By Kathy Brown <email@example.com>
Submitted: December 2003
Summary: In this sequel to the author's "Momentum," our favorite couple has been dating for a few weeks and Clark is ready to tell Lois his secret. Will an out-of-town ski weekend provide the perfect opportunity?
This story is a direct result of all the people who asked for a sequel to Momentum last winter. Several readers noted that the one thing missing from the story was a revelation. At the time, I had no idea how I would do one, or at least no idea how to do one in the same humorous, light-hearted tone introduced in the original Momentum story.
Fortunately, a fellow FoLC — Gerry Anklewicz — responded to my open invitation for people to send me their ideas and gave me a line that was just too good to pass up. The story itself went off in a different direction from her suggested epilogue, but the "money line" is all hers and for that, I am very grateful. :)
I'd also like to thank my beta-readers, AnnieM and Pam Jernigan, for their help and encouragement while I was writing this story, and the FoLCs on IRC who would let me paste the occasional section on channel and give me their reactions. They kept reassuring me the story was on the right track. :)
I hope everyone enjoys the story. As always, comments are both welcome and appreciated at the email address above. And for those who prefer, there is an nfic version of this story on annesplace.net.
Momentum 2: The Revelation
Clark Kent sat on the left side of the conference room table during the weekly Daily Planet story meeting, pretending to be engrossed in the assignments his editor was giving to his colleagues. Glancing up to catch his partner's eye across the table, he bit his lip to keep from grinning as he felt her toes carefully work their way past his pant cuff to rub his calf. She, too, appeared to be listening to Perry, but when he brought his legs together to playfully trap her foot, he watched her fight valiantly to smother a laugh.
"So, Clark, can I assume that smile on your face means your and Lois's follow-up on the Space Rats story from last month is going well?"
Clark startled and turned towards his expectant editor, quickly releasing Lois's foot. He tried not to laugh as he heard his partner whisper, "Busted!"
"Yeah, Chief, it's moving along fine," he managed to answer smoothly. "Mr. Schott and Ms. Duffy are out on bail and their lawyer is trying to get the District Attorney's office to agree to a plea bargain. They're hoping to avoid jail time all together by doing community service, though I'm not sure what kind of deal the D.A. is going to be up for. Word is he and his wife maxed out their credit cards after getting sprayed with the stuff, contracting for an in-the-ground pool to be dug in the middle of winter."
As their colleagues chuckled, Lois continued the explanation. "The D.A. might not have much choice, though. From what we've been able to find out, they're having trouble coming up with charges that will stick. The chemical itself isn't classified anywhere as illegal since Schott just invented it, and all the components he used to develop it were legally obtained."
Clark nodded and picked up the thread. "They were going to go for reckless endangerment, based on the number of cab drivers who were working after having been sprayed—"
"But they haven't been able to find any witnesses who believe the cabbies were driving any worse than before," Lois added, the corners of her mouth twitching.
"So, bottom line," Clark finished, "all they may be able to get him on is attempting to tamper with the city's water supply."
"Great Shades of Elvis." Perry rolled his eyes at the results, but he seemed satisfied with their progress on the story. "OK, keep on it, you two. Ferguson, where are you at with the Mayor's press conference?"
As their boss turned his attention to the other reporters in the room, Clark allowed himself to grin at his partner, letting his eyes twinkle at her as she brushed her ankle affectionately against his under the table. Even being caught by surprise by their editor hadn't stopped them from proving what great partners they were, finishing each other's sentences and completing each other's thoughts. Only now, they were more than just partners at work. As of today, he and Lois had been together for two and a half weeks — in a real, honest-to-goodness, thrilling romantic relationship — and he couldn't remember ever being happier.
It was amazing to think that only a month ago, he'd been convinced that Lois would never see him as anything more than her best friend. After all, she'd made it perfectly clear last spring that she didn't see him as a potential romantic partner. All that had changed, however, when Clark decided to delay his trip to Smallville in order to spend Christmas Eve with her. From holding hands by her tiny tree and enjoying a special meal together, to cuddling on the sofa and sharing a tender kiss at midnight, it had been a truly magical evening.
The next morning, after awakening in his bed in Smallville, Clark had replayed the evening over and over, savoring the incredible feelings being with Lois brought out in him. He'd decided right then and there to stop playing it safe, to stop hiding the signs that he was interested in more than just friendship. They'd spent almost every evening together during the week between Christmas and New Year's as he began to actively court her. From going out to lunch, to watching old movies in his apartment, to taking her ice skating and dancing, he'd done his best to get Lois to see him as a potential boyfriend. And at a little before midnight on New Year's Eve, his dreams finally came true as they voiced their feelings and shared their first entirely mutual kiss.
It had been a little before one in the morning when they'd decided to head back to his place, holding hands and trading sweet kisses as they walked the several blocks home. When Lois had come inside to retrieve her purse, she'd suggested it would only be for a moment … then they'd ended up talking and kissing on his couch until nearly sunrise. Clark knew he'd never forget the shiver that traveled through him as the tip of her tongue first brushed against his, or the way her nylon covered thigh felt under his palm as he caressed the back of her leg when their kisses became more passionate. Come morning, he'd had to work on New Year's Day with next to no sleep, but considering that the grin hadn't left his face the entire time, he couldn't exactly say that he'd minded.
He'd told Lois he loved her that night, as they'd come up from one of the numerous heart-stopping kisses they'd shared, and she had responded that she had strong feelings for him, as well. It wasn't quite the same thing as his declaration — in the two and a half weeks they'd been dating, Lois had yet to say the words, "I love you" — but, as she'd explained to him at the time, she had only recently begun to let herself think of him as more than just a friend and she needed some time to settle into their relationship. Considering how long Clark had waited to get to this point, it was time he couldn't begrudge her.
Indeed, there was only one thing holding Clark back from completely enjoying their relationship: Superman. In the last few weeks, he and Lois had spent many hours together getting to know each other as boyfriend and girlfriend instead of partners and best friends. But although they had talked about so many things, frequently late into the night, he still hadn't told her that her boyfriend and her favorite superhero were one and the same.
Clark wasn't sure exactly what was holding him back now that things had become more serious between them. When he'd first begun to court her, he knew it was too soon; he'd needed to know that Lois had romantic feelings for him, not just the guy in the flashy suit. And once they started dating, he'd been able to rationalize that she hadn't told him she loved him yet.
Yet over the last several days, he'd come to realize how foolish he was being. No matter what words Lois spoke, she was showing him every day that she cared very deeply for him. It was in the way her face lit up whenever she saw him and the way her eyes twinkled at him every time they shared a private joke. And it was in the way she would snuggle up contently beside him as they watched television and in the way she would whisper breathless endearments to him when they began to kiss. No, as much as Clark longed to hear those three little words from her, to have Lois look into his eyes and tell him that she loved him, he was no longer willing to use that as an excuse.
The only question now was the timing — what would be the best way to tell her? It wasn't as if he hadn't thought about it many times; he'd even danced around the subject a few times this week when they'd been alone together. But each time, something had interrupted them. Something was *always* interrupting them. If it wasn't a cry for help, it was a story assignment or a ill-timed phone call from a source. No, Clark decided, if he wanted to tell Lois his secret — and, finally, he really, truly did — then they needed to distance themselves from all the distractions Metropolis continued to tempt them with. Somehow, they needed to get away. But where?
As he pondered his dilemma, Clark noticed that the story meeting was drawing to a close. Before Perry could dismiss them, however, Megan, a relatively new reporter on the City desk indicated that she had a quick announcement to make.
"As you may remember," she began, "I'm the newsroom's representative on the United Way committee and I just wanted to let everyone know the results of the drawing we held this morning."
Clark nodded in recognition. As part of the United Way's recent fundraising campaign, everyone at the newspaper who signed up for automatic payroll deductions for the coming year had their name entered into a drawing for prizes donated by area businesses. He'd vaguely remembered that the drawing would be held sometime in mid-January, but he hadn't realized it was going to be this week.
"Our third prize," Megan informed the room, "was a $100 gift certificate to Cost Mart, and it was awarded to Mark Capinski in Sports."
"Hey, isn't his wife like nine months pregnant?" a reporter across the room asked with a chuckle. "They'll be all set for diapers!"
As everyone in the room chuckled, Megan smiled and went on. "Second prize was two theater tickets and an overnight stay at the Metropolis Grand Hotel. It went to Teresa Mereck in Editorials."
"Aww," another reporter piped up. "It can be a second honeymoon. I think she and her husband have an anniversary coming up."
When the chatter died down a bit, Megan continued, a grin growing on her face. "And the Grand Prize," she announced, "A weekend trip for two to the Mount Troy Ski Resort … went to our very own Clark Kent!"
Clark's eyes opened wide in surprise as the people around him began to clap and congratulate him. "You're kidding!" he exclaimed. "I never win things."
As Megan tossed a fat envelope across the table towards him, however, the reality of the situation sank in and Clark began to grin. Through some neat twist of fate, the answer to his biggest question had just fallen into his lap.
After taking a side trip to the coffee pot to refill her cup, Lois returned to her desk after the staff meeting only to furrow her brow as she noticed an unfamiliar pamphlet resting in the center of her workspace. Sliding into her seat, her puzzled expression turned into a smile, however, as she noted the title on the front: "Stay Slopeside. Mount Troy Ski Resort." Flipping through the glossy pages full of nicely organized photographs and informational text, Lois lifted her eyebrows in surprised appreciation. She'd skied Mount Troy many times in her younger days, but the then- barebones accommodations had obviously improved in the years since. Many of the options looked downright luxurious.
Movement next to her desk caught her eye and Lois looked up in time to see her partner settle himself into her guest chair, a pleased look on his face. She greeted him with a smile. "This was a nice surprise for you," she said amicably, indicating the brochure. "To win a trip like this."
Clark gave a little laugh. "Yeah, I couldn't believe it. I don't normally win things." Then his eyes twinkled at her as he brushed the back of his hand along her arm in a subtle gesture of affection. "I'd say 1995 is turning out to be a pretty lucky year for me so far."
"It's only January 18," she pointed out teasingly.
"Best eighteen days of my life," he replied warmly.
Her smile becoming more tender, Lois ran her fingertips down the inside of his wrist, feeling a little thrill as she watched his gaze become more intense. So far, they'd been careful not to be overtly demonstrative at work, figuring that the gossip mill had enough to keep itself busy, but neither of them seemed to be able to avoid the secret touches and smiles that showed how they felt about each other. "So when do you think you're going to go?" she asked, bringing their attention back to the ski resort brochure. "Snow should be good through early March, at least."
Clark brightened. "Actually, I just called them," he said, taking the pamphlet from her hands and opening it to a certain page before laying it back on her desk. "What do you think about staying here …" He pointed to a particularly nice-looking photo spread. "This weekend?"
Lois looked up in surprise. "What do *I* think? It's your trip."
"Well, you're coming, aren't you?" he asked, equally surprised. His voice took on a husky tone. "Lois, you know you're the only one I'd want to go with."
She felt her heart melt. "Oh, Clark."
"I know it's kind of short notice," he continued, explaining. "And we can do it another time if you want. But I thought it would be fun to just go … you know, 'carpe diem' and all that. We're both off this weekend so I thought we could drive up Friday after work and ski Saturday and Sunday." He grinned and his voice took on a teasing tone. "Come on … fireplace, private deck with a hot tub, the chance to show me up on the slopes … you know you want to … I can see it in your eyes."
Lois couldn't help but laugh at his obvious coaxing, but after glancing at the room description in the brochure, she hesitated. "It's not that I don't want to," she said reluctantly. "Really. It's just …well …" She bit her lip nervously, wondering how to express herself.
She took a deep breath, wondering if her concerns would turn him off. "I mean … it's only been a few weeks … have we really been together long enough to go away for the weekend?"
Clark sat back, his brow furrowing in confusion. "But we've gone away together before. Sure, not for fun, but for work … you know, stake-outs and all." Then suddenly, he got it. "Oh! Oh, Lois, no, I wasn't—" He blushed slightly. "I mean, it's not that I *don't* want to … you know … but I wasn't—" He stopped again, rolling his eyes at his own fumbling. "Oh, geez, can I just start over?"
Lois began to laugh with him. "Go ahead."
After taking a deep breath, he gave her a warm smile and reassuringly covered her hand with his. "I'm not trying to pressure you into anything, Lois; I don't have any expectations about that part of our relationship. Yes, it's a one-bedroom unit, but there's a pull-out couch in the living room that I was planning to sleep on. I just want us to spend some time together away from Metropolis, away from all these distractions." He blew out another breath, looking almost as if he was gathering his own courage. "And … talk. Get to know each other better."
Relaxing, Lois turned her hand under his, interlacing their fingers. "I think I'd like that, too," she said softly.
His face lit up. "Really? So you'll come? This weekend?"
Her smile turned into an excited grin. "I can't wait." Releasing his hand, she picked up the brochure and turned to the trail map in the back, spreading it out so they could both see. "I can't believe how many trails they've added since I've been there! It used to be fairly small when I was a kid, but it looks like they've added a bunch of runs. Oh, this is going to be so much fun!"
Clark sat back in his seat and fixed her with a teasing look. "I do have one condition, though."
Lois cocked her head. "What?"
"You *have* to wear those black ski pants you wore for ice skating last month."
At a little before eight o'clock on Friday evening, Lois gave a satisfied sigh as she pulled out of the restaurant parking lot and back onto the two-lane state route that would take them the rest of the way to Mount Troy. "Now that was a great meal," she announced.
"It sure was," Clark agreed from the passenger seat. "I love trying these little out of the way places. Sometimes you find a real gem." He gave her a smile. "And it was a great way to start our weekend."
She smiled back. "Only another hour or so till we get there, I think. We're making good time."
"One of the benefits of having you drive," he teased.
Lois rolled her eyes good-naturedly, but couldn't deny he was right. They both knew that she was the more aggressive driver and, even though she had no problem with Clark borrowing her SUV occasionally, she still did most of the driving when they were together.
Fortunately, they'd been able to leave work a little early that afternoon and had avoided the bulk of the rush hour traffic. She'd been packed and ready to go when she'd arrived in the newsroom that morning, and all they'd needed to do after work was swing by Clark's place to pick up his bag. He'd only brought one medium-sized suitcase, and it had slid easily into the Jeep's cargo area alongside Lois's larger one. More interesting to her, however, was the large plastic ice chest that he'd placed on her back seat.
"So now that we're getting closer to the lodge, are you finally going to tell me what's in the cooler?" she asked, glancing at it over her shoulder.
Clark laughed. "It's our provisions."
"Provisions?" Lois repeated, amused. "Were you expecting us to get snowed in on the road or something?"
"No, but since my girlfriend decided she needed to spend the entire evening *packing* last night, I had a little extra time on my hands."
"Aww, you were lonely. Did you miss me that much?" she asked teasingly.
He shot her a grin. "I always miss you. But since it doesn't take me *nearly* that long to pack for a weekend away, I figured I would use my free time to do a little shopping."
"Shopping for what, exactly?"
"Food, of course. It'll be easiest to catch lunch at the base lodge, but I thought it would be fun to do breakfast and dinner in the room." He seemed very pleased with himself. "Just wait till you see what I'm going to feed you."
Lois looked at him in surprise. "Clark, you have to let me pay for something," she protested. "If I'd known that you were planning to cook all weekend, I never would have let you buy dinner tonight."
"Why do you think I didn't tell you until now?" he answered with a chuckle. As she opened her mouth to protest some more, however, Clark began to rub her shoulder affectionately. "No, no, I'm kidding … but really, Lois, most of the weekend will be covered by the package — the only thing we need to provide is transportation, ski rental and our meals. And since you're driving, I figured I'd get the rest."
Lois shot him a sideways look. "I have no intention of being a kept woman, Mr. Kent. Especially when I make more than you do."
Clark laughed. "So call me old-fashioned. Especially when I'm the one who extended the invitation."
"Well, I'm still paying for the ski rental."
She couldn't help but grin at his exasperated tone. "Cla- ark," she teased back, knowing she had won. Her partner's small-town chivalry could be charming, but after working with him for a year and a half, she also knew he was enlightened enough not to resist any more. "So, are you going to tell me what kind of food you brought, or do I have to guess?"
"I thought I'd keep you guessing." His eyes were twinkling. "But I can promise you there is at least one kind of chocolate dessert."
"Oh, so *that's* your game," Lois said with a laugh. "Trying to wear down my defenses with chocolate! You think I'll be easy pickings when you try to lure me into your lair."
"My lair … I like the sound of that. I have no idea what it is, but I like the sound of it."
Lois grinned. "Sure, play Mr. Innocent … I'm onto you now, Kent. Nothing seduces like chocolate."
He looked scandalized. "Lois! How many times do I have to tell you that I'm not planning to seduce you this weekend? In fact," he added with a grin of his own. "I won't even let you seduce me."
"Oh, *really*?" she asked, her eyes sparkling as she took the bait. "Even if I were to … say … do this?" Removing her right hand from the steering wheel, she placed it on his thigh, just above his knee, and began a seductive climb upward. The husky growl that came from her boyfriend sent a shiver down her spine, even as he caught her hand and held it in his.
"Even if you do that," he confirmed. Then he smiled and waved his free hand, looking for another example. "Even if you … were to bring a black string bikini to wear in the hot tub."
Lois's eyes widened and she shot him a quick glance. "How did you—?"
"You mean you did??" he asked, his voice almost coming out as a squeak.
She grimaced apologetically. "Um …"
"Oh, God," Clark whimpered, dropping his head back to the headrest. "This isn't going to be easy." When he rotated his head to look at her, though, his smile was warm. "But a promise is a promise."
Lois pulled their joined hands towards her mouth and placed a gentle kiss against Clark's knuckles. "You're pretty terrific, you know that, farm boy?"
Clark removed his hand from hers and began to gently stroke her hair. "I just have a pretty terrific girlfriend, that's all."
Her heart melting, Lois sighed contently as she focused her attention back on the road. Clark's girlfriend … what was it about hearing him refer to her that way that made her so happy? And how had things changed so completely in their relationship in just a few weeks?
A month ago, the most she'd been willing to admit to herself was that she had developed a crush on her partner. But since slowly figuring out during the week after Christmas that Clark had romantic feelings for her, Lois had come to realize that her feelings ran much deeper than she'd ever imagined possible. The only scary part was how quickly she seemed to be falling for him.
So far, she'd been resisting the urge to answer Clark's heartfelt "I love you's" with her own similar declaration, trying so hard to stay cautious. She kept telling herself that it was impossible to be in love with him already — they'd only been dating for a few weeks! But since they'd verbalized their feelings on New Year's Eve, every moment they spent together only made her question her reluctance a little bit more … if this wasn't love, what possibly could be?
Lois had thought she'd been in love before, a few times, but it was almost jarring how much those past feelings paled in comparison to what she felt now. Her feelings for Clark were so completely different from anything she'd felt before. This was more than just the heady rush of a new relationship. Oh, she still felt that rush of excitement every time they kissed, and it was a wonderfully delicious emotion. But there was more … being with Clark gave her a safe, secure, confident feeling that was completely new to her.
With other men, there had always been doubts … doubts that they would be faithful, doubts as to whether they were being truthful about their feelings, doubts that they would accept her for who she really was. Even with Superman, things had been uncertain. Not that she didn't believe Superman cared for her; she trusted him with her life — literally! But knowing that they could never be together — really be together — had always kept him at a safe distance in her heart.
But with Clark, everything was different. Unlike with Paul, she didn't feel as if she had to compete for his attention. Unlike with Claude, she didn't feel as if she were being swept away by the intensity and pace of their relationship. And unlike with Lex, she didn't feel on display, as if everything she said was being evaluated and judged. No, with Clark, she felt safe and secure and patient and content … and truly, completely loved. It was a feeling she wanted to bask in forever.
Forever. She wanted to be with Clark forever.
As the implication of this desire reached her conscious mind, Lois found herself rendered nearly breathless from the realization. The reason she felt this way with Clark was because, for the first time in her life, she was completely, totally, head-over-heels in love.
And she couldn't imagine being any happier.
"Well, here we are," Clark said as he pushed open the door to the rental unit. They had already stopped at the base lodge to check in, and had been pleased to find that their keys, trail maps and lift tickets were waiting for them. Now, after lugging in their bags from the car — Lois carrying his smaller one, him carrying her larger one while balancing the cooler on his other shoulder — Clark felt as if he was about to embark on the most important journey of his life. "So," he joked, using a lopsided smile to disguise the flicker of nervousness he felt building in his stomach. "Should I carry you over the threshold?"
Smiling, Lois walked through the door and set his suitcase down on the floor before turning back to him. "I think you already have your hands full," she pointed out, finding a light switch on the wall and turning it on.
Clark followed her inside, pushing the door closed with his foot and grinning in response to her amused expression. Bantering like this was something that came naturally to them, and there was no question in his mind that Lois enjoyed it as much as he did. Still, as often happened when he dropped clues about how strongly he felt about her, the little voice in the back of his mind was there reminding him to tread lightly. As much as he wanted to shout his love — and his hopes for their future — from the rooftops, the fact that Lois clearly wasn't ready to say the same often made him censor what he said.
It wasn't that Lois seemed uncomfortable whenever he told her he loved her — she usually seemed quite touched by the emotion behind his words — but the last thing he wanted to do was scare her off by pushing her into saying words she didn't feel, so he was careful to keep his tone light as he continued to tease. "We could always go back into the hall after I set this all down," he said coyly, dropping her suitcase next to his. "My hands would be free then."
Lois just laughed and patted his chest affectionately. "Why don't we save it for our wedding night." As soon as the flirtatious words were out of her mouth, however, a blush began making its way onto her cheeks. "I mean," she backpedaled, suddenly looking a little flustered. "You know, *if* we have a wedding night. I wasn't trying to say—"
As her slip filtered into his brain, Clark found he couldn't keep the grin off his face. Maybe scaring her off wasn't going to be as easy as he'd feared. He leaned down impulsively to give her a kiss, cutting off her fumbling. "I know what you meant, Lois," he reassured her. He set the cooler down on the kitchen table and turned back to her, his gaze warm. "And for the record," he added, giving her a wink. "I'm hoping that 'if' becomes a 'when'."
Before Lois's jaw could drop too far, Clark made his way into the condo's living room and turned on a lamp, letting them check out the rest of the unit. "So what do you think?" he asked.
"Not bad," Lois answered, clearly impressed.
"Yeah, not bad at all," he agreed. The unit was decorated very similarly to the photo in the brochure. Bright and spacious, it seemed like a very comfortable place to spend the weekend. The front door had opened into a small entryway, which led immediately into a combined kitchen and dining area. Beyond that was a smallish living room, complete with a fireplace, an overstuffed couch, and two cushy reclining chairs. A short hallway off the living room led to two doors, which in turn led to the bedroom and bathroom, respectively.
Clark nodded, pleased. He had specifically requested an end unit to give them a little more privacy — and had even paid a little more for it, though after their conversation in the car, he hadn't mentioned that to Lois — and this looked to be well worth every penny. Now all he had to do was figure out how to put that privacy to good use by telling Lois about Superman.
"Oh, Clark, look at this!" Lois exclaimed, peering through the sliding glass door located at the end of the unit. With a quick turn of her hand, she'd unlocked the door and opened it, grinning. "We really do have a hot tub!"
He came up behind her and looked over her shoulder at their small outdoor patio … and the steaming jacuzzi. "Big enough for two," he observed. As they stood in the doorway, feeling the crisp night air, he wrapped his arms around her from behind and, unable to help himself, began nuzzling her hair.
Lois leaned into him and made a little sound of pleasure. "We can soothe our muscles after skiing tomorrow," she murmured, her voice low and sensual.
"Mmm," Clark replied huskily. "And you can torture me with that bikini."
Tipping her head back to invite a kiss, Lois gave him a slow smile. "Would you have it any other way?"
"Absolutely not," he whispered. Their lips met and lingered for a long moment. As they separated, however, he couldn't help but grin mischievously. "Unless, that is, you don't want to wear anything at all."
Trying to look outraged — but laughing too hard to pull it off — Lois turned quickly in his arms and pushed him back into the room, sliding the glass door closed behind her. Caught off-guard, Clark stumbled backwards, laughing himself, then lifted his arms to defend himself as she started to tickle him. "I was kidding!" he choked out, trying to get enough air to talk. "It was a joke!"
"A joke, huh?" she said as she followed him into the living room, her fingers dancing over his ribs. It didn't take long for Clark's legs to come in contact with the couch and he let himself topple over onto it, pulling her down with him.
As they landed, Clark tried to catch his breath. "Mercy," he laughed. "You win."
Lois gave his ribs one last tickle, then lifted her arms to encircle his neck as she lay on top of him. "Don't start something you can't finish, Mr. Kent," she murmured, her eyes becoming a little darker.
Clark was about to lift his head to kiss her when her words filtered. He raised an eyebrow instead. "*Can't* finish?" he repeated.
Clearly noting that she'd touched a nerve in his male ego, Lois grinned and her expression became a bit more predatory. "You can't go back on your promise, after all."
As her meaning became clear, Clark gave a low chuckle. "Ah, so that's the game, huh?" he replied knowingly. "You do your best to seduce me and I have to valiantly resist."
Lois gasped. "Would *I* do that?"
Noting her exaggerated look of innocence — one that proved his evaluation was completely correct — his chuckle turned into a full blown laugh. "You are evil!" he exclaimed, tightening his arms around her waist and rolling them over until she was next to him on the couch. Capturing her mouth in a deep kiss, he trapped her against the cushions … and it wasn't long before their giggles turned into sighs of encouragement.
As their kisses became more passionate, however, and their hands began to wander, Clark's conscience began to make itself known. There was nothing he'd like more than to spend the rest of the evening in Lois's arms, doing exactly what they were doing, but he had to remember that there was another reason he'd invited her away for the weekend. Shouldn't he tell her first, before things got any more heated?
Reluctantly, he pulled back and looked at Lois longingly. Her eyes were bright as she gazed at him, her lips damp and inviting from the attention he'd just paid them, and it took all his willpower not to lower his mouth to hers once again. He took a deep breath, trying to stop his head from swimming. "As wonderful as this is," he began, giving her an apologetic look, "I should probably … get the food into the refrigerator."
If Lois was put off by his excuse, she didn't show it. Instead, she glanced at the cooler on the table and gave him a sheepish grin. "I'm sorry. I guess we got a little carried away."
"No, no," he reassured her. "It's not that. It's just …" She looked so adorable, Clark couldn't help but give her another kiss. Then, before his body could win out over his mind, he pushed himself away from her and off the couch. "How about we get unpacked and meet back here," he suggested. "I'll start a fire, and we can … talk."
With a knowing smile that meant she'd interpreted "talk" as a metaphor for "a lot more kissing", Lois readily agreed. "Sounds like a plan."
As Lois hopped off the couch in order to take her suitcase into the bedroom, Clark made his way into the kitchen, taking a few deep breaths along the way. The food was still more than adequately chilled in the cooler; he'd packed enough ice to last the groceries through the night, if need be. But he needed time to think, to gather his courage, and putting away their food was the first excuse he'd come up with.
How in the world was he going to tell her that her boyfriend was secretly the superhero she'd once longed for? Wasn't she going to be furious with him for keeping it from her? She'd been in love with Superman once — Clark still ached every time he remembered that horrible night when she'd told him so, when she'd been considering Lex Luthor's proposal. It had hurt so much to have her declare her feelings for Superman only hours after telling Clark she had no romantic interest in him. In fact, he sometimes wondered if the scars from that encounter — scars which had healed over as they'd rebuilt their friendship, but were still a source of painful memories — were the very things holding him back from telling her about Superman.
As selfish as it might be, he wanted her to fall in love with Clark, to tell him that she loved him, before she knew about Superman. And no matter how many times his head told him that it wasn't fair to push her, his heart still longed to hear those three little words from her — words that she had professed so earnestly to Superman, but never to him.
Clark sighed, feeling a little chastened by the realization. He was still feeling jealous of his creation, a feeling that should have vanished as soon as he and Lois had begun dating. She'd never given him any reason to believe that she continued to prefer the guy in the flashy red and blue suit, and indeed, her behavior towards Superman had changed significantly over the last month. Ever since Christmas, when Clark had begun courting her, she'd seemed much less distracted by the superhero, even going so far as to deliberately mention in Superman's presence last week the fact that she and Clark were a couple now.
Of course, that wasn't to say that she no longer had any romantic feelings for the superhero. Clark knew what a hard time he was having keeping his emotions from registering on his face when he saw Lois as Superman, and he hadn't failed to notice the way her eyes lit up whenever she saw him in action. She'd never acted on her interest, though, staying true to her boyfriend over the last few weeks. But neither could Clark say that she treated Superman with indifference.
As he finished unpacking the cooler, Clark leaned against the kitchen counter, lost in thought. Could that, in fact, be what was holding Lois back from committing completely to their relationship? Could she be confused by the fact that she had feelings for two different men, and, because of it, simply didn't feel right about telling Clark that she loved him yet, perhaps out of guilt? And if so, wasn't he just sabotaging his own efforts by continuing to delay telling her the truth?
Taking a deep breath, Clark straightened up and gathered his resolve. Turning off the lights in the kitchen, he made his way back into the living room, where he busied himself starting a fire in the fireplace. They needed to have their talk. No matter the reasons for Lois's hesitancy, the thing to do was to tell her as soon as possible. He loved her, and no matter how much he longed to have her tell him the same, it wasn't right to put it off any longer. Even if he dreaded the idea of having her mad at him.
"That fire looks great."
Clark startled as he heard Lois's voice behind him, and he turned around. "Sorry," he said, "I didn't hear you … come … in." His words trailed off as he looked at her. She had changed clothes in her room, discarding the more professional clothing she'd worn to work in favor of lounging clothes. If she'd thought she was dressing down, however, she was sorely mistaken. A pair of slim-fitting long-underwear bottoms hugged her legs, while an oversized sweatshirt barely reached to her thighs. She was completely covered … yet in such a way that made him feel as if she had very little on. Clark swallowed. "Wow, you look incredible."
Lois ducked her head and gave a self-conscious smile. "It's just my pajamas. It's starting to snow outside … I thought it might be nice to cuddle up by the fire."
"That sounds great." Clark stood up, trying not to stare. Looking at her like this was definitely not helping to keep him on track. "Maybe I should change, too."
Lois shook her head. "No, don't." She walked around the couch to where he was standing, reaching down to turn off the lamp as she passed the end table. The flickering light from the fire was all that illuminated the room. "I think," she said, looking him up and down in his dark dress pants and cream-colored dress shirt, "that you look fantastic just the way you are." She wrapped her arms around his neck and slowly pressed a kiss to the skin at the opening of his unbuttoned collar.
Closing his eyes, Clark exhaled a shaky breath as she continued to trail sensual kisses up the side of his neck and along the edge of his jaw, but by the time she reached his chin, he could no longer hold himself in check. Lowering his head, he met her mouth in a full kiss, then moaned quietly as her tongue brushed lightly against his. He tightening his arms around her waist. "Are you trying to seduce me?" he whispered.
Gently winding her fingers through his hair, Lois gave him a little smile. "If I am, do you want me to stop?"
Clark took a shaky breath. "No."
"Good," she replied, bringing his mouth down for another kiss.
He deepened it instantly, his hands caressing their way down her body. "Oh, Lois," he sighed as she pressed herself more tightly against him. "I love you so much."
Lois pulled her head back so she could look him in the eye and brought one hand up to caress his cheek. "Oh, Clark," she replied tenderly. "I—"
Clark shook his head, realizing instantly what he had done. "No, you don't have to say it back," he said quickly. "I know you're not ready … that you're not sure."
He stepped back a little, trying to catch his breath and calm his body. "And it's OK, really." He took her hands in his and held them to his chest. "In fact, I think I might know why," he began, trying to quell the nervousness that had begun building once again. It was the moment of truth. He looked into her eyes, hoping against hope that she wouldn't hate him once she knew everything about him. "Lois, I need to talk to you—" Clark swallowed, forcing the rest of the words out. "About Superman."
Lois's eyes widened in surprise, but she quickly shook her head. "Superman? Clark, no, you don't understand!" Cutting him off, she lifted herself up on tiptoe and threw her arms around his neck, swallowing his sound of protest with another kiss. When she finally pulled back, she stared into his eyes, as if imploring him to believe her. "I don't want Superman," she told him breathlessly. "Only you. I love you, Clark."
Stunned, Clark lost himself in her gaze, his heart soaring at her words. All this time, he'd been wrong. She hadn't been conflicted in her feelings for him at all; she really had just needed time! True, she'd misunderstood what he was trying to tell her, but he had waited so long to hear those words from her… "Oh, Lois," he murmured emotionally, covering her mouth with his. "Oh, honey."
As their mouths met, they slowly lowered themselves to the carpet, their passion igniting as they continued to kiss in front of the soft glow of the fireplace. Half-covering her body with his, Clark growled with pleasure as he felt her thigh wrap itself around his hip. "You need to help me keep my promise," he reminded her in a husky whisper, even as his hand began to wind its way under her sweatshirt. "You feel so good."
Lois moaned softly as she arched into him. "We'll help each other," she assured him. "Just don't stop yet."
"I won't," he vowed, his words becoming more labored. "We'll just … trust each other … to stop."
"I love you, Clark."
His heart swelling with emotion, he began layering butterfly kisses along her eyes, her cheeks, her chin. "I love you, too, Lois … I love you … I love you … I love you."
As she sighed happily beneath him, Clark briefly felt his conscience prick at him again, reminding him of his intent to tell her about Superman tonight. But as Lois rolled him over to unbutton his shirt, and began kissing her way down his chest, it was easy to push such thoughts away.
After all, he began to rationalize, she'd probably be angry when she found out … so much so that she might not even want to get on the snow tomorrow. And since he had invited her here for a weekend of skiing, it really wouldn't be fair to ruin everything before they'd even gotten a single day out on the slopes …
And Lois felt so incredibly good in his arms … and was doing the most amazing things with her mouth …
You're a coward, his mind told him.
True, his body agreed …
But as the tip of Lois's tongue began tracing the most erotic patterns against his skin, he was currently the happiest coward in the world.
Lois woke the next morning to the smell of brewed coffee, and she puzzled for a moment as she slowly opened her eyes. As she recognized her surroundings, however, she stretched in bed, sighing happily. Reaching a hand out to touch the pillow next her, Lois smiled as she noted that it was still slightly warm. Clark clearly hadn't been up too long himself.
It had been wonderful sharing the bed with him last night. She'd occasionally slept at his apartment before, usually on the couch, though once in his bed, when she'd had a particularly bad scare. But never with Clark there next to her. True to their word, they had stopped short of making love last night — no, Lois corrected herself, they had stopped short of having sex; she couldn't imagine calling what they'd done last night anything other than making love — but it hadn't taken much convincing for Clark to accept her invitation to sleep alongside her. He'd given some token protests, of course, reminding her that she'd accepted the invitation on his assurance that he'd sleep on the couch. But after she'd promised to defend her honor if he tried anything funny — a comment which had made him laugh out loud, even as he asked about his own honor — he'd willingly agreed.
It was amazing to her how his reassurances earlier in the week that he wouldn't pressure her about the physical side of their relationship had freed her to be more physical with him. A few days ago, she'd been nervous about going away with him at all, assuming that her acceptance of the trip would also imply that she was willing to have sex with him. Yet Clark had seemed to understand that they weren't ready for that step, and had let her set the pace last night, keeping his promise that they wouldn't do anything she wasn't comfortable with. He'd proven that she could trust him to keep his word, and that he wouldn't put his needs ahead of hers. And, in return, she'd shown the extent of that trust by asking him to stay with her in the bedroom.
They'd cuddled together long after the lights had been turned out, talking until they'd become too sleepy to do so anymore, and she'd felt so close to him emotionally. She'd deliberately changed the subject the few times Clark had tried to bring up Superman — she still felt a little guilty that he'd apparently assumed her past feelings for the superhero were holding her back in their relationship — but the rest of their conversation had flowed so easily that it hadn't been difficult to stay away from that particular topic.
She had gotten one surprise out of their talk, however — when Clark had admitted he'd been telling the truth last summer when he'd told her he loved her to keep her from marrying Lex Luthor. Not that she should have been completely shocked; even at the time, she'd half-suspected that his later insistence that he'd made it all up in desperation had been done in an effort to save their friendship. But by the time she'd been emotionally able to deal with that realization, he'd stopped giving her any reasons to suspect it to be true. At least, that was, until the special attention he'd started showing her after Christmas.
Of course, she'd been able to give him a shock of his own by informing him that, before he'd insisted on speaking first that day last June, she'd been on the verge of telling him that she'd come to believe that she'd made a mistake in turning him down. The look on his face when she'd told him had been absolutely priceless.
Yet as much as Clark had kicked himself for interrupting her, they'd both agreed over the course of the conversation that it was probably for the best. Entering into a relationship so soon after Lois had been engaged to someone else could very well have ruined any chance they'd have had of making it work; it had simply been too soon, and they'd each had unresolved feelings about everything that had happened. But now they had no such problems … and they were each free to bask in their developing relationship, baggage-free. Well … at least with as little baggage as was possible for Lois Lane to have in a relationship.
Just then, a warm voice came from the doorway, interrupting her pleasant thoughts. "Good morning, sleepy head. I was just about to come wake you up."
Lois smiled as she turned towards the door. "Good morning, yourself. You got up early."
Clark sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned down to give her a kiss. "Not too early … I just wanted to get breakfast started."
"What time is it?"
"About seven-thirty," he replied absently, paying more attention to the way she was dressed than what she was saying. He pulled the covers down a little lower. "God, Lois," he said with a little growl, "you look so good in my shirt."
Lois gave him a sexy smile, suddenly feeling nearly as alluring as he'd made her feel last night. "For some reason, I didn't need that sweatshirt to stay warm last night, after all," she replied, running her fingertips seductively up his bare arms, then shivering slightly at the low rumble of approval she received. "Must have been an extra source of body heat in bed with me."
"Mmm, I can't imagine what it could have been," he murmured, lowering his head to feather kisses along her jaw line. "Though I am starting to feel a little warm myself."
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she gently scratched her fingernails along the skin of his upper back and shoulders, even as she tilted her head to give him better access to her neck. "Maybe you could ski in what you're wearing to cool down," she offered, sighing happily as his lips found her earlobe. "But then again, we wouldn't get much skiing in … I'd have to spend all my time beating off the other women with a stick."
Clark lifted his head as he began to chuckle. "Is that your way of telling me I should go get dressed?
Lois looked him up and down. "Oh, no," she couldn't help but drawl. He'd exchanged the pair of shorts he'd worn to bed for a pair of jeans, but other than his glasses, that was all he was wearing. She ran her hands over the muscles of his bare chest then reached up to ruffle his already adorably mussed hair. "I think you look pretty great just the way you are."
"Why, thank you." He smiled and pressed another quick kiss to her mouth. "But as much as I hate to say it, " he added reluctantly, "we should probably get moving if we want to get any skiing in this morning. The lifts don't open until nine, but we still need to rent our skis."
Lois wrinkled her nose. "And those rental places are always so crowded. OK, you're right. Do you need the bathroom before I get in it?"
He shook his head. "Nope, already used it. I just need to get dressed. But I'll have breakfast ready for you when you get out."
"I won't be long," she promised, getting out of bed and collecting her ski clothes to take them with her into the bathroom. She couldn't help but grin at his heartfelt groan of approval as he got his first look of her in the morning light, his shirt covering only the essentials, and she gave her hips an extra shimmy in response. "And thanks for making breakfast," she added mischievously as she brushed past him in the bedroom doorway. "I seemed to have worked up quite an appetite last night."
She giggled as his resulting whimper reached her ears, even through the bathroom door.
Clark had just finished setting the table when Lois joined him in the kitchen. As promised, she was wearing the black ski pants he'd first seen her wear when they'd gone ice skating last month, topped by a red turtleneck. The pants didn't have quite the same effect on him as seeing her in his shirt this morning had, but he most definitely appreciated the way they accented her gorgeous curves, curves he had gotten to experience first-hand last night. Clark sighed in contentment. Forget Lois's joke about having to keep the women away from him — he was going to be the envy of every guy on the slopes.
Pouring them each a cup of coffee, he smiled and leaned down for a kiss. "Good timing. The food's almost ready."
"Can I help with anything?"
"Nope, just have a seat … I'll turn off the burner and we'll be ready to eat."
As Lois took her place at the table, her eyes widened. "Clark, this is amazing. French toast, bacon, fresh fruit …" She took a strawberry from the bowl in the center of the table and bit into it. "Oooo, that's so good!" she said around a mouthful. "Where in the world did you get strawberries that taste this fresh in January?"
Clark transferred the last batch of french toast from the pan to the serving plate and brought it to the table. "Um," he said, clearing his throat as he sat down, "actually, I have a number of different sources." In the light of day, he was feeling more than a little sheepish about letting her distract him out of his plans to tell her about Superman last night, but even though he had already decided not to worry about it again until later in order to enjoy their skiing, he also knew that he didn't want to lie about things anymore. He served them each a generous helping of food. "Hopefully I'll get to take you to some of them one day soon."
Lois added a little maple syrup to her plate and dipped a forkful of bread into it. "Mmm," she sighed, eyes closing in delight as she ate. "Clark, this is great. You're spoiling me. I'm usually lucky if I can snag a piece of dry toast on my way out the door in the morning."
"You'll need more than that today," he responded amicably, digging into his own meal with enthusiasm. Lois may have been teasing when she'd said she'd worked up an appetite last night, but it had certainly been true for him. One thing he'd noticed about himself was that he craved junk food when he was stressed, but wanted large portions of good food when he was happy. And today, despite a slight case of nerves over his delaying their talk for another day, he was most definitely happy. He gave Lois a smile. "You're going to be exercising out in the cold so I wanted you to have something that would stick with you. Not just coffee and donuts, but real food that will keep your energy stores high."
Lois raised an eyebrow, amused. "Well, thank you, Dr. Kent. I'll remember that nutritional advice the next time I see all the junk food in your cupboards."
He stuck his tongue out at her teasing tone, then laughed as she threw a piece of bacon at him. "So excuse me for wanting to take care of you."
Lois's expression softened. "I kind of like that you want to take care of me," she admitted quietly.
His heart melting, Clark reached across the table to cover her hand with his. He was the strongest man in the world, but somehow, this woman could turn his insides to mush just by letting him into her heart. "And I like that you let me," he replied tenderly. "I think we make a pretty good team."
"Partners," she answered with a smile, intertwining her fingers with his.
"Partners," he agreed, then gave her a little grin. "With benefits."
Lois laughed. "Is that what they're calling it these days?" As he laughed with her, she gave his hand an affectionate squeeze. "So, what do you say, partner? Are you almost ready to hit the slopes?"
It didn't take them long to finish their meal and clear the table, and by the time Clark had finished brushing his teeth, Lois was already slipping her jacket on. He watched as she zipped her identification, credit card and some cash into an inside pocket, then gathered up her gloves, scarf and headband. "You definitely look like you've done this before," he observed as he laced up his work boots.
She just smiled. "Like riding a bike, I guess. It all comes back, even if you haven't skied in a few years."
"Try eight," Clark muttered. "I haven't skied since college." He pulled his jacket on over his jeans and wool sweater. "I just hope I don't make a fool of myself."
"You won't," she assured him. Then she glanced at his outfit. "That's a nice jacket. Is it new?"
He shook his head. "Bought it my senior year of college. When I was first learning, I used to just layer my barn coat over a sweater and call it good." He laughed at the memory. "I was totally fine with it, but my friends used to rib me to no end … said that even if I couldn't ski, I should at least look the part. So I finally gave in and bought this jacket on clearance." He grinned. "Only wore it a couple more times after that, too. Should have saved my money."
Lois laughed. "Ah, a slave to fashion. But they did have a point … I've seen those barn coat thingies you wear sometimes; I can't believe you didn't freeze to death! Speaking of which, you did bring a hat or headband, didn't you?"
Clark looked at the insulated gloves he was about to shove into his pockets. "Um … no. I have these, though." He gave her a lopsided grin. "The colors even match the jacket … does that count?"
"They're very nice, Clark," she said, giving him an indulgent smile. "But you'll definitely need a hat, too." She took him by the hand and led him out the door. "We'll pick one up for you at the pro shop."
He couldn't help but smile at her take-charge behavior. "I guess it's your turn to take care of me, huh?"
She grinned as he locked the door, then stood up on tiptoe to breath enticingly in his ear. "I just don't want those cute little ears to freeze, that's all."
Clark sighed in appreciation. "Can't you just warm them up that way if they do?"
Lois laughed and took him by the hand again. "Come on, let's go. We have to get cold before we can keep each other warm."
"Now that's what I call incentive!"
At a little after nine o'clock that morning, Clark followed Lois out of the ski rental shop and onto the snow, walking awkwardly in his bulky ski boots and balancing a set of skis on each shoulder. Lois carried their poles. As promised, she had made sure he was outfitted properly, from picking out a headband that matched the blues of his jacket to ensuring that the rental shop adjusted his bindings correctly for his weight and ability level.
He'd politely refused her offer to get him some toe warmers, which, as far as he could tell from the ones Lois had picked up for herself, were small, flat packets of chemicals that radiated heat for several hours, but he hadn't argued when she'd added some lip balm to their purchases. He knew the cold air wouldn't chap his lips, but if it protected Lois's, he was all for it.
Finding a flat area out of the way, Clark positioned their skis on the ground. "OK, now how do I do this again? I put the toe in first, right?"
Lois leaned both sets of poles against a nearby rack, freeing her hands to help him. "Right. Position the toe of your left boot there," she said, indicating the front of his left binding. "Now line up your heel so it's centered over the rear biding and press your weight down." As the binding gave a satisfying click, she smiled. "Good! Now the other foot … there you go. Now you're all set."
Clark moved his feet back and forth in place, getting used to the way the skis felt gliding across the snow and making sure the boots were securely attached. He watched as Lois stepped expertly into her bindings, then tried to imitate her knee movements as she mimicked a turn. "I'm sure this will all come back to me once we get out there."
"I'm sure it will, too," she said reassuringly. "And I'll be right here to help you." Moving beside him, she opened up the trail map and held it out so they could both read it. She pointed to some runs on the left side of the map. "I asked at the desk and they said this area here is probably the easiest for beginners. It's wide open and not too steep, and we can get to it from this double lift right here."
Clark made a face. "The *bunny* hill? Lois, I'm not *that* new at this!"
She rolled her eyes. "God, you're as bad as my father … every year we'd come out and he'd insist that he didn't need a practice run, and every year, he'd end up dislocating something when he fell. Of course, it was never his fault … the bindings were always set wrong, or the conditions were too icy. I swear, Clark—"
Clark couldn't help but laugh as she geared up. "OK, OK," he exclaimed, holding up his hands in surrender. "You're right. We should start slow. I just meant that I wasn't an absolute beginner. I used to ski the advanced runs; it's just been awhile, that's all."
"I just don't want you to get hurt," she explained.
He smiled and ran his hand down her arm. "I won't get hurt, I promise."
She looked up at him, her tone becoming more gentle. "'Cause, you know, we have the hot tub for sore muscles, but it won't help a broken bone."
Wrapping his arm around her shoulder, Clark smiled as she leaned into his embrace. "No broken bones," he assured her. "You don't have to worry about that."
Lois lifted her face to his. "I want you to stay safe."
"I'll stay safe." His smile was warm as he gently kissed her lips. "And I'll be the one massaging your sore muscles tonight; you have my word."
Lois gave a satisfied sigh, then pulled back. Her eyes were bright as she retrieved their poles. "I'll hold you to that. Now, let's go."
Clark let Lois move forward first, then carefully skated along behind her, still trying to get used to the snow. It really wasn't all that different from ice skating, he decided, at least on the flat areas. Push left, glide a little, push right, glide a little, alternate the poles for balance … it was coming back to him. In his mind's eye, he imagined himself moving confidently down the hill, drawing on physical memory as he tried to remember which edge to weight in order to turn in each direction.
Unfortunately, he was concentrating so hard on his memories that he didn't realize Lois had stopped until it was almost too late. "Whoa!" he exclaimed, then blinked in surprise as his heels instinctively flared out to the sides, turning the tips of his skis inwards in a basic snowplow. He stopped just shy of her skis.
Lois glanced over her shoulder from the back of the lift line. "You OK?"
"Yeah!" He gave her a goofy grin as he slid up alongside her. "I guess you were right about it being like riding a bike. I remembered how to stop."
"A very important skill to have!" she agreed, chuckling with him. "I remember one year, when I was in high school, my sister and I were racing to see who could get to the bottom of the lift faster. I won, but she came up so fast behind me that she crashed into me. We took the whole lift line out when we fell!"
Clark laughed out loud as they moved up a place in line. "The first time I went, my friends taught me how to turn but forgot to tell me how to stop. I made it down just fine but I had no idea what to do when I reached the bottom. I ended up in the middle of the parking lot."
"No!" she exclaimed. "Did they come and get you?"
"Yeah," he chuckled. "It was pretty embarrassing. Though it could have been worse. I knew one guy who said the first time he went skiing, his friends forgot to tell him to get off the chair at the top. He went all the way around and started to head back down. They had to stop the whole lift and back it up!"
Dissolving into giggles, Lois had to use the tip of a gloved finger to wipe a laughter-induced tear from her eyes. "When I was a kid, I used to think it was fun to swing my legs on the lift and rock the chair. Except once, when I was about seven, I did it too early, just as we were starting to climb. I caught my tips on a mound of snow and somersaulted right out of the chair. Luckily, I landed on a baby pine tree. I was fine, but my poor mother almost had a heart attack!"
Clark roared with laughter. "Did the tree survive?" he choked out.
Lois was laughing too hard to even answer him.
Continuing to trade stories, they worked their way up the lift line and it wasn't long before they had reached the front. Following Lois's reminders, Clark shifted both of his poles to his inside hand as he got into position next to her, then sat down carefully as the chair swung up behind them. As they settled in and the chair began to ascend, Clark blew out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding.
"I love chair lifts," Lois said cheerfully as she perched next to him, looking all around. "I love how far you can see from the top, and watching the people ski down below. Don't you love it?"
"Uh … yeah," Clark replied, keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead. He hooked his elbow securely around the side bar, suddenly remembering why he hadn't done more skiing. It wasn't the coming down that bothered him; it was the going up. "It's … fine."
"And the trees look so pretty from up here," she added, leaning forward to look beneath them. "Especially when they're all covered with snow."
Clark glanced over at her, then gulped at her movement. Unable to stop himself, he quickly switched his poles to his outside hand and reached over to press her back into the seat. "Geez, Lois, do you have to lean out so far?" he exclaimed. "You're going to fall out again!" As soon as she complied, he quickly lowered his free hand to the seat beneath them and gripped the edge of it with his fingers, shifting uncomfortably.
Lois turned to him, eyes wide with surprise. "Clark, are you afraid of heights?"
He felt the tips of ears begin to turn red. "No, of course not," he said, forcing a laugh. "That's ridiculous." And he was telling the truth — heights didn't bother him at all. Being confined to a chairlift high in the air, however, was a completely different matter.
It wasn't that he was afraid they would fall, despite what Lois was surely thinking. He just couldn't seem to stop worrying about what he'd do if something happened while they were up there. It was the same feeling he got when flying in an airplane — of not being in control of his situation, and knowing that he wouldn't be able to help in a disaster without giving away his secret. Despite the open air around them, the thoughts made him feel almost claustrophobic and Clark felt himself grip the side bar a little more tightly. Swallowing, he wondered if floating a centimeter or two above the seat would make him feel any better — and if Lois would notice if he did so.
As he glanced over to see if she was still watching, however, he couldn't help but sigh as he noted the look of growing concern on her face. "OK, fine," he admitted. "It's not heights, exactly, but these things do make me uncomfortable. I'm not afraid of falling, but the idea of getting stuck up here if it breaks down makes me nervous."
Lois's expression turned from concern to sympathy. "It's not going to break down."
"I mean, yes, it stops sometimes, but never for very long."
They sat for a moment in silence, then suddenly, Lois shifted closer to him on the seat. "Put your arm around me," she instructed.
Clark furrowed his brow. "What?"
She gently pried his fingers from the seat bench. "You heard me, put your arm around me." When he reluctantly complied, she turned her face to his. "Now kiss me."
"Clark! Which one of us has done more skiing?"
"Exactly. So you need to do what I say. Kiss me."
With a roll of his eyes, Clark did as he was told. Her lips were cooler than usual, having been exposed to the cold winter air, but he couldn't help but relax a little as her mouth softened against his. The kiss was gentle … tentative … but he couldn't deny that the butterflies in his stomach no longer seemed to command his full attention.
When he pulled back, Lois lifted her free hand up to his face, tenderly stroking his chin with a gloved finger. "Hmmm, that was nice," she sighed. "Can you do it again?"
This time, Clark didn't even try to argue, covering the small distance between their lips with a tiny moan. His eyes closed and he lost himself to the wonderful sensations kissing Lois always brought him.
When they finally separated, several kisses later, Clark blinked in surprise. "We're almost to the top."
Lois just grinned. "Still nervous about the lift?"
With a broad smile, Clark let go of the railing and got his skis in position to meet the snow at the top of the hill.
"For the first time in my life, Lois, I'm actually looking forward to the next ride!"
As the large clock on the tower of the base lodge approached noon, Clark found himself carving a series of quick turns down an intermediate run, trying to keep track of everything Lois had taught him over the course of the morning. His task was made only slightly more difficult by the fact that his girlfriend was, at that very moment, skiing a few yards in front of him and he kept being distracted by the sway of her hips as she moved from turn to turn.
As she had indicated, Lois was an excellent skier, and it had been a joy to spend the morning with her. They'd moved quickly from the easy runs to the intermediate ones — as soon as Clark had been able to convince her that he indeed wasn't a total beginner — and it hadn't taken them long to get their "snow legs". Fortunately, the skills he'd developed in his college days had come back to him fairly quickly, though trying to keep up with Lois without resorting to the use of his superpowers was definitely a challenge.
Lois had been a very patient and helpful teacher, and she'd seemed genuinely interested in watching his form and offering suggestions for improvement. Under her tutelage, he'd finally been able to understand some of the techniques he'd been taught in the past, but hadn't really put into practice because it had been easier to compensate with his strength instead. After only a few hours of one-on-one instruction with Lois, he found that his turns were more fluid, his balance was better, and the whole experience was more satisfying. Even when he occasionally slipped, lazily forcing his skis into the intended position instead of using proper form, he could immediately feel the difference. Doing it correctly simply felt much better.
Amazingly, Lois had even gotten him more comfortable with the chairlift. It still wasn't his favorite part of the day, but knowing they'd be able to kiss and snuggle on the ride had him almost looking forward to their trips back up the mountain. Coupled with the gorgeous weather — the temperature was hovering just below freezing, the sun was shining brightly — he could honestly say this was shaping up to be a perfect day.
Noticing suddenly that Lois was moving off to the side of the run, Clark adjusted his course to follow her, imitating her as she changed from short, fast turns to longer looping ones. They skidded to a stop just above a fork in the trail, out of the way of the other skiers on the hill.
Clark watched as Lois took off her gloves and pulled the trail map from her pocket. "Anything wrong?
She shook her head and smiled. "Nope; I'm just getting hungry, that's all. How about you?"
"Oh, you know me," he replied, smiling back. "I can always eat."
"I was thinking we could try that sandwich shop they have at the top of Lift 7. It looked cute and we could get back on the slopes fairly quickly. If you want something more substantial, though, there are lots of other choices…"
"No, no, that place sounds great. I checked out the menu the last time we went up that way … they've got chili, too, if you want to warm up."
Lois studied the map for a moment, then returned it to her pocket. "OK, then, you have two choices as to how to get there." She grinned at him as she spoke.
"Uh oh," he laughed. "You have that look in your eye."
With a smile, she pointed the rest of the way down the slope they'd been on. "This one stays intermediate all the way down. It lets us out at the bottom of Lift 3, which we can take back up to work our way across to Lift 7. Or …" she paused dramatically, her eyes dancing. "We can take this fork here to our left and it will drop us right at the base of Lift 7, which we can then take directly to the restaurant."
"I can tell by your tone there's a catch," he said, narrowing his eyes with mock suspicion.
Lois chuckled. "This way includes a moderately steep black diamond. It's not the hardest run on the mountain, but it's a lot more than we've done so far. Think you're up for it?"
Clark planted his poles in the snow as if gearing for battle. "I'll follow you anywhere, my love! Lead on."
Lois laughed but she continued to eye him carefully. "You're sure?" she questioned. "I mean, you've been doing great but I don't want to push you if you aren't ready."
He gave her a confident grin. "Lois, I was born ready."
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Ah, male ego. I should have known." Then she grew a bit more serious. "OK, we'll go this way, but listen, Clark, there's a mogul field to the left, so stay to the right. I might do a few, but you don't want to get stuck in there if you've never done them before. OK?"
He just smiled. "Are we gonna ski or talk?"
"Oh, someone's feeling cocky!" she laughed, giving him a challenging grin. "OK, big boy, let's see what you've got." And with that, she darted off down the narrow trail, leaving him behind.
Clark grinned as he immediately set off after her, his competitive spirit piqued. Lois had been doing a wonderful job of instructing him on the easier slopes all morning, but he was ready for a bigger challenge. And from the excitement he could see sparkling in her eyes as she'd taken off, she clearly was, as well.
He followed her down, keeping his turns tight to control his speed. It was more difficult to resist using his powers on the steeper slope, but he was determined to put what he'd learned that day to the test. Furrowing his brow in concentration, he focused on keeping a smooth rhythm, trying not to overcompensate as he picked up speed.
As he came over the top of a small ridge, however, Clark found himself skittering to a stop. Lois had been right about there being a mogul field on the bottom of this run, and he watched, amazed, as she ventured into it. Each of the numerous mounds of snow were nearly as tall as she was, yet she had thrown herself into them with abandon.
Fascinated, he studied her movements, marveling at how quickly she was able to turn as she worked her way through the field. As much as he'd enjoyed having her teach him this morning, he'd been hoping he'd get a chance to see what she really could do … and he certainly wasn't disappointed now that he had. The strong leg muscles that helped her take out bad guys with martial arts kicks were now helping her absorb the bumps of the run, and the focus she usually showed when attacking an investigation were now focused solely on attacking the mountain. Watching her, Clark couldn't help but wonder if the nickname "Mad Dog Lane" had been coined on the ski slopes instead of in the Daily Planet's newsroom. If not, it should have been.
As she exited the moguls, Lois executed a few more graceful turns as the run ended, then stopped at the base of the lift, clearly searching for her partner. She looked very pleased with herself, Clark noted as he watched her over the top of his glasses, and he couldn't help but smile in response. As she caught sight of him still in the middle of the slope, however, her grin of accomplishment turned first to a look of confusion, then to one of concern.
Clark furrowed his brow for a moment, wondering why in the world she would be worried, but it didn't take him long to put it together and he laughed out loud. She probably thought he had chickened out on the run! With a grin, he launched himself down the slope, knowing that he had her full attention and suddenly feeling like showing off for her. He skirted the edge of the mogul field for a few moments, concentrating on keeping his turns quick and tight, but as his confidence built, he suddenly threw caution to the wind and darted into the bumps.
Once inside, Clark wondered briefly if he had made a mistake in trying to show off — it was a lot harder than he'd expected to keep his focus as he traveled from one snow mound to another in quick succession. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to concentrate, trying to duplicate the path that Lois had taken, traveling only halfway up the side of each mogul before turning sharply to reach the next one. He was slower than Lois had been, and much less graceful, that he knew for sure. But as he made his final turn and saw nothing but smooth snow ahead of him, Clark couldn't help but raise his poles with a triumphant shout. He had made it!
He looped a few more turns down the rest of the hill, and skidded to a stop near the end of the lift line where Lois was waiting for him. His grin widened even more when he saw that Lois was just as excited as he was.
"You did it!" she cheered. "Come on, let's get on the lift so I can hug you!"
Clark laughed as he followed her through the line, and it didn't take long before they were on the chair riding up.
True to her word, Lois threw her arms around him as soon as they were in the air. "Clark, I'm so proud of you!" she exclaimed. "That was fantastic!"
He hugged her close, feeling so pleased with himself that he couldn't stop smiling. "Thank you!"
"I was worried when I got to the bottom and I saw you still up there. I thought you'd gotten in over your head and were trying to figure out how to get down without turning into a human snowball."
"No, I'd just stopped to watch you," he explained. "You looked so good out there, Lois! And you're a lot better at the bumps than I am. But you made it look like so much fun that I just had to try."
"And did you have fun?"
"Uh," he stalled, still grinning. "Let's just say I was both delighted and relieved when I was done. But I'd definitely like to try it again after lunch."
"You got it, partner," she agreed, smiling broadly. "This afternoon, we're hitting the good stuff!"
They didn't linger long over lunch, choosing to head back out to the slopes as soon as their food had settled. The weather was beautiful, the slopes well-groomed, and they were having too much fun to spend their time cooped up in a restaurant, even in one with such beautiful views of the area.
As they'd agreed before their break, the next few hours were spent exploring the more advanced trails that Mount Troy had to offer, and Clark found his confidence growing with each run. Lois, too, was clearly enjoying the steeper terrain, and was no longer taking it easy on him as they raced their way down the mountain.
Of course, the more competitive Lois became, the more it inspired Clark to do the same, and he couldn't help but tease her with a little "trash talk" when he'd finally beaten her to the bottom. "Ah, the student has surpassed the teacher!" he exclaimed as the chairlift climbed its way back up. "There is clearly nothing more for me to learn."
Lois laughed at his cocky announcement, even as she rolled her eyes. "You just got lucky this time and you know it. Besides, it's not all about speed. Gracefulness counts, too!"
Clark just shook his head, trying not to grin but failing miserably. "No, no … don't try to put a spin on it. I beat you fair and square." He slung his arm over her shoulders, the picture of confidence. "Might as well give it up, Lois. I'm clearly destined for the Olympics. Or maybe I'll skip that step and just turn pro."
"Yeah, but a professional *what*? Hey, I know!" she exclaimed, answering her own question, "You can be one of those dummies the ski rescue people practice on!"
"Oh, quit trying to deny it," he teased back. "You know you're impressed. I can see it in your eyes."
She jabbed an affectionate elbow into his side as they neared the top of the lift and prepared to dismount. "That's indulgence, sweetheart, not admiration. I'm just letting you enjoy the moment since we both know you'll never experience it again."
Clark laughed out loud and followed her to the top of the next run. "I guess I'll have to prove it to you, then."
Lois stopped at the edge, then turned to him, a sly look on her face. "Maybe you'd like to back up that confidence with a little bet?"
"What exactly do you have in mind?"
Her expression turned more seductive as she looked him up and down. "How about … the first one down the mountain — without falling — earns a full body massage?"
"A full—" Clark swallowed, his heart rate picking up immeasurably. "Tonight?"
Lois's mouth curved into a slow, sultry smile. "Well, we could do it at the bottom of the run," she purred, pressing her body against his. "But what I have in mind could get us arrested if we try it in public."
He let out a shaky breath as his gaze flickered to her mouth. "Lois …"
As if reading his mind, she lifted her lips to his and kissed him provocatively. "So do we have a deal?" she whispered against his mouth.
"Definitely," he agreed breathlessly, his voice low and husky. "But I'm not sure it's much of a bet … I win either way."
Lois smiled. "I'm glad you think so," she murmured, giving him another lingering kiss. Then she pulled away and grinned. "'Cause there's no way you're going to beat me this time." And with that, she ducked out of his embrace and took off down the mountain.
Clark's jaw dropped at her sudden escape, and he stared after her, stunned. Still, it didn't take him long to figure out what had just happened. "Why, you little—" he exclaimed, taking off after her. "You're gonna pay for that!" He could hear her giggle from several yards down the slope and he couldn't help but shake his head in amusement, even as his body protested her absence.
Luckily, despite Lois's substantial head start, the run was open enough for him to be able to close the gap and Clark put all his focus into doing so. Letting himself pick up speed by limiting his turns, Clark knew he was cheating by using his powers, but he rationalized it away by remembering Lois's sneaky — albeit extremely effective — tactics. What was good for the goose was good for the gander, after all. He sped down the run until he was skiing parallel with her, then slowed to exactly match her pace, waiting for her to notice him.
It didn't take long for Lois to glance over, and as her eyes opened wide with shock, Clark couldn't help but give her a cocky grin. "I hope you packed some massage oil," he called out. "You're going to need it!" And with that, he accelerated again to take the lead.
As Lois's gasp of protest reached his ears, Clark could only laugh as he sped up even more, pulling farther ahead. Granted, she would probably kill him when they reached the bottom, but really, it didn't matter to him who won their bet … he had already promised to give her a massage tonight, and he had no intention of backing out. In fact, he'd been unable to think of little else since lunchtime, when Lois had stretched enticingly in her chair and wondered aloud how sore she'd be at the end of the day.
Of course, if she were to take her loss in stride and return the favor by giving him a massage as well, he'd be more than happy to oblige. He wasn't sure how much skin a "full body" massage entailed, but if their experience last night had taught him anything, it was that they could give each other an incredible amount of pleasure with their hands.
Clark inhaled sharply as memories of their night together filled his mind and he felt his skin begin to flush. Being with Lois last night had been one of the most incredible experiences of his life, even if they had honored their agreement not to go all the way this weekend. Her body had felt so good molded to his, her feminine curves an alluring mix of strength and softness, her skin like silk under his touch … and she had known just how to touch him in return. He had never known he could feel as good as he did last night.
Completely distracted by his thoughts, Clark didn't notice at first that he'd wandered a bit too close to the edge of the slope, but the stand of pine trees which suddenly showed up in his peripheral vision brought him abruptly back to reality. Biting back a mild curse, he turned sharply back towards the hill, but in his haste, he overcompensated and quickly felt the edge of his ski bite into the hard-packed snow. It swerved out from under him and he was down on his side before he knew what was happening.
His first impulse was to use his powers to right himself, but it didn't take more than a second to dismiss that thought. Not only was Lois coming up behind him, but there were other skiers on the slope — not to mention on the chairlift above him — who might well notice if he did something unusual.
Resigned, he allowed himself to tumble, adjusting his position only enough to prevent his glasses from breaking. He felt his left ski pop off, followed quickly by his right, then the force of the snow peeled one of his gloves from his hand, taking his pole with it. Finally, he felt himself come to a stop and he sat up, sputtering and spitting snow from his mouth.
Within seconds, Lois was skittering to a fast stop nearby, almost falling herself in her haste to get to him. Her face was full of fear and concern. "Oh my God, are you OK?" she gasped.
Clark just shook his head in embarrassment. "I'm fine, I'm fine … nothing bruised but my ego." It was only then that Clark noticed she had picked up one of his skis on the way down. "Thanks," he said sheepishly.
Relieved that he wasn't hurt, Lois took a moment to survey the snow around them, taking inventory of his scattered gear. One of his poles had landed within reach, but the other — along with his loose glove — had continued a bit farther down the hill. His remaining ski, however, had come to a stop before Clark had, and was now resting on its brake, several feet above them. "Now this is what I call a yard sale!" she declared, her tone almost admiring.
Despite himself, Clark burst out laughing. Taking the ski Lois had collected, he slid down the hill on his hip until he'd caught up with his runaway pole. By the time Lois had joined him again, he'd replaced his glove, pushed himself up into a standing position, and clicked his boot into the single ski. Then he glanced up the hill to where his other ski had come to rest, far out of reach.
Lois followed his gaze, then looked at him apologetically. "I managed to grab one of them as I followed you down, but I couldn't get them both. Here, hold my skis while I hike up to get it for you."
Before she could pop them off, however, Clark stopped her. "No, that's OK. I can get it. Even though they're rentals, I have them pretty well trained."
Lois just looked at him in confusion. "Trained? What are you talking about?"
Trying to smother a smile, Clark pointed to the ski. "Watch," he told her. Pursing his lips, he gave a sharp whistle in the direction of the ski, then quickly inhaled. Sure enough, the subtle use of his super breath caused the ski to disengage from the small chunk of ice that had been holding it in place, and it began to slide directly towards him. As it came into reach, Clark quickly grabbed it and popped it back into place on his foot. Only then did he meet Lois's look of complete astonishment.
"How did you do that?" she gasped.
Clark winked. "Ancient snowball's secret," he answered, his face breaking into a grin as he saw her eyebrows crawl up into her forehead. Before she could formulate a response, Clark leaned over and pressed a kiss to her mouth. "Race you to the bottom," he teased, then pushed off once more.
Lois took her time skiing the rest of the way down the mountain, watching Clark as best she could to make sure that he wasn't showing any negative effects of his fall. It had been a pretty impressive tumble, and she couldn't deny that her heart had stopped momentarily when she'd watched him go down. Fortunately, he didn't seem to be injured, or at least he didn't seem to be favoring any part of his body. She could only hope that he wasn't simply brushing off the effects of an injury to save his pride.
She did expect him to be a bit sore tonight, though, even if he hadn't fallen. She knew she was working muscles she wasn't used to working, and she could only assume the same would be true of Clark. But there was nothing wrong with a little soreness, especially if it gave them the perfect excuse to use the hot tub and exchange massages. In fact, Lois thought with a grin, even though she had won their bet, she might even be convinced to give him the first massage, just to get her hands on that gorgeous body of his.
Lois was still smiling as she and Clark reached the bottom of the run and took their place at the back of the lift line.
"Pretty pleased with yourself, aren't you?" he asked.
Her smile widened, even as she batted her eyes at him. "Why, whatever do you mean?"
"You're wearing your 'I turned Clark into a human snowball and I'm proud of it' smile."
Lois laughed. "Actually, I wasn't thinking that at all." She moved closer to him and dropped her voice to an intimate murmur. "I was thinking about how good the hot tub was going to feel tonight and how good you're going to look in it. And," she added, meeting his eyes seductively, "how good it's going to feel to massage each other once we get out of these bulky ski clothes."
Clark's eyes lit up with definite interest. "I certainly like your explanation a lot better than the one I came up with."
"Mmm, maybe we could give each other a little preview of what's to come when we get into the chairlift."
"OK, this line is way too long!" he declared, looking around at the number of people waiting.
Laughing with him, Lois glanced up at the lift above them, but when she saw that the chairs were stationary, her expression turned into a grimace. "I hate to say it, but it's going to get a little longer. The lift isn't moving. Must have had to stop it for some reason."
That broke the mood. She watched as Clark swallowed uncomfortably and pulled back. "Then I guess it's just as well we're not on it."
Lois patted his arm reassuringly. "It won't take long … someone probably just took a little spill while getting off. No big deal." Still, as a few minutes turned into a few more, she noticed that Clark kept fidgeting and looking over the top of his glasses. "What are you doing?"
He quickly pushed his glasses up on his nose and gave her a guilty smile. "Nothing … I was just wondering if maybe we should try another lift. I bet this is the only one that's stuck."
Lois shrugged, noticing that other people in line were making similar suggestions to their companions. "Sure, that'd be fine. Which one do you want to try?"
As they stepped out of line to make their decision, however, the sound of a shriek sent a shiver down Lois's spine. "Help!" she heard a woman scream. "I think he's having a heart attack!"
Looking all around, Lois gasped as she finally located the source of the sound. A quarter of the way up the mountain, a middle-aged couple was stuck in one of the stationary chairs, and the man seemed to be frantically gasping for air, struggling in his seat. His wife was clutching at him, clearly terrified as she tried to prevent him from falling the fifteen feet to the ground. "Help!" she screamed again.
On instinct, Lois moved forward towards the commotion, but she quickly stopped as two ski patrol vehicles roared past on either side of her, carrying medical equipment. Glancing over at the chairlift mechanism, Lois wondered for a moment if the man could just hang on until the lift began operating again, but the behavior of the panicked chair lift operator wasn't reassuring — yelling into a walkie- talkie, he seemed nearly as scared as the couple on the broken lift.
Suddenly, however, the crowd behind her in the lift line began to cheer excitedly. "Superman!" she heard them shout. "Look, it's Superman."
Lois sighed in relief. She had no idea how Superman had managed to be upstate at this exact moment, but he was a very welcome sight. "Oh, thank goodness," she exclaimed, turning back to the lift line to address her partner. "Clark, isn't that wonderful?" As she searched the crowd, however, Lois furrowed her brow. "Clark?" He was nowhere to be seen.
Another cheer caught her attention and when Lois looked back to the chairlift, she could see that Superman had already lowered both the man and his wife to the ground and was consulting with the ski patrol workers as they brought the man the rest of the way down the mountain. "I looked at his heart and I didn't see any signs of damage," Superman was explaining as the group neared the bottom, "but he should definitely be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. It may have just been a panic attack brought on by being stranded up there, but you don't want to take chances with things like this."
Her curiosity getting the better of her, Lois popped off her skis and rested them against a nearby rack, then trotted over to where he was speaking with the ski patrol. "Superman!" she exclaimed.
Superman looked up at her and gave a little smile. "Hi, Lois."
"I'm so glad you were flying overhead. At least, I assume you were … I don't think even your ears are good enough to hear a cry for help this far from Metropolis!" Then, as an image entered her mind, Lois couldn't help but grin. "Unless you decided you wanted to go skiing with me and Clark and thought you'd come by for a few runs," she added teasingly.
Instead of laughing as she'd expected him to, however, Superman just looked uncomfortable. He opened his mouth to respond, but after glancing over at the ski patrol workers who were still gathered nearby, he seemed to rethink his words. "Uh … yeah," he finally answered. "I just happened to be in the area."
"Well, it's that man's lucky day," she told him. "To have you hear his wife call for help."
"So are you having fun skiing?" he asked quickly.
Cocking her head for a moment over his abrupt change of subject, Lois nodded. "Oh, yes. Clark and I both are." As she thought of her partner, though, she couldn't keep the smile from her face. "We came here for a romantic get-away weekend, and we're having a wonderful time."
He smiled then, the first genuine smile she'd seen from him since he'd arrived. "And has it been romantic?" he asked, his voice becoming a bit more tender.
She sighed happily. "Very romantic. Superman, he is just the most …" She sighed again, and knew her voice was getting a little dreamy. "Well, you're his friend so you know how special he is. He's wonderful."
The smile on Superman's face softened. "Oh, Lois," he whispered.
Before she could respond, however, she felt herself being jostled from behind and noticed that a crowd had gathered behind her, chattering excitedly and clutching pens and their trail maps. "Well, I better get out of your way and let you greet your adoring public," she said with an amused grin.
His eyebrows lifted in amusement. "My adoring public?" He glanced at the crowd and grinned back, his eyes twinkling at her. "And here I was expecting you to ask me to fly you up to the top of the mountain so you wouldn't have to wait in line at the chair lift."
She laughed. "No, I need to go find my boyfriend first. We'll wait in line together." She scooted off to the side to let the people behind her get closer to him and gave the superhero a little wave. "See you back in Metropolis!"
The sounds of the delighted crowd grew behind her as she made her way back to the lodge and Lois couldn't help but glance back over her shoulder and smile. Superman was being his usual friendly self, signing a few autographs and even dropping down on one knee in the snow to give a child a special smile. He really was a terrific guy.
Lois furrowed her brow. But speaking of terrific guys … she was starting to miss her favorite one. Where in the world had Clark gotten to?
She began to search the area in front of the lodge, but after coming up empty, she entered the building, deciding to check out the restroom area. A disappointed sound from the crowd outside told her that Superman had probably just left the area, but she spared them only a distracted glance. Her attention was focused on finding Clark. When he'd first disappeared, she'd assumed it had been due to something so mundane as a needed trip to the bathroom, but when he hadn't appeared at her side while she was talking to Superman, she'd started to get a little concerned as a new thought struck her. What if, given his worries about the chairlift, he was off somewhere having a panic attack of his own?
Fortunately, she hadn't taken more than a few steps in the direction of the bathrooms when she saw Clark coming towards her. He looked serious, as if he was lost in thought, but when he saw her, his face lit up with a smile. "Lois! There you are," he exclaimed.
"Where have you been?" she asked, relieved. "I was getting worried."
He looked chastened. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to just disappear on you like that."
She took his hand, feeling a little guilty that she wasn't being more understanding … he clearly looked distracted, which only made her worry more that her guess about his panic attack had been correct. "No, that's OK. I kind of wondered if the whole mess with the ski lift … well, I know it's not your favorite thing, and to see that man—" When he just stared at her like a deer caught in the headlights, she quickly smiled, wanting to reassure him. "But it all turned out OK because Superman happened to be flying by … turns out the guy wasn't having a heart attack at all. He just panicked—" When Clark only looked more uncomfortable, however, she grimaced apologetically. "I'm sorry, I'm not helping, am I?"
That earned her a smile. "You always help me," he said sincerely. "More than you know." Then he glanced outside. "I think the lifts are running again. Should we, um …?"
Lois hesitated, then shook her head. "You know, it's almost four o'clock … they're going to be closing down soon anyway. Why don't we beat the rush and head out now? It won't be quite so crowded in the rental area."
"But if you want to do some more skiing—"
She gave his hand a squeeze. "We still have all day tomorrow. Besides, I'm ready to relax in that hot tub of ours." When his face brightened at the suggestion, she couldn't help but laugh. "Come on," she said, tugging him towards the door. "Let's get our stuff."
It didn't take them long to gather up their skis and head back to the rental area. After placing their equipment into a storage locker they had rented, they gratefully slipped back into their regular boots.
"Ah, these are a lot more comfortable," Lois pronounced as they made their way back outside and found the path that would lead them back to their condo. "It feels funny to have them on after wearing those bulky ski boots, though!"
Clark just smiled and took her hand as they walked. "Are you sore?"
"No, I actually feel pretty good … my shins sometimes get a little tender the first day from pressing against the boots, but my muscles probably won't really start protesting until tomorrow morning."
"Soaking in the hot tub tonight should help with that," he commented. He squeezed her hand affectionately. "And I owe you a massage."
"And I fully intend to take you up on that!" she exclaimed. Then her smile softened. "And I'll return the favor."
He paused for a moment. "I'm lucky to have you, Lois," he finally replied, his voice quiet. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
She looked over at him, wondering what was causing him to sound so melancholy all of a sudden. "That's good," she said, affectionately bumping him with her hip. "'Cause I don't intend to let you find out."
That earned her a smile and Clark released her hand in order to loop his arm over her shoulder. "I'm very glad to hear that."
Lois wrapped her arm around his waist. "You should be," she teased, giving him a flirty smile. "There aren't many men I feel this way about, you know."
He returned her smile, pulling her closer, but when he finally spoke again, his voice sounded a little strained. "Lois … about Superman's rescue …"
"Yeah, you missed it." Lois gave a little laugh. "He did his usual great job. But it was funny to see the reactions of the crowd."
"Oh, just how shocked and excited everyone was. I guess, living in Metropolis, we forget how awestruck people from other places can be the first time they see him."
Clark paused. "And you're not … awestruck anymore?"
Lois looked at him, puzzled. He sounded almost … disappointed? But that didn't make any sense. Given his past jealousy of the superhero, shouldn't Clark be happy that she wasn't fawning all over Superman anymore?
"Well, sure I am … just not the way I used to be, that's all," she explained. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I think he's great. He's wonderful!" She gave a little self- deprecating chuckle. "And I certainly spent a long time putting him up on a pedestal. But now …" She trailed off, uncertain over how to continue. It wasn't that she wasn't impressed by Superman anymore — just the opposite; she admired him more than she could say — but how could she explain to Clark that the two men had so completely switched roles in her heart? That her best friend had become the man she fantasized about spending her life with, while the superhero was now simply her good friend? "But now that I've gotten to know him …"
They'd reached the door of their condo, but Clark made no move to go inside. He was staring at her, his brow even more deeply furrowed that before. "Now that you've gotten to know him … what?"
Lois reached up to stroke his cheek, trying to caress his worried expression away. "Clark! It's nothing to be upset about. I just finally realized that all of one ordinary man is so much better than a piece of one super man." She gave him a tender smile. "Superman belongs to the world, Clark, but you belong just to me … and I wouldn't have it any other way." Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a big hug. "Come on," she said, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "Let's get inside … I want to have a romantic dinner with my boyfriend."
As he listened to the sound of Lois's hairdryer running in the other room, Clark put the finishing touches on his dinner, even as he wondered for the dozenth time how he had gotten himself into this mess. The meal had come together nicely, and he was sure that Lois would be very complimentary of his efforts once she rejoined him in the kitchen following her shower. But while his plans for the occasion had originally included looking deeply into her eyes over dessert and confessing that for the last twenty months he'd been moonlighting as the superhero she'd been pining over for so long, Clark now found himself confronted with the ultimate irony. After spending most of the last year and a half agonizing over whether Lois would ever come to prefer Clark Kent to Superman, Clark had finally won her love … only to learn that she apparently no longer wanted to be romantically involved with his alter-ego!
Raking a hand through his hair, Clark shook his head in bewilderment. He could hardly believe how everything had turned around on him. All the words he'd been practicing were centered on apologizing to Lois for not telling her sooner, but now he couldn't shake the concern that this wasn't going to be the part she was upset about. What had she said outside? That she had lost interest in Superman because she didn't want to share him with the rest of the world?
Clark took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves as he lit the candles he'd placed in the middle of the table. Was it possible that he might finally get up the nerve to tell Lois his secret tonight, only to have her respond that she had no interest in dating someone who had taken on a such a big responsibility? Certainly, she'd reacted to Superman very differently recently than she had in the past — where before, it had always been a given that Lois idolized the superhero, her attitude towards him this weekend had been one of casual indifference.
Yet while her disinterest would have delighted him a few months ago, it was, Clark suddenly realized, the last thing he wanted from her now. He'd spent so much time wishing Lois would love him as an ordinary man that he'd forgotten that he *wasn't* ordinary … and that if they were to have a future together, Lois would have to love his other identity as well.
Was he now going to have to woo her as Superman??
He closed his eyes and groaned. "I can't believe this is happening!"
A pair of slender arms encircled his waist from behind and gave him an affectionate hug. "Can't believe what is happening?" Lois asked, clearly amused.
Clark gulped and turned in her arms. "Nothing! Just, um … dinner. That's all, just dinner. The food is ready but you were still finishing your shower and I wasn't sure how much longer you'd be and whether I should keep it warm. But now you're out, so we're all set." He gave a nervous laugh, hoping the squeak he heard in his voice was all in his mind. "See, no problem."
Lois just lifted an eyebrow as she studied him. "I think you've been hanging around me too much, Clark. You've picked up my babble gene."
He opened his mouth to defend himself but as her words filtered, he couldn't help but raise an eyebrow of his own. "Are you actually admitting that you babble?"
Lois blushed and ducked her head. "I'm not admitting anything."
Despite himself, Clark gave a little chuckle as he returned the hug she'd been giving him. He felt himself relax, as he usually did when he was in her arms. Maybe all his worrying was for nothing. Maybe he could convince her that Superman wasn't so bad while they ate dinner … yeah, that's what he needed to do. "Come on," he said with a smile. "Let's eat."
"So what are we having?" she asked, pressing a quick kiss to his mouth before taking her place at the table. "It smells wonderful."
"Thanks." Clark placed a bowl of leafy greens on the table, then turned back to the counter to retrieve the basket of crusty rolls he'd been keeping warm. Giving them another quick once-over with his heat vision, he turned back to Lois with a smile. "I hope it tastes as good as it smells."
"I'm sure it will." She took the rolls from him and, after placing them on the table, picked up the bottle of red wine he'd opened earlier. "Shall I pour?"
"Please." He placed their main serving dish on the table between them and placed a portion of food on each of their plates before being seated himself. "It's pork tenderloin medallions in a cherry sauce," he explained as he added some salad and a roll to his plate. "I hope you like it."
After filling her own plate with the side dishes, Lois cut a portion of the meat and tasted it experimentally. Her eyes widened a bit as she chewed, then they closed blissfully. "Oh my God," she murmured around the mouthful before swallowing. "Clark, this is incredible. Beyond incredible."
He beamed at her reaction and dug into his own meal. "I'm glad you think so. It's one of my favorites."
"It's going to be one of my favorites, too!" she exclaimed, taking another bite. "I mean, I know I'm hungry after all that skiing, but this is fantastic! I can't believe how good it tastes."
"It's actually my mom's recipe," he explained, taking a sip of wine. "The cherries are from a tree we have on the farm. The dish is great in the summer, when the fruit is ripe, but I love it in the winter, too."
"How do you get cherries in the winter?"
"My mom freezes the extra. I still have a few packages in my freezer, so I can make it again for you after we get home. They're tart cherries, not the sweet kind, so they aren't real good for eating plain. But they're great for pies and other baking." He paused, taking another bite, then added carefully, "Of course, with his ability to fly all over the world, Superman could probably find cherries in season all the time. Or at least other fruits that could work as well."
Lois gave a little shrug, considering this. "Yeah, I guess he could." She dipped a piece of her roll into the sauce and popped it into her mouth. "Mmm," she sighed, her expression blissful again. "But you're the one who knows how to turn the raw ingredients into these amazing dishes." She shot him a grin. "A much more important skill in my book, Clark."
Despite the fact that his ploy hadn't gotten her talking about how useful Superman was, Clark couldn't help but smile at her impish expression. "So you love me for my skills in the kitchen, is that it?"
She leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand. Her smile became more flirtatious as she looked him up and down, almost as if he were part of the menu. "I can think of a few other rooms you're pretty skillful in," she said, her voice dropping seductively as her gaze flickered briefly to the bedroom door.
"Oh, really?" he asked, leaning in a bit closer himself.
"Absolutely," she purred, her eyes beginning to twinkle. "Take the newsroom, for example."
"The … newsroom?" he repeated. The corners of his mouth twitched as he realized that she'd gotten him. "And what skills do you find so useful there?"
"Oh, too many to count," she replied. She ran a fingertip sensuously over the rim of her wine glass and looked up at him from under her lashes. "We both know that you're the best *partner* I've ever had."
There was something about the way she'd emphasized the word "partner" that told Clark she was talking about much more than just their shared byline. Remembering the enjoyable moments they'd shared after a chance meeting in the file room the other day, a low sound of satisfaction rumbled deep in his throat and he was sorely tempted to reach across the table and capture her mouth with his. Fortunately for his plans, however, the more rational part of his mind realized just in time that she'd given him a perfect opening. Clearing his throat, he went for it. "You know, Superman would be pretty handy to have in the newsroom, too."
Lois blinked, clearly not expecting this response. "Excuse me?"
Clark chuckled nervously at her arrested expression and quickly turned back to his meal in hopes of covering it up. "Well, just think about it, Lois," he explained as he began working on his salad. "Those powers could come in pretty handy sometimes, don't you think? He could … oh, I don't know … use his x-ray vision to find where the secret papers are hidden when we sneak into someone's office, or his super-speed to find the right combination on the security system." Clark took a sip of wine, warming to his topic. "He could listen in on conversations when we're on stake-outs, and if the bad guys come back before we're done, he could fly you out of there before we get caught. Not to mention, if he knew what you were working on in advance, he'd be more likely to be around when you really needed him, to save you if things got out of hand."
Glancing up as he finished his monologue, he noticed that Lois had sat back in her chair and was staring at him, completely baffled. "You … sound like you've given this a lot of thought," she finally responded.
Clark blushed slightly, then tried to smile in what he hoped was a disarming manner. "Well, some. You just got me thinking outside, that's all. You know, how you were talking about not wanting to share Superman with the rest of the world? I mean, yes, he does have to run off sometimes, but there really could be a lot of benefits of being with him, too."
"*Being* with him …" she repeated slowly. She started to say more, but then closed her mouth again, clearly rethinking her words. Finally, she began to chuckle. "OK, I get it … you want me to seduce Superman to advance our careers. You had me going there for a minute, Clark." She laughed out loud. "I've heard of sleeping with the boss, but this is ridiculous!"
Clark dropped his head into his hand, even as he had to laugh himself. She was right — this was getting ridiculous. And he had no one to blame but himself. "I didn't mean it that way," he reassured her, realizing it was time to pull back for the moment. After all, if he wasn't careful, she was going to decide he was crazy and break up with both of his identities!
"So …" he began, giving her a dazzling smile as he poured them each a little more wine. "You never finished the story of how you broke your ankle on that Daily Planet ski trip a few years ago. I want to hear all about it."
Lois stood up from the table and began stacking their empty plates. "Clark, that was fantastic. You can cook for me anytime."
"Why, thank you," he replied, rolling up his sleeves before carrying the serving bowls to the kitchen to wash them. "But I hope you saved at least a little room … there's still dessert, you know."
Despite her full stomach, Lois couldn't help but perk up with interest. "Oh! Is this the chocolate decadence you tried to tempt me with in the car yesterday?" She wrapped her arms around his waist from behind as he stood at the sink and let her hands trace over his ribs. Her voice dropped to a sultry purr. "I seem to remember it was how you were planning to seduce me."
A quiet groan escaped his lips. "You just have to do that while I'm elbow-deep in soapy water, don't you?"
Lois grinned, thoroughly enjoying his predicament. "You should be happy, Clark. It's not every man that can look this sexy washing dishes." She nuzzled against his shirt, between his shoulder blades. "But you really should let me do that … you made dinner, after all."
As her hands came up to massage his chest, Clark released a sigh of contentment. "I'll make you a deal … you keep doing that and I'll wash as many dishes as you want."
She laughed, low in her throat. "Payment for a job well done?"
He chuckled. "I can think of worse salaries." He paused for a moment, then she heard him continue, "Of course, if Superman were here, he could have these dishes washed in nothing flat. He could wash at super-speed and dry them with his heat vision … and taking out the garbage would be a snap! Of course, laundry might still be an issue; I don't think there's a good way to speed that up, but for the most part, you'd never have to worry about housework with him around 'cause—"
Lois dropped her forehead to Clark's back with a thunk. "Oh, no, not again."
She gave a short laugh, shaking her head against his shirt. She had no idea what was happening inside that head of his, but for some reason, every time she tried to be romantic tonight, Clark kept bringing up Superman. What in the world was going on?
Was it some sort of weird test? Could he possibly still be worried that she was settling for him because Superman hadn't been willing to get into a relationship with her? Granted, she'd been pretty awful to Clark early in their partnership and she'd come to suspect during their conversation last night that he'd had been more hurt than he let on by the fact that she'd rejected him in favor of Superman in the park last May. But hadn't the last few weeks convinced him that she was now committed to their relationship?
Lois furrowed her brow. Perhaps the fact that Superman had shown up this afternoon was making him feel threatened? Was he worried that she was going to change her mind and this was his odd way of seeking reassurance? Whatever the reason, she clearly needed to do a better job of impressing upon him that she'd made her choice willingly and happily, and there was only one man she wanted to be with. Drastic action was required — subtlety wasn't doing it this time.
A predatory smile growing on her face, Lois slowly moved to Clark's side, sliding her hands along his back in a seductive caress. "Clark," she purred, "I don't want to talk about Superman anymore."
He met her gaze and swallowed. "You don't?" he asked, almost nervously.
She slowly shook her head, looking him up and down and making it clear she liked what she saw. "And I think we should have dessert later."
With deliberate attention, Lois lifted her hands to the front of his flannel shirt and carefully opened his top button, then slowly moved down to open another … and another. "Yes, I do."
Clark's eyes opened wider and his breath became a little more shallow. "And what do you propose we do instead?"
Confident that she had his full attention again, Lois gave him a slow smile and moved her hands to her own shirt. As she began to unbutton it, she could hardly suppress a grin of satisfaction as his gaze became riveted to her chest. Somehow, she suspected Superman was the last person on his mind right now.
Reaching the middle button, Lois lifted her arms in an exaggerated stretch, letting the front of her shirt gap open to reveal the black bikini top she'd been wearing in lieu of a bra. "I think it would be a shame to let that great hot tub go to waste, don't you?"
There was no question that she'd been successful in her attempts to distract him. Clark's eyebrows lifted and he immediately reached for a dish towel to dry his hands. "That would, uh, definitely be a shame."
As he turned towards her, Lois moved into his embrace and began opening a few more buttons on his shirt, letting her fingers linger as they brushed against his ribs. "So we're agreed then?" she murmured coyly, leaning forward to press a kiss to his chest. "Dessert can wait?"
Clark groaned and cupped her cheek with his hand, lifting her face to his and capturing her mouth with a kiss that made her knees feel weak. "Actually," he responded in a low rumble, "I was hoping we could have dessert in the hot tub."
It was Lois's turn to feel her eyebrows rise. "Well, that's certainly a come-on," she replied, trying not to stammer. For a moment, she wondered if her teasing had gone a little too far. After all, they still had their agreement in place … didn't they?
As if he'd read her mind, Clark began to chuckle as his lips traced a seductive path down the side of her neck. "I meant the chocolate," he clarified, clearly enjoying having turned the tables on her for a moment. "We can eat our dessert in the hot tub."
"We can?" she asked, immediately intrigued. "What is it?"
Pulling back, Clark gave her sexy smile. "Well, that's for me to know and you to find out. In fact, I think I'll make you close your eyes while I get it ready," he teased, "just to make sure it stays a surprise."
Lois couldn't help but grin. "How about I go get us some towels? Then you can change into your bathing suit and get the dessert ready. I'll even ask permission before I come back out of the bathroom, to make sure you're decent."
Clark traced a fingertip down the opening of her shirt, pulling one side open a little further to give himself a better view of her skimpy black bikini top. "I seem to remember last night you telling me I was more than just decent," he said huskily. "'In fact, I think your exact words were—"
She stood up on tiptoe and captured his mouth. "You're incredible," she murmured when they'd pulled apart.
His eyes were dark and intense when he met her gaze. "Go get the towels."
The desire in his voice caused a little shiver to go down Lois's spine. "I'll be right back."
Lois lingered in the bathroom for a brief moment, holding the towels to her chest as she listened at the door. She wanted to give Clark enough time to get changed into his bathing suit before coming out, but while she'd heard him go into the bedroom a little while ago, he seemed to have exited again just as quickly. He now seemed to be moving around in the living room instead … or was it the kitchen? It was difficult to get an exact read on his location since the rustling sounds seemed to come from each place, almost at the same time. Granted, she couldn't interpret noises as well in this strange place as she could in her own apartment, but it was still very odd.
"Clark?" she finally called out. "Is it safe to come out now?"
To her surprise, the door opened almost immediately to reveal her partner, standing before her with a pleased grin on his face. "What took you so long?" he teased.
Lois's eyes opened wide as she looked at him. Clad in nothing more than blue swim trunks and his glasses, it was hard to know where to look first. His chest was bare and smooth in front of her, and the muscles on his arms bulged enticingly. Sweeping her gaze down over his chiseled abs and muscular thighs, it was difficult not to recall the first time she'd seen him like this, soon after they'd met. At the time, seeing him fresh from the shower had left her nearly speechless, yet now, a year and a half later, her reaction was much more assured. "God, you look fantastic."
Clark's amused expression became more tender. "I'm glad you think so," he said softly. He took her by the hand. "Come on, I'm ready."
She followed him out into the living room, wondering how long she'd need to sit with her eyes closed while he readied the dessert, but as they reached the sliding glass doors to the patio, she stopped in her tracks, stunned. "Clark!" she gasped, amazed. Not only was the hot tub bubbling and ready for them, but a path had been completely cleared of snow so they wouldn't need to freeze their feet as they climbed in and out. What was more, a covered tray was resting on the ledge of the tub and a fire was crackling in the living room fireplace, presumably to help them stay warm after they came back inside. "How did you do all of this so fast?"
"Let's just say I was very motivated," he replied, winking at her as he took the towels from her and set them down on the living room rug. Sliding the glass doors open, he walked outside and climbed into the bubbling tub of water, then turned to look back at her. "Aren't you coming?"
Lois stepped out onto the patio after him, but quickly stopped, uncertain. Even dressed in her jeans and a half- buttoned cotton shirt, she couldn't help but shiver against the cold. "It's freezing out here!" she exclaimed.
Clark just grinned and settled himself into the water. "It's nice and warm in here."
Lois reached down to pull off her socks and tossed them back inside. To her surprise, the concrete under her feet felt almost warm, but she knew it must be her imagination. "I suppose the faster I get undressed, the faster I can get warm again?"
He was watching her with amused appreciation. "Mmm-hmm."
Realizing she had somehow lost the upper hand, Lois felt the urge to retrieve it. "So I guess I should just strip right here, huh?" she asked provocatively, lifting her fingers back to her blouse to carefully unfasten the remaining buttons.
The smug smile on Clark's face wavered somewhat and she thought she saw him swallow almost convulsively. "That would be … great."
Taking as much time as she could manage in the cold night air, Lois proceeded to undress for him, first opening her shirt and seductively peeling it off to reveal her string bikini top, then moving to her waist to unbutton her jeans and slide the zipper down, inch by inch. As she slowly slid her jeans off her hips, exposing the bikini bottom, she could feel her body reacting to the winter temperatures and for a moment, she found herself grateful that their patio was surrounded by a privacy fence. Her boyfriend was clearly enjoying her little strip-tease — at least, if his mesmerized expression and shallow breathing were any indication — but she didn't particularly want anyone else to see the show. Unable to wait any longer, she removed her jeans completely with an extra shimmy of her hips and, after tossing her clothing inside, quickly shut the glass door.
"So," she said, trying valiantly to sound sultry as she climbed into the tub, even as her teeth were threatening to chatter, "how was that?"
The hot water felt incredible on her skin but Clark barely allowed her to sink into the bubbles before he captured her mouth with a masculine growl. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Lois melted against him, now shivering for a completely different reason, and met him kiss for increasingly passionate kiss. When they finally came up for air, Clark held her body tightly against his. "I knew I was going to regret that promise I made in the car," he groaned against her hair. "You're trying to kill me."
Lois couldn't help but giggle. "I guess it wouldn't be much of a promise if it wasn't hard to keep." "Talk about the understatement of the century," he grumbled. Then he shot her a look that told her he wasn't really upset. "Of course, considering the alternative — not being able to see you in that bathing suit, or especially missing that show — using this hot tub is worth a little torture."
"I'm glad to hear it," she said, snuggling up against him in the water. "'Cause this feels fantastic."
"What does? The hot water or holding onto me?"
Lois nibbled on Clark's earlobe. "Holding onto you in the hot water," she murmured, smiling.
He took a shaky breath, then guided her to sit on the underwater bench ringing the tub. "I think I need to give you something else to put in your mouth," he said, "before I can't be held accountable for my actions."
Lois squeezed his hand affectionately as she sank down on the seat, letting the bubbles well up over her shoulders. "I trust you, Clark," she assured him. "I know you wouldn't do anything that I didn't want you to do." "Yes, but the danger is when I'm doing something I know you *do* want me to do," he pointed out, giving her a sideways look, even as the corners of his mouth turned up in amusement.
She shrugged sheepishly, realizing how well he could read her. "So, how about that chocolate?"
Clark chuckled at her obvious attempt to change the subject, but it was clear some of the tension had left his body as he moved the covered tray closer to them. "An excellent idea."
"Do I get to see what it is?"
He looked at her speculatively for a moment, as if debating with himself. "Well, considering I didn't make you close your eyes while I got it ready before, maybe I should do that now."
"Do you have a blindfold?" she asked, unable to help the seductive tone that crept into her voice.
Clark only smiled. "This time, it's me who trusts you," he told her. "Now close 'em."
Doing as he'd asked, Lois settled against the back of the tub, trying to get comfortable despite her growing curiosity. She could hear Clark rustling the cloth that had been covering the tray, then she felt him move closer to her. "Are we ready?" she couldn't help but ask.
"Shhh," he whispered. "Open your mouth."
Stifling a self-conscious giggle, Lois did as she was told, but her amusement changed to arousal as she felt something slowly and gently trace the curve of her bottom lip, then disappear. Sighing softly, she flicked the tip of her tongue out to taste whatever it had been. She tasted chocolate … and heard Clark's breathing pick up. "You're teasing me," she murmured huskily, giving him a little smile.
"No more than myself," he replied, his voice dropping an octave in a way that never failed to send a tingle down her spine. "Try now."
She parted her lips again and this time felt the chocolate brush against her tongue. But where before it had been cool, this time it felt warm and slightly melted. Lois sucked gently, sighing as the rich, dark flavors melded in her mouth. "That's exquisite chocolate, Clark. But what is it, really? You're only letting me taste it."
"Open your mouth again," he whispered. "Take a bite."
As she bit into the chocolate he offered, Lois groaned in satisfaction at the sweet, juicy treat she'd been given. Her eyes fluttered opened in delight and she found herself looking into Clark's heated gaze. "Strawberries!"
He smiled. "You like?"
Lois turned to look at the tray beside them to discover an arrangement of chocolate-covered berries and other bite- sized delicacies. "They're one of my favorites!"
Clark picked out a small square-shaped confection and held it up for her. "I got some truffles, too, in case the fruit wasn't rich enough for you."
Lois took it from him, but instead of eating it herself, she brought it to Clark's mouth. Their eyes locked as she first traced his lips, the way he had done for her, then let him eat it from her fingers. She couldn't be sure at first whether the rush of pleasure she saw in his eyes was from the taste of the chocolate or from the way she was pressed against him, but it was all she could do to wait for him to swallow before pulling his lips to hers for a sensuous kiss. "Mmm," she sighed against his mouth. "That's the best tasting chocolate yet."
He held her close, bringing her in for another kiss. "I love you so much, Lois," he whispered.
"And I love you, Clark," she replied, bringing her arms up so she could run her wet fingers through his hair. "Thank you for this weekend … I can't even believe how wonderful it's been."
"It's been wonderful because you're here with me," he told her, his eyes staring deeply into hers as his hands caressed her bare back under the water. "I don't know what I'd ever do without you."
Lois picked up another strawberry from the plate, offering Clark the first bite, then enjoying the remainder for herself. "You said that earlier," she told him with a smile. "And I told you I didn't intend to let you find out." She nuzzled the tip of her nose playfully against his. "In fact, I just realized there is one small problem with you planning this incredible getaway for us."
"What's that?" he asked.
"It's going to be hard to top it for our hypothetical honeymoon," she teased.
Clark laughed, but his eyes sparkled with renewed interest. "Oh, really?"
"Sure! I mean, come on … cuddling in front of a roaring fire, soaking in our own private hot tub, feeding each other chocolate-covered strawberries. You have to admit," she said with an flirty grin, "it's been pretty romantic."
He grinned back at her. "I'm glad you think so. But you know, there are other ways to be romantic. We could go somewhere completely different for our honeymoon."
Clark sank deeper into the water, resting the back of his head on the ledge. "Well, let's see … we could go to an island somewhere, maybe in the Caribbean." He smiled at her. "Sun, beach, sand…"
"That sounds wonderful." Lois sighed dreamily, brushing her leg against his in the frothy bubbles.
His grin turned a bit more mischievous. "But if you really like having our own hot tub, I think there are some places in the Pocono's that specialize in that kind of thing."
"You mean like the places that have all the theme rooms, where you can get a bathtub in the shape of a champagne glass?"
"Or a bed in the shape of a heart … raised up on a platform. I bet they even have those vibrating machines that shake the mattress!"
She couldn't stop giggling at the idea. "I wonder if they have mirrors on the ceiling. If not, I'm sure we could find some of those in Las Vegas."
"We could get married by an Elvis impersonator, just to make Perry happy—"
"And then stop to see some showgirls on our way back to the hotel room!"
"The perfect trip!" he crowed. After laughing together for a moment, however, Clark pulled her to him with a smile. "You know, I actually do think some of that stuff could be fun for a long weekend, maybe after we're married. But not for a honeymoon; I'd like to do something really special for that."
"Like that island in the Caribbean?"
"Sure. Or maybe Hawaii. I really do like the sun."
Lois studied him with a soft smile, feeling a little thrill over the realization that planning a honeymoon with Clark — even a hypothetical one — made her feel safe and secure, rather than pressured about the future. She ran her fingers through the hair at his temple. "See, this is interesting … I always figured you'd be more of an adventure kind of guy. With all your experience traveling, I thought you'd want to go back to Europe or something. Show me all the places you've been."
Clark gave an agreeable shrug. "If you'd rather do something like that, believe me, I'd love it. But if you want adventure, I wouldn't take you to Europe. I'd take you to China, or on safari in Africa, or maybe somewhere even more exotic, like …" It was his turn to sound a little dreamy. "I don't know, maybe hiking in Katmandu."
Lois eyes widened. "You'd take me to Nepal?"
"Sure! If you wanted." He smiled, clearly enjoying the ideas that were coming to him. "Or maybe white-water rafting in Costa Rica … it's *beautiful* there. We'd have so much fun."
She smiled at him, thoroughly enjoying the way his eyes lit up over their conversation. "You should have been a travel agent … or maybe a tour guide," she said affectionately, running a hand over his chest. "I'd go anywhere with you. You make everything sound fun."
"Mmm, thank you," he murmured, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear as he looked into her eyes. "But honestly, it's being with you that would make it fun for me, no matter where we were."
Lois snuggled up against him. "Same here. But it does sound like we'd both prefer the beach for a special vacation. Do you like the water, too, or just the sun and sand?
He took her hand and brought it up to his mouth to give it a kiss. "Yeah, I love the water. We could go sailing … maybe do some scuba diving."
"I've never been scuba diving," she answered, stretching out in the water. "But I'd like to learn. I've been snorkeling, though. It's fun."
"I like snorkeling, too," he agreed. His gaze traveled the length of her body and he gave a little sigh of pleasure. "And no wetsuits … just bathing suits."
She gave him a slow smile, knowing exactly in which direction his mind was going. Keeping her eyes locked on his, she shifted on the seat until she was straddling him, face to face. "Of course, depending on where you go, bathing suits might be optional."
Clark's gaze grew more intense and his sigh turned into a growl as she rubbed her body against his. Then, suddenly, he smiled mischievously. "Are we back to topless beaches in Tahiti?"
Lois blinked for a moment, trying to place his reference, then began to laugh as she remembered their phone conversation on Christmas morning. They had joked — and flirted, she could now admit — about taking such a vacation together. "I don't know … I'm not sure I want you looking at all those other women," she teased.
He looked her up and down appreciatively. "Lois, trust me," he murmured. "There'd be only one woman on my mind." He brushed a fingertip against her chest at the edge of the water, tracing the place where the water bubbled above her breasts. "But you bring up a good point."
Lois found her breathing had become more shallow. "Which is?"
"That distractions are the last thing one needs on a honeymoon. Rafting, hiking, snorkeling … it would all just be gravy." He looked up at her, his eyes dark. "Because we're forgetting the most important part."
"What's that?" she asked breathlessly, her gaze flickering to his mouth.
"On our honeymoon," he murmured, slowly lifting his face to hers, "I won't have to break any promises to carry you over the threshold." Their lips met softly at first, but it wasn't long before Clark took it deeper, a quiet moan rumbling in his throat as her tongue brushed enticingly against his.
When they finally pulled back, Lois felt as if her head were swimming. "Why do I get the feeling you're talking about more than just the doorway to our hotel room?" she murmured, resting her forehead against his.
He captured her mouth again, even more possessively than before. "Much, much more," he promised breathlessly.
Lois moaned as she returned his kiss, matching his searing passion and feeling nearly overwhelmed by the intensity of her feelings. Clark was the most incredible man she'd ever met, and it still amazed her how much he loved her. She could see it in his eyes every time he looked at her, and feel it in his touch every time he held her hand or caressed her cheek … or made love to her.
But where most men she'd known had exhibited an acute fear of commitment, Clark had made his intentions clear from the moment they'd arrived this weekend — he was interested in a lifetime with her, nothing less. He was even willing to let her set the pace in their physical relationship, despite the fact that there was no question how much he wanted her. And it only made her want him more.
As they continued to kiss each other in the water and their hands became more daring in their exploration, Lois felt as if she could never get enough of him. Clark was everything she'd ever dreamed of, everything she'd ever wanted in a man, but hadn't believed existed until a few weeks ago. No, he wasn't perfect; she knew that. But he was perfect for her and, for the first time in her life, she truly believed that they would feel this way about each other forever. "Oh, Clark," she moaned softly, tilting her head to the side as he kissed his way down her neck. "You're so wonderful … I love you so much."
She heard him give a strangled groan. "My beautiful Lois," he whispered, his breath becoming more labored. "I love you … the way you make me feel …"
As he pushed the string of her bikini down on her arm to layer open-mouthed kisses over the curve of her shoulder, she felt her resolve weaken even more. "Clark … about our agreement …"
"I know," he gasped. "We should stop." In contrast to his words, however, he lifted his mouth and fused to hers with an intensity that almost took her breath away.
"We should," she agreed, whimpering against his mouth as a fresh jolt of desire shot through her in response to his touch. His hands were exploring in the most amazing ways… "Unless you don't want to?"
"Oh, God, Lois," he groaned after giving her another spectacular kiss. "There's nothing I want more than to keep going … but Superman doesn't break promises."
Lois froze as she heard the breathless, passion-filled words and, almost immediately, she felt Clark go still as well. For the first time since he'd begun bringing up the name this weekend, she felt a flicker of exasperation instead of amusement. He couldn't possibly be measuring himself against another man right now, not after — not *during* — what they'd been doing!
When she lifted her head to confront him, however, she noticed that he seemed as stunned by the words as she'd been, as if he hadn't intended for them to slip out. "Clark?" she questioned pointedly, trying to catch her breath. "Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on?"
The faint flush in his face, a result of the passion they'd been sharing, turned into a deeper blush. "I'm sorry," he said, clearly embarrassed. "That one wasn't like the other times … I wasn't trying to—"
"Trying to what?" she demanded. "Obsess about something else while we were in the middle of … doing what we were doing?"
"No!" he exclaimed. "Lois … honey … it's not like that, I swear."
"Clark," she sighed, trying to stay patient. Her annoyance at his slip had been like a splash of cold water, but his worried and guilt-stricken expression made it hard to stay mad, especially when she couldn't help but notice the way their bodies were still intertwined. "You wouldn't like it if I were doubting your feelings for me when we were together like this, would you?"
"Of course not! But—"
"And do you believe me when I say that you were the only man on my mind just now, the only man ever on my mind when I'm kissing you?"
His expression softened. "Yes … I believe you."
Lois sighed. "Honey, I love you. I don't know what else I can say or do to prove that to you." She took his hands, imploring him to listen. "Clark, I am truly sorry for hurting you last year in the park. I know that was a terrible time for you — for both of us — and I never should have asked you to find Superman for me immediately after turning you down. It was a rotten thing to do and I can only plead temporary insanity for not realizing sooner what an amazing guy my partner was." She looked into his eyes, making sure she had his full attention. "But all I can do now is to swear to you that you have nothing to feel jealous of anymore when it comes to Superman. You're not competing with him for my attention." She gave him a tender smile. "You won, sweetie. Hands down."
Instead of seeming relieved, however, Clark just looked even more distraught. "But that's just the problem, Lois!" His eyes begged her to understand. "I need you to care about him … to be willing to put up with him."
Sitting up a little straighter on his lap, Lois furrowed her brow, now completely baffled. "Put up with him? You mean because he's your friend? Clark, he's my friend, too! I don't mind if he comes to you with his problems — I want him to. He does so much good in the world … of *course* I want us to be there to help him, to support him. He doesn't have to help us in our investigations or wash our dishes or … or … fly us to our choice of vacation spots to earn his keep! We don't *put up* with him, Clark — we support him because he's our friend!"
He looked somewhat reassured, but there was clearly something still eating at him. "But do you think he'd be good boyfriend material? Or maybe someday … husband material?" He swallowed. "Even if you had to share him with the rest of the world?"
"Even if I had to share him? Clark, you have totally lost me!" she said, throwing up her hands. "I've been assuming all day that you've been feeling insecure about how you measure up to Superman, but now it almost sounds like you *want* me to have a crush on him!"
Searching her face, Clark brought his palm up to cup her cheek, clearly attempting to gather his courage. "Now that I know you love me," he began softly, "I guess I just need to know if you can love all of me … not just the ordinary man."
As the words filtered, Lois stared at him for a long moment. Slowly, she reached up to pull off his glasses, then gasped as she studied his bare face. "Oh … my … God."
More nervous than he'd ever been in his life, Clark watched as Lois's face went through several emotions in a row … shock, disbelief, outrage … then extreme embarrassment. She dropped her gaze, unable to meet his eyes. "I can't believe I actually said that to you last spring, the ordinary man stuff," she finally mumbled.
"Are you mad?" he whispered, half-dreading the answer.
"At the moment, I'm more horrified over telling Superman I was in love with him hours after telling you I didn't feel that way." She swallowed. "But don't think you're out of the woods; I'll probably get to mad eventually, maybe after we get home tomorrow."
Clark sighed in relief, closing his eyes in silent thanks. "So you're not going to leave? I was scared you were going to storm off and head back to Metropolis alone. Or maybe kick me out."
She stared at him, still looking shell-shocked, but gave her head a little shake. "No, I think we have a lot to talk about … you're not getting rid of me that easily." She studied his face for another moment, then reached up to push his hair back off his forehead. "Oh, God," she whimpered as she saw the results. "I can't believe this is happening."
"Honey, you have to believe me—" Suddenly his head lifted and, after listening for a moment, Clark grimaced. "Um, actually, do you mind if we take this inside? I've been keeping half-an-ear open since we started talking about you-know-who, but I'm beginning to hear activity on some nearby balconies and I don't want anyone to overhear us."
Lois moved to the opposite side of the wall. "Oh, sure," she grumbled. "You're willing to have sex in an outdoor hot tub, but heaven forbid anyone hear us talking."
Clark rolled his eyes as he climbed out of the water. "Lois, we weren't going to have se—" He stopped and stared at her, eyes wide. "Were we?"
She made a sound of exasperation. "Well, not *now*!"
Wincing, Clark opened the sliding glass door into the living room and picked up his towel. "Me and my big mouth," he muttered. "I couldn't have slipped up later on tonight, now could I?" When Lois's jaw dropped in disbelief, he quickly put up his hands in surrender and gave a nervous laugh. "I was kidding! It was a joke, I swear."
She rolled her eyes right back at him. "Right."
"It was!" he protested. "Honey—"
"Clark, will you please quit honeying me and just get me my towel?"
"Oh … sorry." He quickly finished drying himself and exchanged his wet towel for Lois's dry one. "Here you go." When she hesitated, however, he cocked his head. "What's wrong?"
She grimaced. "Nothing … it's just cold and I'm gearing myself up for freezing to death until I can get inside."
Clark's expression softened. "I won't let you freeze," he assured her. He held up her towel and stared at it for a moment, using his heat vision to warm it. "Come here."
After another moment's hesitation, Lois stood up only to be wrapped immediately in the waiting towel. "Wow," she whispered. "This does feel good."
Giving her a little smile, Clark scooped her up into his arms and floated her into the living room, sliding the glass door shut behind them. Only when they were safely inside did he release her legs, bringing her to stand right in front of the fireplace. "Do you want me to dry you off?" he asked quietly, pointing to his eyes when she just looked at him, confused. "With my heat vision, I mean?"
"Oh …" Lois said breathlessly, looking a little shell- shocked again. "No … thanks. I can manage."
"OK, um, I'm just gonna clean up outside … I have the turn the jets off and I don't want to leave the chocolate out there overnight. Do you still have my glasses, by the way?"
Lois looked down at her hand. "Um, yeah … sorry." She held them out. "Sorry, they're a little wet."
"Can you please just put them on the mantle?" he asked, his voice soft. "I won't be needing them anymore tonight."
She stared at him for a moment. "You look … really different without them."
Clark gave her a little smile. "I think that helps with the disguise."
"And which person is the disguise?" she asked, her voice cracking. "Who are you?"
He felt like he'd been sucker-punched. "Lois, it's me … Clark." He could hear a tremble in his voice. "Superman is just an identity I created to be able to use my powers in public. He didn't exist before I came to Metropolis, before he saved you on the Messenger. Everything you and I have gone through together … everything we've said to each other, it's all me."
She swallowed, hard. "OK … it's just hard to figure out who I'm talking to, that's all."
Clark nodded, trying to understand how big of a shock this was for her. "Maybe this will help," he said, then quickly spun out of his bathing suit and back into his jeans and flannel shirt.
When he came to a stop, Lois's eyes opened wider and her mouth fell open. "Wow," she whispered. Then she pulled the towel a little more tightly around her body. "Can you, um, please hand me my clothes?" she asked, clearly fighting to regain her equilibrium. "I can't do that spin thing so I need to get dressed the old-fashioned way."
"Lois—" He took a half-step towards her, needing to know that she understood, but she held up a hand, holding him off.
"Clark," she said, her eyes pleading with him. "*Please*."
He hung his head, and then did as she'd asked.
Clark sat cross-legged on the living room carpet, staring into the fire, disheartened. It had been twenty minutes since Lois had fled to the bathroom to change into her clothes, time that felt like an eternity as he sat alone, contemplating his fate. Things had been very quiet on the other side of the condo; at least, he hadn't heard any ranting, raving or cursing from her. But in a way, he would almost welcome having her yell at him, just to get them talking again. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to spin into his clothes in front of her … could she possibly be frightened of him now? The fact that she had called him Clark gave him a little bit of hope, but he couldn't help but worry that he had truly ruined things, just as he'd feared.
Finally, he heard the click of the door and he turned, half-hopeful, half-afraid. She was standing, uncertain, at the edge of the dimly-lit room, dressed once more in the button-down shirt and jeans that she'd been wearing at dinner. He didn't dare x-ray her to see if she'd added a bra.
"Hi," he said softly, searching her face. She didn't seem to be overtly angry, which he took as a good sign, but the way she was eyeing him so warily made his heart sink. "Are you OK?"
"Under the circumstances, I think I'm holding together pretty well."
Clark swallowed. "I know … and I'm sorry. I was just getting a little worried since it had been so long. I didn't mean to push."
Lois sighed and walked towards him, waving him back down as he began to stand up. "I was just having a little panic attack in the bathroom, that's all. Kind of like yours this afternoon—" Suddenly she stopped and pursed her lips. "But I guess you didn't actually have a panic attack in the bathroom this afternoon, did you?" she added, her voice tinged with sarcasm. "You were rescuing that man from the chairlift the whole time."
Clark winced. "Um, yeah … I wanted to tell you then, Lois, but there were so many people and—"
"Save it, Clark." She stood in front of the fire, looking down at him. "So just tell me … was the whole thing made up? The fear on the chairlift and all of it?" Her voice had become unsteady and he heard her give a little sniffle.
He looked up quickly. "Lois, no … none of it was made up. I … I do tend to get claustrophobic if I'm feeling trapped. I have some competing theories about why, if you're ever interested, but the important thing is you were a huge help to me today. I generally try to just force my way through it, mind over matter, but I was struggling up there and you really helped." Under the intensity of her stare, Clark looked down at his lap, embarrassed. "Your hero isn't perfect," he said quietly. "I'm sorry."
With a heavy sigh, Lois dropped down on the floor beside him, crossing her legs as she sat. "You don't have to be perfect, Clark. That's not why I'm with you." She paused and then added grudgingly, "And I guess I can see why you couldn't tell me as Superman today. There were a lot of people around."
He met her eyes, grateful. "I've been trying to tell you all weekend, Lois. That's actually why I invited you here, to give us some time alone and some privacy, so we could talk."
"But why did you wait until this weekend?" she asked, throwing up her hands. "I thought we were friends! I can see why you'd need to keep this a secret from the world, but why from me? Why for this long?" She sniffled again. "I thought I meant something to you."
Clark shifted so they were facing each other and clasped her hands in his. "Lois, you mean everything to me," he said urgently. "*Everything.* That's why we're here now. You're the only person I've ever told this to." He paused briefly. "Well, I told Jason Trask back when we were in Smallville, but that was only because he was going to kill me and my parents and then probably go after you if I didn't, so I was pretty desperate. But you're the only person I've ever wanted to tell. I swear, that's the truth."
She gave a little gasp. "So that was all true, too, with Trask? The Kryptonite … Clark, he almost killed you!"
He nodded and gave her hands a little squeeze. "But he didn't, thanks to you getting Rachel there when you did. But I think you can see why I've been running scared of anyone else finding out."
Lois pulled her hands back out of his grasp. "I'm not just anyone," she shot back defiantly.
"No … no, you're not. But when was I supposed to tell you, Lois? When we first met, you made it very clear that I was nothing more than an annoyance. And then when Superman showed up, you didn't see me at all. You said it yourself earlier, Lois … you put him up on a pedestal, and suddenly I was in competition with myself. And I was losing … badly."
She had the good graces to look embarrassed, tucking her hair behind her ear self-consciously. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I wasn't very nice to you back then."
He gently touched her knee, letting her know it was all right. "And then once we did become friends and I started to wonder if we might someday be more than that, you started dating Lex Luthor. That scared the hell out of me."
"Scared for me?" She looked up into his eyes. "Because you knew he was a criminal?"
Clark nodded, then averted his gaze. "And for myself," he admitted. "He hated Superman … even more than I hated him, which is saying something. If he'd ever found out about me, Lois—" Clark had to stifle a shudder. "My parents, my friends … I couldn't take that chance. All I could do was to work behind the scenes to try to bring him down, to try to find something tangible that would convince you that I wasn't making it all up."
"And I didn't believe you," she said softly. She shook her head, sighing miserably. "I really screwed that one up."
He gave a humorless laugh. "You weren't the only one, believe me. I messed up, too, Lois. There were so many other ways I could have handled things. A lot of my problems back then were of my own making." Clark shook his head. "I'd get insanely jealous every time you'd have a date with him and snap at you, which only made you mad at me. Or I'd underestimate him as Superman, whether because I was cocky or naive … or both. And then I let myself wallow in rejection instead of fighting for you…" He sighed. "Anyway, you can see it wasn't my finest hour."
"Mine neither," she admitted. "I agreed to marry Lex when I didn't love him, and let him manipulate me into not trusting you." She looked up at him then. "But I told you last night, Clark … I told Lex no at the altar, not because of Superman but because I couldn't stop thinking about you. And even though we were both too scared to be honest after it was all over, I did try to make it up to you. We got close then, Clark, really close. These last six months … I've considered you my best friend!"
"I know … I know, Lois. And I've felt the same way." Clark sighed. "But after that whole mess in the park, and then with Superman in your apartment… It just got so weird! I mean, I'd finally gotten you back; how was I supposed to tell you that I was so hurt that afternoon that I wasn't thinking straight and hurt you right back? We were awkward enough around each other back then, after Luthor died. If I'd told you that it was me in your apartment that night—" He shook his head. "I thought you'd hate me." Then he looked into her eyes. "But you have to believe me, Lois … once we started dating, everything changed. I've been wanting to tell you, even trying to tell you. I couldn't stand having this secret between us."
She was quiet for a long moment, staring at her lap, and Clark felt his heart sink. Could she ever forgive him? Would she ever be—
"OK," she finally said.
He furrowed his brow. "OK?"
"OK. I believe you."
Clark released a deep breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, feeling the tension drain out of his shoulders. "Thank you."
"I guess I can see how you've been trying to tell me for awhile. You've been dropping hints all weekend." She rolled her eyes. "I can't believe I didn't pick up on them. I mean, my *God*, Clark, constantly talking up Superman like that? What were you thinking??"
He blushed. "I freaked myself out … you kept going on and on about how you wanted me, Clark, and how you didn't want to date Superman. I was thrilled at first, since I've spent the last year and a half wishing you'd fall in love with me instead of my creation. But then I realized that you'd have to care about him, too, if we were to have a future together. So I panicked."
Lois sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. "You dope!" she exclaimed, her exasperation clear as she slapped him across the knee. "Clark, the reason I've been talking like that all weekend is because I thought you were feeling insecure about my feelings! I thought you were fishing for compliments!"
"I was," he chuckled, ducking his head in embarrassment. "But for him!"
As the tension started to break, Lois buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking as she laughed. But as another thought occurred to her, she lifted her head in disbelief, looking at him like he was insane. "And that's another thing … did you really think I'd care about how fast Superman can do dishes?" she asked. "Or how he could help on our investiga—" Suddenly, her eyes opened wide. "Oh my God! All that work stuff you were talking about, you already *do* that!" She slapped him on the leg again, a little harder this time. "No wonder you get so many Superman exclusives!"
Clark cringed, but took comfort in the fact that she didn't seem to be as outraged as she sounded. "Well, yeah … but you get Superman exclusives, too!" he dared to point out. "I do try to divvy them up a bit, to let some other papers into the mix, but I usually give the Planet first crack at them."
"Well, I would certainly hope so!"
He chuckled with her, but after a moment, he became more serious. "God, Lois," he sighed, taking her hand once more. "I was so scared … I was sure you were going to be furious with me."
Sobering, she looked down for a moment, but she turned her hand in his to intertwine their fingers. "I can't promise I'm not going to get mad at you, Clark," she told him quietly. "Things keep coming into my head, things that make sense now that didn't before, or stories you told me that I now realize weren't the full truth. It's going to take me some time to deal with all of this. Maybe a lot of time."
Clark took a shaky breath. "I'll give you all the time you need," he promised. "I just don't want to lose you."
She looked up at him, then reached out a hand to stroke his cheek. "We'll work it out," she said reassuringly. "We might have some heavy conversations, but you're not going to lose me."
He closed his eyes for a brief moment at the contact, realizing how much he'd been craving her touch, then he held out his arms. "Come here." Without hesitation, Lois leaned forward and let herself be pulled into his lap. "Thank you," he whispered, holding her close. "For being so understanding."
Lois gave him a hug, then ran her hand up to his forehead to push his hair back again. "You're just lucky I love you so much," she told him, looking into his eyes. "Ordinary man or not, I think you're pretty special. So you're stuck with me." Then she paused, biting her lip. "Unless … you eventually decide that you aren't interested in such an ordinary woman?"
Clark's eyes opened wide at her words, and he cradled her even closer to him. Cupping her cheek with his hand, he gave her an emotional smile. "Lois, believe me … you are the most extraordinary woman I've ever met. You're smart, talented, beautiful…" When she just stared up at him, her eyes dark and luminous, he slowly lowered his mouth to hers, eyes fluttering closed as their mouths met in a tentative yet tender kiss. Before he could deepen it, however, he felt Lois's body begin to tremble in his arms. Afraid that she'd begun to cry, Clark instantly pulled back, concerned. "Lois? I mean it, honey … I think you're extraordinary!" As he looked into her face, however, he was amazed to find that, far from crying, his girlfriend was shaking with barely controlled laughter. "You bet I'm extraordinary," she finally managed to choke out. "This afternoon, I turned Superman into a human snowball!"
Clark groaned. "Oh, God, I'm never going to live that down, am I?"
She grinned at him. "Nope."
He gave a good-humored roll of his eyes. "Well, technically, it was a Kryptonian snowball."
Lois jabbed a finger into his chest. "Which reminds me, you have a lot of questions to answer, mister! I might not be able to think of everything I want to ask you tonight, but you and I are going to spend a lot of time together talking over the next several days."
Clark took a deep breath, then gave her a smile. "That sounds wonderful."
Pressing a kiss to his mouth, Lois pushed herself off his lap and stood up. "OK, then, come on," she instructed, holding out her hand to him.
Cocking his head in confusion, Clark followed suit and stood, intertwining their fingers. "Where are we going?"
"To sleep," she said simply. "It's been a very long day."
At her words, Clark hesitated. "Lois? Are you sure?" He motioned to the couch. "I know this has been a shock and if you'd rather I slept out here …"
"You don't have to do that, Clark." She gave him a knowing smile. "Besides, we have some unfinished business in the bedroom."
His eyebrows rose and he couldn't help but steal a glance at the hot tub outside. "Lois?" he whispered, not daring to hope. "Are we—?"
She shook her head, but smiled as she came closer and wrapped her arms around his neck. "No," she replied, her voice dropping to a more intimate murmur. "But as I recall, someone still owes me a full body massage." She pulled his lips down to hers for a kiss. "And we both know that Superman doesn't break promises."
Beaming, Clark scooped her up into his arms. "I love you, Lois Lane," he assured her, his heart welling up with happiness. "More than words can ever express."
"And I love you, Clark Kent," she replied, wrapping her arms around his neck. As she felt them leave the ground, however, Lois raised an eyebrow. "So is this another one of those benefits of being with Superman you wanted to tell me about?" she asked, a smile playing on her lips.
Clark just grinned and let his eyes twinkle at her as they floated through the bedroom door. "Honey, you ain't seen nothing yet."
THE END :)
Kathy Brown firstname.lastname@example.org