By Supermom <email@example.com>
Submitted: December 2002
Summary: Lois decides that if Clark wants to be her partner, he must take the good with the bad and forces him to help her with a distasteful assignment. The "Farmboy" from Kansas turns the tables on her in this holiday romp.
Disclaimer #1: The photo is from www.writerspace.com. Don't you just love a good-looking Santa?
Disclaimer #2: These characters don't belong to me.
Thanks to Susan Gable for inspiring and encouraging me. She wrote a Kung Fu fanfic revolving around this picture and when I read it I immediately wondered, "Would Clark do that?" After a little brainstorming with her, I arrived at a conclusion. Congratulations to Susan on the release of her first book, The Baby Plan, being released in December 2002 by Harlequin SuperRomance.
Thanks also to my critique team, Ann McBride, Annie Riley, and Wanda Detroit, for your ideas and writing assistance.
And last, but not least, thank you to the Ditzy Chix and all the Chix-a-Dees for just being you. And a big hug to the Rooster too.
"Lois! In my office now!"
After several years of working with Perry, Lois had developed the ability to decipher Perry's bellowing and knew immediately that this was the "I-have-a-project-for- you" bark rather than the "Here's-a-great-story-idea" one. And early Monday wasn't the ideal moment to have one of Perry's projects dumped in her lap. But Lois knew, also from experience, that to argue was to regret. She was cranky enough after her recent trip to the Metropolis Sewage Reclamation Facility; there was no need to add regret to the equation.
"What's up, Perry?" Lois asked, flopping into the comfortable plaid chair by his desk.
"This." He shoved a colorful calendar into her hands.
After flipping through the various pages, Lois looked up at Perry and shrugged her shoulders. "Am I missing something here?"
"This calendar is a fund-raising project for the National Organization of Newspaper Editors; and this year, the dubious honor of recruiting the… uh… models has fallen into my lap. The calendar is ready to go to press except for the pictures. But since it would look pretty odd for me to be asking men to pose for this beefcake stuff, I wanted to assign this opportunity to you."
"Opportunity?" Lois quirked an eyebrow at her boss.
"Now, Lois. There's a great big ocean full of men out there. Surely you can reel in a dozen."
"What?" Lois shot out of the chair and leaned across the desk. "Perry, I'm not a fisherman, and I'm not trying to hook a man. And anyway, isn't this more up Cat's alley?"
"Normally, yes. But this calendar is important, and I want it to be done right. And besides, Cat's tied up for the next couple of weeks with that Mel Gibson movie that's being filmed in Metropolis."
"Well, there you go, Perry. Let me report on the movie. I've seen all the "Lethal Weapon" movies a couple of times. I can cover the movie, and Cat can recruit the men."
"Save the arguments, Lois. I've made up my mind. This is your assignment." Perry tossed a manila folder across his desk to her. "Here are the details for the photo shoots."
"You'll need to find twelve men, Lois. Think of it as selecting a jury and these twelve men will determine the fate of this fund-raiser."
"NONE is earmarking this calendar's proceeds for the Center for Abused and Neglected Children. You don't want to let all those children down, do you, Lois?"
If Perry was trying to shame Lois into giving in, he was doing a darned good job of it. Grabbing the folder, Lois stomped across the office, looked back over her shoulder at her grinning boss, and tossed out her final comment. "Just never let it be said that Lois Lane isn't a team player." The final word was accompanied by a window-rattling slam of Perry's door.
Lois stormed from Perry's office and walked directly to Clark's desk. If she was going to suffer, then so was her partner. Perry had foisted the Planet's newest rookie on her, so she would take full advantage of his naivete and pull rank.
"Come on!" she snapped. "We have an assignment." Turning quickly, she headed for the conference room with Clark close on her heels.
"Sit!" she barked once the door was closed, and they were shut off from the rest of the staff.
"What is it, Lois? A break in the Sutton case? The mayor's new task force on crime? That…"
"No, it's this." With a thud, Lois dropped the folder on the table in front of Clark.
As he sifted through the material, Clark felt a grin begin to curl his lips.
"You get to pick the men for this… this… calendar?"
"No, partner, we get to pick them. You and me. Lane and Kent. You want to be my partner? Well you take the good with the bad. The fun with the drudgery. The calendars with the front-page scoops."
"But didn't Perry tell you to select the jury?"
As soon as the words slipped from his mouth, Clark knew he'd goofed — big time.
"Were you eavesdropping?" Lois glared at him, her hands on her hips and her foot tapping staccato on the linoleum floor.
"No!" he answered emphatically. "Well…yes, but not intentionally. Are you aware of how your voice carries in the bullpen when you get excited?"
Lois glared some more, and Clark could almost swear he could see smoke coming from her ears.
"Great! Then I don't have to explain anything to you since you apparently heard it already. We have two weeks to find twelve male journalists to pose for this calendar."
"Lo-is. Perry assigned this to you."
"Cla-ark, we're partners. Remember?"
"Yeah, we're only partners when it's convenient for you. When you need an errand boy. When you think the assignment is beneath the high-and-mighty Lois L…" Clark bit his lip after the final words. He'd goofed again. Probably gone too far this time.
"I'm ordering you to do this, Clark Kent!"
"You're not my boss."
As they argued, their voices rose in pitch and volume until they were clearly audible beyond the room's closed door.
"You two wanna keep it down in here?" Perry interrupted, barely opening the door and sticking his head between the door and frame.
"Sorry, Chief," the pair mumbled simultaneously as Perry backed out and they heard the door snick shut.
Clark rose from his seat and strode toward the door, certain in his mind that the issue was closed. Lois, however, had other plans.
"You know, don't you, that I have some input on your first job performance review." It was more a statement than a question.
Clark froze, not believing what he'd heard. He gritted his teeth, clenched his fists, and pivoted to face Lois.
"This is not job related, and you know it, Lois. If you say anything negative about me because I refuse to be railroaded into being your whipping boy, I'll… I'll…"
"You'll what? Sic Jimmy on me?" Lois laughed. Then her countenance softened. "Come on, Clark. Please? I don't want to do this any more than you do. So, if we work together we can get it done in half the time — probably by Friday. What do you say?" Lois flashed him her brightest smile.
Clark hated when she begged. He was powerless to refuse her. And apparently she knew it and played him like a Stradivarius. If he was going to survive at the Daily Planet, he'd better learn to deal with Lois more effectively. Learn to say no. Learn to ignore that smile. Learn that where Lois was concerned, he was a hopeless case.
Returning a smile, he nodded to her. "Since you put it that way…"
"I knew you'd see it my way."
Of course I'd see it your way, Lois. Is there any other way than your way? he thought sardonically. At least he was learning to keep his smart remarks to himself — some of them anyway.
Lois pulled a sheet of paper from the folder, tore it in half, and extended one piece toward Clark. "I'll take January through June. You take July through December."
"Don't worry, Clark," Lois comforted him. "It will be a piece of cake. You'll see."
Clark eyed her warily and hesitated briefly as he reached for the list. Lois shoved the scrap into his hand, smiled again, and walked to the door. As she opened it, she turned back toward Clark with a warning.
"Don't even think about screwing this up. Comprende? I still am the senior partner here."
"Yeah. And you like to be on top, too," Clark mumbled as Lois exited the room.
"I heard that!" she yelled and stomped to her desk.
By late Thursday afternoon, both reporters had recruited five men each, using Rolodex files, address books, professional journals, internet search engines, college directories, and any other reference source they could think of to track down attractive male journalists across the country. Men who were willing to pose. They had also heard every excuse in the book from "My wife won't let me" to "My dear sainted mother would have a stroke if I did something like that" to "My insurance company would probably cancel my policy."
"Cancel his insurance? Honestly Clark, can't these guys at least come up with an original excuse?"
His mouth opened to reply but his brain activated in time to stop it. "Beats me, Lois. How many guys do you have committed so far?"
"Five. I have Lewis Preston from Boston, Bob Freeland from Denver, Hale Callaway from San Francisco, Ryan Johns from Orlando, and Adam Gregory from Phoenix. Can you believe that Freeland had the gall to ask me why I'd stooped to something as low as this calendar? He'd better hope I don't have a weapon handy the next time I see him at national conference. Does he think I volunteer for stuff like this? How about you? How many do you have?"
"Same here: five. I talked to…"
"Just tell me that it's not Farmer Joe Bob from Wichita and his four cousins from Oklahoma, and I'll be happy Clark."
Clark debated the merits of explaining that the Midwest did have electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing but decided that debate was best left untouched. Exhaling a sigh, Clark said, "It's not Farmer Joe Bob and his cousins, Lois. It's just five respected journalists from top newspapers in the country. Satisfied?"
"I'll be satisfied when we have all twelve lined up, and I can get back to real work."
Clark raked a hand through his hair and then massaged the back of his neck. "Me too, Lois. Me too. In the meantime, why don't we call it a day?"
"Sounds good to me, partner. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow."
Grabbing her satchel, Lois rose from her desk and walked toward the elevators. Pausing, she turned and stared at Clark.
"I… nothing." She shook her head and turned back toward the elevators.
"No, Lois. I know that look. What's on your mind?"
"I just thought that since we both only have one more model to find, maybe we could spice things up a little. A little competition maybe?"
Clark eyed her warily. He was very aware of Lois's competitive nature and was hesitant to get caught up in it.
"That's okay. If you're afraid of losing, I understand," she taunted.
"I'm not afraid of losing. It's just that you have this way of skewing things in your favor…" There he went again. Open mouth, insert foot.
"Are you saying that I cheat?"
He wanted to bang his head against the desk but refrained. No use letting her know how much she irritated him — in an adorable sort of way. "What are you proposing, Lois?"
Lois walked back to Clark's desk and leaned against it. "Okay, here's the deal. We start tomorrow morning at eight o'clock sharp. If I find my sixth man first, you agree to be my personal slave for a week. If you find your sixth man first, which you won't, I treat you to dinner at Sam 'n Ella's Caf‚."
He blinked. And blinked again. And checked to make sure his lower lip wasn't resting on the desk. "You're kidding."
"Why would I be kidding? It's a perfectly good deal."
"Perfectly good for whom? You win and I spend a week dusting your furniture, mopping your floors, washing your clothes, and trying to save your houseplants. I win and I get a greasy burger at some dump in Suicide Slum. Oh yeah, Lois. That's a perfectly good deal. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll find my sixth guy without the enticement of Sam 'n Ella's."
"Okay. So it's a bit one-sided."
"A bit?" Clark stared pointedly.
"What do you want, Clark? My first-born child? Never mind answering that because it will never happen. Me having a child, not you getting it. What if I agree to be your personal slave if you win? Will that make you happy? Of course it will make you happy. Happy that the deal is even. Not happy that I'd be your slave, because you won't win in a million years."
If he won, Lois would be at his beck and call for a week. Clark smiled at the prospect. He would enjoy watching her dusting and mopping and ironing. But he had to win for that to happen, and he didn't have even a glimmer of hope for his December model. So maybe this wasn't such a good bet after all. And what if Lois won? She'd probably do everything she could to humiliate him. And what about his Superman duties? It was difficult enough making up excuses at the office when he had to leave. What would he say if he were at her apartment in the middle of… No. This wouldn't work.
"But if, and notice that I emphasize the word if, you win, I expect you to be a gentleman. No funny stuff. Understand?"
"Have I ever been anything less than a gentleman, Lois?"
"Do the words 'Metropolis Sewage Reclamation Facility' mean anything to you?"
Clark winced. She had deserved that little field trip to hell, but perhaps he had gone a bit too far. Maybe he should just agree to her deal and if she won, he'd cross the Superman bridge when he got to it.
"Yes? Yes, the words mean something to you? Or yes, you agree to the deal?"
He nodded solemnly. "Yes, I agree. Tomorrow morning. Eight o'clock sharp. We both start the search for Mister June and Mister December. Shake on it?"
He extended his hand. Hesitantly, Lois took his hand in hers. This had been too easy. Kent had given in too quickly. If she had to stay up all night searching through every bit of information she had, she would have a list of names to call starting tomorrow morning at eight. No way in hell would she ever be Clark Kent's maid. She gave his hand a quick, firm shake and then pulled away to resume her walk to the elevators.
"Good night, Lois."
She walked on.
"Good night, Lois."
She angrily punched the elevator button.
"Good night, Lois."
The elevator doors slid open and Lois stepped in. Pivoting to face the bullpen, she stared directly at Clark and gave him her best saccharine smile. "Do you prefer to clean with Formula 308, or is plain, old ammonia okay?" On her last word, the elevator doors slid shut.
"You got those models lined up yet, Lois?" Word of Lois's challenge had reached Perry shortly after he arrived at the Planet, and he had watched in amusement as his top reporters made call after call trying to win. He was a little surprised at Kent for agreeing to such a challenge, but the boy was a rookie, straight from the "Borneo Gazette" and he couldn't be expected to compete in the same league as Lois Lane. That Godzilla doll, however… Perry chuckled at the memory.
"Working on it, Chief," she yelled across the bullpen.
"Hey Lois! I hear you need another guy for the calendar and I'm here to volunteer. Eduardo told me you're looking for Mister June and I gotta tell you that I have this black Speedo that would …"
Lois gazed up into the face of Ralph Schmertz, the Planet's resident low-life. His suggestion brought to mind something that sounded much like his first name.
"I already have a Mister February, Ralph. Sorry."
"February? I was talking about June."
"Well, I'm talking about February. You would be most suited for February since it's the shortest month but I already have someone lined up. Sorry." Ralph gave Lois a puzzled look and walked away.
"He should have jumped. Then the insult wouldn't have gone over his head," Lois mumbled.
Jimmy paled as he overheard and quickly reconsidered his plan to volunteer for the empty calendar spot. "Uh, Lois, here's that directory you asked for. Still haven't found your last man?"
"She hasn't found her first man, much less her last man." Catherine Grant sashayed across the bullpen and dropped her miniscule purse on her desk. "Now if I was looking for a beau ideal, I wouldn't look any farther than right there." She extended a crimson-painted fingernail in the direction of…
"Clark? That's the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard." Lois laughter indicated her opinion of her colleague's suggestion.
Cat sauntered to his desk and propped one hip against it. "I think Clark would make a great pin-up man."
"Huh?" Clark mumbled a few words into the telephone receiver and hung up. "What?"
"I was just telling Lois that you would make a great model for the calendar, but she is of a different opinion."
"Yeah, I sure am. Clark might be all right for a John Deere calendar or… or… Cow Chow. He could model for animal feed. But he is NOT the man for this calendar."
Cat moved beside Clark and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't tell me that these broad shoulders wouldn't look good in an eight-by-ten glossy." She ran her thumb in tiny circles over the tweed material of his jacket.
Clark glanced upward toward Cat and eyed her warily. She winked and grinned a grin that said, "Play along with me because I love to get Lois going." All Clark could think about, however, was how he was going to manage both his Superman duties and being Lois's servant because he was no nearer to finding another model than he'd been the day before.
"Oh get real, Cat. All that champagne you've been sipping at your gossip soirees has completely fried your brains. And how do I know this? Because when you start saying that Mr. Hayseed Farmboy from Nowheresville is calendar material, I know you're a few tacos short of a combo. That's how!" Lois's voice had risen an octave by the end of her diatribe.
Cat pointed at another woman in the newsroom. "Jen, what do you think? Don't you think Clark should be the Daily Planet's contribution to the calendar?
The woman shook her head, held her hands palms open in front of her, and backed away from the conversation. She knew better than to get involved in any battle with Lois Lane.
"Stop looking for support, Cat, because you won't get any. I'm telling you now that Clark isn't the right man even if he had the guts to do it."
The man in question sat quietly at his desk while his physique and courage were the subject of public debate. He felt his neck grow warm as Cat continued to massage his shoulder. If they only knew… Lois had all but thrown herself at the spandex-clad superhero's feet, yet she was telling the world that the same man in a coat and tie wasn't handsome or fit or… hunky.
"If you would just open your eyes, Lois, and look at this delicious man, you'd see that I'm right."
Clark felt increasingly uncomfortable at the attention that the two women were drawing not only to themselves but to him as well.
"I'm telling you, Cat, to let it go. No woman in her right mind is going to pay good money to buy a picture of that!" She spat out the last word as she pointed directly at Clark. "And besides, I have a line on two really good prospects and in…oh… thirty minutes or so should have not only Mister June but Mister December as well. And Clark can start deep-cleaning my apartment next week."
The smug look on her face was the last straw. The final blow. The coup de grace. Forgive me, Mom, but it's for a good cause.
"Uh… Lois. That was my last guy on the phone just now."
"I got Mister December —"
"- from Kansas."
"I told you I didn't want Farmer Bob!"
"It's not Farmer Anybody, Lois."
"Let me see his picture."
"I don't have his picture. Don't you trust me?" Clark bit his lip as he spoke the words. "Have I questioned anyone you've come up with?"
Lois stood, dazed, beside her desk, moving her lips wordlessly. For the first time since he had met her, Clark saw his partner at a loss for words. No sarcastic comeback. No snide remarks about his farming background. She simply stood there in defeat.
"Close your mouth, Lois," Cat taunted. "And congratulate your partner on his victory."
Lois cleared her throat. Then she cleared it again. "You did it, Clark. You won fair and square." She walked to his desk and extended her hand. Clark rose, took her hand, and the two exchanged a firm handshake. "When do you want me to start my week as your sl… sl… "
"Slave? Is that the word you're choking on, Lois?"
Clark could almost see tiny claws extending from Cat's fingertips as she continued to provoke Lois, and he wondered if a saucer of milk would stop the attack.
Clark threw Cat a sharp look that quieted her. "Let's just get this calendar handled first. Okay? And why don't you let me take care of scheduling the photo shoots?" Clark certainly didn't want her arranging them since he was going to be one of the models. He expected an argument from her but got none.
Lois nodded, simply glad to have the fiasco behind her. How could she have lost? And to Kent of all people? Was she losing her touch? Was her competitive edge dull?
"I'll check my schedule and let you know when you can start," Clark continued. He knew full well that he would never hold her to the agreement — especially after what he had done to win. Hopefully Lois would never find out and the whole affair would soon be water over the dam. He'd make sure he was disguised in his photo, so that no one would ever suspect it was Clark Kent gracing the December page of that calendar.
Cat Grant stood at the coffee machine, surrounded by every female employed at The Planet, with the exception of Lois Lane. She clutched the prized parcel to her ample bosom and grinned wickedly at the others who urged her to hurry up and open the envelope.
Lois looked up from her screen and observed the spectacle with mild amusement. "You all really should get a life," she said. Okay, maybe she was just a little bit curious. If for no other reason, she wanted to take a peak at this mystery friend of Clark's. She found it difficult to believe that anyone hailing from Kansas could qualify as beefcake material.
Undaunted by Lois's sarcasm, Cat tore through the brown wrapper covering the calendar and flung it aside. She quickly flipped through to the December pinup and held it at arm's length so everyone could see.
Cat's mouth fell open in stunned delight, and there was a collective gasp from the group as they all stared in wide- eyed appreciation at the stud reclining in the hay, his essentials covered only by a few handfuls of strategically- placed straw. A Santa cap was perched precariously atop his dark head, the brim pulled down just far enough to conceal his eyes, thereby protecting his identity. Other than the hat, all he wore was a teasing smile.
"Ohmigod," one of them said. The others quickly joined in, their volume steadily increasing as they enthusiastically whooped and hollered their approval. "Lois, you have to come see this," one of them waved her over. "He's gorgeous!"
Clark Kent sat at his desk, his face buried behind the sports section of the day's edition, blushing to his roots. He'd heard the women react to some of the proofs of the other models over the past several weeks, and he knew there'd been some gossip among the group ever since he'd admitted to having found a model for December. He'd steeled himself for the "unveiling", realizing that it was of paramount importance to his continuing this charade that he not react. He heard Lois push her chair back and saunter over to the group, and he slid a little further down in his chair.
"Okay, okay," Lois said in a voice which implied she was only humoring them all. "Let's have a look." Lois pried the calendar out of Cat's hands and glanced down at the picture.
< Wow!> She took a deep breath. < I mean — WOW!> She'd never seen so many muscles on one man. His body was absolutely perfect. The majority of the other models, though undeniably attractive, hadn't done a thing for her. Most of them were so pumped up with steroids to increase their body mass that they looked over-inflated. And they had egos to match, she thought, remembering some of the interviews she'd conducted. But this man was sculpted more like the statute of David she'd admired when she visited the Bargello Museum in Florence. Only this man, she mused, was flesh and blood; and hers warmed considerably as she continued to stare at the picture. She was jolted out of her daydream by Cat's voice.
"Ah ha!" Cat poked Lois with her elbow. "Even you think he's hot, don't you?" She addressed the rest of the group. "I think this one's made an impression, ladies." She perched her hand on her hip and dared her obviously impressed co-worker. "C'mon, Lois. Admit it. He's the best looking guy you've ever laid eyes on."
Clark peered around the edge of the newspaper to get a better look at Lois's face. The corners of his mouth tugged up when he observed her slack-jawed expression. Maybe this hadn't been such a bad idea after all.
Lois tore her eyes from the calendar and shoved it back at Cat. "Oh, I suppose," she sputtered. "If you like that sort of thing."
Her comment drew a round of laughter from the others. "Lois," Cat said smiling. "You'd have to be dead not to like 'that sort of thing'." She shook her head at Lois, refusing to let the other woman off so easily. "We all saw that look in your eyes. You know you'd like to do the horizontal mambo with him."
"Oh, good grief," Lois turned her back and marched purposefully back to her desk. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I've got a story to write."
But despite her protestations to the contrary, she kept seeing the layout in her head, and her errant mind wandered in a lascivious direction throughout the day. There was something familiar…
Lois stayed late at the office for the sole purpose of "borrowing" Cat's copy of the calendar. If she could study it overnight, she could figure out why this man looked so familiar. She had attended several national conventions that were held in resort areas and had seen quite a few of her male counterparts by the pool in swimsuits. She knew that given time she could unravel the mystery. Just who was Mister December?
After putting away her coat and purse, Lois made her way to her bedroom to change from her work suit to something more comfortable. She opened the calendar to the last photo and propped it against the mirror on her dresser. As she began to unbutton her blouse, she glanced at the photo, observing the broad chest and ridged stomach, the bronze skin tones, the Santa hat, the few wisps of straw that kept her from seeing his…
Oh good grief! Get a grip!
As she finished removing her blouse, her eye was drawn again to the mystery man and she found herself wondering how his fingers would feel against the silk of her garment. She finished undressing and then pulled a soft, flannel nightgown over her head. As her head popped through the neck opening, she spotted the bright red of the Santa hat in the picture, and she imagined him peeking at her. Suddenly overcome by a sweltering wave of heat, Lois pulled the gown's collar away from her neck and fanned herself.
"Darned thermostat," she mumbled.
Lois padded through the apartment to the tall windows in her living room and reached for the latch. As the window swung open and a cool breeze washed over her, it all became brilliantly and unmistakably clear. How many times had she seen that chest floating outside this very window? Not naked, of course, but clad in spandex — tight blue spandex that showed every muscle.
Rushing to her curio cabinet, Lois opened the bottom door and pulled out a well-worn scrapbook. She flipped quickly through the pages until she came to one page in particular: a magazine photo taken of Superman when he had accepted the key to the city. It was an especially good photo, showing his brilliant smile, his strong arms, and his broad chest. She carried the scrapbook to her bedroom and dumped it on her bed. Then she placed the calendar beside it, letting her eyes move back and forth from one photo to the other, scrutinizing details, examining certain characteristics, comparing the two. She squinted a little and then closed one eye and looked again. Then she closed both eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them. No matter which way she viewed the two pictures, she was unquestionably convinced that Superman was the man on the calendar. But how?
The answer to that question became equally as clear when she remembered just who had recruited the December model.
"Why that no good, sorry… " Lois rushed to the bedroom and rummaged through the dresser for a pair of sweats. Jerking off the nightgown, she pulled on the pants and top and then retrieved a pair of socks from her top drawer.
"I can't believe he would…" She continued her rant as she pulled on the socks and then shoved her feet into her running shoes. Stomping through the apartment, she grabbed her purse, exited, and fumbled angrily with her keys. After securing the first deadbolt, she remembered she'd forgotten her evidence. Cursing all the while, she unlocked the bolt, retrieved the calendar and photo, and once more started her security procedure. Her hands were shaking so from anger that it was difficult to insert the key in the keyhole. Finally she blew out an exasperated breath, threw up her hands in frustration, and kicked the door.
"When I get my hands on him…" She made the drive from Carter Avenue to Clinton Street in record time and was grateful to find a parking space close to Clark's apartment. Sliding from the Jeep, Lois punched the button on her remote device to lock the doors and then threw the keys into her purse. Her anger had not been tempered one iota by the drive. She tromped to Clark's door and began to bang angrily against the wood.
"Kent! Open this door now!" she yelled as her fist furiously pounded the door. "I mean it! Open up!"
Clark was relaxing on the sofa reading the latest spy thriller when the knocking began. When he heard the accompanying shouts from Lois, he grimaced involuntarily. "What now?" he muttered as he rose and climbed the few steps to his door.
"I'll tear this door off the hinges if you don't open it right now! If you don't believe me…"
"You bellowed?" Clark asked as he swung open the door before Lois could inflict any real damage.
Pushing her way past Clark, Lois stepped onto the landing and then turned to face him. "Don't get cute with me, Kent. You're way out of your league. And this time you've really done it."
"What have I done?"
"Don't play Mister Innocent with me. You know good and well what you've done."
"Could you give me a hint?"
"Aarrgghh!" Lois pulled the calendar and photo from her purse and shoved them into Clark's hands. "This! This is what you've done!"
Clark glanced from Lois's angry face to the papers in his hand and then back to Lois's face. Had she figured it out? Did she know that he was the man on the calendar?
"How could you, Clark?"
Clark squirmed nervously. "Well… uh… Lois…"
"Were you so desperate to win that you'd do this?"
"I can explain…"
"I don't know what sort of rational explanation you think you have for putting Superman on this calendar, but if you feel compelled to tell me, then by all means go ahead. Explain away!"
Superman? She thinks it's Superman? Almost relieved, Clark opened his mouth to respond, but before a single word could escape, Lois started again.
"He stands for truth, Clark. Truth and justice. And when you conned him into posing for this calendar just so you wouldn't lose to me, you belittled everything that he stands for. He's a hero, Clark, not some sex object to be drooled over by legions of women."
"I seem to remember a time or two when we've had to mop up the floor under you. But actually I didn't con him into…"
"Leave me out of this. And save your excuses, Kent. You probably lied to him just like you lied to me. And the poor man is so good and kind he believed you."
"I didn't lie to Superman…"
"Didn't the photographer ask questions about why Superman was posing for something like this?" She angrily shook the calendar in front of Clark's face. "Unless… if he didn't show up in the blue suit then the photographer probably didn't recognize him. That's how you did it, isn't it?" Lois beamed with satisfaction.
"And I didn't lie to you," he finished.
"It took a journalist's trained eye to figure out your scam. You never dreamed you'd be exposed, did you? Exposed, figuratively speaking that is."
Clark watched as she ranted and babbled in that way that only Lois could. If he had an ounce of courage at all, he'd admit his deceit and do what his brain was screaming for him to do: grab her and kiss her senseless. He was mesmerized by the soft look of her lips. The kiss they'd shared in Jason Trask's plane, while being a ruse, had moved him more than he was willing to admit. Lois, however, had appeared unaffected. He was still just her working partner. A rube. A hack. A hayseed from Kansas. Kissing her would achieve nothing more than infuriating her more than she already was. And truth be told, she was pretty damned mad.
"…isn't even a journalist."
Clark had been so absorbed in his own melancholy that he had totally ignored the continuation of Lois's tirade.
"Not only do you cheat, you don't even pay attention."
"The men on this calendar are supposed to be journalists. Superman is not a journalist. He makes the news, but he doesn't report it. So not only did you lie, you cheated."
"I would never cheat by having a non-journalist," Clark blurted. "I can't believe you would say that, Lois."
Waving the calendar in front of his face, she countered, "Well it certainly looks like Superman's chest to me. If it isn't him, who is it?"
Clark could feel the heat rising up his neck to his ears. How had he ever thought he would pull this off? If Lois disliked him before, she would detest him now. He would be pocket lint in her eyes. No… he would be worse than pocket lint. He'd be navel lint. Or toejam. Or any other bit of disgusting flotsam found on the human body. He put both hands over his face and hung his head.
"I'm waiting for an answer. Who is it, Clark?"
Here it was: the moment of truth. His waterloo.
"It's me," he said softly.
Lois blinked, but said nothing. Then a grin curled the corners of her mouth and a giggle escaped.
"I'm sorry, but for a minute there I thought…"
"I posed for the photograph, Lois," he repeated.
Lois laughed outright. "Oh, get… Do you expect me to believe that? I see what your plan was. You thought you'd pass off Superman's photo with your credentials and no one would be the wiser." She paced in front of him, pausing every few words to stab an accusing finger at his chest.
Clark sighed, resigned to the situation. There was only one way he could convince her, and that was to show her proof: physical evidence in the strictest sense. He began to slowly unbutton his shirt and had it halfway open before he caught her attention.
"I can't believe you thought I'd be so stupid that I would fall for a…"
Lois's voice trailed off as her eyes fell on the naked expanse of skin revealed by the two open sides of Clark's shirt.
"…stunt… like…" She swallowed hard. "…that."
Her mind struggled to digest what she saw. Her hands reached out of their own volition, grasped the sides of the flannel shirt, and spread the garment wide open. Speechless for the first time in her life, she pushed the shirt off his broad shoulders and drew in a strangled breath.
Clark felt a flush of heat spread through his body as Lois's gaze moved over him. Her hands were still on his chest, and the contact caused the blood to rush south of his belt buckle. If his original plan had been to make her see him in a different light, he had apparently succeeded in spades. What he hadn't counted on was the effect her appreciative gaze would have on his libido. It took all his will power not to pull her into his embrace.
Lois's eyes made the round trip again from the taut abs and trim waist to his strong chest and muscular arms. Mesmerized, her fingers traced over the swell of hard muscle, and the heat from his skin warmed her cool fingers. She heard him draw in a shaky breath and the spell was broken. Suddenly she realized she was not only ogling her partner but groping him as well, and she pulled her hands back as if she'd been burned.
Her eyes flew to his in astonishment. "Well, that's just…" she began. "I had no idea…"
Clark stood motionless as he watched the effect his words had on her. His skin still tingled where her fingers had been. He was afraid to move, to breathe, to blink an eye for fear of unsettling her completely.
"But… if this is Superman…" she stammered, holding the calendar in one hand. "And you posed for it, then you're…" Her eyes wandered from the glossy photograph to the man standing before her and back to the photo. "It's you," she whispered. "You're him. He's you."
"Lois, I can explain." His hand reached to take hers but she quickly backed up until her back was against the door.
"What sort of explanation could you possibly have for this? You used yourself? When word gets out, I'll be the laughingstock of the whole journalism world."
"Nobody has to know Lois. And I never intended for anyone to get hurt. It's just that…well…I thought…" his voice trailed off as he contemplated the wisdom of telling Lois that he'd done it because she'd goaded him into it and decided it was best left unsaid.
Lois remained on his landing, still clutching the calendar and photo of Superman, glancing every so often at them and then at Clark. The hick from Kansas. Her partner. Superman.
"So when were you going to tell me? After we'd been partners for five years? After ten? At your retirement party?"
"To be honest, Lois, I'm not sure. You were the one who gave me the idea for the outfit. Remember when that workman was caught in the manhole explosion and you told me to keep a change of clothes at work? That gave me the whole idea for the Superman costume."
Clark saw Lois relax slightly as she became a little more accepting of his duplicity.
"I needed to keep that part of my life separate so I could have a life. Or at least a life as Clark. I'm… different, and I knew that if anyone found out about my powers and what I could do, I'd become a piece of the public. I'd have no privacy. There are strange people out there, Lois."
"Tell me about it," she laughed half-heartedly.
"And I was unsure about telling you because… well, because you treated Superman one way and you treated me…"
"…like pondscum." The two words were spoken so softly that had he not had enhanced hearing they would have gone unheard.
"My big reason was to protect you. I was afraid if anyone knew I was Superman, they'd try to use you to get to me. And if anything ever happened to you, Lois, I'd never forgive myself. You have to believe that I really hoped that one day we'd be close enough that I could tell you."
Lois stared at the floor for a few moments, toeing the edge of the rug in front of the door. Lifting her chin, she stared Clark directly in the eye. "Just consider it a good thing that I figured it out before Perry fired you for disappearing all the time with no good excuse. I'll be much better at covering your butt because quite frankly your excuses stink."
Clark reached for her hand, but before he could connect with her, she reached blindly behind her for the doorknob and twisted it open. "Just call me about the cleaning thing, and I'll…" Lois ran out of words.
Clark nodded silently, never letting his gaze drift from her face.
"Goodnight," she stammered and pulled the door closed after her.
Clark dropped the hand he'd been holding out toward her. "Well, that went well, don't you think?"
Stupid bet," Lois grumbled as she mopped the floor in Clark's kitchen. "If Clark had one shred of decency, he'd have dropped this whole slave thing. I knew he wasn't a Boy Scout after that stunt at the dump."
"I heard that, Lois," Clark called to her from the bathroom where he was scrubbing the tub. "Are you ever going to let that go? But back to our bet, I agree that I did have a slight advantage over you in that I could do the photo myself, but you know more people in the business than I do."
Lois carelessly slopped some water on the floor. "Yeah, but do you have any idea how few of them are willing to do a favor for me?"
Suddenly his muscular arms encircled her waist. "This male journalist is willing to do a favor for you, Lois."
"Yeah, right," she muttered as she stabbed at the floor with the mop.
"Yeah, right." He almost dropped a kiss on her hair but caught himself just in time. "Did I forget to tell you that as soon as we finish here, we're going over to your place? You'll have the cleanest apartment in Metropolis."
She turned to face him. "You really mean that?"
"Of course I do, Lois," he said gently. "I just held you to the bet…" He trailed off, not sure that he really wanted to tell her why he had made her keep her end of the bargain.
"Clark, why did you hold me to it?" She narrowed her eyes as he squirmed.
"Uh, um, uh," he stammered.
"Out with it, Kent."
"Well, it was because I just wanted an excuse to spend the day with you."
"So let's hurry up and finish here and go do your place. And then I'll take you out to eat at this really nice little Italian restaurant I know. They have pasta to die for."
"Have I ever been there, Mister December?"
Clark smiled at her mention of his other alter ego. "I'm not sure. It's fairly new. When was the last time you went to Venice?"
Marilyn Puett ( December 2002
Mister December can be found at http://www.folcsite.com/dean/sexysanta2.jpg