By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: September 2002
Summary: After the family dinner at the end of the episode "Chi of Steel," Clark has a nagging question that he needs to ask Lois. Is he a sexist?
This is an adaptation of Chi of Steel. Yes, I know that Chi of Steel is one of the episodes that no-one seems to have written an adaptation of, but hey, look on it as a challenge! The story takes off a couple of hours after the ending of the episode — the family dinner in Clark's apartment.
Grateful thanks to Kaethel for her usual invaluable beta-reading, and to JoMarch for getting me unstuck at the end of the story, and for going way beyond the call of duty by suggesting a couple of wonderfully WAFFy lines. :) And also to several FoLCs on Zoomway's message boards who listed several different ways to say a certain phrase — and apologies to ML Thompson for nicking her idea. ;)
This story was written for Kathy Brown on her birthday. Hope you had a wonderful day!
All rights in the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers, and no infringement of these rights is intended by this fanfic.
"Clark!" Lois opened the door of her apartment, surprised and very taken aback to see her partner standing there. "But we just said goodnight half an hour ago — is something wrong?" she asked quickly, anxiously. "Your parents…"
"Are fine," he said with a faint shrug. "That's not why I'm here. I… wanted to talk to you, Lois. Can I come in for a while?"
"Well, sure!" She stood back to allow him entry. "Clark, you sound a little preoccupied. What's up?"
He didn't answer her immediately. Instead, he walked into the apartment, pausing to examine the dresser which — though he didn't know that — contained the display cabinet which held her Kerth awards. He was still wearing the casual green cotton shirt and pale trousers he'd worn for dinner at his place, but the lightness of his mood then had disappeared. Something was bothering him.
She was at a loss to figure out what it was. They'd had a lovely evening, Clark, his parents and her. Jonathan had produced a delicious Chinese meal — which, it had transpired, had come from the House of Hunan — and Martha had warmed Lois's heart by declaring that she was family.
And she felt as if she was among family when she was with Clark and his folks, she couldn't deny that. But a family so completely unlike the one she'd grown up with. This was a real family, one whose members loved one another unconditionally and who never let petty bickering get in the way of their closeness. It was a family whose members talked to one another, and who discussed disagreements and reached a solution or compromise. And it was a family whose members would never just give up on each other.
Clark was clearly a son of that family; he had never been left unsure of his parents' love for him, and it was obvious that he'd had the freedom to do what he wanted with his life without any pressure or unwanted persuasion. His parents had a farm. She could easily imagine Jonathan Kent wanting his son to follow in his footsteps; to stay in Smallville and take over the running of the farm as his parents grew older and less capable of managing alone. It was what any father in that situation would want for his son.
Yet there had clearly been no attempt to persuade Clark that his future belonged on the farm. Instead, Jonathan Kent, just as much as Martha, was proud of Clark's achievements in the big city. They loved him enough to want him to lead his own life — unlike her own father, who had never forgiven her for not being a boy, and subsequently for refusing to study medicine to follow in his footsteps.
To be considered family by Clark's terrific parents was an enormous compliment. There were times, though, when she wished she really was family, in fact instead of just by a sort of adoption because she was Clark's friend. There had been a time when she could've regarded Clark as a sort of brother, which was probably what Martha had meant; she probably saw Lois as the daughter she'd never had. But it had been a long time since she'd seen Clark as a brother.
Maybe that was what was bothering Clark, though? She'd noticed that he hadn't said anything when his mother had said what she had about Lois being family. She might have expected a warm smile, a wink in her direction, perhaps a friendly, "Sure!" But there'd been nothing, and when she'd risked a glance in his direction, he'd been looking down at his food — his gaze carefully averted, she'd thought.
Was he uncomfortable with his parents' casual adopting of his best friend? Maybe he felt that she was intruding too much into his private life. After all, they might be best friends, but she didn't have any real claim over him, nor he over her. They weren't dating. There wasn't even any question that they might be dating at some time in the future. Instead, he was dating Mayson.
Which made her think… it should probably have been Mayson sitting there that evening in Clark's apartment, sharing dinner with his parents. It wasn't as if they didn't know Mayson; she'd met them when Superman had been blinded. They had to be aware that Clark was dating her. Maybe he felt awkward because he'd wanted to have Mayson there instead; perhaps he'd felt uncomfortable because it was Lois, and not Mayson, whom his parents were treating as a member of the family.
Well, there was nothing she could do about that now. But if Clark was serious about Mayson, then she would have to step out of the picture, politely turn down Martha's next invitation when the senior Kents were in town again, and give Clark some space to spend time with Mayson.
He was still standing, his back partly turned to her, running a finger along her dresser, and her stomach clenched. Was that what he'd come to say? That he needed her to back off, to give him space? That, much as he cared about her as a friend, he needed some privacy from her now?
Lois closed her eyes briefly, almost praying wordlessly that this wasn't the moment she'd been dreading since Mayson Drake had set eyes on her partner. That this wasn't the end of their close, almost intimate, friendship. That she still had time to make up for all the mistakes she'd made in the past. That Clark was still hers…
The most dear person in the world to her.
She bit her lip, and she must have made some small sound, for Clark turned to face her. He still looked uncomfortable, and she was seized with the impulse to make it easier for him, to tell him that she knew why he'd come. And to tell him that of course she'd fade into the background and let him pursue his relationship with Mayson. That she understood. And that she'd always be his friend, that she was there if he ever needed her.
But the words wouldn't come.
And, after a moment, he spoke.
"Lois, I… I had to talk to you," he began awkwardly. "I've been thinking about the last few days, everything that's happened. And even tonight with my parents. And I need to know something."
This was it, she told herself silently. Only it was even worse than she'd imagined. He wanted to know if she'd be hurt if he asked her to step out of the picture. He needed to know that she wouldn't mind letting him go to Mayson — even though they both knew that she had no claim on him or him on her. But then, they were closer than most friends.
It *would* hurt her. It would hurt her more than anything else she'd ever experienced in her life before — even more than Claude's deceit, even more than Superman's rejection, even more than finding out that Lex was a crook. Because this was Clark, whom she loved more than she'd ever imagined she could love anyone. And because he didn't love her back.
But she could never show him that. She'd missed her chance, after all.
Silently, she nodded, giving him permission to proceed.
"Lois, do you think I'm a sexist?" he asked, the words coming out in a rush.
She blinked. *What* had he just asked her?
"Lois?" He'd spoken again, but she'd barely heard him.
"Lois, you do, don't you?" he said, sounding upset. "I guess I can't blame you… I'm really sorry. I should have supported you instead of sitting on the fence the whole time. I knew you were right, but I guess I just didn't want to rock the boat."
He wanted to know if she thought he was sexist?! He hadn't wanted to talk about Mayson after all! A huge sigh of relief escaped her, before she remembered that she was supposed to come up with a coherent answer to his question — a question which, she reminded herself, had been bothering him so much that he'd left his parents to come over to her apartment and ask her.
"Sexist? You?" She stared at him, an automatic denial on her lips; then she paused. He'd asked the question seriously, showing her that it was something which troubled him. She owed him the courtesy of treating it seriously.
Gesturing to him to follow her, she led the way to one of the love-seats in the centre of her living-room, waiting until he'd settled himself beside her. Then, having gathered her thoughts, she began to answer him.
"I think you try very hard not to be. I think you're one of the most open-minded guys I know in many ways — you don't treat women in professional positions any less respectfully than you would a man in the same position. You don't patronise them, and you don't imply that you're surprised to see a woman in that job. And I don't think that's even a matter of trying — I think that's just the way you are."
He nodded at her words, but he clearly assumed that wasn't all she had to say. "But…?" he prompted.
"Some women might call you sexist because you do treat women as if they need protecting," she said thoughtfully. "You hold doors open, you offer to carry things for them, you even stand up when they come into the room. I guess you'd insist on buying your date's dinner even if she earned more than you, and you'd insist on seeing her safely home even if you didn't expect to come in. But that's just your old-fashioned courtesy, Clark. I guess your mom would box your ears if you didn't behave like that!"
Clark grinned lop-sidedly at that. "She probably would," he agreed. "So you don't think I'm sexist for that, Lois… what else?"
She shrugged uncomfortably, reminded of an incident she'd done her best to forget. "You do sometimes think you know what's best for me — not because you have more information about the situation, but because you're a man and I'm a woman. I… well, you made the decision to take me out of the Metro Gang investigation. Because *you* decided that it was too dangerous —"
"Lois, I apologised for that," he said uncomfortably, interrupting her. "I know I should never have treated you like that."
"That's not really what I was talking about," she said quickly. "I'm not still bearing a grudge about the way you carried me out of there. Really, I'm not. What bothered me most was the way you made a decision for me. That was a decision which wasn't yours to make."
"I was only trying to protect you," he said quietly. "Am I wrong to want to do that?"
If she was honest, Clark's protectiveness towards her was one of the things she loved most about him. And she'd taken advantage of that more times than she could remember, either, calling him when she'd been worried about something, or even running to his apartment when she was scared. It wasn't that long ago that she'd given him no choice but to insist that she spend the night at his apartment because she was terrified that Kyle Griffin was trying to kill her. Not that staying over at Clark's place was all that unusual; she'd done it before when they'd stayed up late watching movies and she was too tired to go home, or she'd drunk just over the limit and couldn't drive.
She knew that he would protect her with every resource he had. In her private dreams sometimes, she hugged to herself the memory of him telling her, when she'd said she didn't want to die, "I would not let that happen." He protected her in all sorts of ways, instinctively pushing her behind him if they were in danger, telling her to stay put when he went for help — not that she tended to obey him then — and at all times being as aware of her safety as he was his own.
No, he wasn't wrong to try to protect her. And she couldn't lie to him about that.
"No," she said softly. "It's not wrong, Clark. It's…" She found herself needing to tell him the truth about her feelings, about this at least. "It's one of the things I love about you."
He blinked, and his hand briefly touched hers before returning to lie in his own lap.
"But wanting to protect me and making decisions for me are two different things, that's all," she explained. "Though you haven't done that at all recently."
"I wouldn't dare," he quipped, giving her a flash of a quick grin. "But, Lois, there's this week — that gentleman's club and all the stuff my dad was saying…"
"Oh yeah, and you pulling a Schultz," she said sardonically. "You did that a lot this week."
"I thought it was more tactful," he explained. "I figured that you knew how I felt and that you didn't need me to… well, to fight your battles for you. But then I started wondering whether you really did know what I thought. And that maybe you thought I secretly agreed with all this men- only stuff."
Lois sighed then, looking away from him and down at her own hands. "I was disappointed that you never said anything. But, you know, I'm not sure that if you had said something I wouldn't have told you that I can fight my own battles. I wouldn't have wanted you to argue with that doorman for me, for example. Though," she added slowly, knowing that she was practically contradicting herself, "I did wish that you'd told him you thought it was wrong too."
"I didn't go in, once I realised that you couldn't," Clark pointed out, his tone only mildly defensive.
"Oh? You said you'd bribed someone to get you that picture," Lois objected. "And later you went in with Perry. Knowing that I couldn't go with you. We're *partners*, Clark!"
"Yeah, I know," he said quietly. "But if the positions were reversed… Lois, if there was somewhere I couldn't go but you could, I'd stand back and let you go."
"What, like the ladies' room?" she threw at him, now turning to face him. "Clark, it's not the same. It's to do with being excluded from the places where decisions are made and where the power lies —"
Just as she was getting into her stride, he interrupted her earnest explanation. "Lois, I know all that. Trust me, I've read Germaine Greer and Susan Faludi — even Andrea Dworkin. I know all about women being shut out. And that's why I would *never* join a men-only club like that. I know it's not all about kicking back and relaxing — business decisions get made there. And it's discriminatory and it's not fair. I'm right with you there."
"Then why couldn't you tell Perry that?" Lois asked him. That was what had really stung. She'd known that Clark was no supporter of discrimination in any form. She was pleased that he seemed to understand even more than she'd thought. And she'd expected no less of him than that he not go into the club when she couldn't; it had been no surprise when he'd rejected the doorman's permission to enter. But he hadn't spoken up in front of Perry; he hadn't backed her up when she'd argued that the club was a disgrace and that its discriminatory practices were ludicrous and unfair. He hadn't agreed with her when she'd implied that she was disappointed in Perry for being a member.
Clark sighed. "Lois, he's our boss! And I know he treats us like friends, but it's not easy to criticise your boss. Yeah, I didn't approve and I would have told him exactly what he could do if he'd even suggested that I sign up for real. But… it just wasn't a discussion I wanted to get into at the time." He pulled a face, then added, "I know you're right, though. I should have said that I agreed with you. And with Mom when she and Dad were discussing it too."
"I guess I understand why you didn't," Lois told him. "It doesn't stop me wishing that you had… but no, I never really thought you were a sexist, Clark."
"I'm glad." He reached for her hand again, squeezing it quickly. "Like you said, I hate any kind of discrimination and I'd never defend it."
"Good." She smiled up at him.
"You've had it tougher, being a woman, haven't you?" he said then; it wasn't really a question, but she treated it as if it was.
Shrugging, she said, "Sometimes. Yeah, I had to fight harder than most men to be accepted as a serious reporter. Perry was great when I got my internship at the Planet — he made it clear that there would be no discrimination in any paper he ran. But when I was starting out, I had to report to section heads and other people — they kept assigning me to the soft options and when I got my job at the Planet after graduating one of them tried to assign me to the women's page. I knew that if I went there I'd be stuck there for at least a couple of years and I'd never make it back to hard reporting. They'd never put a man straight into Features like that."
"I didn't know," Clark replied quietly. "You'd be wasted there. It's not that those articles aren't interesting or important, but you're a fantastic *news* reporter. That's where you belong."
"It happens to women everywhere, Clark," Lois pointed out matter-of-factly. "You should ask Mayson. How hard did she have to struggle to become an Assistant DA? And did her boss try to keep her away from the high-profile cases? Does she have to watch junior male colleagues getting all the best cases?" Bringing Mayson up in conversation with Clark wasn't something Lois really wanted to do, but the lawyer was a good example. "And then there's Maggie Reed. She told me once that when she first made detective — which was hard enough to begin with — they assigned her to low-level burglaries which should barely have made it past the uniformed cops. And then they transferred her to Vice and kept putting her onto rape cases — and not only that, she was always the officer assigned to victim and family liaison. Just because she's a woman."
"I guess I hadn't really ever noticed that," Clark said thoughtfully. "I should have — it's not as if I didn't know that it can happen. I just didn't know it happened to women I know and respect as professionals." He gave her a lop-sided smile. "You know that I don't consider you any less able because of your gender, don't you? You're still a better reporter than me, and I've always respected you. If I'm protective sometimes… it's because I care about you and I'd be devastated if you got hurt."
Well, she knew that; he'd shown his concern for her safety any number of times. She'd never forgotten the time he'd spent the night on guard outside her apartment building on one of the many occasions that someone had threatened to kill her. Clark cared about her. And that worked both ways; she'd be utterly devastated if anything happened to him, too.
She reached for his hand, patting it as she often did. "You're forgiven, Clark! I never expected you to turn into a raving feminist on my behalf anyway, and I've never doubted that you respect me." Well, except for that one time at the Metro Club, she reminded herself silently, but she wasn't going to bring that up again now. "I was a little disappointed that you didn't support me publicly, but I never really thought you didn't privately. And as for going into the club, it was the only way we were going to get the information we needed for the story." Grinning then, she added, "Of course, the fact that a mere woman was able to get the necessary data when the big, strong, powerful men failed…" Trailing off, she winked at Clark.
"You're not a mere anything, Lois, so don't try pulling that one on me!" he informed her. Then he laughed, adding, "I still can't forget Perry trying to explain that the 'man' he was hugging in the street was actually a woman in drag… he'll never live that down! I wouldn't mind betting that he'd have resigned his membership anyway out of embarrassment, even if Harlan Black hadn't turned out to be the villain of the piece."
Lois joined in his laughter; then they both fell silent. She was conscious of him regarding her out of the corner of his eye, a little awkwardly. It was late, she knew, and he was probably going to say goodnight and leave. And, even though neither of them was working in the morning, he should probably go.
But she didn't want him to; not really. She wasn't tired, and something was telling her that she needed to grab onto as much of Clark's company as she could get while he was still available. After all, if he was getting serious with Mayson, this could be one of her last few chances.
"Want some coffee, or do you need to get back home?" she asked, trying to sound casual.
Clark shrugged. "I'm not in any hurry, unless you are. My folks went to bed — they have an early flight in the morning. But I don't need a lot of sleep." He hesitated for a moment, then added, "Forget the coffee, Lois. There's something else I want to ask you about."
Surprised, she continued to look at him. "What?"
"When I asked if I thought you were a sexist… you thought I was going to ask you something else, didn't you?"
Lois didn't immediately reply; she was too stunned to think of an excuse at first. And there was no way that she could tell him what she'd really been expecting. It would be far too embarrassing.
"I know you did," he continued. "I wasn't paying much attention to you before I asked you, because I was working on how to ask and hoping that you weren't really as mad at me as I'd been afraid you might be. But then I saw the way you reacted… it was as if you were relieved. As if you'd been expecting something far worse."
She forced herself to laugh, avoiding his gaze. "You must have been imagining it, Clark. I was… I'm not sure that I was expecting anything. I really had no idea what you wanted to talk about."
His hand snaked out, caught her chin and gently turned her head so that she was looking directly at him. "Lois. Don't lie to me, please. We're best friends… you know how much I care about you. I thought we were past lying to each other."
<Are we?> she wondered to herself instantly. She knew very well that she told him white lies on occasion when she simply didn't want him to know the truth about something. Like telling him she was fine when something really was bothering her. And she had a strong suspicion — no, more than that; she *knew* — that he was lying to her continually about something. There was the way he always ran off on her, without adequate explanation and only stupid excuses. And there were those odd looks he'd give her sometimes when she queried something strange that he'd done. And at other times, too, though she couldn't put her finger on what those times had in common.
Was she past lying to him? That wasn't the real issue here, though. He *wanted* her not to lie to him. It was important to him, for some reason, that she tell him the truth. He'd just put his pride on the line, to some degree, by confessing that he'd been afraid that she'd thought him sexist and unsupportive in the past few days. That couldn't have been easy.
And, sitting here in her apartment, at close to midnight, next to Clark and with his hand still holding her chin in a grasp so gentle it was more of a caress, she found herself not wanting to damage the atmosphere of intimacy with a lie. Of course, the intimacy was in nothing more than her imagination, she knew; Clark wouldn't be conscious of it, of course. He was with his best friend, nothing more.
But he *cared* about her. And he didn't want her to lie.
She gave a harsh inward laugh. How could she not lie? How could she possibly tell him the truth; that she was afraid of losing him, that she was so jealous of his relationship with Mayson that she wanted to scratch the other woman's eyes out, that she wanted him to love *her* instead, and that she was dreading the moment when he told her, as he would very soon, that he and Mayson were dating exclusively and he simply couldn't spend time with her any more?
He'd think she was completely crazy. He'd be embarrassed. And he'd be out of her apartment so fast she'd think he'd turned into Superman.
No man liked a woman hanging around him suffering from unrequited love.
She could just see it now — Clark would be terrified that she'd turn into some sort of Fatal Attraction-type vengeful discarded ex. Except that she'd never been anything to him that she could be an ex of, except a friend.
Which was what she would be as soon as Clark knew how she really felt about him, and how jealous she was of his relationship with Mayson.
Lying to him, even when he'd asked her not to, would be better than that. Wouldn't it?
But then, she realised, there was a way out of it which involved neither lying nor humiliating herself. Relaxing, she gave Clark a wry smile. "We're past lying to each other? Are you sure about that?"
He gave a nod, then paused, his expression arrested. "I… hope so, Lois. Friends shouldn't lie to each other."
"You're right, Clark," she told him triumphantly. "Okay then. I'll tell you what was bothering me if you tell me what it is you lie to me about on a daily basis. Deal?"
Clark froze. Of all the things she could have bargained with…
There was no way that he could answer her. He'd have to let his question drop.
Then he noticed her expression; she was watching him carefully, and he could read her thoughts as clearly if she'd actually told him. She was calling his bluff; she expected him to refuse. She *wanted* him to refuse.
Whatever it was she was hiding, it was important enough to her that she was prepared to put him in a very uncomfortable position in order to keep it hidden.
Well, maybe he should let her be, he told himself ruefully. Lois was entitled to her secrets; what right had he to insist that she share them with him?
And yet, whatever this was, it concerned him. He was as confident of that as he was of his own name. This was something she didn't want to tell him because it was about him.
All the same, it was probably none of his business. And so he should… But, wait. Lois was more than capable of telling him that something was none of his business. He was very well aware of that; she'd never held back in the past. She hadn't done that here. Instead, she'd tried to make him back off by other means.
She didn't just not want to tell him; she was scared of telling him.
Didn't she trust him? Surely she knew that, of all people, *he* could be trusted?
But, yes, he could see it now. There was alarm in her eyes; fear that he'd make her tell him the truth.
That, he was sure, was his cue to tell her that it didn't matter. To apologise for pressing the issue when she clearly didn't want to talk about it. And to change the subject. That was what a friend would do when another friend was uncomfortable.
But then, what had he just said to her?
<I thought we were past lying to each other>
What a hypocrite he was! He lied to her all the time. She was dead right about that. How could he even think of asking her not to lie to him if he couldn't tell her the truth? It was all very well for him to say that Superman was a huge secret and that he had lots of very good reasons for keeping it from her. For all he knew, what she was refusing to tell him was equally important to her.
And anyway, was there really any reason for Lois not to know about Superman now? The main reasons he'd had all along had been pretty much negated now. The possibility that she might tell people, or print it? He knew Lois well enough — had known her well enough for some time — to know that she would never reveal his secret. The possibility that she might be in danger? Was she in any less danger at the moment, when she didn't know he was Superman but the public in general regarded her as a special friend of Superman's? The possibility that she might fling herself at him and declare undying love as soon as he told her the truth? Well, she'd stopped treating Superman as some sort of idol on a pedestal some time ago. Now, she treated him as another friend, one she cared about but didn't have a crush on.
The only reason he now had for not telling her was that she'd be angry once she knew how he'd deceived her.
But that was no reason for hiding from her any longer. And if, as he'd just correctly identified, it *was* a matter of trust between him and Lois… then how could he expect her to trust him when he so clearly didn't trust her?
"Well?" Her somewhat acerbic voice interrupted his internal debate. "Decided that it's not so important, after all?"
"No, Lois." His voice was firm, his decision made. "It is important. I want to know why you're so bothered about telling me this. I want to know what made you so worried, as if you thought I was going to say something which would hurt you." He paused, allowing his hand to slide across her cheek and into her hair briefly, before allowing it to fall to his lap again.
"So, I'll take your deal," he continued, as she watched him in obvious disbelief. "You're right. I haven't been entirely honest with you either. In fact, there are two important things I've lied to you about. Yes, only two," he added as she seemed about to protest. "The daily lies you mention are all part of one of those two big lies. And I'll tell you the truth about both of them. And then, but only if you want to, you can tell me what you wouldn't tell me a minute ago. I want to know, but I won't force you to tell me."
As Lois continued to stare at him, he concluded with, "Deal?"
He'd called her bluff. He was going to tell her… That meant that she was going to have to tell him!
Unless she lied to him… but she couldn't do that. Not to Clark. If it was anyone else, she'd do it without a second's thought… but not to Clark.
She was tempted to tell him not to; that she'd changed her mind and she no longer wanted to deal. But then her insatiable curiosity got the better of her. Clark was about to tell her the truth about the big secret she knew he'd been keeping from her for months, and for possibly longer than that. Of *course* she wanted him to tell her!
As for her part of the bargain… well, maybe by the time Clark had made his confession, she'd have thought of some other way out of that. After all, she wasn't Lois Lane, award-winning reporter, for nothing.
"Okay. Deal," she said, then sat back to enjoy the spectacle of Clark confessing all.
Although, she thought instantly, that was unfair. Why should she gain enjoyment from him baring his soul to her — which was pretty much what it would amount to, she guessed, given the way he'd spoken — when she wasn't prepared to do the same for him?
<But this is *far* more personal! And if I tell him… he won't be my friend any more>
But, her conscience pointed out, what if Clark's secret made him feel the same way? What if he was worried about how she might react?
Okay, she decided. She'd listen to what he had to say. And if, at the end, she felt that she wouldn't be any more embarrassed at telling him her fears about his relationship with Mayson, she'd tell him the truth. Though she'd hold back that one little detail about being in love with him and wanting him for himself… That was just too personal, too dangerous.
Clark shuffled in his seat, now looking very nervous. He swallowed, played with his hands and then with his glasses for several moments, then he took a deep breath.
"Okay, Lois. I told you that there are two things I've lied to you about. I'm not really sure which of them is going to be harder to tell you about… you'll be angry about one, and I'm going to find the other downright embarrassing. So much so that you might not even want to be my friend any more…"
He trailed off, looking down at his hands, his expression unhappy. Her heart twisting, Lois grabbed for his hands, holding both in hers. "Clark, please don't! I don't know anything that you could say to me that could make me stop wanting to be your friend…" <Unless that it's that you're marrying Mayson…>
"This might," he said quietly. "Not because you'd be mad or anything. But because… you might decide that we just can't be friends any more."
Lois frowned. That was strange. That was more or less what she was thinking in respect of her fears over losing Clark. If he knew how she felt about him, he'd back away from her friendship entirely; that was what she'd concluded.
But… no, this couldn't be anything similar.
"Tell me, Clark," she urged, squeezing his hands. "I don't think anything could be bad enough to make me do that. Don't you know that your friendship means more to me than anything in the world?"
He smiled softly at that. "I… well, I kinda thought you like having me as a friend."
"I *need* you, Clark," she told him soberly, softly. "You think I'd destroy something that precious to me?"
And that, she thought, was a very good reason why she could never tell him how she really felt about him.
He sighed again. "I'm still not convinced… but I said I'd tell you, and I will. In fact, I'll tell you this one first. Because if I'm right, then it won't matter if you're angry when I tell you the other one!" he quipped dryly.
She ignored that. "I'm listening, Clark."
"Okay. The lie I'm thinking of here was about six months ago. Remember the day Franklin Stern bought the Planet?"
Oh, she remembered that all right. They'd been standing outside the ruins of the building, she and Perry and Clark and Jimmy. And then Stern had come by and told them he'd bought it, and Perry had gone to talk to him, and Jimmy had disappeared somewhere too. And so it had only been Clark and herself.
And that was when he'd told her that he'd never loved her at all. That he'd lied. That he'd have said anything to stop her marrying Luthor.
Wait a minute… He'd told her then that he'd lied in the park.
And now he was saying that he'd lied that day? The day they'd been outside the Planet?
"I lied when I said I didn't love you, Lois. That's the lie I mean. I lied when I told you that everything I'd said that day in the park was a lie."
What?? Lois could almost feel her head swimming as she tried to sort through Clark's many uses of 'lie' to figure out what was truth and what was deceit. And when she finally reached the only logical conclusion, she could barely believe it.
Feeling her jaw dropping at what she was thinking, she turned sideways in her seat so that she could look straight at Clark. "You lied? You did love me after all?"
"Not did," he said slowly, awkwardly. "You might as well know it all. Present tense. Do."
"Then… then why are you dating Mayson? Why are you *kissing* her?!" The words came out before Lois could even consider what she was saying, and she bit her lip as she realised what she might have given away. But then, Clark *loved* her! Why was she worrying about giving away her own feelings now?
"I'm not dating Mayson," he said, sounding surprised. Then he glanced quickly at her, his expression startled, as if he'd just realised the possible implications of her question. "And she kissed me, Lois. Twice. There's a difference."
"You mean… you're stringing her along?" Much as Lois told herself that she didn't care, that as long as Clark wasn't interested in Mayson the other woman was irrelevant, she couldn't just ignore the situation. She'd suffered herself too many times at the hands of men who didn't care about treating women properly.
But Clark shook his head immediately. "No. At least… well, I hope she doesn't think that. I like Mayson, Lois. I think I'd like her to be a friend. Not like you — never like you. And… I know she likes me more than that… And I just haven't been able to figure out how to tell her that I'm not interested in her that way — not without hurting her."
"You have to tell her, Clark," Lois said softly. Then, pushing the other woman mentally aside, she gripped Clark's hands tighter. "You… mean you still love me? As in, not as a best friend? As in… in love with me?" Barely able to breathe, she waited for his answer.
He nodded. "I love you, Lois. In every way you can think of. And… I know I told you that before and you didn't want to hear it…"
"I want to hear it now!" she exclaimed, interrupting him. "Oh, Clark… The reason I was upset was that I thought you were going to tell me that you and Mayson were dating exclusively and that you couldn't spend time with me any more. That any more family dinners with your parents would be with her instead."
"You're kidding!" he exclaimed. "Lois, you heard my mom tonight. You're family, as good as. And… I can think of nothing I'd like better for you to be family in reality."
Which she would be if *she* was dating Clark… maybe even engaged to Clark…
"Clark… I've had a lot of time to think about my feelings since I was so stupid last summer. And I know now what I was too blind to see then. I… I love you too. And this time I don't mean like a brother," she confessed, barely able to believe that all her dreams had come true.
"Lois… oh, Lois…" Barely coherent, Clark's hands curled around hers before shifting to cup her face in his hands.
She waited, breathless, as his head came closer, knowing that he was going to kiss her. She'd shared kisses with Clark before, but apart from one time they'd all been pretence — and that one real kiss had been over almost before she'd had time to realise it was happening.
This time, it was real. It was the kind of kiss she'd read about in romance novels, the kind of kiss she'd believed existed only in soppy novelists' imaginations. It was the kind of kiss which could make her forget everything except this moment, and this beloved man. It was the kind of kiss which could make her fall even more deeply in love.
It was a kiss containing promises of a life together.
Finally, they broke away from each other, breathing heavily. "Clark… oh, wow," Lois said at last, unable to take her eyes from her partner — the man she loved.
He grinned dazedly. "That's pretty much how I feel about it, Lois," he said on a soft laugh. "You… really love me? You're not going to tell me that I'm wishing for the moon again?"
Lois shook her head, again regretting those foolish, hasty words in the park the previous summer. How could she have rejected this man in favour of a fantasy which was never going to be real? And in favour of what had turned out to be a nightmare? And yet, she thought, she'd probably needed to go through the experience of the past several months. Now, she appreciated Clark for all that he was. Then, she might have believed that she was settling for him.
Now, she knew that he was her heart's desire.
A long time later, Lois brushed back Clark's hair with one hand and smiled at him. "So, what was your other lie, then?"
Clark looked uncomfortable, and not a little worried. He was silent for a long time, then, obviously deciding to stick to his promise, said, "This."
She looked at him, puzzled — then realised that she seemed to be higher up than she'd been mere seconds ago. Clark was holding her still… but how was it that they were a couple of feet off the sofa?
"Clark…" she began, frowning in perplexity.
But he interrupted her. "Remember this?" he asked softly, then manoeuvred her so that she was 'standing' in mid-air, her body next to his. "Dancing, Lois," he murmured, beginning to spin them around.
He was Superman!
*Clark* — her partner, her best friend, the man she'd just discovered loved her as much as she loved him — was also the Superhero she'd had a crush on for such a long time? *He* had saved her life all those times, taken her flying and taught her about decency, integrity and honour.
No, it wasn't only in his Superman guise that Clark had done that, she reminded herself quickly.
But he was Superman. He'd lied to her! — and yet he'd already acknowledged that. And he'd told her that she'd be angry about it. And she could tell from his expression as he'd worked up to showing her the truth, as well as the time it had taken him to make the decision to tell her, that he'd been afraid of what her reaction might be.
As well he might! He'd lied to her, deceived her, pretended to be two different men, pretended to be *dead*…
And he'd also been the very best friend she'd ever had, the one person who understood her and loved her just for herself. Just the way she was.
Just the way she was.
And didn't that mean that she should love him just the way he was? That she *did* love him just as he was?
So what if he moonlighted as a Superhero? Okay, he'd lied to her, and it was a pretty big lie. And he owed her one heck of an apology and some major sucking up for pretending to be dead. But she knew that she'd forgive him in the end, wouldn't she?
Which meant, really, that it would be a lot easier just to forgive him now and make him explain later, wouldn't it? Even if she didn't tell him that he was forgiven just yet! After all, she loved him. They loved each other. And this had been a night of confessions.
And a night of belonging. She'd never in her life felt that she belonged anywhere other than her place of work. With Clark, she was truly *family*.
"You… you're him," she said softly, touching his face gently. "Later, we need to talk. A lot. You have a *lot* of explaining to do, buster."
"I know," he said ruefully, continuing to twirl her around the room.
She leaned forward and touched her lips to his. "I love you, Clark Kent. Or Superman. Or whoever you want to be. I'm not really sure that I like you just at the moment, but that may change. Once you explain everything in a satisfactory manner, of course."
"Of course," he agreed soberly, though she could see a glint of devilish humour in his eyes. She pretended to ignore it.
"And as long as you take me flying again very soon. And not just a five-minute trip, too. To somewhere romantic and exciting."
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed obediently.
"And tell me you love me at least ten times a day from now on."
"I think I can manage that. Any preference as to language?"
"Now you're being facetious, Kent!"
"Ti amo, Lois Lane. Je t'aime. Bahebik. Ich liebe dich."
"That's four. I think you still have some sucking up to do…"
"Well, I do know 357 languages… so this could take a while," he teased. "Asheh-ghe toh hast am. Ta gra agam ort. Wo ai ni. Kimi o ai-shi-teru. A'ni ohev otach. Ik hou van jou." He paused, smiling, his dark eyes looking at her with love even more expressive than his words. "That's ten. Will that do for today?"
Lois grinned in return, then glanced at her wrist. "It's just midnight, Clark. That means you have to start all over again."
"Okay. Volim te…"
(c) Wendy Richards 2002