By Sara <email@example.com>
Submitted: April, 2004
Summary: In this rewrite of the episode "Barbarians at the Planet," Clark finds himself agonizing over the thought of losing Lois to Lex. But is he the only one agonizing over the situation?
This fic, as you may have noticed, is a birthday present for Kaethel, my oldest friend in FoLCdom, and one of the dearest, as a thank-you for everything she's done for me in the past almost-year, and for being such a terrific, sweet cheerleader in general :)) It's all her fault that… ehm, I mean, it's all thanks to her that I'm even here, writing, reading, bopping around the fandom, throwing shamrocks on #loisclark, *everything*, and she's helped me and encouraged me and laughed at me so many times during the past almost-year… she's done more than I can ever say in words. I hope you enjoy this, Kae.
Anybody who doesn't like BaTP, turn back *now* <g>. The title is taken from a song she claims to love *almost* as much as I do — Never Gonna Leave Your Side, by Daniel Bedingfield, which I listened to over and over and over and over again while writing this :) For anybody who hasn't heard it I would *strongly* recommend it!
Much thank-you's to Sas, my nagging, thwapping, encouraging BR, for her usual hysterically funny, blush-inspiring, very useful comments, and to various FoLCs on IRC who made impatient noises when I very stupidly pasted a snippet in the wrong window <g>. I would especially cite RetroRose, Roger and mytilene here for nagging so hard and being so reassuring ;). Finally, A Special Honourable Mention to Wendy, who gave me permission to use her fantastic story 'Don't Say You Love Me' [also a one-time birthday present for you-know-who <g>] for inspiration when I was hopelessly stuck. For those who were wondering, the fist-through- wall idea [you'll see soon enough!] is all hers, along with the basic idea of a midnight visitor, so many thanks for letting me unleash my Muse, Wendy!! :)
Have a WONDERFUL birthday, Kae!!!!!!!!
*I gotta have a reason to wake up in the morning,
You used to be the one that put a smile on my face,
There are no words that can describe how I miss you,
And I miss you every day.*
*I'm never gonna leave your side,
I'm never gonna leave your side again,
Still holding on, girl, I won't let you go,
'Cause when I'm lying in your arms I know I'm home…*
The moon was full that night, the gently waving curtains making its beam unsteady, and it flickered in through the window easily, bathing the apartment in a silver luminosity that only served to darken the soul of the man sitting at the kitchen counter. Setting his glass of buttermilk down, he let his hand ripple through the beams of light, finally pulling back into the darkness and scowling heavily. That scene — light against darkness, radiance against evilness, hope against despair — was too painful for him to bear just then.
Clark Kent had a burden to carry. It was a wicked, heavy thing, weighing heavily on both his mind and his body as only a bad conscience could…
And it was definitely not aiding his sleep.
He groaned and thrust his hands through his hair, wincing at the harsh sound of wood against wood as he swung his chair back. He suddenly felt claustrophobic, the spacious apartment choking him, the walls seeming to collapse inwards, burying him under a pile of dust and decay and…
It was a cruel thing, that moon. It had taunted him, tortured him, reminded him of what he was fighting. Now it snuck teasingly over to his table, creeping stealthily onto the picture frames, reflecting off the cool glass, echoing against her face…
He was a fool. A poor, yearning, senseless fool. He was drawn to that table; drawn to it like a moth to a flame, as helpless as a newborn baby in the face of her beauty.
He picked the picture up with a deep sigh, gazing at her features once again, allowing himself to sink into the enigma that was Lois Lane. Her face shone out at him like a beacon, the lone lighthouse in an angry sea. He touched the glass, wishing everybody would always see her as she appeared in that photograph. Her playful side apparent, she was sitting next to him, her arms tight around his neck, her nose crinkled up as she grinned manically. Her tongue was sticking out, and his eyes were crossed behind his glasses, his arms tight around her waist and a goofy smile fixed on his face.
He remembered… his apartment. He had just bought his camera, and had been eager to test it out — after a few shots he had grabbed it off her, demanding his turn. Pure silliness had ensued — he had at least five each of he and she, in different poses, but after a few minutes, she had demanded that he test the self-timer. He had agreed, and when she sat on the couch, grabbing his hand and pulling him beside her, it had been the most natural thing in the world to slide his arms around her waist as hers settled comfortably around his neck, fit his head against hers and smile in time for the camera to capture them…
He shook his head. Friends. Just friends. They had been so happy…
Swallowing a lump that had suddenly materialised in his throat, he dropped the frame with an abrupt clatter, swiping at his eyes fiercely as the tears stung at them.
Hot tears. Painful tears. Tears that signalled that his heart was breaking. Tears that stabbed and defamed, pricking and pinching the very core of his being until…
God, he hated himself. More to the point, he hated *her* — hated her for everything she'd said, everything she'd done, every single thought and impulse and dream and word that made him love her. He *hated* her for making him love her. It was the cruellest thing she had ever done to him, just being there.
If she had never existed, he wouldn't be going through hell right now.
If she ceased to exist, he would go through hell for the rest of his life.
And if she stayed where she was, in that unforgivable limbo, part of his life and yet not part of it at all, he would gladly trade his world for hell.
He groaned out loud, a tortured sound, and plunged his fingers through his hair once more, wishing for solace, for peace, for…
Sleep… where endless images of her danced behind his eyeballs, when she came to him with silken whispers and impossible promises, when he held her tight against his body and plundered her mouth with his hungry lips, when she gasped his name and clutched his hair and told him she loved him…
…when he woke up in a sweaty haze, the blankets twisted in a cruel tangle around his lower limbs, half-delirious with the thought of her, the taste of her, until the cool night air revived him into a state of semi-consciousness and he remembered who he was — where he was.
Clark Kent. Superman. In his apartment. Alone in his apartment at some ungodly hour.
Alone. Always alone.
A stifled grunt, and the next instant, his fist smashed into the nearest unmovable object: the wall. He stumbled and nearly fell as his arm went straight through the brick and he suddenly had a window where there wasn't one before, a peephole through to his bedroom from the living room.
He stared at it glumly, sighing heavily. Another job in the morning. Another mindless task to fill his day with.
Idiot. He was an *idiot*. What good did that do? What did it achieve?
<Nothing, Kent. Absolutely nothing. You still miss her just as much.>
He shook his head feverishly, growling, and padded into the kitchen. He didn't want to keep *obsessing* about her. Why couldn't she just leave him alone? Why was she constantly, *constantly* with him, until every thought and memory, every dream and wish, became somehow connected with her?
<*Forget* her. You don't need her! You've survived on your own for nearly thirty years without her, no Lois Lane in your life, just you…>
He swallowed as he filled his mug with water. That concept… that was just *crazy*. Inconceivable. He couldn't live without her…
<You'll forget how to *breathe* without her next, Kent!>
He'd already done that, hadn't he? His chest was forever tight, the air in his home stifling, filled to the brim with traces of her perfume, her essence… just *her*. It felt like there wasn't enough oxygen in the air for him anymore.
"I know," he mumbled through gritted teeth, unaware for a moment that he had spoken out loud. He focused on the mug in his hand for a moment, preparing to 'zap' it with a little heat vision, to boil the water…
He looked up sharply, breaking the line of warmth. His mouth a distinct straight line, he reached over and poured the water into the kettle instead.
Forget superpowers. He didn't *want* to be super. He didn't want to be a comic-book hero, a paper cutout. He just wanted to be ordinary, to be…
/If you had no powers at all, if you were just an ordinary…/
The mug in his hand shattered, and he blinked as shards of glass crashed to the floor. He raised his hand to his forehead in confusion, looking down at the mess… and swallowed a lump in his throat.
He *hated* being Superman. He hated having to watch everything he said, did, thought — even felt, in the Suit. He hated the way glass shattered in his bare hands, just because of some sort of unconscious desire to throttle something — some*one*.
He bent down, collecting each shard individually, squeezing them viciously between forefinger and thumb before he set them down on his counter to be collected later. Willing them to cut him. Willing himself to hurt — to *bleed*.
It was no good. His skin was as stubbornly Superman as ever. It was his heart that felt the pain — the splinters of glass flying straight and lodging there. He could nearly feel it throbbing, filling with blood almost painfully, crying out inside of him and trying to burst out of his chest.
Nature had granted him a body of steel. Sometimes he felt that he would gladly exchange that for a normal, everyday body, and an invulnerable heart.
It would sure make his life a heck of a lot easier.
She didn't even *know* what he was going through. She didn't even know, otherwise…
…otherwise she wouldn't have called last night.
/I miss you…/
The kettle sang, snapping him out of his reverie. He started, hurriedly grabbing another mug from the cupboard and making his tea, before he could will his over-powerful hands into causing any more damage.
He could move mountains. He could lift a rocket into orbit with his bare hands. He could bend steel without even thinking about it. Bullets bounced off his chest. Heat flashed out of his eyes. And the thing that had him punching holes in his wall and shattering innocent pieces of crockery?
Yeah, it was a girl.
The most beautiful, sexy, brilliant, pig-headed woman he'd ever known in his life.
He dropped his mug on the counter abruptly, her face suddenly all around him, everywhere he turned, a thousand different Lois's. Lois smiling. Lois laughing. Lois sitting at her desk, biting her pencil and frowning into her screen. Lois with that twinkle in her eyes as she delivered some scathing barb, meant to squash him flat. Seductive Lois, taking his arm and looking into his eyes so that he would do some sort of favour for her. Happy Lois. Angry Lois. Persistent Lois. Annoying Lois. Determined Lois. Sad Lois. Frightened Lois. Stubborn Lois. Caring Lois. Compassionate Lois. Loyal Lois. Beautiful Lois.
He didn't know how, he didn't know why, but somehow she had managed to turn him inside out and upside down, blinding and dizzying him, confusing him and making him feverish, high…
Drunk on love.
He was in love with Lois Lane. Completely. Eternally. Forever. Forever and ever and ever, so help him God.
He bit down on his lip, hard, sliding wearily onto the chair and resting his head in his hands. She didn't return his feelings. He knew that. She was just…
/Clark, you're talking about a man I trust and admire, who's always been completely truthful with me…/
Lex Luthor. His brow darkened, his jaw clenching as he thought of that name, that face -
- that *monster*.
He… *he* was her fiance. The man she had chosen to slide that ring on her finger, to match his soul to hers, to gather her close with tender promises, to…
…to make her his wife.
He was her choice. She had ignored all her friends, all the people who cared about her — who *loved* her — and she had… just… gone. She had run straight into the arms of the devil incarnate.
She had *ignored* him. Lois was stubborn, impatient, un-co-operative, but he had never thought she was hasty. He had never imagined that she could refuse to take a friend's advice so flatly, especially when she *knew* how deeply that friend cared for her, how much he loved her…
/I just don't feel that way about you…/
How could he switch back into being her friend, just like that? It wasn't possible. He'd told her he loved her. She'd rejected him. There was no going back. It was unfair; unfair of her to even think that things could be the way they had always been. After she dismissed him for Superman? Not a chance!
<She doesn't *know* you're Superman, Kent!>
No excuse. Absolutely no excuse. She shouldn't have thrown herself at one man and fallen straight into the clutches of another. It was simply wrong. No matter whether that other man was the evillest person on the face of the planet: it was wrong to make such a life-altering decision so quickly. It stank of uncertainty. It sure as heck wasn't going to do any good.
Besides, she didn't *belong* with Lex. Not with that sinister, grasping, evil criminal. He had tried to convince her, tried to make her see — she simply wouldn't listen.
She wouldn't listen to her best friend. The man who loved her. The man she loved… as a brother. The person she'd claim to trust more than any other.
Surely that, all on its own, should have told him that he wasn't going to find what he was looking for in Lois Lane?
He pulled a chair out from the table, sinking into it with a tortured groan. Resting his head in his folded arms, he closed his eyes and tried to stop thinking about her, just for one *second*.
<Oh, God. Lois.>
Lois Lane was cold. Kneading the warm, grey wool of the sweater in her hands, she blew out, raising her hand to knock again. It was one in the morning; this was no time to be standing around outside her partner's — *ex*partner's — door.
Suddenly, she froze, her traitorous hand falling limp at her side as she contemplated that last sentence. It was *one o clock* in the morning, and she was standing outside *Clark's* door…
…doing what, exactly?
She glanced down at the sweater in her suddenly clenched fist, pearly with moisture from the cool air. *That* had been her excuse? She was disturbing him at home to return a *sweater*? At one in the morning?
Was she *nuts*?
<Why are you *really* here?>
Because she hadn't been able to sleep, and because she had suddenly gotten the strangest urge to talk to him — to just *see* him. She did miss him, after all — he was her best friend, and his absence from her life for the last few weeks had smarted.
<You miss him?>
Yes. She did miss him. There wasn't anything wrong with that, was there?
<Why do you miss him so much? Surely you should be too snowed under with wedding plans and preoccupied with thoughts of your fiance — remember him? -that you wouldn't have *time* to miss him?>
Well, she wasn't made of stone, after all. She did miss him, miss his presence in her life, miss the light, teasing relationship that they had enjoyed. As for being snowed under; well, she'd never met a mess she couldn't handle. The wedding plans were going smoothly; in fact, the most difficult decision she'd had to make was whether cream or dove was a more appropriate shade for wedding invitations. Lex was being wonderful, of course, charming and captivating and…
He wouldn't be happy with this. He *definitely* wouldn't be happy with this.
Well, he didn't govern her life
did he? She was free to make her own decisions, choices — if that included a midnight visit to Clark Kent's apartment, so be it. It wasn't as if they were going to be doing any…
<Don't even go there, Lane.>
Go *where*? She wasn't going *anywhere*! She had simply thought an innocent, uncomp…
What was she doing, anyway, having a conversation with the voices in her head? She had knocked, hadn't she? Why wasn't he answering?
She raised her hand to knock again, but it wasn't necessary — the door was suddenly wrenched open and there he was, in all his glory, looking as if he hadn't slept in weeks, unshaven and bedraggled. He was also…
Lois gave herself a mental slap in the face. He wasn't *naked*, he was wearing a pair of black sleep shorts and…
She drew a sharp breath, her horrified gaze sweeping over a broad expanse of smooth, bronzed chest, defined so sharply that it appeared somebody had taken a chisel and carved it out of rock. Not a speck of fat dared show its greasy little face on Clark Kent's body, oh no! On the contrary, his skin was soft and looked very warm and inviting, should she think to press her lips to it…
She gulped gruffly and swung her petrified eyes up onto his face. If she'd thought his chest looked as if it were carved out of stone, it was nothing — absolutely nothing to the cold marble that froze his features then. His eyes glared hostilely out at her, and her own widened; Clark Kent, intimidating?
He looked at her for hours — or was it only a few seconds? — more, then shook his head.
"Go home, Lois," he bit out spitefully before moving his arm as if to swing the door closed in her face.
She moved quickly, placing one petite foot in the path of the disobedient door and glaring up at him with all the ferocity she could muster. "No," she said tightly. If he was going to play hardball, then she most certainly was not going to make it easier for him!
He gave less resistance than she'd initially thought, letting go of the door with a disgusted huff and melting into the dark backdrop of his apartment as quickly as he'd come. Puzzled, she followed, watching him disappear into his bedroom. Surely he wasn't going to…?
She was just about to follow him when he emerged, fresh in a pair of slacks, tugging a shirt over his head. Her heart gave a little involuntary kick and she was on the verge of protesting as she watched those toned, tanned abs disappear behind the smooth cotton.
The wistful moment of lust passed when he folded his arms and scowled menacingly across the room, his expression dark. She stared back, affronted, wondering what in the world she'd done to deserve such unreceptive behaviour.
"I have your sweater."
He gave a derisive snort. "Yeah, I noticed."
She stared at him, annoyed at his sarcasm. "Where do I leave it?"
He looked mulishly back, his mouth firm.
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Fine. Have it your way."
She strode over to where he was standing, making a neat left and heading straight for the bedroom. She was dimly aware of his presence behind her as she laid the garment down on his bed, but she still took her time. She wasn't in a hurry; besides, she wanted to talk to him, wanted to figure out why he was acting so abominably to her.
After a long, slow, sweep of the tidy room, she swivelled around on her heel, clasping both elbows with opposite hands, and tilted her head to one side.
"How've you been?"
He looked at her witheringly. "Terrific."
She nodded. "You look it."
He shook his head. "I was being sarcastic." He frightened her, talking like that — he sounded so lifeless.
"So was I." Maybe she shouldn't be taunting him, but she just couldn't help herself. He was behaving like a kindergartener! What was wrong with him? Why was he acting so… ignorantly?
"You done in here?" he asked bluntly. She was becoming more and more confused; this behaviour was completely out of character for him. Where was the sweet, caring, considerate man of three weeks ago? Where was her partner, her best friend? Where was… where was *Clark*? Where had he disappeared to? Why was he acting so… caustic? As if she had done some terrible, inconceivable wrongdoing…
<Like breaking his heart?>
Oh, of course. She snorted quietly to herself. The amorous declaration of love in the park, the heartfelt pleading, the noble curve of his jaw, the desperation in his eyes — phooey! He was *sulking*, that was it.
There was a question she was supposed to answer, wasn't there? Something to do with… oh, yeah.
He raked a hand through his hair. Far from anger, now he just looked tired, and she felt the edge of her resolve wearing slightly thin in spite of herself.
"You're not finished?"
Damn him. Damn him for standing there, looking so adorable, so tired, so *Clark*…
"No, I'm not finished." She cleared her throat expectantly and sat down on the edge of the bed. He looked at her with an expression akin to disbelief.
"Well, *what*?" he yelled, and she shrank back in a moment of fear at the untainted anger injected in his voice. The next minute, he was beside her, her hands in his, as he shook his head intently.
"No, no, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" he said hurriedly, squeezing her fingers. "Please — please don't ever be afraid of me. I'd never want to…"
His voice had softened now, and she felt a little surge of satisfaction at the tiny victory.
"I know," she assured him, looking into his face. He looked so endearing, standing there like that, a lock of hair falling onto his forehead, his eyes warm and tender, brown liquid orbs of light as they looked down on her…
…and then the moment was gone, and he was back to that stranger, that unpredictable, out of character Clark; the one that had yelled at her. He dropped her hands abruptly and retreated to a safer distance; leaning back against the nightstand, he regarded her warily.
"Why are you here, Lois?" His voice, though still harsher than she liked it, had lost a little of its bite. He was fraying like a piece of silk before her eyes, the edges separating from each other and waving gently in the breeze.
"I told you, I —"
"Nobody returns a sweater at one in the morning. Not even you. I just want the truth. Why are you here?"
"I just… I don't know. I wanted to see you, I guess." She was fumbling now, her good intentions quickly taking a backseat.
"At one in the morning?"
"I didn't think you'd mind." Her tone was offensive, the sentiment childish; she knew it, and she hated herself for it.
"No, of course not." His voice was bitter. "Good old Clark Kent. Everybody's friend."
She looked up sharply. He was looking away, tapping the varnished wood of the dresser with a hard finger. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap…
"Except I don't *want* to be your friend any more, Lois. Why can't you accept that? Do you have any idea how much you're hurting me right now? Do you have any idea how frustrating, how tedious, how… satirical it is that you're here right now? Do you even care?"
"Clark!!" She was genuinely shocked, that he could be that
downright rude and insulting!
He was hurting, he said. In pain, he said. Because of her, he said.
"I never wanted to hurt you, Clark. That wasn't my intention."
"Yeah, I know. You just wanted me to be your 'friend'." He rested his hands palm down on the bureau. "Nothing more." His voice was quiet, and he whispered the next more to himself than to her. "Never anything more."
"I'm… engaged, Clark," she said, her tone unforgiving. "I'm in… I'm happy. And I want you to share that happiness with me. I *want* my best friend back, Clark — you mean too much for me just to let you go!" A funny tone of voice to declare her affection for him in; chipped, to the point, but she simply *had* to get through to him. She had to beat the concept that she wanted his partnership back into his thick skull.
She paused for a moment, thinking hard.
"You want to know the real reason why I came here? Well, Clark, it's quite simple, really. I came back. I came back because I want *you* back. I want my best friend, I want my partner, and I want him to come to my wedding."
"I can't do that for you, Lois," he said, his voice hard. "I can't just… sit around, walk you down the aisle, give you a peck on the cheek and hand you over to another man. Do you have any idea how unfair it is to expect that of me?"
"But then, you were never really interested in fairness, were you?" His voice was quiet now, and he was speaking more to himself than to anyone else. "You never really cared about me. I was here, I was loyal, always available to comfort you or rock you to sleep, but you never wanted anything more, did you? You never wanted anything more than a sounding board to moon about Superman to. You didn't even *notice*… God, you've been so *blind*…"
"Blind?" she exploded, leaping to her feet. He turned his head to her slowly, looking as though he were seeing her for the first time in his life.
"Yes," he said finally, heavily. "Yes, you've been blind. All the time, I've been here, loving you quietly, waiting, hoping… and you never even —"
"What did you want me to do, Clark?" she yelled, her cheeks flaming. How dare he! How dare he make her feel like that! "Fall at your feet just because you say you love me? I've done that, Kent — men who are *better* actors than you have tried that on me! I've made a fool of myself once; I'm not going to do it again, especially not when *you're* the one who —"
He was staring at her now, his cheeks a deathly white, with an expression akin to horror, and despite herself, she felt some of her anger drain away at the sheer disbelief on his face.
"What are you looking at me like that for?"
He shook his head, his mouth hanging open, his eyes wide and incredulous as they looked into hers.
"You don't believe me," he stated flatly. "You don't believe what I said, that day in the park."
Her chin quivered slightly, but she forced herself to raise it and look him square in the eye. "No, I don't."
Staring at him, she had the strangest impression that thunderclouds were rolling across his face.
"Get out," he said tightly. "Get out of my apartment, since you think I'm a liar."
She watched his taut, angry back stalk out of the bedroom then, and she knew she had lost him forever.
It was a very uncomfortable Clark Kent who hung around the foyer of apartment 105 that evening.
Lois's door was really very elegant, he noted, taking a long look at it. The wood was mahogany — nicely waxed, or varnished, or whatever the new DIY term was for shiny — and the gold-lettered apartment number stood out so nicely against the darker background.
<You're stalling, Kent.>
He nodded absentmindedly. He knew. He was okay with stalling — for now, at least.
"Hey, buddy… you looking for someone?"
He started abruptly, his shoulder hitting the wall with a thud. Swinging around, he caught sight of the speaker — one of Lois's neighbours, a middle-aged balding man, on the verge of entering his own apartment.
"Ah… I'm okay," he stuttered, blushing wildly. He gave himself a mental kick. He wasn't a sophomore, for goodness sake, and he wasn't doing anything wrong!
The man looked at him for a few more seconds, before shrugging and entering his home, leaving Clark in peace — leaving him to obsess some more.
To knock or not to knock. That was the *real* question.
Knocking… that would mean inflicting more unnecessary torture on himself. He'd once again be reminded of who she was, what she was — what he had lost.
Not knocking, on the other hand…
No knocking would mean that … he could walk away. Right then, right there, he could turn around, walk off and never look back. He wouldn't need to face the pain again. He could just close the door — figuratively speaking, of course. He'd never have to endure the sweet torment of seeing her. He wouldn't have to interrupt the healing process of the scar over his heart by ripping it off again.
…he'd be a coward.
He glanced down at his tightly clenched fist, a sudden wave of potent hatred washing over him as he was reminded of the reason why he was even standing there in the first place.
He didn't know how it had happened. One minute, his heart had been twisting in agony as he watched the woman he loved walk out of his life at his order. The next, his stomach had turned upside down and inside out at the sight of her engagement ring, twinkling merrily at him from the wooden floor.
He had cursed aloud, he remembered, a sure sign that something was amiss, and he had run into the night after her — but she had simply vanished, like the last pearl of snow melting against the dreary backdrop of Clinton Avenue. He had retreated then, in sulky silence, refusing to fly over there and return it. If it meant that much to her, he had argued with himself, she could come to his apartment the next day and fetch it herself.
That had been three nights ago.
So he was there, outside her door, a sad, sorry fool, waiting to return an engagement ring he hadn't bought to the love of his life.
How long had he been lingering in the hallway?
He cast a terrified glance around him, suddenly spooked. There were laws against loitering, weren't there? What if that neighbour guy came out of his apartment and saw him there still?
<Come on, Kent. Be a man.>
He raised a hand to the door, preparing to knock, and recoiled in horror as the handle gave a sudden wrench. The next instant, Lois was staring straight into his skittering eyes.
And she was wearing… she was wearing…
He averted his eyes hurriedly, pulling his mind away from what she was and wasn't wearing. He flushed, trying to distract his disobedient brain in the interest of sanity. He had no right to be thinking that way about her. She was another man's fiancee.
"Clark?" She took in his red cheeks with a raised eyebrow. "I heard voices…" she said, by way of explanation.
Her voice spoke of confusion and no small degree of amusement. He swallowed bashfully, painfully aware that he was standing in her hallway gulping like one of her goldfish.
"I came to return something," he blurted hurriedly. The irony of the situation struck at him suddenly and he nearly yelped in pain at the all-too-familiar scene before his eyes.
"Oh," she said, frowning slightly. She looked at him for another moment or so, before swinging the door wide and gesturing with her hand. "Come on it."
"I can't stay," he announced bluntly, following her inside — to the chamber of temptation that was her home.
She nodded distractedly. "I'll just go put on a robe…"
His head snapped up, his eyes stretching wide.
"Huh?" he squeaked, and winced as his voice came out a couple of octaves higher than usual.
She looked at him quizzically, then jerked a thumb in the direction of her bedroom. "I'm going to put a robe on," she repeated, looking at him as if he had just sprouted another head.
His breath hitched in his throat as he took stock of that statement. Was it he, or was there a… very faint, but definite… challenge in her eyes?
"Okay," he managed to pipe shrilly, finally, watching in relief as she retreated into the bedroom. Her closeness had made him ever so slightly dizzy, and that… thing, nightdress, whatever… was just…
In fact, she looked every bit as beautiful as she had when she had declared her love for Superman.
And she had retreated to put on a…
/Unless it's lined with lead, Lois, it's a waste of time./
In fact, she had said those words *exactly* to his alter ego.
Could it be… could it possibly mean that…
No. No. That was simply ridiculous. He'd never had a sillier idea in his life before. It was *impossible*. After all, she had nothing, absolutely nothing to base any such portent on. He had been clever, hadn't he? He had been smart; he hadn't let the fa‡ade slip. He hadn't let *anything* slip. He had been sharp, he had been cautious, he had been careful, he had been deceitful, he had lied.
And she had swallowed it. Hook, line and sinker. There was no dark shadow of suspicion in Lois Lane's mind about him…
Why? Why would she echo that *exact* phrase, that wording — why had there been that glimmer of barely veiled daring in her eyes? Why would she answer the door to him… in that… that nightdress-thing… when she was engaged to another man? When she *knew*… when she knew the depth of his feelings for her…
When she knew that he was hopelessly in love with her.
He felt a sudden, irrational wave of anger wash over him. Had she been… mocking him? Trying to taunt him, with glimpses of what he could have? Had she been… yanking his chain? Playing with him, like a cat with a mouse? Was he just… Poor Old Clark to her? The Ordinary Guy Who Loved Her More Than Life Itself? The Dependable Mild Mannered Reporter Who Couldn't Say No Even If He Wanted To? The Idiotic Blockhead Who Was Constantly Wishing For The Moon? Was he just… a toy to her? Was she trying to… tease him? String him along?
He clenched his fist, barely registering the bite on his palm. He opened his hand, looking at the white crescent impression indented in his palm with scorn. Dropping the ring on a small stand, where she would surely notice it, he made a tightly executed turn, heading for the door.
Her voice froze him in his tracks.
"Where are you going?"
He said it so heatedly, so furiously, that for a moment she was half- afraid of that anger in his voice, but the fear melted away as quickly as it had come, and all that was left behind was confusion and an eerie sense of…
…no. She wasn't going to dwell on *that*, that hopeless feeling she got when she saw him almost-leaving, the way her heart cried out to his not to go, the way she knew she'd miss him more than ever…
She *certainly* wasn't going to dwell on *that*.
"I thought you came to return something!"
He spun around, the anger spinning sharply out of his features to strike her in the face like the cruel blow it was.
"Look at the table, Mrs. Luthor," he spat, before pivoting around on his heel and wrenching at the door handle. She watched in sardonic satisfaction as the door stayed obstinately closed, and his shoulders drooped slightly.
It seemed to take forever, but eventually the stony grey boulder of his back swung around and he was looking at her. She let her keys swing pendulum-style from her index finger and watched understanding dawn on his face. She had locked the door when his eyes had been fixed so firmly on the floor, sensing that he'd be departing far too rapidly for her taste.
A long pause ensued.
"Are you going to let me out?" he said finally, sullenly.
"Nope." It was an extreme pleasure to her to be able to say those words. Finally, she was in control again — no more running away. She wouldn't let him. She wouldn't let him give her up so easily.
He was looking at her with an expression akin to disbelief, and despite herself, she felt a brief spark of guilt ignite sharply in her stomach at how tired he looked.
"I don't want to talk to you, Lois," he stated quietly, his earlier anger seemingly forgotten.
She leant against the back of the couch casually, smiling sweetly. "Tough."
His eyes skittered over her face then, and a deep flush coloured her cheeks. She stood up a little straighter, wondering who this strange, unrecognisable, *angry* Clark was.
"I won't let you play with me, Lois. I'm not a kid anymore."
"You don't say!" Sarcasm dripped from her voice. She heard it, and she winced at it, but she couldn't stop it.
"Give me the keys."
She shook her head very slightly.
"Give me the keys, *please*."
"I don't want you to go, Clark," she stated quietly, firmly. "I want to talk."
"What do you think I'm made of?" he asked disbelievingly. "Granite? Marble? Steel?" She jumped a little at that last, a memory flashing through her as she stared at him. "This *hurts*, Lois. I'm an —" his lip curled "— ordinary guy. I'm in *love* with you! I can't watch you stand there, with that ring behind you, not letting me out, not letting me go, planning to marry Lex Luthor…"
"I'm not." She said it calmly, ignoring the flurry of emotions within her at the split-second decision.
He stared at her as a man bewitched, his rant forgotten. "You're what?"
His chin was trembling slightly, she noticed, feeling a strange sort of tenderness strike up within her at the sight. "You're not?" he said, as if he were daring himself to believe it.
She shook her head. "No."
"Why not?" he asked, clearly in shock.
She looked at him, debating about her answer. "Because… I don't love him," she said carefully, hoping that he wouldn't sense the hesitation.
He closed his mouth, his face suddenly pale. His eyes, which had been fixed on her face, now dropped to some point on the floor. He looked like a man lost, like a man on the edge of reason, like a man grasping for hope when hope was gone.
Then that expression snapped off his face, and another settled over it, and she almost started crying with relief at the sight. He was coming back to her. Her Clark Kent was back.
The joy came then, slowly at first, in flickers, in the look in his eyes and the way his teeth flashed uncertainly out of his mouth in a hesitant smile, but soon enough, as he took in the utter seriousness of her features, it radiated out of him, filling her chest with a bizarre sense of relief, of…
She didn't have time to obsess about that new awareness, because the next instant he was crossing the room with his long strides, and she was swept up and into his arms and hugged as only Clark Kent could hug her.
"Thank God," she heard mumbled in the space behind her ear. "Thank God."
"I don't deserve you, Clark." She had intended to whisper it, to whisper so quietly that he wouldn't hear her and disagree, but somehow it stuck in her throat on the way out and she choked on it, watching its truth glimmer in the air, taunting her with its candour.
The strangely comforting grip loosened then, and he drew back, watching her with a wondering gaze.
"Lois?" he asked, his tone incredulous. "What in the world would make you think that?"
She swallowed harshly. Now that she could drop the brisk fa‡ade, now that she didn't have to concentrate on Operation Knock Some Sense Into Idiot Clark, she somehow couldn't pretend any more. It was as if all the suppressed emotions of the past few days, the hurt she felt at the way he'd treated her, the confusion at the desertion of her friends — it was as if all of that was rearing towards her, a wild and screaming monster, instead of simply melting away into thin air.
No — *thick* air. Air that was clogged with the scorn and rancour that had lingered between her and her long-time partner. With the sudden, strange departure of all her supposed friends. With the odd sense of guilt she felt every time she envisaged herself back at Centennial Park, watching the despair dawn over the face of the man who meant more to her than any other, telling lies like a pro.
"I've been… the worse kind of fr-*person* imaginable." Her voice was shaking now, and she made a valiant attempt to hide it before stopping suddenly. She was such a fake. False emotions, false front, false face. Why couldn't she be truthful with him? She *trusted* Clark, she trusted him with *everything*!
He was still looking at her, his eyes dark and wondering, scanning her face with an expression of mounting worry.
"I've led you on and rejected you. I've depended on you and discarded you. I've joked with you, laughed with you, teased you, and then dismissed you scornfully, ground you into the dirt with the rest of them, tried to pretend you didn't matter to me — *told* you that you didn't matter to me — and now… now…"
She broke off to swallow something that felt suspiciously like a sob.
"I left that ring at your apartment, Clark," she continued in a hoarse, torn voice. "On purpose. Because I wanted to… lead you on again. I wanted you to come to me. I took advantage of your character, of your good nature, and believed you'd *have* to bring it back to me." She broke off, shaking her head. "I've treated you so badly. Not trusting you in one way, trusting you with everything in another. I've been such a tease, such a hypocrite…" She broke off, not wanting to see the disgust in his eyes — hiding it from him. Hiding *herself* from him.
Damn it, she was *tired*. Tired of running, tired of denying her feelings, tired of her disbelief, her total and utter lack of trust in him. She was tired of hiding from the man she loved.
Yes, she had said it. She *loved* Clark. She loved him so fiercely, so completely, that it was like a pain inside of her — always there, always with her, stinging every second she spent apart from him. Making her ache so badly by just *being* there that she refused to acknowledge its existence, just so she could go on pretending. Just so that she could go on living.
Living without pain.
Pacing in her apartment, hour after hour following that night — that night and the dropping of that idiotically overdone engagement ring where he was sure to see it — she had warred with herself, battling with the inner demon inside of her who refused to let go of that fear of pain. Making the misanthropist think about her real reasons for missing Clark Kent.
And still, she hadn't let go of that stupid, twisted reasoning.
At least… she hadn't let go until that instant, when she felt his arms envelop her, closed her eyes and basked in his presence, his very being…
And she had been right. With that realisation had come pain. Pain of her own making. Pain that whispered softly in her ear, reminding her of all the reasons why she was completely unworthy of him…
A strong finger tipped her chin up gently, and she was suddenly staring straight into his face.
His face which bore no sign of the disgust she'd been sure he must feel.
His face which showed only confusion, disbelief, tenderness, and…
"No," he said gently, shaking his head. "No, you're not."
She shook her head wildly. "Yes," she almost yelled as a single salty pearl leaked out onto her cheek. "Yes, I *am* a hypocrite! Don't try and… *do that*! Don't do that thing when you make me feel better after I've done something wrong! I don't deserve it!"
"Oh, Lois," he all but groaned. "You deserve *everything*."
His arms were back around her now, hugging her securely to his body, fitting her head snugly under his chin, his hand rubbing slow, soothing circles against her back.
She closed her eyes and sighed, her arms wrapping around his waist. This was probably the last embrace she'd ever receive from Clark Kent. This was probably the last time he'd ever let her near him. Once he joined the dots, figured her out, saw the mask of lies and deceit she'd been hiding behind since the first day she'd met him, viewed the *real* Lois Lane — the spineless, weak fraud — he'd doubtless run very fast in the opposite direction.
She let herself sink into his embrace and blocked the troubling thoughts out of her mind. She'd live for the moment. Just for a little while, she'd let herself forget. She'd let herself cherish the man in her arms.
Before he was ripped — no, before he ripped *himself* away from her.
Clark exhaled heavily, watching in detached amusement as a few strands of Lois's hair fluttered in response. Hardly daring to believe that he was allowed to do it again, he reached up and smoothed them down, gently, letting his hand rest where it was, cradling her head against his shoulder.
One part of his brain — the largest part, in fact — was a flurrying vortex of confusion. The other part was sparking purple and excited, making him almost giddy with the revelation it had received.
She wasn't going to marry Lex. She *wasn't* going to marry Lex. She wasn't going to marry Lex!!
Which meant he had a chance.
A small chance… but a chance nonetheless.
But the *other* part of his brain…
Lois… undeserving… of *him* in some way? Was that what she had said?
When hell froze over!
"Lois… why would you ever think something like that?" he questioned gently.
She stiffened, and he cursed himself briefly. Drawing back, his heart caught painfully as he caught a glimpse of pearly tears in her eyes.
"I don't… I've been lying to you for so long, Clark," she whispered, her voice full of pain. "I've never really let you in. You've had to drag every tiny tidbit about my past from me, kicking and screaming. I've taken advantage of you in so many ways…"
"Lois, I *know* you," he interrupted, raising one large hand to cup her cheek. "I know the *real* woman. The part you try to hide from everybody. I've seen you, glimpses of you, when you've been vulnerable, or scared, or alone." He rested his forehead against hers. "You're beautiful, Lois Lane," he whispered, raising a reverent hand to stroke a strand of hair away from her face.
She shut her eyes tightly, another drop escaping and spilling onto her cheek. "It took me so long… so long to realise…"
He stilled, his heart pounding. "To realise what, Lois?" he asked hoarsely.
Her eyes opened then, wide and tremulous. "To realise… to realise, Clark, that I love you, too." Her voice was serious, and his heart gave a violent kick. "Can you ever forgive me for what I've done?" She was very afraid. He could hear her heart pounding violently. He thought that sound was the most precious thing in the universe to him.
The air hissed out of his lungs in one long puff. "Whatever wrong you've done me, Lois, you've made up for it a thousand times over."
He bent down low, holding her gaze, his expression serious.
"I don't lie, Lois," he said simply. "I would never lead you to believe something that wasn't true. I meant what I said in the park that day. I meant it then, and I mean it now." He watched her fearfully. "You believe me, don't you?"
She nodded, closing her eyes and swaying slightly towards him. "I think… I think that I always knew," she admitted softly. "I think… maybe… that I was just trying to hide." Her eyes opened, then, wide and glistening. "Nobody's ever loved me like you do, Clark," she whispered.
Another tear escaped, but he was there this time, his heart trembling as his lips caught the drop. Then she smiled radiantly, and he almost cried out with the emotions she was stirring within him.
The next minute, all rational thought vanished as she touched her lips to his.
Her lips were soft and impossibly sweet under his. He felt as if he were drowning, sinking deeper and deeper into the swirling sea of emotions that was Lois Lane. His hands came up to frame her face as he deepened the kiss, hearing her moan in response. Her fingers grasped the end of his shirt, and her mouth opened under his.
And then there was no more thinking, just electric sparks shooting through him at every caress, every touch. Just the sensation that the kiss was going on forever. Just the final, almost clogging happiness that engulfed him when they finally broke apart. Just the overpowering sense of tenderness for the woman in his arms.
Of course there was love. There had been love for Lois Lane in his soul since the very first moment he'd laid eyes on her. It was just a blessed relief to be able to express it at last.
She smiled at him, her eyes reflecting the joy he felt. A delighted grin curved at his lips and he grinned back, hoping that his face would convey the awe-struck singing of his heart.
But she was sobering a little now, and he felt a tightness in his chest that came with mounting worry.
"Can you ever forgive me for lying to you for so long?" she asked morosely.
He opened his mouth to respond, but there he stopped, his words of comfort catching in his throat.
Who was he to forgive her for lying? He'd been doing the very same thing himself, from the first day he'd met her. Who was he to stand there, kissing her fears away with broken words and empty promises when the same cloud of guilt hung over him?
He was a *fraud*, that was what. He had absolutely no right to do this, to bask in her self-disgust at her own betrayal, to forgive her eagerly, when all along he'd been doing the same thing himself.
Superman. The only thing that stood between them. The only barrier that remained. The only separation.
He took a deep breath.
"I can't, Lois," he said simply. "I can't stand here and forgive you, when I've been doing the same thing myself all along."
He watched in agony as the colour drained from her face and her mouth opened.
"No — no," he said desperately. "Please — let me finish."
She swallowed visibly and nodded. He dropped his arms from her waist, suddenly feeling physically sick.
"You have to understand that I only wanted you to love me," he whispered brokenly. "That was all I wanted. I didn't want to deceive you, or confuse you, or anything like that. You have to understand that I was *never*… laughing up my sleeve or anything."
She shook her head slightly. "Clark, I don't understand," she murmured confusedly.
He took a long look at her, drinking her memory in to sustain him for the lonely days that would undoubtedly be ahead.
He took a giant step back, his heart in his mouth, and spun into Superman.
His head was bowed, she noted detachedly, and his eyes were downcast. No towering superhero was Clark Kent. In fact, he looked like a little boy who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, awaiting punishment.
She waited for the anger to come, to steal inside her and impale her on its livid red claws, to carry her on a foaming wave of rage till she ended up discarded like a piece of flotsam on the shore of regret. She waited for the all-encompassing infuriation to seep over her. She waited for the pain to engulf her.
But, strangely enough, no such monster came roaring into her brain. In fact, all that was left as she stared at the man in front of her was…
Relief. Now there was nothing more between them. Now they were both free of the bonds that had ensnared them. Now they could move ahead. Now they could actually get somewhere.
Tenderness. He'd just shared his biggest secret, the largest chunk of his soul with her; and he was absolutely terrified. Scared of what her reaction would be.
…more than anything else.
How could she tear the precious, fragile strands of what they had just shared apart like that? How could she rip their hearts apart with angry, careless words, slashing and defaming their newfound love beneath her claws?
Angry, senseless words. Angry, senseless *woman*. She was tired of it. She had spent too long locked inside herself, afraid to believe, afraid to love, afraid to *be*. Her whole engagement — that short-lived affair — had been about pretending, hiding behind the fa‡ade of a happy woman. Until, by some twist of fate, some misconstrued thought had made her drop her ring. Until she had faced the emotions that had been staring her in the face since she'd met Clark Kent. Until she had made the split-second decision to cancel her engagement. She still had to talk to Lex about that one, she reflected wryly, putting the reminder away to be dusted off later.
Clark Kent was the man she loved. The man she couldn't live without. If nothing else, the last three weeks had told her that. He meant more to her than anything else in the world.
Yes, including Superman. She'd hurt him in more ways that she could ever count. An ordinary guy… she snorted as she remembered. Phooey!
No, Clark Kent was no ordinary guy — and not only because of the flying thing. She didn't want the superhero, didn't want the idol, didn't want the icon. She wanted the man. She'd made that decision hours ago. Superman was a very small part of him, in fact.
She loved Clark Kent. Not the Man of Steel. Not any more. All her life, she'd been creeping around the edges, afraid of getting hurt — for once, she was right smack in the middle, and she could see a lot clearer from there.
She loved Clark Kent.
<But he lied to you.>
She winced, the words bouncing harshly off the corners of her heart.
That hurt. That one really, really hurt.
She shook her head, taking a deep breath and straightening up. They had things to work through — she knew that. It would be a long road, a tiring journey, a destination that made it all worthwhile.
They would reach that.
"Well, at least this explains it," she murmured softly, watching as his head shot up. "I always did wonder how you found the best restaurants in Metropolis within a week of arriving here."
He was staring at her like he couldn't believe his ears, and she allowed herself a tiny grin.
"Relax, Clark," she said, giggling. "You look like I'm about to rip your entrails out with a dessert spoon."
He hooked an eyebrow at her, looking endearingly confused. "You're not mad?"
She sobered a little at that one. "Mad? No, I'm not mad, Clark. I'm hurt, but I do understand why you did it." Her voice became quieter now, more reasonable. She took a step closer to him, fingering a strand of his hair which had fallen down over his forehead.
"I want to stop the pain, Clark," she murmured intently. "For both of us. I don't want to hurt you any more."
"And I never wanted to hurt *you*," he added, taking her fingers and kissing them almost reverently.
"There will be… lots of times down the road when I'll need you to repeat that," she admitted. "And we do need to talk. Intensively. About a lot of things. And you need to do an awful lot of sucking up, so you can use this time to practise." He smiled at her, a quick flash of teeth that set her heart pounding.
"Is that… all I have to practise?" he asked, his twinkling eyes darkening deliberately as he moved closer.
She smiled brilliantly at him and brushed her lips briefly against his. "All depends on how good you are, Farmboy," she whispered teasingly as he rested her forehead against hers.
"Guess we'll find out," he said, his eyes a never-ending pool of emotions.
She grinned as they spoke in unison.
(c) Sara, April 2004