By AnnieM <email@example.com>
Submitted: June 2002
Summary: When Lois suddenly needs a pretend boyfriend, there's only one man she can think of who's perfect for the part.
Author's Notes: This is the first in a short series of stories and was posted as a birthday present for my wonderful twin, Sarah. The sequel is next on my to do list. Thanks to Sarah, Kathy, Carol and Missy for BRing this, and to everyone who encouraged me when I posted the first spoilers of this and wasn't convinced I could make a whole story out of it.
Lois placed the nozzle back on the gas tank and walked inside to pay for her gas. She ran her fingers through her sweaty hair, wishing she had showered at the gym after her Tai Kwon Do class. She increased her pace in a hurry to get home. She could shower there.
It had been a long, mind-numbing day. She and Clark were inbetween major stories, and she had spent all day writing a boring story about the dedication of the new Metropolis Museum of Anthropology. Like the city needed a new museum. Just one more place for politicians to spend the tax dollars of hardworking citizens, she grumbled internally as she entered convenience store. She headed to the counter, then abruptly changed directions, deciding to grab some ice cream while she was there. Today definitely called for ice cream.
Of course. As if she didn't have enough to deal with today, the last carton of chocolate ice cream was pushed back on the top shelf, and Lois couldn't reach quite far enough to grab it. She scanned her other choices. Vanilla and Butter Pecan. Not a chance. She'd just have to try again.
She stretched higher; up on tip toe. She felt her fingers scrape the side of the carton. Just a little further… Her right foot slipped and for a second she thought she was going to fall. Then she felt strong hands circle her waist, steadying her.
"Let me get that for you," he said, reaching to grab the carton. Funny…his voice sounded familiar somehow. She turned to thank him, embarrassed by the whole situation, and found herself face to face with…
"Paul?" Oh, no. Please, no. Anyone but him. She hadn't seen him in eight years. Eight years in which she'd transformed from a na‹ve, moony-eyed college sophomore to a successful, respected, self-assured adult. And she had to run into him looking her absolute worst, exhausted and grubby, nearly tripping over her own feet in an attempt to reach a carton of ice cream. Fate could really be cruel sometimes.
"Lois? Wow, I hardly recognized you! You look…great."
Oh, right. She looked horrible, and she knew it. She ran her fingers though her hair nervously. "Well, I'm on my way home from the gym. You know how that goes… But, you look great, too. What are you doing in Metropolis? I thought you were living out west somewhere."
"California. I've been writing for the Los Angeles Times for the last couple of years. I'm just in town for the weekend. My girlfriend lives here. Actually, you might know her…Jennifer Julliard…from LNN?"
Know her? LNN's newest primetime weather girl? Former playboy bunny turned newscaster? One of People Magazine's sexiest people of the year?
"Um, yeah. I've heard of her," she said slowly.
"What about you? Still at the Daily Planet?"
She nodded to the affirmative and searched for something to say to give her a footing in the conversation.
"I heard about you and Luthor… Sorry about that… "
Wonderful, bring up the psycho ex-fianc‚ who committed suicide rather than be arrested on his wedding day.
"So, anyone new?" he forged on, oblivious to her discomfort.
Anyone new? Since Lex? Of course not.
"Yes, actually there is." Did she just say that? What possessed her to say that? She always had to be the best at everything. Why couldn't she just admit that she was happily single? Clark was always telling her that not everything had to be a competition. But this wasn't just any competition. This was a high-stakes competition. Because Paul had humiliated her once before, and she wasn't going to let it happen again.
"Really? That's great."
Did that last comment sound skeptical? He really couldn't believe that she had found someone new? Lois told herself to stop over analyzing everything he said and just end this conversation as quickly as possible before things could escalate any further out of control.
"Maybe this one will stay tied down, huh?" he said, grinning playfully.
That comment, coming from anyone else, would have infuriated her. Coming from Paul it was more than infuriating, it was…
"I don't think that's going to be a problem," she shot back. "He's got twice the staying power of the other men I've been with."
Shut up! Shut up! The last thing she needed to do was start throwing around double entendres. That could only lead to disaster.
"Is that so?" Paul asked, clearly amused. "You know, I'm going to be in town all weekend. Why don't the four of us go to dinner on Saturday?"
"I don't think so. We…" She fumbled wildly for an excuse. "…have plans," she finished lamely.
"Come on… Is there a reason you don't want your boyfriend to meet me? Afraid of the stories I'll tell?"
"There's nothing you could say that would-"
"Or is it that you don't want me to meet this boyfriend of yours? Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Don't be ridiculous-"
"Come on, Lois. What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid of anything!"
"So you'll have dinner with us? Wonderful. Say, seven o'clock? Bijou sur le Fleuve? I'll make the reservations."
She opened her mouth to protest, but found herself speechless.
"Great, I'll see you there," he said, before walking away.
Lois managed to make it all the way home in a complete daze. Did she really just agree to take her imaginary boyfriend out to dinner with her ex and his new playmate?
She pulled a spoon from the drawer and began eating ice cream from the carton. She hadn't had a date in six months, and now she had two days to find not just a date, but a boyfriend. Where in the world was she going to find a boyfriend in two days?
Lois glanced nervously in the direction of Clark's desk for what seemed like the hundredth time. He looked up just then and gave her a dazzling smile. He rose from his chair, and walked over to her, perching on her desk.
"Is everything ok, Lois? You seem a little jumpy today."
"I'm fine," she said, too quickly. He raised one eyebrow and looked at her skeptically. She sighed. Why did he have to know her so well? "I don't want to talk about it here. Can we go somewhere? Lunch?"
"Of course," he said, standing quickly and extending his hand to her. She took his hand and stood, dropping his hand nervously, and reaching for her purse.
They chatted idly on the way to a nearby deli. Clark didn't push her to confess what was on her mind, knowing she would tell him when she was ready. Finally, when they were seated, Lois forced herself to begin.
"Clark, I need to ask you for a favor…" She trailed off, unsure how to begin.
"Sure. What do you need?"
"It's not that simple… I mean, this isn't a typical favor…"
She dropped her gaze to the table, where she was nervously shredding a paper napkin. Clark slid one hand to cover hers, stilling their motion.
"Lois, whatever it is," he began quietly. "You know I'll help you. Just tell me what you need."
It was true, she realized, not for the first time. He was just such a sweetheart. Always looking out for her, supporting her. She'd never trusted anyone the way she trusted him. She couldn't imagine even considering asking anyone else to do this for her.
"Ok, but first I have to back up a little. I did something really stupid… It's my own fault because I'm so competitive. I just always have to be the best, and I say things without thinking about the consequences."
Clark's eyebrows shot up. This must be bad if Lois was voluntarily admitting that she'd made a mistake. He watched her shift nervously in her seat, and impulsively curled his fingers around hers and squeezed. He'd held her hand before, but he usually didn't want to push his luck. She was clearly upset, though, and he hoped the simple action would reassure her.
She smiled at him weakly and continued. "Do you remember Linda King?"
Whatever he was expecting her to say, it wasn't that. He nodded.
"Do you remember the story I told you? About what started the animosity between us?"
He nodded again. "She stole a story and a guy…" he trailed off, remembering the circumstances of the last time he'd said those words. They'd been followed by, 'and you're afraid she's going to do it again.' Lois had vehemently denied it at the time, but Clark knew her well enough to see her insecurities. This was a real sore spot in her past. The last time it had been brought up, she was a mess.
"Paul. His name was Paul…*is* Paul… I ran into him last night."
Oh boy. He didn't know where this was going — what kind of favor this was leading up to — but it was clear that the meeting hadn't been pleasant. A flash of anger surged through him. Why did men seem to find her such an easy target? He'd like to get his hands on each and every one of them that had hurt her and—
"Sorry. I'm listening," he said, gripping her hand more tightly. "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine. I just… Well, I ran into him on my way home from the gym, and I was all sweaty and gross, and he looked great, of course. And we started catching up, and he was telling me about this great job he has at the LA Times, and it turns out he's dating Jennifer Juliard. Jennifer Juliard, Clark! How am I supposed to compete with that?! And he asked me if I was seeing anyone, and I know I should have just said no, but he mentioned Lex, and…"
Clark's jaw tightened reflexively at the mention of Luthor's name. He forced himself to remain relaxed. She needed his help now.
"…I told him that I was seeing someone, and he made some stupid crack about how maybe this time I'd found a guy I could keep tied down, and-"
"What?!" Clark nearly came out of his seat. "What a jerk! I'd like to-"
"He was just teasing… Besides, it doesn't matter, Clark. I don't even care what he thinks. I stopped caring ages ago. I haven't even thought about him since… Anyway, I don't know what possessed me to say it, but it was out before I could stop it."
"So, what do you want me to do for you? Beat him up?" Clark asked, only half teasing.
"No… It's just… Well, after he made that crack, I snapped back some stupid retort, and he suggested that we all meet for dinner tomorrow night. I said that we couldn't because we already had plans. But he didn't seem to buy that, and he kept provoking me, and I don't even really know what happened next, except that all of a sudden I found that I had committed myself and my 'boyfriend' to dinner tomorrow at Bijou sur le Fleuve with Paul and Jennifer."
The light began to dawn. "And you want me to go with you and pretend to be your boyfriend…"
"Clark, you don't have to do it if it makes you uncomfortable. I would totally understand. I can't believe I'm even asking you to do this. I don't know how I got myself into this mess in the first place. I'm such an idiot, I swear. I know I never should have lied to him, but I was just having such a horrible day already, and I looked like crap so I was on the defensive, and-"
"I'd love to."
"What?" Lois' jaw dropped.
"Dinner at nice restaurant with a beautiful woman hanging on my arm… You're right, Lois, that's an awful lot to ask," he teased. "Still, I think I'd be willing to make that sacrifice for my best friend…"
Lois smiled at him, and any reservations he was harboring disappeared. Who cared that he was going to have a terrible time forcing himself to remember that this was just playacting? Who cared that afterwards it was going to be twice as hard to see her everyday and be unable to treat her the way he wanted to? He'd made her happy, and he'd put himself through any torture imaginable just to see that smile.
"Oh, Clark, I love you! You are just the best!"
His heart clenched at her impulsive declaration of love. He knew that she just meant it in best-friends, like-a- brother sort of way, but still…hearing her say that… This was going to be harder than he thought.
He forced his face to remain relaxed, and gave her hand another squeeze. "What time should I pick you up?"
At six o'clock the following evening, Clark stepped out of the shower and began spinning into and out of suits. He couldn't believe how nervous he was. He kept trying to remind himself that this was not *really* a date; that Lois was only going out with him because she needed someone to *pretend* to be her boyfriend. Still… he couldn't seem to keep his mind from drifting to her. He was sure she would look stunning tonight, unable to pass up a chance to show Paul what he was missing. And she'd probably fawn over him, at least a little bit. Or was that just wishful thinking? Regardless, how in the world was he going to survive the night? Correction, how was he going to survive the end of the night?
Lois was putting the finishing touches on her makeup when the reality of situation hit her. How was she going to pull this off? Surprisingly, she realized it wasn't that she was worried about convincing Paul that she and Clark were a couple. They had posed as a couple enough times that they had a little practice, and they were nothing if not comfortable around each other. Plenty of people actually assumed they were a couple before being told the truth. No, she realized, she was more worried about the dinner itself.
What was it Paul had said? 'Is there a reason you don't want your boyfriend to meet me? Afraid of the stories I'll tell?' Oh, God. He wouldn't, would he? She had told Clark part of the story, but she hadn't told him everything, and she didn't think she could bear to have him hear Paul's side of it. That was silly, she tried to convince herself. Clark was her friend, and he wouldn't be influenced by anything Paul said. But she valued Clark's opinion of her so much — so much more than she had ever valued anyone else's opinion of her. So it killed her to think of the things Paul could tell him.
She'd been so pathetic — following him around like a love- sick little puppy. He could tell Clark that she'd been willing to do anything, *anything*, to win his approval. He could tell him how easy it had been…how he'd wined her and dined her, telling her that he thought she had potential…how flattered she'd been…how she'd been convinced that he loved her…how she had believed that he really meant it when he said that he did…so she had gone willingly back to his apartment…and in the morning, when she told him that she loved him, he'd laughed at her. 'You didn't really believe that I loved you, did you? It's just something you say… Look, Lois, you're a sweet girl, but… I'll call you, ok?' And then he'd hurried her out of the apartment, and within a week he was dating Linda.
She winced when she remembered the next part.
A few weeks later, she'd returned to the paper late one night, having forgotten a book, and froze just outside the newsroom when she heard her name. A group of guys, mostly editors and few other staff writers — people she knew and had to see everyday — were speculating about her night with Paul. 'Yeah, Paul told me he finally gave in and slept with her. Can't say I blame him; she's been begging for it for months.' 'I wonder if she's any good in bed…' 'Eh, I doubt it. Paul didn't seem too eager to hook up with her again.' 'Yeah, but who can blame him? He's dating Linda King now, and you *know* how good she is in bed.' 'You'd think she would have put in a better performance, though, considering how much she wanted it.' 'Aw, come on. I feel kinda bad for her. She's just a kid. I bet Paul even told her he loved her.' 'Paul tells *all* of them that he loves them!' Her face burned, and hot tears slipped down her cheeks. She ran out of the building, abandoning her book, and trying to erase the humiliating words from her memory.
She'd cried herself to sleep that night. Molly had tried her best to get Lois to tell her what had happened, but Lois refused. She had been totally humiliated. Everyone at the paper seemed to know what had happened. That was when she'd written her third rule. Never again would she sleep with someone she worked with; someone she had to see everyday afterwards. Lois snorted internally. Yeah, and we all know how that turned out, she thought bitterly. How long did it take to break that rule? Four years? Three?
She slipped her earrings into her ears and studied her reflection in the mirror. The short black dress showed off a lot of leg. The neckline was modest, but managed to accentuate her generous assets. The tiny spaghetti straps held up the loosely gathered material, giving the suggestion that the slightest breeze could ruffle the material, making the neckline not-so-modest after all. She wore a delicate silver chain with a tiny diamond pendant around her neck, matching earrings in her ears and a silver watch on her right wrist. Her hair swung freely, framing her face.
She heard Clark's knock, and hurried to open the door. His mouth dropped when he saw her. "Lois, you look…amazing," he said softly. "Here, these are for you." He handed her a dozen red roses.
"Clark, you shouldn't have," she said, taking the flowers. "They're beautiful, though. Thank you." She lowered her face to the flowers, inhaling deeply. She looked up again, reaching for him and pulling him gently into the apartment.
"Just let me put these in some water, and we can get going."
The roses had been another impulsive move. For a moment Clark wondered why he no longer seemed in control of his actions regarding her. He had intended to buy her flowers from the beginning, but he had planned on getting daisies, or maybe yellow roses. He knew she was nervous about this whole thing, and he just wanted to reassure her that he was her friend. Red roses had a whole other connotation. But when he saw them at the florist, he couldn't stop himself. He rationalized it by thinking he could always tease her if she questioned him, telling her that a real boyfriend wouldn't give her yellow roses. In reality, he supposed he was just taking advantage of the situation. He'd wanted to give her red roses from the moment he met her, and he knew he might never have another chance.
She hurriedly found a vase and situated the flowers before returning to his side. She looked him over briefly, taking in the dark charcoal suit, plum colored shirt, and coordinating tie. He looked like he had just stepped out of the pages of GQ Magazine. "Clark, you look fantastic. Is that a new suit?"
For a moment, she could have sworn that he blushed at her compliment. He was so cute sometimes. He honestly seemed to be completely oblivious to how good-looking he was.
"Yeah, it is. I got it couple of weeks ago, but I've been saving it for a special occasion," he said with a wink.
It was her turn to blush now. "I really appreciate this, Clark."
"I've been looking forward to it all day," he told her sincerely, sliding his hand around her waist and settling it at the small of her back. He started to guide her to the door, then paused. "Do you want to take a coat?"
She hesitated, debating. It had been a warm fall, but the nights were getting chilly. She really should bring a coat, but she hated dealing with coat checks, and they weren't really going to be outside much — just long enough to get from the cab to the building.
She shook her head, and reached for her purse. "I'll be ok," she said.
He nodded. "If you get cold, just tell me. I'll give you mine," he said, reaching for the door.
She smiled again. Typical Clark. She probably wouldn't even have to ask. One shiver and that coat would be on her shoulders before she could open her mouth to protest.
They started the fifteen-minute cab ride to the restaurant settling the details of their 'relationship.' They agreed that they had been dating for about two months, but were trying to keep their relationship somewhat private since they worked together.
For a fleeting moment, Lois wondered if they needed to exchange a bunch of personal information so they could answer any questions Paul or Jillian innocently threw at them. Then she realized she knew Clark, and he knew her, better than she had ever known any of her real boyfriends. She could answer questions about his family, his childhood, his work, his home, his routine, his likes and dislikes…and she knew he could do the same for her. Actually, he probably knew her even better than she knew him.
Meanwhile, Clark was silently lecturing himself about getting too wrapped up in this night. It was so easy to pretend this was a real date; his dream come true. She was sitting just inches from him, her legs crossed, skirt slipping a little higher on her legs. He tore his eyes from her body, reminding himself again that this was all just pretend. She was his best friend, and even if she had asked him to pretend to be her boyfriend for one night, that didn't him the right to ogle her. Heck, even if it *was* a real date that didn't give him the right to ogle her. Though, if this were a real date…and she was wearing that…he might allow himself to believe that just maybe she wanted him to…well, not *ogle* her, but…
This was going to be even harder than he imagined.
Lois wasn't making it any easier, either. Even on a normal day, he and Lois were pretty physically demonstrative for platonic friends. They hugged quite often, and he usually rested his hands on her shoulders when he stood behind her reading her screen. They spent a lot of time together, and it was not at all unusual for her to take his arm when they were walking, or even for him to slip his arm around her waist. But tonight…tonight she seemed more responsive than normal. She was probably just psyching herself up for their big performance, he reasoned.
Still, he couldn't get over how good it had felt when she had reached up to straighten his tie and smooth his shirt, brushing the palm of her hand over his chest a couple of times before smiling in approval. His hand had still been resting on the small of her back, and they'd been so close…it was all he could do to keep himself from taking her into his arms and kissing her. The cab had arrived then, and when she pulled away to climb in, his disappointment turned to near physical pain at the loss of her touch. He'd climbed in after her and his heart had nearly stopped when she'd slipped her hand into his, lacing their fingers together. He'd just smiled at her and given her hand a quick squeeze before telling the driver the name of the restaurant.
Clark was snapped from his silent reverie when Lois nudged his leg with her knee. Sparks of pleasure shot through him, and he desperately tried to retain his composure as he turned to face her.
"We're here," she said with a gentle smile. "Ready?"
Clark reached for his wallet and paid the driver over Lois' protests. Then he slid from the car, gently pulling her after him.
Lois' stomach churned at the sight of the restaurant. She hadn't been here in nearly nine years… She wondered if Paul had specifically chosen this restaurant. Probably not, she thought honestly. He probably didn't even remember where he'd taken her for dinner that night.
Clark watched Lois tense and wondered if there was more to this than just an old competition. "Lois?" He slid his free hand around her waist, guiding her to face him. "You don't have to do this. We can go make our excuses and get out of here. You don't owe him anything."
Lois took a shaky breath and moved toward him, letting him hold her safe in his arms. She laid her head on his chest, and he moved one hand to run his fingers through her hair. He hoped his wild heartbeat didn't sound as loud to her ears as it sounded to his.
"No," she whispered, dragging herself away. "I have to do this."
"Ok," he said, leaving one hand on the small of her back, and guiding her to the front door. "But if you change your mind, just kick me. I'll make an excuse, and we'll leave immediately."
What would she do without him? His hand felt warm on her back, and she wondered if he had any idea the effect he had on her when he touched her like that. It melted her completely. It made her feel safe and protected, and she'd be lying if she didn't add sexy. But he didn't make it a proprietary gesture like some other men she'd known. She never got the impression that he was trying stake a claim on her by touching her in public. On the contrary, it seemed to convey a silent, private message. He was right beside her, ready to help her if she needed him, but not until she gave the ok. He cared about her and liked to touch her, but wasn't trying to get in a quick feel by letting his hand 'accidentally' slip. He didn't touch her like this very often, not for prolonged amounts of time anyway. A lot of times he would guide her through a doorway, or some other short distance, before dropping his hand. He probably thought it was too intimate; beyond the 'just friends' line. Try as she might to prevent it though, her heart always sank a little when his hand dropped away, and she was glad that he chose to leave it where it was tonight.
He's only doing it because he's pretending to be your boyfriend, a little voice needled. Lois pushed it aside, but wondered if maybe she wasn't enjoying his attention just a little too much for her own good. After all, this was just pretend. Clark saw her as a friend and nothing more, just the way she saw him. Of course there was a little attraction…a spark, if you will, between them. They were two attractive adults in a close relationship. There were bound to be some sparks. For a while, while she was still recovering from her spectacular failure of an engagement to Lex, she had thought that there was something more between them. She had been unable to go through with the wedding because she couldn't bear to lose what she and Clark shared, and she couldn't help but wonder if Clark had been right on that day in the park when he told her that he loved her and there was something between them. So she had stopped the wedding, just before it came to a more dramatic end, and she had waited for just the right moment to tell Clark how she felt.
But before she could utter the scary words, he had taken back his declaration of love, admitting that he had only said it in a desperate attempt to keep her from marrying a man he knew to be a dangerous criminal. She had been devastated temporarily, but now she had to admit that he was right. They were friends, partners and nothing more. It was better that way. Less complicated. Clark, for his part, hadn't done anything since then to make her think he was interested in anything more than friendship. She caught him looking at her occasionally, but that didn't mean anything. She was fairly certain that he was at least mildly attracted to her, but he was her best friend, and he would never risk their friendship just to indulge his physical attraction to her. No, Clark saw her as only a friend, and that was exactly what she wanted. And tonight Clark was just being nice. A real friend helping her out. A real friend who brought her red roses, and… He probably just picked up the roses to set the tone for the night. Or maybe he set out to get her something white or yellow, and the florist was out…
"Right this way. The rest of your party has just been seated," the host said, leading them to their table.
Lois forced herself to stop thinking about Clark and start preparing herself to see Paul again. She wasn't really sure what Paul was trying to accomplish with this dinner. She hadn't spoken to him in years, and it wasn't like they were long lost friends. Originally she'd thought that he had an ulterior motivation — possibly to humiliate her again. Then she realized that Paul had never been vindictive, just stupid. He probably had no idea what a wreck she was over this dinner.
Surprisingly, her first reaction upon seeing him was that he wasn't as good looking as she remembered. Not that she was the most unbiased source, but still. She remembered thinking he looked great when she first ran into him earlier in the week, but now he didn't seem so intimidating after all. Maybe it was just her paranoia overcompensating that night. After all, she had been such a disaster that anyone looked good compared to her.
Introductions were made, and as Clark stepped forward, slipping his hand from her waist to shake hands with Paul, Lois found herself comparing the two men. Paul was about Clark's height, but not nearly as well built. His attractive fair skin and blonde hair paled in comparison to Clark's dark good looks. He lacked something else too. Something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Clark turned and smiled at her, and she knew what it was. His presence. Clark's appeal went beyond his physical appearance. He seemed to radiate a natural warmth, putting people at ease and giving the impression that he was intelligent and caring before he even opened his mouth. Paul didn't have that. Contrasted with Clark, Paul, though undoubtedly good looking, came off seeming plastic, like a giant Ken doll.
Speaking of plastic, Ken had brought along his Barbie. Tall and blonde, Jennifer was wearing a barely-decent dress, and Lois was almost embarrassed to be seen with her in such a nice restaurant. She looked fake, Lois thought. From the roots in her hair, to her obviously enhanced chest, to the golden tan she was sporting in the middle of winter, there was nothing real about this woman. She couldn't see what all the fuss was about. However, considering the way the host had nearly tripped over his own tongue as he led them to their table, Lois had to admit there was probably something she wasn't seeing.
Jennifer took Clark's hand and giggled. Lois struggled to keep herself from rolling her eyes, accepting the offered menu as a welcome distraction as they took their seats.
As they looked over the menu, they made small talk, discussing the weather and the local sports teams. The waiter arrived, carrying the bottle of wine Paul had requested, and took their orders.
"So, Clark," Paul began, when the waiter had left. "What is it that you do?"
"I'm a reporter, actually. I work with Lois at the Daily Planet."
Lois smiled and patted his hand encouragingly. "We're partners actually. That's how we met."
Paul raised an eyebrow. "You must be a brave man," he said to Clark. "I seem to recall her telling me once that she worked alone, no exceptions."
"Not brave," he replied. "Lucky."
Paul smiled and turned to Lois. "So what changed your mind, Lois?"
She smiled sweetly at Clark, then turned to Paul. "Maybe I was just waiting for the right partner."
Clark beamed and moved to cover her hand with his own.
"Wait a minute… Clark Kent? Didn't you just win the Kerth? I knew your name sounded familiar. A colleague of mine was up for that too."
Clark smiled bashfully. "Yeah, that was me."
"That must have been a bit awkward. You won last year, right, Lois?"
"Yes, I did. But it wasn't awkward at all," she said, wincing when she recalled her initial reaction. "I was very proud of Clark. He deserved to win that award."
Clark met her eye and she smiled to assure him that she meant it. He squeezed her hand gently, and turned back to Paul. "Lois was very supportive… And I couldn't have asked for a better date to the ceremony. She was beautiful, yet invisible. Fawned appropriately…"
Lois laughed, remembering her lecture afterwards. She had warned him that if he ever made her go through another night like that, she'd rip out his spleen. And now here he was, playing the part of a perfect date. The irony was not lost on either of them.
Paul looked back and forth between them, realizing he was on the outside of an inside joke. "So, you two were already dating then?"
Clark simply nodded, remembering how badly he'd wished that night that it was a real date. Funny how some things never change.
Paul smiled and changed the topic of conversation to his work at the LA Times. Jennifer remained quiet, spending most of her time examining her perfectly manicured nails.
She finally spoke up when Clark asked how they met.
"I was at a photo shoot for a bathing suit calendar in LA last year, and Paul was covering the shoot. We started talking about other shoots we'd been on, and the rest is history."
"So you're covering entertainment news now, Paul? I thought you wanted to write about politics."
"Well… I covered politics for a while — right out of school. But so much of the news in LA revolves around the entertainment industry; it's hard not to get sucked in. I discovered quickly that I'd much rather write about photo shoots and award shows than town council meetings and budget cuts."
"Don't you find it challenging to have a relationship when you live on opposite sides of the country?" Lois asked.
"Well, sure. But we visit each other often. I still spend a lot of time in LA," Jennifer replied.
"Besides," Paul added. "We're not the type of people who need to spend a lot of time together. We're both very independent. We live our own lives, and if we can work in some time together, that's great."
Clark was amazed by his flippant response. What kind of relationship was that? Certainly not the kind he was looking for.
Their food arrived, and talk slowed as they ate their exquisite meals. Lois squirmed for a moment, remembering how impressed she had been by the food the first time she had been here. She had been awed that Paul had gotten reservations at such a nice place. He seemed so much more mature than the other boys she had dated, and she thought that his taking her to such an expensive restaurant was a sign he really cared about her.
"So, how long have you two been together? I'm kinda out of touch with Metropolis news, but I would've thought I'd have heard something about The Daily Planet's star reporting team being linked romantically. Especially since one of the partners is an old friend of mine." Paul said.
"Well, you probably haven't heard anything because we've tried to keep a low profile. We want to write the news, not make it," Clark answered smoothly. "And we've only been dating for about two months — though, since we were friends and partners for over a year first, it seems longer."
Lois smiled at him, glad they had discussed this so she hadn't needed to feel panicked when Paul asked the question.
"Ah," Paul said with a knowing smile. "She finally wore you down, huh? She can be pretty tenacious when she's pursuing someone."
The blood drained from Lois' face, and she felt her stomach lurch. She searched desperately for something to say, but then she realized that Clark was already speaking.
"Hardly," he said with a self-deprecating chuckle. "I fell head over heels the moment I saw her. It just took me a year and half to wear *her* down."
Lois' head snapped up. *That* was not in the script.
He smiled at her and continued more softly. "I was beginning to worry she'd never give me a chance. I thank God every day that she did."
Lois felt herself drowning in his eyes, the sound of his voice washing over her, soothing her. His words stirred emotions in her she didn't know existed. His voice was so low, so deadly serious, that she forgot for a moment that this was all a facade. A game she had orchestrated. A chill coursed through her body, then Clark smiled at her, warming her. Finally, he ripped his gaze from hers and looked back at Paul.
"Anyway, it was me who did the pursuing."
Paul watched their interaction silently — the heat between them palpable.
The waiter returned at that moment to clear their plates and offer them dessert. They deliberated over the dessert tray, listening politely as Jennifer bemoaned the calories, reminding everyone that the camera adds ten pounds.
As they waited for their dessert, Clark's gaze drifted to the dancers on the dance floor. Lois was distractedly looking around, searching for a way to end Jennifer's endless explanation of the differences between modeling and being a weather girl, broken up only by her occasional sickening bouts of fawning all over Paul. Clark caught sight of Lois' expression and waited for the first break in conversation.
"If you two don't mind, I'd like to steal my girlfriend for a minute. I've been dying to dance since we got here, and I love this song." He stood and extended his hand to her, smiling. "Honey?"
She rose and took his hand, letting him lead her onto the dance floor.
The endearment had slipped out of Clark's mouth before he could stop it. He often found himself referring to her as 'honey' or 'sweetheart' in his mind, and had to steel himself from letting it slip in her presence. He could only imagine that she would be none too pleased with it. Tonight was different, though — she would just assume it was another part of the game. But he was going to have to be more careful than ever after this.
She came easily into his arms, slipping her hand from his shoulder to the back of his neck and fitting her body to his. She loved dancing with him, pretense or not. Dancing with him had become her favorite part of attending all of the formal events the Planet sent them to. The events might be boring, and the people might be stuffy, but for at least a couple of minutes she would be in his arms being gracefully led around the dance floor.
"I didn't know you liked this song," she said softly, her fingers running through the curls at the nape of his neck.
"I've never heard this song in my life," he replied softly. "I just wanted to dance with you."
Lois sighed and relaxed against him, laying her head on his chest.
He loved this. The feel of her in his arms. The way she relaxed so totally when they danced together. There was no way he could pass up an opportunity like this. He moved his hand in small circles on her back.
"How are you holding up?" he whispered.
"Fine. Better now," she replied softly.
"Are you sure you're ok? We can cut this short."
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, pulling back to look at him. "I needed a breather, though. I don't know how much more of Jennifer's model talk I could have taken. Perfect timing, partner," she said with a grin.
"Good," he said, relieved.
"She's more obnoxious than I even imagined. And what's the deal with her 'weather girl' job, anyway? I thought we were past that, and weather predictions were presented by meteorologists. I mean, really. When was the last time you saw a 'weather girl' on TV? Leave it to LNN to revert back to the Stone Age."
Clark smiled. She must be doing ok if she had enough energy to concoct a rambling insult.
"I suppose you think she's great," Lois said, rolling her eyes.
"Nah, she's not really my type."
"What?! She's *exactly* your type, Clark!"
Clark's jaw dropped. What in the world would make Lois think that he would go for someone like Jennifer Juliard? How totally ludicrous. How totally *ironic*. "She is *not* my type! What in the world are you talking about?"
"Oh, come *on*, Clark. She's *exactly* your type. Tall, leggy, blonde. Questionable motives. Disgustingly touchy- feely."
Clark stared at her speechless. Where was she getting this?
"Clark," she said incredulously. "Do the names Antoinette Barnes, Toni Taylor, and Mayson Drake mean nothing to you?"
"What? I don't-"
"And I've seen pictures of your high school girlfriend — what's her name? Lara? Loni? Lana — that's it! I can't speak for her personality, but she definitely fits the physical mold."
Clark sputtered. "Lois, I never dated any of those women. I was just- Wait a minute! When did you see a picture of Lana?"
"Your mom showed me your photo albums when I was in Smallville."
Clark blushed. "She didn't show you the baby pictures, did she?"
Lois grinned, and raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, no," he moaned.
Lois laughed softly and patted his chest comfortingly. "But you were such a cute baby, Clark."
Clark shook his head disbelievingly. "I can't believe she did that," he said before moving back to the previous topic. "Lois, Jennifer Juliard is not my type at all. And, honestly, neither were any of the other women you mentioned. Lana and I dated in *high school*, for crying out loud. We weren't even serious. And I only paid attention to Antoinette and Toni to get information for our stories. I mean, they were nice and all, but I didn't have any intention of pursuing anything…"
"And Mayson?" Lois asked quietly, suddenly very interested in his answer.
"Mayson and I had lunch together once. She left when she realized I wanted to ask her about Intergang," he said dismissively. He paused, and turned serious. "I know that Mayson…has feelings for me. I need to tell her that there's no chance for a future there… I just don't want to hurt her."
Lois smiled, telling herself that the only reason she was so relieved was that she didn't like Mayson. It had nothing to do with the fact that Clark was still available, unattached.
"So Jennifer Juliard's not your dream girl?" she asked, trying to force a teasing note into her voice.
"Not even close," he said softly.
Lois stared into his eyes for another moment before clearing her throat and changing the subject in an effort to lighten the mood. "We must be pretty convincing. Paul and Jennifer don't seem to have any doubt that we're a real couple."
"Yeah, they don't seem to suspect a thing. Does that mean I'm an acceptable boyfriend?" he teased, trying to keep the longing from his voice.
"Clark… You are incredible. I could never have done this without you, I mean it. Thank you. Really. This is above and beyond…"
"Anytime," he said, pulling her back to his chest and hoping she didn't detect a wistful note in his last comment.
Half-way through the next song, Clark watched the waiter reappear with their desserts. "We should go back to the table. Ready?"
Lois pulled away reluctantly, then smiled as he slipped his hand behind her, pulling her forward again.
"They're watching," he whispered against her ear. "Can I kiss you?"
She nodded and tensed in anticipation, remembering the last time he'd kissed her to maintain a cover. They'd been undercover as newlyweds, and the maid had walked in… Just the memory of that kiss was enough to send a chill down her spine.
"You don't have to ask permission to kiss me, Clark," she whispered.
His chest constricted, and it was all he could do to stop himself from taking her and kissing her with everything he had, showing her exactly what she meant to him and how incredibly beautiful she looked tonight and…effectively destroying the trust she'd just shown in him.
Lois seemed to realize suddenly what she had just said, and she backtracked quickly, stumbling over her words. "I just meant… I just…"
"I know what you meant," he said softly. She meant that she trusted him not to take advantage of her or the situation. That if he kissed her, she would know that he had a good reason for doing so. No matter how much he wished her comment had meant more than that, it didn't.
Lois nodded, still taken aback by her words. They'd come from nowhere, surprising her as much as they'd surprised him.
But as he brushed a chaste kiss across her cheek, her chest clenched in disappointment. She knew that was all that was necessary to keep up the pretense of being a couple. They hardly needed to make out on a crowded dance floor, she chided herself. So why was she feeling so…cheated?
They made it back to the table just as the waiter walked away. They sat and dove into their desserts with relish.
"Lois, this is incredible. You have to try this," Clark said as he took another bite of his chocolate mousse.
She smiled, and he extended a spoonful towards her. She leaned forward, taking the spoon into her mouth and pulling back slowly. She closed her eyes and moaned softly, causing every nerve cell in Clark's body to go on red alert. "Mmm. Clark, that's wonderful," she whispered.
Clark's throat tightened and his mouth went dry. Ok, offering her a bite of his dessert had been a very, very bad idea.
By the time Lois opened her eyes, Clark had forcibly removed the heated look from his face. Paul hadn't missed it though, and he winked at Clark. Clark blushed and averted his eyes, causing Lois to give him a questioning look.
They made idle chit chat until the waiter appeared for the final time, bringing the check. Clark reached for it, but Paul insisted on paying. "After all, I practically had to browbeat Lois into agreeing to come."
Clark smiled at her, then turned back to Paul. "Well, we had plans," he replied, remembering the vague excuse Lois had presented.
"Nothing that can't be rescheduled, I hope."
"No, we were just looking forward to a quiet night in. A little time to ourselves."
"Ah, well, sorry about that, but Lois and I go way back," Paul said, giving Lois a wink.
"No problem. The night's still young… And while we're here, I thought we'd go for a walk down by the waterfront. It's really beautiful at night," Clark said, reaching for her hand.
They walked out together and said their goodbyes.
As they watched Paul and Jennifer disappear into a cab, Clark slipped his suit coat off and onto Lois' shoulders. She looked up at him with an eyebrow raised.
"I thought you might be cold," he said, shrugging.
Lois smiled and shook her head. "What am I going to do with you, Farmboy?"
"Come on," he said with a self-deprecating grin. He slipped his arm under the coat to rest on her back. "Come take a walk with me."
She bumped against him with her hip. "I had a good time tonight, Clark. Thank you."
He slipped his arm further around her waist, tugging her to him in a half-hug. "I'm glad. I had a good time, too."
"It really is beautiful out here at night," Lois said softly as they reached a small pier. The lights from the restaurant reflected on the water, giving it a mystical feeling. "I've never been out here."
"You've lived in Metropolis your whole life and you've never eaten at this restaurant? I thought everybody who was anybody ate here," he teased.
"I've eaten here… I've just never walked along the water afterwards," she said quietly, unable to hide the regret in her voice.
Clark closed his eyes for a second not knowing exactly what was causing her pain, but wishing with all his might that he could take it away. She rested her arms on the top rail and looked out over the water. He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, dropping his head to whisper in her ear. "I'm right here, Lois. I've got you."
The tenderness in his voice, combined with the stress of being forced to confront this long-buried memory was too much, and she couldn't hold back the tears any longer. They slipped silently down her cheeks for a moment before she bent forward, put her head in her hands, and sobbed quietly.
Clark turned her around, hugging her tightly and letting her bury her head in chest. He raised one hand to stroke her hair. "Lois, talk to me, please. You know it kills me to see you cry."
She slid her arms up and wrapped them around his neck. "I don't know what's wrong with me," she mumbled into his chest. "It was so long ago…"
So Paul was the source of this pain after all, he thought. But it obviously wasn't as simple a story as she had made it out to be. This wasn't just about being overlooked by someone she'd had a crush on.
"It's ok, Lois. I'm right here."
Lois pulled herself together and wiped the tears from her face the best she could. Clark reached over and took the handkerchief from the breast pocket of his suit jacket, handing it to her with a gentle smile.
She turned back to look out over the water, resting her arms on the pier again. She was silent for a moment and Clark leaned beside her, angling his body towards her and rubbing her back gently.
"This is so stupid. Why am I crying?" She dabbed at her eyes, trying to stop the tears.
Clark remained silent, trying to show his support without pushing her to reveal anything she wasn't ready to share yet. He knew she needed to talk, but he also knew that she needed to do it on her own terms.
"I just feel so stupid around him. When I knew him… I met Paul about halfway through my freshman year of college. We both worked on the school paper, but I didn't know who he was my first semester. Anyway, I met him at a party at the beginning of second semester, and I was so attracted to him. Then I started seeing him more and more around the paper. I tried desperately to get his attention, but he was the editor of the State and National desk, and I wrote for the University desk, so I never really had an excuse to talk to him. But when we came back the next year, he was the editor of the paper, and I had to talk to him almost every day. I tried everything I could think of, but he just didn't seem to notice me… I must have seemed so pathetic."
"Lois, you weren't pathetic," he said softly. "You were 19. Give yourself a break. Everybody goes through that in college." Or we go through it ten years later, he thought wryly.
Lois shook her head.
"He knew how I felt. Of course he did… It was so obvious. Finally one day he asked me out. I was so excited. I thought that this was it: he'd finally come to see me the way I saw him. He brought me here for dinner…"
Clark felt as if he'd been sucker punched. He never would have agreed to bring her back to the scene of the crime if he had known… That explained her reaction to being brought here again tonight, and the sadness when she said she'd been here before. Suddenly he felt angry. Of all the restaurants in Metropolis… Lois was oblivious though, lost in her memories of that night.
"I was so enamored with him that I thought it was the best date I'd ever been on. I mean, it was beautiful, and the food was great… It wasn't until later that I realized he spent the whole time talking about himself. He never asked me about myself or asked for my opinion on anything. But I thought it was wonderful. He made me believe he really cared about me. I thought we had a future together…"
Lois broke off, staring out over the water. She seemed almost oblivious to Clark's presence, as if she was just reliving the night over again in her mind.
"I'd heard about how beautiful it was out here at night. And while we were having dinner, I could see other couples out here, strolling by the water. It looked so romantic. I really hoped he would ask me to come out here with him… But he wasn't interested in walking by the water, and I was so eager to please him that I didn't mention it. He took me back to his apartment… He said he wanted to show me some of his old articles from before he met me… I was really flattered, and when he kissed me… I was so excited. I wasn't really ready to sleep with him. I'd never… I mean, I… It was my first time, and I was nervous. But I wanted so badly to please him. I wanted him to like me. I'd wanted him for so long, and he was finally paying attention to me. He told me that he loved me…"
Clark closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. It was pretty obvious where this was going, but it was also obvious to him that Lois needed to tell him this.
"The next morning I told him that I loved him. I thought that he loved me, and that we had just started this wonderful relationship… He laughed at me — said that was just something guys said when…when they were having sex…that it didn't really mean anything." Her voice quivered, and Clark hugged her again.
"I was stunned. I had no idea that for him it was just a one-night stand. He said he would call, but of course he didn't. Within a week he was dating Linda. Everyone knew what had happened. I was so humiliated, and I was totally heartbroken. I never would have slept with him if I hadn't thought that he loved me."
Clark ached for her, wishing there was something he could do to ease her pain. He wrapped his arms around her, resting his chin lightly on her shoulder.
"It's not true," he whispered.
Lois' brow furrowed. "What's not true?"
"It's not just something men say to get women in bed, or in the heat of the moment. It's more than that."
"I know that," she said doubtfully.
"I do know that, Clark. It's just hard to believe sometimes. It's hard to believe that there isn't always an angle; a catch."
"I love you, Lois."
"Clark," she whispered, her voice catching.
It was true, of course. He'd loved her from the moment he'd laid eyes on her. He loved her more than anything in the world. And he lived for the hope that someday she would love him the way that he loved her.
But this wasn't about that.
This wasn't about his feelings for her. This was about love; unconditional love. He had a horrible, sinking feeling that she had no idea what that felt like. She didn't know what it meant to have someone love her with no strings attached.
He turned her around and looked into her eyes. "I love you, Lois. I don't want anything in return. No catch. No angle. And nothing you ever do can make me stop loving you."
There it was. He hadn't intended to tell her that. Certainly not tonight. But he owed her that bit of honesty, he thought. She could interpret it any way she wanted. It was still true. He loved her on every level, and at whatever level she wanted to accept his love, he would be grateful.
Tears welled in her eyes, and she held his gaze for another moment. It was true. She could see it in his eyes; he wasn't lying to her. She swallowed the lump in her throat and dropped her eyes. She wasn't sure exactly what he was telling her. She believed him — she just wasn't sure how to interpret it.
Clark was her best friend. The best friend she'd ever had. He supported her, helped her, protected her, and challenged her. He'd told her before that he was in love with her, then he'd retracted the statement. Was he telling her again that he was in love with her, or was he expressing the depths of his friendship? Or both? She couldn't tell.
It worried her to realize that a part of her hoped that he was in love with her. She wasn't supposed to fall in love with her best friend. It would ruin everything. She had thought before that she might be, but she was over that.
She met Clark's eyes again, still searching for answers even when she wasn't quite sure she knew the questions. His eyes were so warm, so guileless. He wasn't in love with her, she realized. That wasn't what he meant at all. He wasn't trying to pursue anything with her. There was no reason to be scared. He just meant to reassure her, to show her that a man could love her without wanting anything in return.
"I love you too, Clark. You're my best friend. I don't know what I'd do without you," she said softly, dropping her head to his chest. He hugged her tightly, holding her safe in his arms.
Clark closed his eyes as a panicky voice surfaced for a moment and told him she would never love him the way he loved her. His heart clenched, and he hesitated for just a second before shoving the thought aside. He didn't care about that right now. She needed him. She needed his friendship. And if that was all she ever needed, he would give her that and never push for more.
After a moment, she pulled back again. He smiled gently at her and reached to brush her hair back behind her ears. She returned his smile, and then turned to face the water again. He stood behind her, arms wrapped around her waist, watching the lights on the water. Her hands rested on his, stroking them softly. He sighed contentedly, and relished the feel of her in his arms.
Eventually, they walked to the street and hailed a cab, riding in comfortable silence back to her apartment. She rested her head on his shoulder, drained by this emotionally charged night.
When they reached her building, he exited the cab with her, and Lois knew from past experience that he would not be content to drop her off in the lobby of her building.
They walked in silence up the stairs and down the hall to her door. She unlocked all of her locks, then turned to face him. "Thanks for everything tonight, Clark."
"Anytime," he said softly.
She hesitated, unsure what to say next…how to end this strange night. "Would you like to come in for awhile?"
"I'd love to… but it's late. I should be going."
She was struck again by how different he was from the other men in her past. Men who'd forced their way into her heart and her apartment. With his quiet gentleness Clark had managed to wind his way deeper into her heart than any of them.
She nodded slowly, still unsure what to say; what to do.
"I'm sorry about all of this," Clark said softly. "I never would have taken you there if I had known the whole story."
"I needed to go, Clark. I needed to be able to move on. It's been eight years, and a part of me never let go of it. I had to see him. I had to show myself that he didn't have any power over me anymore. I needed to go…and I needed you to take me."
He stared at her for a second, amazed by the strength behind her words. "Then I'm glad I could help you do that."
"It wasn't all bad, Clark. I really did have a good time. The meal was great, and I loved dancing with you."
Clark face broke into a delighted smile. "I loved dancing with you, too. Let me make this up to you. Let me take you out to dinner again…without Paul and Jennifer. We'll go somewhere different."
Was he asking her on a date? She wasn't sure. Did she want it to be a date? Again, not sure.
Clark kicked himself silently. What was he doing? He had just told himself that he wasn't going to push her. He wasn't going to ask for anything more than she could give him. And the first chance he got, he broke that vow.
"Come on. Just let me take my best friend out to dinner and dancing. It's the least I can do."
Not a date. Just friends. Why was she feeling disappointed? That's all she wanted. She didn't want it to be a date.
Lois smiled and nodded.
Clark relaxed and returned her smile. "I should get going. Good night, Lois." He hesitated for another second, then leaned forward to kiss her cheek. That was a bit risky, even for them. But he'd kissed her on the cheek a couple of times in the past, and he thought that after everything they'd been through tonight, she would allow it.
Lois saw him hesitate, and she realized he was about to kiss her cheek.
She turned her cheek up to him, and he smiled slightly as his lips neared her cheek. And then something happened. Something that she would never be able to explain.
She turned to face him, lifting her lips to brush lightly against his. He froze for a split-second, shocked, then returned her kiss.
Clark's head whirled. He was kissing her. Really kissing her. Not just a friendly kiss on the cheek. Not a pretense to keep from blowing their cover. A real kiss. Her lips felt soft and smooth under his. His hand moved instinctively, brushing her hair from her face and resting against her cheek.
It was as incredible as he'd known it would be. It was chaste, yet powerful. There was such tenderness, such warmth in their touch. He'd never felt anything so wonderful in his life.
Lois felt like she was melting. The world around her was gone, and all she could think about was the feel of Clark's lips on hers, caressing them softly. His hand came up and cradled her face, holding her gently. It was… She felt… Incredible.
After only a moment, they pulled away. Lois looked shyly at the ground. "Goodnight, Clark," she said softly. Then she slipped into her apartment and closed the door.
What was that? She leaned her back against the door and pressing the tips of her fingers to her lips. Where in the world had that come from?
Clark leaned back against the door to Lois' apartment and took a ragged breath. Had that really just happened? What in the world did it mean? He'd only meant to kiss her on the cheek. He'd never imagined that she would turn her face to receive his kiss on her lips.
Could she have changed her mind? Did she have feelings for him? For a moment Clark allowed himself to embrace that hope. He'd waited so long… He loved her so much…
But…she probably didn't mean anything like that, he told himself sternly. She was just hurting and feeling insecure. After everything she'd shared with him that night, she needed reassurance from her best friend.
It wasn't a passionate kiss, and he knew he shouldn't allow himself to misinterpret it as a sign that she was feeling something stronger than friendship for him. It was just her way of showing the faith she had in him. A sign of her love — her *platonic* love — for him, and her appreciation for what he'd done for her that night.
Still…wow. If he'd ever had any doubt about the torture he was going to have to endure, seeing her everyday, longing to touch her, love her, and not being able to… After this, there was no way he could deny it. He would give her what she needed, his friendship, and he wouldn't ask for anything more. But it was going to kill him.