By Pam Jernigan ChiefPam@nc.rr.com
Submitted: October 2000
Summary: In this alternate universe, Lois never took that fateful trip to the Congo. So she was in Metropolis when Clark arrived — along with his fiancee, Lana Lang. This world is somewhat different from the one we knew on the show … but some things are the same, in any universe.
This is an alternate-universe elseworlds story inspired by my friend Claire Hess (Klair-El), who was writing her own alt- Clark story. She told me that she envisioned alt-Lois to be a very confident woman:
"Had this Alt Lois been at the Planet when Perry interviewed Alt Clark, she would have not only noticed him, she would have kissed him, claimed she knew him, brow beat Perry into hiring him, and drafted him for her investigation into the shuttle explosions."
That word picture tickled me, and I asked permission to write it. It changed itself around in the writing, but that's okay because Claire has written her own version of it. This one, however, has turned out to be quite different from hers.
I also have to thank Margaret Brignell; her "Only You" series has influenced my impression of Alt-Clark, and of what his life might have been like, growing up. And I suppose I should thank my mother-in-law, for bringing Lana to life… ;)
"Lois?" Perry White asked in astonishment, "What are you doing here? I thought you'd be on a plane for Africa by now."
Lois entered the Chief Editor's office and shrugged. "I would have been … but at the airport, this funny little man — with a bowler hat of all things — stopped me, and told me that the trip was a trap." She frowned, realizing the play on words a little too late, then dismissed it and carried on. "He knew too much to be just a crank, so I figured he was an informer. He gave me a tip, I'm just about to check it out…" She half-turned, clearly anxious to escape.
"Hmm. Well, I don't like you disobeying my orders." He eyed her with displeasure. "I suppose you think I should be used to it by now."
She grinned impishly. "I'll still get you the story, Chief, I've just found a better way to do it. Now, can I go make some phone calls?"
He nodded, and she waved her acknowledgement as she hurried back to her desk, eager as always to pursue a lead and, as a result, justice. Lois Lane was the best reporter he'd ever had the privilege to work with, although he'd never admit it to anyone, and if she was unpredictable, she also got results. He maintained a gruff facade around her, mostly to discourage any of the other, less-talented reporters from imitating her tricks, but he suspected she saw right through him.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Lana?" Clark asked, one last time. He just wasn't comfortable in Metropolis yet, but since his parents' death, Lana was all the home he had, so if this was where she was, this was where he'd be.
"Absolutely, Clark," she replied firmly, fussing with the knot on his tie. "I've practically got the job at LNN already — I don't know why you're insisting on going to work for that newspaper. If you'd only come to LNN, too, we could work together!"
"The Daily Planet is a very prestigious paper, Lana," he informed her peaceably, "and that's the sort of work I want to do." And while he did love her, something inside Clark rebelled at the thought of working with her. He needed some time apart, and she needed something besides him on which to focus her considerable energies.
"But you'd love working in television, I know you would," she insisted, drawing a finger down his jaw. "You've got a beautiful face, the camera would love you just as much as I do."
Clark stifled a sigh at her persistence, and began persuading her with the skill of years' practice. "Maybe so, but I think that'd just be too dangerous — I can't afford for people to know my face, you know? Because someday, I could be out there, in the street, and something would happen, and I'd use my powers," Lana frowned at the notion, as he'd known she would, "and someone would recognize me, 'cause I'd been on TV. It's too risky."
"Well, it wouldn't be," she pointed out inexorably, "if you never slipped up."
He shrugged, ducking the issue with practiced ease. "What if I were hit by a bus? Besides, you're the one with on-camera experience, and we can't expect them to put both of us on the air — I'd hate to take your spot."
Lana bristled at the notion. "Don't even joke about it, Clark; I've been working towards this ever since college!"
"I know you have, sweetie," he soothed her, reaching out to touch her shoulder.
She bridled at first, then accepted the caress. "Well, at least I can look forward to seeing your name on bylines."
He smiled, glad that he'd managed to work her around on this issue. It was always a challenge to go against her will, but he'd learned a few tricks over the years. "You know it." And now that he'd won, he'd better turn her up sweet. "So between us, we'll have all forms of journalism covered."
She smiled slowly at that, as the idea sunk in. "I like it. You'd just better get hired."
"Why wouldn't they hire me?" Clark asked, concealing his own insecurity over the matter. "I'm a good writer, and I've got good references." And he'd do whatever it took to get the job — even if he was stuck in research or doing obituaries, his subconscious insisted that it would still be better than working with Lana all day long. That could quickly become exhausting.
Oblivious to his inner thoughts, Lana dusted down his suit and stepped back, a satisfied look on her face. "You're fine. And with plenty of time to get there," she glanced at her watch and frowned. "But I've got to start getting ready." She gave him a perfunctory peck on the lips and then vanished into the bedroom part of the hotel suite they were sharing.
Clark picked up his briefcase, and double-checked that his portfolio of articles and references was inside. "When we come back," he called out in her direction, "we can start looking for an apartment, okay?"
Her head popped out of the bedroom. "Oh! Listen, Clark, I've been thinking about that. Since we're not married yet and all, I think we should get separate apartments."
"What? Lana, why?"
She frowned at this outburst, but still couldn't quite meet his eyes. "We're not married, Clark; it's not right. Besides, sharing a hotel is one thing, but I'm just not ready to *live* with somebody. Okay? Better run, darling, you don't want to be late!"
She disappeared again, leaving Clark standing there, speechless. Was this some new subtle form of rejection? Was she finally getting tired of putting up with an alien? He firmly suppressed the thought, recognizing the onset of paranoia. There was no reason to suspect any inner meanings.
Still, he worried. Had she sensed that he was reluctant to spend so much time with her? It was unlikely; she'd never shown that much perception in the past. And since he'd just won the workplace battle, he was unlikely to make much headway on a new front. He'd just have to keep quiet for a day or so, then revisit the issue.
In the meantime, however, he had a job interview to go to. He didn't even want to think how much was riding on it.
Clark approached the corner and looked up, all his gloom forgotten as he caught his first glimpse of the famous Daily Planet globe. He really would love to work here, if only they'd hire him. He checked the traffic flow before crossing the street, and was horrified to see a bus careening down a hill, seemingly out of control. Heedless pedestrians were starting to cross at the light, oblivious to the destruction hurtling towards them.
After an agonized moment of indecision, Clark dashed forward, running towards the bus and holding out both hands to slow it down. It seemed forever, but was only a few seconds, before the bus shuddered to a halt. Keeping his head tucked low, he quickly retreated to the crowded anonymity of the sidewalk, heading back to pick up his briefcase from where he'd left it on the sidewalk, suddenly worried that it would no longer be there — Lana had told him what the crime rate was around here. The information had appalled him but seemed only to stimulate her. Luckily, the briefcase was just where he'd left it … and in the commotion as people realized their near escape, no one seemed to be pointing fingers at him. Maybe they hadn't seen him? Or not enough to recognize him, anyway, not amongst so many other people. Maybe being in a big city had advantages, after all.
His mood inexplicably lighter, he crossed the street and prepared for the job interview of his life.
Lois sent the gun-running story to the printer and sat back, beaming with what was, she considered, well-earned pride. The funny man at the airport had come through for her, or at least his information had, and she'd busted this operation wide open. Now all she had to do was give it to Perry, and then there were a few other juicy stories waiting for her — she had a tip about a ring of car thieves.
And the only problem with that was that it would be time- consuming — she supposed it was just as well that she wasn't seeing Nick anymore. The Planet had been short-handed lately, so she couldn't just grab someone to assist her. Not that she minded overmuch; she'd always enjoyed digging into her stories, but she did try to make sure it didn't interfere with her social life.
She sent the final version of the article to Perry's e-mail, and went by the printer to collect the hard copy. She wanted to turn this one in personally, to see the look on Perry's face.
She was almost to the door of his office when it was abruptly opened from the inside, and she found herself face to face with a man. The most impossibly good-looking man she'd ever seen, a little voice insisted. She blinked, sure she was imagining him.
Instead of disappearing, he frowned at her, and she realized she was staring.
"Oh, sorry!" She stuck out her hand, intensely curious. "My name's Lois Lane, and you are?"
"Clark Kent, and I'm pleased to meet you," he replied, and though the words were automatic, she hoped his slight smile was genuine. She was fascinated by his eyes, at least what she could see of them behind the glasses. She had the strangest feeling that she *knew* him, but that made no sense. She was still trying to work that out when he belatedly took her offered handshake.
The touch of his hand startled her, and she jumped slightly. He immediately let go as a look of wariness crossed his face.
"I'm sorry," she explained, hoping to recover his smile, "just a bit of static shock there, I think."
His wariness eased, but his smile didn't return. He turned back towards Perry, instead. "Thank you for seeing me today, Mr. White, I appreciate it."
Lois flushed to realize that Perry had witnessed this strange encounter. Other than one sardonic glance, though, he was politely ignoring her, continuing to speak to Clark. "Well, son, I wish I could have given you a spot, but times are tight."
Clark's shoulders slumped just a bit more as he turned to leave, and Lois realized in horror that he was about to walk back out of her life. Unbearable to think she would miss the chance to get to know him … impetuously she reached out to grab his hand. "Wait a minute, Clark."
She turned to her boss. "Perry, you know we need someone else around here — and I have a story coming up that I need help with." Perry arched one eyebrow at that admission. "Hey, it's a big story. And speaking of big stories…" she entered Perry's office as she spoke, holding out her printout with one hand and dragging Clark behind her with the other, "here's your latest juicy scoop — the sales figures will jump for *days* because of this one, and you can use just a little bit of that money to hire Clark here, on a temporary basis to help me out." Abruptly, she turned to Clark. "You do have experience, right? And you were here for a reporting job, right? I mean if you wanted to work in marketing you wouldn't have been talking to Perry, so I guess that clears that up, and he wasn't giving his polite 'you just don't have the right background' speech that he gives to people who are completely impossible, so that's alright." Satisfied by her own logic, she turned back to Perry, giving Clark no chance to respond.
Perry was regarding her with thinly veiled impatience. "Lois, we do have other reporters you can work with, if you should deign to give them a chance. How about Myerson?"
She dismissed him with a toss of her head. "He's out sick."
"Well … there's always Ralph?" he offered weakly.
She rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't work with that lecher if he were my only hope of a Pulitzer. It's Kent or nobody."
Perry looked at her for a long moment, then took another look at Clark, and sighed. "Well, Lois … I guess I can't say you're not a team player. Alright, he's all yours — but only on a temporary basis, and I do mean temporary."
Lois beamed at him, and he visibly softened. "Go on, get out there and bring me that story. If it's as big as you say, and Kent, if you pull your weight, well … I might be able to find you something after all. But I want results, people." He held up a warning finger, and Lois broke into a grin.
"I knew you'd see it my way, Chief," Lois said sweetly, and turned to see what Clark thought of her high-handedness.
Clark was smiling broadly, and standing straighter than before. His wire-rimmed glasses were adorable, she thought, and wondered at herself. To cover her confusion, she put on her best business demeanor. "Come on, Kent, you heard what he said. We've got work to do."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, with a hint of humor. "Thank you, Mr. White, for giving me a chance."
"Don't thank me," Perry grumped, waving a dismissive hand and pretending to lose all interest in anything but the papers on his desk. "It was all her idea, and if she ever breaks this winning streak…" his grumbling faded into incomprehensibility as Lois left his office, discovering belatedly that she was still holding Clark's hand from when she'd grabbed him earlier. Disconcerted, she let go, but smiled at him to make sure he didn't take it personally.
"So," he offered, stashing both hands safely in his pockets. "What do we do first?"
"Lana?" Clark re-entered the hotel room late that afternoon. "Lana, are you here?" There was no reply, and as he moved further into the room he caught sight of a note on the dresser. He picked it up and switched on a light to read it.
Dear Clark, I'm sorry I missed you but I got the job, and they invited me to a party for new employees — I figure it's a good way to meet people. I know you'll be fine. See you when I get in. Kisses, Lana"
Clark set down the note and sighed. He'd been looking forward to telling her all about his day — well, not the bus incident, because she'd yell at him about it, even though he'd had no choice — but about the interview, and how he'd finally gotten the job. He was on probation, but he was sure he could prove his worthiness once given a chance. But mostly, he wanted to hold her, and hear that she loved him, so that he could reconnect — she'd been distancing herself a little bit lately, emotionally speaking. Intellectually, he knew that she did that from time to time and it didn't really mean anything, but he really needed to reassure himself of her love for him, and his for her. Because today, he'd met Lois Lane.
From the moment he'd seen her, he'd been thunderstruck. He'd first noticed her eyes, and her beautiful hair — it had been hard to resist the impulse to stroke it, to see if it were as silky as it looked. Then he'd panicked at her strange reaction to him — staring, and flinching from his touch. He knew he was an alien, but he didn't think it was *that* obvious. Instead of avoiding him, though, she'd taken over his life without so much as a by-your-leave, dragging him back into Mr. White's office and bullying her boss into hiring him. Why on Earth had she done that? He couldn't figure it out, and it scared him. Had she really sensed something different about him, and this was her way of investigating him? Not that she'd pestered him with questions; he'd barely been able to get a word in edgewise. He really wished Lana were here, so he could talk to her about it.
But she wasn't here, and he couldn't stop himself from remembering Lois. How she'd talked a-mile-a-minute in semi- random fashion, yet always managed to make her point and win the argument. It made a refreshing change from Lana's flat pronouncements. They'd worked together all afternoon, doing preliminary research about a purported ring of car thieves. They were going to go out on some interviews tomorrow, bright and early, she'd said. She'd offered to pick him up from the hotel but he'd instinctively objected; some part of his brain that he didn't want to think about too closely was positive that Lois and Lana should not meet. At least not yet, not until … not until what? He pondered the question for a long moment, then was worried that he'd found the answer.
Lana shouldn't meet Lois until Clark had had a chance to get over this wild attraction he felt towards her.
It was crazy, he told himself, restlessly moving around the hotel room. He'd loved Lana since the second grade; they had always known they were destined to be together. And he was an *alien* for pete's sake! He really shouldn't expect *any* woman to overlook that glaring defect; it was pure heaven-sent luck that Lana was willing to tolerate him at all, let alone love him enough to get married, someday… He couldn't jeopardize that. The alternative — being alone — was far worse.
The room was too stifling, and he moved over to the windows, hoping one of them would open so that he could get some air. Hotel windows normally didn't open, but this was an older building, and the room was only on the third floor … and one of the windows did, indeed, open halfway. He breathed the late-spring air, redolent with exhaust fumes from the parking lot, and told himself to be content with what he had. He firmly turned his attention towards work, and began making mental notes as to what questions he might ask tomorrow. If, he smiled reluctantly, Lois allowed him to ask any.
Some time later, the phone rang, and he eagerly picked it up. "Hello?"
"Clark?" It was Lana, breathless with excitement, with loud music in the background.
"Hi, Lana, where are you?"
"Oh, the new employees party is still going on — it's a very friendly group! We're at the bar in the Lexor now."
Clark frowned, vaguely uneasy with the idea. "Uh, where is that? I'll come on over."
"No!" she contradicted sharply. "No, it's okay, Clark, I'm fine, I just wanted you to know I was fine. It's just that it might be a while longer, so I didn't want you to worry. But don't come over — employees only, you know?" She laughed, a little shrilly, over the background music.
Clark closed his eyes, reminding himself of how lucky he was to have Lana at all. Besides, no matter who she spent her evening with, she would be coming back to the hotel room with him. Sooner or later. "Okay, Lana — have a good time, alright? I'll be here when you get back."
"Okay, Clark, thanks, you're the best. Bye!" With that, she was gone.
Morosely, he wondered if the excitement of the big city was going to her head. She'd always been impatient with the pace in Smallville, and she'd convinced him to leave with her as soon as she'd landed a weather-girl position at a Kansas City TV station. With no preference of his own, he'd been glad to follow her. He hadn't felt at home in Smallville since — his mind shied away from the memory. Since he'd been ten.
The room was getting too small again, and he moved over towards the window, watching the parking lot in the evening gloom. Lana had complained bitterly about the view of the back of a warehouse, but Clark didn't mind; he hated feeling exposed. If he turned off the lights in the room, in fact, no one would be able to see him at all. An idea formed, and he didn't even try to resist the temptation. He hadn't felt the sky around him in far too long, and no one here knew him, except Lana, and she wouldn't be back for hours. What Lana didn't know couldn't hurt him. He darkened the room, and changed into a dark t-shirt and jeans. After one last guilty look around, he flew through the window and zipped skywards, faster than the human eye could follow.
Late the next afternoon, Lois hung up the phone and smiled triumphantly, looking around to find Clark, eager to share her news.
He was working nearby, waiting expectantly. "Who was that?"
"That," she informed him smugly, "was one of the best snitches in the city, and he gave me an address — a chop shop that the ring supposedly uses."
That surprised a laugh out of him as he repeated, "A chop shop?"
"Yeah, you know — an auto-body place that strips down stolen cars for parts, or repaints them for resale. Just like in the movies — haven't you ever seen any Dirty Harry movies?"
A slow grin crossed his face. "Only all of them. You like them, too?"
"Oh yeah — those are great. I love action movies; my dad used to take me to them. Have you seen Die Hard? Or Lethal Weapon?"
"Oh, man, Die Hard was awesome. I mean, when that roof blew up —"
"And Bruce Willis was practically flying — that was so cool."
"Excellent effect," he agreed. "And the way they kept the tension up — I mean, every time you thought things were going well, something *else* happened. Great movie."
"And the sequel was just as good, which is amazing." A thought struck her, and she went with it before she had time to worry about whether or not it was a good idea. "Hey, speaking of sequels, Lethal Weapon 3 opens next week, and my dad's out of town … want to go with me?"
He stared at her for a second, and Lois felt her face heat with embarrassment. "It wouldn't be a date, of course, I mean, you've got Lana and all … and I guess you'll probably go with her, anyway. Never mind, I'll just wait for Dad to get home — I mean, it's probably going to tank anyway, sequels usually do…"
Clark held out a hand to shush her, a smile twitching the corners of his mouth. "No, I'd like that, thank you. Lana can't stand action movies, so I usually have to sneak off to them by myself. It'd be nice to have a friend along."
Lois tried to control the shivery feeling in her stomach. This was *not* a date. "Okay, great." She paused, then couldn't help asking, "What movies do you see with Lana?"
He shrugged. "Weepy stuff like Terms of Endearment, romantic comedies — you know, chick flicks."
Lois pretended to gag. "Ack, don't tell me she made you suffer through Molly Ringwald."
Clark shuddered. "Don't remind me. But, you know, she wanted to go." He shot her a speculative glance. "I thought every woman liked that kind of thing."
Lois shrugged, hoping that she hadn't just scared him off. "I guess I've never been a typical woman. Probably my dad's bad influence. Anyway," she firmly dragged the conversation back on topic, "we'd better get back to business."
"I guess. So what's our next move?"
Bubbling with excitement at having made progress, she hadn't really considered how best to use this information. "Well … I could go undercover — I have a great way to disguise myself as a man." She stopped, as Clark swiftly inspected her from head to toe and back.
"There's no way," he stated firmly, to her secret delight.
"Oh ye of little faith," she replied primly. "It's just a few simple changes, and then people see what they expect to see. Anyway," she dragged the conversation back on topic, "I could try to infiltrate the group, and do secret recordings —"
"Lois!" he exclaimed, sounding appalled. "That's way too dangerous!"
"Clark!" she mimicked his tone. "I did not get to be an award- winning investigative reporter by never taking chances!"
He frowned, unable to counter this, then tried again. "Would they tell you anything incriminating, anyway? I mean, wouldn't they want you to prove yourself by stealing a car, or something?"
She hadn't considered that. "Um, maybe, but I'm sure I could get someone to show me how to jump-start —"
"You'd actually steal someone's car?" His eyebrows climbed right up into his hairline. "You'd totally inconvenience someone who's never done you any harm?" He shook his head. "Lana told me things were different in the big city, but I never realized…" He broke off suddenly, and there was a moment of awkward silence between them. He looked down and shuffled his feet, before looking up again. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. I'm just a junior, temporary employee, and you're the professional."
Lois found her voice. "It's okay, Clark. I didn't realize how it would sound to you." She was fascinated by this demonstration of his ethics, and charmed enough not to mind apologizing to him. "Besides, you're right."
He looked stunned at that. "I am?"
"Sure you are," she repeated, wondering why he didn't have any more self-confidence than this. "It would be unconscionable of me to mess up somebody's life just to get a story. It's just … well, I have a habit of rushing into things, and not thinking about the consequences beforehand. I've been trying to do better. Perry's always yelling at me for it, but he also likes the stories I get, so it's kind of a mixed message."
Clark seemed to be having trouble understanding this. "So you don't mind that I —" he seemed to have trouble defining his earlier action.
"That you stopped me from doing what I wouldn't have wanted to do? Nope, I don't mind. I can admit when I'm wrong." She grinned suddenly. "It just doesn't happen very often, so enjoy it while you can."
That elicited a smile in return, and she happily returned to the story at hand. "So, if I'm not going undercover, I think a stakeout would be our best bet. And these types rarely operate in the daytime. Hope you didn't have any plans tonight…" Her voice trailed off uncertainly. She'd spent the day caught up in the excitement of tracking a story, but somehow Clark's presence had added a whole new element of enjoyment. She loved listening to his voice, and watching his hands, and his eyes had the power to make her feel shivery inside. She didn't understand it, but she was loving it. She hated to think of him going away from her — going back to Lana. He hadn't told her much about his fiancee, but already Lois disliked the woman.
He chewed his lower lip uncertainly for a moment, and she felt her stomach tense in anticipation of his reply. Finally, he met her eyes and smiled that soft, delicious smile that made her heart melt, "No, I'll have to make a phone call, but … no plans. I am all yours."
For a moment, that concept made her eyes cross, but she sternly told herself to snap out of it. He was engaged! And she really didn't know him at all, he could be a, a, an axe- murderer for all she knew! Although why anyone would want to murder an axe was beyond her, her irrepressible mind whispered. She controlled her twitching lips and smoothed her expression into a smile. "Good. Ever been on a stakeout before?"
He looked at her for a long moment, and she wondered what he'd thought of her expressions a minute ago, but she couldn't be forever apologizing, so she forged ahead. "We'll want comfortable clothes, and maybe some take-out; it's not the glamorous side of reporting, but it can get really exciting — if we're lucky." She grinned, then frowned as a thought struck her. "We can't use my Jeep, it's too conspicuous — do you have a car?"
He shook his head, looking almost apologetic. "No, sorry."
"Well, why would you, if you're new here," she said quickly, wanting to ease any embarrassment she might have caused, amazed once again at his lack of confidence. "You probably wouldn't want to use it anyway; we'll be in a rough side of town and who knows what could happen to a car there, even with people sitting in it — I know!" She smiled triumphantly. "I'll get Perry to lend us his."
He looked alarmed at that. "Perry, as in Perry White, our boss?"
"Yep — he's got this old beat-up Chevy, in a lovely navy blue and rust pattern; it'll be perfect." She turned and headed for his office. "I'd better catch him before he leaves, let him know he'll be taking a cab."
"Lois! What if something happens to it?"
She turned back, hearing the nerves in his voice and taking pity on him. "It'll be okay, really … he's insured!" Lois smiled her brightest, and escaped.
Clark watched her go, and told himself to relax. Not that he'd been able to relax much all day; working with Lois had been challenging to say the least. The work itself had been the easy part — she'd had him making phone calls, and doing some preliminary research, pulling together everything anyone knew or thought they knew about this new crime scheme. She'd also let him do the rough draft of a follow-up to her gun-running story, covering a spate of arrests. None of which would have been a problem if he could only have kept his mind on the job. Instead, he'd been terminally distracted by one fascinating, hard-working brunette. And she wasn't even his type!
Thankfully, she'd betrayed not a hint that she was interested in him, either as a man or a research subject. That would have made things much worse. Well, okay, she had asked him to that movie … but that was because neither of them had anyone else to go with. It was perfectly innocent, and if he didn't intend to even mention it to Lana, it was only because she'd be much happier not knowing. He wasn't very happy with that decision, but over the years it was the solution that had worked the best.
He glanced out the conference room window, tempted to tune into the conversation Lois must be having with Mr. White, about borrowing his car. That idea made him deeply nervous, but after all, Lois had been working here for years, so she should know what the boss would tolerate … he only hoped that her immunity would extend to him, or he could forget about this job becoming permanent. He'd just have to do everything he could to make sure they got the story. And keep the car safe, just in case.
And on top of those two impossible tasks, he had to break it to Lana that he was working tonight. He never knew how she'd take that kind of news. She didn't like to have to change her plans at the last minute. Well, he thought in black humor, if he were lucky, her plans for the evening wouldn't include him. He hated to make her angry, but he could not back down on this — Lois was clearly going to do this with or without him, and there was no way he wanted her doing this on her own. Even if she had been doing it for years, before he'd met her.
He took a deep fortifying breath and reached for the phone.
"Thanks, Chief, I'll get it back to you tomorrow," Lois scooted out of Perry's office before he could ask any more questions, and headed back to Clark in the conference room, car keys in hand. She was practically bubbling with excitement, and she knew it wasn't just because of the story. It was also the prospect of spending the night — err, evening — with Clark — *working* with Clark. Well, she rationalized, he's as cute as anything, he's even nicer than that, and he's smart. She was starting to suspect him of a sense of humor, too, although he hid it well. Most important, though, she thought she detected in him a passion for truth and justice that just might match her own.
She paused outside the conference room, trying to get herself together. He was a very attractive guy, yes, but more to the point, he was helping her do a job, and that was what she had to focus on. As she opened the door, she saw that he was still on the phone, and the temptation to eavesdrop overwhelmed her.
"Lana, I'm working, okay?" His voice was tight, and strained, and his shoulders were tense underneath his sports coat. "I know I said —" He paused, listening for a moment, then continued, "Well, this is *important* stuff, here, Lana, you've got to —" Another pause, and his free hand curled around his neck, massaging it. "It's no different than your party last night, Lana; I understood about that —" He shifted in his seat, then, and caught sight of Lois standing in the doorway. He sighed, and seemed to pull himself together. He spoke with new firmness. "Lana, I understood about that, and you're going to have to deal with this. I'll see you as soon as I can. Goodbye." Gently, as if controlling a strong urge to throw something, he replaced the phone on the hook and closed his eyes. "Sorry you had to see that."
"Sorry you had to go through it," she replied softly. "Listen, I can do this by myself, you know."
He opened his eyes again and smiled tiredly. "No, it's okay, she'll be fine. She always is."
Lois thought she detected a note of bitterness in that, and wondered at it, but she wasn't sure how to ask. "Well, I got the car keys, so now we just have to get everything else set … I'm going to have to swing by my apartment to change into something more comfortable."
He glanced at her outfit in surprise, and blushed.
She grinned. "I didn't mean it that way, Clark. I want jeans and a sweatshirt. We're going to a rough section of town, and don't want to look too prosperous. Plus it might be chilly."
He shrugged, his face still a bit red. "Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Guess I'll have to run by my hotel room, then." He paused, and grimaced slightly. "It'll give me a chance to explain things better to Lana."
Again, Lois wasn't sure how to respond. From what she could tell, Clark was way too good for Lana, but he had chosen her, and presumably he knew what he was doing. She couldn't allow herself to act out of jealousy, it was ridiculous. It was just that something deep within her was insisting that Clark didn't belong with Lana, he belonged … she shied away from the thought. He belonged with someone nicer, that was all.
They made a quick stop at Lois's apartment, then headed over to Clark's hotel. As she parked the car, Clark hesitated. "I'll only be a minute … would you like to come up?" He wasn't sure it was a good idea, but neither did he like the idea of her sitting in the parking garage by herself while he went upstairs. Besides, Lois had insisted that Clark come up with her to her place, parking him in the living room while she disappeared into the bedroom to change, so it seemed rude not to reciprocate.
She looked sideways at him. "Are you sure Lana won't mind?"
He wasn't sure at all, but Lana rarely chewed him out in front of others, so she'd probably put up a good front. "She'll be fine."
"Let's go then, partner." Lois got out of the car, and waited for him to lead the way up to his room.
They waited for the elevator in silence. Clark racked his brains to think of something appropriately work-related and neutral to say, but the only things he could think of sounded impossibly lame. He kept sneaking peeks at his partner, trying to figure out how she could wear such oversized, nondescript clothes, and still look so good. Even her hair was mostly covered by a wool cap, worn low on her brow.
She looked up at him, a hint of laughter in her eyes. "So, how do you like my disguise?"
Clark flushed, staring straight ahead. "It's, um, very effective."
"Hmm. Let's see if it reassures Lana."
He glanced suspiciously at her, but at that moment the elevator finally arrived. She couldn't have meant … it made her sound almost like a conspirator, with him. He tried, and failed, to ignore the warm feeling that ignited within him. The earlier awkwardness melted away.
"So what was all that stuff you made me carry out to the car?" Clark asked, no longer able to contain his curiosity.
"Standard surveillance gear," she answered cheerfully, as the elevator doors opened again. "A long range camera with a motion detector, parabolic microphone so we can hear from across the street — if we're lucky, anyway — stuff like that."
He raised his eyebrows, appreciating the technology, as he opened his hotel door. He stuck his head around the door. "Lana, are you here? I need a few things."
She was sitting on the room's tiny couch, reading a magazine, and didn't look up. "Well, it's a bit early, Clark; what happened to your 'work'?"
"I'm just about to go do it," he explained, opening the door fully and walking in, with Lois beside him.
Lana looked up at that, and frowned in equal parts distaste and puzzlement. "Clark? Who's this?"
Lois stepped forward. "Hey. Lois Lane. Pleased to meetcha." Her voice was low and rough, and before Clark's astonished eyes her posture changed into a sort of growly slouch. She offered a handshake but Lana merely raised her eyebrows in disdain. Lois shrugged, and ambled off towards the suite's tiny kitchenette. "C'mon, Kent, get your stuff. We ain't got all night. It's bad enough Perry made me bring you along," she grumbled. "I don't need you to keep me waiting."
Lana watched with wide eyes, and Clark could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. "I'll just be a second," he said, ducking into the adjoining room. He changed as quickly as he dared, keeping an ear out for further conversation in the other room.
"So…" Lana attempted to be polite, "how long have you been a reporter?"
"Long enough." A pause. "Nice room."
"Ah, yes, thank you … will you excuse me a moment?"
Lana opened the bedroom door and slipped in. "Oh my God, Clark, you have to work with *that*?"
He finished putting on his jeans, trying to keep his expression neutral. "Well, she's supposed to be pretty good. I've got to admit I'm learning things."
Lana wrinkled her nose. "Just don't pick up any fashion tips!"
Clark pulled on his shoes, daring to grin at that. "Don't worry." And now that Lois had effectively defused Lana's incipient jealousy, he thought it safe to add, "I don't know how late we'll be out."
"Poor baby." She absently straightened his old Midwest U sweatshirt, leaving her hand warmly on his shoulder. "Maybe I should wait up for you — you know, to welcome you home."
The sultry tone in her voice usually meant she was penciling sex into her calendar, and Clark suppressed a grimace. When had sex turned from a pleasure to a chore? He pretended to have trouble with a lace, and kept his voice steady. "That'd be great, baby … I can probably be back by one."
"One in the *morning*?"
"Well, if we can get enough evidence by then, I mean." He stood, facing her. "It kind of depends on when the thieves show up."
"Clark." She frowned, dropping her hands to her sides. "You know I don't do late nights very well."
He tried to look disappointed. "Yeah, you're right. I'm sorry."
"Well, you know I need to look my best at this new job, if I ever want to get on-camera!"
"I know," he said softly. "Maybe tomorrow night?"
She softened. "Thanks, sweetie, I knew you'd understand." She patted him on the chest, and gave him a peck on the lips. "You do a good job tonight."
"I'll do my best," he promised. Feeling as if he'd just danced through a minefield, he slipped back into the other room to collect Lois, and they both made their escape.
Lana heaved a sigh of relief as the door closed behind Clark and his extremely odd co-worker. She was still annoyed to have her plans for the evening ruined, but obviously, her anxiety had been needless. It was just that Clark had always been the solid rock of her existence, comforting her when her mother had died, and whenever life had seemed too hard. He'd been such a faithful friend that it had only seemed natural for them to become engaged.
The main fly in the ointment was his unsettling abilities; he stubbornly refused to give them up altogether, which was a continual irritant to her. Didn't he realize the risk he was taking? She'd grown up with him, and could put up with his differences, but the world at large was not so accepting. If people knew what Clark was capable of … she shivered. He would be locked away in a laboratory, or on the run, at best, and her life and career would be in ruins.
That he would risk all that for the sake of strangers, that people he'd never met seemed to mean more to him than she, his fiancee, did … was intolerable.
Lana took a deep breath. For the most part, Clark behaved himself, she knew. He was extremely circumspect when he could be, which is why she put up with his occasional lapses. And he obviously wasn't ensnared with this Lane person, as she had feared.
A creeping hint of honesty prompted her to wonder if she'd have been quite so worried about the possibility of Clark straying if she hadn't recently been party to a workplace flirtation, herself. She paused, remembering the way the sportscaster had come onto her. He was handsome enough, no surprise in the television industry, and she supposed he had a certain macho appeal … it had been exciting to flirt back, just a little. Liberating to imagine a life that didn't focus on concealing a crucial secret. At the same time, though, it had been just a bit scary — Danny might be fun to talk to, but she could tell that he would be difficult to control. Much better to stay with good old Clark, her safe haven.
It was too bad he'd be out so late tonight; she would have liked some physical reassurance. There was little magic with Clark, but there was comfort there, and security. Maybe she could plan something else … well, why not? She could surprise him at the office tomorrow, and take him to lunch.
Well-pleased with her plan, Lana bustled around the suite, making sure everything was tidy, then went to bed early.
The city was dark by the time Lois and Clark reached the building Bobby had told Lois about, but a few cars still traveled the streets. Lois slowly cruised down the street, sneaking peeks at the old service station to see if the crooks had left a door open, but to no avail. On the upside, however, there was an alley conveniently located across from the garage bay doors, and she eased the old Chevy sedan into the shadows. "There."
"Uh, Lois? Why are we facing away from the service station?"
She grinned at him. "Because this car has a nice shelf on top of the back seat, and it's a great place to rest the camera and the tape recorder, with a clear view out the back window. We'll have to scoot into the back seat, but it's really pretty comfortable once we get set up."
"You've done this before, I see." His tone was dry.
"Of course!" She scrambled over the front bench seat and arranged herself in the rear, and laughed at his look of dismay. "C'mere and help me set this up."
Thus encouraged, he dutifully climbed into the back, managing by some miracle to avoid kicking or bumping her in the process. Then he helped her set up the parabolic amplifier that, when working, enabled them to hear sounds from hundreds of feet away, the attached voice-activated tape-recorder, and the night-vision camera. The back of the car was thick with cables by the time they were done, and as a precaution, Lois laid a light blanket on top of the equipment, to at least partially conceal its presence and function from any passers- by.
"Now we're ready," she informed her rookie partner. "All we need is for the crooks to show up. Can you reach the food?"
"No problem." Clark extracted the take-out containers from the front seat, then looked at the service station skeptically. "Are you sure anyone's going to show up? That place looks pretty deserted to me."
She shrugged, sorting through the food to find what she wanted. "All I know is what my source told me, and he's usually pretty reliable." She glanced at her watch. "We have to give it a chance."
He shrugged agreement, and began eating, propping himself against the car door.
Lois rested one arm on the top of the back seat, and kept an eye on him. The last time *she'd* tried to relax against the car door, she'd fallen on the floor … but he seemed to be managing to find his balance. Maybe those wide shoulders were touching the back of the front seat, she couldn't quite tell. She searched for a way to distract herself from his anatomy.
"So, Clark … where are you from?"
That simple question made him tense up, she noted with interest, but he merely replied, "Kansas."
"Hmm. I'm a Metropolis girl myself, born and bred, although I've traveled a bit. Don't think I ever made it to Kansas, though. How'd you end up here?"
He shrugged, not meeting her gaze. "Lana wanted to come, and I wanted to be with her, so here we are."
"Did Lana care where you wanted to go?" Lois asked pointedly.
"Oh, I didn't mind." He seemed eager to leave the topic behind. "It's not that I have anything against Metropolis, exactly, I'm just not used to it."
"Ah, but we have a lot to offer," she teased, "art, music, culture…"
"Drugs, crime, poverty," he countered, gesturing around with a hint of a smile. "And so many people! It's kinda overwhelming. The city itself, though, at night … I had a tour, of sorts, last night. It's beautiful." Clark looked down the street towards the bit of skyline they could see, and seemed lost in his own world.
Lois smiled, following his gaze. "Yeah, it is. Bright, energetic, full of life…"
"It's pretty incredible," Clark agreed, and when she turned back towards him, she saw he was looking at her, not at the skyline.
Lois blushed, wondering if he could possibly have been talking about her. She hoped so, but didn't want to ask, in case she was wrong. She wondered if she dared ask more about Lana. The woman was attractive enough, she supposed, but she seemed so … cold. From what Lois could tell, Lana must be awfully difficult to live with, even though Clark clearly had his methods of getting around her.
In a strange way, Lana reminded her of one of Lucy's boyfriends … he had initially seemed charming, but as Lucy had gotten closer to him, he'd gotten weird, wanting to control her every move. Thankfully Lucy had realized the danger and gotten out of the relationship before there was even a possibility of abuse. Lois thought she detected some of the same control-freak characteristics in Lana; it would certainly explain a few things about Clark.
And yet, he was an adult, not financially dependent on her. So why did he stay with her? Maybe, in some weird way, the relationship worked for him. What need did he have, that Lana filled? She didn't know nearly enough about him to guess.
As the idea of learning more about him was not at all unpleasant, she applied herself to friendly conversation.
As the evening went on, Clark found himself relaxing more and more around Lois, and their talk became more personal. He couldn't fully open up, but he did encourage her to share her stories, and found himself reciprocating. "Your dad sounds great," he commented, trying not to envy her.
"Oh yeah, he is. Supported me in everything, he was always there. My mom's kinda nutty, but Dad's made up for it, even when I broke his heart by *not* going into medicine. What are your parents like?"
"They're dead," he replied quietly, his heartache dulled by time but not yet healed. "It was a car accident, when I was ten. They were coming home, and I was running out to meet them."
She gasped, looking at him. "My God, you saw it?"
"Yeah … I tried to … but I couldn't do anything." Lana had drilled *that* into him often enough.
"Oh, my God, Clark, I'm so sorry…" He looked up then, and saw her eyes were wide and hurting for him.
"Hey, it's okay, it was a long time ago." He was strangely uncomfortable with her sympathy; it seemed much too intimate.
"How did you grow up?"
He shrugged, thinking of the unofficial welfare system in small towns. "I kinda … bounced around. I always had Lana, anyway."
Lois made a face at that, which startled him.
"Nothing, never mind. Weren't you in foster care?"
"Well, sort of. Some of the local families helped me out." And allowed him to help them out … after he'd hit puberty and begun to develop muscles, he'd gotten much more popular, come harvest time. It wasn't that any of the homes he'd stayed in had been particularly nasty, just that none of them had been his.
At least he'd stayed in Smallville, and been able to keep in contact with Lana. When his powers had begun to develop, she'd been the only one he could talk to. She'd always been fearful of someone discovering him, but she'd tried loyally to help him cope with his new abilities, and learn to suppress and disguise them.
He looked her way again, aware he'd gone quiet. "It really wasn't that bad."
"Hmm. Well, good. Hey, was that someone on the street over there?"
"Looks like it," he replied, picking up the camera and pretending to use the night-vision sights. "Well, well, well, there are some crooks around here after all."
Lois grabbed for the camera. "Told ya." She studied the men across the street. "Looks like they're opening the place up for their buddies." She gave him back the camera and picked up the parabolic amplifier. After a few moments tuning, she was able to pick up some voices.
"Lotta cars tonight?" The voice sounded scratchy, heard through the tiny speaker. Unconsciously, Clark tuned in his special hearing. He could still hear the hisses and static that Lois heard, but the voices were now much easier to understand.
"Should be enough. We'll be ready to ship tomorrow."
Beside him, Lois was tense with excitement. "Got you," she whispered, but her triumph soon turned to frustration. "Damn, they're going inside."
Sure enough, they'd gotten the front door open, and were disappearing into the building, their voices sounding weaker and more obscured with static. Clark heard the first one say, "Good. Use the south side warehouse. We can ship a ton of parts."
The other replied, "Yeah, fine. As long as they've got cash up front."
"You know it."
A hand waved in front of Clark's face, disrupting his concentration.
He shook himself and looked downward. "Sorry. Just thinking."
"Yeah, you and me both. At least we know we're at the right place. We might be able to pick up some more, later, when more of the gang arrives. And we caught something anyway." She stopped the tape recorder, and rewound a short distance. A scratchy voice was heard, heavily interfered with by static. "Good … use … warehouse … ship … ton"
"Ha, I thought so." Lois smiled in triumph. "I distinctly heard him talk about a warehouse, on Shipton. There's a Shipton Street north of town, in the industrial section. Maybe they're going to load up a tractor trailer. We can check that out in the morning."
"No, that wasn't —" Clark stopped himself, astonished and appalled at how close he'd been to blurting out what he'd heard. He couldn't tell her that he'd heard them from this distance, and the tape was too staticky to contradict her interpretation. "I mean … I didn't hear it that way. Maybe they were talking about a ship?"
She glanced at him, an odd expression on her face, but gave a little shrug, re-setting the tape. "We can check that out, too."
"Thanks." He didn't think she sounded convinced, but didn't know what else he could say. He wanted this story, and this job, but not enough to overcome a lifetime's worth of paranoia. "Hey, look, someone else is coming."
For the next hour or so, they watched three cars enter the garage to be worked on, and caught a few more pictures and snippets of conversation, but nothing that looked useful.
"Remind me again," Clark whispered, "why we shouldn't just call the cops right now."
"Because these are just the little guys," she whispered back. "The mechanics don't know anything. We looked at a case like this this morning, remember? The cops did bust one of these operations last week, but it hasn't stopped the higher-ups from hiring new muscle. We want to get the ringleaders."
"And you think we can?"
She flashed him a smile. "It's what I do."
He raised one eyebrow. "Cocky little thing, aren't you?"
Her smile broadened to a smirk. "It ain't bragging—"
"—if you can do it," he chorused along with her, and chuckled. "Okay, point taken."
Still smiling, Lois returned her attention to the microphone, waving it around slowly in hopes of picking something up.
Clark took the opportunity to observe her. She was all business, and he had to admire her professionalism … she had ability, brains, drive, and skill. And she was utterly gorgeous, which he felt was most unfair.
What he really envied, however, was her ability to make a difference in the world. She was helping people on an almost- daily basis, and it made him just a little ashamed that he hadn't done more, himself. All these … gifts … that he'd been given, and the most he could manage was to lend a surreptitious hand here and there … sneaking around to help in the shadows. Lana had always been uncomfortable with his powers, and she'd always insisted that there was nothing he could do to use them … but he was now starting to doubt that. There had to be a way to use what he'd been given to do some good. And still maintain a normal life — whatever that was. He just didn't know how to do it. At least, not yet.
He was so lost in concentration that it took a moment for the footsteps he was hearing to register. His head came up, and he spotted one of the thieves they'd seen earlier walking down the street, approaching the alley. He must be out on patrol, and chances were good that he'd investigate this parked car. Clark felt his pulse race as he considered his meager options. His first mad impulse was to grab Lois and fly away, but that would be jumping out of the frying pan and plunging into the fire. Hard on the heels of that thought, though, came the realization that he'd do it, if he had to, to keep Lois safe.
The implications of *that* stunned him, so that when Lois began frantically flipping the blanket over top all their surveillance equipment, he was slow to catch on. And then she launched herself at him and began kissing him.
Automatically, his arms encircled her, one hand drifting upwards to touch her silky hair, while the other curled tightly around her waist. The feel of her lips lit a fire deep within him, a fire he barely remembered. All conscious thought ceased as he responded, communicating with her on a level far beyond words.
Lois moaned in enjoyment, wishing they were somewhere other than the cramped back seat of a car. What had begun as a ruse had almost immediately turned into a raging bonfire … as soon as she'd touched him, she'd been lost in a sensual fog, only aware of the feel of him against her. She hadn't been kissed this well since … she hadn't ever been kissed this well! He must have practiced a lot, the thought drifted across her mind, or else Lana was —
Her eyes popped open as the reminder of Lana brought her to her senses. She pulled back, scrambling awkwardly to sit up and retreat as far across the bench seat as she could. She watched as the blissful look on his face evaporated, to be replaced by panic. She suspected there was a similar look on her own face. "I'm sorry, Clark, it's just that there was —"
"— a guy walking around, I know, he was probably doing a patrol —"
Cautiously, they both looked out the windows, trying to locate him. If he had indeed entered the alley, he was long gone now.
"And I just thought," she continued, "the only way to keep him from being suspicious was to … to … you know."
Clark was nodding quick agreement. "Absolutely, good thinking — I mean, whatever he thought, he didn't think we were spying on him."
"So, you understand, that … um, what we did…" she floundered for a few seconds more, then forged ahead. "The kiss. It was just … a deception. A performance."
"Absolutely. Nothing personal at all, just … role-playing."
"Yeah, exactly." She fell silent, twiddling with the hem of her sweatshirt. She really hadn't seen any other way to escape detection, but wow … neither had she expected that his kiss would affect her so deeply. Now that she knew how he kissed, how he tasted, how right his arms felt around her … it would be extremely difficult to pretend indifference. She had her pride, however, and Lois Lane did not steal boyfriends.
The earlier ease between them was gone, and the thieves seemed to be locking up for the night. They probably had all the more evidence they were likely to get. "Time we left, I think."
"Yeah," he agreed, sounding subdued. "Probably."
She began packing up the equipment, but he stopped her, gently taking the camera from her hands. "I'll do this. You just get up front and drive."
Lois nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and climbed back into the driver's seat, grateful for even that much extra distance between them. As soon as he reported the equipment was secure, she started the car, and drove them both home.
Clark stood in the lobby of his hotel, contemplating the elevator. No. He couldn't go up to the room just yet, couldn't risk facing Lana. Not while he was still so shaken by that kiss. He turned around and walked back out into the street — it wasn't quite midnight yet, so he had some time to wander around the streets and think.
It had been a perfectly innocent kiss, he tried to tell himself. Just a ruse, to distract a bad guy. But he knew Lana would never believe it, and she'd be right. That kiss had awakened feelings in him that he'd thought were lost years ago… actually, he frowned, he wasn't sure he'd ever felt that way with Lana. Lana had always been his loyal friend, but had he ever felt such excitement, just being with her? Being with her banished the loneliness, to be sure, but had it ever inspired joy? He wasn't sure … and he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He knew, intellectually, that every relationship went through stages, and that the first rush of infatuation never lasted … a mature love settled into friendship and companionship and dependability. So it was only natural that a new attraction felt more exciting. That was no reason to throw away a perfectly good relationship.
He grabbed onto that thought with relief. His feelings were natural, but he didn't need to give in to them, and Lana never needed to know. He could work with Lois just long enough to get the job he wanted, then he'd be able to work on his own and distance himself from her. A tiny part of his brain wondered if he'd be so resolute about this if he thought there was any chance of a real relationship with Lois, but he ignored it. Tomorrow, he decided, would be business only … and he could talk to the other reporters, as well, to see if any of them needed his help with anything.
That decided, he looked around to see where his wandering feet had taken him. He was a few blocks away from the hotel, and just in those few blocks the condition of the city had noticeably deteriorated. There was trash lining the road, and several of the street lights were broken. If he hadn't been invulnerable, he decided he would be quite nervous … but perhaps it wasn't as bad as his small-town background made it seem.
That hopeful thought was destroyed as he heard the sounds of a scuffle a little ways away. Involuntarily, he began moving in that direction, listening carefully. His mouth thinned as he realized a woman was being mugged at knifepoint.
Clark turned into the dark alley between buildings where the mugger had pushed his victim. A woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties was cowering against the wall, her expression strained with fear and suppressed anger. The mugger stood facing her, his back partially to the street, waving a 6-inch blade in front of her nose. "C'mon, lady, gimme the ring," the mugger growled.
She shook her head jerkily. "Please, no, it's all I have left of —"
"Give me the damned ring," the mugger repeated coldly, then grabbed for her hand, holding the knife ready.
"Leave her alone." Clark stepped forward, his voice steadier than he'd expected.
The mugger's head swung around. "Get bent." When Clark didn't retreat, his eyes narrowed. "You got three seconds to clear out, or I cut her face."
Clark weighed his options as the woman shrank back and whimpered. He hung his head and stepped back half a pace. "No, don't do that…" Over the top of his glasses, he aimed a short burst of heat vision at the blade of the knife. Seconds later, the mugger dropped it with a loud oath, and Clark tackled him, in his best college football style.
The mugger went limp on impact, and Clark hurriedly checked his vital signs — the man was alive, just unconscious. An irrelevant thought crossed his mind: Guess that's why Coach always made us wear our helmets. He got to his feet, assisted by the woman, who was now weeping quietly, but otherwise seemed to be in control of herself.
"Thank you, thank you!" She hugged him, and he smiled.
"My pleasure." He hadn't really been at any risk … but it felt so good to have been able to help. "You want to call the cops?"
Between them they decided that she'd walk to a nearby convenience store to call and wait for the police; Clark stayed in the alley to make sure the mugger didn't regain awareness and slither away. While waiting for Metropolis' finest to arrive, he savored the satisfaction of being able to help. He'd made a difference tonight.
Some of his glee faded as he realized what Lana would have to say about it. She'd worry that he'd given himself away somehow, and be annoyed at the risk he'd taken. She'd try once again to make him promise to never *ever* use his powers, no matter what.
He sighed. He didn't have to tell her, of course. He planned to fade away just before the policemen arrived, and he hadn't exchanged names with the mugger's would-be victim; there was nothing to identify him. He might not be as lucky next time … but that problem would keep. So, just add this rescue to the list of Things Not To Tell Lana.
He heard a patrol car approaching, and retreated further into the alley. As soon as the officers took charge of the mugger, he shot upwards, quickly gaining enough altitude to be effectively invisible.
He circled the city, mentally composing the version of the night's events suitable for sharing with his fiancee. Surely, some small part of him insisted, there was something wrong with having to censor himself all the time like this.
But she loves me, he argued.
She loves part of you, came the reply.
He had no answer to that, and continued flying for another hour before finally returning to the hotel.
The alarm went off entirely too early in the morning, but Lois decided she might as well get out of bed. She'd spent too many hours last night thinking about her junior partner, and she really needed to move on to something else.
Okay, fine, Clark was gorgeous. And smart. And funny, when she could coax him out of his reserve. He was good at the job, too — Lois hated training people, but she hadn't had to show him anything more than once, and he'd worked hard. The Planet could definitely use him; surely Perry would realize that, and hire him. If Perry didn't, the Star would snap him right up.
Of course, that might not be such a bad thing, because working with him was going to be difficult. She was attracted to him, and more … she had the strangest feeling that she *knew* him, that they were meant for each other … but he was engaged, and that put him firmly Off Limits.
It occurred to her that the situation was all her own fault. If she hadn't twisted Perry's arm, Clark would have been out of her life days ago, which would have made things much simpler. She still didn't understand the impulse that had driven her to get him hired … but neither could she quite bring herself to regret it. Simplicity was overrated.
Business, she told herself firmly. We are going to be all business today. She figured she owed it to him to make this temporary job permanent, so she'd just have to look for opportunities to help him prove himself. In fact, Perry had been after her to write that mood piece about that old theater being torn down; that would be the perfect assignment for Clark. She could work by herself for a few hours; she'd probably get more done that way anyway.
So Clark would have a solo job, and Perry could hire him or not, on his own merits. And then he could darn well work on his own, because working next to him was going to be torture.
Clark poured two cups of coffee, filling his own with two creams and a packet of sugar, then finding the artificial sweetener for his partner's cup. It was the second time he'd gotten her coffee today, which seemed like the least he could do.
Last night he'd been so concerned about Lana's reaction that he'd completely forgotten to worry about how to face Lois. True, she'd initiated the pretend kiss, but he'd gotten caught up in it, folding her to his chest and running a hand through her hair. It was amazing she hadn't killed him on the spot.
He'd half expected to be fired as soon as he'd arrived, but she had merely said good morning and sent him out to cover a human-interest story about the closing of a theater, acting for all the world as if they'd never touched. Getting out of the office again had been a relief, and he knew he'd done a good job on the story.
When he'd returned to the newsroom, he'd felt some residual awkwardness at working with her, but she'd continued her cool demeanor, filling him in on the progress she'd made. As they worked together they'd been able to recapture at least some of their previous easy camaraderie.
He didn't know when she'd arrived this morning, but it had been at least an hour before he had. She must be used to the schedule, but did she usually stay up late working, or playing? It was none of his business, he reminded himself firmly, and carried the cups back to her desk.
She wasn't there, so he took a quick look around the newsroom. There she was, over by the fax machine — she had said something about waiting for information on another story. He watched her for a moment, mesmerized by the sway of her hair, brushing against her cheek. She glanced in his direction, and he waved, embarrassed to be caught looking at her, but she didn't seem upset, mouthing something at him. He didn't tune his hearing in quick enough to catch what she said, so he pantomimed confusion, and cupped an ear.
She tried again, louder and with gestures. "I'll be here for a little bit — have to get a fax." This time, his enhanced hearing caught every word, so he nodded comprehension, and was rewarded by a smile. He was tempted to join her at the fax machine, but he didn't have a good excuse, and didn't want to impose himself on her. He settled into the temporary desk set up next to hers, and looked over his story one more time. He didn't quite dare turn it into Perry on his own, since the editor had assigned the piece to Lois, but she'd promised to explain things.
"Hey, Lois, what's up?"
Clark looked around at the unfamiliar voice, a bit startled, then realized that the speaker was over by the fax machine with Lois — he'd stayed tuned in to that vicinity. Glancing sideways, Clark saw a tall, striking woman with long auburn hair, who had an … interesting … dress sense.
"Oh hi, Cat," Lois replied in a friendly voice. "Have a good night last night?"
Cat chuckled warmly. "Don't I always? A certain City Councilman decided to have a quickie in the coat closet — with his *wife*! Can you imagine?"
Lois laughed. "At least he wasn't cheating."
Cat let out an amused sigh. "There you go being all moral again. I don't know how you do it — monogamy bores me."
"I suppose it all depends on what you're looking for," Lois replied peaceably. "So does the Planet have the scoop?"
"Lois, now I'm offended," Cat replied, with a grin. "You know I save all the best gossip for the paper — no one else at the party has a clue. Which was a shame, in a way — other than that, it was a fairly dull party."
"Well, you can't expect sex scandals *every* night."
"Sure I can. But speaking of sex…" Cat laughed softly, and lowered her voice, "did I hear that you and the new hire spent the night together?"
"Cat! It was a stakeout — we were working."
"Oh, come on, Lois, tell me you didn't at least *think* about it…"
Lois was silent for a moment, and Clark felt his ears start to burn. He tried to concentrate on the work at hand, but he couldn't block the voices entirely … and he really didn't want to.
"Well, if you must know…" Lois dropped her voice to a whisper, and against his better judgement Clark strained to hear every word. "There was one kiss. One! And it was only because someone was coming, and we couldn't let them know we were spying on them, but…" She sighed.
Cat chuckled. "That good, hmm?"
"Even better," Lois admitted, but with more than a trace of sadness in her tone. "But he's engaged."
"Mmm, how depressing — at least for you. Won't keep me from giving him a shot."
Clark felt his eyebrows raising in some alarm at that prospect, but then Lois was speaking again, sounding more like her usual self.
"Cat … give him a break, okay? He's a good guy — I know you've got a good heart in there somewhere, but you come on *just* a little strong, and I don't think he'd know how to handle that. We don't want to scare him off."
"You never let me have any fun," Cat pouted. "But I owe you one for that friend of Nick's that you introduced me to, so all right — I'll leave hotstuff alone. And hey … what happened with Nick anyway? Or was it Rick? Anyway, I thought you two were getting serious."
Clark abruptly paid close attention — Lois had a boyfriend?
"No, Nick was getting serious. In fact, Nick is always serious; he's a tax accountant at heart, lacking even a shred of a sense of humor. By the time I realized he never got any of my jokes, I knew it would never work. Luckily, he was reaching the same conclusion, so it wasn't messy. *Rick* was the party hound you introduced me to last New Year's."
"Ooh, yeah, I remember him," Cat replied, practically purring. "What a hunk."
"He was an idiot," Lois retorted. "He never even read the paper."
"Honey, when the package looks like that, who cares what they've got going upstairs?"
Lois laughed again. "Sorry, but it makes a difference to me. You can't spend all day in bed."
"Speak for yourself, Lois," Cat chuckled. "But I hope you find what you're looking for."
"Yeah, me too," Lois replied, sighing slightly, the sad note creeping back into her voice. Intrigued, Clark snuck a look in her direction … and found that she was looking right at him. He flushed, and concentrated on the notes in front of him once more, making a more determined effort to ignore anything he might overhear.
Lois blushed when Clark caught her looking at him, and quickly turned back to the fax machine.
"Oh, there's Perry," Cat commented, "I'd better go look like I'm working." She grinned, and sauntered off.
"Okay, Cat, see you later." Lois smiled. The newsroom was never dull with Cat Grant around, and underneath all the glitz lurked a really nice human being, however hard she tried to hide it. And the fax was *finally* coming through; maybe now she could get back to work.
As she headed back to her desk, she ran into Perry. "Lois! How's the car theft ring story coming?"
"Still working on it, Chief," she replied briskly, stepping past him to sit at her desk. She gestured towards her rookie partner. "Clark and I staked out one of their operations last night, and we heard them talking about one of the warehouses on Shipton. We're trying to figure out which one they meant; we should be able to score big tonight. And we have a few faces captured on film; those might lead somewhere."
"But there's nothing I can print yet," Perry summed up dourly.
Lois saw Clark wince at that comment. "Perry, you know how it goes. And don't scare Clark; he thinks he's going to be fired at any moment."
Perry raised an eyebrow. "And this bothers you because…?"
"Because he's a good writer!" she snapped, belatedly aware that that had come out sharper than she'd intended. Perry was only curious, not suspicious; he couldn't know how attracted she was to Clark. "And he came in handy on the stakeout last night." She saw Clark turn away, blushing, and she attempted to simultaneously convince Perry and reassure Clark. "You know the main reason I work alone is because everyone else drives me nuts. Clark didn't."
From the looks on their respective faces, that hadn't helped her case with either man.
"Uh-huh," Perry grunted, eyeing her speculatively. "Well that's nice for you, Lois, but I'd like to see some column inches for the front page, preferably above-the-fold material!"
Lois smiled at him sweetly. "I'll have it for you tomorrow."
"Humph." He studied her for a moment longer, then moved on to terrorize the rest of the staff.
"Lois," Clark said in an urgent undertone, "What if we don't have anything tomorrow? What if the warehouse on Shipton isn't there, or nothing happens?"
"Then we keep digging until we find another lead, Clark. Oh, and I totally forgot about your theater story; we'll give that to him this morning, that'll keep him happy." Judging by the worried expression on his face, he was seeing his job prospects crumble beneath his feet, so she leaned over to lay a comforting hand on his arm. "Look, don't worry —"
"Well!" came a sharp voice. "Isn't *this* cozy?"
Lois looked up to see Lana standing right in front of her. Clark leapt to his feet in near panic. "Lana! I, ah, didn't expect — what are you doing here?"
Lana crossed her arms, studying Lois with a venomous glare, and Lois fought the urge to glare back. "I came to take you to lunch, Clark, but I see you're *well* entertained without me." She turned her glare on Clark. "What was that charade you pulled last night? Didn't want me to see your new girlfriend for what she was?"
"Lana, it wasn't like that," Clark replied, frowning in frustration. "She was dressed for the stakeout, just like I was."
"Um, look," Lois said, "I guess I misled you a little bit, but it was just so you wouldn't worry, because it was business."
Lana looked down her nose at Lois. "And I suppose nothing happened between you last night?"
"Last night was business," Lois insisted, "and that was all."
Lana sniffed, and turned to Clark, who was looking more than a little guilty. "All right, Clark, out with it."
Lois rolled her eyes. The man really needed to learn to lie better than this. And this brou-ha-ha was attracting a little more attention than she was comfortable with. She stood up. "Okay, if we're going to do this, let's do it in private."
"Oh, we need to be private now, do we?" Lana asked, in mock- amazement. "*I* haven't got anything to hide," she added, with a pointed look towards Clark.
"Well, *I* don't fancy being tomorrow's headline," Lois replied, and she took a step towards where the conference room was standing empty. "Shall we?"
"Come on, Lana," Clark said, stepping past his fiancee to follow Lois. Lana, perforce, came after them.
"Clark, I can't believe you'd do this to me," she declared, as Lois shut the door behind them and closed the blinds.
Clark sighed, slumping into one of the chairs, looking utterly weary. "Lana, this is stupid. I didn't do anything. You know I wouldn't."
"Hah! That's what I thought back in high school, until you took that little minx Rachel Harris to the prom!"
Clark's head came up at that, a spark of anger in his eyes. "And do you remember why I took her? Because you'd decided you'd rather go with Pete Ross!"
Lana seemed taken aback at his defense, and she backpedaled. "Well, we'd been fighting then."
Lois couldn't help herself. "Hey, if you went with another guy, he was allowed to go with another girl. Fair's fair."
Lana rounded on her. "Shut up! You don't know anything. You don't know anything about *him*! I stood by him, when any other woman would have run screaming, and I think that gives me certain rights."
Lois frowned in puzzlement, and noticed how Clark seemed to be shrinking back into himself at this reminder of … what? Obviously these two had a long history together. "Like what, the right to make him miserable? You don't own him," Lois argued, knowing that she was trespassing but unable to stop herself.
Lana glared at her, but took a deep breath, and turned her attention back to Clark. "Don't listen to her, Clark; she doesn't know how we are."
"Yeah, but I do," Clark answered wearily. "And I'm so tired of it, Lana…"
Lana narrowed her eyes at that; apparently it wasn't the usual response. She switched tactics, softening her body language and moving closer. "Baby, it's not that bad … I know you think she's attractive, but I know that *you* know you can't possibly have any future with her. So why don't you just quit this silly job, and come work for me at LNN? We can forget all about this, and get on with our lives."
Clark studied the top of the table, as both women waited anxiously for his answer. Lana slid into the chair next to him, and began stroking his arm. "Clark … you know I love you, and you love me. Let's just forget about this. No one will ever love you as much as I do," she coaxed.
Lois bit her lip against the temptation to persuade Clark to stay. She desperately wanted him to, but if it wasn't his choice, it was no good…
He looked up at her. She smiled, just a little.
Lana glanced up at her, then back to Clark. "Sweetie, you know, I've been thinking — there's no reason we couldn't get an apartment together. It'd be safer, you know, and since we'll be working together we can commute together, too."
Clark regarded her for a long moment, then sighed. "No."
She blinked. "Now you don't want to share an apartment?"
Very gently, he removed her hand from his arm. "No, I won't be working at LNN. I'm not going to throw away my job over some unfounded jealousy."
"Oh, but you're going to throw away everything we have, to work with her?" Lana tossed her head and stood, frowning fiercely. "I'm leaving now, Clark. And if you don't come with me, you can forget about our relationship."
He looked up at her, and Lois's heart was wrung by the bleakness she saw in his eyes. "Lana … you don't love me. I think I used to love you, but … not anymore."
Lana's eyes narrowed. "It's about her, isn't it? You think you've met someone new, and maybe she'll be okay with…" She glanced at Lois, then continued. "With *it*, Clark, but she won't be."
He shook his head. "No, Lana, I know that … but I just can't…" He hesitated, searching for words, then appeared to give up. "I just can't do this anymore. I'm sorry."
Lana gaped at him. Her mouth moved soundlessly, then closed with an almost audible snap. She turned on her heel and stalked out, slamming the door so hard the windows rattled.
Clark closed his eyes, and lowered his face onto his folded hands, on top of the table. This hadn't been the worst fight he'd ever had with Lana, but then, she didn't yet realize how serious he was. How could she? He'd only just realized it, himself. At every step along the way, he'd known what he could say to defuse her, and calm her down. But his mouth had stubbornly refused to cooperate.
"Clark?" Lois asked softly. "Are you okay?"
He didn't move. "Yeah."
"That was … whoa."
"That was … Lana." He was so tired of appeasing her, of accommodating all her wishes, large and small. He'd always been the one apologizing and making peace, in order to preserve the relationship, and he was sick of it.
"Is she … always like that?" Lois asked.
He lifted his head, and stared into space. "No. Usually I knuckle under. She's threatened to leave before."
Lois made a face, sinking into a seat across the table. "I hate emotional blackmail."
Clark sighed in weary agreement. Sooner or later, Lana would extend the opportunity for him to make it up to her. She always had before. This time, however, he knew he couldn't accept the invitation.
He glanced across the table. Lana had assumed this fight was because of Lois, and he supposed she was right, although not in the way she'd meant. Working with Lois, these past few days, had given him a glimpse of how things could have been … just two people together, with common goals … no head games, no hidden agendas. By contrast, his relationship with Lana seemed very … unhealthy. And all the while Lana had been haranguing and coaxing him, Lois had just watched. Not disinterested, but willing to let him make up his own mind … the possibilities had dazzled him.
Reality was now coming crashing back. There were some things he simply couldn't have. "You know what's really funny?"
"I went through all this for a job I probably won't have tomorrow anyway." He vented a bitter laugh. "Now that's hilarious. Wonder how long it'll be before she extends the opportunity for me to grovel?"
"Clark, you *will* have a job tomorrow, and there's no way you should grovel. Okay, there was one little kiss —"
He raised an eyebrow at her.
"Okay, it was a big kiss, but it was accidental, and it wasn't going to be repeated. I don't steal men. The point is, she totally overreacted, like the control freak she is. She —" Lois caught herself, and closed her mouth with a visible effort. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't go off on her."
He moved his finger in aimless patterns on the table. "I can understand the temptation. But … it was better than being alone."
"Clark … those aren't your only options. There are millions of women in this country, not to mention the rest of the world, and most of them are a lot nicer than her!"
He shook his head. She didn't understand. "Lana was the only one who really knew about me … who accepted me. God knows no one else would."
"Oh, please. What could be so terrible?"
He looked up at her, starting to get annoyed at her persistence. "You really want to know?"
"Yeah, I really do!"
He glowered at her. "Well, I can't tell you."
She glared right back. "Why the hell not? It's a private room, and if you want, I will swear to never tell anyone else. What'd you do, kill someone?"
"No!" Glumly, he realized that he didn't have much reason to keep this a secret. They weren't going to find any thieves on Shipton, so his job was about to disappear, and Lana was already furious with him. The worst Lois could do would be to publish … and so what? He could always change his name and move to Tahiti. If he were destined to be alone and miserable, he could at least live on a beach.
"All right, fine." The decision made, the words poured forth. "I'm not human; I'm an alien. I have *powers*. I can hear things from hundreds of feet away, I can see through walls, I can set things on fire with my eyes. I'm tremendously strong. I can fly." To illustrate the point, he pushed back the chair, and levitated in midair before her stunned eyes. "So tell me, who's gonna put up with all that?"
It took her a few minutes to recover her breath and her equilibrium, and he sank back into the chair, warily waiting for her to start screaming.
"Oh my God," she whispered, looking him straight in the eye. "That was so cool!"
For a moment, he was sure he'd heard her wrong. "Excuse me?"
She stood up, walking around the table. "Do the flying thing again."
He looked at her suspiciously. "Why?"
"I mean, there aren't any wires…" She seemed to be talking to herself, although she was looking him over with a soft smile. "And all that other stuff … hey! You said you didn't hear Shipton, last night — you mean you could hear them?"
He was startled at how quickly she'd put that together. "Well, yeah. They were talking about a warehouse on the south side … said they were going to 'ship a ton' of parts."
"Damn, and I wasted all that time, this morning … well, I can see why you didn't tell me, but next time…" She tried to look stern, but couldn't hold back a grin. "This is going to come in very handy. Perry has got to hire you now."
"You can't tell him!"
"Clark!" She looked offended. "Of course not." She paused. "Lana knows all this… do you think she'd tell anyone?"
He shook his head. "No, she wouldn't."
Lois frowned at him. "Are you sure? She looked really angry when she left, and I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her."
"She wouldn't." Clark groped for words. "See, you've gotta know Lana—"
"Yeah, I do! That's what worries me!"
"Lois." He tried again. "She's not an evil woman. I admit she's pushy and insensitive, but she's always been loyal to a fault, even when we were fighting."
"Clark! The woman works for LNN! Why isn't she going to use this to help her career?"
He looked at her. So that was her first thought, was it? "Why aren't you?"
"Because I —" She stopped, and took a deep breath. "Because you're my friend, and you don't want me to. But you haven't just dumped me, either — she's going to be very angry at you for a while."
"Thank you." He smiled at her, and after a moment she returned it. "No, Lois, trust me, I know Lana. She's been angry at me before, she's broken up with me several times, but she would never breathe a word about my secret." He looked down at the table. "She was always terrified that someone would find out, and not just because it would ruin my life with her. I think…" He hesitated, then continued. "She was always ashamed of it … I doubt she'd want anyone to know she'd been engaged to an alien. And anyway," he went on, with a touch of humor, "she's not a news anchor, she's the understudy to the weather girl. She doesn't think in terms of scoops."
"If you say so." Lois's worried expression relaxed somewhat.
He could tell she was still unconvinced, but he felt unequal to the task of explaining his inner certainty. And he'd had enough of defending Lana. "Well, if she does tell anyone," he said lightly, thinking of Tahiti, "I'll deal with it."
"No," Lois corrected him firmly. "*We'll* deal with it."
"Okay, we'll deal with it together." Clark studied her for a long moment, not quite able to believe her reaction. She knew about him, yet still she looked at him and smiled … could he and Lana have been so wrong about people? Or was Lois extraordinary, herself? Maybe … it was a little bit of both. "So … you're not upset? You can accept this? You don't mind that I'm, you know…?" He hummed the Twilight Zone theme.
She grinned at him. "Hey, Kansas is pretty alien to me! So how much difference could another planet make? Actually, I'm busy plotting ways I can use you to get stories. Haven't you wanted to use this stuff? There have been so many times when I've been so close to nailing a criminal, and couldn't quite do it … you could be a tremendous help."
"I have wanted to help people," he admitted slowly. "Sometimes I've been able to do something without being seen, but I'd like to do more. I just couldn't figure out how to do it. Although I did manage to stop a mugging last night."
"Oh, really? How?"
He told her, emphasizing the difficulty of using his powers undetected.
"Hmmm. You need a way you can use them, but not have anyone recognize you. A disguise would probably be a good idea." She grinned. "You're just lucky I have some expertise in that area."
Clark blinked, remembering her 'scruffy' disguise of the previous night. Surely she had something more … sophisticated in mind. "You mean like a little black mask or something?"
She tilted her head, looking him up and down. "I was thinking more about some sort of … outfit. Like a uniform, so people associate the costume with the powers, and don't look beneath the surface."
"Yeah, maybe…" Clark smiled, feeling more light-hearted than he would have thought possible earlier. "We'll figure something out."
"You bet we will," she agreed. "And I'll get you hired, too, because you're a damn good writer; that theater thing was great. And you've been good at everything else I've dumped on you. The Daily Planet can use another great reporter."
He dared a crooked little smile. "Besides you, you mean?"
She grinned. "Exactly. And when we team up, the world had better look out, right partner?"
Clark smiled. "You know it, partner."
*** [one week later] ***
"How's that one?" Lois called out from where she was sprawled on her bed, covered in fabric scraps. When she'd decided that Clark needed a costume, she hadn't anticipated that it would be this complicated, or this time-consuming. This was turning into an all-nighter — not that she minded spending time with Clark, but he was driving her insane!
So far he hadn't liked any of the costumes she'd put together. Okay, so the orange-and-magenta scheme hadn't worked out like she'd hoped, but she'd been quite fond of the green and yellow one. And the leopard-skin print … she grinned, remembering his acute embarrassment.
"Um," Clark replied from her bathroom. "It's better, I guess."
"Well, come out and let me see," she coaxed, coming up into a sitting position.
Hesitantly, he emerged from the bathroom, showing off the blue body-suit, with red and white vertical stripes along the midriff.
"You look … great," she managed, trying hard to be professional about this, instead of ogling him up and down the way she really wanted to.
He twisted, studying his reflection in her full-length mirror. "I'm not so sure."
"Oh for pete's sake what's wrong with this one?" she burst out, more than a little frustrated. It wasn't even as if she *liked* sewing, and this was the fourth ski suit she'd mangled tonight.
He flushed, looking repentant. "I'm sorry, never mind, it's fine," he replied guiltily.
Lois could have kicked herself. He was still so uncertain, but she was determined not to act like Lana. She took a deep breath, and distracted herself by admiring the width of his shoulders. When she was a little calmer, she said, "Clark, if you don't like it, that's fine. You're the one who has to wear it, so you have to be comfortable. What exactly doesn't work? Do you like the blue?"
Encouraged by her calm, he took another look. "Yeah, the blue is nice … very basic. But I'm not so sure about the stripes. I mean, they look a little over-patriotic, you know? I love my country, but America doesn't *own* me … I don't want to look like I work for the government or anything."
"Hmm. Good point. Okay, we'll ditch the stripes. You need something around the waist, though, to cover up the seams. Actually, I've got something here…" She rummaged around on the bed for an earlier effort.
"Can I take this one off?"
"No, gimme a minute — here it is!" She held up a belt-and- briefs combination in yellow and red. "Just take off the striped part, and put this on instead."
He disappeared back into the bathroom, and Lois flopped back on the bed once more, visions of his physique dancing in her head. God, he was gorgeous! And he didn't have to work out, or eat right, or anything. It was eminently unfair, and she could easily hate him for it. Except that she'd already fallen head over heels in love. And he only saw her as a friend.
The argument with Lana had been a week ago. Since they'd been sharing a hotel suite, he had needed a place to stay, and without hesitation, Lois had offered him her spare bedroom — just until he found his own place. Any friend would do the same, she'd assured him.
So he'd moved in, using the room that Lucy had recently moved out of. They'd worked together and spent evenings together, but he had shown no signs of interest in her, and it was making her crazy. She was beginning to wonder if she'd imagined their kiss from the stakeout, or if she'd misjudged his response to it. The only thing that kept her from confronting him about it was the realization that he'd only just gotten free of Lana. Maybe he didn't want to get entangled with anyone else again so soon … or ever again. Well, she'd dropped as many hints as her pride would allow, and if he didn't care to follow them up … well, she could still be his friend.
So she'd resolutely concentrated on work, and it had been a busy week. After breaking the story on the car theft ring, Perry had hired Clark on a permanent basis, just in time for him to help her investigate Dr. Platt's wild accusations and uncover Dr. Baines' sabotage of the space program. And Lois had *finally* gotten to talk to reclusive billionaire Lex Luthor, but had she agreed to his suggested interview? No! She'd turned him down, so that she could sit home and sew crazy costumes all night, forcing her to see and touch her partner's excellent body, without being able to indulge any of the many fantasies that had sprung up just recently.
She looked around the messy room and sighed. "Lois," she muttered under her breath, "You really know how to torture yourself, don't you?"
"What was that, Lois?" Clark asked from the bathroom.
She sat up again, running her fingers through her tousled hair. "Oh, nothing. So, what do you think we should name our creation?" It belatedly occurred to her that he would have needed to use his enhanced hearing to catch that. At least he was getting comfortable enough with her that he no longer worked to hide his powers. That was encouraging.
"Helper-Guy?" he suggested, laughing.
Lois rolled her eyes tolerantly. "That is so pathetic." She half-heartedly began gathering discarded costume components. A fortune in Spandex, wasted. "A name is very important, you know. It has to build an image. We want something that says you're friendly, but refers to your powers … something that makes you a little bit larger than life."
She saw movement out of the corner of her eye as he came out of the bathroom. "How about … 'Slightly Better Than Average Man'?"
"Clark! You're much better than average." She turned to see the latest costume, and was once more rendered speechless in appreciation.
He shrugged, not seeming to notice her preoccupation. "Well, I don't want to be too intimidating, you know?"
She tore her gaze from his midriff, and choked back a laugh. "Then this is the costume for you — who'd be intimidated by someone who wears his underwear on the outside? Don't get me wrong, though, it looks … great. Really great."
He managed an embarrassed smile. "Well, that's good. I'd hate for anyone to be afraid of me."
Lois winced. "Well … if you want to do this, you'll need for the bad guys to be afraid of you," she pointed out. "Are you okay with that?"
He considered it for a long moment, turning to study his reflection in the mirror, and Lois found herself holding her breath. She didn't want to be another pushy woman forcing him into things, but she could so clearly envision how much good he could do that she didn't know if she could stand by and watch him waste his talents.
Clark met her eye in the mirror, nodding resolutely. "Yeah, I'm okay with that."
"Good. So you like this one? I still think it needs something…"
An abstracted expression stole across his face. "Wait right here." He walked next door, and watching him gave her an inspiration. As she began frantically pawing through her mound of material, she heard him rummaging through something, probably the travel trunk he'd retrieved from his hotel room when he'd given Lana his key back.
In a moment he was back, holding a brown envelope.
"My mom gave me this," he explained, and she abruptly paid very close attention. "She said it was in the spaceship when they found me." Reverently, he opened the envelope and pulled out an insignia in red and yellow. "I don't know what it was for," he confessed, still staring at it. "But Mom thought it was a symbol of my real parents. Looks kind of like an 'S', doesn't it?"
She nodded, trying to get her voice under control. How could he have survived, losing not one but two sets of parents? That he was still a good and decent man was probably a testament to both sets. "Yeah, it does."
"Anyway," he continued, on a lighter note. "I thought the colors went pretty well with the suit." He held the insignia up to his chest, looking anxiously at her for approval.
She smiled warmly. "I think that's a marvelous idea, and you're right, it looks good. And I have another addition. The body suit looks a little … basic. Plus we need something to cover the zipper in the back. So I'm thinking a cape." She held up the swathe of red.
He tilted his head. "I guess…"
"It'll look great when you're flying," she assured him. "Get out of that for a moment so I can put it all together, and we'll see."
In just a moment, Clark emerged from the bathroom, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and handed her the suit. She pinned on the 'S' symbol and began attaching the cape.
"Mind if I turn on the news?" Clark asked.
"No, go ahead." The voices of the announcers formed a background buzz to distract her from the tedium of sewing.
"The colonist habitat launches tomorrow," Clark reported in satisfaction.
She smiled. "And thanks to us, it should be a good launch." As she kept sewing, an idea formed. Part of her brain knew it was crazy, but she'd been on her best behavior for over a week, now, and she just couldn't keep it up much longer. Might as well go for the big story … she glanced over at her cautious partner. He probably wouldn't understand. She sighed, and did her best to suppress the notion.
There, that did it. "Ready to try it on again?"
He groaned theatrically, but took it willingly enough, emerging from the bathroom a few moments later. He was walking proudly, and the change in stance made the costume look even better.
"Perfect," she whispered. "Bad guys, beware."
He smiled. "I like this one. And hey, that gives me an idea for a name: Good Guy."
Lois grinned. "Still needs work, I think. You're going to be an icon of virtue, a hero with no human frailties or weaknesses. Someone so lofty that no one will even think you could have a regular life. 'Good' just isn't good enough. You need to be … superhuman."
"Hmm…" Their eyes met, and their smiles grew. "Superman!"
The following evening found Clark out getting comfortable with his new costume and alias. After dinner, Lois had chased him out of the apartment, with strict orders to spend time getting to know the city, preferably from the air. At first he'd merely walked around in street clothes, a bit apprehensive about wearing his new costume in public. As the night grew darker, though, he'd changed into it, and he'd helped a few people already. For the most part, their response had been positive, so that was good. On the other hand, he hadn't yet worked up the courage to introduce himself as Superman; away from Lois, the name seemed more than a little silly. So far, he'd only identified himself as 'a friend.'
He flew higher, enjoying the skyline. He needed some time to think — his head was still whirling after the events of the past week. He'd greatly enjoyed spending the time with Lois, of course — she had been a faithful friend, and hadn't protested his occasional, inadvertent use of powers. A few times, she'd gotten a real kick out of them, in fact, which had allowed him to re-evaluate them, himself. He'd resented the evidence of his differences for so long that it was rather a shock to discover that the powers could be fun.
Working with Lois had been an adventure, too — moving from grand theft auto to space-age sabotage. Clark was glad they'd solved that case, although it was a bit convenient that Dr. Baines' helicopter had exploded like that. Something she'd said had reminded him of Lex Luthor, and Clark couldn't help but wonder if there was any connection there. In all the excitement, he'd forgotten to mention it to Lois; he'd have to get her opinion on it when he got back to the apartment.
He groaned. Staying in her apartment was making him crazy. He just didn't know how much longer he could refrain from picking her up and carrying her off to bed. He'd never felt such an intense sexual hunger, and he didn't know how to handle it, so for the moment he was trying to repress it. He thought — hoped — that Lois might also be interested, but he didn't dare approach the subject while he was living in her spare bedroom! The last thing he wanted to do was to pressure her, or make her feel awkward in any way. And he still wasn't convinced that she could feel that way towards him; she had been amazingly accepting of him so far, but the fact remained that he was an alien.
He reminded himself that he didn't just want her sexually … if she wasn't interested in that, he'd continue to be her friend, because she was the smartest, most intensely alive woman he'd ever met … and because being around her made him feel better about himself than he ever had. What he really wanted, though, was to love her until death did them part.
Thank God he'd found an apartment of his own; as soon as his out-of-state check cleared, he could move in, which should be in the next day or so. It couldn't be soon enough for him. And then he could try to find out if Lois might possibly be interested in him, other than as a friend.
Now in need of a distraction, he swooped back down towards the city. It was about time for the colonist habitat to launch, come to think of it, so he headed that way … and picked up warning beeps and frantic control tower chatter, something about a mechanical problem. Frowning, he decided to check this out personally; after all the work he and Lois had done on this project, he was not about to let anything go wrong now!
X-raying the passenger compartment, he spied the outline of a person where no one should be. Indignant, he opened the outer door, and confronted the saboteur. She whirled at his entrance and gasped, "Clark!"
"Lois??" He couldn't believe his eyes — she was not supposed to be here, and he almost hadn't recognized her with her hair pulled back and in the colonist coveralls.
"Clark, hurry up, there's a bomb." She pointed to a display slowly ticking down in malignant red letters.
He pulled the front of the unit off the wall, exposing its inner workings, then stared at it, not quite sure how to proceed.
"Do something!" Lois urged, as the countdown continued.
In desperation, he pulled out the detonator and popped it in his mouth.
Lois stared at him, her eyes widening as he swallowed. "Are you insane?"
A moment later, the bomb went off, giving him the most peculiar sensation.
He opened his mouth to reassure her that he was fine, and was embarrassed by a truly heroic belch. "Scuse me." Now that the crisis was over, he began to take in the details of the situation. "Lois … why are you here?"
"Um." She flushed, looking downwards before meeting his eyes once more. "I … ah, I wanted to cover the full story of the colonist's trip, but they weren't allowing any journalists. But I knew there was an emergency jump seat here, and the shuttle pilots are coming right back, and I knew I could hitch a ride with them. It was going to be so easy, and such a great story! It would only have been a day or so, Clark — and I left you a note!"
"A note. I see. Thank you." He paused, considering this, then shook his head. "And you think *I'm* insane?"
She scowled at him. "No, we just both know what we can do. And I've been on my best behavior for way too long," she admitted, a little sheepishly. "I couldn't stand it any more!"
He chuckled. "I know the feeling."
She looked up, hope gleaming in her eyes. "You mean you…?"
He nodded, moving a little closer to her. "Maybe we ought to relax, a little bit."
"Yeah, maybe." She smiled shyly, but whatever else she might have said was lost as he heard voices approaching — the colonists, no doubt, come to find out what was wrong with their ride. He squared his shoulders, tucking all his emotions back deep inside him. He and Lois exited the little room to meet the questioning colonists in the main entranceway.
"There was a bomb," Lois explained, sounding just as nervous as he felt. "He … he …" Words appeared to fail her. "He *ate* it."
Clark had to grin at that description, then looked around to check for the colonists' reactions. They weren't looking any too sure of him; maybe he'd better try to reassure them of his good intentions, somehow. He spotted a little girl in her wheelchair, and smiled at her. "Hi."
"Hi," she replied with the directness of a child. "I like your costume."
"Thank you." He smiled, careful *not* to look at Lois. "A friend made it for me. What's your name?"
"Amy. Amy Platt. Who are you?"
Clark put on his best reassuring smile. "I'm … a friend."
Lois shot him a quick glance then said, "This is Superman. He's here to help."
After a little more small talk, an announcement was made about disembarking, and a loud groan went up. The thrusters had already fired, before the countdown was stopped due to sabotage; the colonists had lost their launch window.
"We just have to forget about Space Station Prometheus," one of the colonists concluded sadly.
Clark looked around at all the disappointed people, and thought about how important this project could be to all humanity. He couldn't stand by and let that happen. "No … you don't," he contradicted firmly. "I can give you a boost."
It didn't take long to boost the habitat into orbit; Clark got them within maneuvering distance of the space station, then let them make it the rest of the way on their own power. When he returned to Mission Control, he found Lois fending off questions from EPRAD personnel and reporters alike. He noted with amusement that she'd found time to change her clothing into something more business-like than the colonist's coverall she'd been wearing earlier.
"For the last time, people … his name is Superman," she said testily, "and he's here to help. There was a bomb in the wiring; I found it, and he disarmed it. You want to know any more, read today's Daily Planet."
Her answer clearly satisfied no one, and Clark could tell how tired she was, so he swooped down to land next to her, and redirect the crowd's attention. For a moment, there was silence, as the crowd stared in amazement at him, and Clark felt a surge of panic. They know I'm different, they've seen me fly…
He turned almost instinctively to Lois, and her eyes widened as she took in his expression. Then she pasted a wide smile on her face. "Thank you, Superman," she enunciated clearly. "We all owe you a debt of gratitude."
Her words released the others from their stunned silence, and the questions washed over him in a babbling rush. He held up a hand, and the flood died down to a trickle. Time to make a good first impression. "No thanks are necessary; I was glad to be of service. And the world owes you, as well, Ms. Lane. Without you, I would never have known about the device in time."
Lois actually blushed at that, and Clark firmly suppressed a grin. But she quickly recovered, and responded, "You may not need a reward, but I do — how about an exclusive interview?"
Seizing his chance for a graceful exit, he nodded agreement. "Not here, though. May I take you somewhere?"
She looked surprised for a moment, then delighted. "Please do."
He moved towards her, then, and with great care scooped her up into his arms and lifted off. She held herself stiffly at first, looking around wide-eyed as the world fell away beneath them, but gradually relaxed as he slowly flew her across the city. "My God, Clark," she said softly. "This is incredible! I mean, I knew you could do this, but it's not the same as actually flying *with* you."
"It is kinda amazing," he agreed. It was the first time he'd ever dared to fly so openly, and he was enjoying it himself.
She tore her gaze from the scenery to study him. "It must be pretty special, to be you."
"It hasn't always been," he reminded her, unused to the appreciation shining from her eyes. "But it's a lot better now that I've got someone to share it with."
Lois frowned. "Now … you mean me? But didn't Lana…?" her voice trailed off as she realized it might not have been the most tactful of questions.
He shook his head. "Lana would never have been comfortable with this."
Lois blinked at that, then smiled. "Well, I'm comfortable — in fact, I'm loving it!" She laughed. "You're going to have to beat me off with a stick, if you don't want a permanent passenger!"
His heart did an odd little hiccup as it penetrated that she really, truly didn't mind his differences. "I don't want to get rid of you, Lois," he said huskily. "Not ever."
She looked startled for a second, then slowly smiled. "Oh. That's nice. Well, you're in luck; I'm not going anywhere."
"Except home to bed," Clark commented, seeing her apartment building come into view. She drew in a sharp breath, and he abruptly realized how he must have sounded. He blushed. "I mean, you were up all night; I can tell you're tired. You just need your rest. That's all I meant."
Lois laughed. "I believe you, Clark. But don't take me home just yet, I need to write this story! Could you fly me into the newsroom, just so everyone knows you're real and Perry doesn't think I'm nuts?"
"Your wish is my command," he gallantly replied, and changed course. The newsroom was humming with activity when they arrived, but as soon as they cleared the large windows, all conversation died away. Gently, Clark set Lois down right next to her desk.
She smiled demurely up at him. "Thank you, Superman."
"No problem. Just make sure you get your facts straight, Ms. Lane," he teased, knowing she wouldn't dare retaliate in public and risk tarnishing the image they both wanted for Superman. She'd get back at him later, no doubt, but somehow he was certain he'd enjoy it.
Her eyes flashed at him, but she merely replied, "I will."
Clark felt the need to beat a prudent retreat, so he rose into the air once again. He was almost out the window when he heard her whisper, "We'll go home to bed later."
Three hours later, Lois was still smiling about Clark's reaction to her whispered words. She hadn't been sure that he'd hear them, but she'd startled him into a backwards glance. She'd had time to glimpse an adorable deer-in-the- headlights expression before he'd turned again and hightailed it out of there. Literally. She snickered to herself; that should teach him not to tease *her* when he thought she couldn't answer back. And, of course, if he chose to take her up on her offer … so much the better.
"You look positively smug," Cat intruded on her thoughts.
"Oh, hi Cat," Lois smiled at her, feeling ridiculously happy about everything in the world. This morning's flight had cheered her up immensely. Clark's words had been sedate enough, but the look on his face had convinced her; this man was interested in far more than her friendship. She wasn't quite sure why he had been so reluctant to approach her — then again, given what she knew of Lana, maybe it wasn't so hard to guess. She looked forward to re-educating him. "I'm just a little happy," she confided.
Cat laughed. "I can see that. Well, I heard an interesting tidbit today, and thought you might be interested."
"Okay, sure … as long as you're not trying to set me up with a guy."
"Oh, please, Lois, I have eyes. You, my dear, are *taken*."
Lois felt a delicious tingle race up and down her spine. "Why do you say that?"
Cat gave her a level look. "I've seen the looks going back and forth between you and your 'partner'. And if he's still sleeping in your spare bedroom then you're not as smart as I always thought you were."
Lois grinned, remembering her own fantasies in that direction. "He's just getting over a long-term relationship. I didn't want to rush him."
Cat shrugged, amused. "It's your life, you can waste time with scruples if you want. But that brings me to my news — the word around LNN is that our favorite assistant weather girl has started a hot new affair with Dan Rydell in sports."
"Oh, really! That's just … fascinating." Lois rolled that idea around in her mind, wondering if this were good news or bad. She'd have to talk to Clark.
"I thought you'd think so. I assume you'll tell Clark for me?"
"Yeah, I will, thanks." Lois turned to go, lost in thought. Where was Clark, anyway? Ah, there he was, at his new desk, and he was on the phone — he must have snuck in while she wasn't looking. She sauntered over, some of her earlier amusement returning. He had no idea what was about to hit him.
As she neared his desk, she shamelessly eavesdropped on his conversation.
"Yeah, I understand. Thanks for telling me, I appreciate that … I really hope it works out for you, baby. You deserve it … No, don't worry about me, I'll be okay … Oh, I will be, don't worry. I'd never want to hurt you … Okay, then. I'll see you around. Bye."
Lois perched in the edge of his desk, regarding him with a quizzical expression. Clark hung up the phone, a slightly stunned look on his face, then glanced up at her and smiled. "That … was Lana."
"Oh, really?" Lois narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "She's not still trying to keep you on a leash, is she, because I heard…"
Clark shook his head, a grin starting to form. "She called to break up with me."
Lois couldn't hold in a giggle. "She did, huh?"
"Yep." He rolled his eyes. "God, that is so *her*!" He looked around the newsroom, then stood. "Let's find somewhere with some privacy."
"We can use one of the small conference rooms back here," she said, leading the way.
Clark followed, shaking his head. "Lana's been rearranging things in her mind so that she can think she's in control. But now there's this guy at work that she's interested in, so I'm old news."
"Yeah, I heard about him from Cat. Nice of Lana to let you know."
"I thought so, too." They reached the small, windowless room, and Clark ushered her inside, closing the door behind him. "Of course, she also told me that she'd heard the news about Superman, and she was a little worried about that. If I ever let anyone know she was ever associated with him in *any* way, I am, apparently, dead meat."
"Just another reason to break up with you, I suppose," Lois agreed, annoyed at Lana's self-centeredness. "It's all very well for Clark Kent to come crawling back, but if a flying alien was to start sending flowers…"
"Exactly. It gives her a chance to save face, though, and I don't mind." He shrugged, leaning against the conference table. "Lana was never right for me, but she helped me out a lot anyway. In a weird way, I owe her."
Lois frowned. "I really don't think you do."
"Well, okay, it's debatable, but since what she really wants now is for me to leave her alone, I think I can make her happy."
"Yeah, I guess so. Speaking of happy, do you suppose we should call the guy, and warn him about her?"
"Lois. No, I don't think it's any of our business. Besides…" His face became thoughtful. "They'll have advantages that Lana and I didn't. No huge secrets to keep, for one, and … he probably won't be as desperately needy as I was."
Lois grimaced reluctant agreement. "So she won't be able to push him around?"
"Probably not. I hope it works out for her."
"So do I," Lois said firmly. "That way she stays away from you!" Which seemed to take care of that topic, so Lois turned her attention to a more pleasant one. "So now that you're unattached…"
He looked up at that, his gaze intent. "Who said I was unattached?"
She tilted her head. She was pretty sure she knew what he meant, but she was going to make him say it. "Well, you just got dumped."
He shrugged. "It was over for us a long time ago, really."
"So then who are you attached to?" she asked, trying to hold back a smile.
Clark hesitated, watching her, and she could see the vulnerability in his eyes. He stepped a little closer, and tentatively placed his arms around her waist. "You."
"Hmm." She looped her arms loosely around his neck, enjoying herself immensely. He seemed to gain confidence from her response, pulling her closer. "Professionally, you mean?"
"Professionally … and personally." He dipped his head just a little, and she met him halfway for their second kiss. Her arms tightened around him, exploring his hair and the smooth solid strength of his back. His lips nibbled and teased hers for a few moments, then turned insistent, and she gladly granted him access, delighted at the way he'd finally overcome his diffidence. Their tongues met, and for a moment Lois felt a dizzying sense of rightness, of all the pieces in her life falling into place.
Eventually, she pulled back just far enough to see him, a dreamy smile on her face. "It's about time you did that."
He smiled. "Believe me, I've been wanting to for a week! I just wasn't sure, since I'm so different…"
"You bet you're different," she agreed. "You're absolutely amazing and unique, and no one else even comes close. And don't you forget it."
"Yes, ma'am," he said meekly, but his eyes were dancing.
"Good. You realize, of course, that you have to ask me out on a date, now."
"Lois," he replied, lowering his voice, "I want to ask you to marry me, and to have my kids, and grow old with me … but I figured, one step at a time."
Lois sucked in a breath, joy and terror battling for control. Love won. "We could maybe try dating a little first," she agreed with a tiny smile. "We still haven't seen Lethal Weapon 3," she reminded him.
"We can do that, but for our first date, I want something nicer than an action movie. What's your favorite restaurant?"
"Angelina's," she told him, joy bubbling up within her, "but you'll never get reservations for tonight."
"So what do you suggest?" He pulled her a little closer to his body, letting her feel just exactly how interested he was.
Her breath caught in her throat. "We could always just have a quiet evening in?" She peeked up at him through her lashes, and saw his eyes darken in passion.
"Are you sure, Lois? I think my self-control is just about shot."
"Oh good," she whispered, feathering kisses along his jaw. "What can I do to disintegrate the rest of it?"
He groaned. "Just keep that up, Lois … God, how I love you."
She stilled, hearing those words, then pulled back to look him in the eyes. He was looking a little scared, and a lot vulnerable. She managed a smile. "I love you, too, Clark." She saw joy flare on his face before he kissed her again, and she melted into his embrace. When she eventually pulled back, she was panting slightly.
"Clark … let's go home."