By Wendy Richards <email@example.com> & Kaethel <Kaethel@wanadoo.fr>
Rated: PG 13
Submitted: May 2003
Summary: When friendship unexpectedly slips into love, will Lois and Clark listen to their hearts?
This one started out as most of our collaborations these days. One of us writes the beginning of something and if it inspires the other, we let our Muses run free with the premise that results. With Silence in the Heart, we decided to explore what would happen if our favourite characters finally gave in to their mutual attraction in Season 2; we hope you enjoy this fanfic as much as we enjoyed writing it!
This story is dedicated to our very dear friend Annette Ciotola, who had a birthday last month. We wanted to give her a story as a testimony of our friendship for her, and also as a thank you for the hard work she achieved to get the new boards back up and running when they went down after the server's hard drive crash. Thanks for being you, Annette! You *are* wonderful! :)
Many thanks go to the readers who commented on the story when we posted it to the boards and list. Your feedback filled us with joy and enthusiasm to keep writing. :) Thanks also to Jeanne Pare, who edited this fanfic for the Archive.
Wendy and Kaethel :)
~ Silence in the Heart ~
A Birthday Story for Annette
By Wendy Richards and Kaethel
*I never knew love could be a silence in the heart
A moment when the time is still
And all I've been looking for is right here in my heart
Just waiting for the chance to begin*
*I never knew love could be the sunlight in your eyes
On a day that you may not have seen
And all I've been searching for, well, words could never say
When a touch is more than anything*
—From 'Here Is Your Paradise'; Chris de Burgh 1994
Lois's breathing gradually returned to normal, and she became aware of her surroundings again. She was lying on the floor of Clark's apartment — well, almost on the floor. In fact, Clark was between her and the floor. A couple of decorative cushions lay nearby.
She was lying sprawled on his chest, his arms clamped around her to steady her. Underneath her, she could feel the rise and fall of his ribcage, expanding and contracting with his own breathing — it was steady now, too.
In the background, the movie they'd been watching and had got bored with still played. On the coffee-table were scattered the remnants of the Chinese takeout Clark had brought, reminding her that one of these days she had to ask him where the restaurant was. The food was always fantastic.
It had been one of those evenings they hadn't had in a while, due in part to the fact that they'd both been putting in a lot of overtime, but also due to her own stupidity over Clark's Kerth nomination and her subsequent petulance. Spending evenings at Clark's place vegetating over a movie and takeout had helped to restore her sanity and sense of self-worth after the disaster of her almost- wedding to the man who was now the most notorious criminal since Al Capone.
These relaxing, fun evenings with her best friend were an oasis of calm and sanity in a world which sometimes seemed to have become inhospitable — a world in which, even after a couple of months, Lois occasionally felt was still judging her for her idiocy. She loved spending evenings with Clark at his place; his apartment was so comfortable and *homey* in a way that hers wasn't. There were frequently evenings, too, when she just didn't feel like going home at the end of them — and when she knew that if she even hinted it to Clark, he'd offer her his bed in a heartbeat, sleeping on the sofa himself.
Now, Lois raised her head and looked down at her partner, noticing the slightly askew glasses and the faintly stunned expression on his face. "What happened?" she asked, half- laughing.
"You tell me!" he exclaimed, grinning and shaking his head. He made no attempt to move. "I'm not the one who suddenly decided to prove that you're ticklish!"
Yeah, it all came back to her now. "Well, you claimed that you're not! And *no-one's* not ticklish at least somewhere!"
"Yeah, and you found my weak spot," he reminded her. She had; on his side, just where his ribcage ended and gave way to his waist, just above his hip-bone. He'd collapsed very satisfyingly against the back of the sofa, begging for mercy, when she'd finally discovered it.
Lois Lane didn't believe in being merciful.
And that had led to, of all things, a pillow-fight. Grabbing one of the loose, decorative cushions from the sofa, Clark had started to pound her with it. Not prepared to remain defenceless, Lois had seized the other cushion and had fought back. She couldn't remember when they'd rolled off the sofa onto the floor, but she knew that the fight hadn't let up. Lying flat on the floor, they'd continued hitting each other with the cushions until, out of breath and laughing so hard she couldn't see to attack any more, Lois had collapsed on Clark's chest.
Which was where she was now.
And, all things considered, it wasn't that bad a place to be, she thought with a smile.
Clark's chest was broad and muscular; she'd always known that, right from the moment she'd seen him dressed in nothing but a towel a couple of days after she'd met him. She'd been held and hugged against that chest any number of times, more than enough to confirm her first impression that there wasn't an ounce of spare flesh there. What there was, very obviously, was plenty of bone and solid muscle.
Without thinking, she shifted slightly and began to explore his chest with her fingers, feeling his muscle tone through the thin T-shirt he wore. His body felt warm and reassuringly firm under her hand, and she yielded to the temptation to investigate further.
He almost seemed to quiver under her touch. She stroked and outlined the contours of his chest and pecs, moving down to his abdomen and feeling the well-defined six-pack she was sure must take hours in the gym to maintain. Again, his body seemed to shudder slightly as she did so.
Then his hand came up to cover hers, his touch light. "You know," he murmured, amusement as well as something else she couldn't define in his voice, "not that I'm objecting in the slightest, but if it was me doing that to you, I'd feel the benefit of your martial arts training with your knee in a painful place. Wouldn't I?"
Would he? Well, of course he would…
Lois halted her caresses as the implication of Clark's point sank in. He was *exactly* right. If he'd presumed to touch her the way she was currently touching him… he'd be on his way to the ER right now.
She was taking liberties which she had no right to take.
And yet, she considered, biting her lip, Clark had made it clear that he wasn't objecting to what she was doing.
He liked it.
Just as she would like it if…
She'd *like* it if he touched her like that, Lois admitted slowly and with a sense of shock. She would enjoy having Clark stroke her, trailing his fingers lightly over her chest and stomach and all the areas in between. She knew her best friend. He wouldn't grab or squeeze as a lot of men would. He'd touch her gently, caressingly, anxious not to hurt her or seem to presume. He'd want to give pleasure as well as take it…
He was her best friend. The one thing Clark would never to do her was hurt her. Nor would he try to take advantage.
And the thought of being touched by him, of enjoying just a tiny degree of intimacy with her best friend, appealed a whole lot right now.
She'd never really enjoyed being touched or kissed by Lex. And that had put her off the idea of being in any way intimate with a man. She should have known just from her own reaction to him, her lack of desire to go to bed with him, that Lex wasn't the man for her. It had been obvious that she wasn't really attracted to him, let alone in love with him.
Clark, now… She did find Clark attractive. And they did have a very touchy-feely relationship in many respects. He hugged her frequently, and held her to comfort her when she needed it. He often rested his hand on her shoulder in the newsroom and he sometimes looped his arm around her shoulders when they were walking. He'd catch her arm to get her attention. She tended to pat him on the chest to reinforce a point, and she would slide her arm through his sometimes when they walked. She'd willingly thrown herself into his arms many times, and always found a welcoming haven. They usually touched each other at least a dozen times a day.
She loved being touched by Clark. And she wanted more… She wanted to feel his sensitive fingers tracing the curves and angles of her body, caressing her and making her feel good — making her feel admired.
"Clark… if you want to reciprocate, I can promise that my knee will stay well away from any vulnerable spots," she said quickly, teasingly, before she could change her mind.
She knew she'd stepped over an invisible line as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Clark's playful smile disappeared, and his body tensed beneath hers. The hand resting lightly over hers gripped her fingers and held them for a moment. She swallowed, afraid to meet his eyes.
She was tempted to take back her careless words, or at least apologise and get to her feet. She could be on her way home within seconds, and knowing Clark, he would act as if the embarrassing moment had never happened; he seemed to have a sixth sense for the topics that made her feel skittish, and whenever she showed him a glimpse of herself that she didn't feel entirely at ease with, he did everything he could to keep her from being awkward around him.
It was the way he had acted after she had revealed the gist of her humiliating experience with Claude, or after he had figured out that she didn't have a perfect relationship with her father, or… or after the Lex disaster.
And tonight again, if she decided that she had let things go too far, she could go home now and be sure that Clark would never mention the moment again. Even if — she was certain of it — he would live with regrets and wonder what would have happened if he had acted upon her request without stopping to wonder if she really meant it.
She finally let herself look at his face. He looked pale, but the longing in his eyes was unmistakable. And she knew she should be scared, but she couldn't shake off the feeling of safety that overcame her whenever she was near this man. She knew that, as long as he held her close, nothing could hurt her.
In fact, she felt even more secure with Clark than with Superman, she realised with a start. Like Superman, Clark was strong and caring. But unlike Superman, he knew her like no-one had ever known her; he had seen her at her worst and he was still around, as if nothing about her could put him off.
But he was lying still, waiting for… something. Waiting for her to scramble to her feet and run out the door, no doubt. She glanced at her small hand, gripped in his large one, and smiled her encouragement. She knew that her smile was shaky, that her hands were cold with fear and her muscles tense with anticipation, but Clark would understand. He always knew her what she thought, no matter how deeply she concealed her feelings.
At last, his hand left hers and encircled the back of her neck, pulling her to him. For an awkward second, she thought he was going to kiss her, and something in her resisted against the finality of the gesture. If he kissed her, their friendship would be altered forever. Even Clark wouldn't be able to pretend that it hadn't happened; she would never be able to look him in the eye again, let alone think of him as her best friend.
She would probably never know if his move had been meant for a kiss; he buried her head against the side of his neck and wrapped his arms around her, enveloping her in a hug where she immediately relaxed. They hadn't done that in a while, she remembered absently as he lightly rubbed her back. Actually, she thought with a chuckle, they had never hugged *on the floor* before. It was a new and rather pleasant experience, she decided.
She breathed in the faint fragrance of his aftershave and snuggled closer to him. Her fingers, idle until now, started to play with the hair at the back of his neck, and she couldn't hold back a giggle when he squirmed.
"New ticklish spot?" she breathed close to his ear, then pulled away to grin down at him.
The expression on his face stopped short all thought of teasing him. There was no trace of the playful partner she had spent the evening with; her best friend and the safety of her relationship with him had disappeared completely, as if they had been an illusion all along. The boundaries she had spent so much time building between them had been torn apart with one look, just one look from Clark.
This time, there was no resistance on her part when he pulled her to his mouth.
All his life. He had been waiting for this moment all his life, and it was finally happening, Clark realised fuzzily as Lois kissed him back with more enthusiasm than he had ever hoped for. When temptation had run deeper than reason and made him kiss her, he had known that he was about to crush the trust that she had in him. She had always made it clear that there could be nothing more than friendship between them, and he had accepted that. Sort of. Or at least, he answered his guilty conscience, he had tried to understand. He was happy with Lois's friendship. After he had come so close to losing her altogether, he wasn't about to endanger their relationship by acting on a whim…
But that was exactly what he was doing right now.
He didn't really know how they had ended up in this position in the first place. Or rather, he knew it too well. As usual, a stupid bet had done the trick to make Lois feel challenged; she wouldn't leave him alone until she'd found one ticklish spot on him, and it had taken all his willpower and concentration skills to hide his primal reaction to her touch.
But when she had pursued him to the floor where he had taken refuge, and collapsed onto him, breathless and flushed, something had shifted between them. At first, he had thought it was only his hormones talking, and he had admonished the unwelcome feeling to go away. Her slow exploration of his chest had promptly brought it back, though. Only a joking comment about the way she would react if their situations were reversed had stopped the torturing caress of her hands.
Her answer had taken him aback; surely he had misunderstood. She couldn't be saying that… she couldn't be *inviting* him to… no. She couldn't, period. This interpretation had confirmed itself when he had tugged her down to him for a hug. There had been something about her that spoke of fear, and he had known, instinctively, that he was walking a tightrope again.
With no security net underneath to catch him if he made a faux pas.
He should have expected that she would push him over the edge. He didn't know what she had whispered in his ear, and frankly, he didn't care. All he remembered was that her lips had brushed against his skin, and it was more than he could take. He hadn't felt able to conceal his reaction this time, and her lack of obvious disgust towards the desire clearly displayed on his face had been all he needed to push his luck and act upon his wildest fantasy.
And now… now he was kissing her. And she was kissing him. And it was the most exhilarating sensation he had ever experienced.
She could have pulled away whenever she wanted. He wasn't keeping her in a tight hold, and she was the one trapping his body beneath hers. Instead, she was pressing every delicious inch of her curves against him, and her hands were exploring his shoulders, his arms, his chest… everywhere she could reach without breaking off their kiss.
He let himself relax at last, and his hands, lying still at her waist until now, slid up the sides of her ribcage. The whimper that escaped her mouth in response to the gesture was all the encouragement he needed, and he began a gentle exploration of her body. His fingers kneaded at her shoulder blades, brushed the skin of her neck at the collar of her blouse, then trailed down her back, feeling every nerve ending jolt into life.
He loved Lois Lane. And, since she was kissing him like this, with such delightful abandon, didn't that mean that she loved him too? Or at least that she had feelings for him?
She certainly wanted him. The invitation in her words earlier, even if she had got cold feet briefly, and the way she'd looked back at him just before he'd claimed her mouth, assured him that she'd gone into this with her eyes open.
Her hands had been framing his face, but now one slid down, burrowing under his arms to slide between their bodies. She resumed her earlier caress of his chest, but then began to pull insistently at his T-shirt, trying to yank the hem out of his jeans.
Not wanting it to get torn — well, actually, he realised he didn't care whether the T-shirt got torn, and since he wasn't wearing his Suit under his clothes, he didn't have anything to worry about, but he wanted to make things easier for her — he used one hand to lift her slightly, then pulled the T-shirt up his chest, letting it bunch just below his shoulders.
Immediately, Lois's fingers were caressing his chest. And then, before he'd even realised what she was doing, she'd slid down his body and was starting to cover his chest with wet kisses. He couldn't quite manage to stifle the groan which emerged from his throat.
Lois raised her head just a little, giving him a clear view of bright, happy eyes and moist lips. "You like that?"
"Yeah," he growled. "Are you kidding?"
"Good." She grinned at him before resuming her activity.
Clark desperately wanted just to be able to lie back and enjoy what she was doing to him. To focus only on the pleasure her kisses and caresses were giving him. To delight in her uninhibited affection, and to find out just how far she was prepared to go. Would he get the opportunity to touch her some more? Perhaps without the barrier of some of her clothing, as she was now doing with him?
All that was so incredibly tempting… but one thing was stopping him.
This was *Lois*. His best friend. She wasn't only the woman he loved with all his being; she was a woman who, he knew, didn't behave like this with men as a rule. Lois didn't sleep around; he knew something of her sexual history, and he knew that she'd been hurt badly. She'd also made a very unwise decision not that long ago, to get involved with a man had who turned out to be a criminal. It was only understandable that she was now very cautious about relationships.
Lois was *not* the kind of person to lose control and stumble into intimacy. He was pretty sure that she'd agonise for some time about whether or not to get involved with a man, and that decision would only be made after she'd considered all the pros and cons. Casual sex, or even 'buddy sex', was not for her.
She didn't give her trust easily either, and yet he had it. That was a major responsibility for him.
Did she know what she was doing here?
<She's an adult. She knows what she's doing, and she's old enough to take responsibility for her actions anyway> his inner voice argued. But Clark dismissed that argument; he couldn't abdicate his own obligations here, or his concern for Lois.
Was she somehow relying on him not to take it too far, because she trusted him? Or had she lost track of reality, and was it therefore his responsibility to stop things before they went any further?
Would she hate him if he didn't? Would she hate him anyway because things had gone this far?
Her friendship mattered more to Clark than anything. If he stopped her now, they could retrieve that. Unless, of course, Lois was so embarrassed by what they'd already been doing that she decided she could never speak to him again…
"Lois?" he said cautiously, lifting his head a few inches from its position on the floor.
"Yes?" She raised her head again and looked at him.
"Are you… I mean, do you know what you're doing?" he asked hesitantly.
She stared at him. "Of course I know what I'm doing! I'm…" She paused, then looked around her, and down at him. "I'm… lying on top of you, and kissing your bare chest," she said in a high-pitched, clearly incredulous tone. "Clark, what happened?"
As he'd thought. She really hadn't intended this, and she hadn't been in possession of her full senses. As disappointment flooded through him, Clark told himself that he should be grateful that he'd found out now that she didn't want what they'd been doing. Things could have gone further… Well, not that he'd have allowed it to go as far as… well, *that*, but things could still have gone further.
"Uhh… well, you were tickling me, remember?" he pointed out, unable to stop himself getting just a tiny bit defensive.
"Oh! Right!" Now Lois sounded embarrassed.
Clark really wanted to get up off the floor. Well, more specifically, he wanted Lois to remove herself from on top of him — it was reminding him too much of what they *had* been doing until only a minute ago. And he wanted to be able to pull his T-shirt back down; now, he felt exposed, whereas before he'd been loving every second of her caress.
But, since Lois *was* still on top of him, he felt unable to do anything other than lie there until she got up. He wasn't going to hurt her, or embarrass her, by moving her off him.
She scrambled awkwardly to her feet, standing with her back to Clark. And, as he got up off the floor as well, tugging his T-shirt down at the same time, somehow he knew that this was going to be a pivotal moment for their friendship.
She was going to leave. He knew that without even looking at her face; without hearing her say a word. She'd mutter something about it being late and she'd walk straight out of the door. And in the morning, at work, she'd avoid him. She wouldn't look him in the eye, and she certainly wouldn't drag him off to lunch, as they'd been doing a lot with each other lately. And there'd be no more evenings at his apartment with takeout and a video.
If he let her go now, he'd be letting go of the best friendship he'd ever had. And he'd be kissing goodbye to any hope of a closer relationship with the woman he loved more than anything else in the world.
He had to persuade her to stay. But, with Lois, he couldn't do it the obvious way. He couldn't laugh and say that they clearly needed to talk. He couldn't just walk up to her and put his arm around her shoulders in an affectionate hug. If he did, she'd run.
So, as if there was nothing wrong at all, he strolled carelessly in the direction of the kitchen. "Coffee?" he suggested lightly. "I'll clear up that debris so we can sit down — and hey, it's time for that news and analysis show you like, isn't it?"
"Uh… actually, I think I need to be go -" Lois began.
Clark moved to the centre of the living area of the apartment, looking at her but not directly at her face. "Don't, Lois. Stay and have coffee with me. Otherwise I'll think you hate me," he said softly, investing his words with all the love he felt for her as his friend.
He wasn't asking much, was he?
Stay. She could stay. And sit and talk with her best friend just as she was used to doing on a regular basis, even if it had been some time since they had spent an evening together.
Except… he wasn't her best friend any more. Well, he was her best friend, but not just that. In truth, she didn't know what he was to her. A few minutes ago, he had been the one person she trusted most, the one person she turned to when she needed to sort out a personal problem or simply wanted to talk.
And now, he *was* the problem. The bare chest she'd smothered with kisses a few seconds earlier, the lips that had sought and merged with hers over and over, the hands that had stroked her back and held her so tightly, belonged to *him*.
A fierce blush rose to her cheeks, and she turned towards the door again. She had to get out of here, breathe in the fresh air and pretend that it had all been a dream, that she would wake up with a smile on her face and a memory of a pleasant but still unsettling fantasy.
She stopped an inch short of the door. Clark had said he was afraid she hated him. Didn't she owe him the reassurance that it wasn't so? That it was herself she hated for throwing herself at his body so shamelessly?
Part of her wished he would walk up to her, grasp her arm and force her to turn to him. She wouldn't be able to resist his touch. But she knew it wouldn't happen. Clark was too much the gentleman to initiate physical contact now.
Resolutely, she pivoted on her heels and faced him.
He was still looking at the floor. His hands were joined, his fingers fiddling. He looked even more awkward than she felt. His nervous attitude fuelled her with courage she didn't know she possessed, and she took a careful step towards him.
His head shot up sharply, and his astonished gaze betrayed his surprise.
"Coffee it is, then," she added in a feeble attempt to ease the tension between them.
She watched him as he set about the task, looking as if there was nothing on his mind but the balance between water and coffee to make the beverage. If she could steer them to normal activities, they might be able to talk about the sharp turn in their relationship in a more rational way. Because she couldn't deny that tonight had marked a change between them; nothing was simple any more. And if they couldn't sort out the mess they were entangled in, their friendship would no doubt evaporate too easily.
She'd almost let it slip out of her reach once, and living with the fear that she had lost Clark forever had been more than she could bear. It was probably what had influenced her the most when the time had come to say "I do" to Lex. She'd back-pedalled because the idea of life without Clark was unconceivable.
And now, she was on the edge of another cliff. What had taken place on the floor of his living room couldn't be changed or erased from their memories. She knew that, if she asked, Clark would pretend he had forgotten all about it; but he wouldn't fool her, and even if he could, there was no way she wouldn't be reliving the moment in her mind for the next sixty years or so. And Clark would always wonder if she hated him. It was no surprise to her that he thought he would carry the blame alone; Clark had always been so different from the other men in her life. Paul, Claude or Lex would never have stopped things like Clark did — in fact, Claude had pushed her beyond the limits she had set for their relationship, throwing in some emotional blackmail in the bargain. Clark had done nothing of the kind: not only had he asked her if she was completely aware of what she was doing, but he was also ready to carry the full responsibility of what had almost happened between them. And he meant it, she knew that without any doubt.
"I was a willing participant, you know?" she said before she could think of the consequences.
Clark froze in mid-spoon.
Seizing what little courage she had left, she walked the few steps to the kitchen area and stood next to the counter, close enough to feel the physical appeal of her best friend's strong body, but at a safe enough distance to resist it. "What I mean is that I don't expect you to feel at fault for what happened. Actually, I think I touched you first."
There was a mumble, a growl, a heavenward roll of his eyes, and he set the spoon onto the counter. He turned towards her, cafetiere and mugs obviously forgotten. "I don't think it matters much, Lois. Who touched who first, that is."
The words hung between them, heavy silence enveloping them. For the first time since she had scrambled to her feet and straightened her clothes, their eyes met. The air was charged with what felt like unconsummated passion, and Lois longed to close the distance between them and taste his lips again.
"Or kissed," he agreed at last.
She took a shy step towards him, and he turned to her. Her heartrate shot up as she realised their bodies were almost touching. She had never been as aware of his physical presence as she was now, and the sensation was both frightening and exhilarating. His hand was resting on the counter, an inch shy of her fingertips. His face was bent towards hers. His eyes were a trap into which she fell only too willingly.
She rose on her tiptoes and touched her mouth to his. Her eyes closed; as lips continued to stroke at a leisurely pace, sighs merged and hands joined. But their common awareness that nothing was resolved forced them apart too quickly, and she pulled away, her look of regret matched his.
"Whatever it is, we will work it out."
He knew what she needed to hear, of course, but he couldn't convince her that he believed in the words he spoke. After all, this was Clark, her best friend; he would always try to make her feel comfortable. He wouldn't want to let her think that he thought she'd made a fool of herself, even when she had.
Okay, he'd kissed her back just now. But was that because he really wanted to? Or because he hadn't wanted to reject her?
Grimacing, pain striking her heart, she stepped back, began to move away from him. But just as she took a step, Clark took her hands and drew her back to him again.
"Lois," he said softly, his mouth close — oh, so close — to hers. "Lois, you didn't -" He kissed her. " — do anything — " Another kiss. "- I haven't dreamed about you doing -" A longer, more lingering kiss. "- for as long as I've known you."
He meant it. Every word. Lois knew it, even as she allowed his kisses to drive her to a sensual heaven. Every touch of his lips against hers, every caress of his hands as he held her close to him, every soft murmur of his voice as he loved her with his words.
He loved her.
And suddenly, she knew that that was the truth. Clark loved her. He'd probably always loved her, despite his denial that day months ago. He didn't just love her as a friend; he wanted more, just as she knew that she did.
At this moment, they were standing on the threshold, on that little area of no-man's land between friendship and more. Being in love. Being lovers.
She could step back and things would go back to normal. They would revert to being friends, and she knew that Clark would never again refer to what had happened tonight. Even though she knew that she'd never forget it… And she was already in love with him. It was too late to pretend that she wasn't; she had to be honest with herself over that. But still — they could still go back, couldn't they? Retreat into the safety of being best friends?
Or she could take the terrifying leap forward into uncertainty, into what was certainly dangerous territory. She'd be safe with Clark, she knew that; he'd never hurt her. Not the way she'd been hurt in the past. But she could still be hurt by this change in their relationship. If something changed; if it didn't work out…
And yet, if she didn't try, she'd never know. And, suddenly, she wanted very badly to know…
"Clark," she managed to say at last; the words came out in a strangled voice. "Clark, I… I wanted you to touch me. Did you know that?"
His hands on her waist tightened again momentarily. "I… I thought you might. I hoped you did — but I didn't want to take the chance in case you'd have second thoughts and take fright."
Once again, he'd subordinated his own needs to her wishes. If that didn't show her just how much Clark loved her…
Lois took a deep breath. This was it: if she went even one half-step further, she'd be at the point of no return.
She took the step. "I'm not going to have second thoughts, Clark."
Clark caught his breath and stared at her, barely able to believe her words. Did she really mean it? She *wanted* him to touch her? To kiss her?
She'd really wanted him to do it at the time; he'd sensed that. But he'd been sure that it was just the intimacy of the moment, that she'd been carried away — no more than that. Perhaps he'd assumed that it had been a desire to experiment on Lois's part, to fool around just a little with someone she considered 'safe' — her best friend, whom she could trust not to hurt her, not to take advantage.
Was she still thinking that?
What if this all had to do with the fact that she was still feeling very vulnerable where men and romance were concerned — as he knew very well — and that she just felt very comfortable around him? What if she didn't remotely feel about him the way he did about her?
"Lois," he said shakily, almost afraid to voice his fears in case she guessed at his real feelings for her and rejected him again. "I want to touch you. I want to kiss you — you have to know that. And you have to know that kissing is good between us. But… if this is just a game — if all you want is to play at kissing and cuddling while you get used to being close to a man again, you have to tell me. I… I don't mind, if that's what you do want. But at least if I know, I won't get hurt…"
She halted her movement, her hand, which had been reaching for his face, poised in mid-air. "Clark, is that really what you think?"
"I don't know what to think," he confessed. "I meant it — I've been dreaming about something like this for a long time, Lois. You and me, I mean. But do you want it too, or are you just… well, looking for someone safe to play at being involved with — I have to know, Lois."
"Clark." Her voice was soft. "You sound just as bad as me — what a pair we are! Both scared of taking that final step!"
"Final step?" he queried.
"This step." She raised her hand again, caressing his cheek gently. "The step which says that we're not just friends any more. The step which says… we might be falling in love."
Clark's breath caught at her words. He covered her hand with his own, then bent his head to capture her lips again. "No 'might' about it where I'm concerned, Lois," he admitted after a long moment.
"No?" Her expression was hopeful, nervous, as she looked up at him.
"I've been in love with you for so long that I can't even remember a time when I wasn't," he confessed.
"Oh, Clark! I've been so blind!"
"Just a little distracted," he amended. "But that doesn't matter. What matters is what's between us here and now, and what we want to do about it."
"I know that I love you," she told him softly. "I think I've loved you for ages too, but I wouldn't let myself admit it. I finally had to admit it just now, when you wouldn't let me walk away from you. But all I had to do was listen to my heart — it showed me the way I really feel about you."
Clark hugged her to him, loving the sensation of her slim body against his and knowing that he didn't have to pretend any more that all he felt for her was friendship. "I'm glad you heard what it was telling you," he teased lightly.
"I don't think I'm often quiet enough to listen," Lois said wryly. "But, Clark, I do love you. And… I am scared. But I trust you enough to know you won't hurt me deliberately. So I want to give it a try."
"That's all I'm asking — that we try," he agreed. "And, Lois, I swear to you that I'll do all in my power never to hurt you. I can't swear that I'll always succeed, but that's one of the risks when you love someone. I can promise that if I ever do hurt you, it'll hurt me far more." He stroked her hair, running his fingers through the dark strands. "I'll always love you. That I can promise. The rest, we can work out together, if you'll let us."
And that included a confession he needed to make, Clark reminded himself. But now wasn't the time for that; there'd already been enough shifts in their relationship for one evening. But he did intend to tell her, as soon as possible. The very next day, he thought: dinner at his apartment and an explanation. She might be angry — well, knowing Lois, she would be angry. But he could deal with it, in the knowledge that she also loved him.
As he loved her.
Lois shifted then, reaching up to kiss him; he returned her kisses with equal fervour. Then she pulled back, eyes bright, and looked at him quizzically.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Seems like there are more comfortable places we could be doing this. Places not in the middle of your kitchen, with lots of counters and furniture to bump into," she pointed out.
"You want to go back to the living room? Make out on the couch?" Clark wasn't at all averse to that idea.
"We could. Or…" she trailed off, a teasing note in her voice.
"Well, I do kind of remember being very comfortable with you on the floor about a half-hour ago…" Lois suggested, giving him a wink.
"Your wish is my command, partner." And with that, Clark swept her up and into his arms, striding back to the living room. Laying her gently on the floor, he came down to join her.
"Still ticklish?" she enquired, her tone sultry.
Clark grinned. "I don't know. Maybe you need to find out…"
And she did.
Within minutes, their screams and giggles died away, to be replaced by the sound of soft kissing, interspersed with murmurs of "I love you."
A long time later, Lois stirred and said quietly, "I never knew."
"That love could be like this. I mean… peaceful and loving and… well, safe. And *real*. Like nothing can happen to me as long as I'm in your arms. Like I never, ever want to move ever again." It wasn't like anything she'd ever known before. With Claude, it had all been hero- worship and desperate — in the end unfulfilled — passion. With Lex, it had been all about appearances. She'd never actually felt she'd got to know the real person. And with Superman… well, that was definitely infatuation with someone way out of her reach; she didn't know the real man under the costume at all.
With Clark, it felt real.
Clark laughed softly, his arms tightening around her. "That's exactly how I've always imagined love should be. Well, okay, it's also about fun and intimacy and passion, but it's just being with the person you love most in the world and not wanting or needing to be with anyone else."
Lois snuggled closer, taking advantage of the pillow offered by his broad chest. "That's what I was always looking for, only I never knew it. You were there all the time, Clark — there in my heart, just waiting for me to see it, to give you a chance."
"As you were always there in my heart," he murmured, and she could feel the vibrations of his chest as he spoke. "C'mere," he added. "Just lie here for a while and listen, okay?"
"What am I supposed to be listening to?" Lois asked, impatience tinged with amusement.
"The silence," he answered in a low whisper. "The sound of our hearts. The stillness. The sense of peace — the love."
She wrapped her arms around him and listened. And she heard it.
The sound of their hearts beating, in tune with each other. The silence; the silent message her heart was sending her, telling her that it had found its mate. That she had found her soul's mate.
Love was there in that silence. Just as it was there in every touch, every caress, every exchange of glances. She'd listened to her heart, and she'd found what she hadn't even realised she'd been looking for.
Peace. Understanding. And a very rare, very special kind of love.
A love she never intended to let go.