By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2003
Summary: When Martha Kent decides to take a hand in her son's love life, Lois finds herself offering to give her partner a makeover. But does she really want to put in all that effort for the benefit of another woman?
Author's note: This story has had a very long gestation. Members of the fanfic email list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LCFic may have vague memories of me asking for suggestions for the kind of men's clothing shops Lois might approve of or would disapprove vehemently of. Well, finally, about two years later, here is the story that particular question related to. I had already started it when I asked that question, but I sort of got distracted, both by real life and by other stories, and so it languished forgotten on my hard drive.
Well, forgotten by me. But not by a number of other people, and it is to them that the completion of this story is due. First, the FoLCs on fanfic nights on IRC, who had seen some of this story and who never ceased to nag about it even when I was showing them extracts from different works in progress. And second and even more important, there was Yvonne Connell, who had beta-read a chunk of the story and kept dropping inconvenient reminders and nags until I promised to return to it out of desperation! Sure, two other long stories then intervened before it was finished, but here it is. Finally. And I dedicate this story to Yvonne, above all without whom it would never have been finished.
Thanks are, as always, owed to a number of people. To those on the fanfic list whose help was invaluable. To the FoLCs on the fanfic boards at http://www.lcficmbs.com who commented, encouraged and gave me helpful suggestions along the way while I was posting the story there. To the IRC FoLCs who cheerled, laughed and offered suggestions — a special mention to Annette. :) To Meredith, my very efficient Archive GE, who caught errors and botched phrasing which I was embarrassed to have left in there, and who made me laugh, too. And, most of all, to my loyal, unflagging beta-reader, Yvonne, who read portions at incredible speed, caught errors, made suggestions and simply made me finish it.
All rights to the characters herein are the property of DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
"Well, Clark seems very happy in Metropolis, don't you think, Jonathan?"
Jonathan Kent gave his wife a slow smile, then nodded. "Looks that way, Martha. I know I wasn't all that sure about it in the beginning, but I think he made the right decision. Going to Metropolis — and becoming Superman. It all seems to have worked out for him. He's really happy at the Planet, and that Mr White seems to think very highly of him."
"Yes." Martha smiled happily and poured the two of them some coffee, indicating to Jonathan that they should take it through to the living-room area of Clark's open-plan apartment. "You know, I think this time he might actually stay put instead of moving on after six months or so."
"Well, it's been more than six months already," Jonathan pointed out. "I hadn't realised until last month, when I was ploughing the long field ready for seeding, that I'd almost stopped holding my breath waiting for the phone call."
"Yeah." The phone call, Martha mused. The phone call they normally got from Clark once he'd been somewhere a few months. He always seemed to tell them over the phone, rather than dropping it into conversation on one of his frequent visits. The phone call in which he would announce his intention to move on.
The reasons were usually superficial: he'd got bored; he wanted to see somewhere new and different; he'd got tired of being in the one place and wanted some excitement, some adventure. But they all knew the real reason; the unspoken factor behind Clark's decisions to move on.
He'd gone too far. Someone had got too close. And he was in danger of discovery.
All his life, Clark had been afraid of discovery; afraid that someone would find out that he was different, that he had strange powers that no-one else had. And that, once he'd been found out, he'd be taken away and locked up in a laboratory and experimented on. Dissected, like a frog.
And so, ever since he'd graduated from college, there had been the constant moving. Never having anywhere to call home. Never staying anywhere long enough to make friends, to form relationships… to fall in love.
"I don't think we'll be getting that phone call this time," Martha said delightedly. "I think he's finally found somewhere he can call home, away from the farm. And where he can be himself — use his powers to help, without having to hide all the time."
"Yeah. Our boy's done well for himself," Jonathan agreed, sipping his coffee.
"So, what do you think of Lois?" Martha asked, in an upbeat tone.
"Lois? Well, we'd met her before," Jonathan pointed out, puzzled. "She seems nice. And she's sure a good reporter. A little bossy where Clark's concerned, maybe…"
"Jonathan!" Martha exclaimed. "I don't mean as a reporter!"
"Well, what do you mean?" he asked, puzzled.
"I mean, for Clark!"
"Huh?" This time he simply looked baffled.
"Haven't you noticed? Clark's in love with her!"
"Head over heels!" Martha informed him.
"Well, why hasn't he done anything about it?"
Martha sighed. "Because he's Clark. You know, he never seems to realise just how attractive he is. He doesn't seem to have the confidence to take the initiative sometimes. He'll tease Lois and think up just the right come-back to her, but he won't actually ask her out. I think he's afraid she'll say no."
"And maybe the whole Superman thing makes a difference as well," Martha continued. "I mean, he's sometimes so conscious of how different he is. I think that inhibits him, sometimes."
"Inhibits him?" Jonathan echoed, but a lazy twinkle in his eye suggested that he wasn't quite as clueless as he seemed.
"Well, yes. I mean, he knows he's different — human, alien, he still doesn't know, poor Clark. And I think he worries that if he tells someone that about himself, they might react badly. And that's why he's never really allowed himself to get close to anyone."
"Clark has lots of friends," Jonathan pointed out. "He always has."
"Lots of friends, yes," Martha agreed. "But never anyone special."
"That's true," Jonathan agreed slowly. "You know, I always thought that he and Lana would get together." A slow movement, which might have been a wink, accompanied this statement.
"Lana Lang?" Appalled, Martha stared at her husband. "Oh no — she's completely wrong for Clark! Rachel would have been far better for him, but he never felt that way about her."
"And now he's in love with Lois, you think," Jonathan mused. "I knew he liked her…"
"Oh, he loves her." Martha smiled warmly. "He just needs some help to do something about it. You know," she added thoughtfully, "maybe we should delay going back to Smallville another day — do you think Wayne would mind? I'd like to meet Lois for lunch…"
"So, Martha, what did you want to talk about?" Lois enquired once she and Clark's mother had given their order to the waiter.
She'd been surprised when Martha had called her that morning at the Planet and invited her for lunch. Not unpleasantly surprised; she liked Clark's mother enormously, now that she'd got over her embarrassment at thinking that Jonathan Kent was a cross-dresser and that neither Kent knew what a fax was. But still, having her partner's mother ask her to join her for lunch was an unusual event.
"Oh, I wanted to talk about Clark," Martha said casually.
Lois blinked. Was Martha expecting her to tell tales? Did she want to know what her innocent farmboy son was getting up to in the big city? Not that Clark was getting up to much, as far as Lois knew, but that wasn't the point. She had no intention of telling Martha anything potentially incriminating about Clark. Being a snitch wasn't her style.
More coolly, she said, "What did you want to know? You can see that he's doing well at the paper. Perry's pleased with him, and he's partnered with me, which was a very good career move for him… We just missed being shortlisted for a Merriwether a month or so ago. He might have told you."
"Oh!" Martha laughed. "Oh, no, I don't want to talk about Clark's career, Lois! It's his love life I want your help with!"
Lois blinked. Was this woman insane? Had spending her entire life cooped up on a farm on the edge of some miles-from-anywhere hick town caused Martha Kent to lose her mind? Why on earth would she think that Lois Lane would have any interest in discussing Clark Kent's love life with her?
She hadn't thought, either, that Martha Kent was the kind of interfering mother who was unable to cut the apron strings of her relationship with her son. Maybe this lunch hadn't been such a good idea after all…
"Martha, I really don't see what Clark's love life has to do with me!" she protested, deliberately keeping her tone moderated and sounding cool rather than irritated.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Lois. I obviously didn't explain myself well enough," Martha instantly apologised. She paused to allow the waitress to set their sandwiches in front of them, then continued. "I just wanted to talk to you because you spend more time with Clark than anyone else these days. I know he respects you a lot. So I wanted to ask your opinion, as one woman to another. You know," she added, leaning forward confidentially, "Jonathan's a wonderful father to Clark, but he's a man, and men just don't see these things the same way, do they?"
Still puzzled, and somewhat uneasy about the direction the conversation had taken, Lois nodded in a non-committal fashion.
"You see, I worry about him. Clark, I mean," Martha continued. "He's so good at so many things — I know he's a talented reporter and I'm so proud of him now! And he's just the best son Jonathan and I could wish for. He has a heart of gold, and he'd do anything for anyone. But when it comes to women… well, he just doesn't seem to know where to start! I despair of him sometimes!"
Feeling slightly uncomfortable still, Lois frowned. "I haven't noticed him at any particular disadvantage," she remarked in a vaguely casual tone, as memories of Clark and Cat's brief flirtation came to mind.
"Really?" Martha queried. "Well, you haven't known him all that long, of course. And you probably don't know…" She trailed off, leaving Lois insatiably curious to know just what it was the other woman had been about to say. But Martha fell silent, instead taking a sip of coffee.
The silence stretched for several seconds. Lois, who was well used to manipulating silences in order to persuade interviewees to say more than they'd intended, found herself becoming even more unhappy with the situation. Finally, she said, "I don't know Clark all that well, if that's what you were going to say. But I guess… well, he does seem a little shy sometimes. He kind of gets embarrassed when women let him know that they find him attractive."
Martha suddenly looked interested, a fascinated grin spreading across her face. "They do? And he does?"
"Oh… well…" Lois hesitated, feeling extremely awkward now that she'd found herself in the position she'd been determined to avoid. Martha clearly wanted her to gossip about Clark, and gossip had never been something Lois enjoyed. "Oh, I guess it's an occupational hazard for reporters — especially people like Clark and me, who go out and investigate, sometimes under cover. Occasionally people I encounter as part of my *job* might try to flirt with me. Or ask me out. And while I can handle that kind of thing and take it in my stride, Clark seems to be a little more uncomfortable with it. So I guess maybe you could be right about him lacking confidence."
"That sounds like Clark." Martha smiled again, but this time it didn't quite mask the concern in her expression. "I do worry about him, Lois."
"I'm sure he's fine," she replied bracingly. "When he meets the right woman, he'll have no problem."
"Well, that's just it," Martha said instantly, in a confiding tone. "He has. And he does."
"He has… what?" Lois shook her head, not quite comprehending.
"He's met the right woman. He's in love, Lois — but he doesn't seem to have the faintest idea what to do about it!"
"Oh," Lois said abruptly, that being the only response she could come up with. Her partner — her *friend*, for that was what Clark had become over the past six months — was in love? And she didn't know a thing about it? How had that happened?
"Clark's in love?" she queried, wondering if she'd misunderstood somehow… and why the thought appeared to bother her so much. But that was just stupid. Of course it didn't bother her! She wasn't remotely interested in the fact that her partner had a crush on some woman!
At Martha's nod, she added, "With who? I mean, who's his… girlfriend, or whatever?"
Martha shrugged. "Just some woman he can't stop talking about, Lois. And, no, she's not his girlfriend. That's the problem. He's in love with her, but he's too shy to tell her how he feels, or ask her out. I don't know — maybe he doesn't know how, or what to do, or maybe he thinks that she wouldn't be interested in him."
"Why would he think that?" Lois asked, trying to appear detached. Running through her mind, however, was the picture of her — very attractive — partner gazing in doe-eyed admiration at some mystery woman. And somehow, the picture didn't appeal to her very much…
"I'm not sure, Lois. Well, he's from Kansas, and she's a big city girl… that could be it," Martha suggested.
"Oh, you mean he might think that he's not sophisticated enough for her?" Lois asked. "Well, I guess I might be able to help him out there. Being a big city girl myself…" She smiled, aware as she did so that she was being very slightly condescending, and immediately felt ashamed. Martha didn't deserve her condescension, even if she did treat Clark that way fairly regularly.
Which was probably also something of which she should feel ashamed. But, on the other hand, it was good for Clark. It kept him in his place; reminded him who was the more experienced half of the partnership.
Though Clark was fast becoming every bit as good as she'd ever been — there were times these days when Lois was very glad that he didn't work for the competition.
Martha gave Lois a grateful smile, apparently not noticing any condescension in her manner. "Oh, would you? That would be so kind of you. I'm sure you could really help him a lot, if you had the time."
Lois shrugged. "I guess it wouldn't hurt. I mean, he is a nice guy — he just needs a bit of city polish. And some self-confidence, probably."
Martha smiled again, then turned her attention to her sandwich. For an instant, Lois thought she caught sight of an uncharacteristically self-satisfied grin on her companion's face; then she shook her head, thinking better of it.
Walking back into the newsroom after lunch, Lois found her thoughts drifting back to that very strange conversation with Martha. Whatever she'd expected from the lunch invitation, having her partner's mother confide in her about her partner's love life had most definitely *not* been it.
Almost unconsciously, she found herself turning to look over at Clark's desk. He was there, a pencil held between his teeth as he typed furiously, his gaze never leaving his monitor. Like her, he had the ability to focus on something to the exclusion of all else around him, and right now she felt that Superman could come flying through the newsroom window and Clark would remain oblivious.
So, Clark was in love…
Without any intention of doing so, Lois began to picture just what the object of Clark's attention might look like.
Blonde, without a doubt. Her partner definitely had a thing for blondes. In the very first week she'd known him, he'd flirted, and more, with Cat Grant, who was sort of auburn-ish blonde — although she probably didn't really count, since if her hair colour was natural then Lois was Marilyn Monroe!
Then he'd barely been able to take his eyes off that Dr Baines, when they'd gone to the EPRAD centre to try to examine the damaged Messenger. And, of course, there'd been that sheriff in Smallville — Rachel, that was her name. She'd been Clark's prom date or something, Lois seemed to recall.
Oh, and of course that gangster. Toni Taylor — the one who'd been in cahoots with the Toasters who'd been burning down half of the West River area. Clark had kissed her, in his apartment — and right under Lois's nose! Okay, he'd given the impression that it was to distract the Taylor woman so that Lois could get away, but he'd seemed to be enjoying it far too much for it to be merely a ruse.
And Martha thought that her son had *problems* being confident enough with women! Hah!
She wandered over to the coffee area, surreptitiously observing Clark as she poured herself a drink. Actually, she hadn't been wrong when she'd suggested that he was unsophisticated. He really could do with a makeover, in fact. Or at the very least, some good advice from a friend.
His hair was getting long and straggly again; a decent cut from a good barber would work wonders. Okay, that lock which continually fell forward onto his forehead was endearing, but it didn't do a lot for the smart 'man about town' look. His glasses didn't help either — those old-fashioned horn-rims would have to go, if Lois had any say in the matter.
Then there were his clothes… oh, where did she start? She was well aware that Clark had a great body — she had a very vivid memory of how he looked with next to nothing on! Growing warm and flushed at the memory, she glanced down into her cup before anyone could see her. Yet, she thought, dressed as he was, in those loose, over-large sports jackets which hung long on his hips, he just looked… bulky. His shirts frequently clashed with his jackets, and his ties clashed with everything.
And then there was his behaviour sometimes. There were times when, quite honestly, Lois thought her partner was living on another planet entirely. He'd seem to lose the entire thread of a conversation. He'd run out without any warning and often no excuse, and would return after some time either with a completely ridiculous reason or no explanation at all. And then when a woman said anything flirtatious anywhere around him, he'd get a look reminiscent of the proverbial deer in the headlights. It was very cliched, but that was exactly how Clark looked at times.
A sophisticated, intelligent and cultured man about town just didn't show his naivete like that.
Lois rolled her eyes. The thought of taking Clark on, doing anything about all of that stuff, would be a major challenge. And how Martha thought that anyone could accomplish it was beyond…
Beyond her? Naah. *Nothing* was beyond Lois Lane. If she set herself a challenge, she *would* accomplish it.
She *could* transform Clark into a smart, well- dressed and sophisticated guy. No problem!
Clark had been aware of Lois from the instant she'd walked into the newsroom. But then, that was nothing new. He was always aware of his beautiful, brilliant partner. Where she was concerned, he had some kind of sixth sense, a reaction which had nothing to do with any of his myriad powers.
She'd been very mysterious before disappearing at lunchtime. He'd hoped to persuade her to share a chicken sandwich on rye with him in the park, since it was a nice day. They could have walked and fed the ducks, and just had a few minutes alone together, the kind of occasion which was both rare and precious as far as Clark was concerned.
She was watching him. Okay, she was pretending that she was just standing at the coffee machine, deep in thought, but he knew Lois. She almost never daydreamed, and especially not at work. Besides, he'd taken a surreptitious look, bending down to get something out of his filing cabinet and using his special vision to look at her through the cabinet. She was definitely watching him.
And now she was headed in his direction. No doubt she had some scheme in mind — whether it had to do with one of their stories, or some favour she wanted him to do for her, he had no idea.
"Clark!" Lois said brightly as she reached his desk. Then, apparently uncaring about any of the work which was spread around the surface, she perched on the edge of his desk and rested one foot against his chair.
"Lois?" he queried, a little nervously; having her this close to him had a tendency to interfere with his normal brain functioning, leaving him tongue-tied and awkward.
"You know, Clark, that jacket really does reek of Kansas," she said idly, flicking at his lapel.
"Well, you know, that could just be because I'm from Kansas," he pointed out.
"Yes, but you live in Metropolis now. And, more importantly, you work in Metropolis. For the Planet. As my partner, what's more. Don't you think that maybe you have an image to maintain?"
What was she up to? Clark couldn't figure out where any of this could be leading. He shrugged. "I've never been one for image, Lois. What you see is what you get."
"You're not in Kansas any more, Dorothy," she said, a little sardonically. "To put it another way, Clark, you're not a farmboy any more. You're a reporter. If what I see is what I get," she added, emphasising the phrase, "then I should be looking at smart suits, crisp white shirts and ties which don't give me a headache simply by looking at them."
"Did you come over here just to criticise my wardrobe?" Clark asked, feeling irritated at her assessment of him.
"Clark, you shouldn't take this personally," Lois told him, her tone matter-of-fact. "We're partners, and we do a very important job. And, whether you like it or not, image *is* important. And — as your partner — I would appreciate it if you could do something about it. I mean, you must have noticed the way I dress for work."
Oh yes, he'd definitely noticed *that*. He looked her up and down, taking in the way today's outfit complemented her slim and very feminine figure. All the same, he thought, she was right; he'd always admired her smart outfits. Of course, it didn't hurt when they came with short skirts which revealed more of her long, shapely legs!
"Okay, you have a point," he acknowledged. "I know I don't dress like something out of GQ — but, Lois, that's just not me."
"You don't need to wear Armani suits to look good, Clark," she said. "Look, I have an idea — don't you have a birthday coming up in a couple of weeks?"
He frowned. "Yeah, but how did you know that?"
Lois shrugged. "It's in your personnel file."
He stared at her. "You've seen my *personnel file*?"
Her expression clearly told him that she thought he was making a fuss about nothing. Well, he supposed, the word 'private' didn't mean much where Lois Lane was concerned.
"Well, this is a one-time offer, Kent," she continued. "As a birthday present — and make the most of it, because I don't give presents — you're going to get my services as a style consultant. You're not going to recognise yourself by the time I've finished with you!"
That sounded alarming, Clark thought. He wasn't altogether sure that he wanted any kind of makeover, and especially not one as radical as Lois seemed to be envisaging.
On the other hand, she did have a point. He did sometimes feel out of place in his shabby old suits and mismatched jackets and trousers. And, while being at the cutting edge of fashion didn't interest him in the least, he'd occasionally thought that he really should smarten up his act. Some time soon. Once he had time to do some decent shopping — once he figured out what sort of thing he should be buying and how not to bankrupt himself in doing so.
Clark leaned back in his chair, thinking over Lois's offer. Now, that could definitely be interesting, he thought. For a start, it would require her to spend quite a bit of time alone with him, probably over a period of a couple of weeks. And second, it would give him an opportunity to find out what she liked in a man's appearance — which could be a very useful piece of information.
"Okay, I accept," he said. "So, when do we start?"
Well, that hadn't been too difficult, Lois thought as she got back to work. And helping Clark to sort out his appearance would go a long way towards doing what Martha had asked. If Clark looked smarter, then he'd be more confident, wouldn't he?
She tried to suppress the thought that Martha had also said she was worried that Clark also seemed to be unsure of himself with women. Lois wasn't convinced that this was true, although — as she'd told Martha — she could remember occasions when Clark had looked semi-panicked because of a woman.
But that wasn't her problem! What did Martha expect her to do? Give him lessons in asking women for dates? Teach him about the kind of things women liked to talk about? Be his dating mentor or something?
That was expecting far too much. And anyway, Clark would probably think she was crazy if she suggested it. No; sorting out his wardrobe would be more than enough to fulfil her promise to Martha.
Next weekend, she reminded herself. She'd suggested taking Clark shopping; the Upper Metropolis Mall was only a couple of miles from her apartment and it had all the best chains in men's outfitters. But then he'd taken her aback by suggesting that before they went shopping she really should familiarise herself with what he already had available in the way of clothing.
"I've seen what you have," she'd said dismissively. "We need to go shopping, Clark. And you might want to consider getting your credit limit raised."
He'd sighed at that. But then he'd given her a rueful, almost pleading smile. "You haven't seen much of what I wear when I'm not at work and — well, if you think what I wear to work isn't fashionable enough, then you'd probably think the same of my casual gear. I think I'd appreciate your opinion on some of that stuff."
He seemed to be learning, she thought. At any rate, he'd accepted that she was right; she'd make sure that he also realised just how much of a favour she was doing him here!
Clark took one last Super-speed zip around his apartment, then stood near the doorway to survey the result. It was about as tidy as he was going to get it. A couple of news magazines lay on the coffee- table, and a biography of a recently-retired world statesman — which he was actually reading — was on his nightstand. He'd show Lois that he wasn't as uncultured as she seemed to think!
And she was due any minute now, he realised.
He glanced down at himself, debating yet again whether he should change his clothes. When he'd got home from work he'd put on clean jeans and a form- fitting charcoal T-shirt, which was more or less what he normally wore as casual apparel. But he hadn't quite decided how to handle this wardrobe-appraisal session with Lois.
He'd been so tempted to wear the most disreputable jeans he could find, together with his shabbiest plaid shirt — the one he kept for things like painting the apartment. After all, if Lois was so convinced that he needed a makeover, why not play to her prejudices and let her see him as an unreconstructed Kansas hick, complete with sagging jeans and straw between his teeth?
On the other hand, his ego hadn't really cared for that idea. He wanted Lois to see him as an attractive guy, and that required him to look just a little bit more desirable than old Chuck Masters who had the farm five miles up the road from his parents' place.
The T-shirt he'd chosen was pretty clingy in all the right places, and he'd selected that while remembering the way Lois had looked at his chest that day he'd opened the door to her while only wearing a towel.
If she'd liked what she saw then… well, maybe he should remind her of it, he'd decided, pulling the T- shirt over his head.
But maybe the hayseed type would be more fun to play, he thought now with amusement. Especially if he played up his Kansas accent at the same time. He could just see her reaction when she realised just how much work she had to do on him.
Ego won out over devilment, however, and he decided to stay as he was. Just in time, too, for in the next moment there was a sharp rap on the door. He'd barely pulled it open before Lois was charging straight into the living-room, talking nineteen to the dozen so that he was unable even to get a greeting out.
"Okay, Clark, I haven't got much time this evening, so maybe you better just show me what you've got so that I get an idea of how much shopping we need to do and where your real weaknesses are, and… uh…" She trailed off abruptly, and Clark choked back a grin of amusement as he saw her appraise his upper body. So the T-shirt had been the right choice after all, he thought, laughing silently.
"Hi, Lois," he said pointedly.
"Huh?" She blinked, then shifted her gaze to his face. "Umm… what? Oh, *Clark*!" she exclaimed impatiently. "I said I don't have much time, so can we get on with it? Where's the bedroom?"
Clark grinned, unable to resist such an obvious straight line. "Why, Lois, I never knew you cared! Should I strip first, or would you prefer to undress me yourself?"
"Oh, cute," she said sourly. "I suppose they appreciate pick-up lines like that in Smallville."
He grinned again. "You just don't know what you're missing, Lois," he said with a wink, then indicated that she should follow him. "This way."
After a momentary hesitation, she accompanied him. Once in the bedroom, Clark noticed that she seemed to be avoiding looking at his bed, which surprised him: a city sophisticate like Lois surely wouldn't be embarrassed at finding herself in a man's bedroom in a non-sexual context? Only a few weeks ago, she'd gone to interview a man with a reputation as something of a playboy, and she'd deliberately set out to vamp him. She'd made no secret of her intentions when she appeared in the newsroom dressed in a suggestively revealing suit.
This sudden nervousness was unexpected, he thought. Unless… Perhaps, if put together with the tiny glimpses Lois had allowed him of her personal life, including relationships gone badly wrong, he could assume that she wasn't as experienced or blase as she might want people to believe when it came to sex or romance?
Interesting, he thought, then filed his conclusions away for another time.
She still wasn't sure whether she liked Clark's apartment, Lois thought as she waited for him to show her his clothes collection. He'd made the most of the light and the space, she thought, but its open-plan nature made her long for the privacy of her own apartment, which had proper *rooms*. With *doors*.
It wasn't even possible to get to the bathroom in Clark's apartment without walking through his bedroom!
And as for the bedroom…! Bare brick wall, and a huge window which didn't seem to have any proper curtain. How did he ensure his privacy? And the door to his balcony, she remembered, was in the bedroom as well. So any time he wanted to bring guests out onto the balcony, he had to take them through his bedroom. Though, she supposed cynically, that could be a useful ploy…
Lois had no idea why she was suddenly so convinced of that, but she just knew that her partner, however much he might tease her, would never stoop to underhand tactics to get a woman into bed. And if she needed proof, all she had to do was remember how honourably he'd behaved when she'd been affected by that pheromone compound and she'd practically tried to drag him into bed. He hadn't laid a finger on her, and had resisted her to the best of his abilities.
What other male of her acquaintance could she have said that about?
Okay, so she was safe with Clark, at least in that sense. Though all it probably meant was that he wasn't attracted to her. Which made sense — after all, hadn't his mother told her that he was in love with someone else?
Clark was in love. With… who, exactly? Martha hadn't said much, other than to say that she was a city woman. Well, Clark was a pretty intelligent guy, despite his down-home ways, so she couldn't really see him settling for an airhead. Or someone like Cat Grant, all flaunting sex on legs as she was. Clark might admire obviously sexual women, but somehow Lois had the feeling that he wouldn't want a serious relationship with someone like that. A woman who was that confident in her own attractiveness would scare Clark Kent rigid. Lois was fairly sure of that conclusion, at any rate, even though she did know — thanks to Cat's complete lack of familiarity with the concept of discretion — that Clark had slept with Cat.
A secretary? Maybe… that way, Clark would be almost certain to have a girlfriend who would admire his professional status. He'd be the more intelligent and higher-earning partner in the relationship. He'd like that, she thought. Men preferred women who weren't a threat to them in any way, in her experience. Someone who'd look up to them and think that they were wonderful…
Although it wasn't really fair to suggest that Clark liked anything approaching hero-worship, Lois conceded. He did seem to be a pretty down-to-earth, friendly guy. And, apart from that one time when they'd been undercover, when he really had acted like a macho sexist, she hadn't seen any signs that Clark Kent regarded women as in any way inferior. He treated everyone he encountered, male or female, with respect.
And anyway, now that she thought about it, from what Martha had said — and hadn't said — it almost sounded as if Clark was a little intimidated by the object of his affections.
So perhaps she was a professional woman too? Hmm… a cop? A lawyer? Clark would have plenty of opportunity to run into women in those positions in the course of his daily routine. A doctor? Someone like that would make sense, Lois mused as Clark began to rifle through the contents of the battered piece of dark furniture which clearly served as a wardrobe.
A woman who earned more than he did. Would Clark have a problem with that — a dent to his ego? Or would he see it as a good thing, something to be proud of? Perhaps it might even flatter his ego, allowing him to boast that he was able to attract a woman who had greater status than he did himself? The idea of Clark Kent as a kept man — a house-husband — occurred to her then, and she couldn't resist an amused smile at the thought of Clark cooking and cleaning for his hunter-gatherer girlfriend. That tall, muscled body would look good in an apron, she thought with a grin.
"Oh, come on, it's not that bad, is it?" Clark's voice, sounding anxious, cut into her thoughts.
"What?" Lois snapped out of her imaginings, in which her partner was slaving over a hot stove as his immaculately-dressed high-powered girlfriend marched in demanding to know why the meal wasn't already on the table.
"This shirt," he said, a note of impatience in his voice, and she finally noticed the garment which he was holding up in front of her.
It was… plaid. In shades of green and orange and brown, and it had a patch on one elbow. And it was repulsive.
"What on earth is *that*?" she demanded, appalled. "Are you telling me that you actually *wear* it?"
"Well, I don't use it to clean the windows with," Clark retorted with faint sarcasm.
"Pity. That's about all it's good for," she informed him. "I hope this isn't a representative sample of your wardrobe, or you're going to need a bank loan."
He stared at her, clearly lost for words. Feeling just a little bit sorry for him, she sighed. "Clark, something like that shirt is fine for Smallville. But you're not down on the farm any more. You need to smarten up your act if you're going to fit in in the big city."
He dropped the shirt on his bed, raking one hand through his dark hair. "Okay, okay. I get the message. I have no dress sense and I look like something the cat dragged in — is that it?"
Lois was about to roll her eyes and come up with a sharp retort reminding him that she was doing him a favour here, when she actually looked at him. Those dark eyes of his were dancing impishly behind his glasses, despite the straight line of his lips. He was teasing her, and enjoying the fact that he was yanking her chain!
She paused, resting one hand on her hip and studying him thoughtfully. "Well, as we've already established, your dress sense leaves a *lot* to be desired. And we already know that the Cat did drag you in…" she added scornfully.
Lois was pleased to note that he flushed at that. "Lois, she did *not*… I never…"
"What was it again? Bongo drums and leopard-skin mini-skirts? So what were you wearing? A loincloth?"
"Lois!" Clark exclaimed, the teasing expression now replaced by one of exasperation. "I never touched her! And I have no idea why she implied to everyone that we had… had…"
"Done the horizontal lambada?" Lois finished with a smirk and a strong tinge of irony. "Though, knowing Cat, I'd imagine that she'd consider it boring to stick to doing it horizontally."
To her great interest, Clark's blush spread even wider over his features. If she didn't know any better, she'd have imagined that she'd really embarrassed him — that he simply wasn't accustomed to discussing his sex life. It was almost as if he was inexperienced where sex was concerned — though she doubted that.
"Okay, Clark," she said abruptly, tiring of her little revenge. It really wasn't fair to tease him about Cat; he clearly hated it. It was obvious that he was ashamed of his one moment of weakness where their colleague was concerned — she'd known that at the time, and she'd been unkind, really, to bring it up again after all this time. It wasn't even as if it was something which had bothered her since, was it?
"I don't really think I need to see any more," she told him. "Just be ready on Saturday morning by eight-thirty, all right?"
"Ready?" His blushes gone, now he looked puzzled.
"To go shopping, Clark! What did you think?"
"Okay. I'll be there. With my credit card and a mortgage," he promised with a wry grin.
Clark stood staring out of his bedroom window for a long time after Lois had left. He'd been wrong about her, he was beginning to suspect. He'd thought they were friends — close friends. She called him her best friend. He was the person she always called when she needed someone to talk to or was feeling unhappy about something. She'd told him she loved him as she would a brother.
She'd been cruel to him tonight.
Oh, he was used to her teasing, the little gibes and not-entirely-serious criticisms she levelled at him all the time. He was used to them, and he secretly liked them. Lois wasn't the kind of person who showed affection openly, in public; her way of showing him that she liked him was to tell him that his tie was an offence to humanity or that she hoped he recognised how privileged he was to be her partner. Or that he was a lunkhead.
That was her normal way of behaving around him, though now frequently accompanied by a light touch on his arm or a pat to his chest — physical affection, as if to negate the possible effect of her words. He'd taken her criticisms of his clothes in exactly the same light as he took all the rest of her teasing: it was just Lois, and he never minded it. And she knew that, too, had known it since the first week they'd worked together; if he'd really had a problem with the way she treated him, he would have told her long ago. He got his revenge in subtle ways, too, by teasing her back when she least expected it.
It was their way of showing affection for each other. There was never any cruelty in it, and he knew very well that if Lois believed for one moment that she'd actually hurt him with her criticism, she'd instantly apologise.
But this had been different.
This had been cruel — deliberately cruel.
Lois was very good at reading body language. He was well aware that she'd noticed his discomfort over her comments concerning Cat Grant, and she'd chosen to ignore it. Even worse, she'd revealed that the closeness and trust he thought had developed between them over the past months hadn't been as real as he'd imagined. She still believed that he'd slept with Cat, and clearly, therefore, she thought that his previous denials had been false.
She believed that he'd lied to her.
She was supposed to be his friend. She was supposed to *trust* him — and yet she neither trusted him nor respected him.
He sighed. Glancing across at the telephone on the nightstand, he was tempted to pick it up and tell Lois that he'd changed his mind. That he was grateful for the offer, but he didn't need her to take him shopping. If he thought he needed a new wardrobe, he'd get it himself.
But he stopped himself. If he did that, then he'd be driving a further rift between them. Clearly, Lois had chosen to believe what she believed and, apart from her little bout of needling a short while ago, she'd treated it as unimportant. She probably had no idea just how he saw her actions and her lack of faith in him. As far as she was concerned, he was still a friend — but one who was a typical guy.
That was it. She was simply judging him by the standards of other men she'd known. They slept around, they lied, they abandoned the women they'd claimed to love, and they boasted of their conquests. He knew that was Lois's experience with men she'd been romantically involved with. And he was well aware that her past experiences had shaped her cynicism about men and about life in general. It was perfectly understandable, given her past, that she could believe he'd slept with Cat and lied about it, and yet still consider him a friend.
And it was entirely possible that, though her actions had seemed deliberately cruel to him, to Lois it had just been yet more teasing — teasing she'd had no idea that he'd find hurtful.
He sighed again. No, he wouldn't call off their arrangement. But he would try, some time soon, to convince her that he was telling the truth about Cat. And that her failure to believe him had hurt.
Spinning into his Suit, he strode out onto the balcony, wanting to wrap the night air around him and disappear into the silence of the dark, starry sky.
"So, where are we going?"
Lois glanced over at her passenger. He'd been silent almost from the moment of picking him up from his apartment. He'd barely looked at her other than when they'd exchanged greetings. Something was eating at him. Or, more likely, she'd decided, he'd just got out of bed on the wrong side that morning.
Men! If women ever dared to show a hint of bad mood, they were instantly accused of being 'hormonal'. And yet a man could be withdrawn and sullen, or even sulky, and women were expected to fall all over themselves to be sympathetic. So, determined not to fall for that line, Lois had ignored Clark's obvious bad temper.
And it had worked. He'd clearly given up on expecting her to question him, and he'd decided to start a conversation instead. She smiled inwardly at the success of her tactic. "The New Troy Outlet Park. Thought I'd take pity on your wallet and try the discount places first."
He sounded terse, and Lois rolled her eyes. This was going to be a *long* day, if he didn't snap out of it soon. Was he forgetting that she was doing him a favour with all this? She'd given up her Saturday, her day off, to take him shopping and give him the benefit of her advice on his choice of clothes. Did he really think that this was how she longed to spend her free time — that she was going to get a kick out of seeing him try on clothes? He owed her a little more in return than this sulkiness.
"Okay, Clark," she said at last, her tone crisp. "You've got two choices. Either you tell me what's eating you right now, and get it out of your system, or I turn this car around and dump you right back at your place."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his jolt of surprise. Then he sighed and turned to her. "Okay, Lois. There is something, though I guess I was trying to put it out of my mind."
"You weren't doing a very good job of it," she pointed out acerbically.
"I guess not." He paused and fell silent for a few moments. Then, abruptly, he spoke again. "Lois, why won't you believe me about Cat Grant?"
"What?" His question was so unexpected that Lois actually took her attention off the road for a moment, and when she looked back she realised that she was in danger of running a red light. Jamming on the brakes, she muttered, "Now look what you made me do!"
"You want me to drive?" Clark asked, in something approaching his normal good-humoured manner.
"No! I'm fine," she informed him brusquely, in a tone which warned him on pain of death never to criticise her driving again. "And don't change the subject! What the heck are you talking about?"
"You persist in believing that I slept with Cat Grant," he answered.
"Well, I don't think a lot of sleeping went on…" she retorted automatically.
"Lois!" Now he sounded impatient and angry.
"I *did not* sleep with Cat! I never laid a finger on her!" he almost shouted.
Lois frowned. He was serious? But he had to be, she concluded immediately. One thing she'd learned very quickly about Clark was that he didn't lie about important things. In fact, she'd never really caught him in an untruth about anything. So if he was telling her that Cat was the one who'd been lying… then she should believe him.
Actually, that wasn't a big deal. She was happy to accept his word there, and she was surprised at how pleased she felt at the thought that he'd never been with Cat. Why should it bother her, anyway? But what was puzzling now was why he seemed to be so upset that she'd believed he had.
Did it bother him that people thought he'd slept with the office flirt? Or was it something more personal… did it bother him that *she* thought it? They were friends, after all, in a way. Or maybe it was that he was afraid that the story would get back to this mysterious woman he was in love with.
Whatever. Anyway, it wouldn't hurt to let him know that she accepted his version of events. "Okay, Clark," she said calmly, indicating left for the outlet mall. "If you say that's how it was, I believe you."
"Thank you." His voice was still terse, but then he added, sounding a little more friendly, "It wouldn't've bothered me, but you did make a big deal about it the other night. Which told me that you didn't believe me all the times I told you it never happened."
So *that* was it! He was upset, not because she thought he'd actually done the deed with Cat, but because she hadn't accepted his denials. Okay. That probably did make a weird kind of sense, where Clark was concerned. He did seem to put quite a lot of store in the truth. Okay, she did too, but that was when it came to important things. Little lies… well, everyone told them, didn't they?
Except maybe Clark. Well, that was something interesting to remember. And — who knew? — it might even be useful one of these days.
Clark smothered a sigh of relief as Lois finally parked the Jeep, having driven around their section of the huge car park at least half a dozen times in search of the 'perfect' parking space. It couldn't be too far away from the mall entrance, but not too close either, because then people with strollers and bags would knock against it and scratch the paintwork. She wouldn't park next to a beat-up old wreck, because the owner of a car like that wouldn't care about getting another couple of dents, so her car would be at risk. And she wouldn't park in a space next to a vehicle which was too close to the edge of the space next to it.
After the third space he'd pointed out had been comprehensively rejected by Lois for one or other of those reasons, Clark had simply given up trying to help. He'd known that his partner was compulsive about a couple of things, but this was a new one on him. But then, even though they did take the Jeep from time to time when they were out and about, he'd never actually been in this kind of parking lot with her before.
He stole a glance at her as she put the Jeep into park. She seemed untroubled by anything other than the prospect of several hours shepherding her partner around the mall; judging by her expression, Clark guessed that she regarded it as a challenge. From her attitude, the near-argument in the car might never have happened. He was very glad that it had, though. She finally seemed to believe him over Cat Grant, and they had today to get their friendship back on an even keel.
"Come on, partner. Introduce me to the places all the best-dressed guys shop," he said cheerfully, getting out of the Jeep.
They walked together into the mall, which was arranged in a series of covered courtyards with a large store at each corner. "So where first?" Clark asked as they joined the throng of early shoppers. "Hey, you think they'll have an LL Bean here?"
He stifled a grin and waited for her response. He wasn't disappointed.
"You have *got* to be kidding! If you think I'm even going to let you over the door of that place, Clark Kent, you have really got another think coming…" she growled immediately.
"But I like their stuff!" he protested. "They do some really great shirts…"
"Oh yeah? Like that repulsive plaid thing I saw the other night?" Lois pulled a disgusted face. "Trust me, Clark, that's one place you'll be avoiding in the future, if you take my advice. That is, assuming that you really want to learn how to dress stylishly?"
"Oh, I do, I do," he assured her, doing his best to sound sincere. "Umm… Old Navy's over there," he pointed out, indicating with his hand. "That's okay, isn't it?"
He could see Lois mentally counting to ten. "Only if you're looking for more window-cleaning outfits," she retorted disgustedly.
Clark laughed aloud. "Oh, Lois, it's a good thing I'm not vain! Okay, okay, let's get started. Where first?"
Lois gave him a sharp look, and he realised that she was wondering whether he'd been pushing her buttons. But he gave her an innocent smile, and she relaxed. "Nordstrom's," she answered, indicating the large department store several yards away. "They're good for business suits, shirts, ties… you might be able to get most of what you want there."
Clark fanned himself briefly. "Whoo! Lois, have you seen their prices?"
"Yeah. And, let me tell you, there are places even more expensive that I could take you to. Be grateful that I decided to try the outlet mall first."
"I guess," Clark agreed, doing mental calculations.
"That's as long as they have your size, of course. And naturally they're not going to have the latest styles here, but I figure that if you go for something classic, it won't date too easily. And, sure, it's expensive — but, like I told you, you're in the big city now! You work for the best newspaper in Metropolis — the best newspaper in the country! So you can't go around looking like you just came in on the last train from Hicksville, Clark!"
"I guess not," he said, sighing. "Okay, Nordstrom's here we come!"
Clark was being difficult. She should have expected it, of course; the guy seemed to be pathologically attached to his awful, hick clothing. And he was probably going to be all provincial and complain about the cost of everything. Well, he'd just have to understand that if he really wanted to cut it in Metropolis, he'd have to spend more than a hundred bucks on a business suit.
At least he was dressed semi-respectably today — jeans, but a clean and reasonably new pair, and a polo shirt under a casual jacket. A lot better than he'd looked at work the previous day, with that dreadful dark blue shirt he'd worn with a horribly clashing tie. Clark really needed to learn that light colours were far more appropriate to wear with a suit.
She couldn't wait to get him into something more respectable than the clothes he'd been wearing since his arrival at the Planet. Okay, her partner did seem to have one good suit, but since he couldn't wear that all the time, he still occasionally turned up in something which looked as if it had been inherited from his father — or perhaps even his grandfather. And looked two sizes too big for him.
In Nordstrom's, he made straight for the suit racks and started rifling through them, obviously looking for his size. Lois marched over and grabbed him by the shoulder. "What do you think you're doing?"
"What do you think I'm doing?" he retorted, eyebrows raised.
"Uh-uh," she said, shaking her head. "*First*, you get measured. Then the assistant will get you something appropriate to try on."
Clark rolled his eyes, but obediently followed her over to where an assistant was already approaching them.
"Hi! And how are you today?" the smart-suited young man asked. "And how can I help you?"
"I'm good," Lois said briefly; she didn't care for the false courtesies which were the expected routine in stores like this. She really didn't care how the shop assistant was, and she certainly didn't want to be bothered answering his pointless enquiry. Getting straight to the point, she added, "My friend here needs to be measured up for a suit."
"Certainly, sir," the assistant responded, his attention switching to Clark. Lois noticed a seat close by, and took it. Clark gave her a faintly irritated look as it became clear that the assistant was going to measure him right where he was. He removed his jacket, revealing a short-sleeved polo shirt tucked into his blue jeans and, as the assistant wound the tape around Clark's chest, Lois allowed herself to notice how the shirt moulded itself to his pectoral muscles.
Yes, her partner was pretty well-built all right. But then, she knew he worked out. Hadn't he mentioned taking his father to the gym the other week, when Jonathan Kent had turned up full of fear that Martha was having an affair? Clark clearly kept his body pumped. Which she wasn't going to complain about; it made the view pretty good, for one thing, and it also reassured her that he wouldn't have a problem keeping up with her and defending himself if they got into danger.
"Now, here's a little problem, sir," the assistant remarked, having finished his measurements. "As soon as I looked at you, I thought that you must have trouble getting suits to fit you — am I right?"
Clark looked surprised, but just shrugged.
"See, your chest measurement is 44, but your waist is only 32. But if your body was in proportion, you'd have a 38 waist. So no off-the-rack suit is going to fit you — and if you buy one off the rack and just get the waist taken in on the trousers, it won't hang well on you and the suit will look baggy."
By Clark's expression, this was a familiar problem; Lois guessed that Martha Kent had done exactly that with the dark grey suit Clark owned. No wonder his clothes always looked as if they were a size or more too big for him!
She laughed aloud, unable to stop herself. "Oh, Clark, I never knew you had such a funny shape!"
He glared at her, gesturing with his hand for her to keep quiet. She simply grinned back at him.
"So what do you recommend?" she asked the assistant, ignoring Clark.
"Mix and match, to start with," he said instantly, moving to a rack containing designer-label suits — Hugo Boss, Lois noted with approval. "A 44-inch jacket, and a pair of trousers from over here — " He reached further along to the smaller sizes, pulling out a pair. "Inside leg 33, at a guess? And I'm going to give you a 33-inch waist, just to allow you some room — you seem pretty muscular down there," he added, eyeing Clark up and down in a way which made Lois wonder about the man's sexual preferences.
Clearly Clark was wondering the same thing; he flushed and squirmed noticeably. In an abrupt gesture, he took the garments the man was holding out and muttered that he would go and try them on.
"Wait — you need a shirt. And a tie, if it's going to look right. Let me guess…" the assistant said, his gaze continuing to wander over Clark. "Collar size 16? Or maybe a half-size up?"
"Sixteen and a half," Clark confirmed.
Laden down with clothing, Clark was ushered to a changing-room; Lois moved to a chair just outside, determined to see the end result. After several minutes, her partner emerged, and she had to stifle a gasp.
He looked terrific. The suit was in a plain charcoal grey, a colour of which she approved. It was single- breasted, and the jacket fitted him snugly across his back and shoulders. The trousers appeared to be well- cut, though the end of the jacket prevented her from seeing the way they sat over his hips.
"Sir, could you take off the jacket for a moment?"
Had he read her mind? Lois almost had to stifle a gasp as the assistant spoke. Clark obeyed, turning around when requested, and she found herself staring at a very attractive view. Her partner had an extremely trim waist, she realised, but he could certainly fill out a pair of trousers in the butt. Suddenly, she could understand why some people wolf- whistled at an attractive member of the opposite sex.
Not that she would… Not that she was even remotely interested… No! All she was doing was recognising the aesthetic appeal of Clark Kent. That was all. Just because she admired a beautiful painting, for example, didn't mean that she wanted to buy it! And Clark was… well, okay, he had a cute butt. And some well-honed muscles. But there was no way that she was even slightly att—
"Lois?" Her attention jerked back to reality. By the expression on Clark's face, it wasn't the first time he'd called her name.
"Well, what do you think?"
He was standing right in front of her. Unable to resist, she stretched out a hand and brushed it against the soft wool of the trousers, pressing just hard enough to feel the hardness of his thigh under the fabric. "Nice," she murmured, smothering a grin.
"You think it looks all right?"
"I think it looks great, Clark! See what a difference it makes, getting something good quality and which actually fits you?"
"Yeah." He pulled the jacket on again, to her disappointment, then strolled over to examine his reflection in a nearby mirror. The well-made garment was such an improvement, Lois thought. Not that Clark had ever been anything but good-looking, she acknowledged with a wry sigh. But now… She found herself wondering whether it would be safe to let such an apparent innocent as her partner loose in the newsroom looking like this.
"You're going to buy it, of course," she said, watching him.
He turned to look at the salesman. "Can I? I mean, this is part of two different suits…"
"Actually, you're in luck, sir," the assistant said. "We have a special promotion on at the moment." He indicated some signs. "If you buy a suit, you get a spare pair of trousers free. Because of the promotion, we're treating jackets and trousers as separates — so you can have the suit you're wearing, and an extra pair of pants too."
Lois sidled up to Clark. "If I were you, I'd take advantage of the offer and get a second suit today. How about something in pale grey?"
"Hmm… you really think I need to?" he asked, frowning.
"Do I think you need two suits as a bare minimum?" Lois answered, giving him an incredulous look. "You bet I do! Clark, just how did you think you were going to manage with only one?"
He shrugged slightly. "I guess you're right."
"You just thank your lucky stars that you're a man, not a woman!" she told him. "I mean, you guys really have it easy. All you need is a couple of different suits, about a dozen shirts and a selection of ties. Nobody bats an eyelid if you wear the same suit all week. Nobody cares if you only have one pair of shoes. Most of the time you could get away with wearing discount shirts, or even a shirt that doesn't fit perfectly. Your suits can be as boring as you want — the colour barely matters. While we women… heaven help us if we wear the same outfit to work twice in one week! We sometimes even get smart comments if we wear the same thing two weeks running! And as for colours… we get called boring if we wear dull colours, and accused of trying to be noticed if we wear something brighter. And as for what we have to pay for these outfits… I *wish* I could get a decent work suit for the price you're paying for these suits!"
She came to an abrupt halt, breathing heavily.
Clark blinked. "Um… okay, maybe I will get another suit while I'm here," he said mildly.
Lois smiled covertly, her rant forgotten about. She wasn't going to complain about getting another opportunity to see her partner modelling a piece of great tailoring!
Well, that had been fairly painless so far, Clark decided as he strode back to the Jeep carrying the large bags containing his two new suits. Okay, his credit card had taken something of a bashing, but he'd anticipated that, and he'd got rather more for his money than he'd expected. Added to which, he was very sure that he'd caught sight of Lois actually *ogling* him. And he was positive that she'd come close to feeling him up at one point.
He stifled a grin. Yes, his partner was attracted to him, however much she might deny it. Even if he could never persuade her to see him as more than the reporter with whom she was paired, he could remember that, at least on one occasion, she'd eyed him up and, he supposed, had impure thoughts about his body. At least, he hoped she was having impure thoughts. He'd had them about her more than once, and it was only fair that she should be the one having to deal with it today.
He was still intrigued, actually, by the question of why Lois had suddenly offered to help him improve his image. It hadn't made any sense at the time, but he'd been so thrown by her comments and the way she'd been looking at him that he hadn't searched for a motive. Now, though…
Now, with the way she'd eyed him up in Nordstrom's still fresh in his mind, he found himself speculating… and wondering… and his heart began to thump far faster than normal. Could it be that she was interested? That she was beginning to see him as more than just a partner, more than someone she was starting to become friends with? That she could just possibly be romantically interested in him? So maybe she was trying to smarten him up because *she* would find him even more attractive if he dressed more appropriately, more in conformity with her preferences?
After all, they'd spent quite a bit of time together, one way or another, in the last few months. There'd been that assignment when they'd had to pose as honeymooners, and he couldn't forget the pheromone incident — which had shown that Lois was in some way attracted to him, however much she might deny it. And when she'd been in danger from Sebastian Finn she'd spent a lot of time with him — some of it even voluntarily, rather than just because she'd felt under threat.
Maybe that was it. He stowed his purchases in the Jeep, then turned to hurry back to Lois. He wanted to find out whether he was right in his suspicions, though just how he was going to do that was beyond him for the moment. Still, he could watch her, see whether she sent him any more signals. Maybe, even, she'd be the one to make a move.
Whatever. At any rate, he was going to enjoy today a lot more than he'd expected to!
She'd needed those few minutes away from Clark, Lois thought as she sipped her double-strength latte. She was finding her partner just too attractive for her own good. And that was no good at all for her peace of mind. She had to work with him, after all! And anyway, there was no point at all in lusting after a man who was in love with someone else.
Wait a minute… lusting?
She wasn't lusting after Clark Kent! That was a crazy idea! Completely outrageous, and not at all true. Clark was just her partner, that was all. A kind of nice guy she worked with. He could be pretty funny at times, and he had a strong protective streak which, secretly, she liked. But he was just Clark, the farmboy from Kansas, who was still trying to find his way in the big city.
<And your friend>
And, yes, she admitted, her friend too. He had been a very good friend on a few occasions lately, she reminded herself. But, regardless, he was just a friend. Not someone she lusted over *at all*. Nope. No way.
She looked up at the sound of Clark's voice, and then felt a shiver run through her at the wide, open and friendly smile he was giving her. Oh, he had a killer smile…
<I am *not* attracted to Clark Kent!> she told her hormones furiously, breaking eye contact with him to take a sip of her coffee.
"I got you a coffee," she mumbled, indicating the covered container on the other side of the small table.
"You did?" Geez, why did he have to make it sound as if she'd made his day? She'd only bought him a coffee, for heaven's sake — something he did for her at least once a week, and he usually brought her one several times a day from the Planet's constantly- brewing filter machine. So the fact that she'd bought him one was hardly a big deal. And it certainly didn't mean anything, so why was he grinning at her like that?
"Actually, we'd better get going," she said abruptly, getting up before he had a chance to sit down. "There's a lot of places to cover here, and I want to be at the Upper Metropolis Mall by lunchtime."
If she'd expected him to object, she was disappointed; he simply picked up his disposable cup, took a long drink — it was just as well that the cup had been sitting for several minutes before he'd returned — and said, "Okay, let's go. Where next?"
Outside, she indicated the shop opposite. "There."
"Huh? Calvin Klein?" He blinked as she led the way inside. "Lois! I am *not* letting you choose my underwear!"
She sighed. "Clark, Calvin Klein sells a lot more than just underwear! Come and have a look at these T- shirts. And their jeans are good quality too — a good label to be seen wearing."
As Clark held up a charcoal T-shirt and held it against himself, Lois caught herself willing him to go and try it on… and, she thought, a pair of tight-fitting jeans would be an excellent idea too. Before she could think better of it, she'd grabbed a pair of black jeans in his size from a rail.
"Go on. Try these on with that T-shirt," she urged him.
"Uh… if you say so," he agreed, taking them and heading for the changing-room.
Lois hurried after him. "Don't forget to come out and let me see. I mean, I'm supposed to be advising you here!"
"Yeah, but if they don't fit I don't need to come out, surely?"
<Define 'don't fit'> Lois growled silently. If the jeans were too tight…
<Lois!> She slapped herself down mentally. This was *not* the behaviour of a professional woman, and nor was it the way to be thinking of her partner, the partner who was romantically interested in someone else. She leaned against the wall outside the fitting rooms, forcing herself to recite the names of past winners of the Kerth investigative journalism award. She'd got back to 1984 when she heard her name being called.
"Lois? Is this okay?"
Jolting out of her abstraction, she whirled around to see Clark standing in front of her, dressed in the T- shirt and jeans.
Okay? He looked a *lot* more than okay!
In fact… she wasn't even sure that she could allow him to buy those clothes. He looked far too good to be anywhere outside the movies or the pages of a fashion magazine, she realised. The T-shirt fitted perfectly, neither too tight nor too loose, defining his pectoral and abdominal muscles in a way which didn't leave that much to the imagination. The colour suited him too.
And as for the jeans… They moulded his hips and thighs and other areas of his lower body almost like a second skin. And yet when he moved, they looked comfortable. His long legs looked even longer encased in the close-fitting fabric, and the black gave him a dangerous look.
All he needed to complete the effect was a leather jacket — and she knew just where he could get one of those, too.
She swallowed. "Umm… Clark, you look… you look great," she told him, hoping that her voice didn't come out as too much of a squeak. "Ah… yeah, I think you should buy those. Yes, definitely."
"You sure?" he questioned. "I wondered if the jeans were a little on the tight side."
"Not from where I'm — uh, no. They look great," she said, amending quickly and glancing away from him before he could notice how flustered she looked. Then something else caught her eye, and she rushed over to the rail she'd noticed and grabbed a black polo shirt. "Try this," she urged. "It'll look great with the jeans. And the little CK initials logo on the front would be a nice touch for you."
He took it, looking doubtful. "It's nice, but… well, wouldn't it look pretentious?"
"Not at all," she insisted. "Go on, take off the T- shirt and try it on!"
For a moment, she thought he was about to disappear back into the changing-room. Then he paused, raising an eyebrow at her in silence. Before she could react, he reached down and pulled the charcoal T-shirt over his head. She was treated to the extremely attractive sight of his bare, muscular and very solid chest for a few too-brief seconds before he then pulled on the polo shirt.
This expedition wasn't doing her heart-rate any good at all, Lois reflected a few minutes later as she followed Clark over to the cash register. On the other hand, she was certainly getting some sights to remember!
By the time they left the outlet mall, Clark felt as if they'd done a year's worth of shopping in one day. Lois had marched him in and out of more clothes than he'd been in his entire lifetime, he thought. And he was carrying several more bags, too. There was Eddie Bauer, where she'd made him buy a couple of soft cotton shirts because she liked the feel of the fabric. And Brooks Brothers: chinos she'd insisted looked good on him, and another casual shirt, just because Lois said it looked great with the chinos. He'd also been persuaded to buy a couple of Izod shirts and more brand-name casual trousers — from Geoffrey Beene this time. Lord and Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue bags contained formal shirts for work, because Lois had claimed that most of his existing shirts needed to go to Goodwill.
They'd done tours of Abercrombie and Fitch and Polo Ralph Lauren too, though — to Clark's relief — without buying anything. Apart from the fact that Clark really hadn't liked the range of clothing supplied by Abercrombie and Fitch anyway, he was getting just a little concerned about the way he was hitting his credit card. And Lois had warned him that she intended getting him to buy at least one new pair of shoes — knowing her, those would be expensive. Nothing but the best leather, he was sure.
She'd insisted on going into American Eagle too, but he'd gripped her arm and steered her out again after only a few seconds. At her surprised look of objection, he'd said firmly that even if the clothes had been remotely in his style, the loud music definitely wasn't. She'd shrugged and, in what had probably been a small act of revenge, had steered him over to Macy's to go through their tie collection. Oh yeah, and he now had three new ties too.
But he was enjoying every minute. His bad mood of earlier that morning was completely forgotten now; if he hadn't entirely been happy with Lois's retraction of her accusation concerning Cat, he'd put it out of his mind. Watching her reaction to him trying on clothes was doing wonders for his self-confidence and well-being.
The way she'd looked at him when he'd come out of the fitting-room in Nordstrom's had been an eye-opener. But that had been nothing compared to the feral look on her face when they'd been in Calvin Klein. It had been pure instinct of the moment on his part to change T-shirts in front of her like that — and it had been worth any embarrassment he might have felt about stripping off in public.
He could have sworn that she'd almost growled.
Yes, that was the high point of the day so far, without a doubt. Well worth the damage to his credit card!
"Do I get a lunchbreak?" he asked her as they stowed his purchases in the back of the Jeep.
"Lunch, maybe — a break, no," she said crisply. "There's a drive-in Subway on the way to the other mall. We can eat on the move."
This, he supposed, was serious shopping. Executed with military precision, too. But then, he shouldn't be surprised; after all, Lois was never one to let the grass grow under her feet. Planet gossip had informed him that previous partners — none of whom had lasted long — had complained that she went about her daily life like a panther on speed. Well, he was one of the few people to whom that wasn't a problem!
The other mall was even busier than the outlet mall had been by the time they'd left. Lois, though, clearly regarded the throng of other shoppers as no more than a traffic jam to be fought through; she pushed and wove her way through the crowds in a manner which, Clark thought, an army tracker would admire.
Then she stopped, and he saw the expensive-looking sign and shop front she was gesturing at.
Hair Artistry. A very expensive and exclusive-looking hairstylist.
"I made you an appointment here," Lois was saying. "This was the only time they could fit you in. And we've only just made it, so you'd better get inside!"
"What?" Clark actually took a step backwards in his amazement. He couldn't get his hair cut! If the stylist even tried to take a scissors to his hair, the scissors would shatter in a way that he couldn't possibly explain away. Now what was he going to do?
"Clark, your hair is a disgrace," Lois said impatiently. "It's down below your collar at the back, and it keeps flopping over your glasses in front. You need a haircut — a *decent* cut, not one where your mother puts a bowl over your head. And I've booked one for you. Now. Here."
*Now* what was he supposed to do? He couldn't possibly keep the appointment. And yet if he didn't, Lois would want to know why. He could tell her that he had an appointment with his usual barber on Monday — but she'd object to that, wouldn't she, given the disparaging way she'd talked about his hairstyle. No, she'd insist that she get his hair cut properly, here, by the expensive stylist she'd picked out.
Okay. There was one thing he could do…
"That was thoughtful of you, Lois," he said with a smile. "I was just surprised, that's all. Yeah, I'll get my hair cut — and why don't you do some shopping for yourself while you're waiting?"
She shrugged. "I was planning on coming in with you. I can wait here — they'll give me a coffee and a magazine, and I can keep an eye on what they do with you."
He couldn't have that!
"Uh… no, you don't need to do that, Lois. Look, I'd love to take you to dinner tonight to thank you for all your help today," he said quickly, hoping that the panic he was feeling wasn't showing in his voice. He'd been turning over in his mind for the past hour or so the question of whether to ask her out; the idea of making it sound like a thank-you gesture, he'd thought, would stand at least some chance of success. And then, if she accepted, he could find out whether there was any truth at all in his speculation about the reason for her reaction to him today.
"We can give one of my new outfits an airing, huh?" he added, he hoped persuasively. "Why don't you go and find yourself something new too, while I'm busy here?"
Lois looked taken aback by that. "Uh… well, if it's to say thanks… yeah, that sounds nice. Okay — well, if you insist, I'll go and take a look. There were a couple of things I needed to get for myself. Uh… I'll see you in about an hour, okay? Over there." She indicated the Starbucks across the wide aisle.
"Great!" Clark said, relieved that she was actually going to let him go into the hairdressers alone — and delighted that she'd agreed to go out with him that night. Not that it would be a date; she'd bought his line about it just being a gesture of thanks. But it was a start! They'd be spending the evening together, and if he could wangle it at this short notice, it would be at a quiet, intimate restaurant.
It was just as well that he'd taken her advice and increased the credit limit on his card!
Watching Lois, he saw her walk into Victoria's Secret, and almost felt himself blush at the thought of what she might be looking at in there. Right; time to execute his plan, he told himself.
He went into Hair Artistry and caught the attention of the receptionist. "I think you have an appointment in my name — Clark Kent?"
"Ah — yes, sir, we do. Would you like to come this way?"
"Uh… actually, no," Clark said apologetically. "You see, my girlfriend made this appointment for me as a surprise, but — well, I prefer to use my own barber, and I already have an appointment set up for next week. So I'd like to cancel this one. I'm sorry about the inconvenience." He crossed his fingers behind his back as he referred to Lois as his girlfriend, but he'd decided that calling her that instead of just a friend would sound more convincing.
"Oh!" The receptionist was clearly surprised that anyone could consider the services of any other hair artist superior to those offered in his establishment. Clark gave an apologetic shrug, passed him a five-dollar tip and exited the shop, quickly ducking around the corner and down an aisle leading to an exit. Hurrying back into one of the service areas, he spun into the Suit and took off.
Back in his apartment and in the bathroom, he dug out a hand-mirror from the cabinet and arranged himself in front of the wall-mirror. This wasn't an easy operation, which was the main reason why he did it so infrequently. But Lois was right: working in an environment like the Daily Planet, at the level he did, he was expected to look professional. It wasn't enough just to be good at his job. And his hair, untouched since his second or third week at the Planet, was now considerably longer than it should be.
Engaging his heat vision, Clark began to manoeuvre its direction, and the direction of the hand mirror, and soon the smell of charred hair tissue began to fill the bathroom as chunks of hair fell to the floor.
She had to get a grip on herself, Lois insisted as she wandered around La Senza, having failed to find anything she wanted in Victoria's Secret. Clark Kent was just her partner. And her friend, of course.
But that was all. He wasn't a man she was interested in. Okay, sure, he was attractive, and naturally she was paying far more attention to his body today — she had to, since she'd taken on the role of giving him plain-speaking advice on his attire. And so of course that was why she was noticing how well-defined he was, how certain types of clothing had a tendency to fit him like a second skin.
Like those CK jeans… She had to stifle another growl as the image of him standing in front of her wearing that close-fitting black denim engraved itself on her brain. He'd looked stunningly attractive. And when he'd peeled off the T-shirt he'd been wearing in order to try on the polo shirt…
Her brain had almost shut down its functions when the shirt had come off; she'd been unable to resist staring at him. Not that it was the first time she'd seen his naked chest, but this… well, somehow it had seemed different. Then, he'd been a new and unwanted partner and she'd been doing her best to try to frighten him off. Now, he was her friend, the man who'd sneaked under her defences and made her, despite all her caution, *like* him.
And he was gorgeous.
<And he's in love with someone else, Lois!> she told herself sharply.
And *she* was in love with Superman, she reminded herself equally quickly. Superman — the hero who had *literally* swept her off her feet. Clark simply faded into the distance compared with Superman, didn't he?
But yet… well, what chance did she have with Superman, really? She'd been giving him signals for months now, and he never seemed to respond to them. She was very sure that he'd understood her signals; he was highly intelligent and seemed well attuned to Earth customs. He'd even kissed her once, in a way which had made her senses reel and taken her breath away. But he hadn't meant it. He'd been under the influence of the pheromone. Of course, if Clark's speculation was true, the pheromone simply highlighted an attraction which was already there, which meant that Superman had to be attracted to her. But he had never followed up on that kiss. Which meant that either it had been a fleeting attraction which meant nothing, or that he wasn't interested in that kind of relationship with anyone.
So, she'd been telling herself for a few weeks now, she really needed to give up on her longing for Superman. It wasn't going to go anywhere. Find herself a decent, attainable Earth guy, she'd told herself several times. The problem was that decent Earth guys were very hard to come by. And *attainable*, unattached ones were non-existent.
Which was why she should have rejected his suggestion that they go out to dinner that evening. It would feel like a date. It already felt like a date, with his suggestion that they both dress up for the occasion and that she buy something new to match his new outfit. It *wouldn't* be a date. He'd only invited her to thank her for her help today. So there was no point in fantasising…
Fantasising? Lois caught herself up short, dropping her hand from the black lace bra and panty set she'd been fingering, as if it had burned her. Fantasising about *Clark*? She had to be crazy. She *was* crazy.
Lingerie was one of Lois's few luxuries; she loved the feel of silk and lace next to her skin, and she kept her favourites carefully wrapped in tissue paper in her bottom drawer. She had bra and panty sets and camisoles and even teddies, in ivory, cream, cerise, navy-blue and deep bronze silk and satin — but not black. She'd never seen the attraction in black lace. And yet, while she'd been thinking and remembering Clark's invitation to dinner, she'd been gazing at a black lace set and imagining…
Imagining his eyes darkening as he saw her dressed only in that and nothing else. Visualising the heat in his gaze as he took a step forward. Feeling in her mind the warm touch of his hand on the satin and lace bra, fingers sliding around to find the fastening…
No! She caught herself, breathing heavily as she made herself step back from the rack. This was idiotic! She didn't think about Clark that way! If there was anyone she wanted to see her in her underwear, it was Superman. Wasn't it?
Lois forced herself to walk across to the other side of the shop, where warm winter pyjamas were still on display. That was what she needed right now: warm sleepwear, not flimsy, insubstantial underwear.
And yet, when she left La Senza ten minutes later, the attractively-tied bag she carried contained black lace lingerie.
His hair looked okay. Well, at least, he thought it did. It was fortunate that he'd stopped before actually finishing his improvised haircut and gone to have a look at some male hair*styles*. Not that that had been a simple task; he didn't exactly have any men's magazines lying around the apartment. GQ was *not* one of his regular reads.
Inspiration had led him to search out the previous weekend's edition of the Planet, which was still in his recycling bin in the kitchen. Along with the main news section was the glossy magazine — which, he'd remembered, contained several pages of fashion photographs. Men's fashions, as well as women's.
And the men in those photographs, he'd reasoned, would have stylish haircuts. Very expensive stylish haircuts.
They did. And at least one of the men had been photographed from a couple of different angles. And so, armed with the magazine, he'd returned to the bathroom; propping it open at the photograph he'd chosen as his model, he'd then resumed melting away his hair. In the end, even if he had to say so himself, he thought he'd done quite a creditable job.
If he ever lost his job as a reporter, he could earn a reasonable living as a men's hairstylist, he thought with a grin as he tidied away the evidence of his activity.
Right on the hour, having delayed at his apartment to make a reservation for that evening at a little Italian bistro he knew, Clark hurried into Starbucks, searching around for Lois. She was by the coffee display, apparently idly looking at the various flavours available for purchase. She was carrying, he noticed, a La Senza bag, and he felt warm inside again as he wondered what was inside. A hand went involuntarily to his glasses, pulling them slightly down his nose, and he almost engaged his X-ray vision…
Abruptly, he halted, as he realised what he'd been about to do. Lois's purchases were her own business, especially if they were… uh… intimate apparel. After all, he reminded himself, he'd refused to allow her to choose *his* underwear. He owed her the same level of privacy. Ogling her undergarments was *way* out of order.
Shoving his glasses back up, he crossed to her side.
"Hey, Lois! Can I get you something? Double mocha?" he offered.
She shook her head. "I don't like Starbucks coffee, Clark. You know that!"
"Uh…" He frowned, puzzled. "Then why did you suggest meeting in here?"
She shrugged. "It was convenient. And if I'd been late, you could've had a coffee, I guess." She paused, giving him a considering look; then she disconcerted him by walking slowly around him. "Hmmm. Not bad, I suppose," she told him, and he realised that she'd been assessing his hair. He held his breath; this was the acid test. Had he managed to copy the style he'd chosen convincingly enough? It had looked okay to him, but then, he wasn't Lois Lane.
"It's a little ragged at the back, which surprises me," she said. "That place is supposed to be one of the best in Metropolis. You know, I think we should go back and complain and make them sort it out."
Before Clark could say a word, Lois had marched out of Starbucks and was halfway across the concourse on the way to Hair Artistry. He managed to grab her arm and slow her down. "Lois, no! Look… uh… let's just leave it," he said weakly, as ever short of decent excuses when Lois was around. "I… it's fine. I'm happy with it. And didn't you say we have more shopping to do?"
"Clark, they can't get away with shoddy service!" she insisted. "They charge enough for what they do, after all. It's customers like you, Clark, who make the service industries believe that they can get away with anything they like. You owe it to their future clients to go back there and make them fix it!"
"Lois, I don't want to go back there," he said, as forcefully as he dared. "It's fine. Please, don't make a fuss."
She gave him an impatient look. "You're impossible sometimes, you know, Kent!"
"Yeah, I guess I am," he acknowledged, giving her a crooked smile. She was letting it drop, and he could relax again. But he resolved to go and find himself a book on hairdressing at the earliest opportunity, to avoid this kind of situation recurring.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Okay, let's get on with this. I think we need to hit Nordstrom's again — they didn't have any shoes in your size at the outlet mall, remember."
"Wait a minute," Clark interjected, very grateful for the change of subject. "I see the La Senza bag — but did you find anything to wear tonight? 'Cause if not, I'd like to help you look for something nice."
He thought he saw her flush, but then she spoke, and he knew that he had to have imagined it. "*You'd* like to help me? No offence, Clark, but I've seen your taste in clothes. I really don't think sludge- coloured plaid would suit me."
"Oh, I don't know. I mean, brown's one of your favourite colours, isn't it, Lois?" he commented, teasing gently in response to what he was sure was her defensiveness. Was she actually embarrassed, he wondered, at the thought of letting him watch her try on clothes just as she'd watched him that morning?
"I don't really need anything new anyway," she added firmly. "I have plenty of things suitable for going out to dinner. Come on. Nordstroms is down this aisle."
Rolling his eyes, Clark fell into step beside her. Shoes it was.
Half an hour later, they were on their way out of Nordstrom's, Clark having parted with yet another three-figure sum and received two pairs of shoes in exchange. He'd muttered grudgingly about the cost, but she'd pointed out to him that good-quality shoes would last considerably longer than cheap ones, and they looked and fit better. He'd pulled a face, mumbling something which sounded like "You don't know how hard I am on shoes."
Lost in contemplation of where they needed to go next — she'd decided that Clark needed a decent casual outdoor coat, but Nordstrom's was really too expensive for that kind of thing — Lois didn't notice that her companion had halted. His voice calling her name stopped her.
"Clark? What now? We need to get -"
"Lois, take a look at this." His admiring voice drew her back to him, and she realised that they were just by one of the women's fashion franchises. One of the lesser-known Italian designer labels, she saw, a company whose clothes she usually liked.
Clark was indicating a dress. It was a deep, rich blue, in a waistless style, with the hemline cut at an angle. It had plaited spaghetti straps, holding a bodice of loose fabric which, she knew, would sit very attractively — and modestly — around the wearer's bosom. It was a beautiful dress.
And Clark had picked it out… that alone surprised her. She'd imagined that his taste, like that of most men, would have run to something very short and clinging, in scarlet or black, and with a plunging neckline. This dress fell to mid-calf, and while the cut was semi-sheathlike, it wouldn't reveal every curve. It would merely hint at them.
He had excellent taste, she acknowledged thoughtfully.
"Try it on?" he suggested, a wistful note in his voice.
About to refuse — she really didn't need another dress and, however gorgeous this one was, it was bound to be expensive — she hesitated.
She'd got to watch him try on clothes all day and, however much she tried now to convince herself that she was only doing it as a favour and that she had no interest in Clark at all beyond that, it was true that she'd enjoyed the experience. It had been fun watching him appear dressed in clothes she'd chosen for him, even discounting the totally incomprehensible attraction she'd felt for him. Maybe he'd enjoy the satisfaction of getting to see her try on something he'd chosen, she acknowledged.
"Okay," she agreed, smiling slightly. "I'm just going to try it, though. I won't be buying it."
Clark shrugged. "That's up to you. Uh… what size do you need?"
She told him, he found the right size — fortunately, since there seemed to be only three of that style in the shop — and they went over to the fitting room.
It fitted. Like a glove.
In fact, it was just perfect.
Looking at herself in the mirror, Lois couldn't manage to stifle a gasp. The dress was so flattering to her figure and the colour was very striking on her. She could just imagine herself in heels, hair up, a gold necklace around her neck and a tiny clutch-bag in her hand, ready for an evening out. She couldn't remember the last time a mere piece of clothing had made her feel so good about herself.
Shy now, she emerged from the changing-room in search of Clark. He was a few feet away, casually glancing at a rack of women's separates. But then he turned, as if he'd somehow sensed her presence.
She actually saw his jaw drop. "Wow," was all he said, his voice soft, admiration in his gaze.
"You like it?" she asked, almost shyly.
"Lois, I love it! You look… you look gorgeous. You take my breath away," he told her softly, shaking his head slightly.
Now she felt like saying "Wow". She hadn't inspired that kind of reaction in a guy since her senior prom night. The expression on Clark's face told her exactly how good he thought she looked, and she felt herself almost basking in the glow of his admiration.
"I… well, I guess I should consider buying it, then," she said, even though she'd had no such intention.
"Really? That's great!" Clark grinned, but then he seemed to catch himself. "Uh… it looks expensive…"
Lois caught the price-tag which hung from the edge of the dress. It was expensive — almost $300. That was a lot of money… but on the other hand, this was a terrific dress. And if it could inspire that kind of reaction in a man, then it was worth every penny. Wasn't it?
Except the man who'd admired her in it was interested in someone else…
<He's taking you out tonight> a daring, mischievous internal voice told her.
"I can afford it," she told him confidently. "And I needed a new dress, really. Like you said, I can wear it tonight, right?"
A broad smile curved across her partner's face. "Right."
"Lois, I really don't need a leather jacket," Clark protested, aware that he was fighting a losing battle. She'd insisted on dragging him into Wilson's after they'd left Nordstrom's, despite his plaintive suggestion that maybe it was time to go home.
"Clark, you need something decent. I know you have a good woollen overcoat, but that's not suitable for casual wear. What do you wear when you go out for the evening?"
He shrugged. "Whatever I need. A sweater… maybe a raincoat. And I have a coat, Lois!"
"A beat-up old one you wear around the farm, right?" she threw back at him.
He shrugged. "It's not that old."
"At least try one on. In fact…" She looked thoughtful, then said, "You really should get those CK jeans from the car. See what black leather would look like with those."
Clark couldn't quite stifle a smile at that. He'd been pretty sure at the time that Lois wasn't exactly unaffected by the sight of him in those jeans. He still remembered how she'd looked when he'd asked her whether they weren't too tight. It was almost worth going out to the car to get them…
Imagining himself prowling out of the changing room in the tight jeans, an equally tight black T-shirt and one of those expensive jackets, hair slicked back from his face and his spectacles replaced with a pair of shades. Imagining Lois staring at him, her lips parted, her heart-rate increased, her pupils dilated as she took in the sight of him… imagining him reaching out to pull her to him, her coming willingly, pressing herself against his chest so that he could dip his head and kiss her…
Like *that* would happen!
Well, okay, she was clearly enjoying the view today. Just as he had when she'd tried on that dress which had made her look even more beautiful. But she'd given no sign that she was interested in anything more. So he shouldn't start assuming that it did.
"Clark? Are you going to try one on?"
He shook himself out of his thoughts, seeing Lois giving him a faintly impatient glare. "No," he answered, softening the refusal with a smile. "Lois, I've already spent more than I can afford today. And I like the stuff here. Too much. I don't want to try anything on in case I like it even more." He gave her a self-deprecating grin. "Look, next month when I've paid off some of today's purchases, I'll come back here — you can even come with me if you'd like to give me the benefit of your advice — and I'll think about buying one."
"Black leather," she said instantly. "Not padded or quilted — you don't need it."
"I don't?" Flattered, even though he was well aware of his own musculature, he felt himself blush.
She patted his chest. "No, you don't."
Fighting the urge to cover her hand with his own, Clark gave a faint shrug and smiled at her. "If you say so. Anyway, is there anywhere else you have a burning desire to take me, or can we go home now?"
"We can go. Come on." And, to his amazement, she slid her hand through his arm before leading him out of the shop and back through the mall to the car park.
At home in her apartment, Lois glanced at her watch for about the tenth time since she'd got back. Clark had insisted on coming to pick her up at seven, and although she *knew* it was only a little after five now she still couldn't seem to prevent herself checking the time.
<Anyone would think you were nervous! You're acting like a kid on a first date> she told herself caustically. But that still didn't stop her wondering just what an evening spent in Clark's company would be like… and asking herself over and over again whether she should have begged off.
Of course she should have begged off. Because Clark was her partner and no more, and he was never going to be any more. She didn't *want* him to be any more. She should have called tonight off because she'd started to *notice* Clark today in ways which were… well, inappropriate for the nature of their relationship. Because she didn't *want* to notice him in that way. And because, anyway, he was in love with someone else.
She wanted things to go back to the way they had been between the two of them. Partners. And friends; friends who occasionally spent time together outside work, who teased each other, who understood each other and occasionally confided in the other. She'd been happy with that relationship; she'd known exactly where she stood with Clark. And he with her, presumably.
It had been safe.
And now… well, it wasn't that anything had changed between them, exactly. And that was the problem. Now, she was thinking about Clark in a way she never had before — well, not really. That day she'd found him dressed in a towel didn't count, she told herself. Now, she was remembering just how *sexy* Clark had looked in that tight polo shirt and those figure- hugging jeans. How the well-cut suit had flattered a body which had been hidden away beneath ill-fitting clothes. And how sinuously he'd moved as he'd walked around, showing off his new garments.
Even now, she could feel herself growing warm at the memory. Clark Kent — the Clark Kent she'd seen today — was altogether too distracting for her peace of mind.
Now, she was lusting after her partner in a way which was simply not Lois Lane's style. She *never* lusted after men. She might admire one's physique in passing if it was warranted, but she never reacted like this, and especially not to someone she worked with.
In fact, the only other man recently who'd even remotely managed to get this kind of heated reaction out of her was Superman. And Clark — well, he was attractive, but he was no Superman.
And all of that was exactly why she shouldn't be going out with him. She needed to get herself back into the frame of mind where she regarded him as just a friend and no more. Going on what was more or less a dinner date wasn't going to help her there!
Yet she wanted to go. She was looking forward to it. She'd already laid out the new dress, ready to wear, and had chosen shoes, a coat and accessories. She'd been imagining, ever since Clark had asked her, where he'd choose to take her — somewhere popular and busy and noisy, or a quiet, less-patronised restaurant which offered good food and unobtrusive surroundings? Somewhere upmarket, or a cheap and cheerful pizza place? The latter was unlikely, though, since he knew that she'd be wearing her new dress.
And how would he behave? The same as ever — her amusing, occasionally a little naive, occasionally argumentative, but always considerate partner? Or would he, too, see this evening as different from previous occasions when they'd eaten together: would Clark Kent the reporter turn into Clark Kent, gentleman on a date? He was a very old-fashioned guy in many respects. His manners were almost always courteous — drummed into him by Martha, of course — and as such, she could imagine him treating a date as if she was the most important woman in the world.
Now, that would be something to experience…
Except that, since his interest lay elsewhere, she'd be running the risk of succumbing to all that considerate attention, and wanting something she couldn't have.
Or would she? But, really, she wasn't interested in Clark romantically, was she? Okay, she found him attractive. There was no denying that, no matter how much she'd argued the point after the pheromone attack. But she didn't really want to *date* him! Of course not! She worked with him! That would be a sure way to disaster.
No, she didn't want to date him… though she couldn't seem to prevent her thoughts straying in the direction of kisses and caresses.
Just what would a real kiss from Clark be like? How would it feel to be held against his solid, muscular body in a real embrace? She'd been hugged by him several times, but if he was kissing her too it would feel very different, she was sure. It was a shame that they couldn't play 'let's pretend' just for one evening, she thought. No strings, no ties, nothing beyond that one evening: dinner, conversation and a few kisses to say goodnight. And back to normal the next day at work.
Unfortunately, life didn't work that way. Could she really forget it, if she were to enjoy it? She'd been kissed by Clark before, hadn't she? And even though on two out of three occasions they'd been ruses, those kisses had been mind-blowing enough to stick in her memory.
And then there was Clark's likely reaction. Okay, she knew him well enough now to be sure that he was no Claude. But even still, would he be able to resist boasting to the other guys about his conquest? That he'd melted the ice-woman Lois Lane? Tamed the Mad Dog? She could just imagine the locker-room conversation which would ensue. Maybe he wouldn't tell — but could she take the risk?
Sighing, she went to the freezer and removed a tub of double chocolate chip ice-cream. At times like this, comfort food was necessary. The thoughts she was having were far too distracting for her peace of mind.
Digging the spoon into the tub, Lois was struck by another thought, which made her earlier ramblings redundant.
*The pheromone hadn't made Clark pursue her.* Unlike her reaction to him when she'd been under its influence.
Clark wasn't attracted to her. Oh, he'd admired her in the dress, but that didn't have to mean that there was anything there beyond male appreciation for an attractive woman, did it? Did it?
The shrill of the telephone prevented her from arguing that point with herself any further. Absently sticking the ice-cream spoon in her mouth, for want of anywhere better to put it, Lois got up to answer the phone.
"Hello?" she mumbled, then muttered a curse as the spoon fell from her mouth to the floor.
"Lois? Is everything all right?"
"Martha!" she exclaimed, forgetting about the spoon and switching all her attention to her caller. "Oh, yes — I just dropped something. Nothing important."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that," Martha Kent said, sounding relieved. "I'm not calling at a bad time, am I?"
"Not at all!" Lois exclaimed. In fact, it was the perfect time, she told herself. The ideal distraction from thoughts of Clark.
"I just wanted to know how things went today, that's all," Martha explained.
"You went shopping with Clark, didn't you? I was just wondering how it all went."
<Some distraction!> "Oh! Well, yeah, it was fine. I mean, we bought lots of things — I guess he'll be paying off his credit card for the next few months."
"Oh dear!" She heard Martha chuckle. "Well, that sounds great, Lois. I can't wait to see what you suggested he buy."
"Well…" Lois began to reel off descriptions of several items, and Martha interjected approval here and there.
"Oh, he's really going to look smart! They won't know him in Smallville," Clark's mother said at last. "I just hope he gets a chance to wear some of those nice casual outfits you mentioned."
Before she could stop and think, Lois blurted out, "Well, he'll get a chance tonight. We're going out to dinner."
"You are?" Now Martha sounded extremely interested. "On a *date*?"
"Um… well, no!" Lois protested. "He asked me… it's just to say thanks for my help, that's all. And anyway, he's in love with someone else. You told me that. So why would it be a date?"
"Oh, well, a man can change his mind too, can't he?" Martha said lightly. "But even if he hasn't, I'm glad he's taking you out. I mean, he could probably do with the practice… taking a smart city woman out, I mean. Maybe you could…"
"Give him some pointers?" Lois finished dryly. "I guess," she added after a moment. Maybe that would be one way to play 'let's pretend'; to encourage Clark to act as if it was a real date so that she could give him some tips on how to treat a woman. Always assuming that he needed it… And on that thought, she added, "Though, you know, Martha, you might be under-estimating Clark. I don't think he's that uncultured. Or lacking in social skills."
"Oh, I don't think he's lacking anything like that! He just needs a bit more confidence in himself," Martha answered in a confiding tone.
"I guess…" Lois replied thoughtfully. *Was* Clark under-confident when it came to women? She'd thought not, remembering the way other women had seemed to flock to him, but this was twice now that Martha had said so. And she'd agreed with Martha on the previous occasion, hadn't she?
If he really was as unsure of himself as Martha insisted, then maybe it would be a kindness if she treated this evening as if it was a practice date, wouldn't it? And she could do that…
And maybe, just maybe, he'd start to think twice about this woman he was in love with. After all, hadn't Martha pointed out that men could change their minds too? And it wasn't as if she could really believe that Clark wasn't attracted to her, despite his lack of obvious interest when they'd all been struck by the pheromone. She'd seen the way he'd looked at her when she'd tried on that dress, she reminded herself. If he could look at her like that, then he wasn't completely committed to this dream woman of his…
Well, not irrevocably, anyway. In any case, he wasn't actually dating her — or even close, if Martha was to be believed. And they did say that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush!
"Martha, what are you up to?"
Martha replaced the receiver and turned to her husband with an impish smile. "Oh, just trying to hint our son and Lois in the direction they'd be going in if they both weren't so stubborn," she said lightly.
"Martha…" Jonathan said, frowning. "You're not interfering, are you?"
She grinned in response. "Would I do that?"
He rolled his eyes. "I know I admitted that I knew Clark was in love with Lois all along—"
"After I dragged the confession out of you! I knew you weren't normally so dense!"
Jonathan grinned. "It was fun watching you get so worked up." Then he sobered. "I just hope you know what you're doing, honey."
"Well, Clark certainly doesn't know what he's doing!"
Jonathan gave her an anxious look. Martha slipped her hand through his arm in reassurance. "Oh, don't worry, Jonathan! I haven't done anything other than… well, just given Lois something to think about."
"Well, let's just hope that Clark's thinking too," he said, with a slow smile. "Otherwise he'll make even more of a mess of things than he already seems to be doing!"
"Oh, he just needs a little push," Martha said fondly. "And I'm hoping that he's been getting one from the right direction today!"
Clark finished totalling his credit card receipts and winced. Ouch. He'd be paying that off for at least the next few months, barring any other financial emergencies. He hadn't intended to spend *that* much!
But it had been worth it, he decided immediately. Lois had been right: he'd needed to smarten up. And, even though he'd never been particularly vain, he couldn't help noticing just how much better those new suits looked on him than the baggy and unfashionable jacket and trouser combinations he'd been wearing. And while, strictly speaking, he hadn't really needed the casual clothes, he hadn't been able to resist those either.
No; the real reason it had all been worth it was to see Lois look at him in the way she had so many times during the day. Admiringly. No, even hungrily at one point. It had almost, but not quite, resembled the way she sometimes looked at Superman, if he deducted the starry-eyed gaze. She'd thought he looked attractive. She'd *liked* the way he looked.
Today, she'd actually been looking *at* him. Not through him, or past him, or around him — *at* him. And she'd been liking what she saw.
They were going to dinner tonight. Not a date, of course, but still, it presented opportunities. In particular, the opportunity to test whether her interest might go beyond simply looking. They could talk, of course. And he could try some gentle flirting, or just be particularly attentive. Make his attraction to her clear, but in subtle ways, and see how she responded.
He'd learned from previous experience — there was no way that he'd make the mistake of staring at her like a besotted puppy again. At the time, he'd interpreted Lois's response of "Don't fall for me, Farmboy — I don't have time for it" as a simple statement that she didn't have time for relationships. With hindsight, he recognised it for exactly what it was: a warning not to develop a crush on her. She didn't have time, she'd meant, to deal with an overgrown adolescent giving her adoring glances across the newsroom and falling into fits of despair because she didn't return them.
Actually, kind of like Lois's crush on Superman, he thought, frowning slightly.
Yes, she'd identified his interest then as an incipient crush. And she might have been right — at that point. Since then, though, his feelings had deepened. He loved Lois Lane. And he intended to show that he knew the difference between his boyish behaviour then and the behaviour of a man who was interested in a woman. And, he hoped, she might realise that a down-to-earth man who was interested in her was a better bet than an ephemeral Super-hero who kept her firmly at arm's length.
So, it was time to get ready, he decided. And he'd wear some of the clothes he'd bought today, carefully chosen with an eye to what Lois had seemed to admire on him most — well, other than the black jeans and polo shirt. They weren't really appropriate for La Farfalla. Something a bit more classy. And he'd see whether she continued to *notice* him, the way she had earlier in the day.
Clark checked his watch before heading towards his bedroom, on the way to take a shower. In not much more than an hour, Lois Lane was going to discover what it was like to be taken out to dinner by Clark Kent.
And he intended to make it an experience she'd want to repeat.
Lois checked her reflection one final time in her bedroom mirror, smoothing over a couple of strands of hair before deciding that she looked as good as she was going to look.
The dress was every bit as perfect as it had been in Macy's. Her dark blue pumps went very well with it, lending her some added height and, she thought, elegance. Her sapphire pendant, on its gold chain, nicely filled in the gap between neckline and throat, and her small evening bag — also in a coordinating colour — was filled and ready.
Underneath the dress, she was wearing the black lace lingerie. She hadn't intended wearing it, but somehow once she'd taken it out of the bag she hadn't been able to resist trying it on. Once on, it felt very comfortable, surprisingly so for sexy lingerie… and it *looked* sensational. *She* looked sensational.
She hadn't been able to resist trying on the dress over it, either. She'd told herself that she just wanted to see whether the lace of the bra was visible through the dress, to figure out whether it was a set she could wear with evening wear. And she could see no trace of the bra in the mirror.
In the end, she'd decided that she would really enjoy the sensation of wearing her sexiest lingerie, and knowing that her dining partner was oblivious to it. Too much, in fact, not to give in to the temptation.
She'd tried her hair both up and down, unable for a time to decide which was best. Lois knew that she looked very sophisticated with her hair up, and she was also aware that the look enhanced her slender, shapely neck. But by wearing it up would she be sending Clark a message she didn't want? Would she be telling him that this was more than two friends having dinner together? That would definitely be a bad idea. On the other hand, she'd argued with herself, she was wearing her gorgeous new dress. She *wanted* to look good.
In the end, she'd compromised by wearing her hair down, but in a side parting and a much softer style than the sleek bob she wore most of the time. And, even if she said it herself, she looked terrific. Tonight, she would make heads turn.
But Clark's was the only head she wanted to turn…
Lois squashed that thought instantly. He might be gorgeous; he might even be entertaining company some of the time. But he was her partner, which made any thoughts of anything more a very bad idea. Plus, he was in love with someone else.
Someone who probably didn't deserve him…
Again, the thought was squashed. Who Clark was dating — or wanted to date — was of no concern whatsoever to her. The unknown woman should be grateful to her, however — thanks to Lois Lane, Clark Kent was going to be a prize fit to be seen.
Though that was unfair, her conscience prodded her. He'd always been fit to be seen. It was just that now he was wrapped up a little better than before — but it wasn't the outward appearance that made the man. It was what he was underneath — and Clark had always had the kind of finer qualities any woman should appreciate.
Checking her watch once more — it was ten to seven — Lois settled herself to wait on the sofa. Two seconds later, she snatched up the remote control, flicking on the TV. The last thing she wanted was to have Clark think she'd just been sitting there waiting for him.
In fact… She bit her lip, then stopped immediately, remembering her lipstick. But, yes, sitting on the sofa — even if she was watching TV — was giving the wrong message entirely. That would tell Clark that she'd been ready before he got there. She got up, turning off the TV and scurrying back to her bedroom. She would sit on the bed, then come out when he knocked as if he'd caught her in the final stages of getting ready.
But even then she couldn't sit still. Was her hair still the way she'd styled it? Lois was sure that she could feel some strands where they shouldn't be — so she had to get up and go to the dressing-table and check in the mirror. No, her hair was fine. But her lipstick looked a bit smudged, didn't it? While reapplying that, she couldn't help but notice that her necklace was sitting just a little bit crooked. So she spent at least a minute fiddling with that.
Then she looked at her watch again, and immediately held it to her ear to check that it was actually ticking. The watch insisted that it wasn't even five to seven.
Of all the times for Clark to decide that he'd be on time, not early!
A tentative knock sounded on her apartment door, followed a second or so later by a couple of firmer raps.
Instantly, Lois shot to her feet and headed for the bedroom door. Then she checked herself, giving herself a stern reminder that she was *not* supposed to be rushing to answer the door. She was *not* to give the impression that she'd been ready for ages and had been waiting patiently for Clark to come.
She took a deep breath, then called sharply, "Just a minute!"
Forcing herself to walk *slowly*, she moved across the living-room and to her front door, then — still with slow movements — she undid the various locks until, finally, she was able to open the door to Clark.
"I'm sorry; was I ea…?" he began, but he trailed off before finishing his question. And for the second time that day, Lois felt herself grow warm inside at his look of stunned approval. She stood, embarrassment, delight and impatience warring inside her as his gaze caressed her, his expression admiring.
She shouldn't want Clark Kent's admiration!
But… it felt pretty darned good anyway.
*He* was looking very nice himself. The brown chinos from Geoffrey Beene looked every bit as good on him as they had in the shop. And he'd paired them with the moss-green shirt she'd picked out in Izod, the one with the really soft fabric she hadn't been able to resist stroking over and over.
Had he chosen to wear that because he knew she liked it? That was thoughtful of him — or maybe he was just trying to impress her.
<And it's working…>
Lois squashed that thought, just as she squashed the other little voice which was bemoaning the fact that Clark wasn't wearing the Calvin Klein black jeans and polo shirt.
"Wow… you look amazing, Lois," he said, his voice husky. He hadn't moved from the door; in fact, he was still staring at her as if transfixed.
How could any woman not feel flattered at that kind of admiration? Trying to quell her blushes, Lois stood back from the door. "Come on in, Clark." As he moved past her, she added, "You look pretty good too."
"Thanks." Was he blushing, or was it her imagination? He'd been holding one hand behind his back; now, he swung it around to reveal a bouquet of roses. A dozen yellow roses.
"These are for you," he said. "To thank you again for everything you did today."
Now Lois felt herself flushing once again. "Clark, they're lovely!" She took the bouquet from him, inhaling the scent of freshly-cut flowers. That was odd, she thought; hothouse flowers rarely had scent any more. And any roses sold in Metropolis would hardly be freshly-cut. Very strange.
Dismissing her puzzlement, she added, "I'll just put them in water. But you really didn't need to, Clark. I mean, I thought that was why you wanted to take me out to dinner."
She just caught his awkward smile as she turned to walk towards the kitchen. "Lois, if I'm taking a woman to dinner, I bring her flowers," he explained, a note of embarrassment in his voice.
Had she hurt his feelings? Struck, Lois turned back to her partner. "I didn't mean that I don't appreciate them, Clark. Really. They're beautiful. I just… well, I didn't expect it, that's all."
His brilliant smile was back then. "I don't like to conform to people's expectations all the time," he told her, shoving his hands in the pockets of his chinos. "It'd get very boring, wouldn't it? It's nice to be able to surprise people once in a while."
And he was certainly surprising her today, Lois thought. It was just such a shame…
But she would *not* think about Clark that way!
If he'd thought the dress looked good on Lois in the shop, that was nothing compared to the sight of his partner now, Clark thought as he watched Lois rather inexpertly arranging the roses in a crystal vase. She'd done something with her hair — he wasn't quite sure what, but it was softer, fluffier than usual, and made him long to run his fingers through it. The skirt of the dress flowed gently around her legs as she moved, the bodice shifting and caressing her upper body at the same time. And he wasn't sure whether it was because she'd taken more trouble over her make-up than usual, but she simply glowed. She was radiant.
If he wasn't already head over heels in love with her, he would fall in love with her on the spot.
And she was going out to dinner with him. He had three hours to try to make Lois Lane fall in love with him in return.
"Ready to go?"
He blinked, realising that Lois was speaking to him. "Uh… yeah. Actually, I have a taxi waiting downstairs, so we'd better hurry, if you don't mind."
She slid her arms into a coat. "A taxi? Clark, we can take my car!"
He moved behind her to hold the coat for her. "No, we can't. Lois, I'm taking you out, therefore it's my responsibility to provide transport. And that doesn't mean borrowing your car!"
Lois shook her head, leading the way to the door. "You're such an old-fashioned gentleman, Clark!"
"Only when it's appropriate," he pointed out, reaching past her to open the door for her.
"That's true." She gave him a considering look as they walked down the hall together. "You've never once given me the impression that you think I'm somehow less suited to my job because I'm a woman."
Clark laughed aloud. "*You*, Lois? I couldn't imagine anyone daring to tell a three-times Kerth winner that she shouldn't be doing her job!"
She shrugged. "It's happened once or twice. Not so much now, true. But women do have to work harder to prove themselves."
He knew that she was right; he'd read the research himself and attended the talks at Press Club and Newspaper Guild conferences. Women did have to do more to prove themselves in this career, as in almost any other. But Lois surely wasn't the kind of woman to let *anyone* walk all over her?
Maybe not. But, on the other hand, she had told him about another reporter who'd used her and stolen her story. She'd been younger then, less experienced. So clearly Lois had met setbacks along the way — one in particular which wouldn't have happened had she been a man. And that was, no doubt, what had made her all the more determined to let no-one stop her getting to the top.
Including Clark Kent, he thought with a wry grin, remembering the first weeks of their acquaintance and the time she'd stolen a story from him. She'd never done that again — not, he thought, because she thought she wouldn't get away with it, but because she'd come to respect him for the way he'd handled it. And she wouldn't do it now because they were friends.
Friends. And — just maybe — something more?
Clark was very solicitous as they exited the taxi and walked to the restaurant. After paying the driver, he held the door for Lois and then offered her his arm. That amused her and, entering into the spirit of things, she accepted it, walking arm in arm with him along the street to the restaurant he'd chosen. Italian, she noticed. Nice choice, too; she'd never eaten at La Farfalla, but she was aware that it had got some good reviews recently. It wasn't a cheap and cheerful Italian, but nor was it one of the expensively pretentious restaurants with which Metropolis was over-supplied.
It had a pleasant, friendly ambiance, Lois thought as Clark escorted her inside. The maitre d' came straight over, smiling warmly at them. "Ah, Signor Kent! It is good to see you again," he said in what, so far as Lois could tell, was a genuine Italian accent.
He knew Clark? Funny; he hadn't struck her as the kind of man who would be known at restaurants. But he was clearly a regular. Who else had he brought here? What other women had he taken out?
"It's always a pleasure to eat here, Andrea," Clark replied, smiling in return. "May I introduce my friend, Ms Lane?" He turned to Lois, adding once the maitre d' had greeted her, "I always come here when my folks are in town. Mom loves the seafood linguini."
"Only made with the freshest shrimp and scallops, Ms Lane," Andrea said. "And all our pasta is made fresh every day."
"It sounds wonderful," Lois assured him, and she wasn't lying. The delicious aromas coming from the area of the kitchen were proof enough. Just how was it that Clark seemed to know all the best places to eat? She'd lived in Metropolis all her life and he'd only been here a little over six months, and yet she'd never found Chinese takeout as good as the meals he'd brought, and so far La Farfalla was looking every bit as good, if not better, than even the most expensive Italian restaurant she'd ever been to.
"Your table is here," Andrea was saying as he escorted them over to a secluded corner of the restaurant, where the lighting was a little dimmer than near the door. The table he indicated was set at a discreet distance from any others — looking around, Lois noticed that none of the tables looked at all cramped. The owners obviously didn't believe in cramming customers in. It really was the perfect place for an intimate dinner for two.
But this wasn't an intimate dinner for two! she reminded herself. It was just a friendly dinner with her partner!
Andrea took her wrap as Clark held her chair out for her. Another waiter hurried up bearing menus and a candle-lighter, greeting Clark by name, and before Lois had even had a chance to open her menu the waiter was back with a jug of iced lemon water.
"So, what do you think so far?" Clark asked with a smile when they were alone again.
"I'm impressed!" she told him, laughing. "They seem to know you well."
He grinned. "Like I said, I take my folks here — we were here only last week. So I guess they remember me. But the service is always excellent, and very friendly."
His glasses glinted in the candlelight as he looked at her, and together with the warmth of his smile he looked suddenly devastatingly handsome. Lois swallowed and immediately turned her attention to her menu. She wasn't supposed to be noticing her partner's physical attributes!
Although… She had wondered earlier if it might be possible to make Clark understand that there were other fish in the sea…
"So," she said brightly, gesturing at the menu. "Anything in particular you'd recommend?"
She was looking beautiful tonight, Clark reflected again as he watched Lois in the light of the candle on their table. She was glowing. Conversation and even laughter flowed easily between them, and her eyes sparkled with evident enjoyment.
She was having a good time. That was obvious. Lois was having a great time on an evening out with him — not a date, but it suggested that she might be persuaded to go on a date for real, didn't it?
Maybe he could ask her…
"So, Clark, what do you look for in a woman?" Her silvery voice interrupted his thoughts, and he blinked, refocusing on her words.
<Anything, so long as she's you…> The words almost left his lips, but he bit them back just in time.
"Well…" he temporised. Then, giving a slight shrug, he tried to explain without actually giving too much away. "I like women who are intelligent and thoughtful — the sort of woman who has interests and gets passionate about them. Who can hold her own in any debate and doesn't let anyone intimidate her into keeping quiet. She'd have ambition too — she wouldn't let anyone hold her back, and especially not because she's a woman. She'd be better than any mere man at what she does." He smiled, remembering the way Lois had behaved in the first week he'd known her; her determination to prove to him that she was way, way better than he could ever be. That she was simply the best there was.
But there was more, he knew. "The woman I'd want to be with is capable of passion," he said, meaning that term in more than simply a sexual way. "But," he added, remembering another incident from that first week, "she'd have a sense of humour, too — she can laugh at herself. And she's someone who can be my best friend as well as… well, more."
Realising then that he might have said too much, Clark halted, taking a sip of his wine as an excuse.
"Wow! That's quite some woman you're looking for!" Lois exclaimed. "Do you think you're likely to find anyone like that? Or is that your perfect woman, and you're prepared to settle for less?"
"Would you be prepared to settle for less?" Clark threw the question back at her, wanting to avoid too close an examination of his own situation. There was no way that he wanted to admit to her that he'd already found his ideal woman!
She hesitated. Then, looking down at her plate, she said quietly, "I think my problem is that in the past I have settled for less — and it's always been a disaster. So, no, I wouldn't. Not any more."
Already preparing himself for an answer he knew he wouldn't like hearing, Clark made himself ask the question. "So… what's your ideal man?"
She paused, taking a sip of her wine, a move Clark suspected was as much a delaying tactic as his had been. Then she said slowly, "I think — no, I *know* — that I want a man who's extraordinary."
Yep, he'd been right. Clark felt his heart sinking. Ever since he'd invented his alter ego, she'd only had eyes for Superman. There were times, tonight included, that he wished he'd never asked his mother to design him that Suit.
An extraordinary man. Who else but Superman?
Though, he reminded himself, there was also Lex Luthor. That man had been sniffing around Lois far too much for Clark's liking — and Lois didn't seem to be in any hurry to tell him to take a hike. In her view, since she didn't seem to believe his insistence that Luthor wasn't what he seemed, was Luthor another extraordinary man?
"I know what you're thinking," Lois was saying with a self-deprecating laugh. "Superman. That's who I'm talking about. Isn't that what you're thinking?"
"Um… well, I guess you have been pretty awed by him," Clark said, trying not to let the fierce bolt of jealousy which had assaulted him show.
"Yeah, well, he is pretty awe-inspiring, isn't he?" Lois pointed out. "But I didn't mean him. Come on, Clark, even I know that he's never going to look my way. Even if he's interested in settling down with someone, it's hardly going to be me. He could have anyone he wants! Why would he want to be with -"
"Someone like you?" Clark finished quietly, as Lois halted abruptly. "Why wouldn't he, Lois? You're pretty awe-inspiring yourself, you know."
She blushed, and Clark grimaced inwardly, hoping that he hadn't revealed too much of his feelings.
"That's very sweet of you, Clark," she said softly. "I guess… yes, I did mean that there's nothing all that special about me — but also, I'm a reporter. I could see him wanting to keep well away from the media and publicity when he's out of the public eye. But anyway… no, I didn't mean Superman. I meant… well, I think any man who could accept me just as I am would have to be extraordinary."
Lois took another sip of wine. Almost holding his breath, Clark waited to hear what she would say next; so far, she'd surprised him totally.
"He'd have to have lots of patience, I know that," she said thoughtfully, now seeming lost in thought as she contemplated the remains of the wine in her glass. "I know I run off the deep end sometimes, and I get these *impulses* which I just have to do something with — any guy without much patience would never be able to put up with me. He'd also need a sense of humour. And, I hate to say it, but I guess he'd also need to be pretty determined. I need someone who can stand up to me."
She paused, frowned slightly, then added, "I guess what I mean is the way you don't back down with me all the time. Sometimes you do tell me I'm wrong and you make me fight my corner. You don't let me have things my own way all the time. And on the *very* rare occasions when I make mistakes -" She broke off and gave him a flash of a teasing grin "- you manage to tell me you were right in a way which doesn't make me mad at you. You know," she added wonderingly, "I've never quite worked out how you do that."
Clark grinned in response, though his mind was awhirl. "I guess we just make a good team," he suggested.
Her words were making him crazy. She'd actually said that the sort of man she needed was someone like him! She'd described his way of dealing with her as what she needed — and the other characteristics she'd listed, he thought, fit him perfectly. He *could* be patient — he'd already been more patient with her than she'd ever know. And he thought he had a good sense of humour. He knew, for instance, that another man would have reacted very differently to Lois stealing his story — especially given that he knew she'd also had an important story stolen from her in the past. Another man might have shown her an angry response, maybe even reported her to Perry. Certainly, someone else might never have worked with her again. Instead, he had sought his revenge in a different way, a humorous way — and one which had made her respect him.
Was she, finally, coming to see him as more than a work colleague?
Clark made a decision right there and then as he sat back to allow Andrea, who had come over to ask whether they were enjoying their meal, to refill their wine-glasses. He decided that, regardless of how this evening had come about, he was now going to regard it as a real date.
He was already treating Lois exactly as if she was on a date with him. But now, he resolved, the date would end in the traditional style, too. Because, if she really was beginning to view him differently, he'd be a fool to miss an opportunity like this.
Assuring Andrea that the meal was, as usual, delicious, Clark smiled warmly at Lois, raising his glass towards her. "Here's to us making an even better team in future."
She clinked her glass against his, returning his smile. "Absolutely!"
Lois smiled at Clark and echoed his toast, but inside her stomach still felt as if it had turned to lead.
She was managing to cover it; she was sure of that, much to her relief, but about ten minutes ago this faux-date had turned into a nightmare.
Clark had described his ideal woman, in answer to her question, and it was too exact a description.
That wasn't some ideal he hoped to meet some day. Clark had already met his perfect woman, and it was *her* he'd been describing.
This was the woman he was in love with.
Of course it was, she told herself brutally. She'd known that Clark was in love with someone — Martha had told her that. So of course he'd have described this mysterious woman, whoever she was.
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask Clark about his would-be girlfriend, but she checked herself just in time. She wasn't supposed to know about this paragon. Martha had told her in confidence, and she wasn't about to tell Clark that his mother had been discussing him behind his back. Besides… Besides, the real reason why she didn't want to ask Clark about her was that she didn't want to hear the answer.
No, she didn't want to spend the rest of the evening listening to Clark gushing about this woman who had stolen his heart — this perfect icon of womanhood who, Lois was already sure, was nothing like as perfect as Clark seemed to be picturing her. He'd probably put her on a pedestal, refusing to notice her faults. No doubt he thought she had none. Which was absolute nonsense — no-one had no faults at all! Not even Superman, she acknowledged. Not that she'd seen much in the way of faults from him, but… well, he must have them.
She'd lost. That was a fact she would simply have to recognise. She'd started the evening wondering whether there was a possibility that she could persuade Clark to forget that undeserving object of his desire and look in her direction instead. After all, if that woman, whoever she was, didn't appreciate Clark enough to go out with him, then how could she possibly deserve him? And why shouldn't he then, with a little encouragement, open his eyes and recognise that he could have everything he wanted with Lois instead?
But she'd lost. In just a few sentences, he'd proved to her that he was so deeply in love with this other woman that it would take a miracle for him to change his mind.
And, Lois had to admit as she tried to remain light- hearted, joking with Clark over dessert and finally agreeing to share something wickedly chocolate with him, if she'd lost any chance with him it was her own fault.
She'd had the chance first, hadn't she? He'd shown interest in her in the beginning. But she'd told him bluntly not to fall for her. And then, when she'd been given a second chance, she'd first of all been reluctant to accept his invitation to dinner, only saying yes when he'd presented it as an opportunity to celebrate — and then she'd cried off when she'd remembered that she was supposed to be seeing Lex Luthor.
She'd been a complete idiot. How could she have missed acknowledging then just what a desirable man Clark Kent was? Because it wasn't that she hadn't seen it. She had. Of course she had. It hadn't taken today's shopping expedition to show her that — if that had been the case, she'd have been appallingly shallow. No; underneath that ill-fitting suit, right from the beginning, he'd been the most attractive man she'd ever seen — well, until Superman had come along, of course, though even Superman wasn't that much better-looking than Clark.
Though anyway it wasn't all about looks — of course not. She'd realised, even in that first week they'd known each other, that Clark Kent was a man like none other she'd ever met before. He'd shown her loyalty and kindness at a time when she'd expected neither — and hadn't deserved those qualities from him, either. He was talented, clever, witty, quick-thinking and downright good company.
And, in his own way, extraordinary. Just as she'd told Clark — yes, she too had been describing someone she knew. And now she was fervently hoping that he wouldn't realise.
Clark had been attracted to her in the beginning. But she'd been too stupid to see what was under her nose, and then later she'd been blinded by Spandex. She had only herself to blame for the fact that he was now head over heels in love with someone else, and she was destined only to be his friend. And his style consultant.
It was a suitably ironic punishment, she told herself: having rejected Clark outright herself, it now fell to her to perform a makeover on him for the ultimate benefit of another woman. She was turning him — outwardly, at least; internally, he'd needed no alteration — into her perfect man. And once the transformation was complete, just as the Phantom of the Opera watched his Christine go to Raoul, she would see him leave her for someone else.
She just hoped that, unlike the Phantom, she could summon the dignity to let him go without ever revealing how she felt about him.
Clark waited for Lois to enter the taxi ahead of him, his heart beginning to beat more rapidly as the end of the evening approached. Now, they would travel the relatively short distance to Carter Avenue and her apartment building, and he would walk her to her door. She might invite him in for coffee, but equally she might not — and then they would say goodnight.
He just hoped that his courage wouldn't give out on him when it mattered most.
As far as he could tell, the evening had been a great success. Lois had loved the restaurant, and he hadn't missed the deft way she'd picked up one of Andrea's cards on the way out, while he'd been paying the bill. She planned to make a return visit, clearly. They'd talked easily over dinner, mostly about generalities such as the Planet and politics, favourite films and literature — but there had been that interlude in the middle when the conversation had become personal. Very personal — and revealingly so.
Lois had seemed quiet for a few minutes after that, and for a moment Clark had wondered if she'd been having second thoughts about spending the evening with him. Or perhaps, he thought, she was afraid that she might have revealed too much. He'd feared the same, of course. A part of him had wanted to say something, to reassure her that his feelings for her were the same as he suspected that hers were for him — that she was his ideal woman just as he was her ideal man. But he'd stopped himself; it was too soon, and the restaurant too public a place for that kind of declaration.
No; he could wait until he got her home. And, with luck, if things went well he might not have to say anything at all. A kiss would say everything.
In the taxi, Lois was bright and chatty, thanking him again for a lovely meal and showing concern over the bill; he'd spent a lot of money that day, she reminded him, so could he afford to pay for the meal as well?
He assured her that his bank account was well able to cover it all, which was more or less the truth. He hadn't actually spent heavily at all since moving to Metropolis, and once he'd got himself established he'd found that his salary was more than adequate to pay his living costs and repay his parents for the financial help they'd given him. So he'd been putting aside a decent chunk of his salary each month, paying it into a savings account. No, he'd have no trouble paying his credit card bill, even if he did space it out a bit — no point in losing all his savings in one fell swoop.
Then the taxi pulled up in front of Lois's apartment building. Clark paid the driver off before getting out and extending his hand to Lois to help her out.
"You don't want to keep the taxi?" she asked him, sounding surprised.
He shook his head. "No need. It's a clear night and I'll enjoy the walk. I'll just see you inside first, okay?"
"You don't need to walk me to the door!" Lois exclaimed, laughing.
Clark shook his head. "Oh, yes, I do. When I take a woman out, she gets door to door service. And we're not at your door yet!"
She smiled, shaking her head as if unable to believe what she was hearing, but indicated to him that he should walk with her up the path. He moved to stand beside her, offering her his arm in a gesture of old- fashioned courtesy.
"You're such an unusual guy — I've never met anyone like you," Lois said in amusement as she let him escort her. "I don't think I could imagine a single other man who'd do that." She waved her free hand at her arm in his. "Or who'd walk me to my door just to see me home safely, without any other agenda in mind."
It wasn't strictly true that he had no other agenda in mind, Clark acknowledged to himself; he had a slim hope that she might invite him in and, of course, he still intended to say a proper goodnight to her. But still… she probably had a point.
"I guess you don't know too many guys from rural Kansas," he pointed out with a grin. "Country folk bring up their sons properly and teach them to behave like gentlemen," he told her, assuming a mock- lecturing tone.
"More likely, Martha Kent wouldn't stand for any other behaviour from her son," Lois observed dryly as she unlocked the front door of the apartment building. "I really like your mom, you know, Clark."
He smiled warmly, delighted to hear it. "She likes you too. In fact, both my parents do. They've told me that I have to bring you to the farm again some time — for a vacation this time. How about it?"
"That sounds great!" Lois answered. "If you're sure there's no-one else you'd prefer to bring?"
"Hey, I asked you," he pointed out.
"Okay. Let's see when we both have space in our schedules," she suggested.
They were at her front door, and Lois was beginning to fumble with her keys. This was it, Clark told himself. No invitation for coffee had been forthcoming, but then it was only the first evening they'd gone out together. Even if they did already know each other well through working together, and they were friends, there was no reason why she should invite him in. Besides, they needed time to adjust to a new relationship, if that was what they were heading for.
"Lois, I had a great time tonight," he told her, his voice soft.
Her head jerked up and she looked at him, a light flush suffusing her cheeks. "Me too. I love that restaurant."
"La Farfalla's a great place," Clark agreed. "Andrea knows how to keep customers happy."
"Yeah," she agreed.
Now, Clark felt, the atmosphere was getting just a little bit awkward. Lois had her key ready and was all set to unlock the door, and he was hesitating, butterflies in his stomach as he tried to seize the confidence to make his move.
"Well, goodnight, Clark," Lois said brightly, sliding a key into the first of her locks. "I'll see you on Monday, yeah?"
"Wait, Lois," he said quickly, putting a hand on her arm. As she gave him a puzzled look, he explained softly, "I just wanted to say… goodnight."
She continued looking at him, and he grabbed the opportunity, sliding one hand along her cheek and lowering his head towards her. She swayed towards him and his heart leapt.
But, just as his lips were within an inch of touching hers, just as he could feel her breath against his face, she pulled away.
"Clark! What are you doing?" she demanded, her expression embarrassed, her breathing heavy.
"Uh…" He faltered, unable to find the words to answer her. Had he really read the signals so badly wrong? He'd been so sure that she'd welcome a romantic move from him. And the way she'd swayed towards him had told him that she wanted him to kiss her just as badly as he wanted it too.
"Clark!" she said sharply, reminding him that she was still waiting for an explanation.
Irritated now — surely she didn't need him to spell it out, did she? Wasn't it enough that he'd got it all wrong? She didn't need to humiliate him too! — he snapped, "Trying to kiss you. Like any normal guy when he brings a girl home after a date."
Her eyes flashed. "First, I'm not a girl. Second, this wasn't a date. And third, neither of us have to pretend any more!"
"Wh- what? Pretend?"
"Oh, come on, Clark! This wasn't a date — you just took me out to thank me for today. And we both know that you're not interested in me romantically anyway."
Unable to believe what he was hearing, Clark gaped at her. "We do?" he challenged.
"Clark, I know about her!"
Her? "Who, Lois?"
"Ms. Perfect. The woman you're in love with. The woman you needed to dress better in order to impress!" Lois exclaimed.
The world seemed to have shifted around Clark without him even realising it. What was she talking about? What woman? And as for her accusation… that dressing better thing had all been her idea, hadn't it? So why…?
"Lois, I haven't the faintest idea of what you're talking about!" he told her incredulously.
She took a deep breath, seeming to be fighting to regain her temper. "Look, Clark, I probably shouldn't have said anything. I know I'm not supposed to know about her. But your mom told me — I know you're in love with someone and that you haven't had the courage to ask her out yet. I… guess I hope that maybe tonight will have helped you. Because, in case you need to know," she added, and Clark, to his puzzlement, thought that he detected a note of sadness in her voice, "you make a great date. Any woman would be proud to be seen on your arm."
He shook his head, trying to take in what she was saying to him. "My *mom* told you?"
What had his mom been up to? Could she possibly have made up some story…? And was it only thanks to her that Lois had taken him shopping today? And gone out with him tonight?
That had to be it. After all, her change in attitude towards him had really made no sense whatsoever. Now, it all made perfect sense. She wasn't suddenly seeing him as a potential boyfriend; instead, she was playing Henry Higgins to his Eliza Dolittle, but — unlike the film version — with no intention of claiming Eliza for herself.
How embarrassing. No, how utterly humiliating.
With no thought other than to extricate himself from her presence in the quickest way possible without humiliating himself further, he took a step backwards. "Lois, I have no idea what's going on here, or what my mom told you. But I apologise if I've wasted your time. Goodnight."
And, without waiting for her to unlock her door, he turned and marched swiftly out of the building. Once on the street, he ducked into an alley and less than a second later he was soaring upwards, wanting to bury his hurt and mortification in the clouds, where no-one could see him.
Lois leaned back against the closed door of her apartment, relieved to be safely inside.
How could she have done that? How could she have let go of all her carefully-guarded control and allowed Clark to see her hurt and bitterness? How could she have been so foolish, in the first place, to read more into a stupid dinner with a friend than either of them had intended?
But then, what the heck had Clark been trying to do out there? Trying to kiss her! He'd admitted it! So what right had he to be trying to kiss her when he was in love with someone else?
Suddenly, the answer hit her like the proverbial ton of bricks. He probably hadn't meant a *kiss* kiss — he'd obviously been aiming for her cheek! Of course he had. And that made total sense. They'd had a fun day together, and he was grateful to her. They'd had a really nice evening. And he'd seen her home. Of course he'd just intended to kiss her cheek in a friendly, caring gesture, a way of saying goodnight. The way good friends did all the time.
Though even if he had been going for her lips, he could just as easily have meant it as a friendly, platonic salute. A brief brush of his lips against hers, for no longer than a second. After all, he'd kissed her that way once before, to say goodbye, the time he'd left the Planet during the heatwave. He hadn't meant anything by it then either. Just friendship. Which was no doubt all he'd intended just now.
And she'd over-reacted completely, demanding to know what on earth he'd been doing — and in the process she'd revealed what Martha had told her in confidence. No doubt, too, she'd given away her own feelings of jealousy. Clark would have had to be a complete idiot, and deaf into the bargain, not to have seen that.
How was she going to face him at work?
She should just have let him kiss her. Whether he'd intended to kiss her lips or her cheek, it would have been much more sensible to let him do it without comment. And then none of that stupid, *embarrassing* conversation would have happened!
Okay, well, the only thing she could do was to act precisely as if it *had* never happened, she told herself firmly, heading into the kitchen in search of milk to make some hot chocolate — comfort food. If Clark so much as hinted at anything remotely close to the fact that they'd gone out to dinner, let alone that she'd shrieked like a demented spinster when he'd tried to kiss her afterwards, she'd just give him a blank look and change the subject. That was a tactic she was very skilled in.
And it was also time, she resolved, to find out just who the mystery object of Clark's affections was. He wasn't giving anything away, and nor had Martha. So she would simply have to put her investigative talents to work and find out for herself — something which shouldn't prove to be too difficult.
She'd thought about the situation in the taxi, mulling over her conclusion that Clark was so much in love with this other woman that she had no hope, and had told herself firmly that the last thing she should be was defeatist. That led to wallowing, and she *never* wallowed. Well, not much, anyway. And she *hated* wallowers.
One thing which had always made her stand out from the crowd was that she refused to concede defeat when others would have given in. So, she'd told herself, why on earth should she give up on this? She could be what Clark wanted. Of course she could. He'd wanted her first anyway, hadn't he? All she needed to do was to overcome the wrong impression she'd given him when she'd made it clear she wasn't interested.
She had been mean to him on occasion — she admitted that. But not recently. Not since they'd become friends. Although, she acknowledged, leaning back against the kitchen counter, he thought she'd been mean to him only a couple of days ago — when she'd insisted that he had to be lying about sleeping with Cat Grant.
Well, that wouldn't happen again. Clark was about to meet a whole new, *nice* Lois Lane. Not that it was going to mean a complete change in behaviour. Of course not. Even if there was that much about her which she needed to change, why on earth would she want a man who couldn't love her as she was?
So, stage one, she needed to find out who her rival for his affections was. Okay, so he'd claimed complete bafflement, out in the hall, in response to her accusation that he was in love with someone else, but she didn't believe him for one second. For one thing, he'd hesitated before saying it, and he'd looked incredibly embarrassed, rather than the bewilderment he was claiming. And anyway, that speech he'd made at the restaurant… that, more than anything else, told her that she did have a rival, and a very serious one. Well, she would find out who this other woman was.
And once she knew what she was up against… well, then it would be time to plan another campaign — Operation Knock Some Sense into Blockhead Clark.
Yes, that would do nicely, Lois thought, determining not to dwell on what had just happened one moment longer. There were more important things to do, and making Clark see sense about this idiot he was apparently head over heels in love with was right at the top of her list — followed closely by making him see what, or rather who, was right under his nose.
Lois Lane was going to get her man. And no-one was going to stop her!
The following morning, Clark headed for Smallville.
He was feeling quite glad that a major emergency involving a goods train crash with the spillage of hazardous chemicals had occupied most of his time overnight. When he'd left Lois's building and flown into the clouds, his intention had been to head straight for the farm and find out just what his mother had been saying — and he hadn't planned to hold onto his temper. But just as he'd been about to take flight, he'd heard sirens — enough of them to tell him that there was a major incident somewhere.
Now, his anger and humiliation had mostly abated and he just felt — well, very confused. Why on earth would his mother have told Lois that he was in love with some other woman? And what could she possibly have said to Lois to make his partner decide to… well, to take him in hand? To feel sorry for him.
Could Lois have misunderstood? That was possible, he now thought. Although what could his mother really have said to result in that sort of misunderstanding?
It didn't make sense. But still, in a very few minutes he'd be at the farmhouse and he could get to the bottom of this mess.
The farm felt just as much like home as ever, Clark thought as he circled over the fields behind the barn and lost altitude in preparation for landing outside the back door of his parents' house. No matter that he hadn't actually lived there for more than a few weeks at a time since he'd gone to college at the age of eighteen; there was something about the Kent farm which would always resonate of home to him.
There was his father now, herding the cattle out into the field through the remains of the winter snowfall. That was one thing about farming, Clark thought: the very predictability of the activities, dictated as they were by the seasons and the needs of the animals and crops, was in its own way a comfort. There had been many times over the years when an hour spent milking the cows or repairing fences had given him the time and space to see his problems in perspective. Nothing, whether it was the insecurity of not knowing where he came from, the fear that he would be exposed as alien or as Superman, or the soul-destroying misery which came from failing to save someone, ever seemed as bad after time spent on some routine, but necessary, farm task — especially if his father was around to supply his quiet wisdom and strength.
One day, perhaps, he might consider returning to Smallville and taking over the farm. Maybe. If he ever grew tired of the challenge of reporting the news. If he ever got tired of waiting around for Lois to notice him, the ordinary guy who worked next to her, instead of the flashy hero who dazzled her.
He resolved anew to stay well away from Lois when he was in the Suit. Although he'd told himself that many times before, only to find himself floating outside her window on some dark night when he'd been low enough to grab whatever crumbs of affection he could get from her. Even her blatant Superhero-worship was worth putting up with on those occasions. The desire to visit her as Superman was exactly like a drug, with exactly the same highs — and the corresponding lows after he flew away, when he reminded himself of all the reasons why it had been a stupid thing to do — and when he next saw her as Clark and once again saw the look in her eyes which told him that, next to the hero she adored, he made a very stark contrast.
Clark's mouth tightened at the reminder of the beautiful woman he'd taken out to dinner the previous evening: the beautiful woman he'd finally thought was coming to see him as more than a partner — more even than a friend. Discovering that the entire day they'd spent together had been founded on a false premise still hurt; in fact, the thought of seeing Lois at work the following day made his heart sink. How was he going to face her, knowing that she'd only spent time with him, helped him, because she felt sorry for him?
And because his mom appeared to have given her some sort of wrong idea about some other woman…
He took a deep breath. Time to go inside and talk to his mom — he tried to avoid thinking of it as a confrontation, because he really didn't want to fight with her. If she had interfered, he knew her well enough to know that her motives would have been good.
Even if it had been the last thing he needed…
Pushing open the kitchen door, he was immediately greeted by the smell of fresh baking. Corn bread, he deduced, no doubt to be eaten with dinner.
"Clark!" his mother exclaimed, turning from the stove where she was busy stirring something which smelt equally delicious.
"Hi, Mom." He crossed to kiss her, forcing himself to squash the bitterness which arose inside him at the sight of her. If she *had* said something misleading to Lois, she'd done it with the best of intentions, he reminded himself.
"You're staying for dinner, of course," she told him. It wasn't a question, naturally, and he stifled a smile at her assumption, which was almost an instruction.
But he couldn't let himself relax and slip into his usual habits — enjoyment of a lazy Sunday spent at the farm, for example. He sighed, then spun out of the Spandex into his normal clothes, giving himself a few moments' breathing space.
"What's the matter, Clark?" Intuitive as ever, his mother had laid down the spoon she'd been using and was looking at him, concern in her gaze.
There was no easy way to lead up to what he needed to say. "What have you been saying to Lois?" he asked abruptly.
Martha blinked. "Clark, I'm not sure what you mean."
He sighed again. "I think you do. Something you said made her suddenly decide to take an interest in me — she took me shopping -"
"Yes, I can see that." His mother smiled broadly. "And obviously you're happy that she did it, too."
"What makes you think that?"
Martha raised an eyebrow at him. "Looks to me like you appreciated her help, honey. And I think she did a great job."
He glanced down at himself, only to find that he was wearing his new chinos and another of the soft cotton shirts Lois had picked out. He had no idea just what had led him to pick those out when he'd got dressed. But then he grimaced. He did know why he'd chosen them. His mother was right: Lois had good taste, and he approved of what she'd helped him buy.
"That's not the point," he said quickly. "It's *why* she did it that bothers me. Mom, did you tell her that I'm… that there's some woman I'm in love with?" The question emerged curtly, almost accusingly.
Unexpectedly, she turned the question back at him. "Are you in love with someone?"
"That's not the point here!" he objected. "Did you tell Lois that?"
"How has Lois behaved with you lately?" his mom asked.
Clark gritted his teeth, suppressing his temper with difficulty. He really didn't want to yell at his mother, but the way she was avoiding answering his questions was making it very hard for him to hold back. "Mom, I really need to know this. Did you tell Lois I'm in love with another woman?"
"No, honey, of course I didn't!" she said.
Clark blinked. "Then why does she think that you did?"
"Honey, I never mentioned anything at all about another woman!" His mom flashed him a teasing grin.
"Mom!" Despite his best efforts, Clark couldn't avoid the plaintive note.
"Now, answer my question," his mother said, picking up her spoon to stir her sauce again. "How has Lois behaved towards you in the last few days?"
He took another deep breath, then shrugged helplessly. "I thought she was… maybe beginning to see me as a close friend at last. Maybe even more than a friend."
He broke off, beginning to pace around the kitchen. "Mom, we had such a great time yesterday. I've never had such fun buying clothes. And then she even agreed to go to dinner with me. And… it was wonderful. It felt like a real date!" he exclaimed, pain coursing through him at the memory of how his illusions had been completely shattered at the end of the evening.
Forcing himself to breathe deeply and calm down, he continued, "Then I discovered that the only reason she'd done any of it was that she thought I needed help. That I was in love with someone and was too nervous to do anything about it. And so she felt *sorry* for me," he spat. "She helped me shop and she went out with me just because she was taking pity on me."
"Are you sure that's all it was, honey?"
Clark blinked, staring at his mother. "Of course it was! She told me so!"
Sounding disbelieving, his mom asked, "What did she say?"
He pulled a face, the memory of the way the evening had ended still having the power to cause him pain. "I went to… to kiss her, and she told me that I didn't have to pretend any more — that we both knew it wasn't a real date and that I was in love with someone else."
"That doesn't sound like she was feeling sorry for you," Martha pointed out. "In fact, it sounds to me as if she might be just a little jealous." She grinned at him.
"No way," Clark said shortly.
"Are you sure?"
The probing question made him pause. *Was* he sure?
Her manner, when she'd pulled away from him, had been verging on angry. Anger that he'd been about to take the pretence too far? But why would that have made her angry? He could understand her laughing at him, maybe, or pulling away and telling him that the game was over for the night — that she'd given him all the help he was going to get from her.
But anger? And, he remembered suddenly, she'd told him that she knew he didn't feel anything romantically for her. Why would that even be an issue for her?
And… yes, there had been that moment when he'd thought she even looked sad. What had she been saying at the time?
Oh yes… that he made a great date.
Hope, which had been so cruelly crushed the night before, began to send out tiny exploratory shoots. Was it possible that…?
"You think she might have been jealous, hmmm?" his mother asked, smiling in a way Clark recognised. It was the way she always looked when she knew that she was right about something — a gleeful, smug kind of smile.
"I don't know," he said slowly. "Maybe… It's possible."
"Aha! So it worked, then!"
He faced her again, giving her an impatient glare. "What *did* you say to her?"
"Oh, just enough to make her think a little," she replied impishly. "Clark, I've been watching Lois around you — both when you brought her here, and last week, when we were in Metropolis. That young woman is by no means as indifferent to you as she pretends. So I thought it might be interesting to see how she'd behave if she thought she had competition for you."
Clark moved to the counter next to the stove and snagged a piece of corn bread from the dish his mother had just taken out of the oven. She swiped at his hand, then rolled her eyes as he popped the steaming chunk into his mouth.
"I can't even tell you that it's too hot to eat any more!" she said, giving him a long-suffering sigh.
"Nope — that one stopped working after I was about fourteen," he pointed out, giving her a flash of a grin. Crossing to pour himself some coffee, he added, "I don't know, Mom. I mean, maybe you're right and Lois did get a bit jealous. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking. All the same, though… I wish you'd left me to do my own… well, courting, I guess."
"Oh, you're on your own now, honey!" she said, winking at him. "I just gave Lois a little push, that's all. Something to think about."
"But you still made her believe something that's not true," Clark pointed out.
"Did I?" his mother challenged him gently. "She chose to believe that I had to be talking about someone else, Clark."
"But that still doesn't make it better, Mom. I mean, I'm not happy that you said something like that about me, anyway. And what makes you think I'm in love with anyone?"
"It's a bit late to deny that, Clark," his father drawled from the kitchen door.
Clark rolled his eyes. "Have I no secrets from you guys?"
"When you have kids of your own, son, you'll understand," Jonathan Kent said, grinning. "Clark, your mom knew you were in love with Lois right from the first time you stood in this kitchen talking about her non-stop."
"Yup, no secrets…" Clark muttered.
"Clark, you know your mom was just giving Lois a little nudge in the right direction," his father observed. "And if it's made her wake up and take a bit more notice of you, then maybe it's worked."
Clark hesitated. "I think she did — but look at the mess I'm in now! Lois thinks that I'm in love with someone else. How am I going to tell her that she's the one I want without making myself look even more of an idiot than I already did last night?"
"I'll talk to her, if you like," his mother said instantly. "I can call her and tell her that it was all my fault."
Oh no. No. That was the last thing he wanted! Give his mother a chance to dig an even deeper hole for him? No matter how well-meaning she was — no matter that at least some of her strategy might have worked — he would handle this himself.
"No. You don't need to do that," he said, trying not to sound pleading. "I'll go and see her and tell her that there was a misunderstanding. And hope that she'll give me another chance."
"If she loves you, Clark, of course she'll give you another chance," his father pointed out; at the same time, he thought, bewilderingly, that he saw a triumphant expression flit briefly across his mother's face.
"Yeah, but does she love me?"
Lois threw down the newspaper she was trying to read; it hadn't held her attention any more than anything else had. She'd tried watching old movies, reading a novel, going for a walk, watching the news on LNN and going into the newsroom to do some background work on a couple of her ongoing stories. But nothing had managed to take her mind off the scene in her hallway the previous evening.
Returning home with Clark after what had felt like the perfect date. Longing for him to kiss her and wishing that there wasn't some other woman in his life. And then completely freaking out when he had tried to kiss her.
It was all very well deciding that she was going to fight for Clark. But how was she ever going to live down her reaction? He probably thought that she'd flipped.
It was times like this, Lois reflected, that she really wished she had someone close she could confide in. It was useless thinking of her mother in that light — the last thing Ellen Lane could ever be was a confidant for either of her daughters. There was Lucy, of course, but she and Lucy had nothing in common when it came to men and the strategies they used to attract them.
In other circumstances, she might even have considered calling Martha Kent… but not when the man in question was Martha's son.
She would even think about talking to Superman, but she hadn't actually seen him for days. In fact, it was well over a week since she'd actually had a conversation with him. All the same, she couldn't quite imagine asking Superman about Clark's love life… "Hey, Superman, you don't happen to know who this woman Clark's got the hots for is, do you?" really didn't seem like an appropriate question to ask the Man of Steel. And anyway, even if she did ask him, he'd probably come over all guys-stick-together and refuse to say a word.
No; she would just have to do this on her own.
And anyway, now that she'd thought about things, she did have a number of advantages on her side. Clark might be in love with another woman, but he clearly wasn't getting anywhere with her. And who was his closest woman friend? She was, of course. He was attracted to her, too — she knew that for sure after yesterday.
As well as that, *she* was the one he'd invited to come to Smallville again with him. She'd forgotten that last night in her gloom at how the evening had ended. So he definitely saw her as having an important place in his life.
*And* he'd tried to kiss her. Okay, it could have been intended as just a platonic kiss between friends, but put that together with his obvious attraction to her, and there had to be a strong possibility that she could persuade him to forget about this other woman and notice her instead.
Though she still needed to know just who her competition was. If she was going to beat this unknown woman, it would help to know what she was up against. Though just how she was going to get that information was part of the plan she had yet to work out fully.
She'd ruled out asking Martha Kent, because she thought Martha wouldn't say… but there had to be a way, didn't there? Couldn't she call Martha up and say something like "Martha, Clark asked me to send his girlfriend my recipe for lasagne, but he forgot to tell me the address…" That would work, wouldn't it?
Except that Clark had probably told his mother all about her non-existent cooking skills… No, that one wouldn't fly.
Maybe she could —
A sharp knock at her door disturbed that train of thought. Lois crossed the room and peered through the spyhole. Her jaw dropped as she saw Clark Kent standing on the other side.
Arriving back at his apartment after having dinner with his folks, Clark was determined to straighten things out with Lois as soon as possible. Even if it meant that she was even more determined not to think of him as a potential boyfriend, he didn't want her thinking that he was in love with someone else — and even worse, that he'd been using her merely as someone to practice on.
He was holding onto a few shreds of hope, at the same time. He couldn't help thinking that she did find him attractive; he hadn't missed the way she'd checked him out a few times the previous day. Nor how she'd been enjoying their evening out, until that moment when he'd tried to kiss her.
She'd told him, too, that any woman would be proud to be seen on his arm. That he made a great date.
And, he'd remembered on his flight home, there had been her description of her ideal man. He'd thought, at the time, that quite a lot of that seemed to be close to a description of himself. She'd even reinforced that impression by recognising it herself.
Okay, she'd also said that she wanted a man who was extraordinary; now, that was a description which certainly fitted him, though she didn't know it. Yet, at any rate. But she'd relieved him, too, by making clear that she wasn't talking about a Superman-kind of extraordinary. All the same, he could give her Superman too, if that was what she wanted.
If she was willing to take Clark Kent, ordinary guy from Kansas, as her extraordinary man, then he could give her everything.
Before setting out, he got changed. He wouldn't forget in a hurry the way Lois had looked at him when he'd tried on those black jeans and the CK polo shirt — *especially* when he'd peeled the other T-shirt over his head in order to do so — and he wasn't above using that knowledge to give him an advantage right now.
And so, fifteen minutes later, he was knocking on her apartment door, taking deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself down as he waited for her to answer.
The door opened abruptly; she stood there in the gap, giving him a surprised look. "Clark? What are you doing here?" Then he noticed her eyes widen, and he decided that his decision to wear the black jeans had been the correct one. Yes, she'd noticed.
"I think we need to talk," he explained. "Can I come in?" Just in case she felt inclined to slam the door in his face, he withdrew a hand from behind his back, revealing that he was carrying a Tupperware container. "I've got some of my mom's chocolate-chip pecan cookies here…"
Lois shook her head, but a grin was sneaking across her face. "You really don't play fair, Clark Kent! After last night, I don't know if I should be speaking to you or your mom… but I can't resist her baking."
"That's what I was gambling on," he admitted, returning her smile.
"You better come in. I'll make some coffee," she said, turning away from the door.
The flowers he'd brought her the previous evening were still on the counter, Clark noted; that had to be a good sign. Or, at least, he hoped so.
He followed Lois into the kitchen, leaning against the counter as she spooned coffee grounds into the machine. She glanced across at him, giving him a brief smile which looked, to his admittedly anxious mind, forced. Yup, she was still upset. Or angry. He didn't know which — or which emotion was worse.
Small talk. He needed to come up with some polite conversational nothings — the silence was becoming a tad oppressive. By the way Lois was biting her lip, he guessed that she felt the same way. He took a deep breath.
"So, how are you today?"
Oh, great start, Kent! he thought, kicking himself mentally. What an opening to give her, if she really was still annoyed with him over the previous evening!
But she gave him a quick smile, as if grateful that he'd broken the conversational barrier. "Oh, you know… pretty good. You?"
"I'm good," he volunteered. "Lois, I —"
"Clark — " she began at the same time.
"Uh…" Awkwardly, he faltered. "You go ahead."
"No, you…" Lois halted again, then rolled her eyes at him. "This is hopeless! Okay, look, all I was going to say is that I'm sorry for over-reacting last night. It was just so stupid."
Clark grimaced. "No, it wasn't. Look, Lois, that's what I came over to talk about. It seems my mom's been — well, doing some manipulating."
Lois, having poured water into the machine, paused and looked at him. "Manipulating?"
"Yes. She told you some stuff which… isn't exactly true."
Lois frowned. "I can't imagine your mom lying, Clark," she said, sounding puzzled.
He shrugged, then glanced away, embarrassed now that it came to the moment of truth. "She told you that I was in love with someone, didn't she? To get you to help me… well, smarten up a bit."
She gave him a shocked look. "You mean that's not true?"
"Well… not exactly," he admitted.
A flash of something barely identifiable, but which could have been relief, flashed across her face. Then she moved away from the coffee-machine, advancing on him with an expression on her face Clark, as he looked up and caught sight of her, could only describe as predatory. "Are you saying that you're *not* in love with someone, Clark Kent?"
He opened his mouth, intending the word 'No' to emerge. But it refused to come.
"Uh…" he muttered, playing for time.
"Are you?" she insisted.
He inhaled deeply, then blew out sharply. "I… yes, I am."
He thought that Lois winced at that. "So your mom didn't lie," she pointed out flatly. "Why did you say she did?"
"Oh, heck," he mumbled. "She led you to believe that I was in love with someone else," he added, not much more audibly.
Lois frowned. "Clark? I didn't hear you very clearly. You're in love with… who?"
There was a note in her voice which he couldn't quite identify. It almost sounded like envy — but that was just ridiculous.
"I…" Lost for words again, he just gave her a helpless look.
"I still don't understand," Lois told him, shaking her head in puzzlement. "Your mom said you're in love, and you say you are — so what's the problem? Why are you telling me that she misled me?"
He bit his lip; there was no way out, unless he was prepared to come up with some sort of lie, and he'd had it with misleading Lois over this subject.
"My mom led you to believe that I was in love with someone else. Another woman," he clarified, ramming his hands deep into his pockets.
Lois stared at him. After a moment, eyes wide, she said, "And… you're not?"
"No," he agreed.
"Lois!" he muttered frustratedly; surely she could work it out for herself? And then he could leave, and spare his embarrassment any further.
"Clark, tell me," she said suddenly, firmly. "Tell me: who are you in love with?"
There was something in her expression all of a sudden: a confidence which hadn't been there before, for one thing — and also something which he barely dared believe in.
"I'minlovewithyou," he gabbled, then turned away, as if ready to bolt for the door.
"What?" he asked through gritted teeth.
"Do you think you could say that again?" she asked sweetly. "A little slower this time?"
"Why?" he demanded. Hadn't she made him humiliate himself enough?
"Because I'd kind of like to remember the first time the man I love tells me that he loves me too."
"What?" he gulped, turning to face her again.
And this time he could read her expression clearly. Yes, there was hope there, and longing — and love. The same light he'd seen in her eyes in the candlelight the previous evening was there again, but this time it was stronger and more powerful.
"I love you, Clark," she told him, almost shyly. "And, yes, I can imagine that you're surprised. I mean, I didn't exactly fall over myself to let you know that I was interested. And I kind of made it clear that you came a very poor second place to Superman -"
"Hey, I thought nobody even placed beside Superman!" Clark pointed out, darkly humorous.
Lois shrugged awkwardly. "You were always there. I just — refused to admit it. It wasn't until your mom made me think that I could lose you to someone else that I realised just how I really felt about you. And last night just confirmed it. I had a wonderful time, Clark — up until when I remembered that you were in love with someone else. And then I didn't want to lose you. I'd already decided that I was going to fight for you."
A broad grin began to spread over his face. "That's wonderful!"
"So are you going to say it again?"
"Say what?" he teased.
"Clark Kent!" Lois reached behind her and grabbed a towel. "Are you going to make me beat it out of you?"
He fended her off with one hand, catching the towel in the other. "You want to try?"
"You do know that you're wasting valuable time here?" she pointed out.
"Oh yes." She licked her lips slowly, deliberately. "Valuable kissing time."
"Oh." He dropped the towel instantly. "You know, you could be on to something there, Lois."
"I am." She gave him a smug look. "So… how about it?"
He tugged her towards him. "A kiss? Excellent idea."
But she tilted her head away from him. "Uh-uh. Not yet, Kent — not until I hear you say that again!"
He pretended to consider; then he smiled. Huskily, he told her, "I love you, Lois Lane."
A wide smile curved about her face. "And I love you too, Clark Kent."
His head lowered, and this time she brought her face to meet his. And then their lips met, properly, in their first real kiss.
And there was no more pretence.
Dizziness. A sensation of being completely suspended from reality. Total, utter pleasure. Her world suddenly, totally wrapped up in one person, one moment, one completely blissful experience.
Clark's kiss was like nothing she'd ever experienced before. Even the kisses she'd shared with him previously — mostly for the purpose of fooling someone or other — paled compared to this one. But then, she hadn't been in love with him before.
And she supposed that made all the difference.
Clark raised his head, and she couldn't help smiling at the dazed look on his face. And she felt complimented, too; *she* could make him feel like that!
"You look exactly like I feel," she told him, reaching up almost shyly to run her fingers through his luscious dark hair.
"Good," he told her. "Because I feel happier than I've ever been in my life before, and if that's how I look… then you must be too."
She reached up and kissed him again, luxuriating in the newly-familiar feel of his lips moving over hers, his arms embracing her. And for a long time nothing else was said.
Finally, Clark raised his head; then he laughed in amusement. "I guess the coffee's gone cold."
Lois frowned. "Did you want coffee? I mean, isn't this more… *more*?"
"Oh yeah." He grinned. "You bet!"
"You know, I love your mom," Lois said suddenly, something about the thought of coffee reminding her of Martha Kent.
"You do?" Clark looked taken aback. "Even after what she did?"
"Manipulating us?" Lois shook her head. "Your mom knew exactly what she was doing, Clark. She knew I'd assume that she was talking about someone else. And, if I'm not mistaken, she knew that it'd make me jealous. And it did — I was jealous as hell when I thought there was someone else in your life, Clark."
Yup, Martha Kent had played her like a violin, Lois thought. That woman was a genius for reading people and predicting their reactions exactly. She'd dangled her bait, and had reeled Lois in, hook, line and sinker.
To think that the mysterious woman in Clark's life, the woman she'd thought of as her rival, was *herself*! Part of her wanted to protest that Martha had made her worry for no reason at all, but then her more rational side reminded her that, if she hadn't had the incentive of believing that Clark was in love with someone else, she would probably still be hiding her feelings from herself, let alone from Clark. No, they'd both needed Martha's intervention.
The moment when Lois had realised that *she* was the object of Clark's affections was one she would remember for a very long time. She'd been all set to fight for him; she'd been so determined not to argue with him again, or let him see anything remotely approaching jealousy. When he'd first arrived, she'd been desperate to act — well, not normally, but better than normal: in a way which would remind him just what a nice person she was and how good she could be for him.
And now he was hers. And she was his.
Pygmalion had won her Eliza.
Or had Eliza won Pygmalion?
"Thank you, Martha," Lois murmured, reaching up to kiss Clark again.
Much later, they finally got around to having coffee and the cookies Clark had so carefully brought back from Smallville as a peace offering. He had to laugh when Lois bit into one, however.
"You know, you didn't even look that blissful after I'd been kissing you!" he pointed out with a wry grin.
She blushed, but then laughed. "Clark, come on — these are chocolate!"
"Oh yeah, I'd momentarily forgotten your addiction to anything resembling chocolate," he said. "So does that mean I'm always going to take second place to your cocoa obsession?"
"Only when it's as good as this." Lois rolled her eyes. "These are *amazing!* And so fresh, too! You'd never believe that you still had them from the beginning of the week!"
Clark gave her a puzzled look. "The beginning of the week?"
"Yeah — when your mom was here. That's when she made them, isn't it?"
It wasn't, actually — she'd made them only a few hours ago, in Smallville, Clark knew. But since there was no way that he could explain having brought them back today, he didn't rush to correct her.
To his relief, she changed the subject. "I'm so glad you came over to tell me that I misunderstood your mom, Clark," she said, leaning her head against his shoulder.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Well, I had to set the record straight — even though I thought you'd probably laugh at me once you realised the truth."
She reached for his hand and played idly with his fingers for a few moments. "I guess I couldn't blame you for thinking that," she told him after a pause. "I mean, I was kind of mean to you before. But, anyway, what I wanted to say is that I'm so glad that you're such a Boy Scout, Clark."
"A Boy Scout?" he queried, amused.
"Yeah. I mean, you just had to come and tell me the truth. You're just compulsively honest, Clark Kent!"
The words struck Clark with the force of a blow. Compulsively honest? Him? When he lied to Lois on a regular basis about all sorts of things: where he'd been when he ran off, how he'd managed to get certain stories, how he'd got his hair cut and even just now, about the cookies.
He wasn't honest.
In fact, he was a bare-faced liar. And a deceiver.
He had no right to be sitting next to Lois, holding her in his arms, kissing her and listening to her call him compulsively honest.
"What's wrong, Clark?" Something about his anxiety must have communicated itself to her, for she stirred in his arms, turning to look at him, concern in her expression.
He had two options, and neither was easy.
He could carry on lying, pretend that there was nothing wrong and leave the issue of Superman for another day. After all, how did he even know that they'd be together in the medium term, let alone the long term? And if they split up, wouldn't it be better if she didn't know?
But he couldn't see himself falling out of love with Lois any time soon. And if she fell out of love with him, he knew that he would fight for her with everything he had in him.
So choice number two was to tell Lois the truth. Tell her everything — that he was an alien from another planet. That he was Superman, and that he had been lying to her ever since they'd met. And take the risk that she would be so furious she'd dump him on the spot.
But there was no choice, really. If this relationship was to have any hope at all, she had to know the truth.
Clark took a deep breath and wrapped his fingers firmly around Lois's hand. "Lois, you remember I was saying that I came second to Superman, for you?"
"Clark!" Lois sounded alarmed, and he winced. He hadn't meant to upset her. "You know I love you! Yes, I know I was an idiot over Superman for so long, but you don't need to think that I still feel that -"
"Lois." He cut across her, awkward now, unsure as to the best way to break the news. Lead up to it gently? Or just spit it out? "That's not what I mean. I mean… well, I hope you *do* like Superman still, because…"
"Clark, I know you two seem to have some sort of buddy thing going, but this is rid —"
"Lois, *I* am Superman!"
Okay, he'd kind of lost his opportunity for building up to it gently. But, after more than six months of protecting the secret with everything he had, the words just seemed to emerge with amazing ease. And there it was: with one bound, he was free from the secret which had kept him confined for so long.
He was Superman, and Lois knew it.
She was staring at him, eyes wide, mouth agape.
"You are… *what*?"
"Superman," he said meekly.
She grabbed her hand back, and then suddenly reached for his glasses, tugging them off. That didn't seem to be enough for her; throwing his glasses aside, she smoothed back his hair with her other hand.
Then she sat back and stared at her handiwork.
"Superman," she whispered.
"Yes," he whispered back.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me!" she exclaimed.
Stung, he began to retort, "Lois, I —"
"No." She cut across him firmly, her expression having changed from indignation to resignation in the space of a single second. "No, I do believe it," she added quietly. "I know exactly why you didn't tell me. Don't I?"
He pulled a face. Yes, it had been partly her behaviour, the way she'd treated him as Clark and as Superman, which had made him reluctant to tell her, but that had been far from the only reason. Mostly, it had been the very real fear that to tell *anyone* would put not only himself but also his parents at risk. Jason Trask's single-minded search for 'the alien' and anyone who had harboured him had reinforced that caution and ingrained it to his bones.
"Lois, I didn't tell *anyone*," he pointed out.
She paused, still searching his face; quite what for, he couldn't determine. Then she nodded. "I guess you didn't." Then she released his hair; he felt it spring back into place.
"So are you okay with it?" he asked anxiously.
She gave him a considering look. "Let me think about that for a moment."
"Okay." Nervously, he watched her, waiting for her decision.
"So…" she drawled, cocking her head to one side.
"Do I get free flights?"
Clark blinked; whatever he'd been expecting, it wasn't that! "I guess that could be arranged," he agreed mildly.
"Good. And chocolate from Switzerland?"
He had to laugh at that. "Is that all my being Superman means to you? Your own private pilot and chocolate from Switzerland?"
Lois grinned at him, but sobered quickly. "Actually, no. You know, you being Superman really reassures me about one thing."
She took a deep breath before responding. "Clark, you know that I have… issues with men?"
He nodded. "Yes, you told me about Claude the week we met."
"Well, see, ever since I've found it really hard to trust men. And even though I love you and I admitted to myself yesterday that I need you in my life… there was still a part of me which was scared," she confessed.
"Scared, Lois?" he prompted.
"Yeah… scared that you'd walk away, like Claude and like everyone else," she said. "Scared that you'd dump me for someone else. Or lie to me. Or deceive me."
"Lois, I would *never* do that!" he promised huskily.
She nodded. "See, I believe you. I believe *Superman*," she said. "I know you wouldn't lie, or treat a woman badly just because you can. You have integrity. And I love that about you, too."
"Lois, just because I'm Superman instead of just Clark Kent, that doesn't mean that I'm any more likely to keep my promises to you!" Taken aback, and almost a little offended that she thought it would take a Superman to persuade her to trust freely, Clark stared at her. "I'm *Clark*, Lois. Son of Jonathan and Martha Kent from Smallville. Okay, I'm also from Krypton, but I'm the person I am because of them. And they taught me to keep my promises."
"I guess that makes sense," Lois said softly, after a pause. "Your parents are pretty terrific people. And they raised a pretty amazing son."
"Thank you." He smiled at her, reassured and mollified. "Look, Lois, you know that there are no such things as guarantees in life — but I give you my solemn word that I will love you with all of my heart and that I would rather rip my heart out than betray you," he added, his words said solemnly.
She studied him for a long moment, then said, "And I promise to love you with all of my heart too. And that I'd rip my heart out rather than betray *you*."
How had she known that he felt insecure too? He hadn't even had time to recognise that he did; he'd been too focused on reassuring Lois.
"I love you, Lois Lane," he said softly.
"And I love you too. Even if you can fly and I can't," she said, sticking her tongue out at him. "And even if your mom had to knock us over the head to get some sense into us!"
"Remind me to thank her… ooh, maybe about the time I've finished paying off my credit card bill!" Clark replied, grinning.
And then she kissed him again, and words seemed unnecessary.