By Tank Wilson, Wendy Richards and friends
Submitted: May 2002
Summary: Clark arrives to start a new career at the Daily Planet, and falls in love with a certain raven-haired reporter at first sight. But she's already seriously involved with someone called Claude… A Tank and Wendy Challenge.
By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com> and Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>; with Kaethel <email@example.com>, Meredith Knight <Meredith@putwet.demon.co.uk> and CarolM
Tank: Well, after the last time, in which Wendy was pretty nasty to me, I'm sure everyone expected me to really be evil and challenge Wendy with one massive Wham fest. So, of course, that meant that I couldn't. Instead I gave Wendy a little pleasant set-up that contained no angst, no WHAMs, and a perfectly happy and contented couple. No obsessive, blindly driven, yet lonely ace reporter here. I figured that if there was to be any of those components in this story Wendy would have to provide them. But still the denizens of Zoom's board called me evil… can you believe it? So what did Wendy do? She came up with a clever ending that retained all the waffiness of the original set-up and skipped the expected whams and angst. Now that's evil.
Wendy: Evil? Moi? I'm hurt! <g> Seriously, this was probably the most WAFFy, and yet most evil, set-up that Tank's given me. You'll see why as soon as you get even half-way through the first section. Yes, we had a happy and contented couple… but *which* couple?! And there were even suggestions that Tank might be implying something else… just consider a certain person's initials! <g> Naah — I simply couldn't allow this state of affairs to continue. So — I changed things. For the better? Well, you'll just have to wait and see. As for Tank — well, I've always thought that revenge is a dish best served cold. So one of these days, when he's least expecting it, he'll be presented with an equally evil challenge. ;)
Kaethel: I want to claim my innocence for the little epilogue; it's entirely Wendy's fault! Yes it is. Of course it is. <eg> See, when she posted her conclusion to Tank's evil set-up, several subtle readers (including myself <g>) immediately complained about…about something I can't reveal for the sake of spoilers (but remember Wendy nicknamed me 'ten-ton-truck', if this is any clue <g>). Anyway, that night, despite my good resolution to turn in at a reasonable hour, I wasn't able to sleep until I'd jotted down a little continuation. <g> Big thanks go to Wendy for allowing me to post this epilogue to her section, and for editing my grammar. :)
Meredith: I couldn't resist writing my own version of this story, and Wendy gave me gracious permission to post. I think this ties everything up very satisfactorily, even if I say so myself. Many thanks to Wendy and Carol for BRing at lightning speed! <g>
Carol: I don't care what anyone else says — I'm INNOCENT! INNOCENT I say! I don't know why Kaethel says I have gone to the dark side, but oh, well. Thanks to those who helped me with this.
Part One by Tank
"The mating rituals of the Knob-Tailed Gecko?" Perry White leaned back in his chair and stared with undisguised skepticism at the handsome young man sitting across the desk from him. "Kent, I'm sure these are fascinating stories, but you see, son, this is the Daily Planet. We're the greatest newspaper in the whole world. Now, our people are dedicated servants of the fourth estate, who routinely handle stories of international significance." Perry ran his hand through his graying hair. "Now, look — Kent, I'm sure you're an intelligent guy, but you just can't walk in here with this kind of resume and expect to get a job. I'm afraid you just don't have the experience. I'm sorry."
A sad-faced Clark Kent nodded glumly at the renowned editor-in-chief of the nation's top newspaper. It had always been his dream to work at the Daily Planet, but he was well aware of his lack of real experience. It had been a long shot at best.
"I understand, sir. Thank you for taking the time to see me."
Suddenly the melancholy proceedings were interrupted by the office door swinging open and the arrival of the most beautiful woman Clark had ever seen. One could almost see the barely suppressed energy radiating from the slender yet curvaceous body. Thick, glossy, raven-dark hair flowed past her shoulders, framing a face that caused Clark's breath to catch in his throat. Soft, dark brown eyes held a look of determination, yet seemed to have depths that literally sparkled with life and passion.
"Chief, I think there's a story here and we should have this guy checked out. You know, the crazy one from this morning. He was an engineer at EPRAD for ten years…"
Perry White turned in irritation, toward the young woman. "Lois, can't you see I'm in the middle of something here?"
She stopped, becoming aware of Clark for the first time. "Oh."
Perry sighed. "Lois Lane." He indicated the young woman with his hand, then pointed to Clark. "Clark Kent."
Clark's heart missed a beat when she graced him with a dazzling smile that seemed to light up the already well-lit room.
She extended her hand. "Hi, nice to meet you."
It took Clark a moment to remember which hand he had to extend. Taking her hand in his, he felt his palms begin to sweat. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Lane."
Her smile was warm and inviting. "Oh, please, call me Lois. So, are you here for a job?"
Clark's face fell. "Well, yes, but Mr. White says that I don't have enough experience for the Daily Planet."
"Really?" Lois frowned compassionately. "Is this your stuff?" She motioned to the stack of papers strewn about Perry's desk. At his nod she picked up some of the sheets. Her eyebrow arched, she shuffled through them. "Not bad. A little fluffy, but not bad." She nudged Perry with her elbow. "What do you say, Chief? Give the guy a break. Everyone has to start somewhere."
Perry sighed in exasperation. "Lois, when did your title here change from reporter to editor-in-chief? I would appreciate it if you let me do *my* job, and you stick to yours."
Lois placed her hand somewhat coyly on Perry's chest. "Hey, I remember not too long ago when you gave another untried rookie a chance." She patted his chest. "That didn't turn out too badly, did it?" She grinned as she pulled her hand back. "I know, you can give him a tryout. What about that story of the razing of that old theater on 42nd street?"
Perry frowned at the young woman. "I thought I gave that piece to you?"
Lois shrugged. "I wasn't in the mood, plus, I think I'm going to be tied up for a while with this breaking EPRAD story." She glanced over at Clark and gave him a wink. "Come on, Chief, what have you got to lose? Besides, he's kind of cute, and we can always use another cute guy around here."
Perry shook his head in mock disgust. "Like you care anymore."
"Hey, I can still look." Lois laughed, then turned toward Clark. "Hope to see you again, Kent." She turned and left the office.
Clark felt like he'd just been in the presence of a force of nature. He had to get this job, if only to be able to see her again. "So, that was Lois Lane? I've read her work. She's terrific."
Perry chuckled. "Yes, yes she is. She can be infuriating at times, but she is the best damn investigative reporter I've ever had." Perry pursed his lips together. "And she has some of the best instincts I've ever encountered too. I guess if she sees something in you, who am I to argue?" He stretched out his hand. "Welcome to the Daily Planet, Kent."
Clark couldn't keep the smile on his face from stretching ear to ear. "Thank you, Mr. White. I promise I won't let you down."
"Just see that you don't." Perry tilted his head, a smile twinkling in his eyes. "You know, the Lois Lane of a couple of years ago would have come barging in here and barely acknowledged your existence, let alone stick up for you."
Clark was intrigued. "Really?"
Perry nodded. "Oh, yeah. She's still the best reporter I've got, but she's mellowed quite a bit in her personal dealings with people. It's made her not only a better reporter, but a better person." Perry's smile was almost fatherly. "She's finally happy with her entire life, and not just her job."
Clark nodded, but didn't really understand. "What changed her?"
Perry looked out the window of his office. "Him."
Clark followed Perry's gaze to see a tall, good-looking man standing next to and talking with Lois. From the smiles on both their faces, it seemed like they were having a pleasant conversation.
"Her husband, Claude Kinet."
Clark watched with a deepening depression as he saw the man lean down and capture Lois' lips in a passionate kiss which she returned with like passion. Clark felt like he was falling into a bottomless pit. Within seconds he'd gone from elation to the depths of despair. Mere minutes ago, he'd just met the woman of his dreams. A woman he'd never known had existed and had fallen instantly in love with her, only to find that she belonged to another. How could the fates be so cruel?
"Yep," Perry said, oblivious to Clark's inner turmoil. "Their marriage was the best thing that ever happened to either of them." Perry chuckled. "It's hard to believe that anyone could settle Claude down; he never seemed to be the one-woman type. But that sure changed when he met Lois. I've never seen two people more in love than those two." Perry slapped Clark on the shoulder. "Come on, I'll take you out and introduce you."
Perry guided the suddenly nervous Clark Kent out into the newsroom. The first person they happen to run into was an energetic young fellow carrying a stack of photos. Perry stopped him.
"Jimmy, I'd like you to meet our newest employee, Clark Kent. Clark, this is Jimmy Olsen."
"Hey, another CK! I guess I'll have to call you Clark, since I already call Claude, CK. Welcome aboard."
Clark shook the young man's hand. "Nice to meet you."
Jimmy gave him a quick nod of his head. "Nice to meet you too. Gotta run! If I don't get these photos to paste-up right away someone will have my head." Jimmy grinned as he gave a slight jerk of his head in the direction of Perry White.
Perry then ushered Clark over to where Lois and Claude were standing. Clark couldn't help but notice that the guy was every woman's dream. Clark had been told by more than a few women that he was a good-looking man, but next to Claude, he was Quasimodo. Claude was taller, easily six foot three. He had an athlete's build and a face that was quite handsome but wasn't either too pretty or too perfect. It was a face that seemed to smile a lot. His thick, wavy hair was a light brown in color and just a bit unruly. It gave him a roguish appearance. But it was the eyes that drew one's attention. They were a startling deep blue in color. His eyes were so blue they seemed to shine with a light of their own. In a strange way they seemed the perfect contrast, and complement, to Lois' own amazing soft brown eyes.
Clark snapped back to reality as he heard Perry make the introductions. He took Claude's extended hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Kent. My wife was just mentioning you. I'm glad to hear that our esteemed editor took my wife's advice and gave you a chance. I'm sure you'll like it here at the Daily Planet."
"So, Perry, I see you're going to give Kent here a chance?" She batted her eyelashes at Perry. "I wonder what changed your mind?" She couldn't hold back a girlish giggle.
Perry just glared at the smirking Lois. "Claude, why don't you take Kent down and show him the lockers; fill him in on where everything is around here." Perry gave Lois a telling look. "I think I need to have a conversation with your wife about assignments."
Claude led Clark to the elevator and in a couple of minutes he was showing Clark around the men's locker area. "It's always a good idea to keep an extra set of clothes in your locker. You never know when you might need to change." Claude smiled as if reliving an old memory.
Clark opened a few of the empty lockers. "That sounds like a logical precaution."
Claude leaned against one of the lockers and gave Clark a wry smile. "So, Kent, I saw you eying my wife up there."
Clark jumped back from the locker and looked at Claude. He swallowed and had a hard time finding his voice. He felt like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I — ah, well, I didn't… that is…"
Claude's laughter rang through the concrete and steel locker room. "Ease up, mon ami, I'm only having some fun with you." Claude slapped Clark on the back. "It's not like every man in the place doesn't lust after my beautiful wife with their eyes." He chuckled. "It really doesn't bother me. After all, the lovely Lois chose me."
Claude indicated that Clark should sit down on one of the benches. "Let me tell you a little story, Mr. Kent."
Clark sat. "Call me Clark."
Claude nodded. "Okay, and I'm Claude, or CK as Jimmy likes to call me." He gave Clark a reassuring smile. "I don't know if there has been enough time for anyone to have mentioned me to you, but believe me, they will. You see, not too long ago I was what guys would call a ladies' man. Women had different names for it. A womanizer would be the kindest." He grinned as he saw Clark's guileless reaction. "I used to date different women every week. It was all about the challenge, the chase, and, of course, the conquest. Once the relationship had been consummated, so to speak, interest waned and I moved on. I found that the wanting was truly more fun than the having. Needless to say, I was a hero to most of the men, and not a favorite of many of the more, shall we say, liberated women." Claude gave a snort of laughter. "Not that I can really blame them."
Claude shook his head, glanced at the ceiling, and sighed. "That all changed when I met Lois." He looked at Clark and the look said that he was sincere. "It started out the same. A pretty young rookie reporter. A challenge to the old Kinet charm. It didn't take long for me to convince her that she was in love with me." Claude laughed ironically. "The only thing I didn't realize at the time was that she was making me fall in love with her."
Claude sighed again. "Have you ever met a woman who was the total package, Clark? A woman who was not only beautiful, but brilliant and loyal, dedicated and amazing in her the pursuit of her passions? A woman who the moment you met her you knew she was the one?"
It was Clark's turn to sigh. "Yes."
Something in Clark's voice caused Claude to give him a strange look. "Yes, well, anyway, Lois is that woman for me. I swear I've never entertained thoughts of another woman since Lois came into my life. I never thought I, of all people, would become a one-woman man, but that's what Lois has done to me. A few months after we started dating, I asked her to marry me. And she said yes. It was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Clark knew he should be happy for the man as he was obviously very much in love with his wife, but then Clark thought he might be as well. He was puzzled though. "I'm happy for you, Claude, but…"
"Why am I telling you this?" Claude grinned.
Claude laughed. "Because, as I said, you are going to be hearing stories about me. Stories about the legendary Claude Kinet. A Claude who no longer exists, but some people don't wish to let die." Claude doubled up his fists. "I want you to know. I love my wife, and I will till the day I die. The man I once was is no longer. Lois changed that. She changed me. And for that I am forever grateful."
Clark was definitely feeling uncomfortable. "Well, I guess we'd better get back to the newsroom. Mr. White will be wondering what happened to us."
Lois looked up from her computer screen as the ring of the elevator bell signaled its arrival on the bullpen's floor. She saw Claude and Clark get off and she waved them over to her.
"Hi sweetie," she said as she tilted her face up to him allowing him to plant a quick kiss on her lips. "I'm glad you're back. I need to take Clark off your hands for a while."
Claude gave her a quizzical look. "What's up?"
Lois shrugged. "Well, I was able to convince Perry that there might really be a story behind what that crazy guy was saying this morning. You know, about the Messenger going to blow up, or something." Lois glanced at Clark, checking for his reaction. He seemed preoccupied. "Anyway, he's going to let me follow up on it, but the condition was that I take Clark along with me."
"Really? Why? I'm your partner, not Kent." Claude looked quickly at Clark. "No offense, Clark." Clark shrugged.
Lois wrinkled her brow. "I know, and I told the Chief that, but I think it's his way of getting back at me for talking him into hiring Clark in the first place." Lois smiled at Clark. "But the laugh's going to be on Perry. I'm going to break that story wide open, and turn Kent into a top notch reporter all at the same time. That should show Perry." Lois frowned at the smirk on Claude's face. "Do you doubt me, lover?"
Claude held up his hands in surrender. "Not a chance. It's just that I don't think I'm too comfortable with my wife hanging out with such a good looking man — who's not me."
Lois laughed as she patted Claude on the chest. "Well, I wouldn't worry too much." Lois gave Clark a wink. "Kent here may be a good looking guy but I only fall for tall, handsome Frenchmen who can sweep me off my feet — literally."
Claude swept Lois up into his arms and planted another kiss on her waiting lips. "Good. You just make sure you remember that."
Lois giggled as she swatted Claude. "Put me down. Perry's watching and you know how he gets when we play house at work. Besides, Clark and I have to get going. We have an appointment to meet with this Dr. Platt."
"Okay." Claude put Lois down and pouted like a little boy who had lost his favorite marble. Lois answered him with a laugh.
"Come on Kent, we've got work to do." She grabbed her bag and a thick file, then headed for the elevator, never looking back to see if he was following. He was.
Lois took another sip of her diet soda. She glanced across the table at her new, temporary partner. He was still busy looking through the papers they'd gotten from Dr. Platt, the fellow who had caused such a ruckus that morning at the Planet. The papers were scattered across the table at the diner where the two of them stopped for lunch, and a chance to discuss the story.
Clark had shown himself to be bright, and a quick study. He asked Platt some questions that Lois didn't even understand. She took pleasure in the fact that it looked like her instincts were going to be right on once again. Clark Kent was going to make a fine reporter. He needed to toughen up a bit, but she really thought he'd have a good career as an investigative reporter.
Still, there was something bothering Kent. Maybe 'bothering' was too strong a word. Clark often seemed preoccupied with something. She would catch him staring at her with the strangest look on his face… like now. She put her glass down.
"Okay, Kent, out with it. Have I got lettuce in my teeth or what?"
Clark blushed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare." He paused and looked away for a moment clearly uncomfortable. "I just… I mean…"
"Yes?" Lois prompted.
Clark searched for something, anything, to say. "I, ah, was curious about your — hair."
Lois involuntarily fingered the ends of her long lustrous locks. "Really? Why?"
"Um, well, you don't normally see professional women wearing their hair quite that long." Clark internally groaned and wondered if it sounded as stupid to her and it did to him.
"I see, and you've known a lot of professional women, have you, Kent?" Lois was doing her best to keep a grin off her face.
"Well, no, I just meant…"
Lois couldn't hold back any longer. Clark's discomfort was just too funny. A wide grin stretched across her face. "That's all right, Clark. Actually I do know what you mean, and personally I'm not that fond of it this long. But Claude likes it long and I don't consider it much of a burden to have grown it out for him." She raised a brow at Clark. "What about you, Clark? How do you think I should wear my hair?" She knew this hadn't really been what was on Clark's mind, but she wasn't through having fun with him, and his discomfort, just yet.
"Well… may I?" he asked as he reached his hand out toward her hair. She nodded. He pushed back the long hair from one side on her face. "I've always admired a woman's neckline. There's just something sensual about a long graceful neck that just wants to make a guy plant tiny little kisses up and down her…" Clark blushed furiously once he realized what he'd said.
Lois laughed. "I'll keep that in mind, Clark. Maybe I'll ask Claude about your little theory." Lois cocked her head and stared hard at the totally uneasy rookie. "But, let's be straight here, shall we? I don't think your mind's been wandering off while you snuck glances at me all day because you think I need a haircut. What is it, really, that's on your mind?"
Clark took a deep breath. "Well, er, how long have you and Claude been married?"
Lois raised a brow. "So, prying into my private life now, eh, Kent?" Lois laughed when she saw the shocked look on Clark's face. "Just kidding. I bet I know what this is about."
"Yeah, I do. I'd say someone has been telling you stories about my husband's lurid past. Believe me, I've heard it all. Lois, do you know what kind of man you're getting involved with? Lois are you crazy, you can't trust him. Once a womanizer, always a womanizer." Lois captured Clark's eyes with a determined look. "But you know what? It doesn't matter what he was because that's in the past. He's not that anymore. He's my husband and I'm his wife. I love him and he loves me."
Lois leaned back in her chair, a wistful smile on her face. "You know, there was a time when I figured that I'd always be alone, and that was just fine with me. I was determined to become the best investigative reporter for the best newspaper in the world. That was all I cared about. My work was all important and I thought that was all I needed. Then I met Claude."
Clark waited as Lois got a dreamy look on her face and stared out into space. "And?"
Lois jerked her head back and refocused on the young man across the table from her. "Oh, sorry. Well, it started out as one would expect. I was attracted to his obvious physical attributes and was dazzled by his cosmopolitan charm, but then something unusual happened." Lois' smile was one of satisfaction. "We fell in love. Really in love, not just a couple of attractive people giving into the physical lust of the moment. I don't normally believe in things metaphysical, or spiritual, but…" Lois bowed her head in embarrassment allowing her long hair to fall forward covering her face.
Clark leaned closer. "But?"
Lois looked up, brushing the hair out of her face. "I think I'd have to say that Claude and I were destined to be together. That we are…" Lois searched for the right word. "Soulmates."
~ Part 2 by Wendy ~
"I just can't help it, Mom," Clark said, pacing restlessly around the farmhouse kitchen. "I love her. Every time I so much as see her, let alone talk to her, I love her more. I don't know what to do!"
"Clark, she's married," Martha Kent pointed out yet again. "You know she's off-limits. You just have to stop feeling this way."
"But I've tried!" Clark protested, experiencing a shameful desire to weep. "Every day I tell myself that I have to forget her. She's not available. I *know* that. But I still can't seem to stop feeling that way about her."
"Clark, you were brought up better than that," Jonathan Kent said, quietly but firmly. "She's a married woman. You stay away from her."
"I can't. I work with her! What am I supposed to do? Go to Mr White and tell him that I'm sorry, but I can't work with Lois Lane — Lois Lane Kinet — because I'm in love with her and she's not free and that even seeing her makes me want to beg her to run away with me? He'd think I'm crazy!"
"Clark, this thing *is* crazy," Jonathan said sternly. "You know that. I don't care what you have to do, but you can't carry on like this."
"I know that all you ever wanted was to work for the Daily Planet in Metropolis, Clark," Martha added, speaking more gently. "But, you know, maybe you'd be better moving on. If this is what working there does to you… You're hurting, we can see that. If you move away…"
"You think I'll forget her, is that it?" Clark demanded. "Mom, I don't know… I've never felt this way about *anyone* before in my life! And yes, I know that she's never given me a single bit of encouragement. And I know that she's happily married — and though I hate to say it, I even like her husband — but none of that seems to matter. I just love her. And I can't imagine what it would be like if I couldn't even get to see her. I'm not sure I would forget her."
His parents shook their heads despairingly, and Clark knew that for the first time in his life they were seriously disappointed in him. He was disappointed in himself: he knew very well that in his obsession with Lois Lane, married woman, he was letting down the standards he'd always held himself to. He had to do something about it, but as yet he wasn't sure what — although his mother's suggestion of leaving the Planet and Metropolis was beginning to look like his only option.
Dispirited and for the first time feeling that a visit to his parents had failed to help him find a way out of a dilemma, Clark took his leave and flew back to Metropolis. As ever, he stayed well above cloud level. The last thing he wanted was for someone to discover what he could do; even if a report about a flying man was very likely to be dismissed as incredible, he had no intention of taking the risk.
He had to lose height coming in over Metropolis, since he hadn't yet been there long enough to find his way back to the hotel which was his temporary residence without visual clues. But instead of heading straight for the Apollo, he found himself flying over Carter Avenue.
Carter Avenue; the location of the home of the Kinets.
Overheard office gossip had informed Clark that, before Lois and Claude married, Claude had lived in a loft apartment just off Clinton St, and Lois had been sharing a small apartment with her sister, a student. When they'd married, the couple had started renting an apartment in the small block on Carter Avenue.
Hating himself for doing it, Clark scanned the building. Lois was sitting on a pristine white two-seater sofa, surrounded by a stack of papers: working. Claude was… He hesitated. There was no sign of Claude anywhere in the apartment. Then he noticed a car pulling up outside the building. Claude, dressed in dark clothing, seemed to be checking his reflection in the mirror, and it was only after several minutes that he emerged and headed for the apartment building. Not wanting to see the lovers reunited, Clark took off and flew quickly back to his hotel.
So what had Claude been up to? Why had he been back so late?
He was being far too suspicious, Clark told himself. The man was a reporter, like himself and like Lois. The job was in no way a nine-to-five activity. Sources had to be met at the most inconvenient times. Stakeouts often took place at night. Claude was one of the paper's top reporters; there was surely nothing unusual about his being out late at night, nor dressed in dark clothing. As for his strange action in checking his appearance, perhaps he'd been somewhere unpleasant? Maybe he'd wanted to check that he didn't have any dirt on his face?
<Or any lipstick>
Clark ruthlessly squashed the little voice inside him. It wasn't fair to judge Claude Kinet on the basis of his past reputation. Everyone whose opinion he trusted had said — not that Clark had been asking — that Claude seemed to have changed his ways completely. He was no longer a womaniser. He was completely devoted to his wife. He was loyal, loving and attentive. And he had never, in the year or so since he'd been married, showed any signs of interest in any other woman, even those who'd flaunted themselves blatantly in front of him.
The man was clearly squeaky-clean; the model husband.
And Clark was only fooling himself if he was tempted to believe otherwise.
Two nights later, Clark again found himself drifting in the vicinity of Lois and Claude's apartment. He knew that he shouldn't be there, and he hated himself for doing it — but even telling himself that he was practically a stalker didn't seem to make any difference. He couldn't sleep anyway, he protested silently, and so he might as well be flying above the city as lying awake in his horrible hotel- room.
But he wasn't flying above the city; he was floating above Lois's apartment.
Of course, his day had been very unsettling, which hadn't helped. It was only by a small miracle — well, that and his powers — that Lois hadn't been killed. She'd sneaked into the EPRAD workshop on a hunch that Dr Baines knew more about the Messenger sabotage than she was letting on, and had almost died for her actions. Only for the fact that he'd been worried about Lois and had come after her, she'd be blown to smithereens.
As it was, he'd only been able to save her and Jimmy by using his powers; thankfully, he'd been able to pretend that the force of the explosion had sent them flying. And Lois was alive, which was all that mattered.
But he'd then brought her back to the Planet, only to see her run straight into Claude's arms and then disappear into the conference room with him. <He's her husband!> his conscience had reminded him, but it hadn't stopped his jealous side from feeling very aggrieved.
It wasn't just the narrow escape he'd had with Lois's life which was bothering him now, though. It was the fact that today's events had given him yet another nagging reminder that he really needed to make a decision about going public. All these things he could do, all the powers he had… what use were they if he couldn't use them openly to help people? He had to rely on sneaking around, on not being seen — and yet if he was able to be honest about his abilities, he could help so many more people.
But if he went public, he also ran the risk of his father's prediction coming true: that he would be locked up in a lab and dissected. That the government would take an undue interest in him — and not only in him, but also in his family. It was too dangerous, Jonathan Kent had always said, and Clark, albeit reluctantly, had always agreed.
But what if he could save lives? Didn't he owe it to humanity to use his powers for good? Wasn't there, somehow, a way around…
A movement below attracted his attention and interrupted his argument with himself. A man was emerging from the apartment building. Using his special vision powers to look more closely, Clark noted with interest that it was Claude. Back in the apartment — he checked — Lois was fast asleep in bed.
So where was Monsieur Kinet going at half past midnight?
Claude got into the silver Jeep which Clark now knew to be Lois's, and drove off. Clark followed from his position about thirty feet up in the air, pursuing his colleague through suburban streets and then out towards the turnpike. Finally, the Jeep came to a halt at a service area, and Claude got out.
Immediately, someone slid out of a dark sedan parked at the rear of the service area, hurrying towards Claude. Clark hovered, watching. The waiting person was tall, slender… yes, and definitely female, he finally decided, noticing the feminine curve of her hip and an obvious bustline.
And Claude greeted her with a hug and a kiss before they disappeared into the woman's car and drove off. This time Clark didn't follow them.
Having his suspicions confirmed didn't, in spite of expectations, make Clark feel any better about the situation. Yes, Claude was cheating on Lois. So much for M Kinet's insistence that his womanising past was just that: past.
However, instead of feeling relief that Lois's perfect marriage was not so perfect after all — and even a sense of hope that she might be persuaded to leave Claude — Clark could only feel sorrow and regret for the pain which this discovery would cause Lois.
He'd lain awake all night arguing with himself as to whether he should tell her. He had no desire to protect Claude; the man was a waste of space and didn't deserve any consideration whatsoever. But Lois… He'd seen the way she looked at Claude; the way her face lit up whenever the man came into the room. She'd be devastated.
How could he destroy her happiness like that?
But how could he let her go on thinking that she was loved, and that her husband was as loyal and faithful to her as she was to him?
Sooner or later, she'd find out for herself — no-one could keep up that level of duplicity indefinitely. Most adulterers were found out sooner or later. Or else the greener pastures grew too tempting and they eventually decided to trade in their poor devoted spouse for a newer model. Wouldn't it be far more painful for Lois to find out later, after years of what she thought was a blissful marriage?
The following day, Lois seemed as blithely unaware as before that her husband was betraying her with another woman, Clark thought bitterly as he worked with her on the Prometheus case, writing up the evidence which pinned the blame securely on Toni Baines and a couple of associates. Although she chatted happily with him, giving him some good advice here and there which he knew would be valuable in helping him to improve as a reporter, he saw the way her gaze kept straying to Claude; the way they smiled at each other and couldn't resist touching whenever their paths crossed.
The duplicitous, hypocritical swine.
Lois clearly didn't suspect a thing, and Clark's blood boiled within him every time he saw Kinet smile at her. He wanted to grab the man by the throat and fly with him up to the roof of the Planet building and threaten to throw him off if he didn't agree to tell Lois the truth and leave her.
But, his pessimistic inner voice asked, what if Lois still claimed that she loved Claude, even despite his infidelity? What if, even once she knew, she wanted to give him another chance? There was no guarantee that she'd leave him if she found out that he was having an affair.
And, of course, even if she did leave Claude, what was the likelihood that she'd ever look twice at *him*? So far, she'd shown no sign of any interest in him beyond the amused tolerance of a senior colleague for a new junior she seemed to be treating as something of a protege.
Wasn't that what was really behind his burning desire to confront Lois with the truth? Forcing himself to honesty, Clark had to admit that a large part of his motivation was the hope that Lois, freed from a two-timing husband, would look for comfort to her new colleague, a man who was not only very willing to offer sympathy and a shoulder to cry on, but who also genuinely cared for her.
His parents would tell him to stay out of it; that it was none of his business. And Clark knew that they were right. It *wasn't* his affair — bad choice of word, he mused wryly.
It was nothing to do with him.
Yet that night he was watching Lois's apartment once more. And at close to 1 am Claude left again, taking the Jeep and driving to the same place as before. And the same woman met him, greeting him with a swift kiss and leading him to her car.
And the next morning Clark arrived at the Planet determined, resolved to tell Lois the truth, no matter how much it hurt her. No matter that she might never speak to him again — because the bearer of bad news never got anything but a bad reception — she deserved to know how her husband was returning her love and loyalty.
"Lois, can I talk to you?"
"Sure!" She turned and smiled at him. "What's up?"
"Not here," he said apologetically. "In private."
She gave him a quizzical look. "This sounds important. Okay, I think the conference room's free."
He let her lead the way and then took a seat opposite her in the large, empty room. The door was shut and the blinds mostly closed; they'd have complete privacy. Lois was watching him, an enquiring expression on her face as she waited for him to tell her what he wanted to talk about.
"There's something I have to tell you," he said at last, awkwardly; now that he'd finally made the decision to tell her what he knew, it was very difficult to find the words. Just how did you tell the woman you loved that the husband *she* loved was cheating on her?
"Yes, Clark?" Lois asked semi-impatiently after several moments. "Look, I don't want to be rude, but I do have a busy day…"
"I'm sorry," he said quickly. "It's just that this is really difficult for me to say…"
"Just spit it out, Clark," Lois advised, giving him a tolerant smile.
"Okay," he said quietly. "Look, Lois, I need you to believe that I never want to hurt you in any way. I'm only telling you this because I don't think it's fair that you don't know what's going on behind your back —"
"What are you talking about?" Lois interrupted, now sounding irritated. "I'm not sure I want to know, Clark. In fact, I'm going to go back to work and forget that we ever started this conversation."
In desperation, as Lois got to her feet and began to march towards the door, Clark blurted out, "Claude's having an affair!"
Lois came back slowly, resuming her seat. "What makes you think that?" she asked, in what Clark recognised was a dangerous tone. "Have you been following him?"
He hung his head. "Yes," he confessed. "I'm sorry, Lois — it wasn't deliberate, it's just that I saw him going off and… and anyway, I saw him meet her. They kissed. And then they got into her car. The second time I saw him late at night, I did deliberately follow him, and he met the same woman."
Only then did it dawn on Clark that Lois might wonder how he'd managed to follow her husband without being seen — and that she would certainly want to know *where* he'd met the other woman. Just how he was going to explain that, he had no idea.
"And so from that you conclude that he's cheating on me?" Lois demanded.
Relieved that she hadn't asked the questions he'd just started dreading, Clark nodded. "I'm truly sorry, Lois. But it looks that way to me."
"And what do you expect me to do about it?" Lois asked sharply. "Throw him out?"
"That's not my business," he said, suppressing the urge to yell Yes!
She got to her feet and began to pace around the room. Finally, she said, "So you've concluded that Claude is having an affair. And you think that I should leave him, or throw him out — I guess you'd think that if I didn't, then I must be so weak or so besotted that I'm willing to accept anything from him as long as he stays with me." She paused, then turned to face him. "Clark, did it ever occur to you that sometimes the obvious answer isn't the correct one?"
<More times than you imagine, Lois> he wanted to say to her. Instead, he said, "Are you telling me that he's not having an affair?"
She hesitated, then said carefully, "You know, Clark, I'm thinking *you* have a secret you don't want anyone knowing about."
Huh? He stared back at her. "What are you talking about? And what's that got to do with…?"
"What's that got to do with Claude and me?" Lois finished for him. "Well, let me put it this way. I learnt a long time ago that if I have a secret I want to protect, it helps if I have something to hold over other people too. And you, Clark Kent, *definitely* have a secret."
"I do?" he asked, stalling. How could she know? *What* did she know?
"That was no side-effect of the explosion which sent us flying the other day," Lois said in a conversational voice. "It was far too controlled. I think you can fly, Clark Kent. And I think you can probably do other things as well — like overhear things from a long way away, and maybe even see through walls. Am I right?"
Clark felt frozen, rigid with fear. She knew! There was no point in denying it; he wasn't even sure that he could get the words out convincingly. Now what was he going to do? He should never have tried to tell Lois anything about Claude, he thought miserably. She'd certainly managed to take her revenge on him!
"Oh, I won't tell anyone," she continued, now smiling at him. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me. But now that you know *I* know all about you, I don't need to worry about you telling anyone about *my* little secret, do I?"
"Y…your secret?" he stammered. "You mean you knew that he was having an affair?"
"You still don't get it, do you?" she said rhetorically. "Look, this isn't my story to tell. Hang on a minute…"
She left the room, returning a couple of minutes later with Claude in tow. The two of them took seats opposite Clark, who was now almost beginning to sweat.
"So, mon ami, I understand that despite everything I told you, you believe that I am cheating on Lois," Claude said quietly, meeting Clark's gaze steadily and with a stern expression which, finally, began to shake Clark's certainty.
"I saw you, twice, with a woman," Clark began to explain.
Claude shook his head. "Lois has convinced me that I should tell you a story, Clark. A true story — but one which must never go any further than this room. Is that understood?"
At that moment, Lois caught Clark's gaze and held it fiercely. He knew what she was telling him: his own secret would be on the line if he ever repeated a word of this. "Yes, it's understood," he told Claude.
"Bien. Well, then, the first thing I must explain is that I am not a reporter. I work for the French government," Claude began. "I was sent over here three years ago to investigate a man who, my government believes, is responsible for millions of US dollars' worth of corruption, not to mention many French deaths. Your government is also interested in catching this man, and so they have co-operated with my presence here. Being a reporter is my cover, and I came to Metropolis because the man I am investigating is also based in Metropolis."
Claude paused, which was just as well since Clark was having a hard time taking all this in. Claude was a *spy*? A secret agent? But what did that mean in relation to Lois? Or was he going to explain that the woman he'd been meeting was actually a source? Yet he'd kissed her…
"The role of a womanising reporter was a perfect cover for me," Claude continued. "It gave me the freedom to go anywhere I wanted, talk to anyone I wanted, and make advances to women I knew had once been involved with the man I was after, all in the hope of gaining information. But a little over a year ago," he said calmly, with an admiring smile in Lois's direction, "a not-quite-so-rookie reporter started sniffing around somewhere I didn't want her to be. She was investigating the same man as I was. And at the same time, she started to figure out some things about me — things I didn't want anyone knowing. Dangerous things."
Slowly, Clark said, "You mean she figured out that you weren't what you seemed?" His admiration for Lois as a reporter, already high, shot up several notches.
"She did." Claude met his gaze, and it was apparent that his admiration for his wife was also boundless. "I had to tell her all, including what I knew about the man we were both interested in. And she insisted that we should work together. That, I confess, wasn't easy. We were not investigating this man as a Planet story, and without any kind of proof, nor could we. And anyway, my superiors do not want his attention drawn to the fact that someone is interested in him. So my chere Lois suggested that we pretend to have an affair; that would explain the fact that we would be spending time together."
Claude paused again, reaching to take Lois's hand. "That was not an appropriate solution, for me. With my reputation, any affair would have to be a transitory thing. And since Lois knew the truth, I needed to be able to protect her. The best protection I could offer was to marry her. That way, my cover became even more secure, and I could be confident that Lois was protected: I would be with her both night and day."
"Except when you're meeting sources," Clark pointed out dryly.
"Actually, she is my handler," Claude explained. "My NIA contact. I report to her when I have news — and it just happens that this week, thanks to the good work you and Lois have been doing on your investigation, there has been much to report."
"You seem very… close to this handler," Clark said gruffly, almost aggressively; he was still feeling as if the ground had been pulled from under him, and he wasn't sure how to react.
Claude glanced at Lois, then said apologetically, "We… care about one another. It is possible that, once this job is finished, we may… become involved. Or we may not. That's the way life is when you are a secret agent — many relationships are transitory."
*Lois* was a transitory relationship? Again Clark felt his blood boiling. "So you'll dump Lois and go off with this other woman?!"
"Clark." Lois spoke quietly, and yet her voice impelled him to look at her. Softly, she added, "Claude and I aren't really in love. We're friends, yes; he's my best friend, Clark. I've learned a lot from him, and he's changed me for the better in so many ways. But we're not lovers, and we're not in love. When it comes time for our marriage to end, I won't be heartbroken. I'll miss my friend, but I won't be distraught, and neither will he."
Claude covered Lois's hand with his own. "I do love you, ma cherie — but as a friend, perhaps as the soeur — sister — I never had. I wish I could say that we'll always be friends, but you understand that in my kind of job that kind of promise is impossible to keep."
"But…" Clark protested. "You're always kissing, touching…"
Claude grinned at Lois, who winked back at him. "Lois is such a good actor, mon ami — she would make an excellent secret agent if she ever decided to give up being a great reporter."
"Well, kissing him wasn't exactly hard," Lois said, laughing. "He's easy on the eye, isn't he? But that's all it was. We had to put on an act, or no-one would have been convinced that Claude the womaniser would have stayed with me — or that I'd have looked twice at him."
Stunned, Clark slumped back in his chair. All those demonstrations of affection, the passionate kisses, the longing looks… they were all pretence. All to maintain the outward appearance of a blissfully happy marriage; a marriage which neither participant regarded as real.
Claude — a spy. Lois, his willing 'cover'. They weren't in love. She wasn't in love with Claude. She was heart-free…
… but she was still married.
Trying to hide both his elation and dismay, Clark clutched at one straw. "So, who is this man you're investigating?"
Claude looked wary, but Lois said calmly, "We can trust him."
Claude nodded. "Lex Luthor."
Luthor! Clark hadn't liked him from the second he'd laid eyes on the man, when he'd accompanied Cat Grant to the White Orchid Ball. A manipulator, he'd thought, with an eye to the main chance and, probably, a murky past. It was good to know that at least some of his instincts were still reliable.
"We're very close to nailing him, as you Americans say," Claude continued. "In fact, if all goes well, my Lois and I will be staging our 'break-up fight' in a week or two. I will confess that I'm glad you're around, Clark."
"Uh… why?" Clark asked, lost.
"Lois will have to play the heartbroken wife," Claude explained soberly. "It will be better for her if she has someone who can be seen to… comfort her. And, as you know the truth…" He trailed off, winking at Clark in a way which made the younger reporter wonder just what the Frenchman was hinting at.
Clark shot Lois a glance, wondering how she felt at hearing her husband plan her immediate future for her. She merely smiled enigmatically back at him.
"I must go," Claude said, getting to his feet. "Ma chere, I suspect that you have more you wish to say to Clark? I will leave you to it." With a casual, Gallic wave of his hand, he left the room.
Lois regarded Clark thoughtfully, wondering in amusement whether he'd got over his shock yet. She couldn't help wondering which had shocked him most: the discovery of the truth about her marriage, or the knowledge that she knew of his abilities.
"So, Clark, I think you and I have a lot to talk about," she told him after a few moments.
"I guess so," he said weakly. "Uh… I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have tried to interfere in your marriage…"
"Oh, it's probably just as well that you did," she said, interrupting him. She knew that would surprise him, but given the way he'd been looking at her almost non-stop over the past week, could he really imagine that she was unaware of his feelings for her? She'd been on the point of warning him that he'd have to cool it; this way was better.
"What did you want to talk about, then?" he asked. "My… powers?"
"Among other things," she said airily. "You know, Clark, you really should think about the potential of what you can do. You could help so many people, save so many lives…"
"And get myself locked up in a laboratory," he muttered; it sounded like something he'd learned by rote, she thought.
"Not if you do it carefully enough," she said. "Not if… if they don't know it's you."
Clark sat rigidly, listening to her.
If they didn't know it was him…
<An extra set of clothes… You never know when you might need to change…>
A slow smile formed across his mouth as the germ of an idea came to him.
"You're a genius, Lois!" he said, grinning.
Lois got to her feet, smiling at him in return. "And you're a pretty super guy," she said softly, coming to stand beside him. "And… you know," she added tentatively, "now that you know that I'm not really head over heels in love with Claude — and that he's probably going to be bowing out of my life in the next few weeks…"
His heart thumping, Clark said, "Yeah?"
"Well… I was kind of wondering…" She broke off, and suddenly her lips were on his. The kiss ended almost as soon as it began, and Clark was only just beginning to recover some sense of equilibrium as she opened the conference-room door.
"What?" he asked her shakily.
"Well… maybe there could be more for us than just friendship, Clark," she said softly.
"You mean it?" he asked, almost breathless. Her grin gave him his answer.
"And you don't mind about the flying?" he couldn't help asking.
The grin grew wider. "I only date guys who fly," she answered, then strolled off to rejoin her husband.
~ Epilogue, by Kaethel ~
~ Five months later ~
She was burning under him, whimpering his name as he trailed kisses down the length of her throat. His hands fumbled between them, tracing the buttons of her short dress as if to undo them, then changed course to run down the side of her body and cup the back of her bare thigh. He was aching to take this further, to sweep her into his arms and carry her to the bedroom. Oh, Lois…
He belatedly realized he'd moaned her name aloud, and he felt her nails dig into the skin of his back as she writhed beneath him. She joined her lips to his, swallowing his sigh of pleasure.
This was heaven. This was heaven, and he didn't want it to end. He wanted the moment to last forever; he wanted to be with this woman for the rest of his life and share every breath he took with her, always with her.
Her warm hands spread on the hard planes of his chest, and she slid them upwards to cup his strong shoulders and push his shirt off his arms. She was going fast…too fast…and he felt his control inexorably slip away. The kisses she planted on the side of his neck were almost his demise, but he held on tightly to the thin line of his consciousness and reluctantly found the strength to pull away. His wince was caused almost as much by the frustrated moan of his partner as by the loss of contact with her curvaceous body.
He let out a long sigh and sat up, brushing a hand through his disarrayed hair.
She reached for him again, unaware of his struggle not to fall back into her warm embrace and resume their activities. "I'm not sure where we're going with this, Lois."
Her lips brushed the skin of his shoulder, and a shiver ran its way down his spine. "I thought it was pretty clear." There was a pained edge to her voice, and he turned towards her, immediately wrapping his arms around her and pulling her to him.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean —"
"It's all right. If you don't want us to…I mean, I can understand. We don't have to…" She trailed off as he brought his hand up to tenderly cup her cheek.
"Lois, it's not that I don't want to…make love to you. God, there's nothing I'd like more right now. I love you, Lois. I love you more than I ever thought I could love, and I love you more each day." The huskiness of his voice was probably betraying the desire burning through his veins, but he didn't care. He'd always been honest with Lois about his feelings, always. Except with that one thing that endlessly tugged at the back of his mind when she was in his arms, the questions that constantly haunted him and kept the happiness he should feel in her company a few breaths away. Not far, but out of his reach. "I think we need to talk."
She sighed but didn't protest, and she leaned against the back of the couch, rearranging her dress and looking uninterested. He knew this attitude; she only acted with indifference when she was embarrassed or upset, and he hated the fact that he was the origin of her reaction. Seizing her hands in his steered her gaze back to his face, and he flinched at the pain glistening in the brown depths of her eyes.
"Lois, Claude left barely two weeks ago and —"
"No." It was only a whisper, but the word was spoken firmly enough for him to stop. "Clark, this isn't about Claude. This was never about Claude."
"I think, on the contrary, that it has everything to do with him."
Her hands jerked from his touch and she abruptly rose from the couch, whirling around to face him. "All right, let's have it, Clark! Let's have this discussion that has been obsessing you for months. Go on, ask all your questions. Did I enjoy it when he kissed me? Did I sleep with him? Did I ever wish it wasn't just an act?"
He shook his head, refusing to respond to her rising anger with what would only lead to a heated argument. Still, he needed to know. "Did you?" he asked softly, almost timidly.
Lois's irritation disappeared as quickly as it had boiled up in her, and the biting words stayed stuck in her throat when she met Clark's haunted gaze. His insecurities were genuine, and she suddenly felt guilt invade her heart as she realized what he'd been going through for the past few months.
No matter what her feelings for Clark were—and she'd made it clear to him that day in the Planet's conference room when they'd revealed their secrets to each other that she was attracted to him—she still had to keep on acting the lovesick wife of Claude Kinet for the sake of her friend's cover.
She'd done her best to avoid Clark's gaze when the charade forced her to make public shows of affection with Claude. Suddenly, the kisses that she'd let herself enjoy on a purely physical level made her feel like she was cheating on her boyfriend, and the unexpected emotion infuriated her. She wasn't linked to Clark in any kind of way; they'd only shared a very fleeting kiss once, at *her* initiative, but nothing else had happened between them since. In fact, until Claude had completed his investigation, put Luthor behind bars, and organized his break-up with her, there had been no hint of a relationship other than purely professional between Clark Kent and herself.
He'd trusted her with his secret the same way she'd had with hers—or more accurately, Claude's—and she was grateful to him for not explicitly asking her to keep it to herself. He barely knew her, and yet he hadn't doubted that she would understand the importance of keeping his abilities to herself. In fact, she'd been amazed with how quickly he'd come to rely on her to help him come up with plausible excuses when he had to run off and save the day under the guise of the new persona he'd created.
Clark was just amazing, and it wasn't the powers that made him so special. Under the incredible strength and—all right, she conceded—the pretty fascinating ability to fly, he was a shy, insecure man who'd spent most of his life hiding his real self from the entire world.
Amazingly enough, she hadn't found it hard to keep Clark's secret from Claude. At first, she'd thought that lying to her best friend, even to protect someone she deeply cared about, would make her uncomfortable, but she'd ended up taking it as a way to ease her guilt at living with Claude and secretly fantasizing about the Planet's newest recruit.
But until Claude left, she'd had to avoid too close contact with Clark. It would be too easy to give in to the attraction she felt for him, and letting anyone at the Planet get suspicious about the nature of her relationship with Clark would only make things more complicated than they already were.
When Luthor had finally been nailed, Claude and she had tried to find the most believable way to break up without destroying each other's reputation. She'd refused Claude's offer to go for the extra-marital affair scenario; she might not be in love with him, but he was still someone she esteemed very much, and knowing his name would be tarnished forever once he left the United States was unbearable to her.
Leaving Claude because she was in love with Clark was closer to the truth, but she wasn't fond of an idea that made her the bad guy, and would probably hurt Clark just as much.
Finally, they'd gone for a subtler but safer approach. The waning interest for each other hadn't gone unnoticed by the Planet's grapevine, according to Clark. Soon enough, a few shameless reporters had started gambling money on how long it would take for the Kinet marriage to sink. In the end, it hadn't surprised anyone to hear about their separation. There had been some speculation about Claude's faithfulness, but as he'd reassured her before stepping onto the plane that would fly him back to France, it was unavoidable.
Now, though, he was gone, and nothing was standing between Clark and her. But the months he'd had to spend, keeping his distance from her, excused the questions she would otherwise find intrusive and insulting.
"Clark, I won't lie to you," she finally said to answer his anxious enquiry. "I used to enjoy being Claude's wife, feeling like I was loved, even if it was just an act. Before Claude came along, I was alone, I had no social life whatsoever. Oh, I pretended to have dates, but they were just your basic interview with a couple of sources or important politicians. Nothing personal. Even with Claude, at first it was just a professional relationship.
"When I found out about him and confronted him with the truth, he was shocked, but his first reaction was to ask for my help, and it was flattering. To feel needed. To feel that I could be useful to something that obviously mattered a great deal to him. So we got to work, and quickly enough, we realized we'd need some kind of solution so that no one else could blow Claude's cover. You know why we decided on marriage.
"So yeah. At first it was nice, to see all my female colleagues watch us with such envy, because we were the picture of happiness. Or everyone thought we were. But I *swear* to you, Clark, there were never any romantic feelings involved between us. We knew right from the start that our cover meant we couldn't have any close relationship with anyone else, but considering how empty my life was at the time, it wasn't really a problem. Of course, it all changed when you came along."
He looked up at her sharply, as if shocked by her words, and she came back to the couch to sit beside him.
"Claude and I had to carry on, but what had been acceptable until then suddenly became almost unbearable."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
She shrugged sadly. "I guess I was scared…of us."
"Of us? But why?" He looked taken aback, almost hurt by her admission, and she reached for his hands.
"I meant it when I said there was something more between us than friendship. Even then, I meant it. And for the first time in my life, I wasn't totally in control of what was happening. I knew that if we got too close before…before we *could* be together, I wouldn't be able to resist, to hold on for the few more weeks it would take for us to get Luthor behind bars."
She leaned forward and touched her lips to his, tentatively at first, then more firmly when he responded and wrapped his arms around her. But she still needed him to understand, to know what was happening, if they were to build their future on a solid basis. "Clark," she gasped against his mouth, resisting the chill of arousal coursing through her body. "Clark, I never…Claude and I never did, I mean —"
He kissed her deeply, pulling her closer and pressing her slender body to his bare chest, and she was lost to the world. Lost to the emotions swirling in her heart, screaming feelings that she couldn't restrain. "I love you, Clark Kent," she murmured against his lips. A thrill of pleasure ran up her spine as her lover tightened his hold on her in response, and for the first time in her life, Lois Lane knew for certain that love wasn't just a flight of fancy. It was real, it was passionate, and it was burning there, between Clark and her, now and forever.
~ The End ~
~ And now, the Alt-Epilogue, by Tank ~
Lois was alone in the elevator car as it sped its way up the five floors toward the newsroom. She glanced at herself in the mirrored walls. She grimaced at her reflection. Today was the day. Her marriage was about to come apart and this morning would be the kick off. She was nervous. She hoped she could pull it off.
She and Claude had discussed this last night, but the actual scene was going to be another thing. She just hoped that the extra little step she took would help in selling the argument. The car stopped and the doors opened with their usual chime.
Jimmy was the first person she ran into, literally. "Sorry, Jimmy, I didn't see you coming," Lois apologized for bumping into the young man.
"Hey, that's okay, Lois. Lois?" Jimmy stared at her as if he didn't recognize her. "Whoa, what did you do to your hair?"
Lois smiled as she fingered the ends of the short, head- hugging style. Her nervousness didn't have to be faked. "I decided to cut it short. I needed a new look. Don't you like it?"
Jimmy whistled as he slowly walked around Lois, getting the full view. Lois rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. "You know, Lois, if you'd asked my opinion before doing this I would have said no way. I always thought you looked hot with the long flowing hair." Jimmy stared some more, then nodded, more to himself than to her. "But, I have to admit, it looks good. It looks real good. Sexy, but in a different way than before."
Lois smiled and placed her hand on Jimmy's arm. "Thanks. I will admit that I'm a bit nervous as to what people will think. It's a big change for me."
Jimmy laughed. "I'll say. What does Claude think of it? I always thought he liked your hair long?"
Lois bit her lip, creating the perfect image of insecurity and anxiety. "Well, he hasn't seen it yet." She put up her hand to forestall his next question. "And, no, I haven't told him yet… it's going to be a surprise."
Jimmy stared at Lois. "Are you sure that was a good idea? Oh, I want to be here when he comes in. I bet he is going to go ballistic."
"Jimmy!" Lois scowled at the young man as he rushed away, shaking his head in wonder as he went.
Lois continued on her way to her desk, but was stopped short by another familiar voice. "Lois, honey, am I seeing things?"
Lois placed a look of mock irritation on her face and turned to see Perry only a few feet away. "What is it, Chief?"
Perry's grin was mischievous. "Oh, nothing. I was just curious as to why a woman who for years has worn her hair to the middle of her back would suddenly just cut it all off?"
Lois shook her head and gave Perry her best indignant expression. "And why shouldn't I cut my hair if that's what I want to do?"
Perry's brows raised. "What does Claude think about it?"
"It's my hair. Why should Claude have any say in how I want to wear it, or if I want to cut it all off or not?" Lois answered, feigning irritation.
Perry nodded, his expression suddenly turning serious. "I see. You haven't told him yet. It's your funeral, darlin'." Perry raised his hands as if in surrender and turned to head back to his office.
Lois quickly gained her desk and sat, going through the motions of booting up her computer. So far so good. When she and Claude had discussed possible scenarios for their break-up argument, Lois had flashed back to what Clark had said about short hair on a woman.
It was well known around the Planet that Claude adored Lois' long, silken locks. It was also known that she wore it that way to please him. When she broached the idea to Claude he had been resistant. He truly liked her long hair and the thought of her cutting it short bothered him. Lois used his own reluctance to point out that it would make a good focal point for the start of an argument. His sentiments were well known and while it may not be enough, in itself, to be the reason for a break-up, it would be a good reason to have a very public argument. The fact that Clark had been the one to suggest it to her would add even more juicy fuel to the fire. By the time she and Claude were through, the Daily Planet was going to be afire with gossip and rumors about the so-called 'perfect couple'.
"I'm seeing it but I don't believe it. Jimmy told me, but I thought he was kidding."
Lois glanced up to see Cat Grant standing over her desk. "What is it, Cat?" Lois sighed.
"I don't believe that little miss 'perfect wife' would do something so drastic, and against the wishes of the beloved hubby." Cat leaned closer. "You and Claude have a fight?"
"No, Cat, we didn't have a fight." Not yet, anyway, Lois thought. "I just decided that I wanted to try something different. Is that all right with you, Cat?"
Cat held her hands up in defense. "Sure, Lois, that's just fine with me." Cat gave a shake to her own ample auburn mane. "Now no one will argue who has the best hair around here."
Cat was reacting just the way Lois wanted her to, but the woman's attitude still bugged her. Suddenly a slight smile twitched at the ends of Lois' mouth. While Lois was well aware that Clark harbored some real feelings for her, she also knew that Cat had a crush on Clark. She had managed to get a couple of dates with him before Lois and Claude took him into their confidence.
Lois glanced up at Cat, her one brow raised in wry amusement. "You know, Cat, I got the idea for this haircut from Clark."
"Yeah, it seems he really likes an exposed neck on a woman. Says there is something erotic about it. Drives him wild." She had to bite her lip as she watched Cat's hand sneak up and touch the ends of her own long hair.
Cat scowled at Lois and stalked away. Lois giggled and wondered if the mighty Ms. Catherine Grant just might be thinking of a radical change herself.
Lois thoughts were interrupted by the chime of the elevator, indicating its arrival. She turned and saw Claude exit. His eyes immediately sought hers. They widened in very real surprise. She had only gotten the haircut this morning so Claude, even though he knew it was coming, hadn't seen her new style yet. She took a deep breath. Showtime!
"Lois! What have you done!" Claude came storming down the ramp toward her desk.
Lois stood up and tried to look like she was nervous, yet with the infamous Lane backbone. She had a hunch that the selling job on this 'fight' was going to be more dependent on her performance than on Claude's. Not only was he a consummate actor, due to his chosen profession, but she was sure that he wasn't going to have to act out of character in this instance.
"What do you mean, lover?" Lois reached out tentatively to touch Claude's arm.
He reached up and seized a handful of her new short hair. "You know what I mean! This! This abomination. Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?" The anger in his voice was so real that it momentarily startled Lois.
Putting the fact that this was an act to the back of her mind, Lois allowed her normal anger to react to the situation as it was playing out. She jerked away, dislodging his hand. "Claude, what is wrong with you? You hurt me! I just got a stupid haircut, that's all. I felt it was time for a change, and I got it cut. No big deal."
Claude clenched his fists. If Lois didn't know better she'd think he was about to strike her. "No big deal! You know how I feel. How could you do this to me? I married a beautiful, sensual *woman*. Now you choose to look like a little boy." He turned his back to her.
Lois stomped around until she was again facing him. "Don't you ever turn your back on me, buster! I happen to like this haircut, and it's my *hair*, so if you don't like it, tough."
Clark chose that time to walk into the newsroom. Lois wasn't sure if it was accidental or if Clark had planned it that way, but Lois was thankful anyway. His appearance proved to be perfect timing.
Lois hustled over and grabbed Clark by the arm and dragged him over to where her 'husband' was fuming. "Clark likes my new haircut, don't you, Clark?" Lois captured Clark with a meaningful stare.
Clark appeared genuinely confused. Lois wasn't sure if he was play acting or really thrown by her and Claude's scene. "Ah, yeah… it looks good, Lois."
Lois turned back to Claude, a look of triumph on her face. "See, someone thinks I still look good."
Claude's eyes narrowed in a look that those observing would call dangerous. "So, that's what this is all about, huh? It's more important to please your junior partner than your husband?" He reached out and grabbed Lois' arm.
"Ow, Claude, you're hurting me."
Clark stepped up and grabbed Claude's arm. "Hey, let her go."
Claude shoved Clark. "Don't you ever touch me again! I'm a real reporter, not some hack from nowhere that has to be carried by another man's wife!" Claude stomped his way up the ramp toward the elevator. "And I shouldn't have to, but I'm warning you to stay the hell away from my wife!" Claude stabbed his finger at the elevator call button. "I'll see you at home, Lois. This isn't over by a long shot."
Lois glared at her retreating husband. "Maybe, maybe not, Claude! As in all things regarding me, it will be my decision." Lois turned to a befuddled-looking Clark sitting on the newsroom floor. "Are you all right, Clark?"
The astonished crowd of Planet staffers, who'd witnessed the tumultuous scene, began to drift away, back to their own duties. Lois looked up to see Perry frown at her, then turn and go back into his office. Lois glanced around. Most everyone was purposely 'not' looking in their direction.
Lois leaned in close. "Clark you were terrific. Your timing was perfect. Everyone is sure to think that Claude and I are heading for a major marital spat."
Clark pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. They had slipped down when he found himself on the floor. "Yeah… great."
"It shouldn't take much more to convince everyone that the 'perfect marriage' is on the rocks and headed for dissolution."
Clark stared into Lois' soft brown eyes. His hand, of its own accord, reached out and touched the soft, short ends of Lois' new hairstyle. "I'm sorry, Lois."
Lois, confused, met Clark's gaze. "Sorry? For what?"
"For giving you the idea for the haircut. I think Claude was really mad."
Lois let a sardonic smile grace her lips. "Well, maybe, but remember, pretending is what he does for a living." Lois' smile became a grin. "Besides, it doesn't really matter if he likes it or not."
"It doesn't?" It was Clark who was now confused.
"Nope, it only matters if two people like it."
Lois nodded as she tapped Clark on the chest with the tip of her finger. "Yep. Me… and you."
And the alternative endings as follows:
~ Part Two by Meredith ~
The minister pronounced the final blessing, and the small crowd began to break up. Perry White, his silver hair shining in the late autumn sunshine, moved across to the slender figure in the black dress.
"My dear, I'm so sorry," he said gently. "Clark was such a good man — and one of the finest reporters I ever had the pleasure of working with."
The woman bowed her head and dabbed at her eyes with a black lace handkerchief. Her hair was cropped short enough to be almost invisible beneath her hat, exposing the long, graceful line of her neck. "Thank you, Perry," she said huskily. "I'm just so grateful I have five wonderful years as his wife to remember. And it was mercifully quick."
Another man approached, and put a protective arm about her shoulders. Perry turned to him and held out his hand. "Claude," he said sombrely. "Such a dreadful loss. An incredible reporter… and you made her so happy."
"Thank you, Perry," Claude said jerkily, gripping the outstretched hand for a moment. Perry breathed a silent sigh of relief that he had escaped one of Claude's Gallic hugs. "She went on the job… it was what she would have wanted, I think. I was always telling her to be more careful, but for her the story was all. And Superman was always there to save her."
"Even this time," Perry agreed. "Who could have guessed there'd be Kryptonite in the bomb? I hope you two kids are staying away from the State Memorial Service. I know he was a close friend of all four of you, but you need to think of yourselves now."
Lana nodded. "Claude and I are going to go up into the mountains for that week, to get away from it all."
Her voice broke on the last word, and Claude hugged her shoulders a little tighter. "Lana, cherie — let me take you home now. You should rest. Perry, thank you for being here with us. I know both Clark and Lois thought very much of you, as their editor and their friend."
Perry nodded and watched the tall, striking couple leave. <Such a senseless waste,> he thought sadly. <And so little left of the bodies that they had to analyse the clothing to find out who was there…>
A time window opened in Centennial Park, Metropolis, and a dapper old gentleman stepped out. He loosened his anachronistic overcoat, ran a fine silk handkerchief over his forehead and then looked up at the statue in front of him. "To the founders of Utopia", read the inscription in flowing script, and Wells smiled benignly. This universe, at least, was in no need of his expert assistance.
He gazed up mistily at the figures of his favourite couple… but something seemed to be wrong. He took his glasses off and cleaned them carefully, but it didn't help. Finally, he bent down to read the smaller letters on the plaque. "Claude and Lana Kinet", it said.
Wells's mouth hung open for a full ten seconds before he recovered the power of movement. Then he began to tremble violently, all over. "Oh my, oh my," he whispered. "This will *never* do!"
A few hours later (in subjective terms), Wells had the answer. In his own universe, Claude Kinet had married a woman in France, and left her to travel to America. Unable to divorce her, he had settled for casual affairs with every woman who caught his eye, including Lois Lane.
In this newly-discovered universe, Claude's wife had died, leaving him unembittered and free to marry again.
All Wells had to do was save Sophia Kinet's life, and another world's history would be saved from disaster.
A time window opened on a cliff-top in France, and Wells stepped out. He looked around hastily, and hurried over to a sad woman standing a few yards away. "Madame Kinet?" he gasped.
She turned. "Oui?"
Wells breathed a sigh of relief. "Madame, I'm so glad I have got here in time. Please, dear lady, I implore you — reconsider! Nothing is so bad that you should have to kill yourself. Come and sit down, and we'll talk about your problems — I'm sure you'll discover another way to solve them."
The woman frowned at him, puzzled. "I think you 'ave got the wrong pairson," she said in slow and heavily-accented English. "I 'ave no intention to kill myself. It is a sin."
Wells grasped at her sleeve. "Madame, please listen to me!" he implored.
Her eyes dilated with fear. "You are mad!" she said. "Go away and leave me alone, madman!"
She struck his hand away, and a beam of light flashed from the strange device on his wrist. Another time window opened, this time in the same space Wells's body was occupying. His scream was cut short as his body was sucked away — only his head remained, bouncing and rolling across the grass to Madame Kinet's feet. She stepped back, opening her mouth to scream in horror, and vanished over the edge of the cliff.
~ Part 2 by CarolM ~
Lois nodded. "Ever since I met Claude, everything in my life has just… *clicked*." She stood. "Now, come on — we've got a story to investigate!"
Several hours later, Clark followed Lois into her palatial home on the outskirts of town.
"Not quite what you expected, is it?" she asked with a grin.
"Um, no. I mean I didn't discuss salary with Mr. White, but this… is a bit beyond what I expect to be able to afford."
Lois laughed. "My father was a brilliant physician and great investor to boot. He made tons of money then died leaving me the house and money for its upkeep."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." Clark wasn't quite sure what to make of her cavalier attitude towards her father's death.
She shrugged as she tossed her keys and her purse onto a table in the foyer. "Don't be. We weren't close. 'Brilliant' was in more of a mad scientist kind of way. He was the one behind the boxers that tried to take on Superman, among other things."
"Wow. I read about that. Your article, as a matter of fact."
"Really? What did you think?" She led the way towards the kitchen.
"Well written, as always. Everything I've read of yours has been. And that brings me to something else I've been meaning to ask you…"
"Yes?" She tasted a bit of the spaghetti sauce in the pot on the stove. "Mmmmm. Claude's cooking is heavenly! Here try." She held out the spoon to Clark.
He had to admit that the guy's spaghetti sauce was better than his own.
"How do you and Claude get all those Superman exclusives?"
Clark looked away as they kissed, again and again. He couldn't quite catch what they murmured to each other and was glad.
"The French endearments are one thing but that's quite another, isn't it?"
A beautiful brunette entered the kitchen.
"They'll be like that for hours. We may as well eat on our own." She stuck out her hand. "I'm Lucy. Lois' sister."
Clark shook her hand and then took the plate he offered her. She went to the other side of the island in the middle of the kitchen and helped herself and then put some on Clark's plate. "This garlic bread he makes is to die for."
She walked to an adjoining room that held a magnificent table.
Clark followed, dumbfounded. He had been 'wowed' this morning when he met Lois, but Lucy, Lucy was… wow! Who was this wonderful woman who had walked into his life?
"So, do you talk?"
"Um, yeah. Sorry. I was, uh…"
"Lost in thought?"
"Thinking about your next story? That's what Lois and Claude are always doing when they aren't…" She nodded towards the kitchen.
"Ah." Clark took a bite of his dinner while trying not to look at Lucy. Her hair was just as he had suggested to Lois earlier in the day and what he wouldn't give to be nibbling…
No, he had to keep his thoughts on dinner and safer things. Otherwise he'd want to take Lucy in his arms and kiss her like Claude and Lois were doing in the other room.
He somehow managed to make small talk through the rest of the meal. He wasn't sure how he managed, but he did and the next thing he knew, he was being invited to go for a swim.
As they put their dishes in the sink, he noticed that there was no sign of Lois and Claude.
"I swear, those two are like rabbits. I can't believe they've been married as long as they have and I don't have any nieces or nephews yet." She shook her head. "Pool's this way. They keep some extra suits around for guests."
Ten minutes later, Clark exited the restroom to find Lucy waiting for him in a very becoming black one-piece. He couldn't help but notice her wide-eyed glance at his chest. He should hope so! He worked hard to stay in shape! Two hours a day hard! Weights, running — someone had even said once that they thought he was better cut than Superman. Superman *was* a little on the skinny side for a superhero.
"The view takes your breath away, doesn't it? The first time Daddy had us over that was exactly what we all thought. Mom was insanely jealous. Still is."
The glass doors opened to a sparkling blue pool that really deserved the description of 'small lake'. It looked like something out of an advertisement for a Caribbean resort. It seemed to spill over into the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
"There's a private beach if you go down, and if you go over the edge, it's really a slide into the rest of the pool."
"The hot tub is over there and there's a wet bar too. I'm not sure I want to know where Daddy got the money for all this, but I'm certainly not complaining! I live out in the guesthouse for free and I get to eat Claude's cooking — which is more than I can say for Lois and Claude half the time!"
Clark hadn't had so much fun in years! Not since, well, he didn't remember when he had so much fun. They swam for hours, going down the slide, soaking in the hot tub. They even have a splash war — which he had won.
Now they were sitting on one of the ledges, just sort of lounging and watching the stars come out. He couldn't help but notice how close Lucy was. Close enough to touch.
She turned towards him. "Okay, Clark. Time to talk."
"Talk? Isn't that what we've been doing?"
"Well, yes, but it's truth time."
She moved a little closer. "Is it just me? Or is there something between us?"
"Yeah. Us." Her fingers reached out and drew lazy circles on his chest.
"You mean something electric? Something magical? Something cosmic?"
She leaned in so that he could feel her warm breath on his skin. "Yes," she replied in a breathy whisper.
He grinned. "Nope. Nothing like that." He turned to avoid the onslaught of water headed towards his face.
Lucy floated towards him. "Then if I did this -" She softly kissed his chest. "- it wouldn't bother you?"
"Nope, not a bit."
"Good." She kissed it again. "That?"
"Still nothing." Clark could feel himself growing warmer, despite his feigned nonchalance.
"What about this?" She nibbled on his collarbone.
He gulped. "No." He barely managed to squeak the word out.
She shrugged. "Okay then. Guess I was wrong." She slyly moved away from him and then wasn't surprised when she heard a low growl and felt a pair of strong arms around her waist.
He spun her around in his arms and whispered. "Let's see if you feel anything, now." He paused for just a second, before lowering his lips to hers and for a moment he knew what it was like to be Superman — to float among the stars.
"You were right, mon couer."
"You doubted me, lover? I know my sister and I got to know Clark a little bit today and I knew they would be as happy as we are."
Lois snuggled into the bare chest of her husband as they watched the younger couple below.
"Now, about what we were doing before…"
"How about we try again, cherie? For that baby we've wanted for so long? Lucy is wondering why she has no nieces or nephews."
Lois turned and smacked him lightly on the chest. "You were eavesdropping!"
"Only while you were freshening up, lover. Wanted to make sure they were okay on their own."
"Well." Lois kissed the chest in front of her. "You know what happens when you do that."
"Oh, I do, mon amour. Why do you think I do it?"
Lois smiled. "As long as you don't use a little 'buzz-buzz' while we're playing poker."
"Only when we play with others."
"We'll have to tell him eventually, you know, if you're right."
"I know. He already asked me how we get so many exclusives."
"Do you trust him?"
"We will." She kissed him. "Enough about him. Where were *we*?"
Eight months later, Clark stood nervously at the front of the chapel, Perry on one side and Jimmy on the other. He watched as a very pregnant Lois preceded her sister and husband up the aisle. Claude had been the obvious choice to give Lucy away.
The last few months had been like a dream. Ever since that night in the pool with Lucy… That was where he had proposed. She had come down the slide into the lower pool and he was waiting with a diamond. She had squealed and jumped into his arms. He had taken it for a 'yes' and now here they were. His parents were in the front row and he was about to marry the woman of his dreams.
He was happy.
He had found his soulmate.
What more could he ask for?
Tank Wilson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Wendy Richards <Wendy@lcfanfic.com>
Meredith Knight <Meredith@putwet.demon.co.uk>