By Aiken <AikFree@aol.com>
Submitted: March 2003
Summary: The wedding is off. Superman has successfully escaped the kryptonite cage. Lois has successfully escaped marriage to Lex Luthor. Now who is going to free Lois from the 117 buttons holding her into her wedding dress? Is this a job for Clark Kent?
My first fanfic. Offering a glimpse into how our favorite characters might have operated in the immediate aftermath of the Non Wedding of the Year
"One hundred and seventeen buttons," the Wedding Coordinator had pronounced with no small satisfaction, as she closed the last one. Between the bride's mom and herself, the "buttoning in" of Lois had taken a mere half an hour. During which the bride had stood quietly, mind racing, as each button further sealed her fate- locking her away from her former life, her former self, and her former…ummm…partner.
Lois, looking back hours later, from the safety of her own bedroom, could hardly believe it hadn't been a dream. The glorious gown, her own anxiety, the constant murmurs of her mom and Mrs…um…Mrs. Wedding Coordinator Lady. None of that seemed real. And none of it mattered anymore. No, what mattered now, as the sun set on what was to have been her wedding day, were the 117 buttons.
"How?!" Lois wailed quietly to herself, for perhaps the one hundred and seventeenth time, "how am I ever going to get out of this dress?" Maybe it was absurd, given the events of the day, that this was the thing that had totally undone her. The catalyst of her panic and her pain, the dress, into which she was buttoned, and out of which she had no idea how she was to get!
It had been hours since the dramatic non-wedding events. Since Perry, Jimmy, and Clark had returned her to her apartment. They had been so kind, so perfectly circumspect. Lex's body hadn't met the pavement but a short minute before Perry had shoved her — with great care — into his back seat, still in Clark's arms. All the way over to her apartment, Perry and Jimmy had never stopped talking, trying to drown out siren wails and media helicopters. Only Clark had been as silent as she. His arms never left her — even while they had sat, somewhat uncomfortably, side by side in the sea of her white dress. Though he had trembled slightly, Clark had never loosened his grip. Not that she would have let him. She had kept her face turned into his neck, telling herself to breathe and keep breathing, and breathe some more.
And she had wished, in the part of her brain that could still hold a thought, that the trip from Lex Towers to her place would never end. That she could stay in Perry's car, listening to the music of words from the front seat, breathing long, slow breaths into Clark's neck. Feeling his tight grip, and knowing that she was safe, and cherished, and free, no matter how incredibly stupid she was.
Yet, despite the traffic of police, rescue workers, and ravenous reporters, the trip had not lasted forever. All too soon Lois was in her lobby, hardly remembering getting out of the cocoon of Perry's car. Still holding Clark, still feeling his arms around her. Then her key was in her door. Lois wondered where it had come from. It wasn't as if she had any pockets in this thing. Nonetheless, Jimmy, or maybe it was Perry, had the key.
Only when they were all inside had Clark let go of her, and spoken his first words since the strangled and mysterious "I can't" on the sidewalk under Lex Towers. "Hot tea," he said, and pushed her down onto her sofa.
Perry and Jimmy took his place immediately, fitted as best as they could on her small sofa with her big dress. Perry held her hand. Jimmy awkwardly patted her back. Clark made tea.
Lois couldn't see him. Couldn't muster the strength to turn her head, even. But she could hear him pouring, stirring, rattling cups. She was missing the comfort of his neck, as much as she loved Perry and Jimmy at the moment.
"I love you all," she has blurted out just then. And though it was so unlike her, she was glad she did. Jimmy's awkward patting broke its rhythm. As did Perry's hand rubbing. And Clark's clattering stilled. A small something passed between the four of them. Something just right and affirming.
"You saved me," she had said, and only just choked out the last word.
They all spoke at once.
Perry said, "You know you're like a daughter…"
"You would have done the same…" Jimmy said.
And Clark told her, "We're your friends, Lois, always."
"I wouldn't have done it." Her voice was considerably stronger now that the logjam in her jumbled mind had opened. "I told him 'no' at the altar. I knew…I always knew…But especially walking towards him." Lois hurried her words. Now that she could speak, now that she had admitted her love for this family of men, she needed it all out.
"I couldn't do it. I couldn't…stop…thinking…of…you." Lois had stated this into Perry's, or was it Clark's, handkerchief, which she somehow possessed. She hadn't looked up or turned her head, but of the three possible "yous" in the room, there was no doubt as to whom this was addressed.
Suddenly Perry had remembered Jack, and needed to go help him unravel his legal knots. Jimmy, still patting, sat close-mouthed and considering, until Perry reminded him of his own urgent errand that could no longer wait. "Huh?" was all he'd managed before Perry had him out in the hall, door solidly shut behind himm.
Things had turned very quiet. If Lois had not known he was there, somewhere in the kitchen behind her, she would have felt very much alone. She had not looked up, but she knew he hadn't followed Perry and Jimmy. Not unless Clark had gone out the window.
For the first time in weeks, Lois felt peaceful inside. Yes, she was spectacularly unmarried. Yes, she was beyond any doubt unemployed. But she was right here. In her own place. With Clark. So, she wouldn't let her mind go any further — backwards or forwards. Not to the day in the park. Not to the night at the window with Superman. Not to the sound of Lex's body hitting ground. Not to any of the painful questions sure to come to her in the days ahead.
For the first time, maybe ever, Lois was just fine where she was. Therefore, she did not turn to where she knew Clark was. Did not try to bring his neck back, or his arms. Or even ask for her tea. She sat back in the waves of her dress and kicked off her shoes. Which in two seconds were followed by her nylons; thigh-highs were so uncomfortable. Lois' hand halted on her garter. The stupid, gaudy garter sent to her by Lucy, who had characteristically been "too Lucy" to come to the wedding. If only she had been "too Lois" to go herself. With a shaky sigh, Lois whisked off the garter and launched it over her shoulder.
He caught it.
Clark caught it, without knowing exactly what it was. Only when he examined it did he realize that he had his hands on what would have been Luthor's to remove. It was so warm. Clark swallowed, blinked, swallowed. Never taking his eyes off the back of her shiny, black head. God help him, he hated her right now. And hated himself for the ridiculous love for her that he could not out-muscle or out-run.
Puttering in her kitchen, hours after escaping kryptonite hell at the hands of the devil. After crawling on his hand and knees to get away, here he was, making tea for Lois. Clark knew he was powerless in so many ways. No superpowers to spin him out of here and away. And no willpower to simply leave her. Or to tell her of his hatred, his hurt, his awful, awful love.
Clark had been on auto-pilot all morning, since Lois had launched her beautiful, snow white, breathtaking self into his arms. Arms that he knew he had held out for her. Clark had not tried to excuse himself from the ensuing circus of events. Perry had led the parade, and he, Clark, had marched along, arms wound tightly around "the bride."
But Clark hadn't anticipated Perry and Jimmy's desertion. Had not considered being alone with Lois. For weeks Clark's focus had been pure and unshakable — Stop Luthor. In stopping Luthor, he knew, he could stop the wedding. Stop Lois from…so many things.
Clark had worked days, nights, countless hours to that end. And now that it was done, now what? He had not dared shift his focus. Had not dared to hope.
"I couldn't stop thinking of you," she'd just said. Words that should have been a gift to him. With all of his goals met, and more, shouldn't he feel…something other than angry and bone weary? Every muscle, every nerve in his body ached with cold. Clark wanted to leave this second. Go home. Take a long, hot shower. Call his mom. Get in his bed. Sleep until he could forget how Lex Luthor had almost killed Superman. How Lois Lane has almost…killed Clark Kent. He hadn't expected to feel this way.
He hated Lois Lane. And he hated Clark Kent for his powerlessness. For his tea making.
Clark placed the garter carefully on the kitchen counter, as if it might break. Then very deliberately poured his own mug of tea into the sink. Calling on all the saints of heaven to protect him, he carried the one remaining mug to Lois.
Lois looked up at his approach. Smiling her thanks, she took the tea from him.
"You're leaving?" she asked quietly, when she saw him pick up his jacket.
"I…yes, Lois." He hesitated. <<Always tongue-tied, always uncertain>> "I have to…"
"Return a video?" she offered with a soft grin. "Check and see if you left the tap running? Meet a guy about a horse?"
Their eyes met. Lois stopped talking at once. She saw it in his eyes. Why he was trying to go. What his quiet was hiding.
"You're mad at me." It was a statement, not a question. And it was said with no anger, no hurt, just acceptance.
Clark had one hand on the doorknob, so close to escaping yet another cage. He knew Lois better than anyone. Better than she herself did. He knew her moods, her worries, where she was fragile, and where she came out fighting. Better than anyone on the planet — and beyond — he knew what to say to her, and maybe more importantly, what not to say to her.
One hand on the doorknob, one foot outside the "Lois cage" in which he had been stuck since time began, Clark turned recklessly.
"Yes, Mrs. Luthor," he ground out. "I'm mad at you. Enjoy your wedding night."
If the door had opened, it would have been a great exit. He would have slammed it behind him, spun into the Suit and flown…ok…no superpowers. So, he would have walked briskly away, never looking back. No pillar of salt would Clark Kent be.
If the door would just open.
"I think Perry threw the deadbolt from the outside," Lois ventured. "He had the key, I think."
Clark, of course, could break the door down. If he had his powers. Or just turn the knob and pull just hard enough, thus breaking the damn deadbolt, but making it look to the naked eye like just an ordinary man opening the door. If he had his powers.
"The spare key is in the glass dish just to your left."
Or heat vision. Heat vision would melt the locks. Burn down the door.
Burn a hole in the floor he could throw himself into, though possibly onto the heads of Lois' unsuspecting downstairs neighbors.
Just who were Lois' downstairs neighbors, anyway? He briefly ran various faces through his head, trying to decide if anyone was big enough to be caught under his full weight without injury.
"Clark. It's ok. Use the key. Go home."
He reached for the key, fumbling with the locks and praying she wouldn't come over to help him.
"I'm just going to wait for my mother to turn up," he heard her say soothingly.
Clark shut his eyes and heaved a sigh. He knew for a fact that her mother was personally seeing to it that the champagne fountain didn't go to waste. Jimmy had whispered as much to him on their way in.
Hating them both, but ever powerless, Clark turned and looked at Lois. For the first time that day, he really let himself see her. All of her. In that dress, looking so incredibly beautiful for…someone else. The maniac with the axe, to be exact. Even if he hadn't spent the most hellacious night of his life the night before, it would still hurt to look at her.
Dressed up…for Him. She had been walking down the aisle…towards Him. All the while he lay in agony, listening and waiting to die. And loving her with a desperation he half feared could not be sane. Could not be normal. <<Kryptonian love, maybe?>> Now Clark let himself look at her. Let himself feel. Let himself into the pain. He couldn't help it. He spoke the name, which had become like a prayer to him over the past year they had shared.
"Lois." Clark faltered, tried again. "Lois. Your mom isn't coming."
She raised her eyebrows, but otherwise didn't seem too surprised.
"She's ok, isn't she?"
"…drinking," Lois finished for him, so he wouldn't have to.
"Yes," he said.
She stood and walked towards him. He skittered back like a crab off a beach towel. Lois held up her hand to halt him, reaching past him to where the ineffectual key lay hung in the wrong lock. "Let me," she said kindly. "You look like a cornered rabbit. I know you want to go home. And it's really ok, Clark."
They stood just inches from each other. Lois moved towards him very, very slowly, giving him plenty of time to get away. When he didn't, she brought her hand up to stroke his face, and with great care kissed his cheek. "I meant what I said. I couldn't go through with it because of you. And I can never thank you enough for that. And for coming today, despite …everything."
She saw she had his full attention. His fidgeting had stopped. His eyes had been locked on hers since she touched him. He seemed to be making up his mind about something. "I'm sorry, Clark," she said. "And you know something? I'll say it, since you won't… You Told Me So."
"You are not Lois Lane," Clark blurted without thinking.
"Do you think I'm Lois Luthor, then?" she demanded gently, but with enough heat and enough steel to make her point to him.
"No, Lois. No." He hung his head. "I wanted to hurt you. I wanted to punish you, I guess even more than you have been. I mean, one minute I'm holding you and wishing that you and me and that dress together…never mind. Then I'm telling you we're 'friends always', only to hurl that at you on my way…" He gestured towards the door, now standing open.
"You were being honest. Clark, we are being honest, for the first time, really completely honest with each other. And guess what," she laughed. "You're a little meaner when you are your true uninhibited self. And I'm a little nicer. And NO ONE would ever believe that!"
"We can't let this get out," he whispered. "It would ruin our reputations."
"I think mine is pretty much trashed, as it stands now," Lois answered.
The gentle banter had lightened the mood. And brought them back together. After a pause, Clark had shut the door. Turning the key in the lock, slowly, effectively sealing himself back into the "Lois cage."
"More tea," he said with a wry smile. "I never got mine."
"And mine's cold," she agreed.
Together they moved towards the kitchen. "Could you eat?" he'd asked her.
"Yeah," she answered, surprised. "I could. Let's call for delivery. Anywhere you want, my treat. I was, after all, this close, to becoming the third richest Mrs. Billionaire in the country."
"In that case," considered Clark. "I want my pizza with imported cheese on top."
Lois laughed until she cried. After that she just cried. She didn't know how, but her face had found his neck, again. She was so grateful. Clark held her still more tightly, seated on the floor of her kitchen, buried under her dress, under the weeping Lois. He didn't try to talk. He just rocked her, pulling her farther onto his lap, further into his neck. Having her there, holding her, comforted him in a way he could never have explained. The remaining anger drained away. After all, on what would have been her wedding night, Lois Lane was cradled in his arms, on the floor of her kitchen, holding on to him for dear life.
Clark's thoughts drifted off to the night before; to a different floor, the unrelenting agony of the kryptonite bars, the heartache. Could he have imagined himself here a mere twenty-four hours later? If he could have, maybe he could have broken those bars. Flown away from the toxic cage. Come to Lois. Told her who he really was. Held her. Loved her. Seen her in a wedding dress once and only once, on their day.
Lois had stopped crying for now. She studied Clark, lost in his thoughts miles away. Eventually he realized she was quiet and watching. Their eyes joined. His weary but soothing brown ones, to her sad but trusting brown ones.
"Brown-eyed children," she murmured inaudibly. Though at that moment he was just the slightest bit super-enough for the inaudible to be audible. And Clark knew just what she meant. As dark as they both were, they would never have blue or green-eyed babies. It was a thought he'd had often; when he imagined himself with Lois, the picket fence, the 2.5 brown-eyed little Lane-Kents. Clark didn't let on that he had heard her. He just drank that cryptic message into his heart, put it away for later, a promise. Something had changed. The pillars of their relationship had shifted, whether she was aware of it or not. He was no longer "like a brother" to her. And that was more than good enough for this day.
"You're probably wondering about the pizza I promised," she said out loud this time.
"Yeah," he sighed softly. And then completely disjointedly, "Lois, I could never hate you. Even if I wanted to."
Lois blinked, swallowed, blinked. "Thank you, Clark. I know just what you mean."
"I should have tried harder to convince you about Luthor…"
"I could have had Superman tell you what we thought…"
"At least stayed near by. Not just give you up to him, walk away…"
"I was jealous, Lois. You were so right…"
"No, Clark. No." She shook her head. "There is so much blame to go around here, but none of it is yours. I…turned you away. Then tried to have it both ways. An engagement to someone who was going to sweep me off my feet and out of my failed life. But also, you…as a loyal friend, a constant partner at LNN. Sweet, sympathetic Clark, who loves me, but who I push away, while ever calling him closer. I…have…been…the…worst… kind…of…tease."
"The worst kind of friend."
"The worst judge of character."
"And completely blind to what was — is — in front of me…"
"I turned you down flat. I took up with the biggest bastard in the entire city. I badgered you to work with me, to talk to me, to be with me. And when it all falls apart…When b- b-bodies are falling through the air." She drew in a sharp breath and shook her head violently at Clark as he tried to stop her. "I grab you," her voice broke, "grab you and burrow into you. The only warmth and comfort I have ever known. The only good man who has ever loved me. And I leave you no choice but to bring me back here, to babysit the woman who threw you away." Her voice ran out, her breathing was ragged, but she didn't cry.
They sat silently. Eyes locked. Foreheads together. Just breathing. Just holding on to each other and the quiet of the moment. The minutes passed, but the spell didn't break. Lois and Clark faced each other; their own shortcomings, their disappointment in each other. They let it all pass between them. Let the quiet spirit it away. Lex Luthor was gone. The Daily Plant was history. Perry and Jimmy had run to the hills. But they were still here, still together, still ok.
"I think I'm finished crying," Lois announced after awhile, hopping to her feet and holding out a hand to him. "Now, about that pizza…"
Clark put his hand on her shoulder, turning her away from the phone. One thing unfinished. "We still haven't talked about… Him."
For a moment Lois was genuinely perplexed. "Who?" she asked, brow furrowed.
"Luth…Lex," he stated.
"Oh." Her voice was small. "Well, what should we say about… Him?"
"You were going to marry him."
She shook her head, deflecting the seriousness of that sentence. "I told him I couldn't. He knew. He heard me. He…smirked, I think. I don't really remember. Everything went nuts right after. But I did tell him, and he did know."
Lois had no idea why that one fact, in the crazy scheme of things, should matter to her. But it did. Was that cruel? That she wanted Lex to have known she was not marrying him before he died? If she had said, "I do," would Lex have stayed on the ground, even facing certain jail time?
Truly, she thought not. "It's not as if he really loved me," she mused aloud, "or that I loved him. It's not like marrying me would have given him the will to live."
"Lois, I would never imply that your saying, 'I don't,' pushed him off the balcony. But…"
"I know you wouldn't, Clark," she said, smiling, "but it's good to have that straight." With that she was punching the numbers on the phone. "Salad?" she asked him. "Breadsticks?"
"You go change." He took the phone from her. "I'll order."
And that thoughtful, gentle order had brought her here. To the present. To her bedroom. To her dress with the 117 buttons.
After initial attempts to undo any of the tiny little pests behind her back had failed, so did all of her resolve. Her new peace, her new perspective, her new appreciation for the now; all of it fled. Lois was trapped, she realized with a thudding heart. One hundred and seventeen buttons away from her true self, her true non-wedding dress wearing Lois Lane self.
What had ever possessed her to go for buttons?! I mean, didn't everything zip these days. And velcro, velcro was good. How Victorian did one's wedding gown have to be? Twisting and turning to get a better look, she continued to struggle.
"Think, Lois," she ground out between clenched teeth.
She tried pulling her arms out of the sleeves, hoping to possibly twist the dress around so she could have a go at the buttons from the front. No good. The bodice was just too fitted, no wiggle room. She tried pulling the whole creation up and over her head. That might have worked, if she had the strength of ten Wedding Coordinators. Perhaps she would have to starve herself out of it? Wear it under her work clothes until she was so thin she could crawl out of it? She looked doubtfully at the trim suits hanging in her closet. She'd need a giant trench coat.
Lois was delaying the inevitable, and she knew it.
She well knew what she was going to have to do. Or rather, who was going to have to do it.
It was too awful. She and Clark were building a fragile bridge over the broken dam. Despite the weeks that had passed, despite the events of the day, they were together. Lane and Kent. Two against All. Clark had treated her with more grace and generosity than she deserved. Lois knew that. She vowed one day to return the favor.
Next time, she would carry him away from an ill-fated wedding. Catch him, clad in his tuxedo and cuff links, hold him to her…
Still struggling, still tugging, she pondered this scenario. No. Clark wouldn't be about to marry someone he didn't completely love. What then? Maybe she could pull him out of fire? Push him out of the way of an out of control bus?
One hundred and seventeen buttons. Darn the buttons! Darn the buttons!
How could she save Clark?
Both exercises — the getting out of the dress exercise, and the Lois rescuing Clark one — seemed impossible.
She would have to ask him. Any minute now. Just call out to him. Just open the door and say…
"Lois! Pizza's here!"
"Ok, coming," she yelped, hopping up and down, pulling vigorously at the buttons. Whatever she could reach, she would just tear off.
Man, they were so well sewn! Really, this wasn't a wedding dress at all. It was a white, cascading fortress.
She stopped suddenly on a thought.
How had she expected to get out of this dress?
Had she really imagined Lex unbuttoning 117 buttons, unwrapping Lois Lane…Luthor? With loving patience? With great finesse? With passion in his eyes? She shuddered, closed her eyes, drew in a deep, shaky breath. What had she almost done? How could she? What if…What if she hadn't backed out…? Perry hadn't burst in…? Lex hadn't…
"You were going to marry him," Clark had said.
What if she was standing in the honeymoon suite right now, back to Lex, feeling his deft fingers all the way down to…She reached her hand down to find the last button and blanched. And Clark? Where would he be now, while Lex Luthor slowly unbuttoned Lois Lane?
Lois sat down heavily beside the bed, hands pressed to her eyes. She burned; with humiliation, with regret, with disbelief at her stupidity, and ultimately, with relief. She was home. She was ok. Clark was here, just on the other side of the door. If she called for him, he would come. It would be his breath on her skin. His warm hands on her back. His eyes on her body. No one else's. Clark would unlock her from her own foolishness. Had she really, just this morning, only stood there while her mom and Mrs. Whatever had closed her into this dress, burying her, caging her? She couldn't believe it. She was Lois Lane!
<<No>> a cold, small voice chided her. <<That was Lois Luthor.>>
A huge sob rose in her throat. She couldn't smother it. In two seconds the door was yanked open. He came to her, like she had known he would.
Clark had paid the pizza delivery guy ages ago. He had laid out the plates, popped open the creme soda, folded the napkins. None of this had taken long. And having run out of things to do, he had been pacing and eavesdropping as best he could with minimal superhearing. Clark hadn't been about to decipher the mutterings coming from Lois' bedroom, but had taken heart in them, taking any sign of crankiness to be good. He had nearly knocked or called out to her, over and over. But despite their new openness with one another, he couldn't do so. Couldn't help but think he would be intruding on her privacy. Lois' cry had Clark to her door before he knew it.
Lois was curled up beside her bed, still in the dress, crying like he'd never seen her. Clark went to his knees to find the Lois amidst all the lace and satin. "What…? Lois, what…? are you…? Lois?" Clark finally found a slim arm, which led him to a shoulder. Next a collar bone, her hair, and finally, her face. With great care, Clark pulled Lois up from the floor, out from the waves of material, and back into his lap. "Honey?" he asked quietly, brokenly. "You were fine when you came in here, right? What happened?" He was utterly bewildered.
"Your neck," Lois fairly begged.
"Your neck, Clark," she cried as she fitted herself into it. "You should leave it with me at all times," she whimpered.
He couldn't help it. He knew she was upset, but he smiled widely. She didn't see it. He just couldn't help it.
"You're smiling," she accused.
"I'm sorry," he choked, caught dead to rights.
She giggled, low and quiet, but a giggle, not a sob.
"Lois, I am the world's most confused guy."
She giggled again, higher and louder.
He chuckled softly, reluctantly.
She joined in, again.
Bodies shaking, they held each other, laughing loud and long. One would stop, and the other would start all over again.
"What?" gasped Clark, finally. "What are we laughing at?"
"My utter stupidity. My horrible impulsiveness. My jumping in — and jumping out — of the jaws of death."
"Your Lois Lane-ness?"
Eyes shining, she sat up in Clark's lap. She touched his hair, his stubbled cheek. Saw for the first time how tired he looked. She ran her fingers over his full, soft lips, noting the freckles there. Had she ever seen those before? The laughter died quickly. Clark shifted beneath her. Behind his glasses, his eyes had gone dark, his lips parted slightly at her touch. "Lois," he groaned, "we…can't."
"I know," she agreed on a sigh. "We won't."
"What happened to you in here?" Clark had to know. What had she been keeping from him? He could have sworn he and Lois had both felt better when the call for pizza went out.
Lois took Clark's face in her hand. "I am stuck in my dress," she explained. "I have one hundred and seventeen buttons holding me in, and I can't undo the first one."
Clark blinked, swallowed, blinked. "Oh."
"Will you, Clark?" she asked him.
"Yes, Lois, of…of course. Just…bear with me."
Still in his lap, Lois turned her back to him. Clark worked quickly and quietly.
As he worked more of Lois appeared under his hands. She trusted him, he knew. But it hadn't been his hands she had imagined with this job. He sped his pace a bit, and tried not to feel the skin beneath too well. If he just kept going.
He wished for superspeed. He wished for steady hands. For an icy cold shower. For her not to be so beautiful. To be her husband. To be the one these buttons had been intended for. For Lois to love him the way he so desperately loved her.
He knew they had been on the verge of kissing.
And he had been the one to stop them. They couldn't. He knew they couldn't. But she had wanted to, hadn't she?
She seemed to find a comfort all her own in his neck. That was something, wasn't it?
She had mentioned "brown-eyed" children. That meant something, right? And she'd told him she hadn't married Luthor because she couldn't stop thinking about him. That had been clear enough to scare off Perry and Jimmy.
Her back was bare and lovely. Her body warm and close.
"Lois, could you ever…love me?"
The question was out and hanging in the air between them before Clark could grab it back. He cringed. He was an idiot! Here he was undressing her, as her friend. And he'd asked her that when she was entirely vulnerable to him, half naked in his lap. She made it all too clear only weeks ago…
"I'm sorry, Lois. Forget it, ok? Stupid…"
Lois brought her hands behind her, stopping his in her grasp. Letting go, she twisted around carefully to face him. His eyes now shuttered, his expression fighting to cover the regret and the longing.
"You are my dearest friend, Clark. And so much more."
Hope dawned in him, though he tried to squelch it. "But…" he prompted.
"But," she echoed, "I have made a mess of this, for both of us."
"Not just you, Lois," he rejoined. "I rushed you. Rushed my confession of love. I knew you didn't feel the same about me, but I put it out there. Put you into such a hard position, being my friend, and…"
"Harder than the one I've put you into today? Tonight? Now?" she challenged.
He looked down at his hands. Shrugged. Went back to the buttons which trailed behind her.
"Yes, Clark. I could love you so easily."
His head snapped up.
"I already like and trust and need you more than anybody in the world. Can love be so different?"
His fingers became clumsy, fumbling. His heart sang.
"But not yet, Clark."
He nodded vigorously, a new light shining in his eyes. "You're right, Lois." He continued working. "We both need time. To figure out what comes next. Where we go from here. How to get the Daily Planet back. How Lane and Kent are going to nab a Kerth."
Clark smiled at her, held up the now separated material in his hands.
"A-la-kazam, Lois, you're free."
With a whoop of joy, Lois shot to her feet, rising up from the dress and from the ashes of Lois Luthor. She let it all fall away — over Clark's shocked and goggle-eyed head. "Don't you dare move a muscle, Kent," she threatened as she darted naked to her dresser, throwing open the drawers. In near superspeed she was dressed in her Metropolis U. sweatshirt and loose baggy shorts.
With great flair she grasped the dress loudly announcing, " And now, ladies and gentlemen of Metropolis, I present to you, the One, the Only, That incredible yet Mild-Mannered reporter from the Daily Planet, One half of the Hottest Team in town…"
"Lois," came a long suffering voice from under the dress.
"Ok, ok…The Right Man for the Job…Clark Kent!" she cried, whisking the dress off and away dramatically.
Clark rose lightly to his feet, took Lois by the hand, and bowed deeply to the imagined applause. "It was nothing, folks. Just one hundred seventeen of the tiniest little buttons you ever saw."
Lois clung tightly to his hand. "One day, Clark, I want to free you, so you'll know how it feels. Just tell me when. I'll let you out, pick you up, and put you back together. I owe you. I mean it." It was as solemn as any vow she had ever made. Standing with Clark in the folds of her wedding dress, the irony was not lost on either of them.
Clark kissed the knuckles of the hand in his. "I accept, Lois. I'm holding you to it."
Thus joined, they left the room to eat their very cold pizza.