Desperately Seeking Clark

By AnnieM <>

Rated: PG

Submitted: June 2003

Summary: Lana arrives in Metropolis, determined to win Clark back. Lois has to act quickly or risk losing Clark forever.


Chapter 1: A Voice from the Past

"I just don't see it, Lois. There's no connection, or if there is, it's buried too deeply at this point. I think we're going to have to admit defeat."

Lois pretended to skim through the information on her laptop screen one more time. She'd known for at least the last ten minutes that there was nothing more they could do tonight. In fact, it looked like this whole story was a dead end. But for some reason, she was reluctant to give up.

Correction. She'd long ago given up on the story. She was reluctant to leave. She looked up from where she was sitting, cross-legged on one end of the couch with her laptop in her lap. Clark was sitting on the other end of the couch, leaning against the arm, flipping through some printouts Jimmy had given them earlier in the day.

Lois sighed and closed her laptop, setting it on the coffee table and stretching her legs out along the couch. "Yeah, I hate to admit it, but I think you're right. I was so sure we'd find something."

"I know; me too." Clark reached out and rubbed her leg reassuringly. "We'll just have to give it some time. Maybe something else will surface.

Lois nodded, her mind racing. Now that their work was done, she should pack up and go home. There was no reason for her to stay here any longer.

So why was it that she couldn't seem to tear herself away? This was a scene that was repeating itself more and more lately. After her failed wedding to Lex, she'd needed Clark's company to help her get through. Not that she was grieving for a lost love. She was just scared and lonely, and she needed to spend time with someone who cared about her. As time passed and she began to feel better about herself, her memories of her time with Lex fading away, she continued to spend all of her free time with Clark. It had become routine for them to spend their evening working together, or eating dinner and watching TV.

There was something so comfortable about spending time with Clark. Although the way he was rubbing her leg right now wasn't making her feel comfortable. The heat radiating from his hand was spreading through her body. She opened her mouth to say something, then stopped.

What had come over her tonight? She and Clark were just friends. They were often physically affectionate with one another. This was simply one more example. There was no reason for his touch to make her flustered.

Lois pulled away and started to get up. It was time for their nightly routine. First she would stand up and stretch and start to pack up her things. Then Clark would ask if she really needed to leave right away, or if she could stay for a while and watch TV or have some coffee. Then she would hesitate and pretend to debate, even though they both knew that eventually she'd give in. Finally she would be persuaded to stay and they would settle back on the couch and start flipping through the channels.

"Do you have to leave?" Clark asked. "I was thinking we could watch a movie for something."

"Oh, I don't know. It's getting kinda late…"

Clark started to protest, but he was cut short by a knock at the door. They looked at each other, then at the door. Clark jogged up the stairs and opened the door while Lois hung back in the living room, assuming it would be a salesman or a neighbor.

To her horror, immediately after Clark opened the door, an attractive blonde woman barreled through the doorway and straight into Clark's arms.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're home! I called and talked to your mom and she told me how to get here, but she said you might be out or something. I wanted to call first, but my cell phone battery is dead and I haven't had a chance to charge it."

While the woman continued to babble about her sudden decision to visit Metropolis and her awful plane ride, Lois struggled to place her. She was certain she'd never seen her before, but the woman seemed to know Clark well. She'd mentioned Clark's mother, so it was possible she was a friend from Smallville. What had he called her? Laura? Lanie? Lana! Why did that name sound so familiar?

Suddenly she remembered. When she'd been in Smallville last year, investigating Trask, she'd spent some time talking with Clark's friend Rachel, the town sheriff. At first the other woman had been very suspicious of her. They had been at a standoff for a while, and Lois couldn't help but think it was because they were both a bit territorial about Clark's affection. But eventually, Rachel had warmed up to her and told her the story of Clark taking her to prom. He'd only taken her because he'd just broken up with Lana, she'd said. So that was it! Lana was his high school girlfriend. From what Rachel had said, it seemed a little odd to her that Lana would just show up on Clark's doorstep expecting a warm welcome, but maybe Rachel had neglected to tell her that Clark and Lana had patched up their differences eventually. After all, that was a long time ago, and Clark wasn't one to hold a grudge.

"Lois, I want you to meet my friend, Lana. We grew up together in Smallville."

"I'm sorry," she said, with what Lois instantly recognized as exaggerated sweetness, "I didn't expect Clark to have company."

"It's fine," Clark interjected. "Lois and I were just giving up on a story."

"Oh," Lana said, a smile spreading across her face. "You work together? I was afraid I might be interrupting something a little more personal."

"Lois is my partner." Clark answered a little too quickly for Lois' liking. Of course, they were just partners, but for some reason it irritated her that he seemed so eager to dispel Lana's assumption that they were a couple.

Lana strode into the living room, while Clark lagged behind, closing the door and fiddling with the lock. Lois offered the blonde woman her hand, sizing up her impeccable designer clothing, professional highlights, and obvious air of superiority.

The woman's confident — almost arrogant — attitude faltered, however, as she, too, began to size up Lois. Eyes narrowing suspiciously, Lana accepted the proffered hand.

Lana lowered her voice until only Lois could hear it. "Just in case you have any ideas about turning that partnership into something more, you can forget it."

Lois flinched, automatically looking to Clark for his reaction, but he was still across the room, closing the door, and when he turned and strode toward them, a smile on his face, she realized he was blissfully ignorant. For once, Lois found herself at a loss for words. She'd never so much as met this woman before; anything she said in response would seem unprovoked. She returned her gaze to Lana, who held it menacingly. Then her features seemed to melt into a smile, and she turned her attention back to Clark.

"Gosh, Clark, I just can't believe I'm really here. You know, I just got so fed up with Los Angeles and California that I decided to go home. And it was really nice to be home, but it just wasn't the same. Most of our friends have moved away or gotten married. Did you know Billy Hudson married that Tanner girl, Kelly? Well, I was talking to your Mom, and she was telling me about how you traveled all over the world, but now you're here in Metropolis, and I told Daddy that I wanted to travel for a while. So, here I am! It's not exactly the wilds of Africa, but I've never been to the East Coast before."

Lois had begun grinding her teeth as soon as Lana's syrupy voice had started the story, and by the time it was over, she could have sworn she was developing a tic.

"That's great, Lana. I'd be happy to show you around a bit tomorrow. Come sit down."

He turned back and winced slightly when his gaze fell on Lois. He hesitated, and Lois knew he was trying to decide whether to dismiss her politely or to invite her to join them. Lois decided to make the decision for him. It was clear that he would rather catch up with Lana than spend the evening watching television with her.

"Well, I'll just be on my way," Lois said, slinging the strap of her bag over her shoulder and heading for the door. "I'll let you two enjoy catching up."

Clark turned to look at her and for a brief moment Lois thought he was going to ask her to stay, maybe explain to Lana that she had interrupted something and that he could see her the next day.

"All right, I'll see you tomorrow, Lois. Good night."

Lois said good night and escaped outside, but not before she glimpsed the triumphant look on Lana's face. As she rushed to her jeep, her mind reeled with all the snappy comebacks she could have responded with when Lana had attacked her. Too bad she couldn't have thought of them at the time, she groused as she neared her jeep. She tossed her bag in the back seat and climbed behind the wheel, whipping out into the thankfully light traffic and heading for her apartment.

Ten minutes later she entered her apartment, still fuming. That hussy had just waltzed in and ruined — ruined what, exactly? It wasn't like they had been on a date. Clark wasn't her boyfriend. She had no claim on him. There was no reason for her to get upset. And it wasn't like he'd even backed out on plans. She'd been hoping they'd spend the evening together, and it was their tradition, but it wasn't a formal plan, and he had no way of knowing that she had planned to stay.

Besides, they were spending far too much time together lately anyway. She was a strong, independent woman and she did not need him in order to be happy. She would just call one of her other friends. Right. She had other friends. Lots of them. Okay, maybe she hadn't really talked to any of them lately, but that didn't mean she didn't have friends.

It was still early — she checked her watch — only eight o'clock. Maybe she should try calling one of her other friends. A blue address book lay next to the telephone, and Lois picked it up and began thumbing through it. After a minute, her brow furrowed and she tossed the book back on the counter top.

"This must be an outdated version of my address book," she said to the empty room. "I haven't talked to any of these people in years. I must have more friends than that."

Oh well, she didn't need any of them. She liked spending time by herself. Yes. She'd spent far too much time lately with other people. She needed a little quality time with herself. Time to get caught up on TV shows, maybe paint her nails or something.

She certainly wasn't going to sit around feeling sorry for herself, she thought as she yanked open the freezer door and grabbed a container of ice cream. She rifled through the silverware drawer and extracted a spoon, then skulked into the living room and threw herself on the couch. She popped a spoonful of the rich chocolate into her mouth and picked up the television remote, flipping through the channels before giving up and deciding to watch an old episode of Ivory Tower. She hadn't watched the soap opera in a while, but for some reason she felt like it again tonight. Curling up again on the couch, she spooned another bite of ice cream into her mouth and settled in as the familiar strains of the opening credits began to play.


Chapter 2: Barbarian at the Planet

Lois opened the newspaper and spread it out on her desk. Leaning over and peering at the paper, she pretended to be doing background research for a story, when in fact she was studying the movie listings. Her night with Clark had been ruined last night, but Lana was probably back on her way to Smallville now, leaving Clark's weekend free.

She finally found the listing she was looking for, a new romantic comedy that looked funny. Not Clark's first choice, she was sure, but he could be talked into it.

Lois was just about to turn to Clark and ask him about the movie when she heard a soft feminine voice. "There you are. They told me I could find you over here."

Her jaw clenched and her eyes narrowed as she turned in her seat to see Clark practically leap out of his seat to give Lana a hug. "Hey, what a great surprise! What are you doing here?"

"Well, I was downtown doing some shopping, and I thought I'd stop by and see where you work. You know, I haven't been a newsroom since high school. Remember when I used to come hang out and watch you work?"

Lois wasn't sure what irritated her more — Lana's ingratiating voice or Clark's insipid smile.

"Why don't I give you a tour?" Clark asked.

"Oh, I'd love that! Are you sure you have time, though? I'd hate to distract you when you're supposed to be working."

"I always have time for an old friend," Clark said with a smile. He turned to Lois, catching her off guard. "You'll cover for me, right, partner? I won't be gone long."

Lois nodded, unable to find words, and Lana slipped her arm through Clark's.

"Thanks, Lois, we owe you one," Lana said, her narrowed gaze belying her sickly sweet tone.

With that, they were off, Clark prattling about how the paper worked, and Lana hanging on his every word.

At her desk, Lois fumed. That woman was so obvious. She was clearly interested in more than friendship where Clark was involved, and he was so naive, he couldn't even see it. Lois punched random keys at her computer, pretending to work while she fumed. It wasn't like she really cared, she told herself silently, forcing herself at least to try to focus on work again. Clark had the right to be friends with whoever he wanted. It was just too bad he had such awful taste in women.

She'd watched before as he'd fallen under the spell of women like Antoinette Barnes and Toni Taylor, but this was even worse. Lana was so fake, she was amazed that Clark couldn't see through it. What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he see that she clearly was not the nice person he so obviously thought she was? Why was it that all a woman had to do was bat her pretty blond eyelashes at him, and Clark lost all the good sense he had? She supposed it was part of his Smallville naivete, which she had to admit — though only when alone — was sort of sweet. But that could only go so far. If he was going to survive in life, he needed to learn to see when he was being duped.

Twenty minutes later, she heard Clark's voice approaching. "So there you have it. That's how the Daily Planet works."

"Wow, I had no idea there was so much to see. It's amazing."

Lois tried to block out their voices, but she was forced to turn around when Clark addressed her directly. "Thanks for covering for me, Lois. Did I miss anything?"

"Nope," she said, shaking her head. "All quiet here."

"Um, I, uh…"

Lois and Lana turned to look at Clark who was shifting nervously and tugging at his tie.

"What is your problem, Clark?" Lois asked.

"I just forgot about, um, some paperwork that I was supposed to turn in before noon." Clark scooted over to his desk and grabbed a file folder. "I'll be right back. Lois, can you keep Lana company until I get back? Thanks."

The women watched as Clark dodged other reporters in the newsroom as he dashed for the stairwell.

Lana turned to Lois, a confused look on her face. "That was weird. He didn't mention anything about that earlier."

"Get used to it," Lois said, starting back toward her desk.

"So, Lois…"

She turned and looked at the other woman. She sighed, realizing she was now expected to entertain Lana in Clark's absence. How dare Clark leave his little girlfriend in her care? Didn't he realize that she had better things to do with her time?

"So…" she returned. She had nothing to discuss with this woman. A part of her was tempted to confront her about her attitude, but mostly she just wanted to avoid her.

After a moment of awkward silence, Lana's cell phone began to ring. She pulled it out and spoke briefly before covering the mouthpiece. "I really need to take this phone call. Is there some place quiet I could go?"

Relieved, Lois nodded. She was to be spared after all. "Come with me, I'll take you to one of our interview rooms."

Lois led her down the hallway to a small suite with a waiting room and five smaller rooms. The outer office was decorated nicely and filled with couches and arm chairs. The five doors led to smaller rooms, each with a couple of armchairs and a telephone, where reporters could get away from the noise and bustle of the newsroom to interview a source privately or make a phone call. The rooms were rarely in use, though, as most reporters preferred to interview sources outside of the building and make phone calls from their desks.

"You can use any of these rooms," Lois said, gesturing to the open doors. "When you're finished, just come back to my desk."

"Thanks," Lana said, walking into the first office, already back to her conversation.

Lois escaped back to her desk and tried to focus on her research. After a few minutes, she was jolted out of her study by a phone call.

"Lois Lane."

"Hey, Lois, it's me."

"Clark? Where are you calling me from? I thought you were just going downstairs to sign paperwork?"

"Oh… yeah. I'm downstairs, but I just called because it looks like I forgot some things and it's going to take a few minutes. Can you tell Lana just to go on home and I'll call her cell phone later."

Lois cringed. "Yeah, sure. I'll let her know."

"Thanks, Lois. I'm sorry to make you the messenger."

He hung up before she could respond. Lois shook her head in exasperation and went off to retrieve Lana. At least she could secretly enjoy telling Lana that Clark had ditched her.

She walked through the outer office of the suite, then stopped short just outside the door of the interview room when she heard her name. Frozen, she listened in growing horror.

"Yeah, so this Lois chick turns out to be just a work partner. I have to admit I was a little annoyed when I knocked on Clark's door and saw her there. Not that I couldn't have stolen Clark away from her, but I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that. I have enough to worry about without a girlfriend to dispose of."

Lois gritted her teeth, ready to explode over Lana's casual dismissal. Though her pride was stung by Lana's assertion that she could have stolen Clark away, she was even more irritated that Lana seemed not to know Clark at all. Did she really think Clark would just dump his girlfriend — whoever she was — at the whim of his high school girlfriend?

"Well, everything is going well so far," Lana continued after a pause. "Clark is thrilled to see me, of course. Metropolis is great. It's not LA, but I had no marriage prospects in LA, so what could I do? At least if I marry Clark I don't have to move back to Smallville."

After another pause she continued, slightly more agitated. "I know. But none of the guys I dated in LA were interested in marriage, and I have to get married. My father is serious about cutting me off this time. He said this trip is it. You don't expect me to get a job, do you?"

She paused again, listening, then sighed before continuing. "Well, he's definitely not rich, which is a problem, of course. But he's handsome, successful, and the type of guy that will let me stay home but won't expect me to be his slave… well, he's my best prospect and I'm just going to have to settle for that. He seems to be pretty well established at his job even though he hasn't been here that long. Maybe I can convince him to go into broadcast news once we're married, he could make more money doing that. He's certainly good looking enough… oh, yeah, you should see him. He's even more gorgeous than I remember. He's shed all those Smallville hick qualities that made me cringe, and he's just incredible. I'll tell you, that part of the marriage won't be a sacrifice."

Lois felt the blood drain from her face. Her anger was quickly being replaced by unrestrained horror. What was wrong with this woman? She must be delusional if she thought Clark was just going to fall at her feet and propose. How dare she talk about "settling" for Clark? He was a far better man than she deserved! She should be so lucky!

Lana continued her casual analysis as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "One drawback is that I know he wants to have kids." Lois could almost hear her wrinkle her nose as she said it. "I hate kids. They're such brats, always sniveling about something. But I figure that if I have to have one to make him happy, it won't be the end of the world. Besides, if he wants one so badly, he can take care of it. Or I could always just secretly keep taking the pill. Hmm, he'd probably want to go to specialists then. But he's a pushover, so I could probably just tell him my infertility is too painful for me to think about. Oh well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."

It just kept coming and coming. Lois was so horrified at this point that she actually wanted to stop listening, but she couldn't tear herself away. She continued listening in morbid fascination, amazed that any person could be so cold and calculating. She had to do something. She needed to warn Clark, but how? How could she explain what she'd heard? It would be her word against Lana's. And it was so preposterous that she had to admit she probably wouldn't believe Clark if he were to come to her and say he'd overheard something similar. Unable to think of any course of action, she continued listening.

Lana laughed lightly. "Lucky for me, Clark's still a bit of a romantic. He still believes in true love, I think. I just need to convince him that it's me. All right, I better get going. Clark should be back soon. In the meantime, maybe I should suck up to Lois a bit. Apparently she's his best friend. Of course that will need to be nipped in the bud as soon as he and I are back together. Can't have *my* husband off spending all his free time with another woman."

Just when Lois thought she couldn't take it anymore, Lana said goodbye to her friend and she had to scramble to make it appear she was just walking into the outer office as Lana was coming out of the interview room.

"Oh, Lois, I was just about to come find you. Is Clark back yet?"

"No, he called to say that he's sorry but he's going to be tied up for a while."

"That's too bad," she said, her brow furrowing before she broke into what Lois was already recognizing as one of her fake smiles. "But I'm kinda glad. I was hoping to get a chance to talk to you alone."

Lois' eyebrows climbed. This was a stark contrast from the woman who had only the day before threatened her while being introduced. Clearly she wasn't planning to waste any time implementing the "suck up to Lois" part of her plan. Lois remained silent and waited to see how far Lana was planning to take this.

"I know I came off a little… harsh. You just have to understand that I was a little… out of my depth. See, it's been a while since I've seen Clark, and I'm very protective of him…"

Protective? Was that what she called it?

When Lois didn't respond, Lana pressed forward again, turning her charm up yet another notch. "So, I'm really sorry if you got the wrong impression. Clark is really important to me, so I hope we can be friends… for his sake."

Being friends with Lana was the *last* thing Lois wanted to do, but Lana seemed to take her silence for an agreement.

"So, I was really impressed by Clark's tour, Lois. I just had no idea how big this place is."

Lois forced a smile, not bothering to keep the condescension from her voice. "Yeah, I guess it would be pretty impressive, seeing it for the first time. It's old hat to us. What is it that you do?"

"Oh, well, that's sort of up in the air right now," Lana said, waving her hand in the air dismissively. "I've been out in California trying my hand at acting, but that just didn't work out for me, so I decided I wanted to travel for a while."

"Oh? Are you thinking of settling in Metropolis?" From what she'd overheard, it definitely sounded like that was Lana's plan, but it would be interesting to see how she reacted to the question.

"I don't know," Lana said with a smile. "That's one option."

Lois felt her smile tighten.

"Anyway, I was just thinking, since you and Clark are such good friends, he's probably told you a lot of stories about me and about when we were dating."

"Can't say that he has," Lois said, stifling a smile when Lana's face fell a little. "Why?"

"Really? That surprises me… but then Clark's never been one to pour out his soul to someone unless he really trusts them."

Lois inhaled sharply, tempted to pull the woman's hair out by its roots — its *dark* roots, she thought cattily. Miss Lana Lang was fake inside and out. "Oh, Clark trusts me. We're close… *very* close. I just don't think you've ever come up."

"Well, maybe it was just too painful for him to talk about," Lana said thoughtfully. "Clark and I broke up right before graduation because Clark really wanted us to have a long distance relationship and I wanted to be free once I got to LA. Clark was just devastated. I was his first love, and we were crazy about each other — though I admit he was always a bit more head over heels than I was. I didn't really want to break up with him, but I wasn't ready to settle down yet. In the beginning, Clark wrote to me all the time and even called occasionally. I think he was hoping to get back together. I know he was just heartbroken."

Lois stared at her, wondering what her point was in relaying this ten-year-old saga.

Lana, however, seemed not to notice, or not to care about, Lois' obvious discomfort. "Has he dated many women since he moved here?" she asked.

"No…" Lois was reluctant to say much more.

Lana smiled. "That's a good sign. I think he's been reluctant to start something new because he was still holding a candle for me."

"What makes you think that? Were you reluctant to date other men?"

Lana laughed, obviously appalled by that notion. "Me? Hardly. But that's totally different. I was the one who wanted to break up."

Lois felt her heart clench a little as she pictured Clark as a lovesick eighteen-year-old whose girlfriend had left him for the bright lights of Hollywood. Lana said Clark had written her, but she noticed the woman had said nothing about whether she'd replied to his letters. Lois could picture Clark trying desperately to salvage their relationship, but it was clear that Lana hadn't been interested in salvaging anything until she'd realized a better offer wasn't going to come along. Lois had thought that she couldn't possibly dislike this woman any more than she already did, but apparently she had been wrong.

"Look, I really don't want to get involved in this, I just think you should know that I've never heard Clark mention you, and I really don't think he's been waiting for you this whole time."

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure of that," Lana said with a smile. "The fact that Clark hasn't dated anyone seriously says something to me. Besides, you never really get over your first love."

Lois bit back an angry retort, unwilling to get into a fight with Clark's ex- girlfriend in the middle of the newsroom. The office gossips would *love* that, she thought bitterly.

"Well, I guess I'll be on my way then, I don't want to take up any more of your time. I know how busy you are. Would you mind telling Clark that I made dinner reservations for six thirty at Chef Andre's?"

Lois nodded dumbly. She wanted to attack this woman, to confront her with all the horrible things she'd just said. But Lois Lane was an investigative reporter, and she knew when to play her cards and when to hold them. The time wasn't right yet. She'd just have to wait.

Lois walked Lana out, then returned to her seat. She sighed and glanced at the movie listings still sitting on her desk. She picked them up, then made a sound of disgust and tossed them in her garbage can. So much for that idea. What was she going to do? She had to warn Clark, but he would probably think she was crazy. Lana was a totally different person when he was around. She knew how hard it was to see a person's true colors when you were too close to them. After all, it wasn't that long ago that she had walked down the aisle toward Metropolis' most notorious criminal.

She was just going to have to keep a watch out and do something if the situation got out of hand. Hopefully she was right that Clark was long over Lana and this visit would mean nothing to him. Perhaps before she knew it, Lana would be on her way back to Smallville to look for a husband there.

She took a deep breath and felt herself calming slightly. Yes, in a matter of days, she'd be looking back on Lana as nothing but a bad dream. Clark could never be charmed by her. He might have cared for her once, but he was older and more mature now. She knew him too well to believe that he would be attracted to a manipulative, scheming, presumptive woman like Lana. She wasn't even that pretty.

"Hey, Lois!"

Lois looked up from her musing to see Jimmy's excited smile. "Hi, Jimmy. What's up?"

"Not much. I was just wondering… who was that hot chick with Clark?"


Chapter 3: We Have a Lot to Stalk About

Lois flipped off the television and grabbed the phone. After spending all last night and all that day in her apartment, she was starting to go stir crazy. She had picked up the phone to call Clark half a dozen times in the past twenty-four hours. Until now, she hadn't realized how much of her free time was spent with Clark. Without him, she was, well, lonely.

Clark had spent the last two days with Lana, so he couldn't possibly be spending today with her, could he? Of course not. And he'd probably be glad to hear from her after not seeing her all weekend. He was probably missing her. There was still time to catch the evening showing of that romantic comedy she'd wanted to see the night before.

Before she could change her mind, she punched Clark's number. It rang four times, and Lois was beginning to think that he wasn't going to answer at all when she heard someone pick up the receiver on the other end. But it wasn't Clark's voice that greeted her. It was Lana's perky "hello." Lois slammed the phone down, unwilling to ask the other woman to put Clark on the phone. If Lana was there, he clearly had other plans for the evening.

What was she doing answering his phone? Had she insinuated herself so deeply into his life in three days that she was comfortable answering his phone? Why hadn't Clark answered? Was he not there? Was Lana staying in his apartment even when he wasn't there? Did she ever leave? Was she spending the night now? Clark wasn't the type to jump into a sexual relationship — Lois knew that from watching him over the past year. But might he feel different when the woman in question was his ex-girlfriend, the woman who had been his first love?

Lois stood up, disgusted with herself for even caring. What Clark did was his own business. She didn't care what he did or who he did it with. He was a big boy, and he was just going to have to take care of himself. Grabbing her coat and keys, she headed for the door. She could see the movie alone. She didn't need him to come with her. She could have just as much fun without him.


Handing her money to the cashier, Lois accepted her tub of popcorn, box of milk duds and large diet soda. The diet soda would counter the calories in the popcorn and candy, she reasoned.

She was juggling the items, trying to fish her ticket out of her pocket, when she heard a familiar laugh. Before she could think twice, she jumped behind a nearby potted plant.

"Do you want a drink or anything?" she heard Clark ask.

"Oh, no. I'm stuffed. Dinner was incredible. I had no idea you could cook!"

"Well, it's just a little skill I've picked up, I guess."

"It seems like you've picked up a lot of things since the last time I saw you."

Behind the potted plant, Lois continued to fume as the voices faded out. Was he blind? Could not see that that woman was throwing herself at him? 'Oh, Clark, you're so wonderful.' 'Oh, Clark, you're such a good cook.' 'Oh, Clark…'

It was enough to make her scream — or throw up. So why couldn't Clark see through that? He was a reasonably bright guy, even if he was a bit dense at times. Why could he not see what Lana was up to?

As she watched Clark and Lana make their way from the ticket taker to their theater, a sickening thought occurred to her. Maybe Clark saw exactly what that hussy was doing, but he was encouraging her because he liked it.

Maybe Lana was right. Maybe Clark was still in love with her after all this time. Maybe he…


That couldn't be it. Clark would never… Never what, exactly? Never consider rekindling a romance with his first love? Never be flattered that a beautiful woman was obviously interested in him? Even if he wasn't still in love with her, he might still be interested. Clark was a great guy, but he was still a guy, and he still had hormones.

Deciding the situation was twice as bad as she had once assumed, and that she now had to protect Clark not only from Lana, but also from himself, Lois acted quickly. She dashed from behind the plant to the ticket taker, cutting off a group of outraged teenagers in the process. She shifted impatiently as the bored-looking attendant ripped her ticket in half and recited, "Second theater to the right. Enjoy your show," in a monotone.

Lois grabbed the remainder of her ticket and made a beeline for the third theater on the left. Slipping into the theater, she was relieved to find that the lights were already down, providing her the cover of darkness. This quickly proved to be a mixed blessing, however, when she realized how hard it would be to locate Clark and Lana in the darkened room. After scanning the crowd a number of times, and nearly tripping over an outstretched leg, she managed to locate them halfway down the center section.

As she climbed over half a row of people to get to an empty seat a few rows behind them, she grumbled to herself about Clark's propensity to choose seats in the center of the row. Whenever they went out, she would tried to convince him to sit near an aisle so that they wouldn't be inconvenienced by climbing over people, but he insisted that they should leave those seats for the elderly, moms with children, or anyone else who genuinely needed it.

"Boy scout," she muttered, settling into her seat.

The man in the seat next to her shushed her invoking a brief tirade about her right to do as she pleased in a public place. That spurred shushing from a number of other patrons and just in time, Lois saw Clark turn to see what the commotion was about. Horrified at the prospect of having to explain to him why she was there, alone, she hid behind her giant box of milk duds until he looked away.

Something pricked her conscience. Clark really had wanted to see that movie. He'd brought it up every time they'd discussed seeing a movie, yet somehow they'd managed to see three other movies instead. Even tonight, when she'd called, she'd been planning to drag him to see another movie. It wasn't even a movie that she was dying to see. It just hadn't occurred to her to ask Clark what movie he'd like to see.

Apparently it had occurred to Lana.

Lois shoved that thought to the back of her mind. She could examine its significance at a later date. For now she needed to focus on what was happening a few rows in front of her. Lana seemed to be leaning toward Clark. Her body language was screaming at him. Lois let out a muffled growl when Clark's arm slid around the back of Lana's chair, but she relaxed slightly when she realized that he wasn't actually touching her.

Lois' mind drifted back to the last time she'd gone to the movies with Clark — just the previous weekend. It had been a psychological thriller and at one point she'd nearly leapt out of her seat. Instead, she'd grabbed Clark's hand, clenching it between hers. Clark had smiled at her, then switched her grasp to his other hand before slipping his arm around her shoulders. Somehow, his presence had made the scary part a little less scary… and when that part was over and Clark forgot to remove his arm, she hadn't bothered to protest.

For nearly two hours, Lois kept her eyes trained on Clark and Lana, analyzing their every move. They didn't seem to be overly affectionate, but they did seem to be very comfortable with each other.

Try as she might, Lois couldn't decide if Clark was taking Lana's bait. He paid a lot of attention to her, but Clark was always very attentive.

The lights came up,and Lois slid deeper into her seat, praying fervently that Clark would not spot her. To her great relief he and Lana walked by without a second glance. She ducked out after them.

Lois trailed them stealthily out of the theater, through the lobby, then outside onto the sidewalk. She stayed back a little, blending in with the small crowds, trying to remain obscure.

They were walking to Clark's, she realized, or at least walking in that direction. She was so caught up in thought — wondering what would happen once they reached his apartment — that she almost missed them turning into a coffee shop. She hesitated by the door, then kept walking, knowing there was no way she could enter the cafe without drawing their attention. When she reached the end of the block, she crossed the street and began walking in the opposite direction until she was across the street from the cafe. From her vantage point, she could see them sitting in a booth by the window, talking. A waitress came and took their orders, interrupting the conversation temporarily, then disappeared allowing them to pick up where they'd left off. Lois was too far away to read lips, so she could only guess what they were talking about.

They had a lot to catch up on, she reasoned. It had been years since they'd seen each other. Then again, how much Smallville news could there be? Jethro sold a cow. Maybelle had another baby. And they put a new coat of paint on the town church.

Lois sighed. That wasn't fair. She's been to Smallville, and she knew there was more to it than that. Even if she did enjoy teasing Clark about his hometown, it was all, or mostly at least, in jest. In fact, not that she'd admit it, she'd sort of enjoyed her time in Smallville. Everything there was so laid back. The people were friendlier, the pace was slower. People seemed to take time to enjoy life in Smallville, unlike in Metropolis where people rushed from day to day, always striving for more — more fame, more money — with no real purpose.

Even Clark had seemed different in Smallville. Although he was always laidback by Metropolis standards, he had seemed even more relaxed there. They had played and acted silly. He had even won her a bear at the festival.

She froze as a sudden picture of Clark, knee deep in water and dripping wet, flashed across her memory. She felt her stomach knot as she remembered the terror she'd felt when she watched Trask level his gun at Clark.

It had been so close. She been so sure she was about to lose him. If Rachel hadn't appeared just then…

Lois shook her head as if doing so could forcibly remove the image from her memory. She couldn't begin to imagine her life without him. She didn't even want to try.

Her eyes scanned the picture framed in the window of the cafe. A perfect, happy couple.

She was losing him. Just as surely as if she had lost him that afternoon in Smallville, she was about to lose him. Not to a maniac with a gun, but to a high school sweetheart with a mission.

No, he wouldn't die if he married Lana, and he probably wouldn't even disappear from her life completely. Not right away at least.

They'd still be partners at work. She'd still see him every day. But it would be different. Rather than lingering over an investigation, he'd be rushing home to his wife. She could forget about all their late-night chats over pizza or all- night movie marathons. Married men didn't do those things. At least, they didn't do them with anyone but their wives.

How long would it be, realistically, before she lost him altogether? How long would he and Lana live in Metropolis before moving back to Smallville to start a family? One year? Two? How long would it be until she was nothing more than a faded memory; another name on the Christmas card list? Would he tell his children about her? Would he weave their bedtime stories from the adventures they'd shared?

The lump in her throat was making it hard to breathe, and unshed tears stung her eyes. Suddenly she couldn't watch anymore. She turned away quickly and flagged down the first cab she saw, refusing to look in the direction of the cafe again.


Lois lay curled up on the couch, in the same position she'd been in all afternoon and evening, wearing her baggiest old sweats and cuddling the bear Clark had won for her in Smallville. She sobbed as the end credits of Up Close and Personal rolled across the screen of her television. Even if it was about broadcast news, which everyone knew was inferior to print journalism, it was still a favorite of hers. Now, she couldn't help but think it mirrored her own situation.

Of course, in her case, the roles were reversed. She was the seasoned news veteran and Clark was the green hack turned star. Lois' conscience prickled again, and she forced herself to admit that Clark had never been a hack. He'd been inexperienced and rough around the edges, but he'd always been talented. She'd known that all along, even if she would have rather died than admit it originally. And yes, he'd learned from her, but she'd learned from him too. He'd taught her how to look beyond the obvious story to see the other, more personal, stories within, and how to get the story without trampling on other people along the way. She'd taught him how to hammer out the facts for the readers, and he'd taught her how to present the facts without bludgeoning the readers with them. They were partners.

And now, just like that, she was losing her partner. No, he wasn't dying, but he might as well be in some ways. Once he married Lana, she'd lose him just as surely as if he'd died.

Last night, after the movie, she'd lain in bed and convinced herself that she was being overly hasty about Lana. There was no reason to believe that Clark returned her feelings, or that he ever would. What was between them had been years ago, in high school. Lois couldn't imagine wanting to rekindle a relationship with anyone she'd dated in high school, even those with whom she'd parted on good terms.

But if it wasn't Lana, it would just be someone else. Clark was a handsome, successful, intelligent, kind man. In a word, he was a catch. And really, it was astounding that someone hadn't snatched him up yet. It was only a matter of time.

She'd also realized, or more accurately, admitted to herself, that it didn't matter who Clark married, or even dated. Lois would hate her. No one would ever be good enough for Clark in her eyes. No one would ever be right for him.

No one but her.

She wiped her eyes and picked up the remote. As she stopped the video and set it to rewind, she forced herself to say aloud the scary words she'd been avoiding for the last twenty-four hours.

"I love him. I'm in love with him."

In actuality, she'd known that for much longer than twenty-four hours. Now that she had finally acknowledged it, it was nearly impossible to think back to a time when she hadn't been in love with Clark.

A timid smile crossed her lips as scenes from the past year and half flitted through her mind. Clark, a sappy smile on his face as he read her a fortune from her fortune cookie; winning her a bear at the Smallville festival; holding her as she gasped for air after nearly being strangled; playing games with her in the Honeymoon Suite; rejoicing over his recently won Kerth.

At some point, he had loved her too. She couldn't explain it, but she knew it was true. Not just because he'd told her so, although his declaration had been moving and heartfelt. She'd heard too many empty promises to take a man's love at his word, even Clark's. Being in love wasn't something that could be proven with words; it had to be proved with actions. On that front, Clark had shown himself true time and again. He had been there for her more than anyone else ever had. She had come to trust and depend on him in ways she'd thought she'd never allow. At times, she'd been scared of the amount of faith she'd put in him, but on every occasion, he'd proven that she had nothing to fear. He'd even been there for her when it couldn't have been easy for him.

Lois took a deep breath and closed her eyes briefly before continuing her mental diatribe.

Lex. Clark had seen through his facade from the beginning and had tried to warn her, but she'd refused to listen. Then, even after he'd poured out his heart to her and been rejected for two men — a criminal and his best friend — he'd still been the first to comfort her when her world came crashing down around her. Only weeks after having his dreams shattered and his pride trampled, he had been the one she had looked to for strength.

She had been such a fool. And she had known it. She had refused to marry Lex because of it. But it was too little too late. By the time she had made up her mind to tell Clark how she felt about him, he had taken back his declaration. He'd told her that he hadn't meant it, that he'd only said it in an effort to keep her from marrying Lex.

She had been stunned, unable to say anything at the time. But later, when she'd had time to take it all in, she'd realized that he was lying. He had meant every word he'd said that day in the park. There could be no misinterpreting the sincerity in his voice or the anguish in his eyes. But he'd taken it back. She had no doubt that he was lying when he said he'd never loved her, but she was just as certain that he had closed the door on the possibility of a relationship with her. He had probably wanted to spare himself the pain and embarrassment of going through the same thing again, so he had convinced himself that it was for the best and that eventually he'd get over her. And now, apparently, he had.

She too had convinced herself that they were not meant to be together. She had thought that she could content herself with nothing more than his friendship, and she had. Until now.

It was the cruelest of ironies. It had taken losing him to make her realize what she had.

Tomorrow she would see him at work and he would behave as if everything was normal. They would go about their daily routine, but all the while, she would be faced with the knowledge that these days were numbered. She was going to lose the only man she had ever truly loved, and there was nothing she could do but watch.

Nothing she could do.

Suddenly Lois sat straight up on the couch. Nothing she could do? What in the world had gotten into her? She'd been so swept up in her maudlin pity party, that she'd lost sight of reality. She was Lois Lane. There was nothing she couldn't do!

In a heartbeat, she was off the couch and pacing her living room floor. Tears long forgotten, she rummaged through the kitchen drawer to find a chocolate bar and unwrapped it as she resumed her pacing.

What she needed, she told herself, was a plan.

She needed to show Clark that Lana wasn't the right woman for him. She needed to make him see that Lana could never make him happy the way she could. They were partners, and she needed to make him see that their partnership should be extended to all aspects of their lives.

It had been years since Lois had set out to win a man. Since she'd been burned in college, she'd stopped chasing men. Since then she'd dated casually and suffered through two federal disasters. But the one thing all those relationships had in common was that the guy had done all the pursuing.

She almost wished she could call Lucy. She was a pro at pursuing men. But Lucy was on tour with a new boyfriend and his band, and Lois had no idea how to contact her. It was probably for the best, though, since Lois didn't really want to verbalize her plans to anyone, even her sister.

First things first; she needed a makeover. Well, not a complete makeover. She just needed to spice things up a bit. She hurried into her bedroom and surveyed the contents of her closet. Half an hour later she slammed the door in disgust. Everything she owned made her look ten years older than she really was and disguised every positive aspect of her body.

She glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that it was already almost midnight. Too late to do anything else tonight, she reasoned. But she had all day tomorrow to work on her plan. She'd get up early and spend all day shopping and preparing for Monday. That was what she needed: a new outfit for her new plan. Maybe something in burgundy.


Chapter 4: The Rival

Monday morning, Lois waltzed into the newsroom, head held high. Her shopping excursion had been an unrivaled success. The new burgundy dress suit she wore fit her perfectly. It fell just above her knees, and the matching heels she wore drew attention to her long legs. The scooped neckline was flattering without being revealing, and the necklace she wore fell just above the valley between her breasts, drawing attention there. Her makeup was flawlessly applied, and she'd bought a new lipstick. Her tongue darted out instinctively to moisten her lips. Yes, she was ready for anything.

There was a new bounce in her step as she approached her desk and saw that Clark was already in, sitting at his desk. She made a quick detour and stopped by the coffee machine. Step one in her plan to win Clark. She was going to start doing all the little things for him that he normally did for her. She grabbed two cups of coffee, making sure to sweeten one just the way Clark liked it. A box of donuts caught her eye, and she snagged a chocolate-coated one for Clark.

"Good morning," she said cheerfully, placing the donut and cup of coffee on Clark's desk.

"Good morning, Lois," Clark said automatically, before glancing at the breakfast she'd brought him. "Wow, thanks! To what do I owe this honor?"

"Oh, nothing," she said, perching on the edge of his desk and crossing her legs slowly. "I was just grabbing some coffee and thought you might like something. How was your weekend?"

"Oh, it was great. I had a lot of fun showing Lana around Metropolis. She really seems to like it here. How was your weekend?"

"Great," Lois said, hoping he wouldn't realize it was a lie. "Got caught up on a lot of stuff. Stayed pretty busy. You know."

"Sounds good."

"Yeah, it was." Lois picked an imaginary piece of lint off Clark's sleeve, then smoothed the area with the palm of her hand. After a moment she tore her hand away from him. "Well, we should probably get to work. Have you heard anything more about that tip from the Mayor's office?"

"No, nothing. I'm beginning to think there was nothing to it. Just a disgruntled ex-employee or something. But I've got a few more people I want to call before we write it off completely. I'll let you know if I find anything."

"Great. In the meantime, I'll look through my email and see if anything's come up over the weekend. I'm sure we'll come up with something. After all, we're a great team."

"Yes," Clark said, looking slightly amused. "Yes, we are."

"Oh, and that reminds me. I really liked your story in the Sunday paper."

"Thanks, Lois. I'm glad you liked it." Clark seemed surprised by her sudden comment at first, but his genuine pleasure at her compliment was obvious.

"I did. I really liked it. And I was just thinking about how you would be wasted if you went into broadcast news. Not that you're not good-looking enough, but your talents would just be wasted there. I mean, you know how broadcast news is…it's so fake, so surface. All those 'reporters' spend more time worrying about their makeup than their stories."

Clark's brow furrowed. "Yeah… You know I'm not a fan of broadcast news."

"Good." Lois let out a sigh of relief, then smothered it with a cough when Clark looked at her questioningly. Now that she had settled that, Lois was ready to get back to work. "All right, I'm gonna go check my email now."

"Okay." Clark smiled at her, then reached for his phone.

Lois returned the smile and slid off his desk, smiling secretively when she saw Clark's eyes dart to her legs before focusing back on his notes. So far, so good, she thought with a small smile.

"Oh, Clark?" She stopped and waited until she had his attention again. "How about lunch today? We can go out somewhere instead of eating at our desks."

"That sounds great," he said, nodding. "We eat way too many meals in this newsroom. Where to do you want to go?"

"Oh, I don't know. What about that new Italian place you're always talking about?"

For her thoughtfulness, she was rewarded with a brilliant smile. She returned his smile, then slid into her seat and pulled up her email. As she scrolled through her inbox, she pondered what should be her next move. So far the subtle moves were working well for her, but she was going to have to be more forward eventually. At least the new outfit and breakfast were both hits. Now she would work her charms at lunch.

She glanced over at him covertly, and smiled as he sipped his coffee. She forced her eyes back to her screen, but after another minute, she felt her gaze slide back over to her partner. To her chagrin, he looked up just then and met her gaze. Heat flooded her face and she looked away immediately. When she was sure Clark had gone back to work, she risked one more glance in his direction. He was typing leisurely, a small smile playing at his lips.

She opened a new email and forced herself to think about work at least temporarily. But as she pondered the merits of attending public forum being held at the city council meeting the next night, she heard a now-familiar voice.

"Hey, you."

"Lana! Hi."

Lois groaned quietly. Of course. Of course Lana would show up.

"I know you're busy and I won't distract you, I promise. I was just passing by and thought I bring you some breakfast. I know how you are, always dashing off. I just wanted to make sure you got something to eat."

"Thanks, Lana. That was really sweet, but I've already got breakfast."

Lois glanced over to Clark's desk just in time to see Lana pluck the donut from his hand and toss it in the trash, replacing it with a small paper bag bearing the logo of one of Metropolis' swankiest pastry shops.

Lois growled, and then, to her dismay, she also noted that Lana looked like a model in the black pants and bright pink blouse she wore. The tight black pants made her legs look a mile long, and her blouse was unbuttoned low enough to give anyone who was looking a good idea of what they were missing. Her blonde hair cascaded around her shoulders in soft waves. Clark always had preferred blondes.

Lana leaned over the desk to deposit a cup of coffee, and from her vantage point Lois could tell the position gave Clark a perfect vantage point to look down her shirt. Not that Clark would normally look — he was a gentleman, a rare thing in Metropolis — but that didn't mean he wouldn't enjoy the view if it was presented to him on a silver platter.

Lois forced herself not to panic. She still had plenty of time and plenty of tricks up her sleeve. She glanced around the room, and to her dismay, she realized that Lana had the attention of every man in the room.

"All right, I'll let you get back to work," Lana said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "How about lunch, though?"

"Oh…" Clark hedged. "Actually, Lois and I were going to have lunch at Lucia's."

"Oh! I heard that place was great! Why don't we all go together? Lois won't mind — will you, Lois?" Lana asked, her voice dripping with sweetness.

"Well, uh…"

"Great! Then it's all settled. I'll meet you back here at noon!" With that, Lana flitted out of the newsroom, leaving a dozen grown men drooling in her wake.

Lois wanted to bang her head on her desk. How had this happened? She certainly didn't want Lana to come along, but she couldn't really say no without looking like the bad guy. But how was she supposed to shine with Lana hogging the spotlight?

After a moment of feeling sorry for herself, however, a slow grin spread across her face as she began to formulate an idea.



The blustery winter wind nearly blew them in the door of the cozy restaurant, and Lois was glad they'd chosen somewhere only two blocks away from the Planet. She shook the snowflakes out of her hair and smiled as Clark reached over and rubbed his hands over her arms, trying to warm her. Even through the thick wool of her coat, his touch affected her. She shivered again, this time not from the cold.

She gave him a small smile, warming when he returned it.

Lois gloated silently as she watched Lana futilely try to fend off Jimmy's laundry list of questions. Asking Jimmy to come along to their lunch had been an inspiration. He peppered Lana with questions, leaving Clark's attention free, and making Lana look bad as she grew increasingly irritated. Her responses, at first curt and succinct, were becoming clipped and biting. It was clear to anyone who was paying attention that Lana was not enjoying Jimmy's company. But he seemed oblivious, excited just to be talking to her.

In the meantime, Lois chatted with Clark about their current story while they waited for the host to seat them. The restaurant was small, but charming, she noted, looking around for the first time. The table settings were bright, and the walls were decorated with what Lois could only assume were family photographs.

After a minute, a young woman Lois recognized from many of the photographs appeared, menus in hand.

"Would a booth be all right?" she asked. "We're rather busy today."

"A booth is fine," Clark assured her.

As they maneuvered around the tables of the crowded room, Lois heard Lana mutter, "I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant with booths."

Lois looked to Clark to gauge his reaction, but he was caught up in exchanging pleasantries with their hostess and had missed Lana's display of snobbery.

They found their table and Clark automatically reached for Lois' coat, his fingers skimming over the soft knit of her thin sweater as he pulled it from her. "Thank you," she said softly, returning his shy smile.

He placed it on the hook next to their booth, then slid into his seat, scooting along the bench and leaving an empty space next to him. Lois dove into the seat, claiming it as her own as quickly as possible. Lana stood, her coat still on, and cleared her throat. Lois was afraid Clark would nudge her out of her seat to help Lana, but he seemed not to notice, and Jimmy leaped at the hint. The heat of Lana's glare pierced her, but she opened her menu and pretended not to notice the other woman's obvious displeasure.

"Your waitress will be with you shortly," their hostess assured them as Lana and Jimmy slid into the booth across from Lois and Clark and accepted their menus.

Unaccustomed to the nerves she was experiencing, Lois forced herself to swallow the lump in her throat and make her next move.

"Have you ever had this?" Lois asked softly, pointing to a random item on Clark's menu. To reach, she had to lean across him, her thigh pressing against his, her arm brushing across the sleeve of his neatly pressed dress shirt. The contact sent sparks straight to her chest, and she fought to keep her breathing regular. How had she worked with him every day, hung out with him every weekend, and never noticed? Every fiber of her being was aware of him, every nerve on alert.

He looked up and suddenly their faces were just inches apart. Everything in the room faded away, and all Lois could think about was her partner, silently staring into her eyes.

After a minute of charged silence, Clark answered her question, his voice low and intimate. "I've never had it here, obviously, but I love that dish, and the reviews have all said it's one of the house specialties."

"What does it taste like?" Her voice sounded shaky to her own ears, and she chastised herself, trying to remember that this was just Clark, her best friend.

"I think you'd like it," Clark responded quietly, his gaze locked with hers. "You might think it's bland or boring at first, but give it a chance. It'll surprise you."

The words, and quiet, sexy tone of his voice as he said them, sent a shiver through her body. Lois held his gaze and smiled coyly. "Sounds promising. I'll have to try that."

Lana made a noise that sounded like a cross between growling and choking. Lois looked up and smiled despite the butterflies in her stomach.

As lunch progressed, Lana grew increasingly irritated. Jimmy continued peppering her with questions while Lois and Clark discussed mutual friends and then current events.

Finally, as they were finishing, the subject turned to a bill being debated in the New Troy State Senate.

"I just don't see how anyone could be opposed to this legislation," Clark said. "There are tons of required safeguards to ensure that these are quality schools, and not just high school dropouts running charter schools out of their basements."

"I know. And these kids are in failing schools," Lois said, becoming agitated as she recalled some of the opposing arguments from Senators the day before. "Something drastic needs to be done. Charter schools may not be perfect, but can it really be worse than leaving them where they are? And you've seen these charter schools — some of them are amazing. The progress they've made is nothing short of a miracle."

"Yeah, they're wonderful. I was so impressed when we toured Hope Academy. Those kids had made such a turnaround — those success stories were just astounding."

"Yeah, and I was really impressed by their statistics — 95 percent of their fourth graders were at or above grade level in all subjects? In the public schools those kids would be going to, that number is like 5 percent. Most of the kids in those schools are lucky if they are even reading — it's a travesty."

"And even if the other charter schools aren't as phenomenal as Hope Academy, they would be closely regulated with this legislation — it's not like it would be a free for all. The application and continued accreditation standards would be really tough."

"Right, so I just don't know why anyone would be opposed to this legislation."

"Well, I think most people are worried that charter schools only help a few lucky students, rather than fixing the source of the problems — the public schools themselves. I mean, I'm really happy for the kids who get into the charter schools, but there are only so many spots. What about the other kids? The kids who are stuck?"

"Yeah, those kids are still in failing schools, and those schools are struggling even more financially because vouchers have taken money away."

"But the money is allotted on a per pupil basis. It's no different than if those kids' parents yanked them out of the school district and paid for them to go to private schools. This is just the first time poor families have had that option."

"So, even if this isn't a cure-all, it's an idea that deserves a chance at least."

They both paused, then smiled at each other. If only they were in charge of the world, Lois though cheekily. Exchanges like these were not only fun for them, they helped them keep sharp and up to date on current events. They didn't always agree, but sometimes the discussions were even more fun when they didn't. Although neither of them was prone to changing their opinions completely, it was common for both of them to concede a little after hearing the other side.

"You mean they want to let poor kids go to private schools? Ugh, why would the rich kids' parents keep their kids there?"

Lois and Clark froze, then turned to look at Lana. They'd been so wrapped up in their personal conversation, that they'd forgotten they weren't alone. Lois took a deep breath and tried not to explode at her callous interpretation of the issue. Somehow it didn't surprise her that Lana would see it that way.

Clark started to explain the legislation to Lana, but she interrupted him with the wave of a hand. "Oh, Clark, you know I never really cared about politics. Remember, I used to always just ask you to tell me who I should vote for in school elections."

Lois rolled her eyes, irritated by Lana's apathy.

"You know what I have been wondering about, though?" Lana continued. "You must have interviewed a lot of famous people since you've moved here."

"Well, yeah, I guess you could say that," Clark said, twirling his fork in his pasta.

"Did you ever meet Lex Luthor?"

Lois felt all the blood drain out of her face. She smothered her emotions quickly and looked at Clark who had jerked at the sound of Lex's name, splashing marinara sauce onto the cuff of his sleeve.

"Oh, Clark! That'll stain, if you don't get it out right away." She grabbed his hand and busied herself dipping the corner of her napkin into her water glass and blotting at the red swatch.

Clark placed his hand over her own, stilling her nearly frantic action. "It's fine, Lois." His voice was low, and his eyes seemed to be asking her if she was okay.

"Yes, everything's fine," Lois said brightly, wresting her hand from his so she could resume her ministrations. "This stain shouldn't set. I think we got to it in time."

Clark gave her a look that said he didn't believe her babbling for a moment. "Lo- is," he murmured softly.

Mercifully, Jimmy began prattling about the time he'd gotten an exclusive shot of Superman, distracting Lana temporarily.

"I'm fine, Clark," Lois said softly, her hand resting, still, in his. Her attention had been focused on his sleeve, but she raised her eyes to meet his concerned gaze. "It caught me off guard, but I'm used to hearing his name in conversation by now."

She smiled, trying to convey to him that she really was fine. Lex's name had startled her, but after everything she'd been through in the last six months, this was nothing. Besides, it had led to Clark holding her hand, and that was worth a little shock. Clark smiled back, seemingly reassured. They held each other's gaze for another moment, than turned back and plunged into the conversation at the table.

"Well, Superman is okay," Lana was saying, "but what is his deal really? I heard he gives all his profits from Superman merchandise to charity? Can you just imagine? I mean, he could be so rich."

Lois exchanged a brief look with Clark before stepping in. "Superman stands for all that is pure and good. If he accepted money for being who he is, it would cheapen what he does."

"Well, I just can't imagine. He could live in the Hollywood Hills, hobnob with the rich and famous. Why, when I was working A Song for Ginger, I was talking to Patrick Swayze and he said-"

"Oh, were you in that movie?" Lois asked, trying desperately to refrain from rolling her eyes at Lana's obvious name dropping. "I just saw that last weekend and I don't recall seeing you in it."

"Well, it was just a small part," Lana said though gritted teeth. "But it was so much fun. And Patrick was a really great guy."

"What part were you in?"

Lana's eyes narrowed. "It was one of the early scenes, maybe you missed it."

"Oh, I don't think so. I always pay close attention to the beginning of movies. You never know when they are going to be important. Which scene was it?"

"The opening scene. But anyway-"

"Wasn't the opening scene filmed in an L.A. mall?"

"Yes," Lana snapped, obviously irritated. "I was a shopper. I told you it wasn't a big part."

"So you were an extra?"

Lana nodded tersely and Lois continued. "You were an extra, and you got to hang out with Patrick Swayze? How did that happen? My sister was an extra in a movie once and she was mad because the stars stayed locked up in their dressing rooms and didn't even come out to sign autographs. Patrick Swayze must be a pretty nice guy if he actually hung out with you."

"Well, I didn't say that we actually hung out…"

"But you met him?"

"Well… I mean, I *saw* him. And Bruce said-"

"Who's Bruce?"

"The guy who operated the snack cart," Lana mumbled.

Lois bit back her retort and watched Lana squirm. She could almost see the steam coming out of Lana's ears.

Just then, the waitress arrived to clear their plates and deliver their bill. Lois set enough money to cover her portion on the table and slid out of the booth. "I'm just going to use the restroom quickly before we leave."

Lana quickly followed suit. "I think I'll join you."

Lois saw Clark and Jimmy exchange a look that practically screamed the age-old question, "Why do they need to go in groups?"

Lois wasn't nearly as amused. Lana's dagger-like glares had been haunting her through the entire meal, and she was certain that once they reached the bathroom, she would incur the other woman's wrath. But she held herself up tall and refused to be intimidated. Lana had no right to be angry. Clark didn't belong to her, and Lois was free to do as she pleased.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Lana ground the words out through clenched jaws as soon as the door swung shut behind them.

"What?" Lois asked with an air of fake innocence.

"Don't play dumb with me! You know exactly what I'm talking about. You were all over him; flirting with him. You know he's mine!"

"Clark is not yours!" Lois spat out. "And did it ever occur to you that not everything is about you? Don't you think Clark deserves some say in who he should marry?"

"Wait a minute…" A slow grin spread across Lana's face, sending a sinking feeling to Lois' stomach. For a minute she was worried that Lana had just realized that she had listened in on her phone conversation, but almost immediately it because apparent that Lana was headed in a different direction altogether. "I get it now. You're in love with him, aren't you? That's what this is all about. Oh, that's so cute. How long have you been pining away for him, hoping that someday he'll notice you? He probably even encouraged your little crush without knowing it, didn't he? He was always too nice for his own good. God, I remember how that pathetic Harris brat used to tag around after him all through high school. I was always telling her to get lost, but Clark was always nice to her. Well, sorry, honey, but it's time to face reality."

"Reality? You want to talk about facing reality, Miss I Can Flit In Here After Ten Years and Pick Up Where I Left Off? How dare you? How dare you walk into our lives — into Clark's life — after all this time and expect him to still be waiting faithfully for you? You don't even know him! It's been TEN YEARS, Lana. Ten years!"

Lois took a deep breath and forced herself to remain calm. She was in the right here, and she knew it. She would not let Lana rile her. "He's a totally different person now. You think you can just waltz back in now and expect things to be the same, but that's ludicrous! You were children. Clark has grown into a wonderful man, but he's a man now, not the hormone-driven teenager you knew. Did you ever think that Clark might be perfectly happy with his life the way it is — without you? Why would he want you back now? What could you possibly offer him that he couldn't find somewhere else?"

Lois stopped and the room was eerily quiet for a moment before she began again, her voice low and controlled now. "I'm sorry you're just now realizing that you threw away the best thing that ever happened to you, but it's a done deal and it's too late to undo it now. Clark has moved on with his life, and it's time for you to do the same."

Lana stood slack-jawed in front of her. Finally she broke the stunned silence. "Desperate words from a desperate woman. If it weren't so pathetic, I'd be mad. But you must know you don't stand a chance next to me. Clark would never settle for you when he could have me. Sorry, but you need to accept that."

Lois shook her head and watched as Lana spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.

Lois took a deep breath, then left the safety of the bathroom. She reached the table just in time to see Lana's back disappearing through the crowded restaurant. She watched her go, then turned back to Clark and Jimmy who were gathering their coats, and wearing matching looks of befuddlement.

Clark held Lois' coat for her as she slid her arms into the sleeves. "What was that all about?" he asked, as he stepped back and slipped on his own coat.

Lois shrugged and gave Clark a look she hoped bespoke her innocence. "No idea. She seemed fine to me…"

As they started out, Lois realized she'd left her purse at their table.

"Go ahead, I'll meet you outside."

She dashed back to the table, and smiled when she got back to the front of the restaurant and saw that Clark was waiting for her. "I told Jimmy we'd meet him outside."



"I was just thinking… would you like to come over for dinner tonight?"

Clark looked surprised, then a little curious. Finally he lifted an eyebrow. "Are you cooking?"

Already buoyed by the adrenalin rush she'd gained from squaring off with Lana, Lois couldn't help but let herself grin in what she hoped was a flirtatious — but not *too* flirtatious — way. "That's for me to know, and you to find out."

Clark's eyebrows shot even higher. "Well, that's quite an invitation," he replied, his mouth curving into an amused grin. "How could I resist?"

"I guess you can't."

She linked her arm in his, and they headed out the door to join Jimmy on the sidewalk.


Chapter 5: Soul Mates

Lois popped the pan into the oven and stepped back, admiring her handiwork. So far so good. She licked the drop of the batter that had dripped onto her finger, preparing for the sweet taste of banana nut bread. Instead, it tasted like… toothpaste? Lois shook her head. It must just be her paranoia. She'd followed the directions exactly — there was no reason for anything to go wrong.

She couldn't afford for anything to go wrong. This was her big chance to show him how she felt about him. Everything needed to be perfect. She set the timer and looked back to the stove. The angel hair pasta sat in the still water of the pot, not yet at a boil. How long did it take to boil anyway? Impatient, she turned up the heat a notch, and forced her attention away.

"After all, a watched pot never boils," she reminded herself.

On the other burner, a mixture of tomatoes and spices simmered. Lois was almost astounded by how simple it had been to assemble the ingredients, and how good they were beginning to smell.

She wanted this night to be perfect. Lunch had gone well today, but she'd had to compete with Lana for Clark's attention. Tonight she would have his undivided attention. They could talk and enjoy each other's company. And just maybe, she'd work up the courage to give him a more blatant signal that she was interested. So far he had reacted well to all of her subtle hints, but she wasn't sure exactly what he was feeling. Hopefully tonight would help clear that up.

In the meantime, she needed to make the salad. She found a large glass bowl in the cabinet above her head and started pulling vegetables from the grocery bag on the counter. She rinsed the vegetables, then glanced down at her stack of recipes and extracted the one labeled, "Perfect Garden Salad." She felt a bit stupid for using a recipe to make a salad, but this was an important night, so she was taking every precaution she could.

First lettuce. That she could handle. She found the largest knife she owned and hacked it into a bunch of pieces, then dropped it in the bowl as the base. Next, shaved carrots. Hmm. She pondered the bag of carrots. She hadn't been able to find any shaved carrots, so these were just going to have to do. Maybe she should try to shave them herself… That sounded like a recipe for disaster if she ever heard one, Lois thought. No, better just to cut them up. She chopped each carrot into three or four chunks and tossed them in the bowl.

Lois eyed the bowl warily. It looked a little… odd. But she supposed it would taste fine. And with dressing no one would be able to see what it looked like anyway.

On to the next item.

Cucumbers, sliced. Okay, that was no problem. She slit the cucumber end to end until she was left with long strips. Somehow she didn't think that was the intended result. Oh well. She chopped the slices into more manageable bites and tossed them in the bowl. Next on the list was green pepper. She chopped it in half and patted herself on the back for remembering to clean out the seeds. Then she chopped it into square pieces and added it to the mix.

Last on the list was cherry tomatoes, whole. She had no idea what the difference between regular tomatoes and cherry tomatoes was. She thought it probably had something to do with cherry juice, but she wasn't putting that in her salad no matter what the recipe called for. Keeping in mind that the salad called for whole tomatoes, she'd picked the smallest ones she could find, but they still looked pretty big. She was really tempted to cut them up regardless of what the recipe said.

Lois sighed and looked at the salad disapprovingly. It still looked weird. Everything was kinda… big. Like it was a bowl of vegetables rather than a salad. Maybe that was what it was supposed to look like, though. That would explain the whole tomato thing. Lois nodded, satisfied, at least temporarily, with that explanation. She added the tomatoes to the mix and stirred gently.

She took the bowl to the table, then started to throw away the grocery bag but stopped when she realized there was still something inside it. An onion. Oh, right, she still needed to add the onions to the sauce, she remembered. Speaking of the sauce… Lois decided to give it a quick stir. She squinched up her nose, pondering the bubbling red liquid. The book had said simmer. Was this simmering? How much bubbling was simmering? Better safe than sorry. She lowered the heat until it was almost off.

Lois glanced at her watch and realized she only had about fifteen minutes until Clark was supposed to arrive. She could add the onion after she changed, she reasoned. After one last check to make sure that everything was fine, she dashed to her room and slipped out of the sweat pants and t-shirt she had been wearing to cook and into the outfit she'd laid out on her bed before she'd started. She moved quickly into the bathroom, checking her light makeup and running a brush through her hair. Examining herself in the mirror, she smiled tentatively. She looked casual but nice in her jeans and soft wool sweater. She ran her hands over the thin, red material and smiled. It was so soft it seemed to cry out to be touched. Definitely a good thing tonight.

She stopped for a minute to contemplate what she was doing. Was she absolutely certain this was what she wanted? It seemed so sudden. But Lois Lane was never one to hold back. When she wanted something, she went after it wholeheartedly. And she wanted Clark Kent.

After her revelation the other night, she had realized that she had to act quickly. She was in love with him, and she needed to let him know that before he did something that made it impossible for them to be together. He had loved her once, she knew he had. Now she had to convince him that he could love her again.

Somewhat cheered by her pep talk, she left her bedroom and headed back to the kitchen.

Back the cutting board. The recipe called for a quarter cup of finely chopped onions. She eyed the vegetable sitting on the kitchen counter warily. How was she supposed to know how much would be a quarter cup? It wasn't like butter, which came with the measurements on the side of the wax paper. Apparently she was going to have to chop it and then measure. She had measuring cups around here somewhere; she'd used them when she was making the banana nut bread. She found the quarter-cup measure and rinsed it, then grabbed a knife to chop the onion.

The outer layers of the onion were making chopping hard, and she couldn't recall ever seeing this flaky part of the onion before. Did it cook off somehow? She'd find out soon enough.

The knife faltered as it encountered the onion's skin again, but Lois persisted resolutely, determined to finish chopping a quarter cup worth. After a few minutes, she declared victory and dumped the onion into the now rapidly boiling sauce.

Before she could give it any more thought, her eyes fell on the noodles, still sitting in the stagnant water. What in the world was the problem? Why wasn't it boiling? The sauce was boiling…a lot. A whole lot.

"Oh no, oh no," Lois muttered, as she fiddled with the stove's knobs. "I'm an idiot."

She smacked the palm of her hand to her forehead. Apparently she had turned the heat on the noodles down and the heat on the sauce up when she had checked on them earlier. That would explain why the pasta was slowly disintegrating in the still-cold water while the sauce was popping and spewing all over the counter.

Disgusted with herself, she jerked the knob controlling the heat under the sauce and was horrified when it fell off in her hand.

No. No. No.

This was not supposed to happen. This was supposed to be foolproof!

Just then a gurgling, splatting sound came from the oven. Lois wrenched her attention from the still-bubbling sauce to the oven. Hurriedly opening the door, she discovered that the banana bread batter had exploded all over the sides of the oven.

Oh, God. Oh, God. Lois' gaze whipped back and forth between the stove and the oven.

The sauce that had once smelled so good was now beginning to smell scorched. She reached for the handle to yank it away from the heat, but in her haste, she forgot to grab a potholder and succeeded only in burning her hand.

Tears leapt to her eyes. She could *do* this. It wasn't that hard! All across America, every day, people made spaghetti. Why couldn't she do it? A thick cloud of smoke began to rise from the pan as she frantically looked for her misplaced potholders. Finally she located them, grabbing them off the counter, and the smoke detector above her head began to screech.

"Nooo!" she yelled, giving in to her tears. She jerked the pot off the burner and began frantically fanning the smoke detector.

"Lois?! Are you all right?" Suddenly Clark was there, disconnecting the smoke detector and turning off the burner. He flipped on the fan above the stove and the smoke seemed to disappear as quickly as it had appeared.

"Are you all right?" he repeated, pulling her to his chest.

"I'm okay," she mumbled against his solid chest. Lois sniffled, wiping her eyes. It felt so good to be held in his arms like this. She wasn't really scared, just frustrated.

"All right," he said soothingly, stroking her hair. "It's fine. Nothing out of control."

"Oh, Clark," she said, pulling away. She wiped at her eyes again and turned away from him, unable to face him. She'd wanted to badly to impress him tonight and she'd been an utter failure. How would she ever convince him to fall in love with her if she couldn't even do something simple like cook? Lana was probably a great cook. She'd grown up at the knee of her mother, a Kansas farmwife.

"What?" he asked, coming up behind her and placing his hands on her arms, rubbing them reassuringly. "Did you hurt yourself?"

Her gaze went automatically to her hand, though it didn't hurt nearly as badly as her pride.

"Let me see it," he said softly.

"It's…it's fine," she protested, holding her injured hand to her chest with the other hand.

"Just let me look, Lois. I won't touch it."

Slowly she relaxed, extending her hand to him. He cradled it in his hands, examining it from a variety of angles.

"It looks okay; just a little red," he said finally. "Does it hurt?"

He looked up, and his face was only inches from hers. Her breath caught in her chest and she found herself unable to answer his question.

"Lois," he breathed.

"It's fine," she managed finally. "It hardly hurts at all anymore."

She couldn't hold his gaze though, and she dropped her eyes to the floor, examining her shoes. "I just wanted to make us dinner. Is that so much to ask? I'm so stupid."

"You are *not* stupid," Clark gasped. "Lois, how can you say that? You're the most intelligent person I know. So you messed up dinner. It's not the end of the world. It happens to everyone."

"I know, but this was supposed to be special," she whispered.

"Lois?" He hooked a finger under her chin and gently raised her head until she met his questioning gaze.

"I…" She wanted to explain. She wanted to tell him that she was in love with him and that tonight had been meant to show him how she felt. They should be eating at a candlelit table right now, gazing deep into each others' eyes. Instead, her kitchen was in shambles and he was comforting her as she cried. She couldn't tell him now. There had to be another time.

"Talk to me," Clark pleaded. "This isn't just about burning dinner. Please tell me what's wrong."

"This was supposed to be special. This was supposed to be an important night. I needed to show you… I just wanted you to know… What will I ever do without you?"

Clark stood, watching her, hesitating. "I don't understand."

"I'm losing you," she said finally, her voice choked by barely-restrained tears. "I just… I'm so… I just wanted to do something special tonight."

"Losing me? Lois, you're not losing me. You could never lose me."

"But I am," she cried. "You don't even know it yet, but I can see it happening. One day it's dinner and a movie and the next you're picking out names for your children! I can see it, Clark! She's not going to be content until she's walking down the aisle! And once she does… I've lost you forever."

"Lois… what are talking about," Clark asked, truly baffled.

"Lana! Are you blind? How can you not notice what she's doing?"

"She's just flirting Lois, that's what she does. She's only going to be in town for a couple of days. I figured it was easier to just let her flirt than fight with her about it. I'm sorry if it upset you. I never thought you would see it that way."

"What was I supposed to think? You spent every waking moment together. As far I as I knew, if wasn't just waking moments, either -"

"Lois, Lana and I *never* — I swear!"

"I called and she answered your phone! She seemed awfully at home!"

"Was that you? I was in the bathroom changing when the phone rang. I hollered for her to let the machine get it, but she said she'd already picked it up."

"It wasn't just that, Clark! She *told* me she was going to marry you! She had a whole plan!"

Clark inhaled sharply, shock written across his face. Then he slowly exhaled and ran his hand through his hair. "I'm not going to marry her, Lois." There was no hesitation. "Not her or anyone else."

Her eyes asked questions her mouth couldn't form. How could he say that with such certainty? What was he saying?


He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped. Lois' heart pounded in her chest as she waited for him to say something. Instead, his head dipped, and his hand came up to cradle her cheek. She swallowed nervously, her tongue darting out to moisten her suddenly- parched lips. He was so close, so achingly close. And then finally he was there, his lips connecting with hers. She gasped slightly, as their lips touched, clasping and caressing.

His hand slid back to tangle in her hair, pulling her closer still. All rational thought fled her mind as the world swirled around her. Her skin tingled, and she gave into the urge to press her body closer to his, her arms snaking around him, holding him to her. Finally, she felt herself begin to relax. After days of constant worry and stress, she finally allowed herself to believe that things were going to be fine. In his arms, there was nothing she couldn't handle, nothing they couldn't handle together.

Still, though, a nagging doubt persisted.

"Clark," she murmured against his lips, unwilling to pull away even long enough to ask him the question that weighed heavy on her heart.

He whispered her name in return, deepening the kiss. She gave herself over to the sensations he was creating for another moment before dragging her lips away from his. "But she said you never get over your first love…" she whispered.

"She was right."

Lois' heart lurched in her chest. No. It couldn't be. The way he was kissing her… He couldn't still be in love with someone else.

"But she wasn't my first love," he whispered, kissing her again. "You were."

Lois whimpered, a soft cry escaping the back of her throat. It was more than she had ever dreamed of. He loved her; he was in love with her. She wasn't going to lose him after all. And then his mouth was on hers again, exploring, teasing, reminding her of all the things they had left to share with each other. Finally their lips parted, and Clark rested his forehead against hers. Their breathing was short and labored as they both struggled to bring themselves back to reality.

"Amazing," Clark breathed. Lois sighed and basked in the glow of his adoration. So this was what it felt like to be loved.

After a few more minutes, and a few more sweet kisses, they pulled apart.

"I was so scared," Clark said finally. "I heard you scream…"

"I was just startled."

"I thought…"

"What, Clark?"

"I don't know. I don't know exactly what I thought. In an instant every possible horror flashed before my eyes, and all I could think about was getting to you."

"You saved me."

"I saved you from pasta," he said, cracking a grin.

"You always save me," she said softly, raising one hand to stroke his cheek. Clark smiled and captured her lips once more, in a brief, tender kiss.

"Should we see if we can salvage dinner?" Clark asked tentatively, gauging her reaction.

Lois wanted to be upset, but it *was* kind of funny. In fact, this whole situation was kind of funny. And it hadn't ruined anything after all. Clark was here, holding her in his arms and looking at her as if she was the most precious thing he'd ever seen.

Clark eyed her suspicious as she giggled, obviously waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Oh, Clark. Stop looking at me like I'm going to bite your head off. I'm fine. It's not like I've never ruined dinner before."

Finally, Clark allowed himself to join in her laughter. "All right, let's see what we can do with what's left. And then, while we eat, we can talk…?"

"Yeah," she said softly. "I think that's a good idea."

Lois watched as Clark surveyed the damage and his brow furrowed deeper and deeper. "Lois…" he started tentatively. "Umm… Do you have anymore pasta?"

She nodded and retrieved the box from the cabinet as he dumped the contents of the pot into the sink, then rinsed it and filled it with clean water. He turned on the burner and accepted the box from her, setting it on the counter beside the stove. "You can't add the pasta until it's boiling. Otherwise it will go mushy."

Lois nodded, wondering why the recipe hadn't said anything about that.

"The sauce actually looks salvageable," Clark said, pouring it into a new pot. "The bottom layer is burnt to the pan, but look, the rest is okay. I think you got it off before there was too much damage."

Clark sniffed it and smiled, eliciting a small smile from Lois. He was trying so hard to cheer her up. Any other man would have made her feel like a failure, whether he meant to or not. But even with Clark standing in her kitchen explaining what she had done wrong, she still didn't feel like he was belittling her. He was so patient and understanding.

"Is it edible?" she asked, attempting humor.

Clark's grin widened. "Definitely. Let's see -" He paused suddenly, examining the sauce, then dipped the wooden spoon in and extracted a piece of the onion. "Lois, you did *peel* the onion before you cut it up, didn't you?"

"Umm… How was I supposed to know I should peel it?! Those things should come with instructions!"

Lois smiled as Clark shook his head in defeat. How could he argue with that logic? He picked out the big flakes of onion skin, and set the pot back on the stove, turning the heat on low.

Next, he opened the oven door cautiously, flinching as he got his first peek. "What… was that?"

"Banana nut bread?"

He extended a finger slowly and dipped it into the batter. He popped it into his mouth and immediately blanched. "Lois, how much baking soda did you put in this?"

"Just a cup!"

"A cup?!"

"I followed the recipe!" she protested, pointing to the stack of papers. She pulled out the instructions and began skimming through them. "Ah ha! See? One… teaspoon baking soda… I don't understand. I *swear* it said a cup earlier. Oh no! Oh, I mixed it up! One cup sugar, one teaspoon baking soda! Oh, no!"

Clark cut his laughter short as Lois silenced him with a pointed glare. "Sorry," he said, raising his hands in surrender. "Is there anything else?"

"Just the salad," Lois said, gesturing to the table. "But I think that's okay."

Clark picked up the bowl for a minute, examining it from different angles. "Everything looks a little… big," he said finally.

"I know. I think it's supposed to be like that."

Lois watched as he started to speak, then stopped, repeatedly, her brow furrowing deeper with each aborted effort.

"Spit it out, Clark."

"Maybe it's some sort of new salad I've never seen before…"

Lois raised her eyebrows skeptically.

"Okay, it's an easy fix," Clark conceded. He carried the bowl back to the counter and spread the ingredients on the cutting board.

"All right. Lettuce first. It's usually best if you tear it with your hands."

Lois nodded and helped Clark rip the lettuce into smaller pieces. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, and noticed that he surreptitiously threw the stem pieces in the trash when he thought she wasn't looking.

As she finished that, Clark picked out the tomatoes. "Is there a reason you didn't cut these up?"

"The recipe said not to."

Lois threw her hands up in frustration at Clark's skeptical look. "I'm serious, Clark! Look!"

She thrust the recipe into his hands and waited for him to read.

"Lois, this calls for whole *cherry* tomatoes."

"Well, I didn't have any cherry juice, and besides, you'd have to be crazy to put cherry juice in a salad. I mean, I may not know what I'm doing, but even I know cherries don't go in a salad. Well, maybe a fruit salad, but this isn't a fruit salad, it's a garden salad. And cherries don't grow in gardens… at least, I don't think they do. So I can't see why anyone would put them in a salad."

Clark nodded slowly, obviously pondering her explanation. He started to say something, then shook his head as if he had changed his mind.

"Why don't we just forget what the recipe said and cut these up into smaller pieces?"

That was a little suspicious, Lois thought. She was fairly certain he had been going to tell her something about cherry tomatoes. She was tempted to ask him about it, but decided she didn't need to invite any further humiliation. Instead, she accepted the knife he handed her and began chopping.

"Lois, what… happened to these carrots?"

"Oh, that's not my fault. The recipe called for shaved carrots, but the grocery story must have been out, because I couldn't find them anywhere. So I had to make a substitution."

Clark's jaw dropped and he sputtered for words.


"Carrots don't come already shaved. You have to shave them yourself."

"Really? With what? How?" Ridiculous visions of her Lady Gillette razor flitted through her head.

Clark took a knife in one hand and a carrot chunk in the other and deftly shredded it into the bowl. He continued until all the chunks were shredded. Then he sifted through the small green squares left on the cutting board.

"What are these?"

"Green peppers." Really, sometimes he could be so dense. Had he never seen green peppers before?

"Oh. Of course," Clark said, taking a deep breath, then scooping up the squares and dumping them in with the other vegetables. Amazingly, the salad now looked like… well, like a salad.

Lois stepped back and watched as Clark deftly boiled the pasta, drained it, and combined it with the sauce. He was so good at everything he did. It amazed her sometimes, though she'd certainly never let on about it in the past. He was…

"Ready?" Clark asked, jolting her out of he pleasant musings.

Lois smiled nervously, suddenly worried about the conversation they would have over dinner. They served dinner and began eating in silence, both of them hesitant to begin the conversation.

After a minute, Clark set down his fork and slid his hand across the table to cover hers. "Do you want to explain what led up to this?"

Lois took a deep breath and forced herself to begin. At first she stuttered and was reluctant to meet his eyes, but eventually the story began to come more easily and she found herself pouring out the whole story, leaving nothing out.

"I was just so scared that it was too late," she finished. "I thought that you were going to fall for her charms, even though I didn't understand why you couldn't see through her. And at first I was just upset because she is so manipulative and I didn't want to see you get hurt."

"Why didn't you come to me and tell me what you'd heard?"

"I didn't think you would believe me. I didn't have any proof."

"You didn't need proof, Lois. I would have believed you."

Lois swallowed hard, choked up by Clark's heartfelt declaration. He trusted her so completely. If only she had been so trusting. He had tried to tell her about Lex, and not only had she not believed him, she had yelled at him, accused him of making up his accusations because he was jealous.

"You okay?" he asked, sliding his chair closer to hers so he could take both her hands in his, and hold them in his lap.

Lois cleared her throat and pushed all thoughts of Lex from her mind. "I'm fine. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, it just seemed so… unbelievable. I mean… those things that she said on the phone. I would never have believed it if I hadn't heard it with my own ears."

"Well, it's not that unbelievable if you know Lana."

Lois' eyebrows shot up. This was a new development.

Clark took a deep breath and exhaled noisily, shaking his head. "See, you don't know Lana. You didn't grow up with her. Lana was infamous in Smallville for her shenanigans. It was one thing after another. She was spoiled absolutely rotten by her parents. She was the baby of family. They had four boys and thought they were done. Then, when their youngest was in high school, along came Lana. She was the apple of her parents' eye, and they let her get away with anything."

He extracted one hand from hers and ran his fingers through his hair. "By the time she got to high school, she was used to getting everything she wanted. It didn't help that she was pretty, and she knew it. She was head cheerleader our senior year, and I was captain of the football team. Lana got it in her head that we would be the perfect couple. Now, I never had anything against her. She'd always been perfectly nice to me. But it bothered me that she didn't seem to like *me* — she just liked what I represented. So I tried to turn her down as gently as possible. But, honestly, I wasn't interested in anyone else, and it was kinda nice having Lana around."

"To keep all the other girls at bay?" Lois asked, smiling at Clark's obvious discomfort. She laughed. "It's okay, Clark. I can imagine you were quite the catch in Smallville."

"It wasn't like there were so many," he said, blushing. "I just didn't know what to say. I didn't want to hurt their feelings… but with Lana as my girlfriend, I didn't have to worry about turning girls down anymore. But then she suddenly decided our casual dating relationship should become something more. She was convinced that we were going to be the perfect high school couple — get engaged at prom, married right after graduation, live happily ever after. She couldn't understand that I just wasn't that serious about her. Besides, I didn't want to get married right out of high school. I tried to tell her that, but she tried everything she could think of to talk me into it, and when that didn't work, she just started telling people we were engaged, thinking she could railroad me into it."

"Amazing. The way she told it, you were desperately in love with her, and you were heartbroken when she left you to go to Hollywood."

Clark laughed suddenly. "Well, Lana's always been able to rewrite history to suit herself. I'm sure five years from now she'll be telling anyone who'll listen the story of how I pursued her and tried to rekindle our relationship and she broke my heart yet again."

"So she didn't leave you broken-hearted?"

"Hardly! We had a *huge* fight right before prom. I'd found out that she was telling everyone we were engaged, and that she was threatening some of my friends to keep them away from me — trying to isolate me so that I'd feel like I had no other friends and be more willing to marry her. I told her I wouldn't tolerate it anymore, and that we were over. She changed tactics then — crying pitifully and telling me that she loved me. At first I felt really bad, but then I realized it was just another act, one more manipulation. So I stuck to my guns."

"And that's how you wound up taking Rachel to the prom?"

Clark looked surprised. "How did you know I went to prom with Rachel?"

"She told me about it when I was in Smallville. Remember, she wanted to dance with you 'for old time's sake.' I asked her about it later, when you weren't around, and she explained that you were just friends and took her because you'd just broken up with your girlfriend. She didn't give me any details about the breakup — and I didn't ask — but I remember that Lana's name sounded like a curse word when she said it."

Clark shook his head. "Yeah, Rachel was on the receiving end of Lana's wrath most of the time. I think Lana was jealous that Rachel and I were such good friends. I should have realized she would do the same to you. I'm sorry." He paused for minute before continuing, his voice softer and more intimate. "I can't believe you remember that. You seemed so… uninterested at the time."

"Don't let that fool you, Kent. I was a lot more interested than I let on," she said softly, grinning at his obviously pleased reaction.

He raised her hand to her face, cupping her cheek tenderly and his thumb stroking her skin with a feather-light touch. "And now?" he asked quietly, and she could hear the nerves in his voice. "Are you interested now?"

Lois turned her head just slightly, closing her eyes and kissing the palm of his hand before turning back to look at him again. "I'm interested," she said, her voice low and breathy.

The words were barely out of her mouth before his mouth claimed hers, his hands cradling her face and holding her to him, though she offered no resistance. When they finally pulled apart, eyes sparkling and chests heaving, Lois was speechless.

"Wow," Clark said softly.

Lois nodded, then pulled him down for another kiss, this one lighter and shorter. "Food's getting cold," she teased, as she pulled away slightly.

"What food?" he murmured, drawing her closer and tangling his hand in her hair as her settled his mouth over hers yet again.


Chapter 6: Forget Me… Not

"Hey, you." The soft voice and accompanying hand on her shoulder sent a tingle through Lois. She spun her chair and smiled brightly at her partner. Her partner. He was so much more than that. They'd spent hours last night talking through everything that had brought them to where they were now. They both realized that there had been some breakdowns in communication and some good, old-fashioned nerves preventing them from getting together sooner. But now they had finally managed to get it right.

She had to admit that she was still a little nervous. After all, it wasn't like she had great role models for relationships, and her last couple of forays into the world of coupledom had been met with great disaster. But she knew now what the alternative was to trying — and she wasn't willing to live with that. So even though she was worried that she would do something to sabotage their relationship, or that Clark would eventually do something that would hurt her, she was willing to try.

"Hey," she said shyly, smiling at the unbridled joy in Clark's eyes.

"You have no idea how much I want to kiss you right now," he murmured, suddenly serious, his voice low to protect from the prying ears of passersby.

"Oh, I think I know. But you'll just have to take a rain check," she teased.

Clark laughed and reached for the newspaper on Lois' desk, scanning the front page headlines. Lois fiddled with her pen, finally forcing herself to address the topic they had topic she'd realized this morning that they'd forgot to discuss last night. "So… have you heard from Lana yet today?"

Clark looked up, startled. "Uh, no. I imagine she's still sleeping. Why?"

"Well," Lois started slowly. "I was just thinking that you're going to have to break things off with her."

"There's nothing to break off. We're just friends. It was never going to be anything more than that."

"You know that, and I know that, but I don't think Lana knows it. She still thinks you are going to marry her eventually. You need to set her straight."

Clark's brow furrowed. "Well, if she says anything else, I'll make sure she understands. But I don't think I need to seek her out."

"You haven't heard from her at all since yesterday? She's barely left your side for nearly a week."

"Well, there were a couple of hang-ups on my machine when I got home last night. I supposed those could have been her."

Lois snorted. "Yeah, I'm sure. Well, would you just do me a favor and call her? I'd like to have this settled once and for all."

"Lois, I really don't think there's anything to -"

"Clark, please."

"Yeah, sure. I'll call her."

"Thanks," Lois said softly.

But eight hours later, Clark was back leaning against Lois' desk. "I don't know where she is. I've left two messages on her cell phone, and I've called her hotel room."

"That's strange," Lois said, straightening her desk and powering down her computer.

Clark shrugged, clearly unworried, and held out Lois' coat so she could slide her arms into the sleeves.

"So now what?" she asked.

"Well… I was thinking… why don't we just forget about Lana for the night? I'll deal with her tomorrow. In the meantime… dinner at my place? Maybe a movie?"

Lois smiled and slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. "That is the best idea you've had all day."



"Do you want anything to drink before we start the movie?" Clark asked.

"No, thanks," Lois said, extracting a video from Clark's collection. She straightened up and smiled at Clark, who had appeared next to her when she wasn't paying attention. She reached up and stroked his cheek for a second before pressing a quick kiss to his lips. "Dinner was wonderful. Thank you."

"Thank you," he said softly, returning her kiss with one of his own.

"For what?"

"For being here. You have no idea how long I've dreamed of this."

"Of eating dinner and watching a movie?" she teased, inching closer as he settled his hands on her waist.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it."

"I know." One more quick kiss and Lois pulled away completely. "I'm gonna go to the bathroom real quick. Why don't you get the movie started, and I'll meet you on the couch?

Clark nodded and took a step toward the television.

Lois hurried to the restroom. She was drying her hands on a towel when she heard a loud knocking from the living room. Curious, she exited the bathroom. When she heard Clark's voice at the door, she stopped just inside the bedroom, listening.

"Hey, Lana. What are you doing here?"

"Oh, Clark! I'm sorry I didn't return your phone calls earlier. You must have been just crazy with worry!"

"Well… actually I just figured you were busy and I'd talk to you later."

"Oh, that's my Clark — always taking everything in stride."

Lois' jaw clenched automatically at Lana's "my Clark" comment. It was all she could do to keep from bursting out into the living room and putting Lana in her place. But she had the feeling this was something Clark needed to deal with on his own.

"Lana, look, we need to talk about that. I'm not "yours" — I never was. I've had a nice time showing you around Metropolis this week, and it was nice to see you again. But that's as far as it goes."

"I know you think that now. Maybe I've come on a bit strong, but Clark, you have to remember how great we were once. I know you haven't forgotten that."

Lois heard Clark sigh, and she knew him well enough to know that he was agonizing over how to balance being firm with being compassionate.

"Lana…" Clark sighed again. "Look, I'm sorry if you thought -"

"Don't say it, Clark. You don't have to deny your true feelings anymore. I know you were hurt when I left for California, but I'm back now, and we can pick up right where we left off."

Lois smothered a cough as she choked back a laugh. After listening to Clark's side of the story last night, she had a feeling they were closer to right where they left off than Lana suspected.

"Remember how perfect we were for each other?" Lana pressed on. "We had all these great plans. I know it's too soon to really think about that again. I know we need time to get to know each other again, but, Clark, don't you see? We were meant to be together. We want the same things. We could have a perfect life together."

"You know, Lana, maybe you're right."

Lois felt her stomach drop. Surely he couldn't mean that.

"Really?" The eagerness shone through Lana's happy reply.

"Yeah, I mean how many other women am I going to meet who want to move back to Smallville and take over my parents' farm? They've been hounding me for a while now to find a wife and bring her back there. Most women shy away from the thought of running the farm. I mean, it's a lot of work, and it's not like it rakes in the money. But you grew up in Smallville, so you understand the charms of small town living. And the first couple of years will be really tough, but once our sons are old enough to help out—"

"Sons?" Lana croaked out. "Plural?"

"Oh, of course. I figured we'd have at least six or seven — not that I don't want girls too. I mean, you'll need someone to help you with the housework — keeping up after that many kids is a lot of work."

Lois realized immediately what Clark was doing, while Lana seemed to be in a suspended state of horror. It was all she could do to stifle her laughter as she pictured Lana squirming as she desperately tried to think of a way out of Clark's apartment… and his life.

Lana's expression must have been too much for him to handle, because Clark burst out laughing. "I'm sorry, Lana," Lois heard him say. "I wish you could see your face."

"You mean… you don't… want to move back to Smallville? You don't want to have half a dozen kids?"

"No." Clark's voice was soft but firm. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have teased you like that. But the truth is, I didn't know what else to say to get through to you. I don't know what you thought was going to happen when you came here, but this just isn't going to work. Whatever was between us was a long time ago. I'm just not interested in anything beyond friendship."

"You're making a big mistake, Clark."

"No, Lana. I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm sorry."

"Don't you think we should talk about this?"

"I don't think there's anything to discuss."

Clark suddenly came into view, walking toward the front door. Lana seemed to linger for a minute, then she appeared as well.

"When are you planning to leave Metropolis?" Clark asked, opening the door.

"I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it."

"Well, if I don't see you before you go, have a safe trip. I'm sure I'll see you next time I'm in Smallville."

"Oh, this isn't over yet, Clark," Lana called over her shoulder cheerfully, clearly disregarding his assurance that this was, in fact, over.

Clark shut the door, and shook his head. "Yes, it is, Lana. Yes, it is."

Lois emerged from her hiding spot, and Clark seemed to sense her presence, turning and approaching her. "How much of that did you see?"

"Enough," she said, moving into his embrace. She kissed him briefly before pulling away. "So the women are expected to help out around the house, huh?"


"I know, I know. You were kidding."

"Actually, I feel a little guilty. I shouldn't have teased her like that… but she was driving me crazy! I couldn't think of any other way to really get her attention."

"Well, I think she deserved every second of it and then some! I wish I could have seen her face, but it's probably best that I couldn't — I was having a hard enough time trying to control my laughter as it was."

He rolled his eyes and kissed her again quickly. Then he led her back to the couch. As he picked up the remote and cued up the video, Lois snuggled in next to him. She threaded her fingers through his, ignoring the opening credits as the music began to play. "Do you really want to move back to Smallville?"

"Lois, it was a joke. I just said it to get a rise out of her," Clark said, his eyes still on the screen.

"I know, but…"

Clark turned to look at her. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I was just wondering… I mean, I know what you said to Lana was a joke. But it just made me wonder. When you do settle down and have a family, would you want to move back to Smallville?"

Clark gave her hand a quick squeeze. "I haven't really thought about, honestly. I never wanted to get ahead of myself. But I do know that I'm happier now than I ever dreamed I could be. I'd never rule out moving back to Smallville altogether, but moving to Metropolis is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and right now, I'm pretty happy just to be here."

Lois smiled slowly, taking in his response. It was way too early in their relationship for them to be talking about marriage or kids. But something told her the time would come when they would need to have those conversations. Rather than scaring her, the way that thought would have in the past, Lois found herself looking forward to that day.

Of course, in the meantime, she had better ways to spend her time than thinking about where they wanted to raise hypothetical children.

"Why do you suddenly look like the cat who ate the canary?" Clark asked suspiciously.

Rather than try to explain with words, Lois leaned over and pressed her lips to his.

"I thought you wanted to watch the movie," Clark said as he pulled away, a smile dancing across his lips.

"I've already seen this movie a dozen times."

"They why did you choose it?"

"Because I've already seen it a dozen times," she replied, quirking her eyebrows and smiling at her boyfriend. Her boyfriend. She liked the sound of that.

A slow grin spread across Clark's face as her meaning dawned on him. "So… since you've already seen this movie…" he teased, wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her close.

His lips slanted over hers, and Lois sighed against his mouth, tangling one hand in his hair and encouraging him to deepen the kiss. As the movie began to play, they continued their gentle exploration, oblivious to the action on the screen. Clark's hands began to explore her body, trailing softly over her sides and back.

Sitting on the couch was restrictive, though, and Lois fought to touch him while maintaining their upright position. Lois wriggled, trying to find a more comfortable spot.

"Are you okay?" Clark pulled away, obviously misunderstanding her intentions.

Lois pulled him back, eager to resume their pleasurable play. "I just wanted to get more comfortable."

Clark shifted, allowing Lois to stretch out on the couch and settling himself half on top of her. "Are you sure this is okay? I don't want to rush -"

Lois silenced him with a finger to his lips, then removed her finger and replaced it with her lips. Clark started to protest again, but soon was persuaded by her kisses and caresses to go with the flow.

Time seemed to stand still as they reveled in the newfound license to explore each others' bodies. They were so caught up in their explorations that they failed to hear someone enter the room until the front door clanged shut.

Clark's head whipped up, and Lois turned her head to the side to see the intruder. Lana stood frozen just inside the door, her jaw slack.

"What…? How…?"

Clark pulled himself off the couch, gently untangling their limbs, and she quickly followed, tugging her shirt into place and standing a few paces behind him.

"What are you doing here, Lana?" Clark asked.

"I… I wanted to… We weren't finished."

"Yes," Clark said firmly. "We were."

Lana raised her hand to run it through her blond curls, and her winter coat fell open just long enough to reveal a skimpy negligee. Lois' eyebrows shot up and her jaw dropped as it dawned on her what Lana must have been planning. When it had become clear to her that appealing to Clark's mind with her brand of "logic" was not going to convince him that they were meant to be together, she had resorted to appealing to his libido.

Lana's gaze darted back and forth between Lois and Clark, and Lois watched as her confusion morphed into indignant anger.

"You must be crazy! You could have had me and you… You…"

"I'm sorry, Lana. I've already told you, I'm just not interested."

"You'll hate yourself for this later," she spat out. "I was the love of your life."

"Let's get something clear, Lana. I am not, was never, and will never be in love with you, Lana. As for the love of my life… there is only one woman who lays claim to that title."

Clark turned and extended his hand to Lois, who moved easily into his embrace.

Lana let out a primal scream and yanked the door open, throwing herself out into the night. The door slammed behind her and Lois and Clark stood silent in her wake.

"Believe it or not, she took that better than the last time we broke up," Clark said with a wry grin. After a second, he grew more serious. "I'm sorry you had to be a part of that… of this whole week."

"I'm not," Lois replied immediately, taking his hands in hers to offer reassurance when he looked at her confused. "Dealing with Lana has been no piece of cake, and it's definitely not something I particularly want to live through again, but if she hadn't come here and shaken things up, who knows how long it would have been before I realized how I felt about you. Maybe I would have waited too long."

"You could never have waited too long," he said quietly, letting go of one hand to cup her cheek. "I would have waited forever for you. I love you."

Lois felt tears prick her eyes as she listened to the raw honesty in his voice. "I love you too, Clark. I'm only sorry it took me this long to realize it."

Clark bent and kissed her softly. "Let's forget about Lana."

"Lana who?" she murmured against his lips, her heart speeding up as she felt his smile grow. After another moment, she pulled away. "Well, now that we're alone again, what do you want to do?" she asked, his eyes twinkling.

"Oh, I don't know…" he teased, prompting a smile from her as she reflected on how much she loved the way they were so comfortable with each other already. "I was having fun earlier… watching the movie."

"Mmm, me too." Lois laughed, tugging him back toward the couch. "We should watch movies more often."

His laughter joined hers and soon they were happily distracted, and Lana was the farthest thing from their minds.