Superman. Smile, yes, he'd seen her smile often, but there was something different about this one. It wasn't a smile of achievement, expressing satisfaction or enthusiasm, work-related or otherwise; nor was it malicious, the smile she had when she was one up on the world, or getting her own back on somebody; it wasn't even a smile of relief, the kind she wore after they'd managed to get out of *another* jam that could, or ought to, add to their collection of scoops; it had been … just wonderfully, incredibly *happy!* And it was directed at *him* …
Talk about heart-stopping..! For a moment, he could barely breathe, so utterly staggered was he by the fantastically beautiful sight— fantastically beautiful *woman* — that he had beheld. And sexy! It had taken a *lot* of self-control not to head straight over to her desk, scoop her up and fly right out the skylight to somewhere private where he could express the desire that had raced through him like lightning — or what he thought it must feel like to be hit by lightning, anyway.
Well, if Lois was in a good mood — and if that smile was any indication, she was in a *better* than good mood, at least as far as he was concerned — that was all the more reason to seize the moment and follow up on what he had heard last night. He still didn't know how she would react to learning his secret, but he had decided to take things one step at a time. Once he knew for certain, one way or the other, how she felt about him— *them* … he'd know what to do; *how* to do it was another problem, but it could wait — for a while.
He began to stand up, intending to go over to Lois' desk and talk to her, but was forestalled by Perry emerging from his office in typical fashion. "Lois! Clark! I need those stories in fifteen minutes!" the editor bellowed.
Lois looked over at Clark for a second, her eyes silently communicating something along the lines of, "Is he kidding?" before returning to her screen. Clark replied, "Right, Chief," his voice suddenly weary. Lois didn't bother with that much.
'Great timing, Chief,' Clark thought. Oh well, at least it looked as though Lois wouldn't be leaving immediately, either; with luck, he could still catch her before she went home.
It took a certain amount of judicious use of super-speed while typing, but Clark managed to have his article ready by Perry's impossible deadline. Lois, having had a small but significant head-start, finished hers at almost the same time, and the stories headed for their boss's printer together. There'd be a short wait while Perry looked their work over, which suited Clark just fine. He got up and wandered over to Lois' desk.
"Hi," he said quietly, carelessly. "Some day, huh?"
"I'll say," she replied. "Oh, my aching feet! I know reporters are supposed to pound the pavement, but *this* is ridiculous!" She stretched in her chair, seemingly oblivious (but actually, nothing of the kind — Lois was not above setting a careful lure) to the spectacular expanse of leg that this revealed to her partner. "I am *shattered* … "
Clark had been very careful not to react to Lois' "unconscious" display, although he had admired it as thoroughly as he could without being obvious. However, her claim of exhaustion gave him the opening that he'd been hoping for. "Too shattered to have dinner?" he asked. "I owe you a meal after the other night, and it would save you having to cook … "
She glared at him, but in a friendly, oh-ha-ha manner, and he grinned back. The glare, never very intense and half in jest anyway, softened and dissolved under the effect of his smile. "That would be great, Clark."
"Okay. My place or yours? And what would you like?"
"Your place; I'm in the mood for a nice, quiet couple of hours, and I don't want to have to cope with Lucy — not that she's all that hard to cope with, but I don't feel up to making the effort unless I really have to …
"What would I like? Decisions, decisions … why don't you surprise me? Something from one of those wonderful little places that you know about but I can never find … "
"I think that can be arranged … "
Clark was cut off by Perry, who appeared at his doorway again to yell, "These are fine, kids! Unless you got anything else to do, you can go."
"You heard the man," Lois murmured. "I am *outta* here!"
"Me, too. What time should I expect you?"
Lois looked at her watch and thought for a moment. "Seven-thirty too early? I mean, to get dinner and all … "
Clark did a few quick calculations in his head. A quick trip across the Atlantic and back, some shopping while he was there, allow for the time difference … "Nope, that should be fine. See you then?"
"Yep. Oh, and Clark? Get lots — I'm *hungry!*" With that, Lois grabbed her purse and her coat and left, throwing another bewitching smile over her shoulder as she headed for the elevator. Clark smiled back and started to return to his own desk to pack up and follow her. However, before he got very far, his attention was caught by another person on the move: Jimmy, who'd been lurking in the background, supposedly engrossed in whatever he was doing at the computer that he was using, leapt up with a huge grin on his face and dived in the direction of Perry's office.
Clark's eyebrows rose. 'Wonder what *that* was about?' Well, if it was any of his business, the Chief would tell him. 'Just not right now, please, Perry … ' Clark had more important things on his mind — and one important thing … er, person, in particular.
Unfortunately for the peace of that same mind, Clark had, as usual, to pass fairly close to the office wall to leave, and the two men inside the office weren't keeping their voices as low as they might have if they'd realised that he was there …
Clark sat on his bed, his head in his hands, wondering how on Earth (or Krypton, or all the space between) he was going to get through this evening. Right now, all he wanted to do was fly off to the Arctic and scream, the way he had when Lois had accepted Luthor's proposal. However, Lois was due in a few minutes, so that was out. He'd tried to call her to beg out of dinner, but she wasn't answering her mobile, and when he called the apartment number, he got her machine. He supposed that he could have just left a message, but he couldn't think of what to say — and he was pretty sure that his voice would have given him away. He thought he could have managed to keep an even, albeit regretful tone if he had been able to talk to Lois herself — her presence, even on the end of a phone line, always gave him a little something extra to draw on, especially if what he had to do concerned her — but he was afraid that his misery would be all too obvious if he spoke to the machine.
She was a bit late but, after a day like this, that was hardly surprising. Clark had no doubt that she'd be here any minute now; he was just going to have to try to cope.
'Come on, Kent … You can do this. It's not as though you've never done it before. Just forget about your crazy dreams and be what you are — Lois' friend. That's who she needs, and that's all she wants, so that's who you'll have to be. Don't ruin *her* evening.'
Clark dragged himself wearily out to the kitchen, where he checked the pot on the stove. It had taken an effort, but, since he hadn't been able to get in touch with Lois, he'd forced himself to go through with getting dinner for her. Earlier, back at the Planet, he'd decided on something a bit different from their usual take-out routine, and had planned to visit a little cafe that he knew in the back streets of Marseilles. The elderly couple who owned it always had a huge pot of delicious bouillabaisse on the simmer; they liked to joke that they'd kept the same stew going ever since they first started it — as newlyweds, back in 1950! In the way of these things in France, the cafe would still be open at that time of night, as would other little shops where Clark intended to get assorted cold meats and cheeses, some salad, French bread and wine to wash it all down with.
He'd got it all, but the shopkeepers had all noticed how down-heartened he was. Most of them hadn't said anything to his face, but the old lady from the cafe, Madame Marthe, had guessed — or, since she loved to gossip, had simply *assumed* — that he had trouble in "une affaire de coeur" and had been very sympathetic. She'd given him advice — none of which was the slightest use — while her husband had served and wrapped the bouillabaisse, and then, as he was leaving, she'd handed him a single red rose from a nearby table and told him to give it to "that lucky, *silly* girl." It was currently doing duty as a table decoration again, standing in a vase on the table in the dining area.
It was something to do, and it beat brooding, so he stirred the stew and tasted it. A little cool still, after its trip across the Atlantic, but delicious as ever. Lois should enjoy it. He sighed, and the depression came crashing down around him again. God, he couldn't even *think* of her without feeling that way; how was he going to manage when she *arrived?*
'The same way you always do, and for the same reason: you'll find the strength because that's what she needs you to do. Who knows, you might even enjoy tonight the way you would have if it had been any other evening and the two of you were just getting together after work.'
Somehow, Clark doubted that it was going to be that easy — not tonight, not after …
The doorbell rang. Startled, he dropped the spoon. Once he'd recovered it and cleaned up the small spill, a quick look around showed that everything was ready. He closed his eyes for a moment, gathering all the resolve and self-control that he could muster, and went over to the door. Opening it, he began as he intended to go on, saying in the lightest, most normal voice that he could muster, "Hi, Lois. Sorry it took me so long to get the door, but I was in the middle of check … ing … dinner … "
His voice trailed off as he beheld the person standing in the doorway. It was Lois, all right, but not the Lois that he'd last seen at work, nor the one that he was expecting.
She was *gorgeous!* Not that she was ever anything less than beautiful, but he'd thought that she'd go home and change into something comfortable to lounge around and relax in; instead, as she came in, calmly strolling past his thunderstruck figure, she took off her coat to reveal …
She was wearing a dress that … that … well, put it this way: it was going to go with French "cuisine" perfectly, because it was a classic example of Coco Chanel's concept of the "little black dress." It showed an enticing amount of Lois, and what wasn't visible, it clung to or fell away from in an … interesting manner as she moved. All in all, both she and it demanded a *lot* of medium- to close-range observation to appreciate fully.
Of course, he'd have to drag his eyes away from her face and hair to do that, and *that* was going to require considerable mental discipline. She'd put on a little more make-up than she normally wore at work, and had fluffed her hair slightly so that it sat up and framed her face in waves of dark brown that looked black in the subdued lighting of the apartment. The overall effect was stunning, and on top of that, the happiness from the office was still there, and *that* lit up her whole presence so much that Clark was glad that he didn't need to breathe more than once every twenty minutes or so — he thought that, at that rate, he'd probably be able to remind himself to do it on something approaching a regular basis. Any more often, though …
He took her coat and hung it up as she wandered into the living room area. She didn't stay there long, as the saucepan on the stove was giving off a wonderful odour, and she headed towards the kitchen to investigate. "Hey, something smells *great!* What's for dinner?"
"Ah … Bouillabaisse," said Clark, finally managing to get his brain working — after a fashion. "And a sort of French smorgasbord … well, some deli stuff — meat, cheese, that sort of thing … some salad and French bread to go with it … and we've got red or white wine — your choice … " Once again, his voice ran down as his mind decided to stop wasting the energy when it could be better employed appreciating the vision of loveliness now happily regarding the platters on the kitchen counter.
"Oo-la-la," chuckled Lois, "French night at 'Chez Kent', huh? C'est formidable." She lifted the lid of the stew-pot and inhaled. "Mmm … oh, I can hardly wait. This is terrific. Where'd you get it, Clark?"
"Oh … " he replied, internally commanding himself to stop gawking and start acting normally — whatever normal was when he had Lois wandering around his apartment in *that* dress. "From— from a little place I know, run by an old French couple."
"Where else? Y'know, one day, you're going to have to take me to some of these 'little places', Clark. I don't know how you find them. You've lived here what? — 18 months? — and you know all these wonderful places that I've never even heard of, and they all do the most fantastic cooking! Hey, maybe you should start an occasional column in the Planet — 'Kent's—' no, '*Clark's* Take-out: your guide to the best that Metropolis has to offer in convenience food.' I mean, there was that Chinese food that we had not long after you arrived at the office, and all the great stuff we've shared on stake-outs, and don't even get me *started* on that Belgian chocolate cheesecake that we had that time I stayed over … "
She came over to him and gently but firmly grabbed his shirt-front. "You should share your knowledge," she said, slowly pulling his face close to hers. Her voice dropped and took on a husky note. "Specifically, you should share it with *me* … " she breathed, placing the softest of kisses on his lips. But before Clark could react, she let him go and stepped over to the table. "Oh, this is lovely," she said. "I really like the rose. I don't recognise the type; where'd you get it?"
Clark was now totally at sea, but he manfully struggled to keep up his end of the conversation. "Ah … " he stammered, "Mme Marthe — the old lady who made the bouillabaisse — gave it to me. I … ah … think she has a relative who breeds them. I don't know what type it is, either … "
She looked at him, dazzling him with another of *those* smiles and giggled. "Madame *Marthe?* You're kidding … " Then, a thought apparently occurring to her, she cocked her head to one side, lifted an eyebrow and asked, "Clark, did your mother make the bouillabaisse?"
It took Clark, not exactly operating on all cylinders, a moment to work out what she was talking about. "Oh … oh, no!" he said once the penny had *finally* dropped. "You know, I never made the connection before between Mom's name and Mme Marthe — weird, huh?" He laughed and shook his head in amazement. "Anyway, this isn't one of Mom's recipes. She's not really into French cooking. She can *do* it, she just prefers Asian or what she calls 'good old-fashioned Kansas food.' No, this really was made by a little old French couple, just like I said … "
"So much the better … not that your mother's cooking isn't wonderful, but … I guess that it being *authentic* bouillabaisse makes dinner just a little bit extra special."
Had Clark been his normal self, he might have picked up on Lois' wording and wondered about the "*extra* special" bit, which might have implied that there was something already special about what had started out as an ordinary dinner shared by two close friends and partners. As it was, he missed it completely, for the same reason that he hadn't noticed that Lois was decidedly nervous. A dispassionate observer might have said that she was hiding it well, although it seemed to *her* that everything that she had said and done since arriving must have been screaming it to the world. So, when Clark went into his bedroom for a moment, she was glad of the chance to take a few deep breaths and try to calm herself down.
Whatever internal equanimity she might have achieved, however, went straight out the window when he came back out. During his absence, he'd changed from the comfortable after-work clothes that he'd been wearing when she arrived into something that was more of a match for her outfit — to wit, a dark charcoal suit with a fresh white shirt and a tie that Lois recognised as being one of Martha's more restrained designs. He'd also brushed his hair (although that errant lock hung down, as usual, over one eye) and even, she thought, seemed to have managed to *shave* …
'Oh, wow … ' Lois thought, her heart suddenly pounding — but in a good sort of way. 'Look at him. *That* is a terrific-looking guy … And it's not just any guy, it's *Clark!* Go for it, girl — and don't mess up!'
She watched in silent appreciation as he went over to the stove and tasted the stew. "Hmmm … " he murmured thoughtfully, before saying in an apologetic voice, "It'll be a couple of minutes yet, I'm afraid. I've learned the hard way that you have to heat Mme Marthe's bouillabaisse *slowly*, or it loses something. And I definitely want you to taste it at its best … "
For just a moment, Lois was lost for words. Maybe it was crazy but, as he spoke, it had struck her, quite forcefully, that Clark was, yet again, showing how much he cared for her; he'd not only gone to the effort to get something special for what, to him, was an ordinary dinner, but he was doing his best to make it perfect — for *her*. Part of her said that this was stupid, that she was reading way, way too much into simple cookery, but the rest of her was convinced that even something as small as trying to get dinner just right was another example of this incredible man expressing his regard for her. It might be nuts, but it was also heady stuff …
"Th-that's okay, Clark," she stammered. She quickly looked around for something to focus on and collect her whirling thoughts, and then sat down on the couch. "There's … something I've been meaning to talk to you about, and this is as good a time as any … " She patted the couch next to her. "W-why don't you come over here and sit down?"
"Okay … " he replied, puzzled, a hint of concern in his voice. "Are you all right?"
Clark walked over to the couch and gingerly sat down, carefully keeping his distance from her. Lois noticed this and shuffled forwards, closing the gap between them while simultaneously treating him to another display of well-turned leg — which, she could tell by the widening of his eyes, he appreciated, just as she'd wanted him to do.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, wishing it were true and hoping that it would be, as soon as she managed to get this out — if only she could keep her voice steady. "I … I think that, in some ways, I've never been better. You see, Clark, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, about … all sorts of things … and … " She hesitated, gazing into his eyes, searching for reassurance that what she was about to say was the right thing, for both of them.
"And?" he prompted gently, his whole being radiating concern and care, and something else … she wasn't quite sure what it was, only that he seemed … almost frightened. 'What could he possibly be scared of?' she wondered. She had no idea, but she took strength >from both his supportive presence and the thought that he, who had helped her so much and so selflessly, might need *her* now, and pressed on.
"And … I've come to realise something … something that maybe I should have recognised some time ago, but … but I've always been a bit slow that way … "
She took a deep breath. "It's just that … well, you and I … we … Clark, you're the best friend I've ever had, the best one I can ever *imagine* having … " Clark looked as though he was going to say something, and his expression was downcast, but she rushed on, "but I … it took me by surprise, but I realised that you've become so much more to me over the last few months — and even before that, but lately … "
She looked heavenwards in exasperation with herself for babbling at a time like this. "Oh, God, I knew I'd mess this up — I always do." *Why* was it so hard to just come out and say it? Her voice took on a most peculiar tone — part desperate, part disgusted, pleading for his understanding — as, clenching her fists in one supreme effort, she managed to force herself to choke out, "Clark, what I'm trying to say, if only I could find the words, is that I *love* you!"
Clark gasped. His head whirled and he looked like he'd been pole-axed — which was more-or-less how he felt. The whole world, or at least the most important part of it to him, had just been turned upside-down — *again!* He shook his head, searching for a balance inside himself that refused to come; then, perhaps in the hope that an external anchor would provide some internal stability, he reached out to Lois and gently but very firmly took her by the shoulders. He ducked his head for a second before lifting it to look at her with eyes that seemed desperate, almost panic-stricken. "Lois … " he said, his voice trembling despite himself, "do you mean that? *Really* mean that?"
"Of course I mean it!" she replied softly, bewildered by his reaction. She'd finally managed to tell him how she felt, and his response was not at all what she'd expected — or hoped for. She felt herself retreat from him, beginning, as usual when she felt threatened, especially emotionally, to get angry, and matched her feelings with action by standing up and stepping away from him.
He came after her, which part of her found surprising if he didn't care; she didn't pursue that thought, however, because the rest of her was focused on the angry words that she threw at him: "Do you think I go around telling every stray man I meet that I love him? For God's sake, Clark, I bare my heart to you, and you ask if I *mean* it?!"
Her voice and suddenly bright eyes showed that she was on the verge of tears. This was more than Clark could stand, and he pulled her to him, enveloping her in a hug. She was stiff at first, hurt and confused, but, after a moment, she relaxed, the feel of his arms around her providing her with a comfort and security that she'd never known from anybody.
"Lois … " he began, "I'm sorry that I sounded … insensitive then, but I *had* to know. You see, I've got something to tell you, too. Two things, actually. One that I think— I *hope* — you'll be glad to hear, and one that I know that you won't. I … think I'd like to start with the good news … "
He gently lifted her head until he could look into her eyes. Lois found herself confronted with the warmest, most caring look that she had ever seen, and she had to fight to concentrate on what he was saying.
"The good news is … I love you, too. I always have, from the moment I met you. I love you in a way that I didn't know or believe was possible for me to love anyone … "
He would have said more, but Lois threw her arms around his neck and pulled his mouth to hers in a kiss so full of love, joy and passion that Clark, completely overwhelmed, began to float off the floor … until he realised it and forced himself back to Earth. Fortunately, Lois didn't notice the floating or his slight start when he realised what he was doing — besides, of course, kissing her.
They came up for air after a mind-numbing interval of bliss, their eyes shining, their breathing hard and erratic. "Wow … " Lois murmured breathlessly.
"Yeah, wow … " Clark panted in reply.
Lois gazed into his eyes again, and then grabbed him in a ferocious hug. "Oh, God, Clark," she said, her voice breaking with happy sobs, "Why didn't you *tell* me?"
"I didn't know *how* to tell you," he murmured, his face buried in her hair. "And I didn't think you'd want to hear it, anyway. Not after … "
"Not after last year … " she finished. All at once, she wanted to apologise for what she'd said and done then, and a whole lot more besides, but she couldn't find the words. She decided on some non-verbal communication instead, devouring his mouth in another kiss that had them both delirious with the love and the delight in one another that they now shared.
He seemed to get the message. Indeed, he seemed to be trying to send one of his own, to mirror her need for him to understand how she felt with an equally intense desire for her to know of his own feelings. There was something more in the way in which he held her, a barely-perceptible tremor in him that might be an indication of something else that they'd have to work out, but that was for the future; right now, she couldn't concentrate on anything but holding him and being held, and kissing him, and … and how *right* they felt together.
Some time later, after they'd managed to force themselves back to the world, albeit with their arms still locked around one another, and settled down on the couch again, Lois remembered what Clark had been saying before … *before!* She moved a little so as to be able to see his face and murmured, in a voice that couldn't keep all the incredible new-found happiness out, "Okay, so what's the *bad* news?"
It took Clark, still lost in the incredible sensation of knowing that Lois loved him, a moment to realise what she was talking about. "Oh … " he murmured, sounding surprised, and perhaps a little hesitant, "That … "
"Yes, *that*," she repeated, her voice playful, but with a trace of worry there, too. "Come on, Clark, you can tell me. I mean, it's not anything like you've got a wife and kids back in Kansas … *is* it?"
"No, no, no … " he stammered. "Nothing like that. Nothing to do with you and me … and us … um, well, sort of … "
"Clark … " Lois said, a warning tone now dominant in her voice, "Give, already."
"Okay, okay … It's just that … oh, this is embarrassing … Lois, you and I … tonight … we were … set up … "
"Huh? Set up? When? How? Would you care to elucidate, sir?"
"Okay … Um, last night … did you just *happen* to overhear Lucy and Alice talking about me? Saying that I loved you but was afraid to admit it?"
"Yes … " a surprised Lois said, rather slowly. "Yes, I did. They were talking on the phone while I was drying my hair … " She wriggled slightly within his arms, which he took as a sign that he should release her. She moved away from him on the couch, turning to regard him with a slightly worried expression. A touch of anger began to show itself in her voice as she went on, "Clark, how did *you* know about that?"
"Well, you see, at about the same time, I was on my way out of the newsroom after writing up the capture of those pushers, and *I* just *happened* to hear Jimmy and Perry talking about you — saying that *you* were in love with *me*, but scared to admit it!"
"What?! How did they—? You mean—?"
As the penny dropped, the anger in Lois' voice was taking over from the worry on her face, and Clark thought he could detect the early signs of a full-blooded Lane blow-up. He was glad that, for once, it wasn't directed at him — at the moment, anyway — but, ever the peacemaker, he tried to calm her down, although, even as he did so, he had reservations about his chosen method. 'Oh well, at least she won't be able to say that I kept *this* from her … ' "Take it easy, Lois … Besides, I have to explain something. Don't you want to hear how I found out about this little plot?"
"Go on … " she replied in a flat tone of voice that he recognised as coming from Lois at close to her most dangerous. 'Oh, boy … ' he thought, 'Make sure you get this right, Kent … '
"Well, I don't know if you noticed, but Jimmy was hanging round our desks a lot today — when we were *at* them, that is … I didn't think anything about it until we arranged to have dinner here tonight, and you left. As soon as you'd gone, I noticed him suddenly race off from where he'd been lounging around for the last half-hour, and dive into Perry's office."
Clark paused, then met Lois' still-angry stare with a rather shame-faced grin. "Uh, at this point, I have to confess to something that I have been known to tease *you* about … namely, indulging my curiosity. Jimmy shot off in such a hurry, with a huge grin on his face, and I couldn't help wondering where the fire was, so to speak. And when he went into Perry's office and didn't get blasted out immediately, I knew *something* was up! So, I … eavesdropped."
Lois' eyes widened, ever so slightly, at that admission. Ordinarily, she'd have kidded him unmercifully about this sudden departure from his normal, oh-so-respectable Kansas farm-boy behaviour, but she said nothing this time. She was still getting mad at … hell, she wasn't sure *who* to be mad at, who was involved in this … *scam*; she was just hoping with an intensity that surprised her that *Clark* wasn't going to be one of them! Unfortunately, a small part of her, way down in the innermost depths of her psyche, was preparing for what *it* considered the near-certainty that he'd tricked her, just like all the rest …
The rest of her mind, however, was concentrating on Clark and what he was saying — and *how* he was saying it. She noted that, for all his outward show of embarrassment, he could meet her eyes without flinching. Not that that was necessarily a guarantee of honesty — Lex Luthor, for instance, could have faced the Spanish Inquisition and never batted an eye even as he lied his way out of heresy charges — but, despite the tiny, insecure part of her subconscious, something inside her felt that Clark was telling the truth. Somehow, she couldn't imagine *him* deceiving her like this.
She listened hard, searching for the truth in his words, and in him, as he went on, "It wasn't intentional, at first; I think they must have thought that I'd gone already, so they didn't keep their voices down, and I couldn't help overhearing — just like the night before.
"And what I heard..! Jimmy was telling Perry about us arranging to have dinner, and Perry … *Perry* was laughing and saying something like, 'What did I tell you? We got 'em!' — and then he made some comment about Shakespeare and how Elvis would have made a great hero for him …
"I couldn't work out what they were talking about. Not until Perry said that 'the girls' must have done a great job on you, and that Jimmy should be sure to thank Lucy … And then … "
His voice faltered for a second, and Lois could almost feel a wash of anguish coming from him as he remembered what he had heard mere hours ago. It was almost as though he had forgotten she was there, but he needed to tell the story anyway.
"And then Jimmy said that he'd love to bug my place tonight … you thinking I loved you, me thinking you loved me … what we'd say to each other … how long it would take us to realise that it was the truth after all …
"That's when it hit me — we'd been set up! It was all a trick! Now I understood the bit about Shakespeare: somebody had had the bright idea of staging 'Much Ado About Nothing' with *us* as Beatrice and Benedick!
"I … I was appalled. I couldn't believe it— I didn't *want* to believe it! Not five minutes earlier, I was looking forward to tonight, and my main concern was finding the right way to tell you how I feel … and then *this* … "
He stopped, the remembered emotions smothering the stream of words that had come from him as he replayed those events in his mind. Despite her insecurities, Lois found herself murmuring, "Oh, Clark … that must have been awful for you … "
Clark got up and began to walk around the room, gesturing with his arms as he continued, "Lois, I don't want to *ever* have another day like this one! I have gone from the highest of high hopes, the prospect of having my dearest wish come true, to the depths of despair because it wasn't real … and then, tonight, back again to the heights!" He faced her, and she was taken aback by the look in his eyes: normally peaceful or playful, occasionally annoyed, more often laughing, sometimes sympathetic, rarely angry … right now, they were full of a fear that she'd never seen in him before. She almost asked what he was frightened of, but the question became un-necessary as he finished, "I … I just hope it isn't going to end … down in the depths again … "
In that instant, all Lois' doubts and fears vanished. The small section of her psyche saying, "I told you so … " shut up, totally crushed by the unshakeable conviction that shook her to her core. Every part of Lois Lane, and especially what made her the reporter that she was, *knew* that Clark was telling the truth: he *hadn't* known that she was being tricked; he had been fooled in exactly the same way! Which meant …
Almost before she knew it, she was in his arms again, her mouth locked to his. She tried to tell him that he didn't need to worry about that, that it was real, she did love him, but she couldn't stop kissing him long enough to get the words out. His kiss was impossibly sweet, and every time they stopped, she could hardly bear the separation. She was dizzy with an overwhelming need to kiss him, to taste him, to drink him into herself, to make him a part of her so that he would never leave.
A loud buzz from the kitchen brought both of them back to the world. "Oops … " muttered Clark. He gently — and reluctantly; Lois could tell — let go of her, got up and went over to the stove to turn it down and stir the bouillabaisse.
Lois wasn't paying much attention to what he was doing. At first, she just watched him as he got on with it, simply enjoying the sight of him and, to her surprise, feeling slightly lost and lonely without him, even though he was only a few feet away. Then, as she recovered from the semi-paralysis that his "absence" had put it into, she managed to drag her gaze away from him. She looked around the apartment, but didn't really see it; her mind was focused on something else: the astounding knowledge that she loved him — and he loved her.
However, eventually, she began to think about *how* the two of them had found this out — they'd been tricked! And that made her furious. Totally outraged, in fact. 'How *dare* they?!' she stormed to herself. 'How could my sister do this to me? And *Perry!* My own boss! I— I'll— Damn, I don't know *what* to do to them!'
Lois was so incensed and preoccupied with her thoughts that she didn't realise that she was voicing them in her fury. Very quietly, but not so quiet that they couldn't be picked up by a man with super-hearing. Clark, finished for the moment with preparing dinner, moved away from the stove to regard her, smiling despite himself at the sight of Lois, incredibly beautiful — and incredibly *angry.*
"Don't be too hard on them, Lois," he said softly. As she turned to glare at him, he held his arms out to her, his hands open. "Whatever they may have done, they were *right* — we did— we *do* love one another, and we *were* scared to tell each other how we felt. Okay, it's embarrassing to have our friends meddle in our lives like this, but I'm sure they only did it because they care … and maybe, just maybe, we needed it … "
He looked at her with those deep, chocolate eyes of his, and Lois felt her resentment start to melt away. He was right — again — and it did seem as though they'd needed the push to break them out of their impasse. With that thought, she realised that he was waiting — hoping? — for her to come to him. She did, and more of her anger faded in the feeling of his arms around her again, that secure contentment that was so unlike anything she'd ever known.
"Okay, okay … " she growled against his chest. "I guess you're right. All the same, they're *not* getting away with this. Good intentions or not, whatever the result, there's no way I'm going to stand for being manipulated like this! *Especially* not by my boss and my sister!"
She pushed away from him, just a little, and jabbed him with one finger. "And you, farm boy, are going to help! Hear me?"
"I hear you, Lois," Clark muttered, rolling his eyes, but smiling, too. "I hear you. Just what did you have in mind..?"
"THAT does it!"
Perry White looked up from his work as the cry of an infuriated Lois Lane rang across the newsroom. Actually, the word "rang", suggesting as it does a round, sonorous tone, comes nowhere near describing the way in which the sound of Lois' voice travelled; this was more like a crack of lightning, racing across space with far greater speed and energy than mere thunder, dealing GBH to any ear (and, quite possibly, building) unlucky enough to be in the way as it passed.
This didn't sound good. What followed was no improvement: Lois was hitting the roof over something, and she sounded nastier than usual; usually, when she was mad, she spent her time putting the other person down in a mildly contemptuous manner, as though they were barely worthy of the effort it took her to point out their faults, but this … this sounded positively vindictive!
He got up and went to the window to see who was on the receiving end of this extra-ordinary outburst, but it became obvious even before he'd left his seat, as a second angry voice lifted itself in impassioned argument. It was, of course, Clark.
It got worse. Phrases such as "Kansas hack!" and "city girl!" were flung around with such gusto that several nearby listeners, hanging on every word, recoiled, cringing at the sheer amount of venom that the two (especially Clark) managed to put into so few words; if they hadn't heard it, they wouldn't have imagined him capable of such viciousness. Lois, who, as usual, gave at least as good as she got, yes, but *Clark?*
Perry, watching from behind the blinds of his office, winced as the combat raged on. Ordinarily, he'd have put a stop to it fairly quickly, and he'd been about to do that when Lois had yelled something that had frozen him in place. He doubted that anyone knew what had started this fight, but it had become obvious to him that it had moved away from whatever the original disagreement was to far more personal matters; that would have been all the more reason for him to play the heavy and break up the fight, but Lois' words had brought it home to him, with all the subtlety of a bazooka, that something had gone wrong — *badly* wrong — between Lois and Clark last night. No-one else, except maybe Jimmy, could have known, but it was all too evident to him that the two of them had got together, just the way he'd wanted them to … and it had only made matters worse!
He sighed heavily and opened the door; he probably deserved this for being dumb enough to meddle in their personal lives, but he did still have a paper to get out, so he couldn't let the two of them bang and crash all morning! However, as he opened his mouth to read them the riot act, Lois forestalled him by stomping out, tossing a final, furious comment over her shoulder as she went. Clark called something equally barbed after her before following, but slowly and with an angry dignity most unlike his usual easy-going demeanour.
Perry went back inside and flopped heavily into his chair. 'Oh my Gawd,' he thought. 'What have we— *I* done?'
Once they were out of sight of the stunned newsroom, and especially Perry, the two combatants ducked into the storeroom, where they fell on each other in a joyful hug, nearly choking in their desperate efforts not to be heard as they laughed and laughed and laughed …
"Oh … Clark … " Lois gasped, once she'd managed to catch her breath — not much, though, because every word had to be forced out between silent guffaws. "You were … *brilliant!* … I don't think I've … ever *seen* … such a look … of horror … on Perry's face … " The memory of the appalled expression on their boss' face as he watched them act out their quarrel overwhelmed Lois' fragile self-control, and she cracked up again, burying her face in Clark's chest as she shook with laughter.
Clark, who had recovered, after considerable effort, to the point where he was able to face the world with nothing more than a huge grin on his face, just stood there, revelling in holding her and delighting in the feel of her in his arms. Eventually, she relaxed against him and the world — scheming editors, nosy colleagues, plans for revenge — faded away for a while as they turned their attention to something much more important — each other.
A short, yet timeless moment of joy later, Clark gently lifted Lois' face and gave her a soft kiss. They stared into one another's eyes, their souls silently communing in new-found happiness. Then Lois grinned wickedly and murmured, "Time for phase 2 … " She hadn't let go of Clark, and her voice softened as she looked up at him. "I just hope I can pull this off … Right now, all I want to do is stay right here."
"Me too, Lois. I'm kinda afraid that if we go back to the office, everyone will know that we're not serious. One look at me, looking at you, and they'll *know* we're kidding. I just can't seem to help showing how much I love you … "
"Oh, Clark … " Lois sighed happily, hugging him tightly. "But I know what you mean. Well, we'll just have to *not* look at each other. That would be in character if we really were that mad with one another … "
"Yeah, that might work … Okay, let's give it a try, anyway. Got your letter ready?"
"Yep. Tore a sheet off my pad and wrote it before I came to work."
"In that case, just let me check … " Clark stepped up to the door and opened it the barest crack. He already knew, courtesy of his x-ray vision, that the corridor was empty, but he went through the motions of checking in both directions before beckoning Lois over. "Okay, the coast is clear. After you, my love."
Lois couldn't resist giving him a quick kiss, not after being called "my love", but she forced herself to replace the happy smile that followed it with her most furious expression as she stalked back into the newsroom and towards her desk, a small piece of paper in her hand.
No-one said a word — in fact, the uncharacteristic silence in the newsroom was almost oppressive — as she strode by. On her way to her desk, her eyes, narrow and angry, scanned their surroundings, visibly searching for something. She found it — or, rather, him. "Jimmy!" she snapped, demanding his immediate presence.
Jimmy twitched — a cross between a flinch and a cringe — at her call. He was really unhappy about the supposed fight that he'd witnessed a few minutes ago; after all, the point of fooling Lois and Clark had been to get them together and make them both happy; now, though, the whole thing seemed to have backfired horribly! He came over to Lois to see her stuffing something into an envelope, which she handed to him. "Give that to Perry, right now!"
"Uh … okay, Lois." Once he'd taken the envelope from her, she paid him no further attention, pulling out a drawer from her desk and starting to go through it, as though she were … *clearing it out?*
'Oh, no, she *can't* be … can she?' Jimmy was horrified. Could Lois possibly be leaving the Planet? Was this her … resignation? He *had* to know … "Uh, Lois … " he asked nervously, "What is this?"
Lois slowly turned her head, astonishment that he was still there obvious in her expression. This hardened as he watched and became a glare. "Is that any of your business? No. So stop standing around and do what you're asked!"
Jimmy backed away, stammering an apology … and Clark walked in. He calmly, but with determination written in every step, went over to his own desk and sat down; then, slowly and oh, so deliberately, he took out a pad and began to write something, casting his eyes around the newsroom — but very definitely *not* in Lois' direction — as though, somewhat regretfully, seeking inspiration.
Jimmy watched, rooted to the spot, for a few moments, then, suddenly remembering that he actually had the power of locomotion, he backed away, stumbling a bit as he bumped into a nearby desk before turning and fleeing towards the editor-in-chief's office.
"Chief! Chief!" Jimmy half-fell through the doorway. Once he'd recovered his balance, he turned and closed the door carefully behind himself, staring out at something in the newsroom with the most awful expression on his face.
"What is it, son?" Perry asked gently. This surprised the younger man, who'd been expecting to have his head bitten off for barging in like that, but had decided that it would be preferable to what was waiting out there. In this, he did his boss an injustice; Perry was certain that Jimmy's uncharacteristic entrance had to have something to do with Lois and Clark's fight, and he recognised the expression on the boy's face — he was pretty certain he'd been wearing something almost identical only a few minutes ago! He was afraid that he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear, but that wasn't Jimmy's fault, and there was no point in shooting the messenger …
"It's … it's Lois!" Jimmy croaked, his vocal cords tense with horror, "And CK! They, they, they just had another fight — a *big* one!"
"I know, Jimmy, I know," Perry replied, still keeping his voice low and calm, even though his stomach was starting to feel like the butterfly house at the Zoo. "I heard— *everybody* heard! I wouldn't be surprised if they heard it at *Graceland!*"
"Yeah, but … but after the fight, they both stormed out … and then Lois came back. She wrote something on a sheet from her pad, and … and put it in an envelope, and gave it to me to give to you … and then CK came back … and Lois looks like she's clearing out her desk … and CK's starting to write something as well … and he won't look at her … " Jimmy's voice had been going up as he spoke, both in pitch and volume, but as he came to the end of his catalogue of calamities, it collapsed completely, so that he could only gasp out, "Chief, I think they're both gonna quit!"
This came as no surprise to the editor. He'd been half-dreading, half-expecting it ever since the two of them had walked out of the newsroom. His newsman's intuition was telling him that there was something different about this fight; somehow, somewhere, a line had been crossed, and the relationship between his star reporters had changed. There was no going back, and Perry was very much afraid that there was no future, either, for Lane and Kent.
He took the envelope from Jimmy, who fled, not wanting to be around when his boss got the bad news, and weighed it in his hand, reflecting silently on what it might mean, and how he'd come to receive it. He castigated himself for being stupid enough to play idiotic games with his people's personal lives, but he really had thought that Lois and Clark would be happy together if they could only admit their feelings for one another. Unfortunately, it seemed that their stubbornness even exceeded their mutual attraction, and that was a darn shame … An even bigger shame was the likelihood that he was about to lose his top investigative reporting team — and, it had to be admitted, two people who'd become very dear to him.
'Well, better find out the worst … ' he thought, never being one to put off the unpleasant. He tore the envelope open almost roughly, the tension of expectation finding an outlet, however unworthy. Inside was a leaf torn from a notebook, and he unfolded it to see Lois' characteristic bold handwriting.
He read it … and read it again … and again. His mouth opened in an "O", but no sound emerged. He lifted his gaze to stare across his office and out into the newsroom, but his eyes were unfocused, registering very little. He remained in that position for several moments, silent, unseeing, and then slowly, almost against his will, he began to laugh.
His laughter was merely hearty to begin with, but soon became a real gut-buster, albeit an unusually quiet one. His eyes watered and his sides ached, but the only way that anyone outside the office could have told that the editor was near hysterics was by a whispered exclamation of "Those kids..!" Perry was so overcome by mirth that he didn't even notice his office door open quietly.
The note that had been the cause of this hilarity fell from Perry's hand, forgotten, and fluttered to the desktop. It read:
TO: "Don Pedro" White FROM: Lane and Kent
Fooled ya, didn't we? Of course, if you *ever* do anything like this again, we'll skin you alive — and *then* quit! So, if you don't want the Metropolis Star to have the best reporting team in town, learn a lesson from this!
PS. You can tell "Claudio" Olsen that he's taking my "Hero" of a sister out again tonight, or else! We'd like some privacy for a little while. — LL
"Hey, Chief … "
Perry looked up to see Clark at the door, one arm around Lois, and happy smiles on both their faces — although Lois had her patented I-ain't-kidding look as well, obviously intended to reinforce what he'd just read. They exchanged glances, grinned, and Clark said, simply, "Thanks, Chief."
There was a pause, a short but timeless moment of understanding between the three of them. Before anyone could get too embarrassed, Perry murmured, very quietly, "You're welcome, kids … " Then things went back to "normal" as the murmur became the familiar editorial bark: "Now, if you're *quite* finished messin' about, quit blockin' the doorway and get back to work! What is this, the 'Weehauken *Weekly* Gazette'?!"
Lois, not fooled for an instant, gave him a final stare, just to nail down her message, and the two reporters headed back out into the newsroom. Perry followed them, at least as far as the door, observing them keenly; even from behind, he could tell that Lois was on the way back to her usual go-out-and-get-'em self.
But then, as he watched, she turned her head to talk to Clark, and her expression softened. Perry had never seen anything like that on Lois' face, but he hoped he'd see a lot more of it in the future. She was *glowing* with happiness; so was Clark, in a quieter way — but then, he was a quieter person.
Maybe, just maybe, Lane and Kent together wouldn't be a replay of Norcross and Judd. Perry sure hoped so; that had been a darn shame, both on a personal and professional level. He made to turn his attention back to work, but stopped and considered for a moment. Now that he thought about it, it might be a good idea to make some more time for his *own* personal life; match-making for Lois and Clark had been a lot of fun, and he was pretty sure that Alice had enjoyed it as much as he had. It wasn't likely that they'd be able to do *that* again — considering the morning's events, that was just as well — but there had to be something else that they could do together. He'd think about it, and maybe surprise her. It sure couldn't hurt …
Meanwhile, out in the newsroom, Lois and Clark were at their desks, working … except that, every so often, their eyes would be drawn to each other, and the world would vanish for a short while as they contemplated the wonderful new aspect to their lives that their love had already added, and the incredible possibilities that lay in the future.
In between these silent meetings of minds and souls, Clark was thinking hard. He'd always intended to tell Lois about his dual identities if and when they began a serious relationship, and now he had to live up to his intentions. The only problem was, how? Or, more importantly, how did he tell her about Superman without her going completely through the roof at his deception — what she would no doubt see as him lying to her and not trusting her, not to mention that she'd be furious with herself for not seeing it in the first place. All in all, it was a mixture guaranteed to need very careful handling, lest he lose everything — that is, Lois and her love — that had so recently been entrusted to him.
He wondered if Shakespeare could provide some guidance for this, too. Where *was* his old copy of the Collected Works..?
[One final note: according to some sources, the title of "Much Ado About Nothing" doesn't quite mean what we might think. I've been told that "nothing" was, in fact, a colloquialism for eavesdropping (!). Another reference says that it's a pun. It seems that if you say "nothing" with the correct accent (a 16th century London or West Country one?), it sounds more like "nuttin'". And nutting is a euphemism for … certain earthy activities for which country folk are famed, as in the old rhyme:
"Apples be ripe, Nuts be brown, Petticoats up, Trousers down."
I think that's rather appropriate, both for Shakespeare and L&C. <g> Did someone mention gutters? — PA]