By Tracey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted March 2001
Summary: What if Lois had stayed at Clark's apartment instead of Jimmy's in the episode "Return of the Prankster"?
I was watching Return of the Prankster today, and there was this one scene that I decided to change around a little bit. I always wondered what would have happened if Lois had decided to stay at Clark's apartment instead of at Jimmy's, so here's my take. Fair warning, though—it turned into a little bit of a WAFFfest :)
Usual copyrights apply: characters are property of DC Comics, TNT, etc., and any reference to any other story is accidental on my part. Comments welcome and appreciated at email@example.com
"This isn't fair. I put him away twice before." A very frustrated Lois Lane threw the folder she had been holding back down on her desk. The file contained every note that she'd ever made on Kyle Griffin, otherwise known as the Prankster. This was the second time he'd broken out of jail, and along with causing problems for the entire city, he was messing up her interview with the President! Lois sighed as she let the pencil fall to the desk as well. It seemed that Griffin's sole purpose in life was to make hers miserable.
Clark watched her as she leaned back in her chair. He remembered the last time the Prankster had broken out of jail; Griffin had immediately come after Lois, and she had run to Clark's apartment one night when she'd been too scared to stay alone in her own apartment. He didn't blame her; there was no telling what kind of crazy things Griffin was capable of inventing.
Remembering that night suddenly brought on another thought. It probably wouldn't be a good idea for Lois to stay by herself tonight, either. He wasn't about to tell her that, however. If he had learned anything in his two years as Lois' partner, it was that she did not like being told what to do. Instead he phrased his question so it would seem like she was the one making the decision. "Lois, are you going to stay at your apartment tonight?"
"Well, I didn't want to," she began, getting up from her desk and starting to walk towards him. "But every hotel room in town is booked because of the President. Perry offered, but Alice has the flu, so I don't want to impose." Lois ran a hand through her hair before coming to rest on her usual corner of his desk.
She looked weary, and he knew this whole Prankster business was beginning to fray her nerves. Without thinking, he made the offer that had been on his lips from the moment she'd sat down next to him. "Well, you know, Lois, you could…" he trailed off slightly, suddenly unsure and a bit hesitant to voice his thoughts. But when he looked up at her face and saw her strained expression, he made the immediate decision and forged ahead with the rest his sentence. "You could stay with me."
Lois' eyes widened slightly. She hadn't been expecting him to say that, but a small part of her had been silently hoping that he would. Her immediate reaction was to accept his invitation without a thought. She remembered very clearly the last time the Prankster had broken out of jail, and she had stayed at Clark's place for the night. Though her life had been threatened that very night, she had slept soundly and, in fact, more peacefully on Clark's couch than she had in weeks sleeping in her own bed. Clark made her feel safe. Now that the Prankster was after her again, she wanted that same assurance.
But the fact of the matter was that things between her and Clark weren't the same as they had been last year. Last year, they had been partners and very good friends. Now they were, well…on the verge of something more than friendship. They were dating…almost-dating, she amended. Though they hadn't been on an official first date yet, their relationship had already been altered by an "almost first" date.
It had begun as a relatively routine stakeout, but as the night wore on, the small houseboat in the harbor had taken on an increasingly intimate feeling. Lois remembered every detail of that night, especially the way Clark had looked while he'd been changing his clothes. She had been able to see the muscles in his arms and chest through the doorway of the bedroom, flexing as he pulled his shirt over his head.
Lois grimaced a little as she also remembered the way she'd made a complete fool of herself when he'd come back into the living room. She'd been pouring him a glass of champagne, but the glass had begun to overflow while she'd been watching him… okay, gawking at him.
And then, to matters worse, when he'd asked what had happened, she'd actually told him she'd had a "muscle" instead of a mishap! She'd been so embarrassed; it must have been obvious to him by her slip what she'd been thinking.
If Clark had noticed, though, he hadn't said anything. They had instead toasted to their "almost first" date; then Clark had suggested some take out while they were waiting to hear something from across the water. She'd readily agreed, and they'd decided on Chinese. Unfortunately, neither of them knew a Chinese place around the harbor that would deliver. Luckily, after some searching, Clark had found a menu for a local take out place, and they'd been able to order their food from a place down the street called Ralph's Pagoda. At the time, they'd laughed at the name of the place, joking about how poor the quality of the food must be.
Well, she hadn't been laughing an hour later as she clutched her slightly upset stomach, silently cursing herself for eating the food. Clark, who for some reason hadn't been affected by the bad Chinese, had been sympathetic when she had confessed her embarrassment over messing up their "almost first" date. He had told her not to worry about it, and even abandoned his post at the video camera to comfortingly rub her stomach.
Only, to Lois, there hadn't been anything remotely comforting about his touch. His palm and fingers drifted over her stomach, soft and gentle. She remembered how instantly she had forgotten about her queasiness and concentrated solely on his caress and the heat from his fingers seeping into her bare skin under the tank top. And then there had been that part of her mind, apparently guided only by her hormones, which had wished his hand to move just a little higher on her body.
But it hadn't, of course, and she had been left with an acute sense of loss when he had taken his hand away. A soft, barely audible groan of protest had escaped her lips before she'd even known it had formed there. His voice had floated toward her, but it had taken on a faraway quality. She'd vaguely heard him tell her that she should turn in, then something about sleeping in the bedroom. She'd opened her eyes, which had drifted shut sometime during his previous ministrations, only to see his upper body bending toward her. The possibility that he might kiss her had flashed through her mind, and her tongue had darted out, its tip running over her upper lip in preparation.
She'd felt a tiny prick of disappointment when he'd made no move to kiss her; however, it was replaced quickly with a warm, wonderful feeling as his arms came around to envelop her body and carry her to the bedroom.
And when he had deposited her at the doorway, she had been reluctant to break the contact between them. Her hand had slid down from his shoulder, finally coming to rest around the middle of his chest. That strong, solid chest that she had realized with a shock that she wanted to curl up to for the rest of the night. She remembered how it had scared her that she'd thought that way; she and Clark hadn't even been on a first date yet, and here she was thinking about falling asleep in his arms!
And barely three weeks later, here she was again, thinking about the same thing. The thought of staying alone in her apartment tonight sent a shiver down her spine, but the thought of spending the night at Clark's did the same thing… only it was definitely a different type of shiver.
"Oh, no," she exclaimed, her thoughts finally making it back to the present. "I…I just think, you know, with us dating…" she paused, blushing, then amended, "or almost dating…that, um, I would feel uncomfortable."
Clark started to nod; then he reheard her words and looked up at her, a little surprised. "You'd be uncomfortable around me?" he asked incredulously.
She squirmed a little. "Well, I mean…you know…it's just…"
He shook his head. "No, I don't know. Come on, Lois, we spend a lot of time alone together, both at work and sometimes after. We've known each other for two years. Why would you feel uncomfortable around me?"
Lois stopped, at a loss for words. How could she explain to him that it wasn't him at all, but the fact that the two of them would be alone together for an entire night? How could she tell him that things were different between them now? How could she explain that the thought of them sharing a quiet dinner together in his apartment made her suddenly feel very, very warm?
The answer was that she couldn't, not without revealing to him feelings that she would prefer to keep to herself right now. They were feelings that she had just recently admitted to herself were incredibly, undeniably real; at this point, admitting them to anyone else, especially Clark, was completely out of the question.
So she turned to him, pasting a bright smile on her face. "Nothing, never mind. It was stupid. You're right—there's absolutely no reason that I should be uncomfortable around you."
"Right," he agreed.
She thought he didn't sound all that convincing, however. "Um…Clark, are you sure that this is a good idea?" she asked again, a note of hesitancy in her voice.
Clark shrugged his shoulders, as if the matter were simple. "Look, Lois, whether we're dating, almost dating, just friends…it doesn't matter; if you're in trouble, I need to be there for you. I *want* to be there for you."
It was so sweet, the way he said it—so just *Clark*, so simple and direct that it didn't leave her much room for argument. She was in trouble and needed a safe place to stay, and he was her best friend and someone who would always there for her, no matter what the status of their relationship. His matter-of- fact handling of the situation made her decision easier than she'd originally thought.
"You're right," she agreed again, her voice strong now. "We're both adults, and it's only for a night, right? I mean, Superman will probably have the Prankster caught by tomorrow. And," she added, making an empty-air gesture towards herself and then at him, "with us on his trail, he doesn't stand a chance anyway." She grinned, and the tension in the air dropped a notch.
"Absolutely." He smiled back, giving her a quick wink, then threw a glance at the clock. "Listen, I'm almost ready to get out of here. Why don't you get your stuff together, and we'll swing by your apartment on our way home so you can pick up anything you need for the night. Sound good?"
"Sure," she told him, rising from her perch on the corner of his desk. "Just give me a minute to collect my notes," she called, making her way back to her desk.
"No problem," he called back, then reached over to switch off his own computer.
Thick clouds covered the sky, obscuring the moon from view, and the smell of rain hung damply in the air as the first hints of the impending storm began to reveal themselves. Lois looked up into the dark night, wondering how long it would take for the storm to arrive.
Clark stood beside her, fumbling with the key to his apartment as he attempted to juggle his briefcase, her overnight bag— which he had insisted on carrying as soon as she had stepped out of the Jeep—as well as two bags of groceries that they had picked up from the market on their way home. He'd just managed to find the keyhole when he heard Lois sigh; two seconds later, he felt one of the grocery bags and her overnight bag being lifted from his hold.
"I almost had it," he defended himself as he now easily slipped the key inside the lock and turned it.
Lois threw him a look as she sidestepped him and pushed the door open. "The storm would have hit and soaked us by the time you managed to get the door open," she threw over her shoulder as she entered the apartment.
"Would not," he muttered, even though he knew it was probably true. That gentlemanly side of him was just a pain in the neck sometimes. He followed her inside, reaching over to flip the light switch.
The room was flooded with soft lamplight. Lois walked down the stairs, dropped her overnight bag onto the couch, and headed into the kitchen. Without much conscious thought, she placed the grocery bag on the kitchen counter and proceeded to put away their purchases. She didn't even notice that he had followed her into the kitchen with the second bag and had begun to put away those groceries as well. They worked in silence for a moment; Lois finished first, setting the six pack of cream sodas on the top shelf of the refrigerator to chill. As she set them down, it struck her that she hadn't even asked him if he wanted help putting away the groceries. She'd just automatically done it. She hadn't even had to ask him where he kept anything; she was familiar enough with his kitchen to know where everything was stored.
She wasn't sure what it was, but suddenly she was acutely aware of the things that they had done together that suggested them as a couple. Even for the short time that they'd been together tonight, they'd left the office together, driven to the supermarket and picked up groceries for dinner, then stopped by her apartment to pick up her things so she could stay the night at his place.
Maybe it was their earlier conversation at the Planet that got her thinking about her relationship with Clark more than usual. Okay, maybe it wasn't exactly more than usual. She'd admit that he was often in her thoughts; it didn't matter if she was at home or at the office. Ever since their "almost first" date at the harbor, she'd found that she had to make a concerted effort to keep these new, romantic thoughts about Clark to a minimum. It was just safer that way; it kept her from having to deal with her ever-growing feelings for the man who was now…
…leaning against the kitchen counter, staring at her with a curious look on his face.
She flushed, wondering if he could tell by her expression that she'd once again let her thoughts drift into the very area that she didn't want to think about right now—especially since she was spending the night in his apartment.
Clark noticed her strange expression, then watched as her eyes dropped to the floor. "What were you thinking?"
She glanced up guiltily. "What?"
"It's just that one minute you and I were both putting away groceries, then suddenly I look up and see you staring into space, holding the refrigerator door wide open. I was afraid you were going to get cold, standing there like that." He chuckled softly, wondering what could have possibly occupied her thoughts enough to make her forget that she was practically standing in the refrigerator.
Lois glanced down at the door in question. Yes, it was still open, just as he'd said. Embarrassed, she shut it quickly. "Sorry. Um…nothing."
"What?" This time it was his turn to be confused. She'd jumped a track, and he wasn't sure how to follow her.
"Nothing. I was thinking about nothing." His expression was still blank. "Earlier, when you asked what I was thinking about," she clarified. "It was nothing."
Clark wrinkled his brow. Something wasn't right; for one thing, she'd just said the word 'nothing' three times in the space of about twenty seconds, and for another thing, there was a nervous quality to her voice that hadn't been there during the ride home. Something had changed in the short time that they had been at the apartment. Slowly, he took a step toward her. "Are you okay, Lois?"
Clark frowned. Her answer was much too quick and much too cheery. He lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his neck. This would take some careful handling and delicate maneuvering on his part. She was uncomfortable, and even though he had no idea what he'd done to make her feel that way, he had to fix things. "Hey, come here for a minute." He reached out, extending his right hand toward hers. He didn't take her hand the way he wanted to, but instead gave her the opportunity to reach out and meet him midway. If this was going to work, he needed her to trust him.
Lois glanced down at the outstretched hand before her. "Clark, I…"
"Lois." The tone in his voice was quiet and gentle, but at the same time, sturdy and strong.
She reacted to this voice that she knew well; it was a voice that she trusted, and she knew that he would not pry or force her to reveal anything that she didn't want to. She reached her own hand and placed it in his.
Without speaking, he led her into the living room and sat them both down on the couch. He took a deep breath before he began to talk. "I know this is a little awkward," he started. "I mean, we are in a difficult place in our relationship right now—partners, but more. Friends, but more than that even. I just want you to know that I'm not going to try to use tonight to further our relationship—it's too precious to me. You're too important to me. I don't have to be nervous; I've told you before that I'm just as scared about this new territory as you are."
As Lois listened to him, her eyes searched his, finding that the sincerity in his voice was matched by the look in his eyes. It was wonderful to hear how much she meant to him, and even more wonderful to hear that their relationship meant that much to him as well. "You're important to me too, Clark," she whispered.
He smiled. "I'm glad."
She slowly smiled back at him, loving the feeling of closeness between them at this moment. How was it that he could take a potentially embarrassing and awkward moment between them—like the one in the kitchen—and turn it into something beautiful? Here she was, sitting on his couch, holding his hand, and she didn't feel threatened or awkward in any way. In fact, she found herself wishing that he would increase the level of closeness between them physically as he had done emotionally. She would love to feel his arms around her right now.
Unfortunately, Clark didn't seem to hear her thoughts; instead, he let go of her hand and leaned back on the sofa. "How about we just enjoy each other's company tonight, okay? We don't get much time away from the office anyway, so we'll just eat, watch TV, hang out…just relax. What do you think?"
"That sounds good," she agreed, though she was still more than a little disappointed that he'd moved away from her.
"Great," he said, rising and moving towards his bedroom. "I'm just going to get out of these work clothes…maybe you could start the pasta on the stove? It's not too hard—all you have to do is dump some noodles in a pot of water and turn on the heat," he teased.
"Hey!" she protested. "I made it through college, didn't it? Practically all I ate was pasta because it was easy to make!"
"Somehow, I don't think 'Cup of Noodles' counts, Lois," Clark grinned, then ducked around the corner just in time to see one of the pillows from his couch come sailing by his head.
Dinner was wonderful. The spaghetti was delicious, the bread warm, and the wine smooth and light. The company, however, was the best part of the meal as far as Clark was concerned.
She had really relaxed after their little talk, Clark reflected as he helped her clear the remaining dishes from the table and began to wash them. Their conversation had flowed easily throughout the meal; it amazed Clark the range of topics they could talk about in such a short amount of time. Some of the topics had been serious, like what their next move should be in order to catch the Prankster. Some conversations, though, were downright funny and totally out there—a prime example tonight had been their discussion on the best way to eat spaghetti.
It had all started when she'd raised a bite of pasta to her mouth, the spaghetti curled around the fork. He'd been in the middle of saying something to her, and she had waited, fork suspended in mid air, to answer him. Given that it was Lois answering him, however, it had been several minutes before she'd gotten around to eating the spaghetti. Sometime during her quick answer that had somehow morphed into a speech, the pasta had slid off her fork and back onto the plate. Apparently she hadn't noticed, and Clark had watched from across the table, grinning as she'd raised the empty fork and slid it inside her mouth.
At her surprised glance downward at the bare fork, Clark hadn't been able to keep his laughter in check. Initially, she'd looked up at him, outraged, but soon, his laughter had been contagious, and she'd burst out laughing along with him.
After their laughter had finally subsided, Clark had told her that it was easier to eat spaghetti if you cut it up beforehand. Lois had immediately given him a look that clearly stated that he was crazy. "I'm sorry, Clark, I don't eat spaghetti like a child," she laughed. "I don't need to cut it up."
"Well, at least then the spaghetti just might make it to your mouth," Clark had shot back jokingly.
Again, she'd feigned mock outrage, and then proceeded to threaten him with flying spaghetti if he ever mentioned that incident again. "Besides, everyone knows twirling your spaghetti around your fork is the only correct way to eat it," she'd added.
That had led to a ten-minute debate, and Clark finally called a halt to the argument when he'd glanced at his kitchen clock. "Lois, do you realize we just spent a total of almost twenty minutes discussing spaghetti?"
"How boring are our lives, huh?" she'd asked, but there had been a twinkle in her eye.
Clark couldn't contain his laughter at that statement. People could describe their lives in many different ways, but boring? No, boring was definitely *not* one of them. "Oh yeah, we're definitely the most boring people in Metropolis," he said with an exaggerated sigh, and they'd erupted in even more laughter after that.
"What are you smiling at?"
Clark turned as Lois' voice broke his thoughts. "Oh, it's nothing. Just thinking about dinner," he grinned. He reached for the last dish, ran it under a stream of hot water, then scrubbed it until it shone again. He set it alongside the rest of the dishes on the drying rack. "Is that everything?"
"Yup," Lois answered, handing him the washcloth that she had used to wipe the table. "Except the wine glasses, but we said we wanted to keep those."
He nodded. "Do you want to go watch a movie or see what's on TV while we finish these?" he offered.
She looked out of the window and into the night. "Actually, I would love to go finish them on the balcony, but it's probably raining already." She sounded a little disappointed.
"Let's go see," Clark suggested, handing her glass to her. He led the way, and she followed him through the archway to his bedroom and out the door that led to the balcony. "Nope, not raining yet," Clark observed, then walked them out to the edge of the balcony.
It was warmer than normal for this time of year, and so Lois was comfortable in her long sleeve shirt. She stood close to the edge, looking up at the sky. It still felt like it might rain, but there wasn't a menacing, electric tingle to the air that suggested an early spring thunderstorm as she had thought earlier in the evening. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, allowing the outside air to fill her lungs. She held it for a long moment, then slowly blew it out through her mouth.
Clark watched her, enthralled by the soft expression on her face. "It's nice, isn't it?" he whispered quietly, not wanting to break the spell the night had cast around her.
She was silent for a moment, then her dark brown eyes opened. "It's beautiful," she agreed. "I never really get a chance to do this…" she made an absent gesture toward the night, "…you know, just stand here and enjoy a night this way."
"Yeah," he agreed softly; words really weren't important right now anyway. Again, there was silence, and Clark set his wineglass down on the cement railing. He folded his arms across the railing and leaned on them, enjoying the feeling of her standing beside him.
Lois was doing the same; secretively, she sneaked a glance at his profile. He was the most handsome man that she'd ever known, as well as one of the most kind. On impulse, she leaned her head closer to him, finally coming to rest on his shoulder. He answered by resting his head lightly on top of hers and wrapping his right arm around her shoulders. This wasn't a threatening position any more than their position on the couch had been; in fact, there are been a few times that they'd stood beside each other in this exact same manner. She set her glass down next to his and then closed her eyes again, loving the feel of his body against her side.
This night had been exactly what she'd needed, Lois reflected, nuzzling her head just a bit deeper into the crook of his shoulder. Most of all, it had been fun. After they'd had that talk on the couch, she'd felt much more relaxed around him. They'd both acknowledged that there was something special about their relationship, something that was too precious to rush or mishandle. She loved that he'd instinctively known the right things to say to her.
As these thoughts raced across her mind, she reached around with her right arm and put it around his waist. Before they knew it, they were wrapped in each other's arms. Lois wasn't sure who moved first or when it had happened; all she knew was that it felt wonderful.
Just then, the rain that had held off all evening began; slowly, the clouds wept onto the earth below. The rain was cool, but not uncomfortable. Perhaps that was due to the fact that Clark was holding her, Lois thought. As much as she wanted to, however, they couldn't stay out here in the rain. She pulled her head back slightly, intending to suggest that they go inside before it began to come down harder.
The expression on his face stopped any words that were on her tongue. He was staring down at her, his eyes full of an emotion that she'd never seen in them. In fact, she'd never seen anyone look at her that way; it sent a thrill through her, but at the same time, terrified her. Lois met his gaze, determined not to run; she wanted to know more about this incredible feeling spreading its way across her body.
Clark caught his breath as he watched her eyes darken with passion right in front of him. That was an amazing feeling within itself. He wanted badly to kiss her, but there was just something not quite right about the timing. As much as it pained him to admit it, he didn't think she was ready for this step. When that first kiss finally did happen between them, he wanted her to be absolutely sure. He'd scare her off if he took things too fast tonight, and he'd promised her that he wouldn't do that.
Tonight had been a night for building trust and just enjoying each other's company, which they had done. He wouldn't press for anything else, no matter what her body language was telling him. He reached down and found her hand, squeezing it gently.
"We're going to have to find the time to go on that date soon," he finally whispered to her after several long moments of staring into her eyes.
"Definitely," Lois agreed, her voice a little breathless from the power of the moment that had passed between them. She couldn't believe that she had felt such intense emotions for him, and he hadn't even kissed her yet. She had never been in a relationship like this; it was absolutely incredible.
Slowly, Clark drew away from her completely, putting a good distance between them. "What do you say about watching that movie now?" he asked.
"Okay," she managed to get out. With only that one look, Clark had made her speechless. That was a different feeling, too, Lois acknowledged. She had a hunch that she would be experiencing many different feelings with Clark in the coming months.
They leaned over together and gathered their glasses from the railing. As they crossed the distance from the railing to the doorway, Lois reached out—not sure how to show him—but wanting to give him some kind of sign as to how she was feeling.
When he turned back to smile down at her, she was sure she had chosen the right gesture.
Hand in hand, they entered his apartment, fingers laced tightly and identical smiles playing across their lips.