By Annie M <email@example.com>
Submitted: May 2003
Summary: Lois and Clark discover they must continue the charade they began in the fanfic "Playing the Part," when they run into Paul at a conference in Washington, DC. But is it really a game anymore?
Lois tapped ineffectively at her keyboard, waiting for the computer to finish booting up. She glanced around the newsroom for seemingly the millionth time since she sat at her computer a few minutes earlier. She was *not*, she told herself firmly, looking for Clark. She was merely looking around the newsroom — being observant. It was what reporters did.
Clark. She hadn't been able to get him off her mind since their 'date' two days earlier. When she had run into an ex-lover, one who had humiliated her once, the last thing she'd expected was to find herself agreeing to go out on a double date with him — especially since the fantastic boyfriend she'd bragged to him about didn't exist.
She'd desperately wanted to back out, but she'd needed to prove to herself that she wasn't the same silly college girl Paul had taken advantage of.
Clark had agreed to act as her date and he'd put on a spectacular performance. By the end of the night, Paul was convinced they were a couple, and Lois was actually having fun.
And now, two days later, she couldn't get the date out of her mind. Well, more accurately, she couldn't get the end of their date of her mind.
Clark had walked her to her door and leaned in to kiss her cheek, when seemingly of its own volition her head turned and received his kiss right on her lips. She tried to tell herself that it was just a friendly little peck, but when she was honest with herself, she had to admit that she didn't go around kissing any of her other friends on the lips.
The kiss had been wonderful. It was so brief that it had been over almost before it had begun, but for those few seconds… Wow. Her partner really knew how to kiss, that was for sure.
If her response had surprised him, he didn't show it. He'd simply feathered his lips against hers sweetly, reaching up to cup her cheek before pulling away. With that, she had said goodnight quickly and bustled into her apartment before she could do anything else foolish. She had been so stunned by her actions — and by the way her heart had thundered in her chest — that she had slumped back against the door, pressing the tips of her fingers to her lips. She'd refused to let herself agonize over it at the time. It had been a lovely night, and Clark had been wonderful.
But while, at the time, the kiss might have seemed like a perfect way to end the date, now it was the morning after — so to speak — and she was flooded with self-repercussions and doubt. What would Clark think she meant by the kiss? Would he fear that she meant more by it than she did and become uncomfortable around her? Would they feel awkward, dancing around the subject of the kiss? Would he think nothing of it, considering it just another part of the fa‡ade they had displayed that night?
She had considered calling him on Sunday, but she couldn't think of any really good reason. She knew she didn't exactly need a good reason to call him. He was, after all, her best friend. But after spending all of Saturday evening with him, she just felt a bit awkward calling him. And, she had rationalized, if he wanted to talk to her, he could always call.
He hadn't called though, and to her dismay, she had found herself wondering why. She knew he was probably just busy catching up on things, but she still caught herself watching the phone a few times. She had forced herself to think about other things and go about her weekend tasks, but now Monday was here, and there would be no avoiding him.
Lois pushed all thoughts of Clark from her mind and forced herself to focus on checking her email.
Clark stepped out of the elevator carrying his customary two cups of coffee — one for him and one for Lois — and paused, his breath catching as his eyes fell on his partner. She was focused on her computer screen, reading intently. Her head was cocked slightly to the side as if she was contemplating something serious.
His stomach clenched and he realized just how much he had missed her yesterday. After their emotional evening Saturday, he had been dying to call her and check on her. But he hadn't wanted to smother her. He knew how sensitive she was about sharing her insecurities, and he hadn't wanted it to appear that he was taking advantage of the trust she had placed in him.
He couldn't explain why she had kissed him at the end of the night, and he couldn't help but wonder if she was finally beginning to think that they should take their relationship to the next level. But he hadn't wanted to push her. So he hadn't called.
He had hoped that she would call him. He was used to her calling randomly to see if he wanted to grab a pizza and watch TV or go out to some new, artsy movie that was showing somewhere downtown.
But his phone had remained silent. He had kept busy with Superman duty and chores around his apartment, but he kept checking the phone to make sure it was working.
She looked up then and met his gaze, smiling timidly before turning back to her screen. Clark felt his heart flutter and began to make his way over to her desk.
"Good morning," Clark said softly, laying a cup of coffee on her desk in front of her.
"Thanks," she replied shyly. She paused for a minute, then turned to look at him.
"Lois," he began timidly. "About this weekend-"
"Oh, look, Clark, the coffee stand got new cups. See? Their logo used to be a darker shade of blue. Or maybe they didn't change it, and these cups are just defective. Well, not really defective…I mean, obviously they work, or there would be coffee leaking everywhere. But maybe these are just faded or something-"
"Lois, are you all right?"
"All right? Why wouldn't I be all right? I'm fine."
Clark sighed. It was obvious that she didn't want to talk about what had happened on Saturday.
It had been a wonderful date, except for the fact that it wasn't really a date. Lois had asked him to help her, and he had agreed, but that hadn't stopped him from spending the night wishing that their charade had been real. After Paul and his date had left, he and Lois walked down by the water and she opened up to him, telling him about her relationship with Paul. He felt his anger begin to surface as he remembered her description of how young and vulnerable she had been. She'd adored Paul, and he'd played on her attentions, telling her that he loved her and making her feel special. Then, after she'd made love to him, he'd confessed that he didn't feel anything for her, and the experience had meant nothing to him.
Clark had listened to her tell the story in near silence, and then talked for ages, and finally he'd taken her home. He dropped her off at the door, and had leaned forward to give her a friendly kiss on the cheek, when she'd turned suddenly, and he found himself kissing her. The kiss… Just the memory was enough to send a shiver down his spine. He remembered it so clearly. Was it the same for her? Or had it meant so little to her that she had forgotten it already? He was dying to know if it meant anything to her, but he couldn't ask her. She clearly wanted to forget that this weekend had ever happened.
Clark's eyes zeroed on her lip, caught gently between her teeth. Her mouth looked so inviting, so kissable. His mind went back to Saturday night and he felt his heart rate speed up as he remembered the feel of her lips under his, the way her skin felt when he moved to cup her cheek.
It had been over too quickly, and before he knew what had happened, she'd whispered goodnight and slipped into her apartment.
It was almost like a dream, and for a moment he worried that he'd imagined the whole thing. What in the world did it mean? He'd only meant to kiss her on the cheek. He'd never imagined that she would turn her face to receive his kiss on her lips.
Could she have changed her mind? Did she have feelings for him? For a moment Clark allowed himself to embrace that hope. He'd waited so long… He loved her so much…
But…she probably didn't mean anything like that, he told himself sternly. She was just hurting and feeling insecure. After everything she'd shared with him that night, she needed reassurance from her best friend.
It hadn't been a passionate kiss, and he knew he shouldn't allow himself to misinterpret it as a sign that she was feeling something stronger than friendship for him. It was just her way of showing the faith she had in him. A sign of her love — her *platonic* love — for him, and her appreciation for what he'd done for her that night.
"Ok," he said resignedly. "We've only got an hour until the morning meeting. Do we have anything to tell Perry?"
"No." Lois said with a sigh. They had been devoting most of their time lately to looking into Bill Church and Intergang. Unfortunately, they hadn't come up with anything incriminating. "There's nothing new going on at all. And apparently it was a slow weekend. Nothing worth writing about. Perry's not going to be happy."
"Wonderful. Where is Perry anyway?" Clark scanned the newsroom. Perry was always there before they were, and he usually greeted them when they came in.
"He's in his office, I think," Lois said, absently flipping through some paperwork on her desk. "Jimmy said something about him having a meeting."
"Hmm. Ok. Well, that buys us a little time. Maybe we can make a few phone calls and see if there is anything going on that we missed."
Lois nodded and picked up her phone, dialing the number of one of their sources at the Metropolis PD. As she chatted with him, obviously making no progress, Clark perched on her desk, scanning the morning edition.
An hour later, Lois and Clark were seated next to each other at the conference table full of reporters at the morning meeting. They exchanged surprised looks when Perry merely nodded at their fumbled explanation that they had so far been unable to come up with a lead.
"I mean, I'm sure something will come up," Lois stuttered. "You know how it is in journalism; you just have to wait for something to break. I *know* Church is dirty, we just need to wait for him to slip up."
"Unfortunately, he's pretty smart," Clark continued. "Nobody knows anything, and anyone who does isn't talking."
Perry tapped his pen against a notepad, listening carefully. "And there's nothing else going on either? Anything besides Intergang, I mean?"
Lois sighed and shook her head. "We've spent all morning on the phone. No crime, no natural disasters, nothing."
"You know, Lois, that's not exactly the worst thing in the world," Clark said. "It's kind of nice to not have multiple stories of death and destruction battling for the front page."
Lois rolled her eyes. Clark's innocence was endearing most of the time, but not when she was worried about having news to cover. "Yes, Clark, I know. But we can't just run a story that says, 'The Daily Planet is pleased to report that there was no crime in Metropolis today.'"
Perry held up a hand to stop their bickering. "Enough. Who's next? What's going on with sports?"
Lois had expected a lecture about looking beyond the obvious for story ideas, or at the very least one of Perry's pointed looks, but…nothing. He simply nodded and moved on around the table.
After listening to the rest of story ideas, including a ridiculous pitch by Ralph revolving around a "tip" he had received that the mayor and the town council were running prostitution ring to fund the new city cleanup project, Perry ran through a couple of administrative details.
"Our last order of business," Perry said finally, "is the Society of Professional Journalists conference being held in Washington, DC on Monday through Wednesday of next week. As you all know, this is a great opportunity to network with reporters from around country and catch up on some of the latest happenings in the world of journalism. And every year the Daily Planet sends a handful of representatives."
Lois caught Clark's eyes and made a face. She had made no attempt in the past to hide her disgust for these types of events. While some reporters might see this as a chance for a week-long vacation since they also would be off Sunday and Thursday for traveling, Lois Lane saw it as a waste of perfectly good time that could be used to actually write articles rather than just talk about it.
She was oblivious to the low murmur that went around the table as the reporters wondered aloud who would attend the conference this year. Lois tuned it all out, utterly uninterested in the internal politics of who would be selected. Instead, she let her mind drift back to Friday night. Outwardly, she looked calm and slightly bored. Inwardly, she was anything but. Paul had gone back to California Sunday, fully convinced that she was happily settled in a relationship with her partner. Their playacting had been successful and now she could go back to her single life. She should be happy.
She was happy.
Lois squashed a twinge of disappointment and reminded herself that this was a good thing. She didn't *want* to be in a couple, and she certainly didn't want to be part of a couple that included Clark. He was her best friend, but that was it. Nothing more. What happened Saturday was just an act. Sure, certain parts may have been…enjoyable…but it was still just a game, and that was a *good* thing.
She felt Clark's eyes on her and looked up. He seemed to have sensed her discomfort, and his gaze held questions she wasn't able or willing to answer. Lois looked away, focusing her attention back on Perry. She felt Clark's eyes on her for another second, then he too looked back at Perry.
"This year's representatives will be Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen-"
"What?!" Lois exclaimed over the din of disappointed voices. "I can't- We can't- We're busy! We can't just go gallivanting off to some conference in Timbuktu! There are stories to be written!"
"Now, hold your horses, Lois. First of all, I seem to remember you telling me a minute ago, that news was slow-"
"But something could happen any minute! An important story could break, and who would cover it-"
"Are you suggesting that with the three of you out of town there will be no one here capable of covering breaking news?"
Lois started to reply, but halted when she saw the conference table full of reporters looking at her with upraised eyebrows, awaiting her reply.
"But if it's one of *our* stories…" she marched on. "I know! Why don't you send Clark and Jimmy and someone else, and I'll stay here and keep an eye on things."
"No. And that's final. I'm the editor, I'm in charge of deciding who goes on this trip, and I say you're going. There are going to be a lot of interesting people there, Lois, maybe — if you stop complaining for five minutes — you'll even learn something."
Lois sputtered for a second in disbelief. Perry couldn't really expect her to spend an entire week in a boring hotel with a bunch of second-rate journalist socializing and pretending to be interested in the lame presentations, could he?
"All right, that's it for today. Everyone get back to work. Clark, Lois, Jimmy, your tickets and itineraries will be on your desks by lunchtime."
The other reporters in the rooms began to gather their things, grumbling under their breath about favoritism and some people not appreciating a good thing when they saw it.
Jimmy rambled an incoherent word of thanks to Perry and immediately began chattering to Lois and Clark about how much fun the trip would be and who did they think would be there, until Lois shut him up with an icy glare. Clark looked at Lois' helplessly and shrugged, making it clear that he thought there was nothing they could do to change the Chief's mind and that he thought they should just make the best of the situation. Lois sighed in frustration, then stalked back to her desk.
Six days — and a million ineffective protests — later, Lois found herself entering the spectacular lobby of the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in downtown DC.
Lois and Clark had spent the plane ride chatting and she had to admit that she was kind of starting to look forward to this mini-vacation. Nothing had broken on any of their stories, and it didn't look like anything was going happen while they were away. She still wasn't thrilled, but she supposed there were worse ways to spend a week.
Her other fear had been that after their pseudo-date last weekend, Clark would act weird around her, but he was the same old Clark, friendly as ever. So she could only imagine that he was unaffected by what had happened at the end of the night.
Stubbornly, she shoved aside the voice that wondered if she was truly relieved about that. After all, she hadn't been totally unaffected — if she was going to be completely honest with herself — so was it really fair that he felt nothing?
Lois fumbled in her bag for her printout Perry had given her with their room assignments. She was in a single, while Clark and Jimmy were supposed to share a double across the hall. However, the day before they left, Jimmy had announced that a friend of his who was interning at the Virginian Pilot was also going to be at the conference and that he was going to room with him.
The three were making their way to the counter to get their keys when Lois felt a hand clap down on her shoulder. "Hey! Look who's here! What are the chances?"
Lois turned slowly, not wanting to see the person she knew was standing there.
"Paul," she heard Clark say. "What a surprise. We didn't know you'd be here."
"Well, I could say the same for you."
Lois felt her stomach plummet. This was not good. This was very not good. She managed to croak out a greeting and quickly feigned a need for fresh air, half dragging Clark outside.
Lois leaned against the building for a minute, dazed. This could not be happening. Not that it would be so bad to have Paul at the conference… After all, they would probably hardly ever see each other. But Paul still thought she and Clark were a couple, and there was no way she could tell him the truth now without looking even more pathetic than if she had just admitted to being single in the first place. They'd have to continue the act, but how could she ask Clark to do that? One night was one thing, but a whole week was something else entirely. She couldn't expect him to agree to something like that.
"Oh, Clark. This is bad," she said when she finally got her bearings.
"I know. I'm sorry. I wish you didn't have to see him again. If you're uncomfortable, maybe-"
"Not *that*, Clark!"
"What?" He seemed baffled, as if he couldn't think of any other reason why Paul's appearance would upset her.
"Clark, he thinks we're dating! Remember?!"
"So, we'll just have to keep up the act for awhile. He'll probably forget all about it. Besides, we told him that we were keeping it low key, so it's not like he's going to mention it to anyone."
"Oh, Clark. I don't know. I mean, I can't ask you to do that." Lois shifted uncomfortably. If only there was another solution.
Clark raised an eyebrow and watched her for a minute.
Suddenly her face lit up. "We can tell him we've broken up!"
Clark seemed to process that for a second. "Lois, don't you think it will look a tad suspicious if we were a perfect, happy couple on Saturday night, and a week later we've broken up?"
"Couples break up all the time, Clark. Believe me, appearances can be deceiving," she said dryly.
"Is that really what you want to tell him, though? You want him to think that we broke up?"
"What other choice is there, Clark?!"
"We could keep this up for awhile. How hard can it be? It's not like we're actually going to spend any time with him. It's only a week!" Clark a hand through his hair, obviously agitated. Lois hated to admit it, but he was probably right. Unfortunately, he didn't look thrilled at the prospect of carrying on their little game.
"Think about it, Lois. What good was this whole charade last week, if we've already broken up a week later?"
"Yeah…I just don't know…" The thought of continuing the act they had begun last weekend was thrilling at the same time it was horrifying. She'd had a wonderful time Saturday, and she couldn't deny that the idea of pretending to be Clark's girlfriend for a while was somewhat attractive. Her mind drifted back to the thrill she had felt each time Clark touched her…held her hand…placed his hand on the small of her back…kissed her.
She shook herself mentally and forced herself to remember that this was just a pretense. Clark was doing her a favor. He had only touched her in Paul's presence, and only in order to keep up the pretense. She was the one who had initiated the hand holding while they were alone, and she was the one who had inexplicably turned to receive his innocent kiss on her lips rather than her cheek. Clark was just doing this because he was a good friend, and if she was going to take advantage of his generous offer she was going to have to get her raging hormones under control.
"Are you sure you don't mind?" Lois asked, biting her bottom lip nervously.
"I'm sure, Lois," Clark said calmly. "Come on, let's get back inside. Let's go get our room keys and get settled in."
Clark's heart skipped a beat and he forced his voice to remain calm as he assured her that he didn't mind continuing the pretense. He led her back into the building, silently debating whether this was the best or worst decision he had ever made.
Part of him — a big part, if he was honest about it — wanted to do cartwheels. Ever since Saturday night he had been trying to figure out how he was going to go back to normal after having tasted the ambrosia of life with Lois as his girlfriend. And now she was telling him that he didn't have to go back to normal. This may just be a role he was being asked to play, but it was the role of a lifetime, and he was determined to put in an Academy-award- winning performance. Not that playing the smitten boyfriend was actually going to take any acting ability.
He couldn't get over the fact that he would finally have an excuse to touch her, whisper to her in public and treat her the way he'd always wanted to treat her… And Lois would return the affection just as she had Saturday night. She would take his arm, laugh at his jokes and smile at him with that special smile. But for her it *would* just be an act, and while she might return his affection, she wouldn't return his feelings. And the small, mutinous part of his mind that refused to be excited about this seemed to be focusing on that not-so-minor detail. As much as he wanted to pretend that this was real, that she *wanted* to be with him, that was not reality.
Lois allowed Clark to lead her back into the building. They stopped just inside the massive doors and spotted Paul and Jimmy still talking across the room, near the front desk. Lois smiled at them willing herself to act natural.
Paul's gaze traveled from where Clark's hand rested on Lois arm up to Clark's face. He smiled and raised his eyebrows knowingly. Jimmy eyes darted back and forth from Paul's suggestive grin to the pair with a confused look.
Clark dropped his hand from her arm and cleared his throat.
"That's something I hadn't really thought about," Lois said quietly.
"The look on Jimmy's face. Clark, I don't see how we're going to continue convincing Paul that we're a couple, without convincing everyone else who knows us of the same thing."
Clark paused for a second, his face crestfallen. "Would that be so horrible?" he asked quietly, his voice tinged with pain. "Everyone thinking that you're dating me?"
"Clark?" Lois was taken aback by the hurt tone in his voice. Certainly Clark didn't think that she was somehow ashamed of him. Could he? After all, he was her best friend, and she was proud of that. She loved spending time with him, and she'd never tried to hide their friendship.
"Never mind," Clark said, turning his attention to his bags, aimlessly rearranging his luggage.
Lois' heart lurched. Of course she hadn't thought about Clark's feelings in any of this.
"Clark, that's not what I meant," she said quietly, reaching to place her hand on his shoulder. "That's not what I meant at all. I just… I just feel terrible about this whole thing. I feel like… I feel like I'm already asking so much of you… If the rest of the newsroom discovers that we're 'dating,' it's just going to be one more complication that we're going to have sort out eventually."
Clark turned slowly to face her. "I'm sorry. You're right. We'll just have to try to somehow keep this as low key as possible while still convincing Paul."
"Well, hopefully we just won't see much of him. I mean, there are tons of people at the conference every year. How much time can we possibly have to spend with him?" Lois asked rhetorically, walking towards the front desk.
Clark nodded, following her to the desk. He knew Lois didn't have feelings for him, but hearing her horror at the thought of having other people think they were a couple really stung. She had said it was the complications she was worried about… Complications. Why did everything have to be so complicated? If only Lois could return the feelings he had for her, if only this stupid pretense was real, that would simplify everything.
Clark shook his head and forced himself to stop thinking along those lines. If he was going to survive this, he needed to stop thinking there was any possibility that this was going to magically bring them together like some trite romance movie.
Jimmy gave them one last funny look, then announced that he had his key and was meeting his friend in their room and that they had plans for that night so he probably would see them until breakfast.
Lois and Clark told him to have fun and handed their driver's licenses to the desk clerk. He returned them with their keys and summoned a bellboy to carry their bags.
"So, where are you staying?" Paul asked as they walked to the elevators. "Maybe we're neighbors."
"We're in 403 and 415," Clark replied.
"You're not staying together?" Paul asked, obviously surprised.
Clark saw Lois' jaw clench out of the corner of his eye. "No," he said calmly. "This is a business trip."
"Ahh, I see," Paul said, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
"Besides," Clark said, trying to ignore Paul's innuendo, "Jimmy and I were supposed to share a room until he discovered his friend was going to be here."
"So, you have a double all to yourself?" Paul asked. At Clark's nod, he rushed on. "That's perfect! The guy I'm rooming with is a real wet blanket. I planned to just pay the difference and get a single when I got here, but the entire hotel is booked solid."
"Ah, I-" Clark started, desperately trying to think of a tactful way to tell Paul he didn't want to room with him.
But Paul didn't wait for Clark's response. "This will be great. I'll just go get my stuff and I'll meet you back in the room," he said, grabbing one of the keys out of Clark's hand.
Before Clark could say another word, Paul disappeared into an elevator. Clark turned to Lois, his jaw slightly ajar.
"How did that just happen?" he asked, shaking his head slightly.
Lois shook her head and sighed. "That's Paul for you." Then the reality of the situation seemed to dawn on her. "Oh, Clark. What are we going to do?"
"There's nothing we *can* do, Lois. If I tell him that he can't stay with me now, it's only going to cause more problems. We've already agreed that we're going to have to keep playing along with this, this is just going to complicate things a little bit."
"A little bit?"
"Ok, so, we're going to see a little more of Paul than we thought. It's no big deal. And we probably won't see that much more of him. I mean, how much time are we going to be spending in the room? We'll just hang out in your room when we're not at the events. Besides, Paul will probably be off with his friends too."
Lois didn't look convinced, but she didn't protest any as they made their way to the rooms to unpack and get settled in.
Clark set his suitcase down on one of the beds and unzipped it, pulling out the itinerary for the week. He scanned the brochure, looking to see when and where they were supposed to register for the conference. He was less than thrilled about the prospect of sharing a room with Paul, but he was resigning himself to the fact that it wouldn't be too bad. He might be able to keep an eye on him surreptitiously to make sure he wasn't causing any problems for Lois. His only real fear at this point was how he would explain himself if he had to leave suddenly to be Superman. His friends had become accustomed to his random disappearances, but it was harder when you were sharing a small hotel room with a total stranger.
"So, I bet you and Lois are looking forward to this week, huh?" Paul asked.
Clark looked up just in time to catch a wicked gleam in Paul's eyes. Clark shifted uncomfortably, not exactly sure what Paul was insinuating, but getting a pretty good idea from his smug grin.
Clark cleared his throat. "Well, it should be fun. I'm looking forward to hearing Bob Woodward speak."
Paul raised an eyebrow. "Yeah… But you know how these things are, the real fun doesn't begin until the sessions are over. The bar downstairs is where the real action takes place. Well, that's where the action starts, anyway. It usually doesn't take me too long to take it somewhere a little more private," Paul said with a grin.
Clark hoped he was interpreting Paul's innuendoes incorrectly. "What about Jennifer?"
"Oh, come on. It's not like we we're married. Besides, what she doesn't know won't hurt her."
Clark shook his head slightly, dropping his gaze and busying himself with aimless rearranging the items in his suitcase.
"Too bad Lois is here. I'm sure she'll keep you on a tight leash."
Clark's head jerked up. "She doesn't have to keep me on a leash," Clark said, nearly spitting out the distasteful words. "I would *never*…"
Paul laughed. "Yeah, I heard you were a bit of a boy scout. That's just as well, though. In fact, I was kinda counting on it. I figured that since Lois had her own room — and you being a devoted boyfriend, completely wrapped around her little finger — you'd be over there anyway, so rooming with you would be just as good as having my own room. I guess it was a stroke of luck that I ran into you in the lobby, huh?"
Clark's jaw dropped slightly, and he stood stunned for a second. Surely Paul wasn't implying that he thought Clark was going to be spending his nights in Lois' room, leaving the room empty for his… Well, for whatever he was planning to do.
Paul, oblivious to Clark's surprise, was busily hanging his suits in the closet. "Anyway, I'm supposed to meet a friend of mine from The Boston Globe for lunch, so I've got to get going. I'll see you around later."
With that, Paul grabbed his wallet from the desk and smiled at Clark one last time before disappearing out the door. Clark shook his head to clear his thoughts, and replayed the conversation he'd just had with Paul. The more Clark learned about Paul and Jennifer's relationship, the less he understood it.
As for his assumption that Clark would be spending his nights in Lois' bed, leaving the room free for his revelry…he could only hope that Paul's opinion of his own charms was greatly inflated and there would not actually be a need for him to vacate the room.
He sighed then told himself that at least this might solve the Superman problem. If he had to disappear in the middle of the night, Paul would just assume that he was visiting Lois.
"Do you want to have breakfast in the restaurant downstairs before the first session?" Clark asked, leaning against the frame of Lois' open door.
After successfully registering for the conference and getting settled into their hotel rooms, they had decided they were too tired to spend their first night in DC out exploring the city. Instead, they had settled for changing into sweats and curling up on Lois' bed to watch a movie on television.
Clark had to admit that he was happier with that choice than any of the others he had presented. He loved visiting the monuments at dusk, but that didn't compare to an evening watching silly movies with Lois curled up beside him. He could still feel the soft warmth of her head nestled against his shoulder, the smell of her shampoo filling his senses.
They hadn't heard from Paul, and Clark had concluded that he was in no danger of being kicked out of his room for the night. Tomorrow he could explain to Paul that he and Lois weren't sleeping together. They hadn't been dating for very long, so there was no reason for anyone to assume that they were. He'd just have to set him straight.
"Breakfast sounds good," Lois said, breaking into his reverie. "Why don't we meet at eight? You want to come over here and get me?"
Clark smiled and nodded slightly. "Yeah, that sounds good."
He turned to leave and came face to face with an obviously drunk Paul. Draped over him seductively was a scantily- clad woman Clark could only imagine was the 'old friend' Paul had gone to meet for dinner.
"Hey, Buddy! I want you to meet someone. This is my friend, Amanda."
Amanda looked up from where she was layering kisses at the base of Paul's throat just long enough to nod to Clark.
"Thanks again for the room, man," Paul said with a wink as he maneuvered into the room.
Lois had joined Clark in the doorway in time to see Paul enter the room with woman and catch his parting words.
"Um, Clark. I don't think you want to go in there," she said, her voice a bit strained.
Clark turned to look at her, worried. "Maybe they're just…"
Lois shook her head and laughed mirthlessly. "It's exactly what it looks like, Clark. You don't have to try to protect my feelings. Paul can sleep with whoever he wants to. It's not like I'm jealous."
"I know, I just…"
"Look, the real problem here is not that Paul is screwing some stupid woman. The problem is that he's doing it in your room."
Clark shifted uncomfortably, not sure what to say. It was obvious that his only choices were to go across the hall and physically throw Paul and his date out of the hotel room — not an altogether unpleasant thought, but definitely not a practical one — or he was going to have to stay with Lois.
"Come back in, Clark. You can stay here tonight. It's not a big deal," she said, waiting for him to reenter the room before gently closing the door.
"Maybe I should go down the hall and stay with Jimmy," Clark offered, studiously averting his eyes from the queen- sized bed in the middle of the room.
Lois seemed to contemplate that suggestion for a minute, then shook her head. "Paul assumes that you're spending the night in here. If he sees you coming out of Jimmy's room in the morning…"
"He's going to start asking questions," Clark finished for her.
"You'll just have to stay here tonight," she said brusquely. "It's not ideal, but it's the only reasonable solution."
Clark nodded slowly, glancing around the small room.
"Unless you really don't want to…" she said softly. "I mean, I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
"No!" Clark answered quickly. He surveyed the room quickly. It would be possible to pull the two armchairs together to form a pseudo-bed, but it certainly wouldn't be comfortable. "I don't mind. I can just sleep on the floor. It's not a problem."
Lois followed his gaze around the room, settling on the bed. "No. You don't have to do that. We can sleep together — I mean, we can share the bed. We're adults. We're best friends. It's not a big deal, right?"
Clark felt his heart rate speed up and his throat constrict. Sharing a bed was most definitely a big deal. He would lie beside her all night. She would be only an arm's reach a way. He could touch her, hold her. He wouldn't, of course, but he could.
"Right, it's not a big deal."
"Ok, well then I'll just…" She said, gesturing to the bathroom. "I mean, unless you want to go first."
"No, no! Go ahead. I'll wait. I need to call the front desk and have them send up a tooth brush, anyway. All my stuff is…" He motioned in the general direction of the room across the hall.
Lois nodded and walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.
Clark made the call quickly, then slumped onto the bed, resting his head in his hands. Try as he might, he couldn't decide if this was a blessing or a curse. He had dreamed of having her in his bed more times that he could count, but never under these circumstances.
It was hard enough to control himself where she was involved. Now he was not only pretending to be her boyfriend, he was sharing a bed with her. It would be so easy to forget himself and do something stupid that would cost him her trust and her friendship, and he would never forgive himself if he did.
A moment later Lois exited the bathroom, and Clark took his turn. When he returned, she was already in bed, propped up against the headboard.
"I didn't know which side of the bed you wanted, so I just…" She trailed off nervously.
"This is fine. I don't really have a preference," Clark said, sliding in beside her.
"Should I go ahead and…?" Lois asked, motioning to the bedside lamp.
"Sure. I'm ready." Clark said, waiting for her to click off the light before scooting down into a lying position.
He waited while Lois just looked at for a minute.
"What?" he asked finally
"Don't you want to take off your glasses?"
Clark froze for a second, unsure what to do. He couldn't refuse to take them off, that would look way too suspicious. But he didn't relish the thought of taking them off in front of her.
"Oh, right," he said, forcing his voice to sound as casual as possible. "It's always the last thing I do at night." He pulled them off slowly and turned away from her to place them on his nightstand.
Lois clicked off the light and followed his lead, moving to lie beside him stiffly. They lie in silence for a few minutes before he felt Lois begin to relax and settle into the bed. He stretched tentatively, careful not to touch her accidentally. His mind was too active to allow him to sleep yet, but he tried valiantly to keep from tossing restlessly.
His whole body snapped to attention when he felt Lois rest her hand on his arm. "Relax, Clark. I'm not going to jump you, I promise."
"That's the least of my worries," he muttered.
"What's the matter?" she asked softly, her hand gently stroking his arm.
"I just… I don't want to make you uncomfortable, I guess. I mean …" he trailed off, unsure how to explain his concerns.
"I'm not scared of you, Clark," she said. "I trust you."
Clark felt some of the tension drain from his body. He'd worked so hard to gain her trust. It was such a precious gift from a woman who trusted no one.
He reached over and squeezed her hand reassuringly before moving away and settling into the bed, relaxed this time — or, at least, more relaxed than he had been.
"Good night, Lois," he said, closing his eyes.
Lois awoke the next morning to the incessant beeping of her travel alarm clock. She reached over to the nightstand, hit the snooze button, and settled back into her pillow before she remembered where she was and whom she was sharing the bed with. She turned her head slightly and peeked out of one eye, trying to determine whether Clark was awake yet. To her surprise, the other side of the bed was unoccupied.
Now fully awake, she sat up and surveyed the room. Clark was nowhere to be found. She shrugged to herself and pushed the covers off her legs, starting to get out of bed. As she did, a paper on her nightstand caught her eye.
"Lois, I hope you got a good night's sleep. I just ran out to get breakfast. Be back soon, Clark."
Lois' stomach rumbled at the thought of breakfast. She stretched and decided she might as well grab a shower while Clark was gone. When he returned they could eat and head down to the opening programs. She let the note drift from her fingers to the floor and headed to the bathroom.
As Lois climbed into the shower and let the warm water wash away her sleepiness, her brain began to function at full speed again. The events of the day before came back to her and she felt her stomach churn.
What were the chances that she and Paul would wind up at the same conference after all these years? And what were the chances that he would insist of taking over Clark's room, forcing her to sleep with him? Not that it was so bad really. Actually, if she was be completely honest, it was kind of nice to sleep with Clark. He'd been adorably nervous at first, strengthening her trust in him. But he'd reached over and held her hand for a minute, reassuring her that he wouldn't take advantage of the situation. It was so sweet. So Clark.
She finished her shower and stepped onto the mat, toweling off slowly. She wrapped one of the hotel-issued towels around her body, glancing at the mirror and noting how little it left to the imagination. She grabbed another towel from the rack and began blotting the water out of her hair. Her mind wandered back to last night again, lingering on the memory of his hand covering hers, squeezing gently. There was no romance there, and there was no reason that she should feel slightly breathless at the memory of an innocent touch. But her mind refused to let go of the subject yet, and she found herself thinking that this might not be such a bad week after all.
Lois shook her head, disgusted with herself for letting her thoughts get so far off track. She bent down, flipping her hair forward and began to towel it off violently, forcing all thoughts of Clark from her mind.
Clark juggled the paper bag filled with pastries and the two cups of steaming coffee as he searched his pockets for the card that would let him into the room. He finally managed to get the door open, and he strolled into the room whistling to himself.
When he'd been awakened by a little girl's scream this morning, he'd been sure he would arrive on the scene to find an unspeakable horror. He'd paused only long enough to scrawl off an excuse for his absence should Lois awake before he returned before dashing across town to the source of the commotion. But instead of finding an attempted kidnapping or something equally horrifying, he discovered that the little girl — a precious six-year-old with blond ringlets — had screamed because the neighbor's dog had chased her kitten into a tree. The superhero had returned the terrified kitten to her overjoyed owner who had apologized profusely for scaring both Superman and her mother, who had dashed out of the house at the sound of her scream. She had then begged him to autograph the poster hanging on her bedroom wall.
After playing with the little girl for a few minutes and reminding her once again to remain calm and alert an adult should something like this happen again, rather than screaming and scaring everyone, he had flown off.
He had then zipped to Metropolis to make a quick patrol, making sure he was spotted a number of times. With Clark Kent away, it was imperative that Superman be spotted in Metropolis a couple of times. He couldn't let anyone wonder why Clark and Superman seemed to disappear at the same time.
As soon as he had been sure that a number of people could attest to the fact that Superman was in Metropolis making his normal patrols, he had started back for DC, hoping he hadn't been long enough to arouse Lois' suspicions. His note had promised breakfast, and, checking his watch quickly, he had realized that he had time to zip across the world and pick up some Parisian delicacies for Lois' breakfast. He knew he should stop doing things like that — eventually Lois was going to get curious about where the treats he brought her came from. She was the smartest person he knew, and it was only a matter of time before she set her mind to discovering his mystery. But he had figured that one more time wouldn't hurt, and he couldn't pass up the chance to make her smile when he handed her the treat, or the chance to hear the wonderful noises she inevitably made as she savored each bite.
"Lois? I'm back," Clark said, kicking the door shut behind him. "I brought breakfast."
Clark looked around the room and saw no sign of Lois. The bed was empty and unmade, and his gaze fell to his note, lying on the ground by the bed. He sighed, realizing that Lois had probably missed his note when she woke up. He glanced at the clock and decided she had probably gone down a little early for the morning session.
He set the bag and cups on the table, trying to shake the feeling of disappointment he felt. It was nothing really. Just a missed opportunity for breakfast. It wasn't as if they had something planned. It wasn't as if they were a couple and he could reasonably expect to have breakfast with her. And really, it was just breakfast, not something really important. The fact that she wasn't there when he got back was not necessarily a bad sign.
Clark sighed and pushed his worries from his mind. He figured that he might as well take a shower with the extra time he had before he had to head down to the morning session. He grabbed one of the extra towels they'd left sitting on a chair the night before and spun out of his clothes. He slowed to a stop, securing the towel around his waist.
He swung the bathroom door open, and immediately was assaulted by the steam and the sweet smell of Lois' shampoo. He froze in the doorway, shocked. In front of him stood a flesh-and-blood version of something he hadn't even allowed himself to fantasize about. Well, that he hadn't allowed himself to fantasize about too often.
Lois' head snapped up, flipping her hair back — giving him a view of her smooth, white neck and the shocked look on her face.
"I…I…I…" Clark fumbled.
Lois stood up quickly, one hand fluttering to where her towel was tucked into itself.
Clark stood transfixed, unhearing as his eyes involuntarily swept her body. Her skin was still wet and glowing from the shower. Her long legs were exposed to his gaze. He started at her feet, and his eyes traveled upwards for what seemed like an eternity. The tiny hotel towel did little to hide her enticing curves. Her hair dripped onto her shoulders, sending rivulets of water down sliding down her collar bone and the swell of her breasts before slipping under the towel. He watched, fascinated as the process repeated itself, imagining the droplets' paths after they slid out of view.
Suddenly he realized what he was doing and tore his gaze from her body to her face. He cringed, expecting to see her ready to strike at him for taking advantage of this situation. He was ashamed of himself for not immediately turning and leaving the room, and expected to be chastised.
"Lois, I'm sorry, I…" Clark stopped when he realized she wasn't listening. Her gaze was focused on his chest, or somewhere lower. Her mouth hung slightly ajar, and it wasn't reproach that he saw on her face.
Lois heard Clark say her name, but couldn't quite snap herself out of the trance she seemed to be in.
One minute she was toweling her hair off violently, muttering to herself and chastising herself about her temporary insanity. Clark was just *Clark*. That's all there was to it. Sure, he was an attractive guy, but she wasn't *personally* attracted to him. So, no more agonizing over something so ridiculous. She paused for a second, thinking that she heard movement in the hotel room. She pulled the towel away from her head for a moment, listening. After deciding that she hadn't heard anything, she went back to drying her hair.
A second later, the door flew open, ushering in a burst of cool air and a shell-shocked Clark Kent. Her head snapped up, and her gaze immediately was transfixed on the wide expanse of chest bared before her. He stopped suddenly, the motion causing his muscles to flex, rippling above the tiny towel wrapped snugly around his waist.
Her eyes traveled across his chest, recalling the first time she'd seem him like this. Her own words echoed in her head. "You said nine. I thought you'd be naked." It was the beginning of their partnership, long before she would have ever considered them partners, or, god forbid, friends. It was funny how much things had changed since then. But some things hadn't changed at all, like the visceral, animal reaction she felt seeing Clark like this. She was stunned, motionless and speechless, transfixed by what she saw, and her reaction to it. Her stomach clenched with desire, her body aching for him. So much for not being attracted to him. In that instant, she wanted to toss aside every rule, every policy, every sane thought she'd ever had, and throw herself at him.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard him talking to her, saying her name. She lifted her gaze to meet his, and stood, still unable to speech or fully comprehend the situation, uncaring that she was wearing precious little and standing in the presence of a man she had been fighting an attraction to for over a year.
Slowly, the fog in her head began to clear. "Clark? What are you doing here?"
"I…I thought you had already gone downstairs. I didn't know you were still here. I'm sorry. I just… I'll just…" Clark's voice trailed off as he motioned toward the bathroom door, still standing ajar. "I'll let you…"
"Right," Lois said slowly, as if she was still unconvinced. "I'll just finish getting ready. No problem."
"So, yeah, I'll go," Clark said, still motionless.
"Nothing. Never mind. Go ahead. I'll get dressed and then you can have your turn."
"Of course," Clark said quickly, reaching for the door. "I'm really sorry. I should have knocked or something. I just didn't think you were here and-"
"Don't worry about," Lois said with an air of confidence she didn't feel. "It's fine. No problem."
Clark hesitated, as if he wanted to apologize again, then changed his mind and left quickly, pulling the door shut behind him.
As soon as the door clicked shut, Lois slumped to the floor leaning against the tub, her mind awhirl. What had just happened? What had come over her, seeing him like that? And what had she been about to say or do when she said his name before he left? Was she really considering doing something rash? What? Dropping her towel? Reaching for his? Was she crazy? Thank god she had stopped herself. What did she think would happen if she had done something like that? The attraction was clearly mutual. She had no doubt that in the heat of the moment, Clark would have responded to her. But what then? What of their friendship? It would have been ruined for one moment of pleasure. He would never look at her the same, never respect her again.
Her mental tirade morphed into a general sense of mortification, until Lois slowly began to reassess the situation. Sure this was an embarrassing experience, but it was Clark, after all. It wasn't like he was someone who would take advantage of the situation. Unbidden, the image of her partner, stunned and jaw-droppingly gorgeous, popped into her mind. She smiled despite herself and decided this wasn't something that was worth freaking out about, and that if she was going to find herself in this situation, surely there could be no more *attractive* choice to share it with than Clark.
She shook her head in amusement and resignation, standing and beginning to towel herself off again. Luckily she had thought to bring her clothes into the bathroom anticipating Clark's return with breakfast. She dressed quickly, then forced herself to open the door. She couldn't stay in the bathroom all day.
Clark pulled on his sleep shorts and T-shirt, not wanting to face another scene like the one in the bathroom, and slumped into the overstuffed chair, dropping his head into his hands. He still couldn't fully comprehend what had just happened. Only a few minutes ago, he was convinced that Lois had already gone downstairs, and then he was face to face with living, breathing proof that she wasn't. And, boy, when she wasn't gone, she really wasn't gone.
When he was honest with himself, he could admit that walking in on Lois like that was like something out of his deepest fantasy. It was the type of scene he would write and rewrite in his mind at night when he was trying to sleep, agonizing over just how he would react and what he would say. Eventually he would be forced to take a dip in the Arctic, or to relieve his tension in some other, more pleasurable way. But, in the end, when presented with a fantasy scenario, he had fumbled terribly. But really, what else could he have done? The suave and sexy moves he had perfected in his imagination were not the sort of things he could actually do, even if he didn't suspect that they would cause Lois to run screaming from the room or to attempt to beat him within an inch of his life.
Clark took a ragged breath, fighting off the image of Lois clad in the tiny towel, warm rivulets of water slipping down her glistening body, sliding over her supple curves… Clark gulped and scrubbed one hand through his hair. This was going to be harder than he thought. He forced himself to stop thinking about the actual event and start thinking about its possible ramifications. At least Lois didn't seem angry with him. It seemed that she knew that he was just as surprised and flustered at she was. It was clear that this was not intentional or premeditated. But would she feel uncomfortable around him? Would she distance herself from him to avoid the awkward feeling that came from forced intimacy? After her quiet confession in bed last night, he had felt as if he was finally making headway; that she was finally beginning to really trust him. Would that trust be shattered because of a single mistake? As incredible as that momentary glimpse had been, it wasn't worth losing everything he had worked so hard for.
The bathroom door creaked open, and Clark's head snapped up. Lois, now fully dressed sans her suit jacket, appeared before him.
"Hey," he said quietly.
Lois smiled timidly. "Hey."
"Lois, I just want to say -"
"That it was an accident? That you didn't mean to walk in on me? That you'd never do something like that on purpose?"
Clark nodded dumbly.
"I know," she said softly.
"Of course I know, Clark. I'm not mad at you. It was an honest mistake."
"Exactly! An honest mistake! I just don't want you to think that I planned it somehow, or that I don't respect you or your privacy, because I do and -"
"Clark, really, it's fine." A slow smile spread across her face. "Besides, it wasn't such a bad surprise. I mean, seeing you without a shirt isn't exactly torture."
Clark looked stunned for a second then burst out laughing. "Well, you're not so bad yourself."
Lois laughed with him. "Go take your shower while I finish getting ready."
Clark grabbed his towel and started for the bathroom.
"Oh! I brought breakfast," Clark said, gesturing to the bag of pastries, lying forgotten on the table.
"Ooh," Lois said, reaching for the bag and inhaling deeply. "This smells wonderful. I don't know how you do it, Kent. Two days in a new city and already you've found some out of the way place with the best smelling pastries this side of the Atlantic."
"Go on, partner. Go take your shower."
Clark rose and strode to the bathroom, whistling. He couldn't help but think about what a crazy day this was shaping up to be — and it was only 8:15.
Lois dropped onto one of the overstuffed couches in the hotel lobby, leaning against Clark. "This was the most boring day ever. What did they think this was, Journalism 101? I mean, I know I always complain about these things, but sometimes they are at least informative. I didn't learn a single thing today, *and* I was bored out of my mind."
"Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with you actually. I usually love these things, but today's speakers were just going over the basics. I didn't hear anything new at all," Clark said, draping an arm around her shoulder and rubbing her upper arm comfortingly.
"Well, it's over now. Bob Woodward and Jerry Schwartz are speaking tomorrow, so it should be interesting. And now that the afternoon session is over, we've got the whole night to do whatever we want. We can go see the sights, or—"
"Hey guys!" Jimmy interrupted. "Wasn't today great? I mean, I didn't know half the stuff they were talking about!"
Lois and Clark shared a private smile, Perry's reasoning for sending Jimmy with them finally becoming clear to both of them. Neither had wanted to question it at the time — although many others around the newsroom were heard grumbling — because they didn't want to hurt Jimmy's feelings, but he hadn't exactly seemed like the right choice to represent the Planet at a national conference. But it appeared that Perry was a step ahead of everyone as usual. As well as being an opportunity for seasoned journalists to sharpen their skills and visit with old friends and colleagues, the SPJ conference gave new journalists a chance to learn the ropes and meet more experienced professionals in their field. With Lois and Clark representing the Planet, Perry didn't need to worry about sending another seasoned journalist, and instead had chosen to send Jimmy, perhaps motivating him to work harder to turn his natural talents into a career, instead of staying on as an errand boy indefinitely. Perry wasn't just looking out for Jimmy's interests as a surrogate father, he was looking out for the Planet's interests by cultivating the next generation of employees.
"I stayed after that talk on spot news photography and talked to Neil Leifer for awhile. He was telling me about what it was like to shoot the Gulf War. Can you imagine? How cool!"
"Yeah, that's great, Jimmy," Clark said.
Jimmy smiled for a minute, still glowing from his encounter with greatness. Then he shifted gears. "Hey, I'm gonna bail on dinner tonight. I told my friend, Andy, we'd go out and see the sites."
"And by sites you mean bars, right," Clark teased.
Jimmy smiled and shrugged.
Jimmy dashed off to meet his friend, and Lois and Clark made their way upstairs. They dropped off their briefcases and freshened up quickly before going back downstairs to the hotel restaurant. The dinner Jimmy had bailed on was an informal gathering of a number of journalists attending the conference. Unfortunately, Paul was among that group.
Clark watched as Lois smoothed her hands on her skirt and took a deep breath while they waited for the host to take them to their table. They had agreed to meet a number of their colleagues for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Paul was among those invited, but they hadn't seen him all day, so Clark wasn't entirely sure he would even make it.
"Nervous?" he asked, raising his hand to rest on the small of her back.
"No. Yes. I don't know. I'm nervous, but not for the reason that you're thinking. I mean, I'm sure Paul is totally convinced that we're…you know. And even if he's not, I really don't care anymore. But I guess I'm just not relishing the idea of sitting down to dinner with him again. And there are going to be a bunch of people there. This is getting a bit out of hand."
"This," Lois said quietly, gesturing to the two of them. "Us. First it was just Paul, but after tonight, the whole conference will know we're dating."
Clark was quiet, wondering if was at all significant that Lois hadn't said 'thinks we're dating.'
"Well, what do you want to do, Lois?"
"Nothing. There's nothing we can do. It's just frustrating. This whole situation is ridiculous. And I'm getting sick of spending time with Paul. I didn't want to see him in the first place."
"I know. This will all be over soon."
"Yeah," Lois said, sounding unconvinced.
"We'll be fine. And if you want to leave, just kick me. I'll think of an excuse."
Lois grinned up at him. "Thanks. Don't be surprised if I take you up on that."
The host arrived and escorted them to the table where Paul was already seated with a handful of other conference guests.
The waitress arrived a moment later to take their drink orders, and to Lois' chagrin, she immediately selected Clark the object of her affection.
Tall and blonde, she was stunning to say the least, and Lois couldn't help but think that Clark would have to be blind to notice the way she was throwing herself at him.
By the time she'd taken their food orders, she'd also informed Clark that her name was Megan, and that she had just graduated from college and was interning at a non- profit organization and waitressing to make some extra money.
Lois rolled her eyes as the girl left the table with their orders. Admittedly, Clark was doing nothing to encourage the girl, but he didn't seem to be doing anything to discourage her either. She attempted to focus on the conversation around her, but found herself analyzing Clark's response to the waitress.
It bothered her that he seemed flattered by the attention. Any man would be, she told herself. And why did she care whether Clark was flattered or not? He wasn't really her boyfriend. She had no claim on him, so she really had no right to be angry with him for not sending her packing immediately. Furthermore, the girl was their waitress, so it wasn't like he could get up and walk away. But still…
Clark rested his arm on the back of her chair casually and raised an eyebrow at her. She realized that he was aware of her discomfort and tried to reassure him with a smile. Unfortunately, the smile faltered, and Clark began to look more worried.
He leaned in close and whispered, "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she replied. "Just distracted. Don't worry about it."
Clark seemed to consider that for a minute, not quite convinced, but his attention was soon diverted by a question about where he went to college, and Lois found herself left to her private thoughts again.
She needed to pull herself together. There was no reason for her to be so upset about the stupid waitress. Unfortunately, the cause of her internal dilemma chose that moment to return with their meals. Her eyes flitted back to Clark every couple of seconds and she peppered him with sultry looks and suggestive smiles.
Lois prickled, forcing herself to refrain from commenting but fixing the waitress with an icy glare.
The waitress walked away slowly, her hips swinging gently, ruffling her short black skirt. Lois' jaw clenched, and she hoped that she was the only one who had witnessed the waitress' behavior.
Of course, she wasn't nearly that lucky. When she turned back to face the table, all eyes were on her and Clark.
"Well, well," Paul said. "Looks like you've got an admirer, Clark."
"She's just a kid," Clark said, fiddling with his silverware.
"She doesn't *look* like a kid."
Clark shot Paul a warning look and attempted to change the subject. "How was the crime beat break-out session, John? I didn't get a chance to sit in on that."
"You better watch out, Lois," Paul broke in. "Looks like you've got some competition."
"There is *no* competition," Clark said firmly, his hand curling around Lois' bare shoulder. "Why would I even look at another woman when I have such an incredible girlfriend?"
Lois smiled at him, and the ice that had been forming in her stomach began to melt. She rested her hand on his thigh and squeezed gently, silently conveying her thanks. Despite her earlier concern, it didn't even bother her that Clark had just referred to her as his girlfriend in front of a table of their colleagues.
With that, the subject seemed to be closed and the reporters went back to discussing the day's sessions. The tension that had filled the air around the table as they waited for Lois' reaction seeped away as it became apparent that she was not intending to claw the waitress' eyes out.
The rest of the dinner was pleasant, and Lois was surprised to find herself actually enjoying the conversation. It was nice to spend time with people who had similar interests but who weren't necessarily competition because they were scattered all over the country.
The waitress continued to stop by their table more often then necessary, always under the guise of refilling drinks or clearing empty plates, but each time making sure to brush against Clark or send him a flirty look. Clark remained polite but studiously avoided encouraging her.
Paul, on the other hand, spent the first half of the night trying to attract her attention, and when he realized that was impossible, he began urging Clark to make a move for her every time he thought Lois wasn't paying attention. Lois tried to ignore his lewd comments, chalking them up to a combination of his notoriously bad manners and the four jack and cokes he'd had with dinner.
Clark continued changing the subject when Paul brought it up, but Lois could see that he was beginning to get upset. In all honesty, she wasn't exactly calm herself by the end of the meal. Lois kept her feelings in check, and refused to show any sign of annoyance with the situation, but inside, she was seething. She was furious with this unprincipled hussy who would not only throw herself at a man who was obviously attached, but would do it in front of his girlfriend.
Not that she was *really* Clark's girlfriend. But as far as that girl was concerned she was! How dare she-
Lois broke off in mid-thought as she felt Clark's hand slide under her hair and begin to massage her neck. Until that moment, she hadn't realized just how tense she had become. What was her problem? This was just some stupid waitress. And she was just hitting on Clark. She had no right to feel jealous. Jealous? Was that was she was feeling?
Clark continued to soothe the stiff muscles. "Relax, Lois," he whispered, just loud enough for her to hear. "Do you want to leave? We don't have to go to the bar with everyone else."
The rest of the table was already filtering away from the table to the bar at the front of the restaurant. They stood, and Clark let his hand slide from her neck to the small of her back, rubbing gently. "Let's just get out of here."
"No, I'm fine, really," Lois insisted. Once she was away from the presumptuous waitress, she'd be fine, she assured herself. And she really was enjoying the company. They gathered their things and prepared to leave the table, but were stopped by the waitress a final time.
She handed Clark a piece of paper with a wink, then continued on to another table.
Unfortunately, Paul hadn't missed her not-so-subtle move. "Ah hah, got yourself her number, didn't you Clarkie-boy? She's a hot little thing. Persistent too."
"Well, I'm not interested," Clark said, placing the paper on the table. "I'm in love with Lois and I have no desire to call anyone else."
His hand was still firm and warm on her back, and she shivered at the delicious thrill that coursed through her body at his declaration. It was just pretend, she reminded herself. But still, she couldn't help thinking about how wonderful it would be to hear a man say that and mean it; to have a boyfriend who was completely faithful. Clark would be. Oh, not to her. This was just a charade. But when Clark finally found that right woman, he'd say the same words in this situation and mean them. She couldn't even imagine him cheating on his girlfriend.
Clark smiled at her, then nudged her toward the bar. "Come on. Let's catch up with everyone else."
Once they reached the bar and began chatting again, Lois forgot all about the waitress and went back to having a good time. She made her way to the bar to order a drink, while Clark stopped to chat with someone he'd met earlier in the day.
Lois propped one arm on the bar while she waited for the bartender to bring her Chardonnay and Clark slid behind her, resting a hand on her hip and dropping his lips close to her ear.
"You're smiling," Clark teased. "And you haven't kicked me once. Does that mean you're having a good time?"
"Yes, actually," Lois said with a grin. She leaned back and let her body rest against his, reveling in the comfort of his solid presence. "I'm having a great time, thank you very much."
Clark laughed and turned his head to order a drink.
He chatted with the bartender while he made the drink, and when he turned back around, he found Lois embroiled in a friendly debate with a metro reporter from the Austin American-Statesman who had been among their group at dinner.
"The problem with community journalism," Lois said, "is that it's not our job to tell our readers what to think. We just have to give them the facts and let them make up their own minds."
"But what about cases where the public isn't educated enough to make the decision for themselves? What if they need to be warned?" the young man argued.
"Then it's our responsibility to educate them. But we can say 'here are the potential hazards of this proposed power plant' without saying 'this power plant is bad, and you should organize protests against it.'"
The man began to respond, but Lois was distracted by Clark's sudden tensing behind her. She glanced back at him and noticed his clenched jaw, then followed his gaze to where Paul was stumbling toward them, another drink in hand.
"Doesn't this guy ever give us a break?" Clark muttered.
Lois hoped his attention would be diverted, but unfortunately, no scantily-clad women appeared in time.
"Hey, guys! What's up?"
Lois nodded curtly, then returned to her conversation, watching out of the corner of her eye as Paul motioned to Clark and pulled him aside. Paul didn't even wait for them to exchange pleasantries before he began talking again. "I got something for you," he whispered to Clark, conspiratorially. Unfortunately for him, in his drunken state, his whisper was something less than subtle. He pulled a slip of paper from his pocked and held it between two fingers. "I know you said you didn't want it, but I figure you'll come to your senses eventually."
Lois stiffened, recognizing the scrap of paper as the one that contained the waitress' phone number.
"I told you, I'm not interested," Clark said. "Just forget about it."
"Oh, come on. You've got to be kidding me. That chick was hot, and she was all over you."
"That's completely irrelevant. I'm not interested."
"You *are* a boyscout, aren't you?" he asked. Then he glanced at Lois and back to Clark. "Oh, I get it. You just don't want to say anything in front of the girlfriend. Don't want to unleash her fury. Tell you what, I'll just hold on to this for you, and when you get sick of Lois, you come find me. And, speaking from experience, that shouldn't take long — it never does."
Lois felt the blood drain from her face. Before she knew what was happening, Clark had leapt from behind her, and was holding Paul by the lapels.
"That's enough. That's far more than enough," he ground out through clenched teeth. "I don't want to hear one more word. I'm sick of telling you to back off. Don't you dare blame your inadequacies on her. Lois is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and if you so much as look at her again, you're going to regret the day you ever met me." He shook him once more, then released him, shoving him away.
Lois looked back and forth between the two of them, still a bit stunned.
"Let's go." Clark said, hurrying her out of the bar and into the elevator. He didn't say another word until they reached their hotel room.
"I can't *believe* his nerve," Clark said, slamming the door behind him. "Of all the low-down, rotten, disgusting-"
By the time they'd reached the room, Lois was fuming too. This was not only uncalled for, it was unprofessional and just downright cruel. What made him think he could get away with treating her this way?! She may have been a silly schoolgirl once, but she was stronger and smarter now and she knew that she didn't deserve to be treated that way!
"I should have taken him outside and taught him a lesson. How *dare* he?!" Clark trembled with anger as he paced the room restlessly.
Paul's words echoed in her ears again. But this time rather than making her angry, they struck a nerve. It *didn't* seem to take men very long to tire of her. Would she ever find a man who wouldn't cast her aside as soon as they got what they wanted from her?
She felt tired suddenly, exhausted by the situation. She slumped into an armchair and watched as Clark continued to stew.
"Clark," she said finally. "It doesn't matter. I mean, after all, he's right. Except that I don't even really have a boyfriend to get sick of me this time…"
He seemed jarred by her words, as if he'd forgot she was even there. When they finally appeared to register, the anger seeped from his face, replaced by something she couldn't quite identify.
"Lois…" he said softly, his voice thick with emotion. He stopped pacing immediately, and strode to the chair, crouching in front of her. He raised his hand to smooth her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear, and cupping her cheek in his hand. He ran his thumb along her cheekbone, and waited for her to meet his eyes again. "Lois, he's *not* right. He's a moron. Any guy who would…" He forced the anger from his voice and continued more softly. "You are the most beautiful, intelligent, incredible woman I've ever met, and if he can't see that, it's his loss."
"Clark," she whispered, tears pooling in her eyes. He withdrew his hand slowly, and she caught it, locking their hands together before bringing them to rest on her lap. "Thank you. Sometimes I don't know what I'd do without you…"
Clark pulled her into a comforting embrace, and she let herself stay in his arms for awhile, drawing comfort and strength from him. Finally, Clark stepped back and smiled. "Come on, cheer up. Let's forget about Paul and have a good time. We can amuse ourselves."
Lois tried to return his smile, but her attempt was pathetic. "I don't know. I don't feel like doing much. Maybe we should just turn in."
Clark rubbed her arm encouragingly. "Don't let him get you down, Lois. Don't let him win. It doesn't matter what he thinks. Let's get out of here and do something fun. We haven't toured the monuments yet. I'm sure you've done it a million times, but it's not a true visit to DC unless you go out and walk around the monuments at night."
"I've actually never gone sightseeing in DC."
"You've never been on a tour of the monuments?! How is that possible?"
"Clark, I grew up in Metropolis. I had no reason to ever come to DC. And family vacations weren't high on my parents' priority lists. I've been here a couple of times on business trips and such, but that doesn't usually come with time for randomly touring the sites. I've seen them from the air plenty of times, and I've seen some driving by in cabs, but that's the extent of it."
Clark just shook his head.
"I suppose you've seen all the sites," Lois said.
"You are looking at Washington's premiere tour guide. I spent a summer interning for my local congressman in college, and everyone I knew came to visit. I've given so many tours, I could do it in my sleep!"
"Oh, really? Well, this I have to see for myself," Lois teased. "And you never told me that you interned on the Hill."
"You never asked," he replied, eyes sparkling. "There's a lot you don't know about me, Ms. Lane."
"Is that so? And here I thought you were an open book. What you see is what you get."
"You'd be surprised," he said with a grin. "Now, how about that tour? What do you say we skip out of here? They're beautiful at night."
Lois hesitated for just a second. "Ok, you're on, Mr. Tour Guide."
"Why don't we change into something more comfortable — and warmer? It's getting cold out there."
Lois nodded, bending to sort through her suitcase for jeans and a sweater.
"So, I'll just be right back," Clark said, reaching for the doorknob.
"Where are you going?"
"To change. My suitcase — along with most of my clothes — are still in Paul's room. I mean, my room," he said.
Lois hesitated for second. "You know, maybe you should just move in here. I mean, you're already practically staying in here. You're not going to want to go back in there, even if he doesn't bring home some woman tonight."
"I don't know," Clark said, obviously torn. "You're right, I don't really want to room with him, but I feel like I should tell him to go somewhere else, rather than inconveniencing you."
"Yeah," she sighed. "But is it really worth it to create a scene? I mean, do you really want to confront Paul and throw him out of the room?"
For a second it looked like Clark was sorely tempted to do just that. "Clark?"
"You're right. I know. Okay, I'll go over there and change, and when I come back, I'll bring my stuff. I doubt Paul will even know I'm gone."
Fifteen minutes later they were strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, Clark relating some of his adventures as an intern. "So, they sent me into the tunnels that connect the capital building to the Senate and House office buildings to buy stamps at the post office, only I got turned around and couldn't find it. I found two gift shops, a barber, a dry cleaner, and a bunch of other things, but no post office. I walked and walked, until somehow I ended up in the Senate cafeteria. I finally found someone who knew how to get back, but by that time I'd been gone for an hour. I was sure I'd be fired."
"What happened?" Lois asked, giggling.
Clark shrugged. "They laughed, but said it happened to everyone at one time or another. The tunnels are really confusing."
They slowed to a stop in front of the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Clark cleared his throat and slipped into tour guide mode.
"Welcome to the White House, the first stop on tonight's tour. Also know as 'The People's House' and 'The Executive Mansion,' the White House is a popular spot for tourists. George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant designed the White House, but it wasn't completed until after Washington was out of office. John Adams was the first president to live in the White House."
"It looks bigger on TV," Lois commented.
"Well, looks can be deceiving. It's pretty huge. It has six floors, 132 rooms, including 35 bathrooms-"
"How do you know that?!" she exclaimed, cutting him off. "I swear, you know more useless trivia than anyone in the world."
"It's not useless," Clark said with a grin. "It keeps you amused."
Lois rolled her eyes, but couldn't help the grin she felt forming. It was amazing how Clark could make her feel so special with a silly comment. But he did. He made her feel like he would memorize any trivia just to keep her amused, and as silly as that might seem, it made her feel special.
"What else do you know about the White House?" she prodded.
"Well, the building has survived two fires, one during the War of 1812, the other in the early 1900s. Some of the more famous rooms include the Oval Office, the China room, the Lincoln bedroom, and the color-scheme rooms; Green, Red and Blue. The grounds include the famous rose garden, tennis courts, a jogging track, swimming pool, movie theater and bowling lane."
"Wow, must be nice," Lois said. Then she paused for a minute, reconsidering. "But I don't know if it would be worth it. To have to live in the public eye like that. Sharing your home with hundreds of staffers and tourists…"
"True," Clark said. "I can't imagine. But, the residence is on the second floor, and access is guarded strictly, so the first family does have a little bit of privacy."
"Yeah. I have a feeling it's not as fun as it looks."
Clark nodded. "Ready? The Washington Monument is next on our agenda."
"I'm ready," she said, taking his arm.
They chatted amicably as the turned off of Pennsylvania Avenue and onto 14th Street, Clark breaking in occasionally to point out a place of interest. In a matter of minutes they were standing at the base of the Washington Monument.
"Built to honor our first president, it was designed in the early 1800s but wasn't built until the late 1800s because of the civil war and budget problems. It's over 550 feet tall — the highest building in DC. During the day, you can schedule tours to go up the elevator to the top. I've never done it, but I hear the view is fantastic."
"What are the flashing red lights at the top?"
"Air traffic control lights. They ensure that planes landing at Washington-Reagan National Airport don't accidentally crash into it at night or in bad weather. A lot of people refer to the lights as 'the eye.' Speaking of airplanes, it's illegal for planes to fly directly over the White House or the Pentagon, but it's not uncommon to look up and see the President flying over in Marine One, or the Joint Chiefs in their helicopters."
Lois nodded and looked around.
"The Washington Monument is really the center of things," Clark continued. He grasped her shoulders gently and guided her to look to her left. "If you look this way, you'll see the Capital Building. The strip of grass that leads up to it is The Mall. The Mall is a place where tourists visit and residents love to play. During the summer, it's always packed with people. The congressional offices even form softball teams that challenge each other."
"Yeah, and it's not just the congressional offices, either. The Republican and Democratic National Committees each have a team, and so do the Washington Post and the Washington Times. Lobbyists and law offices like to get in on it too. The competition is friendly, but they all take it pretty seriously. I had a friend who interned at the RNC, and during her interview, one of the first things they asked her was what position she played."
Lois laughed, and Clark steered her to the right. "And if you look this way, you'll see the Jefferson Monument, just over the Tidal Basin. In the spring, all the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and this is one of the most beautiful places in the world."
"I can imagine," she said softly.
"Jefferson was our third president, and he is, of course, most famous for penning the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson actually viewed the presidency as a chore, and when he made plans for his tombstone, it wasn't among the things he asked to be listed on it. He wanted it to list him as the author of the Declaration of Independence, the author of the Statute of Religious Freedom for Virginia, and the father of the University of Virginia. Those were the things he said he was most proud of."
"That's interesting," Lois said. "It must have been so different then, from how it is today. I can't imagine someone running for president if he didn't really want to."
Clark nodded. "The monument itself is beautiful. It's modeled after Greek architecture, and the inside has the faces of the five men who served on the Continental Congress committee to write the Declaration of Independence — Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston — engraved in marble.
"Jefferson and Adams were arch-enemies politically, though they reconciled personally late in life. They actually died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826. Jefferson's lasts words were 'Is it the fourth?' and Adams' were-"
"Jefferson still survives," Lois finished.
"Should have known you'd steal my best line," he teased with a smile. Then he grabbed her by the waist playfully, tugging her to her right again. Lois laughed, and placed her hands over his so he wouldn't pull away. She leaned back against him, resting against his chest. "Now what am I looking at?" she asked.
"That is the Lincoln Memorial. Stop number four on our tour, I believe. To the right is the Korean War Memorial, and to the left is the Vietnam Wall, but you can't see either very well in the dark. I'll tell you more about them when we get there. The water between us and them is the Reflecting Pool. It's a popular tourist spot and the site of a lot of fun activities in the summer. This is where the famous fireworks display takes place every year."
"I've always wanted to go to that," Lois said. "It looks like a madhouse, but I bet it would be fun."
"It's a blast. We should come back this summer. You'd love it. It's an all-day event. There's a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in the morning, then everyone starts staking out their seats for the fireworks. People bring picnics and music, and there are spontaneous games of volleyball, Frisbee and football. And it's always sweltering, so people invariably end up in the Reflecting Pool — the water is really disgusting though, so I wouldn't recommend it."
Lois nodded, taking in the hidden meaning behind Clark's words. He just assumed that they would still be available to travel together next summer. That meant he wasn't planning on finding a girlfriend by then. But Clark was an attractive guy, and more and more lately, Lois had to admit that he would be a fantastic boyfriend. So what would happen when Clark did finally find someone? Would she be content to step aside?
She pushed away the thought, uncomfortable with the sinking sensation that accompanied it. She nudged him to the right again, facing the White House.
"And if I turn right again?" she asked quietly.
He nuzzled his cheek against her hair and his breath felt warm against her skin. "If you turn right again … you're back where you came from."
"But we don't want to go back…do we?" she asked quietly.
Clark grip around her waist tightened, and she felt him take a deep breath. "No. We don't want to go back."
"So show me what's next," she said softly.
Clark was silent for a minute, then he pulled away, taking her hand and tucking it into the crook of his arm. "Next is the Korean Memorial," he said, leading her down the path.
They walked quietly past the sparkling water, smiling at the occasional young couple walking hand in hand.
"Wow," Lois whispered as she gazed at the silent forms of the soldiers in battle. The footlights cast an eerie glow on the statues, making them seem almost lifelike.
"I know," Clark replied. "It's my favorite of the monuments."
They were quiet for a minute, then Clark continued. "It's the newest of the monuments. It was just built in 1995. There are nineteen soldiers and that wall over there, which is a miniature version of the Vietnam Wall."
Lois turned to gaze at the shiny black wall inscribed with the words, "Freedom Is Not Free."
"But if you look closely, you'll see that rather than being engraved with names, it's engraved with faces."
Lois studied the wall for a few minutes, touched by its poignancy, then turned back to the soldiers.
"I feel like they could come to life at any moment — like they were frozen in battle and could resume their charge at any time…" Her voice faded off and se stared silently at the gray soldiers.
Suddenly she shook her head as if trying to bring herself back to reality. "That must sound silly," she said, starting to move away.
Clark reached for her, instinctively, drawing her against his chest and wrapping his arms around her waist. She came without resistance and leaned back against him, watching the soldiers again.
"It's not silly at all," he whispered, his gaze fixed over her shoulder at the memorial. "I feel the same way."
"Really?" she asked, turning to look at him.
Clark raised one hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, then stroked her cheek gently. "Yes, really."
Lois smiled, then dropped her head to his chest, snuggling against him.
"Are you sure you're warm enough?" Clark asked rubbing his hands up and down her arms.
She nodded against his chest, then pulled back enough to look at him. "Ok, tour guide," she teased. "Where to next?"
"The Lincoln Memorial. It's not far at all."
"Ok, then! Lead on!" she exclaimed, grabbing his arm.
Clark laughed. "Now that's a first. Its not every day you hear Lois Lane ask someone else to lead the way."
Lois laughed, knowing he was just teasing. "Well, don't let it go to your head. It's not like I'm going to let you switch the order of our names in our byline."
Clark shook his head and laughed, leading her to the Lincoln Memorial. In a matter of minutes, they were standing at the bottom of the impressive steps.
"Are you up for it?" he asked.
"Are you kidding? This is nothing. You should see me on the stair climber at the gym."
Clark's eyes dropped automatically to her legs, then returned swiftly to her face. He looked away, starting to blush, and Lois could help but grin. The eternal boyscout. If she caught anyone else checking out her legs she probably use them to give them a swift kick, but Clark… Well, for some ridiculous reason, she found herself wishing she was wearing a skirt. A short skirt.
"Come on," she said, reaching for his hand. "I want to see Lincoln."
They started up the stairs, and Clark slipped back into tour guide mode. "There are thirty-eight columns — one for every state at the time Lincoln was president. And if you look up, you'll see the names off all 48 states at the time the monument was built engraved around the top of monument."
They reached the top and found themselves staring at a much larger than life likeness of the sixteenth president. Above him was inscribed the words, "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people, for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."
To their right was Lincoln's second inaugural address, and on the left wall was the famous Gettysburg Address. Lois leaned against Clark, soaking up his warmth and reading the familiar quotes.
Clark's hands rubbed her back gently, lulling her into a state of comfortable half consciousness as she snuggled against him.
"You *are* cold," Clark said. "Why didn't you say so? We should start heading back."
Lois shook her head against his chest. "I'm fine," she said, snuggling closer to him and closing her eyes for a minute.
"I shouldn't have tried to cram all the monuments in one night," he said softly, stroking her hair. "It's been a long day. You must be exhausted."
"I'm ok. And I'm glad we're doing the monuments all in one night. I'm having a great time," she said, pulling back to smile at him. "You worry too much, Clark."
Clark smiled tentatively.
"Come on. What's next?" she asked with a grin.
Clark laughed and hugged her before stepping away and grabbing her hand and holding it between his to warm it. "The Vietnam Memorial," he said, tugging her off toward the stairs.
He relaxed his grip on her hand, expecting her to pull away. Instead, she slipped her fingers between his, intertwining them.
"Come on," he said as a grin lit up his face. He squeezed her hand gently and tugged her close to him. "It's just up over the hill."
In just a few short minutes they were staring at the long black wall engraved with the names of the soldiers who had given their lives in the Vietnam War.
"The Wall," Lois said slowly. "I've seen pictures of it…but I didn't realize it was so long."
Clark nodded, his gaze traveling to where an elderly man stood tracing a name with his fingertips. A few feet from him, a woman crouched down, placing a teddy bear and a letter at the base of the monument.
"Everyday, people come to visit The Wall, leaving gifts and notes to the ones they lost," Clark said softly. "There's a registry at the beginning that tells you where each name is located. And you can bring paper and pencils or crayons for making rubbings of the names."
Lois and Clark walked along the length of the Wall, starting at the beginning where it was only inches high, then reaching the end where it crested at over ten feet.
"We have a miniature version of the Wall in Smallville," Clark said quietly. "I remember when they put it up."
Lois squeezed his hand and looked up at him, waiting for him to continue.
"Wars hit hard in little places like Smallville, where everyone knows everyone else. A lot of my friends had uncles or cousins they never met."
They talked quietly for awhile, sharing more stories and memories.
Finally, Lois shivered, and Clark drew her close to him. "We should be getting back. It's really late. There's a metro stop not far from here. Let's see if we can catch a train before they close for the night."
Lois followed reluctantly, exhausted, but not wanting the night to end. Her hand was still clasped his, and she allowed him to lead the way.
Luckily they didn't have to wait long for a train, and as the slid into the seat, Lois rested her head on Clark's shoulder. He slid his arm around her shoulders, and she snuggled closer.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"For this. For tonight. I had a really wonderful time."
"So did I. I hope my tour didn't bore you. I'm sure you already knew most of the trivia."
"It didn't bore me at all. It was wonderful. And I have to admit, I had no idea how many bathrooms there are in the White House."
The chatted quietly for the rest of the ride, Lois still nestled in his arms. She broke away reluctantly when they reached their stop, missing the warmth and comfort of his embrace.
A half hour later they crawled into bed exhausted. They whispered for awhile until they fell asleep, any discomfort they had once felt as sharing a bed now a distant memory.
"So, what are you guys going to do tonight?" Jimmy asked as they filed out of the final session of the day.
"I don't know," Lois said. "We'll probably just stay in, maybe watch a movie."
"Are you kidding?! This is our vacation. There's so much to do! A bunch of us are going to go out to some clubs in the area. You ought to come."
"I don't know, Jimmy," Lois said reluctantly. "I haven't been out clubbing in ages."
"All the more reason to come! Come on, Lois, do something spontaneous. Have a little fun!"
"I have fun!" she said, bristling.
"I know, I know," Jimmy said, raising his hands in surrender. "I didn't mean it like that. I just wanted to convince you to come. It's going to be great. Everyone's going."
"It does kind of sound like fun," Clark said. "Let's give it try, Lois. If we're bored, we'll leave. No big deal."
Lois wavered for a second, and Clark reached over and squeezed her hand. He gave her a pleading look, and finally she laughed and gave in. "All right, all right. We'll go."
"Great!" Jimmy exclaimed. Then he hesitated for a minute, as if there was something he wanted to ask but was afraid to. "Hey, guys, I… Can I ask you a question?"
"Of course," Clark said. "What is it?"
"Well, it's just that… See, everyone is talking about it and I… Well, I don't want to pry… But I just don't understand why everyone seems to know but me."
"What are you talking about?" Clark asked.
Jimmy looked down and shuffled his feet. Finally he looked up and forced out the question. "When did this happen?" he asked, gesturing to the two of them. "You know, *this.* When we left Metropolis, everything was normal. And now it's like you two are…are…are a couple. Everyone's talking about it. It's like this accepted fact. They act like you've been together forever. When did this happen? And why didn't you tell me? You guys are like my best friends! I would have been so happy for you! I just don't understand why you didn't tell me — why I had to hear it from someone else!"
Lois and Clark exchanged uncomfortable glances. Lois squirmed, unable to think of a proper response. Her first reaction was to deny everything, but before she could say anything she realized that after dinner and the scene in the bar last night, Jimmy was probably right about the whole conference talking. But on the other hand, she really didn't want to explain the whole embarrassing situation to him.
Before she could formulate a response, Clark came to the rescue. "You're right, Jimmy," he said. "Maybe we should have said something to you earlier, but the whole situation is kind of … well, complicated."
Lois felt herself begin to flush and she couldn't meet her young co-worker's eyes. Yes, it was definitely complicated, but also totally humiliating. And now Jimmy was going to know what an idiot she had made out of herself with Paul, both in college and by creating a fantasy boyfriend last week. Lois didn't embarrass easily, but right now, she wished the floor would just open up and swallow her whole.
"See, the thing is, Jim, this whole relationship, it's really … personal. It's also very new and frankly, I haven't wanted to say anything to anyone for fear of jinxing it."
Lois's eyes widened and she lifted her head to look at Clark. He was protecting her secret, even from Jimmy? If they'd been alone, she honestly thought she would have wrapped her arms around him and kissed him out of gratitude.
As if reading her mind, Clark turned to give Lois a warm smile, then took her hand to squeeze it reassuringly. "Anything anyone says here, Jimmy, is just conjecture. We haven't been going around telling everyone at the conference things about our personal life, but you know how reporters are. They see things and they talk. We're not trying to leave you out, I swear. We're just not ready to make any big announcement. But I promise, when — if — we're ready to talk about it, it will be with you. So can you just leave it be for now?"
Jimmy didn't look quite satisfied, but he let the subject drop. "Okay. Fair enough. Why don't we meet around nine and head out then?"
At five 'til nine, Lois was standing in front of the full length mirror, viewing her outfit from different angles.
"You look incredible, Lois," Clark said from the doorway of the bathroom. She was wearing a short blue skirt and a tight white shirt. With the suit jacket that went with the outfit, she looked sexy yet professional. Without the jacket, she looked…incredible.
"I don't know. Do you think it's okay? I didn't really bring any clothes suitable for clubbing."
"It's perfect. You look wonderful. Come on, let's go meet Jimmy."
They arrived in the hotel lobby to find a group of reporters assembled in a huddle animatedly discussing which club they should start at. The conversation was going nowhere fast. Each suggestion was met with complaints that the crowd was too wild, too boring, too young, too old, or just generally not right.
"Come on! Adam's Morgan is the best part of the city. And Madam's Organ is great. The bartenders actually dance on the bars. It's incredible."
"It sounds a little wild for my taste. Let's go to Georgetown. Sequoia is my favorite — lots of beautiful people and it's right on the water."
"Sequoia is great, but Georgetown is a pain in the ass because you can't take the metro there. We'd have to get a couple of cabs and that's going to take forever tonight when we're ready to leave."
The conversation went in circles for a few more minutes until someone suggested The Left Wing, a new club that had opened just a few blocks away. It was trendy enough to draw attention, close enough to walk, and had the added bonus of boasting a rooftop terrace. Once everyone had agreed, they set off.
As they walked to the club, Clark noticed Lois shivering slightly. He automatically slipped an arm around her, rubbing her arm gently. Lois smiled up at him and snuggled closer. Clark sighed, realizing how natural this had become. Even when Paul wasn't around, they played the part of a dating couple perfectly. It was no wonder that Jimmy had heard the gossip; everyone seemed to be intrigued initially by the fact that The Daily Planet's hottest reporting team had become something more. The interesting thing was that the longer the charade went on, the less attention they seemed to attract. Their couple status seemed to be accepted as the norm now, drawing fewer curious glances. It was very common for journalists to date and marry within the profession. The couples were often professional partners either before or after they were linked romantically. So, in their colleagues' eyes, their romance was commonplace. They were just one more couple.
Of course, they weren't really a couple. But only he and Lois knew that. Right now, he was playing the part he was born to play. He was having the time of his life, and only the realization that it would have to come to end eventually was enough to dampen his spirits.
As they neared the entrance of the club, Clark resolved not to think about the end. Tonight he would focus only on the present. He would enjoy his night out on the town with Lois.
They worked their way into the club, squeezing past the crush of bodies clustered near the door and worked their way to the bar. They ordered a couple of drinks, and watched as most of their colleagues made their way onto the dance floor.
"I forgot what this was like," Lois said, smiling. "It seems like it's been forever since I was in a dance club."
"Did you do a lot of clubbing in college?" Clark shouted over the music, eager to learn more about Lois' past. He loved when Lois revealed her deepest secrets and darkest moments to him, but he also wanted to know about the rest of her past — the good things, the mundane things. He wanted to know who she was before he knew her.
"I did my share, especially after Paul graduated. After he and Linda left, I was able to relax a little more and finally build some friendships on the paper. I was never as much into partying as a lot of the staff, but after working so hard to put out an award-winning daily, people were really excited to let their hair down. So I certainly tagged along to a lot of parties."
"Yeah?" Clark said, intrigued. "I wish I could have seen that."
"What about you? It's hard to imagine you getting really wild out clubbing, but you played football in college right? Everyone knows football players know how to party."
"Yeah, I did my share of partying too, but I wasn't really that wild. I liked the parties, but I have to admit that I worried about some of it. The guys on the team would get really drunk and stupid. It was fun until people starting do dangerous things. I usually wound up being the designated driver, or the one who was there to stop people when they started to fight or cause problems."
"I can see that," Lois said with a grin. "That's my boy scout. Always there to regulate when things get out of control."
Clark laughed, not at all offended by her summary. She always teased him about being a boy scout, but he had a feeling she liked that aspect of him. Besides, he couldn't help but notice that she'd called him "her" boy scout this time.
They ordered another round of drinks, but as they arrived, Clark caught a glimpse of a familiar — though completely unwelcome — face over Lois' shoulder. His jaw clenched and he could feel a scowl growing on his face. He couldn't believe Paul would actually dare approach them after last night in the hotel bar, but here he was, ambling up as if nothing had ever happened.
"Hey, guys! I heard everyone was meeting up here, but I didn't expect you two to come." Paul sidled up to the bar and ordered a drink. From the steady sound of his voice, it may have been the first time all week when he wasn't half-drunk. Though from the double the man had ordered, Clark was sure that was about to change.
Clark stepped between Paul and Lois, making it perfectly clear that he didn't want the man anywhere near his girlfriend. "This is a big club, Paul … I'm sure with a little work on everyone's part, we can make sure we don't occupy the same part of it."
The reporter looked up at him, a little surprised. "Gee, Clark, you're not still mad about last night, are you? Someone told me that you and I got into it at the hotel bar … I can't say that I really remember what about, but you don't have to get all macho about it. I'm just here to have some fun, just like you two are." Then he looked past Clark to Lois, his smile changing into something of a leer as he checked out Lois' short skirt. "Though I notice you're not out on the dance floor. All talk and no action, eh, Lane?"
Lois watched as Clark drew himself up to his full height, but she quickly took him by the hand. She didn't want another fight tonight — Paul was so clearly not worth even a moment of Clark's time. Holding Paul's gaze, she downed the rest of her drink in a single gulp, then pulled Clark to her. "Come on, honey," she said, emphasizing the endearment. "Let's leave Paul to his date with the bottle and go have some fun." And with that parting shot, she pulled him out to the dance floor.
As they reached the edge of the floor, Clark leaned in close to her ear. "You don't have to prove anything to him, you know."
"Who cares about him?" Lois said. "Let's prove something to ourselves. Let's forget about who we are now and just be young and irresponsible again."
Lois' arms snaked around his waist, and she pressed herself to him. "Come on, Clark. Please."
Clark laughed and hugged her back.
Lois swayed in time with the music, rubbing against him and sending shockwaves of pleasure coursing through his body from every point of contact. One of his hands rested on her waist, then began gliding over her back. She smiled up at him and it seemed like she was honestly having a great time, not just putting an act for Paul's benefit.
She brought one hand between them, running it up his chest, smoothing over the cool cotton of his shirt. Clark felt his heart rate speed up as scratched her fingernails lightly over his chest.
Their bodies moved in tandem, swinging and swaying to the beat. Their hips swiveled together. Her other hand slid down his back, dipping below his waistband and pulling them even closer together.
Clark growled her name. He had to put some space between them before he lost control. Luckily just then the band stopped and announced they were taking a short break. The DJ began playing music and Clark grabbed Lois and led her off the dancefloor.
He noticed that a number of their acquaintances from the conference had moved to a table and deciding that it was probably best not to be alone with Lois the way he was feeling just then, he led her in that direction.
Many of the other patrons had the same idea, and by the time Lois and Clark found their way to the table, there was only one chair available.
Clark immediately indicated that Lois should take the chair.
"No, go ahead," Lois, said, gesturing to the empty chair.
"No, really. Take it," Clark said. His upbringing would never allow him to sit while she stood.
Lois rolled her eyes and tugged his arm. She caught him off guard, and he sat in the chair to avoid falling. As soon as he was seated, Lois perched herself in his lap. She slid one arm around his shoulders to balance herself and settled in.
Clark took a ragged breath and tried to slow his thudding heart. His hand automatically went to her hip, holding her in place. Lois squirmed again, causing Clark to grit his teeth.
"Is this okay?" she asked, giving him a flirty smile.
"Yeah," he said, fumbling for words. "It's fine. Are you okay?"
Lois nodded, then turned back to the discussion. Within seconds they had a new round of drinks and were engaged in a conversation with the other reporters at their table. Clark couldn't believe how natural it felt to have her balanced in his lap. It didn't seem to be bothering Lois at all. In fact, as she talked, she began toying with his hair. However, Clark was not nearly so unfazed. His mind was awhirl with the sensations she was creating. The feel of her fingernails against the sensitive skin of his neck was taking his breath away. She had to know what she was doing to him. He didn't know whether to strangle her or kiss her. He *wanted* to kiss her, and it seemed like she just might be open to that, given the way she was acting with him tonight. But he wasn't sure. Maybe it was just the alcohol combined with her desire to show off in front of Paul
Once Clark's senses came back to him enough to allow him to have thoughts that didn't include Lois, he noted that Jimmy had holed up in a dark corner of the bar with the young intern from the Washington Post.
He pretended to follow the conversation, but spent the next half hour alternately cuddling Lois and inching away before he lost control. He had no idea, he realized later, what had been said during the conversation.
Finally the band took their places again, and Lois leaned down to whisper in his ear. "Come dance with me again, Clark," she whispered, her lips grazing his ear and her warm breath sending a shiver down his spine.
He forced himself to swallow, then nodded in agreement. He stood, and every muscle in his body tensed as she slid off his lap. They weaved their way back on the dance floor, and instantly they were lost in the music again.
As song after song played and their bodies moved together in the seductive rhythm, Clark's blood pressure continued to rise. Lois seemed to move closer and closer with each song. Her hands skimmed over his body, caressing his chest then stroking the back of his neck and playing with his hair. Her actions gave him the courage he needed to be bold and daring. His hands roamed her body, respectful but insistent.
Clark lowered his lips to her ear, allowing them to brush against her skin as he spoke to her. "How much longer do you want to stay? They're going to kick us out of here before too long. I just heard the bartender make the last call."
"One more song," Lois said, her lips brushing against his cheek.
Clark turned his face to look at her, and her lips glanced against his. Clark hesitated, stilled with indecision. He desperately wanted to kiss her, but he didn't know how she would react. He wanted to push the boundaries, but he didn't want to push too hard and scare her away.
She breathed his name, and he swallowed hard. Clark hesitated. Then he pushed all doubts and random thoughts from his mind and leaned forward. His lips brushed hers gently and he waited for her to pull away immediately. When she made no move to pull away, his lips began to tug at hers, caressing and teasing. She responded immediately, tangling one hand in his hair, holding him to her. Finally he pulled back, resting his forehead against hers for a moment before separating from her completely. The song ended and Clark smiled, still breathing hard. "Come on, let's get out of here."
It occurred to Clark shortly after they left the club that Lois might have had too much to drink, and that the alcohol's effect on her judgment might have been what prompted her to respond to his kiss. But that fear melted away as they walked through the quiet city streets to their hotel. The alcohol might have reduced her inhibitions slightly, but Lois was very much in control of herself, obviously still sober as they chatted about numerous topics. And to Clark's delight, Lois took his arm and snuggled close to him for the duration of the walk.
As they got ready for bed that night, exhausted from their long day, Clark expected Lois to act weird after their kiss on the dance floor. Instead, she seemed comfortable and happy as she climbed into bed.
She stretched out next to him, settling down into the pillow, and Clark told himself just to enjoy the time they had together and stop stressing about all the deeper meanings in everything.
"I had a great time tonight, Clark," Lois whispered.
"Me too. I'm glad we went."
"When I saw Paul, I thought the night was going to be ruined. But I'm glad we didn't let him bother us. Thanks, Clark."
"For what?" he asked, genuinely confused.
"You know, for tonight. I had a really good time. If you hadn't been there, I'd have been miserable."
"Hey, the pleasure was all mine, I promise you," he said, rolling to face her and reaching to stroke her hair. "I had a wonderful time."
Lois yawned and snuggled deeper into her pillow. "Good night, Clark," she said softly.
Clark rolled onto his side, facing her. He reached out tentatively, placing his hand on her stomach. She placed her hand over him, stroking it gently, and smiled up at him. "Good night, Lois," he whispered, leaning down to brush a kiss across her forehead.
Their eyes met one last time, and then they settled into the bed. Clark couldn't resist one last peek at Lois before closing his eyes, and he felt a flurry of excitement and tenderness, when he saw her eyes flutter shut, a slight smile playing across her lips.
Lois hurried inside the Starbucks, letting the door slam behind her. The icy wind gusted inside, jingling the bell on the door and making her shiver. The temperature had plummeted overnight, and the light rain left the sidewalk slippery and treacherous.
She shook the precipitation from her hair and studied the menu, envious of Clark who looked as though the cold weather wasn't phasing him at all. Must be all those hard Kansas winters.
They waited in line silently, still not quite awake. Lois had just finished ordering her small skinny latte — and rolling her eyes at Clark's choice of a large whole milk caramel macciato topped with whip cream — when Clark suddenly began to fidget.
"You know what, Lois, I think I left my wallet in the hotel room," he said, inching toward the door. "I'll be right back!"
"Clark! Wait!" she called, watching him dash out the door. "It's not big deal, I can pay for the drinks today," she finished softly, talking to herself.
She handed a couple of dollars to the clerk and accepted her change just in time to hear screeching tires and horrified screams. She dashed outside, leaving the drinks on the counter, and was stunned to see Superman handing a young child back to her mother. The little girl was scared, but luckily uninjured.
A car sat vertically in traffic, blocking both lanes. The driver had climbed from the car and was incoherently thanking Superman and expressing his relief over not hitting the girl.
"Superman!" Lois called, waving her arms to get his attention. Superman looked up and made eye contact with her. He checked to make sure that they girl was really ok, then walked to where Lois was standing.
"Lois. Hi," he said, seemingly unsurprised to see her in the middle of DC. Perhaps Clark had mentioned their trip to him. Or maybe he had run into Perry.
"Superman. What are you doing here?" Lois asked. She realized how that might sound and rushed to explain. "I mean, it's not that I'm not happy to see you, and it's a good thing you *were* here, but… Well, what are you doing in DC? Why aren't you in Metropolis?"
"You know I help everywhere, not just Metropolis, Lois."
"Well, yes, but you're usually in Metropolis unless it's something major. And we're all really glad you were here, but, well, this isn't the kind of stuff you usually do in other cities."
"Well, I just happened to be flying over, when I heard the scream."
"You were flying over? Were you in the area for some other reason? Was it-"
"Lois," he broke in. "I'm sorry, but I really have to go. I'll see you when you get back to Metropolis, okay?"
Lois nodded, then watched silently as he levitated off the ground and then zipped off across the sky.
Less than a minute later, Clark appeared, brandishing his wallet. "Found it. Did I miss something?" he asked, looking around.
"You missed Superman. There was a little girl in the street and a car slid on that patch of ice. He swooped in and saved her."
"Oh! Well, that's good. Is she okay?"
"The little girl," Clark prodded.
"Oh, yeah, she's fine."
"Is everything okay?"
"Yeah. It's just…Clark, what do you think Superman was doing in DC?"
"I don't know, Lois. Did you ask him?"
"Yeah, he said he was just flying overhead and heard the cry."
"Well, then that's probably what happened."
"But why was he flying over DC?"
"I don't know. Maybe he was just coming back from somewhere. Or maybe he was bored and was out flying around."
"Hmm," Lois said, her mind sifting through the endless possibilities. It just seemed too coincidental that Superman would show up in DC without a good reason, during the one week she happened to be there. It wasn't that she thought he was following her, exactly.
But maybe he heard she was going to be there, and he wanted to look in on her. He had stopped by her apartment a number of times without a good reason, telling her he just wanted to check on her. Given how easy it was for him to travel, why would it be any different for him to check on her here than at home?
It wasn't that she thought he was following her, exactly, but maybe he'd heard that she was going to be here and just wanted to check on her. Not that she needed him to check up on her. Of course not. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. But it was kind of nice that he was concerned about her.
As they walked back to the hotel and slid into their seats for the morning session, Lois weighed Clark's suggestions and tried to think up other reasons of her own. Did he have friends here? Or even, she forced herself to ask, a girlfriend? No, that couldn't be it. Superman's home was in Metropolis. And he had never mentioned visiting DC. He couldn't have secret friends here.
So if it wasn't personal, what was left?
Was he in town for a secret meeting? Could it be government related? Was that why he couldn't tell her about it?
Halfway through the speech, Lois couldn't take it anymore. She leaned over to Clark, and whispered the question that had been on her mind for the last hour. "Do you think he was here checking on me — us?" she amended quickly.
"Who? What?" Clark whispered back, obviously confused by her sudden question.
"Superman," she prodded. "Do you think he was here because we're here?"
"Why would Superman be here because we're here, Lois? He's not our babysitter."
Lois rolled her eyes. "I know that. But don't you think it's a little suspicious?"
"I already told you, Lois, I don't know why Superman was here," Clark said. "Can we talk about this later, please? People are giving us dirty looks."
Lois returned the dirty looks and slumped back in her chair, ignoring the speaker and resuming her silent investigation.
She managed to make it through the rest of the session without questioning Clark again, but as they walked to the hotel restaurant for lunch, she immediate launched in again.
"It's not that unthinkable that he's here because of us, is it? I mean, Superman checks up on me at home sometimes, why wouldn't he do that here?"
Clark sighed, obviously resigning himself to the topic of today's lunch conversation. "Lois, we're not in any danger here. We're not even here investigating anything here. We're here for a journalism conference. I hardly think Superman is worried for our safety."
"True. Then I wonder why he was checking up on us."
"Maybe he was just lonely. Or maybe…" she trailed off, a dreamy smile on her face. Perhaps Superman had missed her. It had been days since he had seen her. What if he had just been flying by hoping to catch a glimpse of her?
That romantic thought sustained Lois through the boring afternoon session, but by the time they reached their hotel room early that evening, she was fretting again.
"Are you sure he didn't mention anything about it when you said we were coming to DC?"
"Lois, I told you, I don't know why he was here. Did it ever occur to you that maybe Superman has a private life?"
"Of course it has! But he's my friend, and I'm just curious. It's not like I want to publish it!"
Clark sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, obviously agitated. "Can we please talk about something else — anything else?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "You make it sound like I'm obsessed; like I've forced you to discuss this all day!"
"You *have* forced me to discuss this all day! We examined and analyzed every possible reason for his appearance. I'm sick of talking about Superman!"
Lois was slightly taken aback by Clark's vehement response, but they were too far into this argument for her to back down now.
"I thought Superman was your friend! You sound like you don't even like him!"
"It's not that I don't like him, it's that I don't like the way you act when you're around him!"
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
"It means, I'm sick of watching you get all mooney-eyed every time he drops by! He's just an ordinary man, Lois, stop acting like he's some kind of god!"
"You know what? You're just jealous! Just because I don't get all mooney-eyed over you-"
"No! That's not it at all! I'm just sick of being your sounding board for this pathetic obsession!"
"Are you saying that I'm pathetic?!" she asked, incensed.
"That's *not* what I said! I *said* that this obsession is pathetic — there's a big difference. You're better than this, Lois. You deserve better than this; better than him."
"Better than him? Who could possibly be better than Superman?!"
Clark ran his fingers through his hair again, his jaw clenching. He started to speak, then stopped suddenly. He looked distant for a minute, then began edging toward the door. "You know what, Lois? Just forget about it. I just remembered that I promised a friend that I'd meet him for dinner tonight. I'm really late," he said, opening the door, coat in hand.
"Clark!" she called after him futilely. "You can't just leave in the middle of this! We need to settle this!"
"Just forget it," he called over his shoulder as he dashed down the hall.
She stood in the middle of the room for a minute, stunned that he would just run off in the middle of their argument.
Slowly she began to feel her anger rise again. How dare he call her pathetic and obsessed?! Where did he get off insulting her like that?!
Lois flung herself on the bed and grabbed the remote. She tried to push their argument from her mind as she flipped through the channels, but his words kept coming back to her.
Was there something he knew about Superman — about his feelings for her — that she didn't know. Had they discussed her? Had they laughed over her desperate attempts to win the Superhero's affection?
No. Not that. Clark would never do that to her. He was too loyal for that. He might challenge her, argue with her, but he would never do anything that hurtful.
She had, she could admit now, forced him to talk about Superman much of the day. But like times in the past when her curiosity got the better of her, she just couldn't help herself from voicing her musings. And because Clark was her closest friend, and the person she spent the most time with, he'd had to bear the brunt of her incessant analysis again. And she could see how, to Clark, it would look as though she had been mooning over the Superhero all day. She hadn't been though. That realization made her stop to think for a second. She wasn't just telling herself that. She really hadn't been mooning over him. She was curious, dying of curiosity, but it was just because she wanted to know what he was doing there. She did care about him as a friend, and she'd probably always have a little crush on him, but it wasn't the same as it had been in the past.
But Clark wouldn't know that. As much as she expected him to at times, he couldn't read her mind. Her constant obsessing all day must have been driving him crazy.
And she couldn't deny that their interaction at the club last night was probably playing a factor in this. She hadn't meant for things to go as far as they did. She didn't regret it exactly, but she did worry that it might complicate their friendship.
She hadn't even thought how this would appear to him. Even if he wasn't in love with her or anything like that, it had to be a blow to his ego to witness her obsessing over one of his best friends while never so much as acknowledging what had happened between them the night before.
And if she was completely honest with herself, she had to admit that part of the reason she had latched onto this inquest was that it distracted her from thinking about what had happened the night before. She hadn't been ready to deal with it, and she was afraid that Clark would want to talk about it. If she launched a preemptive strike and dominated the conversation, she wouldn't have to face that conversation. And if she kept her mind busy trying to figure out what Superman was doing, she wouldn't have to face the more important question, what was she doing?
Still, this whole argument was a bit unusual for Clark. She knew that he didn't particularly enjoy her ramblings about Superman, but it never seemed to upset him this much before. A seed of worry began to sprout in her stomach. Maybe she had pushed too far this time. She flipped of the television and began to pace the room again.
She hadn't really meant it when she accused him of being jealous, but maybe there was something to the accusation. Not that she thought he wanted her to obsess over him, but maybe he was just feeling a bit self conscious because he thought she was comparing him to Superman. Anyone would be bad if they were compared to Superman. It just wasn't a fair comparison. Clark was just an ordinary guy, and Superman was, well, super.
Not that Clark wasn't super in his own way. He was a great friend, and she didn't know what she would do without him. Come to think of it, she hadn't even thought about Superman all week.
When she had needed someone to play her boyfriend, it had never occurred to her to ask Superman. Not just because it wasn't logistically feasible, but because, well, it would be weird. With Clark it was easy. She was comfortable with him. She trusted him.
Not that she didn't trust Superman! But, well, it was different with him. He was always a little reserved, and she was always a little…nervous; flustered. With Clark, she could just be herself. With Superman, she was always monitoring her actions, reviewing her words before she said them.
And Clark, her ordinary guy, was kind of a hero in his own right. She called on him when she was in need because she'd come to understand that he would always do everything in his power to help her.
In a way, he was her own personal superhero. Superman was there for the life and death stuff, but he wasn't there for the times when she was really hurting — like last night. She'd been devastated by Paul's callous comments.
And who had defended her? Who had reassured her that she was beautiful and smart and desirable? Who had held her and let her cry? And then who had taken her out and cheered her up, making her forget completely about the messy situation? Not Superman. Clark.
It was rather ironic that Superman was the one she idolized, yet Clark was the one she turned to whenever she needed help.
And how did she repay him? By ignoring him and taking him for granted. And then by forcing him to endure her insipid questions about Superman.
He had been obviously upset, yet she hadn't even cared. Instead, she'd yelled at him and accused him of being jealous. She couldn't blame him for leaving, really. He didn't deserve that kind of treatment. He'd put up with it in the past, but maybe he had finally had enough. He'd warned her and warned her, and she hadn't listened. And now he was gone. He'd said he had promised a friend they would have dinner, but that was obviously a lie. He hadn't mentioned this friend or this dinner to her. And they were supposed to have dinner together. Well, they hadn't actually said they were going to have dinner together, but they *always* had dinner together. Lois shook her head as she realized that she had been taking Clark for granted again.
She wouldn't blame him if he had gone off to find the waitress from the night before. She probably would appreciate him. She wouldn't yell at him and compare him to Superman.
She'd just assumed he would always be there; faithful and dependable, that was her Clark. Only he wasn't hers, really. He had done a wonderful job of playing her boyfriend. It was such a masterful performance, that even she had been fooled for awhile. She had allowed herself to unconsciously begin thinking of Clark as 'hers.' Of course, to be honest, she'd been doing that for awhile now. But this week had been different. This week they'd been the perfect couple.
And she was beginning to realize that she wasn't acting anymore. At first, this charade had been for Paul's benefit. It was her chance to prove that she wasn't the foolish girl she had once been. But she was starting to see just how foolish she was.
Everything she'd ever wanted was right in front of her eyes, and she'd totally missed it. Clark was so much more than Paul had ever been. He challenged her and helped her. He made her feel adored … special … complete.
But she didn't complete him. He had told her that he was in love with her once. He had taken it back later, but she had always suspected that he had meant it at the time. But now she would never know. She had missed her chance then, and any chance she'd had of winning back his affection had been blown tonight when she frustrated him to the point that he couldn't stand to be in her presence any longer.
She couldn't blame him for storming out the door. In fact, she was surprised that he hadn't done it long ago. She didn't know if he would even come back. Well, he was too responsible to not come back at all. He would come back and finish the conference, and he would go back to Metropolis with her. But would he be the same Clark — the one who was her best friend? Probably not. She had lost him, and it was all her fault.
Lois collapsed into the chair by the window and drew her knees up to her chin. The tears began to slide down her cheeks, and she sobbed quietly.
Why couldn't she have realized this sooner? How could she not see how important Clark was to her? Why did she have to push and push and push until he finally snapped?
Clark opened the door to the hotel room quietly, trying not to wake Lois. He had spent the rest of the evening, night, and early morning hours in Japan. An erupting volcano had threatened a large city, and though he was able to get there in time to divert the majority of the lava, it was too late for dozens of people and hundreds of home.
He sighed wearily, stepping into the room and immediately grabbing his night clothes from the desk near the door. He slipped into the bathroom to change, exhausted, but his mind still churning with the death and destruction he'd been forced to view that night.
He had stopped at home to shower and change, trying to rid himself of the disgusting odor that stilled filled his senses. He was tempted to stay there for the night, realizing that after his confrontation with Lois, she was sure to be furious with him.
And, really, she was partially justified, he admitted to himself. Yes, it drove him crazy to listen to her prattle on about her adoration for the superhero, but she didn't understand the source of his aggravation, so he could hardly expect her know how much it hurt him.
He knew that he shouldn't have yelled at her, but he was just so frustrated. After last night, he could no longer pretend that things could go back to normal between them. Last night had nearly killed him. She had been so seductive, so playful. It was so easy to believe that she was purposely seducing him. It was incredible. It was everything he'd ever fantasized about.
And then they'd gone back to the hotel, and she'd been so sweet and content in his arms. She'd relaxed into the pillow as he'd settled beside her. The goodnight kiss had been chaste and undemanding, unlike the hot kisses they'd shared at the bar. But it was almost more special because of that. As much as he had enjoyed their night at the bar, he didn't simply want a physical relationship. The kiss had given him hope that what had occurred at the bar hadn't simply been about showing off in front of Paul, or about having too much to drink and acting a bit crazy. He had fallen asleep believing that there was a chance for them. He had hoped it was a sign that this week had not been in vain, that she was beginning to feel the same way that he did.
So he hadn't been prepared for her to not only pretend that nothing had happened, but to spend the day obsessing over his other persona. Would she ever be able to see past the cardboard cut out to the real man who wanted nothing more than to love her? Probably not, unfortunately. Every time it was beginning to look like she was coming around, something like this would happen. It was frustrating and disheartening.
So even though he knew she'd be somewhat justified if she was angry with him for his outburst and abandonment of her, he was not in the mood to listen to her ranting and raving tonight. He could only hope that she would stay asleep until morning. By then, hopefully, he would be up to taking the verbal lashing she was sure to hand out.
He exited the bathroom and suddenly wondered if it wouldn't be better if he spent the night in a chair. As angry as Lois was at him, she was sure to be even angrier if she woke to find herself in bed with him.
But he was exhausted and the thought of spending the night curled up in one of the uncomfortable armchairs in the hotel room was not appealing. Sleeping on the floor held even less appeal. He would just have to deal with the consequences in the morning.
His gaze fell on the bed, and suddenly he was wide awake again. The bed was empty and unmade, Lois was nowhere in sight. His heart began to pound as the boundless possibilities for her disappearance assailed him. He prayed that she was just angry and avoiding him, and that it was nothing more sinister.
After a panicked second, his super senses kicked in, and he located her heartbeat. She was curled up, asleep, in one of the chairs by the window.
He breathed a sigh of relief, and smiled tenderly at her. As angry as he was with her earlier, he still loved her more than anything, and the thought of losing her was unbearable.
Her neck was at an unnatural angle, and he winced when he thought about the discomfort it would cause her in the morning. He hated to wake her, but maybe he could just transfer her to the bed without waking her completely.
He crouched in front of the chair and reached out to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. She was so beautiful, so perfect. His brow furrowed as he detected her puffy eyes and the dried tear tracks on her cheeks. Had she been crying? Why? Had she had another confrontation with Paul? Surely she wasn't crying over their argument. They fought all the time. His stomach clenched at the realization that he might be the source of her tears. He hated seeing her upset. Watching her cry broke his heart. He'd promised himself long ago that no matter what happened, he'd never do anything to make her cry. He knew that might be slightly unrealistic, but still, the thought of causing her pain made him ache.
He reached out and brushed the pad of his thumb across her cheek. She sighed and shifted uncomfortably in the chair.
Clark slid his arms under her back and knees, and lifted her gently out of the chair. She settled into his arms, resting her head on his shoulder. He readjusted her, stepping toward the bed, and her eyes fluttered open.
"Shh. Go back to sleep. I'm just putting you in bed. You're going to have a heck of a cramp in your neck if you spend the night in that chair."
"Clark?" she asked again, as if she couldn't believe he was really there.
"Yes, Lois. It's just me. It's okay."
"Oh, Clark. You came back," she said softly, burying her face in his neck.
Clark stopped in mid-stride, confused. "Of course I came back. Why wouldn't I come back?"
Lois ignored his question, locking her arms around his neck. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice wavering. "I'm so sorry."
"Hey, hey. It's okay. What are you sorry for?"
Lois didn't reply, just hugged him tighter. "I'm sorry," she whispered again, her body quivering as she began to cry softly.
Clark moved swiftly to the bed, tucking her in and climbing in beside her. He wrapped his arms around her, his brow furrowing as she buried her head in his neck and continued cry. "Lois, what's the matter? Don't cry. Please don't cry. It's okay."
He rubbed her back gently as she cuddled against him. Finally, she pulled back and made eye contact with him.
"I was afraid you would never come back," she whispered. "I was afraid you hated me."
"Hated you?" Clark nearly choked on the words. "Why? Whatever made you think…?"
"It's all my fault. I shouldn't have pestered you so much. I should have realized how much it was bothering you. I should have just let it go when you told me to. I know you must think that I don't appreciate any of the things that you do for me. You must be so sick of me always taking advantage of you, and never thanking you for anything. I just expect you to do everything for me, and I never…I never even thank you. I'm sorry." Lois ran out of steam and collapsed against him again.
Clark hugged her tightly. "I could *never* hate you, Lois. Never."
"But you were mad, earlier. I know you were."
"We fight all the time. It doesn't mean I hate you."
"You ran away," she said softly.
"But I came back."
"You said to just forget it."
"I meant the fight."
"I thought you meant…"
"What, Lois? What did you think that I meant?"
"I thought you meant…us. Everything. I thought you just…didn't want to deal with me anymore."
Clark's inhaled sharply, stunned that she could believe something so ridiculous. He pulled her back and waited until she met his gaze before he began to speak again. "Lois, I *love* you. You are my very best friend. How many times do I have to tell you that before you realize what it means?"
Lois' gaze faltered and she looked away. "I know but… I thought maybe you didn't love me anymore. That I pushed you away."
Clark sighed and cupped her cheek with his hand, silently urging him to look at him again. "Do you remember what I told you that night on the dock? 'I love you. I don't want anything in return, and there is nothing you can do to make me stop loving you.' I meant it then, and I mean it now. Nothing, Lois."
Lois slid her arms around his neck and buried her face in the crook of his shoulder again, but this time she was relaxed; cuddling, not clinging.
Clark rubbed her back gently, grateful to have her in his arms.
"I love you, too," she whispered finally. "You know that right? I know I don't tell you, or even show you, that very often, but I do… You're my best friend, Clark. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Clark's chest constricted as he listened to her heartfelt declaration. Hearing her say that she loved him was bittersweet. They were the words he'd longed to hear from her from the moment he'd met her, but she didn't mean them in the way he wished she did. He was grateful for — treasured — her friendship. He cherished her trust in him. But he craved her love. Having her in his arms, telling him that she loved him, was the most painful pleasure he could imagine.
He stroked her hair gently, pushing away his fears and disappointments. He had so much to be thankful for. She was here. And she loved him. She didn't love him the way that he loved her yet, but maybe there was still hope. Maybe she just needed time. He could give her that.
"I know," he whispered. "I know."
Within minutes she was asleep in his arms again. Almost immediately, the day's events caught up with him, and he succumbed to his exhaustion.
Lois became aware of her surroundings slowly, still drifting between sleep and wakefulness. She sighed deeply, content for reasons she couldn't put her finger on. It was still dark, so she concluded that it wasn't time to get up yet and snuggled deeper into her pillow.
There was something different about her pillow tonight, but in her half-sleeping state, she couldn't determine what it was. Then she realized that it was moving, breathing softly. Clark. She wasn't alone. Not only was she not alone, she was cuddled next to her partner, held secure in his arms.
She froze, unsure whether she should pull away. Her head was pillowed on his shoulder, one arm slung across his chest, a leg draped casually between his. Their bodies were completely intertwined. His hand rested warm on her back, securing her to him.
She should have been horrified to wake up and find herself in this position. Instead, she felt a satisfied grin stretch across her face. She stretched lazily, enjoying the way her body felt next to him.
Clark stirred slightly, shifting his weight and pressing them even closer together.
Lois drew her hand up slowly from where it was draped at his side, tentatively exploring the firm planes of his chest beneath his well-worn T-shirt. Somewhere in the recesses of her mind, a voice told her that what she was doing wasn't right, but in her dreamlike state, she was helpless to stop herself from acting out the subconscious fantasies she had been harboring for so long.
Her ministrations slowed until her hand was just resting on his chest, her fingers tracing tiny random patterns.
Reluctantly, she began to pull away, not wanting Clark to wake and find her draped across his body. She moved slowly, trying not wake him. But as she lifted her head from his shoulder and began to untangle their legs, his arm tightened around her waist, and he made a quiet protesting sound. Lois looked up and smiled tenderly at his concerned frown and furrowed brow, then smoothed the lock of hair from his forehead.
"Don't leave," he whispered sleepily, drawing her back to him. "Stay with me."
Lois closed her eyes and tried to swallow the lump in her throat as her chest clenched at his simple words. He was asleep, and there was no way that he knew what he was saying, but just for a moment she let herself believe that he was talking to her; that it was her he wanted to hold all night.
She felt so right in his arms. She would just lie there for another minute, then she would move to her side of the bed. Yes, just one more minute, she told herself as she snuggled closer. She closed her eyes, enjoying the comfortable feeling of just being safe in his arms. Within seconds she was asleep again.
Clark woke up smiling, reliving the dream he'd had that night. In it, Lois was cuddled close to him, touching him gently. It was a dream he'd had many times, but this time had been more real than the others. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine she was still there…
Gradually, he became aware that the dream was actually a reality. Lois lay beside him, her head nestled just below his chin, her soft hair tickling his neck.
He took a deep breath, inhaling her scent and reveling in the sensation of holding her so intimately. His arm was curled around her waist holding her to him. For a second, he had the horrifying thought that he was holding her against her will. But he immediately realized that all evidence was to the contrary. She was more relaxed than he had ever seen her, one leg thrown over his own, her hand resting over his heart.
She began to stir as if sensing him looking at her. Her eyelids fluttered open, and he found himself lost in her eyes.
"Good morning," he whispered, transfixed by her doe-like gaze.
She pulled back slightly, resting her weight on her arm. Her brows furrowed in confusion, and for a second, he thought she was going to jerk away from him, horrified at how close they were.
Instead, she dropped her head back to his shoulder and groaned softly, "Please tell me it's not time to get up yet."
"It's still early," Clark said, trying to suppress his laughter. He reached up to stroke her hair, hoping she wouldn't wake up all the way and realize exactly where she was. "Go back to sleep, sweetie."
The endearment was out of his mouth before he even realized what he was saying. He'd got in the habit of using them over the course of the week, and they came naturally now, especially at moments like these. But, as much as he hated to admit it, this was all too good to be true. Lois wasn't his girlfriend. She was only cuddled up close to him because in her dreamy state she didn't realize exactly what she was doing, and the only time he could get away with calling her 'honey' and 'sweetie' were in public — as a means of perpetuating their game — and when she was too far asleep to realize what he had said.
This was all going to be over far too soon. His stomach churned and his jaw clenched as he thought about the implications of that. He couldn't imagine returning to a life without her. He simply couldn't do it. He'd have to try harder. He'd have to find a way to make her fall in love with him.
He pushed the thought from his mind and concentrated on enjoying having her in his arms. He stroked her hair and settled back into the bed, intent on enjoying what time he had like this…
When Clark opened his eyes again, he was alone in the bed and he could hear the shower running. Their late-night cuddling still seemed like a dream, and he wasn't entirely sure it had been real. But he could still smell her shampoo on his T-shirt, and he could almost feel her in his arms.
One more day. This was the last day of the conference. The speakers were only scheduled until noon, and there was nothing else until the dinner cruise that night. Then tomorrow they would board a plane and head back to Metropolis; back to the lives they led before Paul dropped in unexpectedly, turning their world upside down.
Unfortunately, sometimes upside down was a lot more pleasant than right side up.
"This was a great way to wrap up the week," Lois said as she leaned against the rail, gazing across the water. The famous monuments stood tall in the distance, illuminated by the lights of the city and the glow of the moon.
The world seemed far away as they glided down the Potomac listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the boat and the muted voices of the other passengers wandering around the deck.
On the other side of the deck there was a dance floor and a bar. Most of the passengers had congregated there, leaving the other side of the deck peaceful and private for the few who wandered around taking in the scenery.
"It's beautiful out here," Clark said, moving to stand behind her. He slid his arms around her slim waist and she leaned back against him.
Clark couldn't help but wonder at the familiarity of their movements. Even when Paul was nowhere to be seen, they played the part of lovers naturally. There was no awkwardness, just the comfortable feeling of two people meant for to be together.
He tried to convince himself that they were only staying in character and that when they boarded the plane for Metropolis tomorrow, the charade would end. His chest clenched and he realized how hard — how impossible — it was going to be to go back to normal. For a week he had lived the life he had dreamed of for so long. He had allowed himself to fall victim to his own game.
He realized now that for him this wasn't about Paul. It never had been, really. Yes, he had wanted to help Lois. But this was more about allowing himself the luxury of a dream so long denied.
When he touched her, held her, kissed her…he wasn't thinking about the need to convince anyone of anything. He was thinking about her. The woman he loved. The woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
But he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life with her. He had one more day, and then it was all going to be ripped away from him. The magic of their vacation would be gone and soon they would settle back into their comfortable routine of platonic friends.
He'd heard the trite advice that it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all a million times, but for the first time he realized just what it meant. This was the best week of his life, and as much as he was going to spend the rest of his life paying for it, it was worth the cost. He wouldn't trade one moment with her.
The thought of going back to Metropolis — to real life — made him ill. How was he going to be able to work with her again? How could he see her and not touch her? How could he spend all day with her, hear her voice, joke with her, care about her…and pretend that this week never happened?
He didn't want to pretend that it had never happened. He wanted it to be real. He had to be prepared to take a chance tonight, he told himself. It just might be his last chance. She was so close. She'd let her guard down with him, and this trip had been a dream come true for him. She was acting as if she was his girlfriend, and it wasn't just to save face. The last couple of days had been much more than just a ploy to make her look good in front of Paul. Most of their most intimate moments had taken place far from any thought of Paul.
Lois turned in his arms, resting against the railing. She looked at him questioningly, then reached up and stroked his cheek.
"You're awfully quiet tonight," she said softly. "Is everything okay?"
"I'm fine," he whispered, knowing it was lie. He was losing her, and it was killing him. He took a deep breath and his mind whirled as she filled his senses. She was so close, pressed along his entire body. One of his legs was wedged slightly between hers, and his arms circled her waist, resting on the railing. Her other arm rested on his, her fingers stroking his arm gently.
"Thinking?" she asked, and he nodded slightly. She looked deep into his eyes, and his heart lurched as she asked breathlessly, "About what?"
If he had been thinking clearly, he would have given her one of a million plausible answers. There was any number of things he could have been thinking about. But he wasn't thinking about any of them. He was thinking about her…and about how much he wanted to kiss her.
"Clark?" she whispered.
Without another word, without another thought, he closed the short distance between them and pressed his lips to hers. She responded immediately, relaxing against him and sighing softly in silent invitation.
Clark tightened his grip around her waist with one arm, crushing her enticing curves against him. The other moved up to splay at the nape of her neck, tangling in her hair and holding her to him as he deepened this kiss. Her hand moved from his arm to his chest, resting over his heart, while the other snaked around his neck, her fingers threading through his hair.
Their lips parted, and they both gasped for air. Clark pulled away just long enough to take in her ruffled hair and kiss-reddened lips before leaning in for another kiss. His lips caressed hers for a moment, then moved to trail kisses along her neck.
Somewhere deep inside, a voice whispered to him, reminding him that he shouldn't be taking advantage of her like this. She didn't feel the same way he did, and to her this wasn't real. Besides, they were in public. He should definitely stop.
Then she sighed and tilted her head to give him better access and the voice disappeared, replaced by the desperate voice praying this was real. Perhaps finally — finally — she loved him. Finally, she wanted him as badly as he wanted her. He pressed another kiss to the hollow of her throat and felt, as well as heard, her breathe his name.
"Well, well," a drunken voice broke in. "What do we have here?"
Clark pulled away from Lois, jarred back to reality by Paul's intrusion. And then he realized what must have happened. She hadn't been responding to his kisses because she loved him. She had seen Paul approaching and had used this as a final opportunity to cement their image as a perfect couple. He felt his world crash around him as he realized that it was still nothing more than an illusion.
"If it isn't the two little love birds," Paul continued. "You know, maybe I was wrong about you, Lois. You looked like you were getting pretty hot with Kent there."
Clark tensed automatically, infuriated by Paul's callow comments. He started to say something, but stopped abruptly when he felt Lois' hand come to rest on his upper arm. "He's not worth it, Clark. Just ignore him," Lois whispered, just loud enough for him to hear.
Paul was already distracted, ogling a woman a few feet away. "Catch you guys later," he said. "I've got to find some action of my own. Don't want to spend the last night alone, you know."
Clark shuddered in disgust as he watched him walk away. He turned back to Lois, not sure what to say.
"Let's not think about him," she said. "It's a beautiful night, and we were having a wonderful time until he showed up. Let's not let him ruin this."
Clark nodded, but couldn't help but wonder when the "beautiful night" was interrupted for her. Was it the moment she saw Paul, or the moment their kiss was interrupted? She had been a willing participant in the kiss, physically, if not emotionally. There was no doubt of that. But he didn't want just her physical participation. That would never be enough. He wanted all of her. He wanted her to love him with the same all-consuming passion that he felt for her. For just a moment back there, he had allowed himself to believe that it was possible. Now, he wasn't so sure. He would have loved nothing more than to believe that she hadn't seen Paul until he had. But his back had been to the rest of the passengers, and she would have had a clear view of anyone approaching. He would have sworn her eyes had never left his, but she was the most observant person he'd ever met. It was hard to believe that Paul's approaching didn't factor into her response to his kiss.
"I've lost you again," she whispered, bringing him back to the present. "Where do you go when you do that?"
"You haven't lost me," he replied. "You could never lose me."
She smiled and reached to brush a strand of hair from his forehead. "Dance with me? I love this song."
He smiled and moved toward the dance floor, a steady hand on her back guiding her to him. He pulled her into the crowd of people swaying to the sultry ballad and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.
She sighed and relaxed into his arms, resting her head on his chest. Clark closed his eyes and let out a ragged breath as his hand began to stroke her back gently.
"You look absolutely stunning tonight," Clark whispered, his fingers tracing the low v of the material on her back. "This dress is incredible."
He felt her smile against his chest and was relieved he hadn't overstepped his bounds. "I'm glad you like it," she replied softly. "I bought it this morning. I don't normally wear red, but I saw it and in a boutique while I was out window shopping and thought you might like it."
"I love it," he replied, his pulse picking up. Was she suggesting that she wore the dress for him? Did some part of her crave his admiration the way he craved hers?
Her hand slid inside his jacket, gently massaging his side, then running down to his hip and back up again. "You look pretty incredible yourself. Thank God you don't wear a tux to work everyday, not a single woman in the building would get anything accomplished. They'd all to be too busy drooling."
Clark laughed and shook his head wondering if she would be among the group of women drooling. She was the only one he wanted to impress. His pulse sped up as her finger continued to caress him through the thin material of his shirt. Her intimate touches and words could be meant only for him. There was no one else there to witness their interaction.
Lois let her fingers glide over the firm planes of Clark's upper body, exploring the contours encased in the soft cotton of his tuxedo shirt. She snuggled closer, nestling her head against his chest. His smell — the aftershave he had bought on one of his travels and the fresh scent of fabric softener mixed with his own, personal flavor — encased her, making her fell safe and comforted. When she was like this in his arms, she felt safe in a way that she couldn't duplicate anywhere else.
She closed her eyes briefly, listening to the soft music. Clark's grip around her tightened momentarily and his head dropped to rest against hers. She heard him sigh contentedly and felt an answering sigh slip from her lips. For a moment it seemed as if time had stopped and she was frozen in one perfect, beautiful moment.
This was the best week of her life, she realized. Being like this with Clark was like every fantasy she'd ever had, come true. Clark was the sweetest, most incredible guy she'd ever met. He made her feel so special. The way he looked at her, the way he listened to her, the little touches and caresses. And being like this in his arms was like paradise.
She didn't know why it had taken her so long so see. But now that she realized what she had, she wasn't going to give it up without a fight.
She nestled her head against his chest and let herself pretend this never had to end. That Clark would always hold her like this, always be there for her. That he was really her boyfriend, and not just playing along.
The rest of the night passed in a blur. They spent the rest of the cruise dancing, stopping only after the ship had docked and all of the other passengers had left. They had to be ushered off the dance floor.
They cuddled in the back of the cab on the way back to the hotel room whispering occasionally, but mostly just enjoying being together. When they reached their room, Lois flipped on the radio and watched as Clark took off his bow tie and undid the top button of his shirt.
"More comfortable now?" Lois asked with a smile.
"Yeah, that's better."
"Actually, that's a good idea," Lois said, slipping out of her shoes. "That's much better."
They stood there for a minute, not sure what to do next. Lois was tempted to run away or change the subject. But she forced herself to hold her ground.
"Dance with, Clark," she whispered, holding her hand out to him.
He smiled and took her hand, tugging her to him. They danced along with the radio for awhile, holding each other close. Finally, Clark leaned toward her slowly and brushed his lips against hers. Her heart hammered in her chest and her stomach did somersaults.
He pulled back just far enough to look into her eyes and whispered her name.
And she knew. She was in love with him. She couldn't deny it anymore. She couldn't ignore the signs any longer. He was the best friend she'd ever had. He was everything to her. How could she have been so blind? How could she have not seen that he was the best thing that ever happened to her? How could she have allowed herself to fall in love with him?
He wasn't in love with her. She wanted desperately to believe that he was. He'd told her that he was in love with her once, and if only she hadn't been so blind, she would have taken the precious offer of his love when it was still on the table. But he'd taken it back, telling her that it had just been a desperate attempt to stop her from marrying Lex. She had no doubt that he cared about her, maybe even loved her in some way, but he wasn't in love with her. This was still just a game to him. He had played along, and now maybe he was a little caught up in the game. They'd had a wonderful week together, and the cruise tonight had been wonderful and romantic. He was attracted to her, and she was a willing participant in their flirtation. He was enjoying himself, but he wasn't in love with her.
Yes, they were alone now. They were alone in their room with no one was there to witness this show. The pretense was over, but it still wasn't real for him. Not the way that it was real for her. He might even believe that he had feeling for her now, in the heat of the moment. But tomorrow it would all be gone.
"Lois," he whispered again, breaking into her reverie. He looked deep into her eyes, stroking her cheek. "Is everything all right?"
No. Of course not. How could everything be all right when you'd just realized you were in love with your best friend, and knew he didn't feel the same way? She gazed back into his eyes, and for a moment she could almost believe that it was love she saw there.
She wanted him then, more than she'd ever wanted him before. More than she'd ever wanted any man. Maybe he didn't love her, maybe he never would. But he was here, and he made her feel beautiful and wanted.
Things could never go back to the way they had been before this silly charade began, and honestly, she wasn't really sure that she wanted them to. At least now she knew what she wanted. It wasn't something she planned, it didn't make any sense, but she there was no denying it. She wanted him, needed him. She was going to lose him. Their friendship would never be normal again. It was too late to go back now.
He looked at her questioningly, and she felt her stomach somersault as she looked into his eyes. If this was the last night that she would have with him, she wanted something to remember. She wanted to have this night to remember, when she thought of him. One perfect week. One perfect night. One perfect love.
She launched herself into his arms, threading her fingers through his thick hair, and pulling him to her. Their lips met and melded together.
Bliss. It was a familiar feeling, kissing Clark. She'd kissed him before, but this was so much better. There was no reservation this time. He moaned softly, and slid his hand around her neck, holding her to him. His lips moved softly over hers, tasting her timidly. But then she moaned softly, parting her lips in invitation, and he could hold back no longer. His tongue slipped between her lips, exploring her mouth before coaxing her tongue to join his. They tangled together, touching and teasing.
His other arm went around her waist, drawing her closer. She relaxed in his arms, surrendering completely to his kiss.
They pulled apart reluctantly, gasping for air.
"Lois, I-" he started huskily, but was cut off when her mouth joined his again. He deepened the kiss, threading his fingers through her hair and pressing her to him. She reached up and pushed his suit jacket from his shoulders. He pulled his hands from her hair and shrugged the jacket to the floor. His hands moved to her waist, trailing up her sides, caressing her through the soft dress she wore. Her arms wrapped around his neck, and she relaxed against him.
Danger, Lois thought as their kisses escalated in intensity. He was going to break her heart worse than it had ever been broken, and he didn't even know it. Before she knew what was happening, Clark had swept her into his arms and was carrying her to one of the chairs, sitting and settling her in his lap. She went limp in his arms, surrendering herself to the feelings he was stirring in her. Never before had she felt this way. If Clark could make her feel this way with just a few kisses, imagine…
She needed to touch him. Needed to touch his bare skin. She fumbled with his tie, yanking it roughly out of the knot, and slipping it from around his neck. She tossed it aside, and made quick work of the buttons on his shirt. Her fingers finally made contact with the bare skin of his chest, and he let out a moan from deep within his throat.
"Oh, God, Lois," he murmured, moving to trail kisses along her cheek and neck. She tilted her head to the side, giving him freer access, and moved to kiss his shoulder as she brushed the material away.
His hands moved frantically over her back and shoulders, then down her arms. He traced the straps of her dress with his fingertips, then followed the neckline to where it plunged in front of her.
"Yes," she whispered, her heart pounding. He moved his hand to the side, brushing lightly across her breast. She arched up, pressing herself more firmly into his hand.
She was out of control, she realized belatedly. This was going to escalate, and she wasn't going to stop it. She wanted him, wanted him like she had never wanted anyone else. Consequences be damned. She'd deal with her broken heart later. It was too late to stop now, anyway. Even if she put a halt to this, their platonic friendship was gone. At least she'd have one night. One perfect night.
She placed a hand on either side of his face, and gently raised it to meet hers. Their lips came together again, nibbling and teasing for just a moment before deepening the kiss once again. His arms went around her again, finding her zipper. He stopped, then retreated, moving to caress her back again.
She pulled away and looked into his eyes, confused.
"Lois, we don't have to. We can take this slow. There's no need to rush."
"Please," she whispered, bending to kiss him gently before pulling back again. "I want you, Clark. I need you."
She couldn't bring herself to tell him that she loved him. If he knew that she loved him, he might get all noble and try to put a halt to things. He would never knowingly hurt her. No, it was better that this just remain about passion and mutual attraction. Leave love out of it all together. Her lips cooperated, ceasing to talk and moving back to join his lips, but her heart rebelled, screaming its love for him.
She reached behind her back and yanked at the zipper. The dress went limp, sliding down her body, and exposing more of her skin to him.
Lois shifted on his lap, moving one leg to straddle him, and pressing her body flush against his. She shrugged the straps from her shoulders, allowing the dress to puddle at her waist. The low backline of the dress had necessitated that she wear nothing under it, and so she was naked to his hungry gaze.
He pulled her to him again, his lips tugging at hers. His hands roamed her body cupping one breast in his hand. She gasped and let her head drop back, savoring the feelings he was creating. He kissed her again, his lips trailing down her pale neck. Her hands made quick work of the buttons on his shirt, then slid inside to caress him. His skin was soft and smooth, covering the firm muscles of his chest. She'd seen him without a shirt before, and had longed to touch him like this. She pushed at the shoulders of his shirt, attempting to move it out of the way to give her unrestricted access. When she whimpered in frustration, Clark complied, shrugging the shirt off, then quickly wrapping his arms around her again. She rocked against him, pressing her body closer to his.
"Lois… Oh, God…Lois," he moaned, lifting his head to kiss her again.
She pulled away, and slid from his lap. His looked up at her confused and a bit dazed…
She stood, letting the dress fall to floor. She extended her arm and waited for him to take her outstretched hand. He smiled, reassured, and stood quickly, taking her hand and tugging her to him
"Make love to me, Clark," she whispered, unbuttoning his pants and lowering them over hips, releasing them and letting them slide to the floor.
He kicked his pants aside and kissed her gently, then scooped her into his arms again. He walked a few short steps and laid her carefully on the bed. He stretched out beside her, kissing her and stroking her softly. She reached up and slid his glasses from his face, smiling to reassure him when flinched. She reached out and placed them on the nightstand, then lifted her face to kiss him again.
She tugged him over her, needing to feel his weight on her, to assure herself that this was really happening. She writhed beneath him, circling her hips against him eliciting a moan as he moved up to capture her lips again. He pressed his hips against her, thrusting his tongue into her mouth. Lois ran her hands down his back then slipped them between their bodies tracing the waistband of his briefs. Clark gasped, his mind reeling from the sensations her hands were creating. "Oh, God, Lois. I love you," he whispered against her lips.
Lois froze. Memories of past lovers who'd used a false profession of love to get her into their beds flitting through her mind. Not Clark, please not Clark. She could deal with the fact that he didn't love her, though she knew he would break her heart. But she couldn't deal with him lying to her, using her. Honest. Clark was honest, had always been honest with her. If she lost that now…
Clark pulled back, worry evident in his face. "Lois, honey, what's the matter? Are you ok?"
"Don't, Clark. Please, just…you don't have to do that."
He was visibly confused. "Do what?" he asked, stroking her side again.
"You've already got me," she whispered, struggling to keep her emotions in check. "You don't have to tell me that you love me to get me into bed."
Clark reeled back as if he'd been slapped.
"Oh my God. Lois — you don't really think…oh, God. I would never… How could you think?" He pulled her close, hugging her and resting his head on hers.
Clark tried desperately to regain his equilibrium as he waited for her to say something. Only a moment ago, he was making love to the woman of his dreams, trying to rationalize away all of the reasons they weren't ready, and now he was faced with the reality that she didn't even realize he was in love with her. It was too much to comprehend.
The idea that she thought he'd only told her he loved her in order to get her into bed sickened him. He berated himself silently, telling himself that he was as bad as the others, so focused on what he was feeling that he neglected to understand what she was feeling.
How could she believe that he didn't love her? How could she not know? And how could he have been so stupid? Even if she had known that he loved her, they weren't ready for this. Their relationship was so new, so fragile, how could he have been willing to jeopardize it so carelessly?
He had been so lost in the moment that he hadn't been thinking clearly. It had been real this time, not an act performed for someone else's benefit. There could be no one watching this time. Unlike even the spectacular kisses they'd shared on the boat, there was nothing to cast doubt of the reality of this moment.
No, this time she had been kissing him because she wanted to. There could be no other explanation. He had thought that she had realized how much he loved her and that she felt the same way.
But she hadn't known. She hadn't understood anything. She hadn't realized that he was in love with her. She thought he was no better than the rest, and that he — like all the others — would break her heart.
"Oh, God, I hate him," he said suddenly, unsure if he was talking about Paul specifically or about all the men in her past.
The intensity in Clark's voice seemed to startle Lois. She flinched, then pulled away and watched him as she seemed to take in the unexpected words. "Who?" she asked, obviously confused.
He ignored her question, choosing to address the bigger issue. "Lois, I told you once that it's not just something men say to get women in bed, and I meant it. I know that some men do, but not all men. Not me."
Lois dropped her eyes from his, focusing them on an invisible spot on the comforter. Clark's heart clenched as he watched her, hoping he could undo the damage he had done.
"Lois, look at me. Listen to me," he said urgently. He waited until her eyes met his to continue. "I love you. I love you so much, and I have been in love with you for so long. This is a dream come true for me because you are everything I have ever wanted in my life. You are a part of me. And I would never, *never,* say that just to get you into bed. This is not about sex, Lois. This is about how much I love you. Don't you know how much I love you?"
"Clark," she whispered, her eyes pooling with tears as she seemed to contemplate what he had said.
He had just poured his heart out to her, telling her how much she meant to him, and her only response had been to whisper his name. Did she feel the same way? Was there any hope at all?
"Lois," he prodded, his voice strained.
"I love you, too," she whispered, the tears that had been threatening to spill over pouring down her cheeks. "I thought… I thought that you couldn't love me. I thought that this was still just a game for you."
"It was *never* a game for me," he replied quickly. "I've loved you for so long. I've always loved you. This week… This week has been the best week of my life because, for once, I haven't had to pretend. I haven't had to hide my feelings for you. Everything I've said, everything I've done this week has been real."
"How could I have been so blind?" she whispered, reaching to stroke his cheek. He leaned down and captured her lips in a sweet kiss.
Lois slipped one hand around his neck, her finger trailing over the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck. Clark's heart thudded in his chest as Lois snuggled closer, pressing her bare skin against his.
During their conversation, Clark had been so focused that he had been almost unaware that she was nearly naked in bed with him. With their conversation over, awareness came rushing back.
His hands began to roam her body, sliding over her soft skin as his lips sealed to hers. He rolled partially on top of her, careful to keep most of his weight balanced on the bed. She reached for him, tugging him more fully over her. She brought one foot to rest flat on the bed and rubbing against his leg and hip as she drew her leg slowly forward.
His lips left hers finally, only to trail opened-mouthed kissed down her neck and across her shoulder. She sighed happily, her soft sounds encouraging him to continue. Her fingers on one hand threaded through his hair, while the other hand ran up and down his back slowly, memorizing the feel of his body.
She loved him. She was going to make love to him. Slowly, the implications of that decision began to dawn on her. Earlier, when this was just a one night stand, she was eager to make love to him. She had thought there was no hope for a future with Clark, so she was desperately reaching for temporary happiness. But now… Now that she knew that he loved her; now that there was a future for them beyond just tonight, she was torn. She still wanted to make love to him. Her body was telling her in no uncertain terms that this was exactly what it wanted. Her heart wanted it too. She wanted to make love to him, to be as close to him as she could possibly be, to share everything with him.
But her mind wasn't convinced. This wasn't just about one night anymore. This was about much more. They had a future now. And this one night had consequences. Were they ready for this? Now she wasn't so sure.
"Clark," she said, already regretting what she was going to have to do.
Clark moaned quietly, mumbling her name as he kissed his way across the base of her throat and begin lavishing attention on her other shoulder
Lois closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the sensations for just another second before saying his name again, louder this time.
Clark finally seemed to process that she was trying to get her attention and not just encouraging him. He raised his head, the passion is his eyes igniting a fire in her stomach. For a moment her resolve slipped and she desperately wanted to complete what they had begun.
But the thought of ruining everything by rushing into something they weren't ready for was enough to put a damper on her rising temperature.
"Clark," she started again, hesitantly.
"What, honey? What is it?" he asked, the passion in his eyes slowly being replaced by concern.
Lois took a ragged breath and chewed nervously on her bottom lip. She was sure that Clark would stop if she told him to, but a part of her was still afraid that he would be angry. She knew that he loved her, believed him when he told her that, but she knew how men reacted when things went this far and then the woman put a stop to them. Even if he wasn't angry, he'd be disappointed, and she so wanted to make him happy.
Clark must have read the confliction in her eyes because he smiled tenderly and brushed a kiss across her lips before saying, "Whatever it is, you can tell me. What's the matter, Lois. Talk to me."
"I'm just… I'm not sure. I mean…Can we just take this slow?" she asked softly. "I don't know what I want anymore."
Rather than looking angry, Clark looked crestfallen. "You don't know what you want? I don't… What do you mean?" he asked quietly.
"I'm just not sure we're ready for this. I'm sorry, I just… I don't want to ruin everything by rushing into this."
If Lois had expected him to try to change her mind or to yell at her, she couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, he looked relieved.
"So, you don't mean that you don't love me? That's not what you're confused about?"
Her heart clenched at his sincere concern. "No," she said softly, stroking his cheek. "I've never been so sure of anything in my life."
He let out a breath she hadn't realized he was holding, and smiled again.
"I love you, Clark. I'm just not sure I know what that means yet. That doesn't mean I'm not ready for a relationship with you. I just need some time to get used to this. To get used to us."
"We can take it as slow as you want. I'll wait for you. I'll wait as long as you need."
She smiled timidly, and watched his gaze drop to her lips. She felt her pulse pick up in anticipation of the kiss she knew was coming. But his gaze returned to her eyes and she saw the hesitation lurking there.
"Clark," she whispered, sliding her fingers into his hair and tugging him forward, "we don't have to take it that slow."
His face broke into a grin as he lowered his lips the rest of the way to capture hers.
Clark handed the desk clerk their door keys, then turned his attention back to Lois. His arm was settled securely around her waist and her head rested on his shoulder. Their luggage sat at their feet.
He removed his arm from her waist and picked up their bags, carrying them to the lobby area. He sat down and tugged her arm, silently asking her to sit beside him. She came immediately, snuggling into his embrace.
"Do you see Jimmy anywhere?" he asked her, surveying the hotel lobby.
She shook her head, then spotted him rushing out of the elevator, suitcase in tow.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," he said, out of breath, as he rushed toward them.
"It's fine, Jimmy. We've got plenty of time," Clark assured him. "The hotel shuttle won't be here for another couple of minutes."
"Oh," Jimmy said, still panting from his run. "I thought I was late. If I have a minute, I'm going to run and grab something to eat from the vending machine. Do you guys mind watching my bag?"
They shook their heads, and he was off again.
The second Jimmy disappeared, Clark's mind drifted back to last night. He squeezed her shoulders gently. She snuggled closer, laying her head on his shoulder again and sighing contentedly.
"Are you tired, sweetheart?" he asked, rubbing her upper arm soothingly.
"A little," she said softly.
"I'm sorry. I should have let you get more sleep last night."
Lois laughed softly. "Don't apologize. We can sleep on the plane. And even if I'm tired now, it was worth it, and I'm not one bit sorry."
Clark sighed. "It was pretty incredible wasn't it?" he asked, shifting so he could look at her. "I mean…I've never…wow."
"Yeah, wow," she agreed, reaching up to stroke his cheek.
He tried to find the words to tell her what he was feeling, but failed. He shook his head helplessly.
"I know," she whispered. "I don't know what to say either."
She settled back into his embrace, and his thoughts drifted back to the night before. After they had confessed their love for each other, they had spent the rest of their night exploring their new relationship. They had stopped short of intercourse, although they had come close at times. Lois had told him that she wasn't ready yet, and he not only respected her wishes, he saw the wisdom behind them. Their love was so precious and new that he didn't want to endanger it by rushing things.
But though they may have stopped shy of completing the act, there was no doubt in his mind that they had made love. Every touch, every kiss was a testimony of their love. They had given each other such incredible pleasure. At points he thought his heart would burst from the love he felt for her. He had thought before that he couldn't love her anymore than he already did, but he had been wrong. He loved her even more now. It was far and away the most incredible night of his life. The idea that there would be more nights like this was overwhelming.
Lois' small hand slipped into his larger one, twining their fingers together. With the fingers of her other hand, she gently stoked the back of his hand and arm. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
The bellman announced that the shuttle would arrive momentarily, and Lois and Clark reluctantly pulled apart, gathering their belongings.
A sudden motion out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked up to see Paul step out of the elevator, a sleazy brunette obviously wearing clothing from the night before draped across him.
Clark rolled his eyes and surreptitiously looked at Lois to make sure the sight hadn't upset her. Lois smiled and shook her head. "I'm fine, Clark. You know, I don't even think I can hate him anymore."
She laughed at Clark's stunned expression. "Just think about it. If he hadn't appeared, who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to this point."
"Well, when you put it that way, I guess I owe him a lot," Clark said, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear and pressing a quick kiss to her cheek.
Clark cringed as he heard Paul and the brunette approaching. He seriously doubted Paul would stop to talk to them, but he was just in too good a mood to want to deal with him at all.
"Well, looky- looky," Paul said, stopping in front of them. "If it isn't the love birds."
The woman on his arm giggled, causing Lois to shoot Clark an amused look. He rolled his eyes in response and forced himself to be polite. He wouldn't allow Paul to spoil this wonderful morning.
"Good morning, Paul."
"Why don't you go check out for me, doll?" Paul asked, handing her his keys and patting her on the butt. She pouted for a second, then flitted off to do his bidding.
"She's something, isn't she?" Paul asked, checking her out as she walked away. "I know you think you're happy, Clark, but I don't envy you a bit. Never settle down, that's my motto. Always keep 'em guessing. A different woman every night."
Before Clark could tell Paul that he'd heard more than enough, another voice broke in.
"Paul? Paul! I'm so glad I found you! I'm in town for an LNN regional meeting and I came in a day early to surprise you. I missed you this week … I'm sorry that I couldn't be here and you had such a boring conference."
"Jennifer! Hi!" Paul's eyes darted back to the front desk and his eyes grew wide as he saw the brunette had already checked out and was on her way back. "I had no idea you'd be here. What a surprise."
"I know. I wanted to surprise you."
"Well, I'm surprised," he said nervously.
His woman of the moment made it back to the group just then. "All checked out," she announced, immediately attempting to resume her position on Paul's arm.
Paul blanched and disengaged from the woman as if she were on fire. But the exchange had not gone unnoticed. Jennifer's eyes narrowed and her voice immediately became serious, no hint of the ditzy act she had put on at dinner. "And just what do we have here?"
Paul fumbled for an answer, clearly beginning to panic, "Jenny, baby, it's not what it looks like … she's an old friend, a colleague … someone I barely know. I don't even like her!"
"Hey!" the brunette responded, furious.
Paul looked frantically around the room for some idea, until his fell on Lois and Clark, who still stood nearby, watching with great amusement. "Lois, Clark, tell her! Tell Jennifer how much I've missed her this week," he begged, shooting Clark a look that clearly meant for him to help him cover.
"I'm confused, Paul," Lois says. "Didn't you just get done telling Clark and I that you and Jennifer had an *understanding* and she didn't care how many other women you slept with this week?"
"WHAT?" Jennifer exclaimed, murder in her eyes. "That's *it*, Paul. We are through! I will not be made a fool of!"
She stormed off, leaving a stunned Paul to watch her go, his mouth agape. He hesitated for a moment, then took off after her. "But, Jenny, honey … you're the best thing that's ever happened to me! Please, give me another chance … I'll do anything …!"
Lois and Clark burst out laughing as his pathetic pleas faded off. They grabbed their bags and headed for the door where they could see their shuttle arriving.
Just then, Jimmy came bursting back into the room, carrying some sort of sugary breakfast item obtained from the hotel vending machines.
He took one look at them and furrowed his brow. "What's so funny?" he asked, grabbing his bag.
Lois and Clark just laughed harder.
"It's a long story," Clark said, opening the door. "We'll tell you about it on the way."
[And they all lived happily ever after. Well, until Playing for Keeps, of course. <G>]