The Next Step

By IRC Round Robin

Rated: PG

Submitted January 14, 1998

Summary: At the end of the episode "Whine, Whine, Whine," Lois and Clark are ready to take the next step in their relationship. It might have gone something like this.

Theme: In-Between and After the Fact (WWW)

A round-robin fanfic by Zoomway, ChrisM, CKgroupie, ChrisnDor, Eraygun, PeaceEv, chrispat, Mackteach, CiotolaAM


Clark felt broken in two. He could not remember feeling so heartsick. This wasn't like Lois almost marrying Lex, no, not even close. Lois didn't love Lex, was in love with Superman and only loved Clark as a friend. He stared at the television and sighed.

The past few weeks Superman had gotten in the way of a relationship that was starting to look like 'forever'. The Man of Steel, a creation who would give him a normal life, was ripping normalcy to shreds. Then Scardino showed up. Not a bad guy … well … not for a shark with legs anyway. Clark sighed again. How could he blame Lois for being attracted to a guy who actually let her finish a sentence.

The images on the screen seemed to mock him. Even the animal kingdom was having a better love life than he was at the moment. He stared at his phone. Lois had already dumped him as Superman earlier that day. Sweetly and with tears, but dumping is dumping. She said there was someone who needed her, she just had to figure out how to get *him* to see that.

"Yeah right," Clark whispered bitterly. "Like Scardino needs a seeing-eye dog."

Clark picked up the phone and dialed Lois's number. He let it ring twenty-six times. He set the receiver back in the cradle and folded his hands under his chin and looked at the screen again. The narrator was droning on about how animals were like 'us' and capable of sharing, forgiveness, etc., when there was a knock at the door. Clark couldn't remember the pull of gravity being so strong. It seemed an effort to rise from the sofa and ascend the few steps to his door.

Even before he opened the door, he could see it was Lois. His heart pounded. He would pay any price not to hear what he was certain she was going to say.

He opened the door. "Hi."

She looked up at him. "Hi." It was all so awkward. She glanced in the apartment and noticed the boxes strewn about everywhere. "Planning a yard sale?" Clark blinked, he couldn't focus.

Lois apologized, "I'm sorry, my therapist says, yeah, can you believe it, I have a therapist, she says it's a form of distancing when I say things like that. It all relates back to some boring childhood trauma … can I come in?"

Clark blinked again, snapped from a trance of just watching her. Hoping it wouldn't be the last time, but fearing it would be. "Sure," he said and stepped back as she walked in. She seemed distracted, nervous. Yep, she was going to deliver the 'kiss-off' speech.

Without hesitation she launched into what seemed to be something she'd been practicing. Something she wanted to say properly, but was still finding the words difficult. "I told Superman I just wanted to be friends."

Clark closed his eyes. 'Here it comes'.

"And Dan and I.."

That was all! He couldn't take it. "Lois, if you came here to tell me that you and Dan — "

"We won't be seeing each other anymore," she said quickly.

Clark stood, his expression somewhere frozen between the anger he had felt a moment ago, and the stunned expression as realization slowly but surely burrowed through his head. All events were suddenly being cataloged at super speed … 'I just need to get *him* to see that.' Oh God, I'm the one who needs the seeing-eye dog.

Lois glanced around. "Wait a minute, this isn't vacation packing, this is forever packing."

Clark was busted. He was still too stunned to deal with anything beyond his 'discovery.' Or maybe 'deciphering' of Lois was a better term.

"I was thinking of moving, but now I'm not so sure … "

"Were you just going to leave? Send me a postcard from … I'm distancing again. I'm sorry," she said, her voice cracking slightly. "I didn't expect this … you leaving."

"Well," Clark said, still trying to focus. "You and I haven't exactly been getting along lately. It's my fault, and I should tell you — "

"You're right, it's your fault," she said, sounding much like she was entering lecture-mode, but then, to Clark's surprise, added, "and it's my fault."

She began to pace back and forth as she spoke. "We work too much. We get distracted and fight about silly things and all because we're hiding from each other," she said, and then turned to face him. "And I'm *sick* of it. Then her voice became very soft, almost pleading, "The only reason to hide is because we're scared."

Clark frowned slightly. "Of what?"

"Of the fact that we're partners, and best friends, and this — "

Clark watched Lois as if in a dream, because only in a dream would Lois interrupt a lecture with a kiss. He felt her warm mouth seal around his, and put his arms around her with what little conscious thought he maintained at this point. He could scarcely breathe. His pulse was thundering in his ears. His face was burning. Lois's slender cool hands were at the side of his head, holding him to her.

Just as suddenly she broke the kiss. Clark felt he might collapse. Her mouth stayed inches from his as she whispered, "Clark, if you're going to run away from this, tell me now."

Clark, his eyes glazed, managed enough air to say, "I'm not going to run, Lois. I'm ready to take the next step … if you are."

Lois smiled, ever so slightly. She draped her arms around him and melted into another kiss.

Clark felt his blood rushing and his head spinning. She was there, she was back, she was in his arms! He wanted to lose himself and all the pain of the past few days in this kiss but he had to use what remained of his control to keep himself from crushing her in his embrace too forcefully.

God, how much he loved her and how much he had missed her! He had told himself over and over again that leaving her would be the best for her and that *he* had to be happy if she was, but the moment she put her arms around his neck and he hungrily responded to her kiss, he knew that there was no way he could be happy without her. Never, never, never.

Lois moaned softly. It was a happy, contented little sound and it made Clark smile. Lois felt the slight movement of his lips and reluctantly opened her eyes. She found herself staring in his warm, brown, eyes. Those eyes which had looked so sad and torn only minutes before now had an expression of pure happiness.

Clark shook his head as if he couldn't believe this was actually happening. "I'm not dreaming, Lois, am I?" he said.

"No you're not," Lois answered softly. She felt something warm and wonderful open up in her soul. As if finally all the confusion and bitterness that had tied it up all the time was gone. She felt like singing and dancing but she remained still and instead just looked up into his happy eyes and gave into the feeling of silent delight and relief. Dr. Friskin had been right. It had been so easy.

Clark pulled her closer and pressed his forehead to hers and gave her a face-splitting grin. "Good," he said with a chuckle. Then he pulled her close and pressed his lips to hers for another long, slow, deep kiss. The kiss ended and they clung to each other silently, enjoying their closeness. Finally after a few minutes, Clark broke the silence. "So what do you want to do now?"

"Well I'm sure my therapist would say that at a moment like this we should talk seriously about our relationship and where it's going." Clark looked at Lois warily. "But of course I'm more of a do-er than a talker," she added.

"So what would you like to do?"

"Unpack your stuff."


"Clark, you're staying, right?" Clark nodded affirmatively. "Well, I'll just feel more comfortable about everything when this room doesn't look like you're planning to skip out on your landlord *and* me. And you do want me to be comfortable don't you?" she teased.

Clark grinned and nodded again.

"Great," Lois replied. "Where do we start?"

Without waiting for his reply, she grabbed a box and started to pull it open. Clark held his breath — if that was the box with the capes- Lois reached into the box and pulled out an armful of clothing.

Clark tried not to wheeze with relief. "Oh, hold on there," he gasped, whisking a dangling item from her fingertips. "I think you've got more than you can handle!"

She glanced at the piece she had almost dropped, and grinned impishly. "Well, that settles one question," she commented, heading for the bedroom.

Clark stared at the briefs in his hand and shook his head. 'I don't even want to know!'

The minute Lois was out of sight, Clark scanned the boxes and located the one with his supersuits. He picked it up, just as she walked back into the room.

"What's in that one?" she asked.

"More clothes."

"Okay, well, give it here and you can … " she gestured vaguely towards the other boxes.

"Um-m-m … " He groped frantically for a way out. "Ah, Lois, why don't I unpack the rest of my clothes and *you* tackle the, uh … " He gestured with his head towards the boxes.

"Oh, right, leave the big stuff to me, thanks a lot!"

"It's just this is kind of personal stuff," he tried.

"Clark, I just unpacked a box of your underwear, you have something more personal than that?"

Clark swallowed. Some men dug themselves into holes with a shovel, but not Clark Kent. He had a backhoe. Then, a flicker of inspiration. "Well, Lois, remember the whole Diana Stride thing? Superman leaves his suits here, well — "

"His outfits? You were going to skip town with *the* suits?"

"No, no of course not, I was..going to mail this package to you. I always felt … well, like Superman belonged to a way."

Lois softened, "Okay, I forgive you, but … could..I just see one..up close?"

Clark smiled. In the back of his mind, the thought that he would have to tell her the secret soon made this 'sharing' all the better. He opened the box and handed her one of the costumes.

"Wow," she whispered. "I never knew it was so..complicated."

Clark raised his eyebrows, "Complicated?"

The tunic, and … ooh, he has..well … I guess I never thought of him … I mean I did *think* of him … but this — "

"Lois, please just *say* it."

Lois blushed and put her hand through the 'access' way that would normally be hidden by the external red briefs. "He has a … … I guess use the.."

Clark grinned. "He's a *man*, Lois, if that's what you're driving at."

"Of course he's a man," Lois laughed, but in that manner that indicated she had no idea what she was really talking about. Clark loved that about her. He loved everything about her.

"Seen enough?"

Lois looked up from the costume guiltily. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"The suit, Lois. Have you seen enough of the suit?"

"Yes," she said trying to sound nonchalant. "I've seen enough. What about the cape? It wasn't attached, I mean, I thought it would be attached."

"Well the cape is kind of an interesting thing," Clark said as he removed one from the box. "It attaches to a harness under the tunic. To keep the cape from pulling it out of shape."

Lois folded her arms. "Show me."

Clark chewed his lip. "Well this outfit isn't exactly designed for Clark Kent, Lois, I wouldn't want to disappoint you."

"I'm not expecting Tom Cruise, I just want to see how the thing fits."

Clark sighed loudly and pulled the harness from the box and started to put it on. Lois held up her hand, "No, not over the shirt."

"Lois, I am *not* going to put on one of Superman's shirts."

Lois tugged back and forth on the long sleeve of Clark's black shirt. "Just take this off."

Clark's mouth went dry. "Off? My shirt?"

"Was that sentence Pennsylvania Dutch? *Yes*, take off the shirt."

Clark looked firmly at her, but her arms were crossed, he'd lose this battle. "Okay," he sighed and began unbuttoning his shirt. He pulled it off casually and tossed it on the sofa. Lois made some noise in her throat that Clark couldn't identify. He shrugged and strapped on the harness. "Satisfied?"

"Oh yeah," she said breathlessly.

Lois pulled a cape from the box. She rubbed it against his arm. "And how does this attach?"

Clark felt his heart pounding would set off car alarms in the street. "Dra..drape it over my shoulders."

Lois drew the fabric slowly up over his muscular back.

Clark could feel his face growing red as his pulse grew more and more rapid. He could hardly believe this was happening. Barely fifteen minutes ago he'd been thinking everything was over between him and Lois and now … now she was … He wasn't sure how much of this he could stand. He'd dreamed of sharing moments like this with Lois. But was this the right time? After all, they'd only had one date … Things didn't move this fast in Smallville, that's for sure.

Lois had pulled the cape up onto his shoulders and was moving around to face him, holding the ends of the fabric in her fingers. Clark knew he needed to stop this, for both their sakes. Lois seemed to be particularly vulnerable right now, not to mention that he wasn't sure if now would be the best time for her to find out his secret. Of course, his parents would be thrilled for him when they learned that he and Lois were — His parents! Oh, god! They could be back at any time.

"Lois!" he said more sharply than he'd intended.

She looked up in surprise. "What? Is the harness hurting you?"

"Yes. No. I mean — I mean … what if Superman comes back and finds you … me … us doing this. Didn't you say that you'd told Superman there was someone else? Wouldn't he think it odd to see you dressing me in his costume?"

Lois looked around quickly, as if expecting to see the Man of Steel flying into the room. "Does he come here a lot?"

Clark sighed in relief. His words seemed to have made her think. She was lowering the cape away from his shoulders, and was wearing a contemplative expression. She walked away from him in silence and began to gently place the cape back into the box. Clark removed the harness and reached for his shirt, acutely conscious of the sudden silence in the room.

When she didn't turn to face him again, he walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. "What's wrong, Lois?"

He heard her sniff and was instantly remorseful. "Lois, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to — "

Lois whirled around. "No, Clark! I'm the one who should be sorry. I come here … <sniff> and tell you that <sniff, sniff> that — "

Clark didn't wait to hear more. He pulled her into his arms and held her close. "It's all right, Lois. It's all right." He wasn't sure exactly what the problem was, only that she was hurting and he wanted to make the hurt go away.

Lois clung to Clark, thankful for his strength and his understanding, and also (because she was a woman, and women are capable of thinking of several things at once) that she was rather glad that he hadn't had time to button his shirt. His bare chest felt so warm and strong and welcoming.

She let Clark hold her for a while longer because he seemed to be enjoying it so much, but she knew she would have to come clean at some point, so she forced herself to pull back from him so she could look into his face.

"Clark, I hope you didn't think that I wanted you to try on Superman's stuff because I still have a 'thing' for him … because I don't. I love you, Clark."

Clark's heart swelled with happiness and he could feel a confession hovering on his lips, but would now be the best time? Then he wondered how could he not tell her after all she'd just said to him? "Lois, I want to — " Just then he heard his parent's laughter as they entered his building. They would be here any moment. He wouldn't have time now.

"Want to what?" Lois asked him.

"I … well, I — " Clark looked around desperately. Should he say he needed to check his mail? No, that wouldn't work. It was night, and besides, he'd used that one before. "I want to say that I love you, too, Lois."

His parents were nearly at the door, but he was sure there was time for one more kiss. He leaned forward and sighed happily to feel Lois responding to him. God, but she felt wonderful in his arms.

Clark was slow answering the door. The kiss they shared lingered and grew deeper. It was only when Clark's ear picked up a noise at the lock, that he reluctantly let go of her and moved towards the door. He opened the door quickly — and found himself face to face with Martha, who, picklock in hand, was just ready to have another go at the lock.

"Clark! — "

"Hi, Mom." Both of them looked startled.

"Sorry. We thought you were … But you're — "

"Yes, I'm still here," Clark finished for her. Then suddenly he grinned, reached out and pulled her into an embrace. "Everything's fine, Mom."

"I'm glad to hear that, son," Jonathan's voice boomed from behind her.

Quickly, the three of them were engaged in a threefold hug. After some more hugs and back slapping, Martha disentangled herself and began to move towards the door. "Well, let's … " Looking at Clark, she suddenly noticed his attire and, standing on tiptoe as unobtrusively as possible, peeked over his shoulder.

Lois by then had approached the steps leading up to the doorway. Curiosity won the better of her, and she quickly skipped up the steps to stand behind Clark. "Hi, Martha."

"Hi, Lois." Martha found herself looking from Clark's open shirt to Lois's slightly disarranged hair and back again. She blushed and quickly stepped back, putting her arm around Jonathan. Her gaze had not gone unnoticed, however. Clark's face had turned a rather healthy color as well as he started to fumble with his shirt buttons.

"Oh, Mom … won't you come in? Lois just stopped by, and … " He ran a hand through his hair. "And … it's … "

"And … " Martha paused, again looking from Lois to Clark and back again, deliberately this time, " … it's really warm tonight, isn't it, Clark?" She had a hard time keeping a straight face by now. "But we really can't stay. Your father and I just came back to tell you we were going to the theater tonight. Didn't we, Jon?"

"Yeah, that's right, son." Jonathan cleared his throat.

"And it'll get late," Martha chimed in again. "So we thought we'd just pick up our stuff before so that we don't … disturb your beauty sleep."

"Are you sure?" Clark couldn't help notice that his mother was holding on to his father for support.

"Yes, we are," Jonathan answered for them.

"All right, then let me lend you a hand." It was with great relief that Clark stepped back into his apartment, quickly collecting Martha's and Jonathan's baggage.

After several minutes of heartfelt hugs and kisses and a few words of Martha's whispered encouragement into his ears, the older Kents got into a cab and drove off into the night.

Clark shut the door and turned to Lois. "Now where were we?"

Lois grinned and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him close. "Here, I think."

Clark sighed and kissed her gently. She responded for a moment, but then pulled back. "You know what I would like to do?"

"I know what I'd like to do," he replied with a smirk. Lois slapped him on the chest.

"Not yet, you don't," she laughed. She turned serious. "What I'd really like to do is go out on a date with no interruptions. Do you think we could manage that? We could go somewhere neutral and talk. I don't know about you, but I think I need some time to get used to this."

Clark nodded. "So do I, but I wouldn't mind getting used to this part either." He bent his head and gave her a kiss that made her toes curl.

"Mmmm. neither would I," Lois sighed, after coming up for air, "but we do need to talk."

Clark released her reluctantly. "You're right. Where do you want to go?"

"I was thinking of maybe a walk in the park, but let's finish getting you unpacked first. That way I'll know you're really staying."

When the last box was unpacked and put away Clark turned to Lois. He saw her stifle a yawn. "Are you still up for that walk?"

Lois looked up at Clark. "I'm not that tired." She yawned again. "How about if you walk me home? We can talk on the way."

"Sure." Clark took her hand and steered her to the door. As her fingers entwined with his, he couldn't help but feel warm and fuzzy all over.

Still clutching Lois's hand Clark led her down the stairs of his apartment building and out into the quiet street. They walked along silently for a few moments. Then Lois began to giggle.

"What's so funny?" Clark asked.

"Oh … nothing," Lois replied, still giggling.

"Come on."

"Well, if you must know, I never expected Clark Kent, the ultimate Neatnik, Mr. 'I back everything up on floppy disks', to be such a packrat. Where did you get all of that stuff? It's absolutely amazing!"

Clark blushed a little. "I'm *not* a packrat," he said a little defensively. "Those are just souvenirs, that's all."

Lois smirked "A brick?!"

"That brick was from the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre."


"Since my first story for the Planet involved it I wanted to have a piece of it. It made it more real somehow. But I forgot - that kind of story isn't your cup of tea."

"Actually, Clark," Lois replied as she gave him a wistful smile."I liked your story a lot."

"You did!?"

"Yes, it was very moving … very sweet."

They walked a few more steps in silence. "You really liked it?"

Lois chuckled lightly. "Yes, Clark. I really, REALLY liked it." She leaned up and kissed him lightly. "It was … what was the word Jimmy used? … oh yeah, 'smooth'. Kinda like Tennessee whiskey."

"Tennessee whiskey?"

"Uh huh. Easy to take, but with enough bite to it that it lingers with you for a while." She sighed. "You have a way with words that is so different from anything I've ever written."

"How so?"

"Well, I'll admit that I love the 'investigative' part of our job. I enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out something. It's like solving a murder mystery."

Clark grinned. "We do solve murder mysteries, Lois."

"Yes, but we do much more than that, Clark! I just love being in the middle of a great adventure."

Clark smiled at her enthusiasm. It was just another thing he loved about her. "No one can say that you don't love your job, Lois."

She smiled at him. "Yeah, I love my job." She sobered slightly. "Especially now that you're my partner."

Clark was surprised at the depth of honesty that Lois was showing him. He knew that what she had just said wasn't easy for her.

"Don't look so surprised, Clark. It's true. We DO make a good team."

Clark could barely contain himself. 'She loves me … she likes being my partner … wow … ' "I like working with you, too, Lois," was all he could manage to say.

"Thank you," she grinned back at him. "But I still think you're a packrat." She poked him in the ribs. "I mean, please, you've got a mountain of ties — some of which I haven't seen you wear more than once-"

"You keep track of my ties?"

"Clark, some of your ties are blindingly unforgettable!"

"I like my ties," Clark protested.

"They do … stand out," Lois admitted. "And what was that stack of books on geckos?"


"Uh-huh. And the pictures of that actress?"

"Um … research?"

"Try again."

"I'd rather have pictures of you," he whispered, leaning down to nuzzle just below her ear.

She turned a little into his arms, tilting her head to encourage his nuzzling, stroking his hair. Finally she sighed. "Clark, I've got to get to bed."

"Is that an invitation?" he grinned against her neck.

"Clark!" Lois pulled away to stare at him in mock-shock.

Clark blushed and rolled his shoulders. "Just thought I'd check … " he mumbled.

Lois reached up and pressed her lips to his, then grinned against his mouth. "I'm flattered, Clark," she said, pulling away, "but let's take this one step at a time, okay?"

"I'm all for one step at a time, Lois," he said and started walking again. "But nothing says they can't be *big* steps."

Lois smiled and nudged him with her hip. "And *forward* steps would be nice."

"Definitely," Clark said and his voice softened. "I want this to work … us … I — " He stopped and smiled and then tugged Lois back a few paces.

Lois frowned, "What are you doing?"

"Switch sides. I want you to experience this part of the walk from this side."

Lois shook her head, "Walking in front of Neiman's Department Store is some sort of … thrill for you, Clark?"

"Trust me," he insisted.

Lois sighed. "Must be a Kansas thing." She switched sides with Clark and they began walking again.

Clark stopped. "Now look in the window."

Lois complied. "Okay? Pocketless T-shirts don't seem to thrill me in the same way, Clark."

He put his arm around her. "Is that all you see?"

She suddenly rested her head against his chest. "I see *us*. A couple."


She patted his chest. "Only you could make that romantic," she sighed.

"It's romantic because it's us … this..well..whatever it is … I just — "

Lois put her fingers on his lips. "I know, Clark. This whole thing makes me high." They began to walk again. "But it scares me a little. You get drunk, it's great, then you get the hangover."

Clark crooked his arm around Lois's neck as they turned up her street. "The cure for a hangover is the hair of the dog that bit you."

She laughed softly. "You bite?"

He walked her up her steps. "Only if you want me to."

They stopped at the outer door. They faced each other and Lois put her arms around his shoulders. "I'll let you know."

They kissed, and Clark had to glance down once to make sure he was not floating. "Thanks," he said when their lips parted.

Lois smiled. "You don't have to thank me for the kiss, it's fully returnable."

"I love a woman who keeps receipts," he said and kissed her again. "But I was thanking you for choosing me over Superman and Dan."

"Dan wasn't really part of the choice," she shrugged. "And Superman … well, don't tell him, but you look much better in his cape … or out of it."

Clark raised his eyebrows. "You really think so?"

Lois blushed. "Yes, but remember I feel high right now."

"True." Clark tried not to laugh.

"But please tell Superman when you see him that I didn't mean to hurt him."

Clark stroked her cheek. "He knows, but I'll tell him."

Lois kissed him quickly again. "Goodnight, Clark."

"Goodnight, Lois."

Clark flew home, with only a slight delay in the sky doing barrel rolls.