By Meredith Knight <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2004
Summary: Lois asks Clark out for dinner at the Lexor Hotel, but turns out to have far more than dating on her mind.
This fic was inspired by a challenge posted to the Lois & Clark Fanfic Message Boards: http://www.lcficmbs.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=3;t=00 0239 . I'm much indebted to the challenge originator; also to my faithful beta readers, Annette, Pam, Wendy and Yvonne, who kept me going and on the right track. Doc Klein's LabRat gave me invaluable help with the conversion from the original nfic. You ladies rock. :)
The characters and settings portrayed in this story are not mine, but belong to big corporations with big money and big lawyers. It's a shame, really, because I could use the money (though preferably not the lawyers). I've borrowed them (the characters and settings, not the money, and certainly not the lawyers) for fun and not for profit. The chapter titles are, of course, Simon and Garfunkel song titles.
I've placed a couple of additional acknowledgements at the end of the file, where they can't spoil anything. :)
The events in this L&C universe take place in production order: that is, the episode Witness took place after Pheromone, My Lovely and before Honeymoon in Metropolis.
Hope you enjoy!
Chapter One: We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin'
Lois lifted the lid of the machine. The light on the front was glowing a steady green. She raised the eye-dropper and carefully dripped three drops of liquid onto the pad on the top of the machine. They vanished at once. Lois put the dropper back into the beaker and closed the lid.
The light flickered and winked to amber.
Lois's heart gave a sideways leap, then settled into a new, faster rhythm. She stared at the light blankly for a few moments, then an odd, strained smile crept onto her face.
She turned away and began to dress.
Clark was having difficulty concentrating. He was supposed to be finishing his account of the Trevino trial for the Saturday morning edition, but as he studied his computer screen he could see Lois out of the corner of his eye.
And Lois had been behaving oddly all day.
She'd been brusque almost to the point of rudeness when she'd arrived at work this morning, which wasn't unusual — Lois's temper was becoming a byword in the newsroom, and sometimes there were lines of strain on her face that made Clark wonder if she was ill, but nobody dared ask after her health these days. Clark had resigned himself to this being one of the more difficult days, and continued reading his email… and then, five minutes later, she'd brought him a cup of coffee and a doughnut, which was almost unheard of. He could almost swear she'd been blushing when he'd looked up in surprise to thank her. She'd leant against his desk for a few minutes and asked him about his plans for the day, which had simply consisted of attending the trial and then coming back to the Planet to write it up; then she'd bustled back to her desk and ignored him till he'd left.
Now she was sitting in front of her computer screen, pretending to work but in reality fiddling with all the various objects on her desk in turn and shooting him surreptitious glances every few minutes. He had no idea what could be on her mind. He'd developed the habit of walking her home in the evenings after work lately, even though the threat to her life had ended with Barbara Trevino's arrest; but it was only a quarter to five, and Lois never left work before six at the very earliest.
Still, five was his deadline for this piece, and he needed to forget about Lois long enough to finish it up. Pretending to be bothered by the glare on his screen, Clark shifted his monitor and chair until Lois was no longer in his field of vision, and set to work.
Dead on five, the editor's door opened and Perry appeared. "Kent, where's the Trevino piece?" he bellowed.
"Just coming, Chief!" Clark hit the enter key and sat back with a sigh. It wasn't quite up to his usual polished standard, but it would have to do. Time for a cup of coffee, he thought, and to catch up on the newsroom gossip; and perhaps Lois would finally tell him what was eating at her.
But Lois was straightening up her desk and taking her handbag out of her desk drawer. As Clark walked over to get her coffee mug, she bent and pulled a small suitcase out from under her desk. He stopped in surprise. "Where are you going?" he asked.
She straightened, her face slightly flushed. "I've got the weekend off," she said. "I thought I'd spend a few days away from home, for some rest and recuperation. I'm booked into the Lexor Hotel."
"Wow!" Clark widened his eyes in exaggerated envy. "So you're going to be living it up in the lap of luxury while the rest of us are slaving away here as usual?"
She laughed. "You don't know the half of it. When I called to reserve a room, all they had left was the honeymoon suite. I got a special rate for it. Luxury indeed!"
He grinned. "Well, have fun. Give us lesser mortals a call to let us know how you're getting on with the jacuzzi and the crushed velvet." He saluted her with his coffee mug.
"Clark…" She turned away to reach for her coat, and he automatically stepped closer to help her on with it in the way that had become almost second nature over the last week or so. As she buttoned it she slanted a look up at him through her eyelashes. "I was wondering… you suggested once that we go out for a celebration dinner, after we'd cracked a story, and I don't think we ever did. And I really owe you for looking after me last week. Would you like to have dinner with me at the hotel restaurant this evening?"
Clark felt the world tilt crazily under his feet. Was this what Lois had been nervous about all afternoon? Because, if so…
He gave a quick glance around the newsroom. No one seemed to be paying them any attention.
"You mean, as in two partners having a meal together?" he said quietly.
Her cheeks flamed. "No… I mean, as in a date."
He nodded. He felt like shouting and leaping with joy, but he stood still and let his eyes convey his feelings. "I'd love to."
"Good." She picked up her things. "I'll see you at eight, then. In the restaurant."
"I'll be there." Clark wanted to lean against her desk and watch her walk away with a soppy smile all over his face. Instead, he turned and made his way over to the coffee machine, listening to her heart beating erratically all the way out of the building.
"This is a full service hotel, madame!" The bellboy's outrage was manifest in every line of his body and every throb of his reedy adolescent voice.
"I don't care. I don't want you pawing through my things; I'm perfectly capable of unpacking them myself."
The bellboy debated internally for another few seconds and then raised a hand in front of him. Lois sighed and reached for a banknote, which she placed in his palm. His eyes flicked downward for a second; otherwise, he didn't move.
Neither did Lois. She stood glaring at him until he shifted uncomfortably and darted a look at her.
"Git," she said, pointing at the door, and he drew himself up and stalked out of the room.
Trembling, for reasons quite unrelated to the recent battle of wills, Lois finally let go the handle of her suitcase and sank into a chair.
Phase one complete. She was here, safely checked into the hotel; Clark would be arriving later. For dinner.
He'd be downstairs at the restaurant in two and a half hours, and she needed to be there before him so that she didn't have to walk in with his eyes on her, because the way her knees were shaking she doubted she'd be able to walk straight. If at all.
So that left just about two hours for phase two.
She got to her feet, carried her suitcase through to the bedroom, and unpacked the dresses she'd brought with her. She'd been unable to make up her mind between them this morning, so she'd packed all three.
What do you wear to a seduction?
Well, your little black number, of course. Only Lois's little black number was about three years old, and had frankly seen better days. Not that Clark would be able to tell that it was a little out of style, she thought — women's fashions were unlikely to be one of his interests. And a little careful draping would disguise the fact that what's his name — Gerald? — had ripped the seam at the shoulder slightly that night, just before she'd hit him over the head with her purse and felled him with a Tae Kwon Do kick to the unmentionables.
No, somehow the little black number didn't seem quite right.
Next to it hung the midnight blue dress she'd worn to the White Orchid Ball back in the spring. Her intended target, Lex Luthor, had been stunned by it, and so, it seemed, had Clark… he'd cut her out just when she'd managed to pull off a dance with the elusive billionaire. She'd been furious, she remembered with a chuckle; she hadn't given a smidgin of attention to the compliments he'd tried to pay her at the time. Too busy prying into Lex's personal space… She'd got to know both men considerably better over the last few months, well enough to know that Clark was the man she wanted with her tonight.
The ball gown was really way too dressy for dinner at a hotel restaurant… even dinner with an agenda. And the dress she'd bought with Lex in mind didn't seem quite right for an evening with Clark, either.
Which left dress number three. The one Lucy had insisted she buy when they'd been out shopping together, on one of their rare quarrel-free outings, and they'd seen a sale sign at an exclusive little boutique. The dress was burgundy, a colour Lucy insisted suited Lois perfectly and Lois wasn't sure about; the draped bodice hung from narrow straps attached by tiny golden clasps, and the skirt was long and elegant. It looked far more demure than either of the other two… at first glance.
Lois wondered if she dared wear it tonight.
Clark had conscientiously sat at his desk reading traffic statistics until six-thirty, done his evening Superman patrol and showered and dressed at normal speed, but he still managed to arrive outside the Lexor Hotel at ten to eight. He hung around outside the entrance for as long has he could, but although the winter chill didn't affect him he could see the concierge eyeing him curiously, and after a couple of minutes he gave up and ventured inside.
As early as he was, Lois was earlier. The maitre d' waved Clark over to her table as soon as he mentioned her name, but Clark stood riveted to the ground for a moment at the sight of her.
She looked truly breathtaking. She was wearing burgundy, one of his favourite colours, and she'd put up her hair in a cluster of curls, just one or two strands escaping to emphasise the long, elegant curve of her neck. Clark found his feet piloting him automatically in her direction.
She looked up as he neared the table. For an instant there was a flash of something like panic in her eyes; then she was smiling a warm welcome. Clark recognised the same mix of emotions he was experiencing himself as he returned her smile.
"I wasn't sure you'd come," she said in a breathless voice as he seated himself.
"Wild horses wouldn't have kept me away," he assured her. "Our first date."
Some odd emotion flickered in her eyes and was gone. Then a waiter was handing them menus and waiting for Clark to order a drink; Lois, he saw with amusement, already had some sort of exotic cocktail with an umbrella in it. "You're going all the way, aren't you?" he teased when the waiter had left to fetch his mineral water. "With this relaxation thing, I mean," he added, waving at the drink, as Lois shot a startled look at him.
"Sure am." Lois's eyes dropped and she opened her menu. "The veal here is supposed to be pretty good…"
They talked throughout dinner, avoiding work-related topics by tacit consent. Clark tried to draw Lois out on the subject of her family, but she seemed reluctant to say much about either of her parents. Instead, he found himself talking about his own parents: how much he admired their marriage and how he wanted the same sort of family himself one day. Lois listened quietly, staring into her glass of wine. He turned the conversation to his travels then, and she grew more animated, asking probing questions about the various countries he'd visited and admitting to a sneaking desire to see the sights of Europe.
"You should take the time now, while you're young," he said lightly. "Before you get bogged down with responsibilities."
A shadow seemed to cross her face, then she was laughing. "I don't think I'll ever want to take that amount of time off," she said. "If I spent six months in Europe, it would take me years to get back to where I am now."
Clark shook his head. "You underestimate yourself. Everyone knows you're the best in the business, Lois, and you've got the Kerths to prove it. If you took a year off, all the major papers would be falling over themselves to hire you when you got back."
"You think so?" She looked uncharacteristically vulnerable, considering the question with more seriousness than Clark would have expected. On impulse, he reached out and took her hand across the table.
"I know so."
Her hand was warm in his, and her pulse was fluttering. Her dark eyes met his shyly, and a spark seemed to jump the gap between them. Her fingers shifted within his grasp and slid around to twine with his. Clark felt his own pulse begin to race.
"I never imagined this happening, you know," he said suddenly. "After what you said about getting involved with co-workers, and everything… I never thought you'd consider me as a potential, well, date."
She smiled slowly at him. "I told you not to fall for me, didn't I?" she said softly.
"It was a bit late," he said honestly. "I was already smitten with you by then, you know."
She blushed at the admission, and seemed uncertain how to respond. The waiter chose that moment to arrive at the table, and Clark released her hand reluctantly to sit back and let him clear the plates. "How was the meal?" came the standard enquiry.
"It was excellent, thanks," Clark responded automatically. In truth, he couldn't recall a single thing about it; he'd been completely preoccupied with Lois.
"Would you like the dessert menu?" the waiter asked.
Clark nodded, but Lois spoke across him. "Is it possible to have dessert brought up to the honeymoon suite?"
The waiter's gaze flickered to her left hand before he spoke. "Of course, madame. May I recommend the Chocolate Lovers' Platter, for two to share?"
"That sounds perfect," Lois responded. "And some coffee, please." She didn't look at Clark until the waiter had left; then her gaze met his with a hint of apology. "I thought we'd be more… comfortable in the suite," she said. "No more interruptions."
Clark didn't reply. His heart was thumping and his mouth was dry. Exactly what was Lois expecting from this evening? He would have sworn blind she wasn't the type to jump into bed on a first date with anyone, let alone the work partner she'd warned off months before, but if it had been any other woman, he'd have said all the signs were pointing that way.
And with any other woman — and there had been a few, over the years — he'd have made his excuses at this point and gone on his way, footloose and fancy-free. But this was Lois, and he was no longer heart-whole. If she was interested in further intimacy, so was he… He could only hope that if it did happen, his inexperience wouldn't disappoint her.
He swallowed, trying to relax enough to breathe normally. He needed to keep a clear head and not jump to any conclusions. However he might feel about Lois, it was highly unlikely, from what he knew of her, that she felt the same way about him. She obviously had more than platonic feelings for him if they were on a date, but she probably didn't intend the invitation to her room quite the way it appeared at first glance.
In fact, he thought with an inward grimace, he probably ought to feel flattered that she trusted him enough to invite him to her room. Unless this was a test… and if so, he intended to pass with flying colours. He would take his lead from her, letting her set the pace with which they explored their mutual feelings.
While he'd sat mute and unmoving, the waiter had brought the bill to the table. Lois was signing it with her customary flourish; she didn't appear to have noticed anything odd about his behaviour. In a moment they would stand up to go to her room…
Clark made a desperate attempt to control his physical response to the situation before he had to leave the shelter of the table. Thinking about something else ought to help. The remote majesty of the Alps, seen from an altitude of a few thousand feet above them… the frozen wastes of the Arctic, near the North Pole… no, the splendour of nature wasn't doing it. A murderous Sebastian Finn, struggling with Lois in her apartment? That was better.
A sneering Lex Luthor, coolly threatening Superman with the deaths of innocent bystanders if he stayed in Metropolis…
That did the trick. He just had to hold onto that image, and the embers of the impotent rage Luthor had aroused in him, with a remote corner of his mind while he dealt with the current situation.
Lois handed the signed bill and the pen back to the waiter and looked at him. "Coming?" she said. Without waiting for an answer, she slid from her seat and turned towards the restaurant door.
Clark suppressed a gasp.
The burgundy dress, draped unrevealingly around her at the front, was backless except for the two thin shoulder straps which crossed in the middle of her back and attached at the sides of her waist, the only interruption to a smooth expanse of ivory skin extending some inches below her waistline. The skirt flared out as she took a step, and a slit at the side parted to reveal a long line of thigh with a hint of stocking lace at the top.
Abruptly, Clark was aware of only two things: his urgent desire for her, and the fact that every interested eye in the restaurant would be riveted on her, and not on his response.
Like a lamb to the slaughter, he rose and followed her meekly out of the room.
Phase three was proceeding perfectly, Lois thought with satisfaction as Clark caught her up in front of the elevators. Or nearly perfectly.
She hadn't bargained for the qualms that had assailed her as the meal had progressed and Clark had become steadily more open about his feelings for her. Or as he'd spoken of his parents' marriage and his own desire to follow in their footsteps.
Guilt was too strong a word, she assured herself, watching the indicator light of the elevator counting down. It wasn't as though she was preventing him realising his dream. One day he'd meet a lovely woman just like his mother, and he'd marry her and acquire the picket fence and the 2.4 children. He probably wouldn't even tell his wife about the strange interlude between him and his reporting partner, and really, there'd be no reason he should. The feelings churning in Lois's stomach now had nothing to do with guilt, and little with jealousy; though perhaps there was a little envy, because somehow she was sure Clark and his wife would be idyllically happy. But picket fences weren't for her.
No, her feelings were chiefly composed of pure nerves, because although phase three was proceeding perfectly, there was still phase four… and that was something she didn't even want to think about.
The elevator chimed and the doors swished open. Clark raised a hand to motion Lois inside, as he so often did; his hand hovered a fraction of an inch from the bare skin of her back, but didn't actually touch her. Was he still being a gentleman? That would never do…
Lois deliberately took a short stride as she entered the elevator car, so that she stopped abruptly just inside the doorway. Clark's stride carried him past her and his hand landed squarely on the small of her back. A warm tingling spread through her from the point of contact.
She stood still and raised her eyes to his. "It's the top floor," she said huskily, fully aware that she was standing between him and the elevator control panel.
He hesitated for an instant, then leant over and pressed the button. The movement brought him up against her, and she raised her hands to his waist to keep him there. His breath caught in his throat, and his hand drifted back from the button to land on her shoulder. She turned her face up to his, and saw his eyes darken as they fixed themselves on her slightly parted lips.
"Lois…" he breathed.
Even then, he didn't take the initiative. She had to reach up and tug his head down before he closed his eyes and covered her mouth with his own. There was nothing reluctant about his kiss — on the contrary, its intensity seemed to sear itself across her nerves — but she could sense him holding back, waiting for her to set the pace.
Part of her could only marvel at his self-control; another part of her was secretly wailing in frustration at it. By this stage, he should have been completely in thrall to his libido, totally at her mercy. Every man she'd encountered before, faced with even a hint of an invitation to kiss her on the way to her hotel room, would have taken it as proof positive of her sexual surrender; would by now have been mauling her thoroughly in anticipation of full sex as soon as they came within striking distance of her bed.
Instead, Clark was holding her body lightly against his, stroking her lips with his own and savouring every touch, every caress. His very restraint made her yearn for more. She shifted her weight to arch her body against him and opened her mouth beneath his. Her tongue reached out and stroked at the softness of his lips. He moaned, his hand spreading out over the small of her back to press her more firmly against him, and his tongue snaked out to dance with hers and then to probe the depths of her mouth.
Conscious thought vanished. There was only sensation; Clark's skin moving against hers, wet tongues and dry lips and the slight rasp of stubble, hands moving tentatively and then urgently to seek better contact with each other's bodies.
Somewhere, close by, there was a soft chime; then the hiss of the doors opening. Lois hadn't even felt the elevator stop — Clark must have better balance than she did, or they would surely both have fallen. The kiss broke, and reluctantly she opened her eyes. She could see the same frustrated loss in Clark's eyes, so close to her own.
They needed to get out of the elevator, she thought hazily, before it set off for another floor. Unwinding one of her arms from Clark's neck but leaving the other firmly hooked around his waist, she turned and walked forward. Neither of them spoke; they were both breathing heavily, and Clark seemed as dazed as she was. At about the third step she could finally feel the ground beneath her feet.
Mercifully, no one seemed to be around on this floor to notice or comment. The door of the honeymoon suite was directly opposite the elevators, and Lois stopped outside. Her purse, remarkably, was still clutched in the hand she had around Clark's waist; she had to let go of him to fumble in it for her room key, but his arm stayed looped around her shoulders as she unlocked the door and pushed it open.
The room beyond was still brightly lit, as she'd left it to go downstairs. The light seemed to waken some semblance of rational thought in Lois's brain. Clark seemed to sense the change in her, and as she took a step forward into the room he let his arm fall from around her shoulders.
"Come on in," she said. She dropped her purse and key on the table next to the door as he followed her in. He moved into the middle of the room and swung in a slow circle, taking in the details of the suite.
His lips pursed in a silent whistle. "Nice," he said, flashing her a smile.
"Better than that flea-pit you stayed in when you first came to Metropolis, that's for sure!" The one where she'd seen him in a towel once, when she'd arrived to collect him for one of their first assignments. Lois felt her breath catch at the memory. "Would you like a drink?" she said at random. "I could do with some iced water."
"I'll see what I can manage." Clark approached the ornate mini- bar with the air of a naturalist investigating a new and possibly dangerous snake, and began to experiment with it. Lois turned away, unable to watch him without her body aching every time he moved.
Those few minutes in the elevator had served to reassure her that phase four of this operation wouldn't be as difficult as she'd feared. At the same time, warning bells were jangling at the back of her mind.
She couldn't afford to lose sight of her real objectives. She had to keep a cool head, even while she made sure that Clark lost his completely.
The knock on the door heralding the arrival of their dessert came just as Clark finally worked out that the cupid statue surmounting the mini-bar was in fact the ice dispenser. Lois let the waiter in, tipped him once he'd placed his tray on the table near the couch, and then hung the "Do not disturb" sign on the outside of the door before closing it firmly, conscious of Clark's eyes watching her actions.
She dimmed the lights to an intimate level and then crossed the room to seat herself on the couch in front of the dessert tray. "Clark?"
He didn't respond. When she looked up at him, he detached his gaze, apparently with some difficulty, from the slit in her skirt. His eyes looked glazed. Triumph leapt inside her; she hoped it wouldn't show on her face. "Yes?"
She patted the cushion beside her. "Why don't you join me?"
He moved towards her like a sleep-walker, and thrust out the glass in his hand. "Your drink."
"Thank you." She took the glass and placed it on the table, then took his hand and drew him down beside her. He obeyed unresistingly until she leant forward and traced his mouth with her finger; then he let out a queer little sigh and reached for her hungrily.
Clark was in heaven.
He'd nearly given himself away in the elevator; he'd floated them right off the floor when it had stopped in the middle of their kiss. Fortunately he'd recovered before Lois had noticed anything, but if anyone had been waiting for the elevator on this floor they'd have had the shock of their lives when the doors had opened.
And if that kiss had been amazing, what he was experiencing now was, well… words weren't coming easily to him at the moment. He was sitting, half reclining, on the couch with Lois wrapped around him, and they were feeding each other chocolate. It seemed to involve a great deal of laughter and more than a few sighs of delight as they licked chocolate from each other's fingers, stopping now and again to share the taste in each other's mouths. At some stage Lois had undone his tie and unbuttoned his shirt, and more than once she'd chased a crumb or a stray drop of sauce down his chest with her tongue, wringing a moan of ecstasy from his throat.
He reached out for another truffle and found the tray empty. "It's all gone," he said ruefully.
Lois sat up to look. Her hair was escaping from the elegant style it had been in earlier, curls rioting about her face. Her eyes were heavy-lidded, her lips swollen from their kisses. Clark had never seen anything so sexy.
She handed him a napkin from the table, and he wiped the stickiness from his fingers. His gaze wandered downwards, and he grinned. "You have chocolate fingerprints on your neck," he commented.
She looked at him, her eyes smouldering, and leant forward invitingly. With a low growl, he covered each mark in turn with his mouth, swirling his tongue gently against her skin to remove the chocolate. Her pulse skittered and leapt as he worked his way down her neck. When he raised his head she sat still for a moment, breathing heavily.
Then she opened her eyes and looked at him. "Clark… come to bed with me."
His mouth opened in surprise. Even after everything they'd been doing together, even though he'd been half expecting it ever since she'd kissed him in the elevator, it was still astonishing to hear her say it. To know that she felt the same way about him as he did about her.
"Lois… are you sure? We don't have to, you know."
"I'm quite sure." She smiled. "This time it's not just the pheromone perfume talking. You… you do want to, don't you?"
"Of course I want to! You mean, what I said about not being attracted to you? Lois, I've been in love with you as long as I've known you. I just didn't want you to be uncomfortable with me, and I never thought you'd want… this." He gestured to the two of them.
She leant forward and kissed him open-mouthed, her hands roaming the skin of his chest and then his back, inside his shirt, until he was panting for breath. Then she stood up smoothly and grasped his hand to pull him to his feet. "Come on."
He followed her to the bedroom, half amazed that he could still put one foot in front of the other. His body was taut and eager, his heart pounding at the knowledge that he was about to cross the final threshold of intimacy for the first time with the woman he wanted to share the rest of his life with. And she felt the same way. Oh, she hadn't said the words yet, but he knew how commitment-shy she was; and her actions were speaking louder than words.
She stopped beside the bed and turned to face him. "Clark, will you just do one thing for me first?"
He smiled warmly at her. "Anything."
She picked up something from the nightstand. A clipboard. "Will you sign this?"
He took it automatically, frowning. "Sign…?" He peered disbelievingly at her. "What is it?"
"It's just a precaution."
He shook his head, mystified, and looked at the sheaf of paper attached to the clipboard. As he began to read, a sense of unreality crept over him, followed by a wave of anger.
"'I hereby relinquish any right of access or custody… child or children… should conception occur…' Lois, what *is* this?"
Chapter Two: A Simple Desultory Philippic
She was losing him. Dear God, she'd got him so far, and now she was losing him at the final hurdle.
She stepped forward and lifted her hand to his cheek, then ran it softly down his chest where his shirt hung open. She dropped her voice to a husky tone. "Clark, it's just in case. Sign it and come to bed. Please."
He jerked away from her. His face was hardening. "Lois, when most people talk about taking precautions during sex, they don't mean…" He flapped the clipboard at her. "… pieces of paper!" He took a few hasty paces across the floor, turned back. "Tell me something… just how likely is it that 'conception will occur'?"
She caught her breath. Clark was certainly no fool, even when he was supposed to be lost in a haze of lust. She should have made sure he had more to drink.
Now she had no choice but to lay her cards on the table. She closed her eyes. "Very likely." She heard him suck in a breath, opened her eyes again. "That's why you're here."
His eyes went wide. "Lois, are you crazy? You *want* to get pregnant?"
She nodded slowly. "Yes, Clark, I do. I have every intention of getting pregnant, right now, right here. And I want you to be the father."
"But you… I… Lois, making love is one thing, but a child… the responsibility…"
She smiled mirthlessly. "I'm not asking you to take responsibility for the child, Clark — quite the reverse. We go to bed a few times, do everything you've been fantasising about, and then, once I'm pregnant, you're out of my life. I bring up the child alone, my way. No responsibility, no interference."
He'd gone quite white. After a long, tense moment, he looked down at the clipboard again. "So you just want a… a sperm donor, that's all. You want me to sign away any right to be a real father to your baby."
She tried to speak, but her throat had closed up. She cleared it and tried again. "Yes."
He raised his head and stared blankly at her, obviously lost for words. She had to act, Lois realised suddenly; after everything she'd already done, she wasn't going to give up without a fight.
She pulled back her shoulders and stepped towards him, letting her hips sway seductively. His eyes flickered involuntarily downwards as her skirt parted. She stopped in front of him, just a finger's breadth from touching him.
"What does it matter, Clark?" she whispered. "It's what men want, isn't it — sex with no strings attached? Make love to me, Clark. You know you want to."
He took a step backward and tossed the clipboard onto the bed. "Is that what you think I'm after, Lois?" he ground out, his hands balling into fists. "Five minutes of mindless pleasure, and then I'll just walk away without a backward glance?"
This wasn't supposed to be happening! She'd never before had to deal with a man who could see beyond the immediate thrill of conquest. Lois felt panic stirring inside her. She had to keep him off balance, destroy his self-control.
"What did you think was going to happen, then?" she said sharply. "Did you think I was going to fall in love with you, and that we'd get married and settle down in the suburbs?"
He sucked in his breath and then let out a harsh bark of laughter. "Yes, as a matter of fact. That's exactly what I hoped would happen, God help me."
She gave a bitter smile. "Newsflash, Clark: Lois Lane doesn't do suburbs. She chews men up and spits them out, haven't you heard?" She raised her hands to the straps of her dress, then, in one deliberate movement, undid the golden clasps and pulled the bodice down to her waist. "Don't you want to find out what that's like? Or aren't you man enough?"
"My God, Lois," Clark choked out. He stared riveted at her naked breasts, his hands clenching and unclenching. "Did you make Claude sign that piece of paper?"
She flinched as if he'd struck her. Without thinking, she crossed her arms protectively in front of her.
His eyes crawled upwards until they met hers. She could see self-loathing as well as anger and lust in his gaze; and beneath them all, a terrible aching loss.
"Go to bed, Lois," he said. "If you're so desperate to have a baby… well, there are other ways. I might even be willing to talk to you about it in a few days. But not tonight."
He moved towards the door. She blocked his way.
"But I'm fertile tonight. This weekend."
"I'm not interested." He grasped her shoulders and shifted her gently but firmly out of his path.
"Then I'll find someone who is."
He froze in the doorway. "What?"
"If you don't want what I'm offering, I'm sure I can find another taker."
He turned, his eyes like flint. "Who? Perry? Hardly. Jimmy would run a mile at the mere suggestion. I can't see you offering yourself to Ralph on a platter. Or are you flattering yourself that Superman would -"
His turn to flinch. That evened the score somewhat, she thought with savage satisfaction.
"You'd ask Lex Luthor to sire your child," he said after a long, breathless pause.
"If I have to. I'm sure he'd be willing."
Slowly, as if his weight had become unsupportable, he leaned one shoulder against the doorpost. His face had gone quite blank.
"So… why choose me rather than him in the first place?"
She chose her words carefully. "Well, you're both fine physical specimens, and intelligent, and you're both charming… when you make the effort." Clark's mouth turned down sardonically, but he didn't speak. Lois hesitated, but she'd be shooting herself in the foot if she admitted that when it came to the crunch, she couldn't stomach the thought of sleeping with Lex. "But he's a big corporate businessman, with big corporate lawyers. If he decided, five or ten years down the track, to renege on that contract and sue for custody… I wouldn't stand a chance."
Clark gave an icy smile. "Whereas I'm a hack reporter and likely to stay a hack reporter for the foreseeable future — no threat to your plans, hmm?"
She couldn't think of any response to that.
Clark straightened and moved forward into the room again. She fell back a pace, her eyes widening, but he ignored her and picked up the clipboard from the bed. He studied it for a minute. "This isn't a contract, it's just a waiver," he said in clipped, unemotional tones. "To be a contract, there has to be an exchange between the parties. Quid pro quo."
"You mean… Are you suggesting I *pay* you…?"
He raised his head and inspected her coldly. "Not in monetary terms." He pulled the pen from its holder and began to write.
"What are you doing?" Panic was making her voice shrill.
"I'm adding a clause. In return for my waiving parental rights, you consent to have unlimited sex with me over a period of — shall we say, three days? — around the time that you are fertile every month, until such time as conception occurs."
She stood gaping dumbly at him as he wrote, the blood roaring in her ears. This just couldn't be happening. He was actually proposing that she sell her body in return for his cooperation.
Wasn't that just what she had been doing, without naming it to herself?
He turned over the top sheet. "You made two copies — good," he said, and proceeded to amend the second copy. Then he handed her the clipboard. "Do you approve?"
She took it mechanically. It said exactly what he'd suggested, dressed up in legalese.
She closed her eyes. This was complete and utter madness.
But how much choice did she have? She needed to get pregnant, and this was the only way. She would be a fool to change her mind now.
She nodded her head jerkily and fumbled for the pen.
"No, don't sign it until the witness is present," he said.
"W…" She licked her dry lips. "Witness?"
"It's best to have a witness, don't you think? To the contract, obviously, not the sex. Of course, to make it watertight we should really get it notarised, but I don't suppose you want to go that far, do you?"
She stared at him. His hair was tumbled over his forehead and his shirt was still gaping open, but his mouth was set in a thin, straight line, and behind the glasses his eyes were hard. He looked like a stranger: a disturbingly sexy, rigidly angry stranger.
"Do you?" he repeated.
"I… uh… no, of course not!"
"Good. I'll call the front desk and get them to send the duty manager up." His eyes swept over her. "I think you'd better neaten up a bit." He reached down and pulled her bodice up over her breasts. She'd completely forgotten that she was naked to the waist; she stood blushing scarlet, hands clenched on the clipboard, while he secured the shoulder straps.
Then she felt his hands probing through her hair, gently removing the pins from what remained of her earlier hairstyle. His fingers combed the strands down around her shoulders. She peered up into his face, trying to reconcile this cold, furious man with her easy-going partner.
"No, I can't fix that," he said. "You might want to brush it out."
He left the bedroom, buttoning his shirt as he went, and a moment later she heard him speaking on the phone in the living room.
She sat down at the dressing table and looked at the clipboard still clutched in her shaking hands. This was what she wanted, she said to herself, trying to quell the dread building in the pit of her stomach. The fact that Clark had somehow turned the tables on her to become the driving force didn't change that. She had won.
So why did she suddenly feel like the hapless victim?
A white-hot rage was burning at the corners of Clark's vision. He'd never felt such fury and yet, at the same time, such clarity of purpose.
He'd hoped to find out tonight just how Lois felt about him. And for a short time he'd been under the blissful illusion that she felt the same way he had — that she was in love with him.
Well, now he knew exactly what she thought of him. A "fine physical specimen" — fit to father her child, but no more.
So be it.
If all she wanted was his genetic material, he would oblige. Because there was one thing above all others he was quite determined on: the only man who was going to lay a hand on her tonight was going to be Clark himself. And if she ever did decide to bestow her dubious favours on another man, Clark was going to do everything in his power to make sure it wasn't Luthor.
He stared out of the window, noticing after a minute that there were lights on in an office block across the road. Two men talking near the window. Thank heavens the bedroom curtains had been drawn, or they would have had a fine view of the bizarre scene that had just taken place there. Grimacing, Clark tugged the curtains shut and turned away.
What could possibly be going on in Lois's head? He knew, of course, that she'd had problems with men in the past — but deciding to have a baby on her own had to rate as one of the world's worst reactions. But once Lois's mind was made up, there seemed to be no possible way to change it. He'd tried, with that ludicrous contract, to make her see how insane the situation was, but she'd simply sucked up every insulting suggestion he'd made and carried on regardless. And Clark was damned if he was going to be the one to back down.
And now the night manager was on his way up to witness the infernal thing. Clark's hands clenched involuntarily. He couldn't just stand here fuming, though; he had to make a show of normality for the man.
He took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair, smoothing it down. He retrieved his tie from the back of the couch and his jacket from the floor, and put them on. Then he righted the room, turning the lights up to a normal level and removing the 'Do not disturb' sign from the outside of the door.
The empty dessert platter was still standing on the table in front of the couch. Clark winced, remembering how, bare minutes before, he had sat there laughing gaily, literally eating out of Lois's hand. Even moments ago in the bedroom, with his hands in Lois's hair, he'd been struck by the urge to grab her and simply kiss her senseless, kiss her until she abandoned this bizarre scheme and fell in love with him instead.
He really was the world's biggest fool.
On the tray stood the silver cafetiere, untouched. Clark felt the side and then pulled down his glasses to reheat the coffee. He was pouring himself a cup when Lois came out of the bedroom carrying the clipboard. She'd brushed her hair and restored her makeup, and looked resolute, if a little pale.
"Coffee?" he said.
"Please." She seated herself in an armchair and folded her hands while he poured a second cup and placed it beside her.
A knock on the outer door broke the tense silence. Clark went to let in the manager, a thin grey man who looked anxiously at Clark. "Mr, uh, Kent? Is there a problem?"
Clark smiled blandly. "No problem. My partner and I are simply finalising a little business. Would you mind serving as a witness for a contract?"
The manager's brow cleared. "Of course not. We try to give our guests the best service at all times." He looked past Clark into the room and nodded. "Ms Lane." His eyes slid speculatively back to Clark. "Are you staying in the hotel, Mr Kent?"
Touche. Clark waved the manager into the room. "I'll be staying in this suite for the weekend," he said. "As soon as the contract is signed, I'll come down and register."
The manager hesitated, looking for confirmation at Lois, who nodded. She looked perfectly calm, Clark thought, if you didn't notice the pulse fluttering in her throat.
He picked up the clipboard from the table and handed it to her. "Lois, would you like to start the ball rolling?"
She took it and looked at it for a long moment, two spots of colour rising in her cheeks. Then she picked up the pen and signed at the bottom.
"Initial the written changes," Clark instructed, and she obeyed silently. Then she folded back the top sheet and signed and initialled the second copy before handing the clipboard to Clark.
Quickly, before he could have second thoughts about the implications, Clark signed and initialled both copies. He added the place and date of signing as a final legal touch.
Then he bent and picked up the welcome booklet from the table and clipped it over the text of the contract before handing the clipboard to the manager. He might have taunted Lois earlier, but he was certainly not going to let a stranger see what was written on that highly embarrassing sheet of paper. Behind him, he heard Lois let out an almost inaudible sigh of relief.
"I trust it's nothing illegal," the manager joked nervously as he took the clipboard.
"If it were illegal, we'd scarcely bother with a legal contract, would we?" Clark pointed out coolly. "It's simply private business."
He watched carefully as the manager signed both sheets without disturbing the booklet, then took the clipboard back. He thanked the man and ushered him from the room, closing the door firmly after him.
Behind him, he heard Lois pick up her coffee cup and drink. The cup clattered loudly as she replaced it in the saucer; she wasn't feeling quite as calm as she looked.
Tossing the booklet back on the table, Clark separated the top sheet, folded it carefully and placed it in the inside pocket of his jacket. He set the clipboard down in front of Lois; she looked at it for a moment, her hands clasping each other tightly, but made no move to pick it up.
"You have your contract," Clark said softly, but with a hint of steel in his voice. "I'll go and register now, and buy myself a toothbrush -"
"I brought a toothbrush for you."
Naturally. Clark smiled dangerously, then reached out and grasped her shoulders, pulling her to her feet. "You think of everything, don't you, Lois? I'll be back in a few minutes, then, to start collecting on our agreement. Because, don't forget…" He shifted his hands abruptly to cup her breasts. She gasped. "… for the next three days, your body belongs to me."
She trembled, and her face tilted expectantly towards him.
He released her, turned on his heel and walked out of the suite.
They say you always remember your first time, Clark thought as he headed for the stairs. There was no way he was ever going to be able to forget what happened tonight.
Lois might be planning to walk away without a backward glance afterwards, but Clark was going to make damned sure that for her, too, the memories would last forever.
Lois stood staring, stunned, as the door closed with a final decisive click behind Clark. Shocked tears were prickling at the corners of her eyes.
She blinked them away, stiffening her spine. If the gentle man she'd selected to father her baby had vanished, subsumed into this icy stranger — if the bed in the next room was about to become a battleground — then she couldn't afford to show any weakness.
She had what she wanted, she reminded herself once more. Phase three was complete, and she had her contract.
Now phase four lay ahead. The phase she had been careful not to think too clearly about, until now. Now there was nothing else left to think about.
Fear clutched at her vitals. She could still feel the heat where Clark's hands had touched her in that blatant display of ownership.
Surely Clark's unwonted alpha-male behaviour didn't excite her?
She bit her lip. No, the churning in her stomach and the trembling in her limbs were purely the result of fear. And she had to master it before Clark returned. Because she was not going to play the submissive female to his dominant male.
She had to get through tonight — this weekend — with her essential dignity, the force of her personality, intact. Because on Monday morning, she had to be able to browbeat Clark into maintaining at least the semblance of a professional relationship at work. Otherwise her career in the newsroom was over.
Lois forced her jelly-like legs to turn and carry her to the bedroom. Once there, she sank down in front of the dressing table and began methodically to remove her jewellery and makeup.
Experience had taught her that sex was a tedious business. She'd had various fumbling encounters at college, followed by the brief, abortive affair with Claude — the affair she'd thought was going to be the love of a lifetime. After that, she'd never felt any interest in trying again.
The best part was the early foreplay, before your partner realised he was going to score. Because at that point in the game, his interest would inevitably shift from giving you a good time to maximising his own pleasure. The rest of the encounter was always messy, occasionally painful, and usually mercifully quick.
She'd had a good time with Clark this evening, up until they'd entered the bedroom. For minutes at a stretch she'd been able to forget what lay ahead and enjoy herself, and he'd been really good company. Feeding each other with chocolate dessert had even been fun, and she hadn't had to fake the desire with which she'd invited him to bed.
Well, that part was over. Even if he hadn't gone all Jekyll-and- Hyde once he'd understood her real agenda, she couldn't have expected much more from him.
Uneasily, Lois swivelled to regard the huge bed behind her.
He was furious, that much was clear. Was he going to take it out on her physically, deliberately hurt her?
She turned back to the mirror and picked up her brush, started to run it through her hair. The familiar long strokes of her normal bedtime routine soothed her jangling nerves.
Would he hit her?
She thought not.
She hoped not.
Surely anger couldn't change him that much?
Or was this ruthless stranger the real man, the mild-mannered reporter just a mask he wore in public?
No! That couldn't be true. She couldn't be so mistaken about him, after working beside him for months.
He was angry, that was all; his ego was deflated because she wasn't pretending to be in love with him. He would probably just focus on using her body for his own enjoyment, ignoring the effect on her, and it would be over quickly enough. He would be fast asleep within minutes, and she would be safe again till morning, at least.
He still wasn't back. How long could it possibly take him to register?
She couldn't sit here dwelling on her fears, or she'd be a quivering wreck when he arrived. She'd probably scream when he touched her.
Would that excite him?
The brush clattered to the table top. She stood up and crossed the floor jerkily to stand in front of the wardrobe door. The full-length mirror showed a hunched, frightened woman. A victim.
Lois drew herself erect and straightened her shoulders. That was better. Now only her eyes showed her fear; they looked several sizes too large for her pale face.
Moving deliberately, proudly, she pulled up the skirt of the burgundy dress and drew it off over her head. She opened the wardrobe door and hung the dress up beside the others, then toed off her shoes and placed them neatly side by side. Her lacy underwear followed, then she picked up the wispy black garment that lay ready on the shelf.
Closing the door, she shook out the scrap of silk and held it up against herself. It was a sheer black teddy, bought two days ago in a sudden fit of nerves, when she'd suddenly found herself unable to believe that Clark could possibly find her sexually attractive. The hem skimmed the tops of her thighs; red ribbons tied at the shoulders and laced all the way up the front. It had bolstered her courage when she'd bought it, and it was no less effective now.
Carefully, her fingers trembling, she drew it on and inspected the result in the mirror. It looked stunning. The silky folds shadowed the curves of her body without hiding anything, and the colours seemed to darken her eyes and hair and redden her lips.
Clark would surely find her body suitably enticing. And the more enticing it was, the more quickly their physical encounter — and the others to follow — would be over.
Turning from the mirror, holding fast to her courage, she climbed onto the bed and settled herself in the centre of the mound of pillows. She tucked one leg up under herself and left the other oh so casually extended. At first she couldn't work out what to do with her arms; she settled on resting one hand across her upper hip and propping her head on the other, elbow supported by the pillows.
Not a moment too soon. She heard a key in the outer door of the suite, a pause during which she held her breath, then a click as the door was closed firmly once again. A rattle as Clark placed his key on the table, and then his voice. "Lois?"
She swallowed, closing her eyes for an instant. "In here," she said firmly.
He appeared in the inner doorway, unbuttoning his jacket. As his eyes fell on her, it seemed that his hands froze and his face went slack. But only for the barest instant; then he was shrugging off his jacket and crossing to the wardrobe.
"Gift-wrapped," he commented over his shoulder. "How thoughtful of you, Lois."
"We strive to please," she returned automatically. Her voice, she was relieved to hear, caught the perfect inflection between mild sarcasm and disinterest.
He opened the second wardrobe door, the one she'd left empty, and hung up his jacket. His cufflinks clattered onto the dressing table beside her earrings. Then he was standing at the side of the bed, loosening his tie, his eyes running slowly down over her body.
Striving to keep her breathing even, Lois quelled the impulse to cover herself with her hands. He must have seen some involuntary movement, though, because the hint of a smile touched his lips and his eyes travelled leisurely upwards again to lock with hers.
"Having second thoughts?"
"Not at all," she lied smoothly. "I'm ready when you are."
She heard Clark's breath hiss between his teeth; whether it was amusement or something else, she didn't know. "You talk a good game, partner," he said, settling onto the bed beside her and reaching for her shoulders. "Let's see how you are in action."
Chapter Three: Patterns
After registering, Clark had left the hotel for a few minutes. Cranford's was a short walk along the street, and open late; Clark didn't know and didn't want to guess what the book store staff thought of the man who'd stood in front of the sex manual section, methodically taking out each book in turn and flipping through it, then left the store again without a word.
The walk had done more than allow him to refresh his memory on the theory of sexual technique, though; it had given his rage time to die, leaving bleak depression in its place.
The fates must have it in for him. After years of lonely travelling, he'd finally found someone he wanted to share himself with; possibly even spend the rest of his life with. And she wasn't interested. He'd opened himself up tonight, told her that he loved her, laid his heart before her… and she'd trampled it underfoot. Worse even than rejecting him completely, she was bent on using him first, then discarding him. And he was letting her do it.
He was crazy to have signed that agreement. If he'd genuinely thought that Lois would have his baby, there was no way he could ever have agreed to walk away from her. Especially since any child of his might have super-powers. The only reason he'd been willing to sign was the knowledge that, as an alien, the chance that his genes were compatible with hers was vanishingly small.
He couldn't possibly tell her that, of course. He could have invented some other reason besides being Superman for saying that he was infertile, but if he told her he was incapable of doing what she wanted, she'd throw him out and go straight to Luthor. And that was a thought Clark simply couldn't bear.
He ought not to care what she did. He ought to despise her for the way she was treating him. But, try as he might, he couldn't rid himself of the images from earlier in the evening… Lois smiling at him over the dinner table, kissing him in the lift, laughing with him on the couch. He wanted her so badly he could practically taste her.
God help him, he still loved her. And he had to try… try at least to convince her that this plan to have a baby on her own was madness. And maybe, just maybe, he could convince her that they could have some sort of future together. After all, she wasn't actually physically averse to him… unless the whole of tonight had simply been an act. Unless she'd been faking all along.
He'd soon know just how much she was faking. She didn't have much chance of fooling him if he used his superpowers to monitor her body's responses to him.
But first, he had to talk to her. Find out just why she had decided to have a baby, and try to convince her to change her mind. As soon as he got back to the hotel room, he'd get her to talk.
And then he saw the erotic vision waiting for him, and all his good intentions evaporated in a sudden blaze of desire. He tried to damp down his response, made some smart remark to cover it which she countered with sarcasm of her own, but all he could think about was her body and his, and how soon they would be in contact.
As he stood beside the bed, drinking in the sight of her, her heartbeat leapt and skittered, and her hands started to move. For an instant he thought her nerve had finally snapped, that she would cover her body and tell him to leave, that she'd seen sense at last. The idea of having to turn away from her at this point was torture, but it was mixed with sheer relief. Only she could release him from the trap she, and his own stupidity, had set for him.
But no. Whatever scruple or flash of modesty had assailed her, it had lasted only a moment. He was caught like a fly in honeydew, and there was no reprieve.
He sank onto the bed beside her and reached for her shoulders, fighting to maintain some sort of control. It was so tempting just to let go, to lose himself in his desire and forget about the consequences… but he had every intention of making this experience as memorable for her as it would be for him. Besides, he had to remember at all times how easily he could hurt her.
As his hands touched her skin, that same spark seemed to jump between them. She seemed to feel it, too. She leant back against the mound of pillows and her arms reached out to make contact with his chest. She shifted, straightening her bent leg, angling her body towards him. Welcoming him.
Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.
He bent forward and pressed his lips against the pulse leaping under the curve of her jaw. A faint trace of chocolate lingered there, and he opened his mouth to savour her skin once more. Her hands crept around his neck, gathering him in.
He kicked off his shoes and swung his legs onto the bed to lie beside her, supporting his weight on one elbow and leaving the other hand free to roam over her gleaming skin. His mouth followed the caress of his fingers, licking and nibbling at her neck and shoulders.
He'd dreamt of this for so long. He'd been hard-pressed to keep his hands off her when she'd been sprayed by that perfume and fancied herself in love with him. Ever since then, his sleep had been disturbed by fantasies of what would have happened if he'd given in before she'd recovered from its effects.
Now he was living out that fantasy. And none of his dreams had prepared him for the reality, the sheer, incredible pleasure of being free, at last, to touch and taste her. Her body was his, he'd said, and she'd made no demur; his to do with as he desired.
And as she desired. She hadn't spoken a word since his last taunt, but her breathing and her heartbeat filled his hearing, and both were getting steadily more erratic as he continued his ministrations.
His own body, he was vaguely aware, was responding more and more urgently to Lois's tantalising nearness; an animal growl at the back of his brain was urging him to hurry, to give her what she'd asked for as quickly as possible. So far, he was managing to ignore that part of himself, keeping it leashed and waiting. His turn would come, he assured it. For now, he was careful to limit the contact between his body and hers, concentrating as best he could on the sensations he was giving and receiving with his hands and mouth.
A scarlet ribbon tickled his cheek, and he lifted his hand and tugged the bow undone. Smoothing the ends of the ribbon aside, he glanced up at her face; her eyes were closed, her expression remote. Then, as he pulled down the shoulder of her garment, her eyes opened, and in their glazed depths he glimpsed… puzzlement?
The image stayed with him, niggling at a corner of his mind, as he bent his head again to explore the new territory he'd uncovered. The second shoulder bow went the way of the first, and soon he was unlacing the ribbon at the front of her garment, step by teasing step.
Lois was still lying passive, doing no more than cradling his head against her or running her hands over his shoulders; that remote corner of his mind took note with a tinge of concern. He unlaced the last of the scarlet ribbon and pushed the black silk aside. She tensed as he laid his hand on the warm skin of her stomach, but as he caressed in slow circles she gradually relaxed.
His fingers explored gently, guided by the catches in her breath and once or twice the faintest of moans. Soon she was clutching at his shirt, her breathing ragged. Her eyes drifted to his, a sense of wonder in their smoky brown depths, and her lips softened into the faintest of smiles.
Then her eyes shifted and a blush stained her cheekbones. He could almost see the shutters going up.
She wet her lips. "Very nice, Kent." He saw her wince as she registered her own throaty whisper, and she continued in a stronger voice, "But that's not why you're here."
If he hadn't been watching her so closely, he would have been fooled. Even as it was, it felt like a knife in his gut that she could so casually dismiss what was the greatest intimacy he'd experienced. So far.
She really did only want one thing from him.
"Don't worry, Lois," he said softly. "You'll get your pound of flesh." He mentally reviewed the words and added, "So to speak."
Her eyes flew to his; for a moment he thought she was going to laugh. Then, just as he was about to relax into a grin himself, her eyes skittered away again with a flash of some emotion he couldn't name.
Not even laughter was allowed to get in the way of her obsession…
So be it.
His body was aching for its own fulfilment. If that was all she wanted, that was what she would get.
He rolled to his knees beside her and drew aside the last folds of the black silk garment. She shifted her body to help him as he pulled it from under her and tossed it to the floor. Then he stood to remove his own clothing. Her eyes followed his hands from beneath her lowered lashes, and her breathing altered subtly.
She might not want to show it, but her body was far from indifferent to him.
He knelt on the bed beside her once more, and her gaze flicked up to his face. Then she reached out with both hands to remove his glasses.
His hands caught her wrists easily; she made a single attempt to pull free and then lay quite still, looking up at him. She'd gone suddenly pale, and he finally recognised the emotion now flooding her eyes. It was fear.
He stared at her, arrested. What did she have to fear? She was the one who had done this before…
And then it hit him.
He dropped her wrists as if they'd burnt him and leant forward to run his palm along the line of her jaw.
"My God, Lois," he whispered. "Who did that to you? Who hurt you?"
Her eyes widened and then, slowly, filled with tears. Cursing himself silently, he gathered her against his chest. "Forget it," he said harshly. "Forget I asked. Lois, I never meant to upset you." He felt her sob, once, against his shoulder. "Forget him, Lois. He just isn't worth it."
He laid her back against the pillows and found her mouth with his own, and then she was kissing him unrestrainedly. Her scent rose up around him, misting his brain with desire.
Clark had confounded her not once, but twice. First, when he'd joined her on the bed and she'd confidently expected him to concentrate on his own pleasure before anything else, he'd instead spent long minutes making gentle love to her.
And then, when they'd both been naked and she'd known that nothing was going to stop him this time, he'd recognised her fear and responded to it in a way that had crashed straight through all her barriers. In a way that, against all the odds, had aroused her all over again. Instead of being scared and tense, she'd been as eager as he was, and it hadn't even been uncomfortable — it had been about the most wonderful sensation she'd known. She'd finally understood why it was that women could want sex, actually go out of their way to seek it out.
But now… now he'd reverted to normal male behaviour. Only this time, instead of feeling faintly revolted by what had passed, Lois was still racked by desire.
He was lying half on top of her, trembling, his breath slowly easing, his eyes closed. In a few moments he'd be fast asleep; the only real question was whether he'd roll off her first or not.
She had what she wanted, she reminded herself. The chance to conceive the baby she needed.
The mantra didn't help.
She wanted more! A frustrated whimper escaped her lips.
Instantly, his eyes snapped open, focusing on her. "Lois…" His hand, stilled cupped around her face, flexed and his thumb brushed over her cheek. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No! No, I… it's just…" She caught her breath.
How could she have forgotten? She had to work beside this man on Monday. She had to guard herself against him, maintain what she could of her dignity… not much after he'd watched her in the throes of pleasure, but at least that experience was mutual.
Begging for more, however much she might want it, was out of the question.
"Am I too heavy?" He shifted his weight onto one elbow, and she felt his body move against hers, the skin of his chest brushing against her breasts. And against her will, she let out another whimper.
He gave a soft half-laugh and bent forward to brush a kiss over her lips. "I'm sorry, I was selfish. I'll try not to let it happen again…"
He actually looked embarrassed, she was astonished to see. "Oh no, I… that's okay," she said, flustered. "I mean, you did, uh, the necessary…"
He claimed her lips again for a deeper kiss. His hand left her face to stroke teasingly at her body, drawing a moan of longing from her.
She gave in and reached for him, running her hands over his chest and back, feeling the play of the well-developed muscles beneath his skin as he bent over her, feeding her passion once more with his hands and mouth.
He was ready for more… Earlier she had dreaded the thought that he might want her more than once; now nothing could have been more welcome. She looked up into his face and saw her own surprise and delight mirrored there.
And this time, it was everything she wanted and more…
Some time later she came back to herself, shivering slightly as her body cooled. Clark was lying next to her, one arm still draped across her chest, their legs still tangled together. She studied the sleeping face so close to her own, wondering that he could look so peaceful. She'd seen depths of emotion she'd never expected on that face today, of both anger and passion. Now both were spent.
He was still wearing his glasses. A tenderness she'd never known she possessed welled up inside Lois, and she reached forward to remove them.
Before she touched them, her wrist was caught once again in a vice-like grip. Clark's eyes were open, gazing into hers, and his face wasn't peaceful at all.
For a long, tense moment his gaze held her pinioned. Then he glanced down at her body, releasing her wrist as well as her eyes. "You're shivering," he said.
He rolled off the bed and flipped the cover down with one easy movement, the muscles flexing in his arm. Lois crawled between the sheets, feeling a sudden need for modesty as well as warmth.
A moment later he joined her. He snapped off the light, then she heard his glasses clatter down on the nightstand. His body eased down beside her, came to rest a few inches away from hers.
Had she expected him to take her in his arms? They weren't, after all, lovers in any sense but the technical one.
She felt unaccountably lonely. She wanted to roll over and cuddle up to him, but she didn't move.
Cuddling wasn't part of the plan.
"Good night, Lois," came a soft voice in the darkness.
"Good night, Clark."
He couldn't afford to sleep deeply. He might float in his sleep, or she might wake before him and see his face without the glasses. He couldn't risk discovery.
And so Clark woke instantly when Lois rolled over and came to rest with her head pillowed on his shoulder and her arm flung across his chest.
For a long moment he didn't breathe. She was breathing slowly and regularly, though. She was fast asleep.
He relaxed just a little. In a few moments, when he was sure she wasn't going to wake, he'd ease himself away from her. In the meanwhile…
It occurred to him that the body pressed up against him was naked. As was his. His virginity was a thing of the past; he had finally — belatedly, some would say — taken the plunge into sex and now he was lying beside his sleeping lover.
He ought to feel overjoyed, overwhelmed with love. Or perhaps, given the callous way she'd tried to manipulate him, he ought to feel angry and used.
He ought to feel something.
He probed at his emotions like someone worrying a loose tooth. Earlier, he had been so angry and hurt at the way Lois had treated him that he'd barely been able to think. Now… there was only emptiness, and a dull, faraway ache for his broken dreams. He'd lost his innocence in more ways than one tonight.
Perhaps, if he'd been a normal man, he'd still have been feeling angry and hurt and used. As it was, he knew he hadn't given her what she'd really been after — the ability to conceive. In a way, he'd been using her as shamelessly as she'd been using him, to satisfy his physical desire for her. He was worse than she was, really, because at least she'd been honest about what she was asking from him.
His conscience gave a twinge.
But what choice had he had? If he'd been honest she would have been lying in Luthor's arms right now. And not only did the thought of Lois touching that snake bring Clark out in a cold sweat… but if she put herself in Luthor's power like that, she would be lost. He would have her dancing on a string till the end of her miserable days.
Clark might have taken advantage of her physically, but at least he cared for her happiness. Which was why he had to prevent her from following this disastrous course of action — not just having Luthor's baby, but the whole idea of becoming a single mother. He had to talk her out of it.
But he could do nothing for now. Now she was fast asleep, curled confidingly against him, all her defences in abeyance. Once again, Clark found himself dwelling on the feeling of her body against his.
The steady rise and fall of her ribs was creating the barest hint of friction between her skin and his. A normal man might not even have noticed. Clark was acutely aware of every shift, every subtle change in pressure.
He felt his body start to respond.
Was this another manifestation of superpowers, one he'd never had any reason to suspect until now? Or was it simply that he had over a decade of abstinence to make up for?
A strand of her hair was tickling his cheek. He lifted a hand and smoothed it down over her head. It seemed natural to run his palm over her hair and then curve it around the base of her jaw.
She sighed and burrowed her cheek a little deeper into the curve of his shoulder. Her breasts shifted against his chest. His arm moved automatically to wrap around her body and hold her against him.
The skin under his fingers was satin-soft. Heat seemed to radiate up his arm from the contact. He fought the urge to explore her curves.
But he wasn't the only one affected by it, it seemed. Lois was breathing faster and her body was pressing closer against him.
Was that possible? And yet, Clark thought, what he'd learnt earlier suggested that she'd had a bad experience with sex — perhaps more than one. Perhaps she hadn't slept with anyone since Claude, and she also had several years of abstinence to make up for.
Without intending to, he was gently massaging the soft flesh under his hand. And Lois was responding, her mouth questing blindly over the skin of his shoulder. She lifted her leg over his, pressing herself against his side.
He could tell the instant she woke. She let out a faint gasp as she registered that what she had no doubt thought was a dream was solid reality. Clark waited for her reaction, half expecting her to roll away in embarrassed denial and steeling himself against the frustration when she did.
Her hand left his shoulder and whispered slowly down over his chest, exploring and stroking. He let out his breath in a muffled groan and his hand tightened involuntarily. Her fingers drifted lower…
"Again?" she murmured.
He grimaced. She would be disgusted by his libido. Besides, they couldn't do this — they had to talk. And after they'd talked, they wouldn't be doing this again…
But she didn't seem to be perturbed; her hand was still exploring, her caresses sending shock waves through his body and into his brain.
He had to stop her. "No, go back to sleep," he said thickly. His voice was at least an octave deeper than usual. "You don't need to -"
"But I want to." She sounded faintly surprised at the fact, but her breathing was shallower, her scent getting stronger. He cast about for some way to put her off, but her mouth started to rove over his skin and he couldn't remember why making love again was a bad idea.
He groaned and surrendered, drawing her soft warmth against him and kissing her hair.
No more words were spoken, but her body moved over his in the darkness, teaching him new steps in the oldest dance of all.
The sun was high when Lois opened her eyes. A shaft of light was spilling between the heavy brocade curtains, illuminating the deep pile carpet. Lois watched golden dust motes dancing in the beam for several seconds as she worked out where she was; then she carefully inched herself over to look at the sleeping figure next to her.
He was gone.
There was a dent in the other pillow, but it wasn't even warm.
Puzzled, she sat up and strained her ears. There was no sound from the bathroom. The living room, perhaps? But her instincts were shrilling at her that Clark was no longer in the suite. He'd walked out, leaving it…
She stamped down firmly on the faint stirring of self-pity. She liked her living space empty, she reminded herself. Whenever Lucy came to stay at her apartment they inevitably ended up fighting. And she really hadn't been looking forward to sharing a bathroom with a man for the first time — especially under such strained circumstances.
Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she caught sight of a folded sheet of paper on the nightstand. She picked it up; her name was inscribed on it in Clark's firm handwriting. She unfolded it.
"I have to go to work. You're not stirring — I guess you have some sleep to catch up on. I'll be back around seven.
She ignored the way her heart sank at the curt wording. Of course he'd had to go — she'd simply forgotten that he didn't also have the weekend off. And he'd be back.
So he was still angry… that didn't matter, she told herself staunchly. The chill around her heart when she thought of how he'd looked as she'd punctured his romantic fantasy, his face growing cold, the laughter dying in his eyes, was just remembered fear. And his desire to punish her had gone no further than making her sign that contract… and that wasn't forcing her to do anything she wouldn't have done without it.
Anyway, the only alternative would have been to tell him about her condition and ask him to help her out of pity — and that just didn't bear thinking about. Lois Lane hadn't clawed her way to the top of her profession by exposing her weaknesses, and especially not to ambitious male colleagues!
No, she'd chosen the right way — the only way — to do it. The blow to his male ego would ensure that he was never tempted to spread the story of their dirty weekend around the newsroom. And if he despised her for using him, and still more for agreeing to sell her body in return… so much the better. That just made it more certain he'd walk away from her once the deed was done.
Was she already pregnant? She leant back against the pillows and ran her hand over the swell of her abdomen, wondering. She wasn't sure how long it took… but she could hope that Clark was virile enough to have got her pregnant right away. His wounded ego hadn't prevented him from putting in quite the virtuoso performance, she thought, feeling a hint of a satisfied smile — or was it a smirk? — tug at her lips.
And she hadn't done so badly herself, in spite of all her fears. Phase three had ultimately succeeded, after a few hiccups, and phase four had surpassed all her expectations.
Definitely a smirk, she decided. Claude had been quite wrong — in the right hands, she was anything but frigid. In fact, she was quite thrillingly responsive.
Claude had prided himself on being a stud, as she'd discovered when he'd moved in on Jenny in the typing pool two days after Lois's own encounter with him; but Clark was obviously far more experienced than Claude. Or perhaps it was just that he cared about his partners' pleasure in a way Claude never had…
A cold feeling had woken in her stomach at the thought of Clark's other sexual partners. But that was ridiculous, she scolded herself. She should be grateful to them for teaching him to be so skilful, so thoughtful.
Did she measure up to them?
She dismissed the thought, getting briskly out of bed. Clark certainly hadn't been complaining last night, any more than she had. And if she was, well, inexperienced at giving and receiving pleasure… she'd just have to learn as quickly as possible. While she had the opportunity. Which was at least another two days.
It was eleven o'clock — *eleven*? She never slept this late! But then, she never spent half the night making lo… having wild sex, either. They must have been at it till after four, at least. So now she only had to find some way to occupy herself — which shouldn't be difficult in a luxury hotel — and Clark would be back in about eight hours.
She'd be ready.
Chapter Four: The Dangling Conversation
That was where his attention was meant to be. Checking the background behind the city council's decision to widen the Eisenhower Bridge over the Hobbs River and rename it after the mayor.
Not sneaking glances out of the corner of his eye at his partner's desk, trying to reconcile her normal singleminded career focus with her absurd decision to become a single parent. Not straying to the honeymoon suite at the Lexor and wondering what she was doing now.
And definitely, unequivocally, not reliving intimate moments from last night.
Clark had always prided himself on his self-control. Ever since it had become obvious, as a child, that the strange abilities he was developing were something more than natural, he had worked on controlling them. More than that: he had worked on controlling his own natural reactions to any situation so that his abilities would never be suspected, and certainly never become a threat to any of the vulnerable humans around him. Over the years his control had become such an integral part of him that it was hard even to imagine being without it.
Today, his self-control was nowhere to be seen. He'd been sitting for hours poring over the piles of computer printouts in front of him, and not a single fact had actually gone into his brain.
But then, it wasn't just today. His self-control had deserted him last night, when he'd walked into the bedroom and seen Lois lying on the bed in that pose, that wisp of black silk… his pulse rate still leapt every time he recalled the sight.
"What did you say, CK?"
Clark blinked himself back to reality. Jimmy had paused curiously next to his desk, holding a brown paper bag and a soda can. He must have groaned aloud in response to his thoughts, Clark realised in dismay.
"Uh, nothing, Jimmy… I just… I think I must have eaten something that disagreed with me."
"You're looking a bit grim," Jimmy said, scanning his face. "Why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off? The Chief won't miss you — he's busy fighting with Marketing about the new front- page ads." He gestured with the paper bag. "This is the third time he's sent me out for fries — his blood pressure must be sky- high!"
"I really ought to…" Clark started to respond automatically.
But at that moment, the door of the Editor's office opened and a roar of "Where's my food, Olsen?" issued forth. Jimmy shook his head at Clark and scurried off with Perry's comfort food.
Jimmy had a point, Clark conceded. He certainly wasn't earning his salary in his current state. And grim didn't even begin to describe the way he was feeling.
He'd spent his first ever night of passion with the woman he'd been in love with for months. And instead of joy and fulfilment, all he could feel about it was despair and a sick self-disgust.
His conscience had woken up with the morning, and it was gnawing savagely at him.
How could he just have leapt into bed with her like that, without making the slightest effort to change her mind? And not just once, but twice now he'd succumbed to lust when he should have been reasoning with her. If she ever realised how he'd been using her, she would kill him. And he'd deserve it.
It didn't matter how many times he told himself that she had intended to use him, too; that he couldn't have told her the truth about his infertility and let her go to Luthor instead; that she had been the one making the running in the middle of the night. At an emotional level, none of that mattered beside the fact that he was being dishonest, when he claimed to stand, among other things, for Truth.
It wasn't just guilt that was eating at him, though.
While the physical act of love had been more amazing even than he'd anticipated… he'd always expected something more when he finally took that final step. Which was why he'd never chosen to do so before. He wanted an emotional connection as deep and strong as the physical one, and infinitely more enduring. There had been plenty of strong emotions last night, but none of them had had anything to do with the commitment he craved.
Alone, now and forever. That was his lot.
Now he was getting morbid, and he still wasn't getting any work done. Clark stood up and reached for his coat in sudden decision. Maybe his evening patrol would clear his head a little, even give him some inspiration for dealing with Lois. It was a bit early still, but maybe he'd catch some of the bad guys napping…
He was out of luck, though, in more ways than one. The bad guys, like the rest of Metropolis, seemed to be sheltering from the bright, frosty January weather, while the view of his city from several hundred feet up only served to deepen Clark's sense of isolation.
He'd daydreamed, sometimes, about bringing Lois up here and showing her his favourite sights from the perspective only he and a few hot-air balloonists ever gained. Now that fantasy was further from reality than ever. Lois had no interest in Clark the man, only in his supposed ability to reproduce on one hand and his flashy powers on the other; and he had no desire to share himself with someone whose interest didn't even go skin deep.
A car skidded on an icy patch of freeway below, and Clark arrowed down to catch it before it could collide with the vehicle in the next lane. Between fright and awe at Superman's intervention the driver was completely tongue-tied, and Clark delivered himself of a few stern words about driving more carefully until the gritting trucks had been out to treat the roads, then took off again.
After a few more sweeps of the city, he headed for home. He needed a few things if he was going to spend another night in the hotel with Lois — and if he couldn't talk her out of her scheme, that was what he was going to have to do. The dishonesty and the emptiness might be hard to bear, but the alternative was worse.
The phone rang as he was stuffing clothes into an overnight bag. He reached for it automatically before halting with his hand on the receiver. He knew the only people likely to be phoning him on a Saturday evening, and he couldn't cope with the usual friendly chat with his parents. Nor could he ever tell them what had happened, or what he'd done — the very thought of confiding in them turned his stomach.
He fetched some toiletries from the bathroom, adding the shaving kit he'd bought after his encounter with Kryptonite in Smallville with a grimace of distaste for the deception. Then, leaving the phone still shrilling, he exited his apartment at super-speed to conceal the unusual sight of Superman carrying an overnight bag and headed for a quiet alley near the Lexor Hotel.
It was still some time before seven when he let himself into the honeymoon suite, and the room was empty. He let out a breath he hadn't realised he was holding. The confron… no, conversation with Lois would need to wait a little longer. She was probably out shopping, or enjoying the hotel facilities… and he might as well do the same while he waited for her to get back. Maybe a shower would help him relax.
The water was hot and soothing, and Clark washed his hair and his body at normal speed and then experimented with the various settings of the high-tech shower head. He was standing with his eyes closed, enjoying a gentle flow after a stinging massage setting, when the click of the bathroom door roused him from his trance.
"Mind if I join you?"
He panicked. For a moment he contemplated flying out of the shower at super-speed, getting dried and dressed in the other room, pretending he'd left the water running by accident… but even if the wind of his passage didn't rouse her suspicions, she must have seen the shadow of his body in the shower cubicle already… and yet, standing here waiting to be discovered, his glasses nowhere in sight, his hair slicked back with the water…
The cubicle door opened, and Lois stepped in.
He needn't have worried. Her eyes barely flicked to his face before they sank to skim avidly over his chest, closely followed by her hands.
He reached out and gathered her closer, tucking her head under his chin so that she couldn't take a second look at his face. She smelt faintly of pool chlorine and a cocktail of unfamiliar chemicals — a visit to the hotel beauty parlour? Then his body caught up with the sensation of hers, wet and pliant, pressing deliciously against it, and conscious thought was once again smothered in a tide of physical desire.
She'd never expected this.
Oh, she'd known Clark had a good body — she'd seen him once in nothing but a towel, and although the baggy suits he wore to work did nothing to flatter his figure, she hadn't forgotten. She'd seen bodies as well-built as his in the gym, though, and while she was capable of appreciating an attractive male, the sight had never done much for her.
She'd never anticipated that, given free access to her partner's body, she simply wouldn't be able to keep her hands off it. Yet the minute she'd arrived back in the suite and realised he was in the shower, the idea of joining him had leapt into her mind and refused to leave again. She'd fought it, reminding herself once again that she had to work with Clark on Monday and that she had to keep what emotional distance she could from him… yet here she was, once again mother naked, renewing her acquaintance with those broad shoulders and bulging biceps, the narrow hips, the firm pecs and abs without an ounce of spare flesh anywhere, the skin that was smooth and soft, hairless except for the trail that led downward from his navel…
It was happening again. They'd coupled in the shower and then, with his glasses safely back in place and his hair towelled into a more Clark-like style, they'd somehow ended up making love again, slowly but no less intensely, on a heap of towels on the bathroom floor.
And he'd still made no effort to talk her out of it. They'd barely even exchanged half a dozen words since she'd walked into the shower. Somehow, as soon as her body came near his, his brain seemed to cease functioning completely.
It was foolish of him to call it love-making, Clark knew. For Lois it was just sex; not even important for itself, merely a means to an end. And yet, in his head he could call it nothing else. He wasn't capable of shutting down his emotions, and he still loved her. Every touch, every movement he made expressed that love in a way he'd never be free to do in words. Even now, as Lois came slowly back to life, he was savouring the feeling of her head pillowed on his shoulder, the curve of her hip under his hand, her breasts shifting subtly against him as she breathed.
If he succeeded in talking her out of it, he'd never experience this again.
She was shifting away from him now, rolling over and reaching for the luxurious terry robes provided by the hotel. He caught the one she tossed toward him, sat up and shrugged into it as she belted hers around her.
She scrubbed with her sleeve at the mirror and then combed her fingers through her hair. He caught the embarrassed glance she flicked at him in the glass. She drew a breath.
"How was work?"
He nearly laughed before the full irony of the question caught him somewhere near the solar plexus.
How do you make small talk with someone who, outside the physical task he's performing as a favour to you, is not a boyfriend or a lover, or even a friend… just a colleague?
"Okay, I guess," he said. "I spent most of it checking the background for the Eisenhower Bridge project. Not even a Superman res… uh, story to liven up the day."
Her brows had drawn together at his words. Clark rolled to his feet, cursing himself mentally for the slip; he needed to stop merely reacting and start thinking, for more reasons than one.
"Are you hungry?" he asked. "We could get room service."
Her face cleared, to his relief, and she nodded. "There's a menu in the living room," she said, leading the way out of the bathroom.
Truthfully, Clark wasn't that hungry — there was a knot in his stomach that only the anticipated talk with Lois could dispel — but he picked a sandwich almost at random off the menu. Lois placed their order and then excused herself to go back to the bathroom, and Clark was left listening to the sound of the hair dryer and wondering awkwardly whether he was meant to get dressed. She came back out still wearing her robe, though, and he relaxed a notch.
He couldn't think of anything to say. He didn't want to start talking about her plans and then get interrupted by the arrival of the food. After an uncomfortable pause, it occurred to him to offer her a drink, wondering whether a little alcohol might make her more receptive to his arguments. Selecting and opening a bottle of white wine from the mini-bar occupied the next few minutes till the food arrived.
Once they were both seated with their plates, Clark on the couch and Lois in an armchair, he cleared his throat. She looked at him enquiringly.
"Lois, have you thought…" he began, then shook his head and backtracked. "Well, no, obviously you must have thought about this idea of having a baby, thought a lot about it, I mean…"
"It's not a spur-of-the-moment decision," she said quietly. She was looking down at her chicken salad and he couldn't read her expression.
"Well, can you tell me why you decided to do it? I mean, you seem so focused on your career, now suddenly you've decided you want to be a single parent… it seems cra—" Her lips tightened, and he caught himself. "It just doesn't seem to add up. Can you explain it to me?"
She continued to stare at her plate for a while, frowning, and Clark began to wonder if she would answer. At length, though, she looked up and said, "I never really thought I'd want to have kids, you know… The way my parents brought us up, or rather left us to bring ourselves up — it wasn't exactly a good role model."
He nodded. She'd never said much about her family life, but it wasn't the subject he wanted to pursue right now. "What changed?"
"You know Amy Valdez? The kid from the orphanage, during that Mentamide business?" Clark nodded again. "Well, at first I thought I wouldn't be able to cope with her at all. Having a strange child staying in my apartment, messing with my things — actually, at first I could cheerfully have strangled her. But when I got to know her… you know, Clark, she's a good kid, and she was trying to do the right thing in a tough situation. She reminded me of me, really, trying to bring up Lucy. It made me think…"
She took a sip from her wine glass and savoured it reflectively before swallowing. "I've never had any contact with kids since Lucy was little, and I wasn't much older. It's easy to think of kids as being almost a different lifeform. Getting to know Amy… it made me realise that kids are just people, only they're still working out how to do stuff right."
"And that made you want to have a child of your own?"
"I guess so. I mean, I actually missed her after she'd gone. It even crossed my mind to apply to the orphanage to adopt her and her sister, but, well, two kids in my apartment… and they'd never consider someone like me as an adoptive parent, anyway."
"So what makes you think having your own baby is a good idea?" It was only as Lois shot a startled look at him that Clark realised how sharp the question sounded. He took a deep, calming breath. "I mean, the reasons an orphanage would have for turning you down — single parent, long working hours, a risky job — won't they be just as much of a problem if it's your own baby?"
"Clark, it's not as if I haven't thought about this…" Lois's eyes flashed warningly at him.
He shrugged. "Okay, so tell me what answers you've come up with."
"Well, first of all, I've realised that it's important to me to have my own child. Not just adopt someone else's. It's hard to say why… to carry on the family, I guess. And because I've got more chance of understanding someone who's like me."
Clark shifted uncomfortably, taking a bite of his unwanted sandwich. If there'd been any chance of having his own children, he'd have felt just the same — and he didn't want to feel sympathy with Lois's reasoning.
"So I really want this baby. More than I want a Pulitzer, even." She gave a half-smile, but he looked away, refusing to share the joke with her. "Enough to cut back on my hours as far as I need to. The Planet's got a good daycare facility, though, so childcare during office hours won't be a problem. And as for risks… well, Perry will almost certainly give me the less risky stories once I tell him I'm pregnant, anyway, whether I like it or not."
He swallowed, shaking his head. "Lois, I can hardly believe you're saying this. You're about the most ambitious, career- driven person I know! You may think now that having a baby is more important than your career, but what happens when you wake up one day and realise that having this kid has ruined your chances of ever getting that Pulitzer, or even another Kerth? Aren't you going to resent it?"
Lois had gone pale, but she was still regarding him levelly. "Weren't you the one telling me last night how good a reporter I am, Clark? You're singing a different tune now. Was that just a line you were spinning to get me into bed?"
"No!" Clark looked down at the barely touched sandwich in his hand, dropped it on his plate and shoved it aside. "You are good, Lois. You're the best damn journalist I know. But one of the reasons you're so good is that you never let anything, or anyone, stand in your way. How are you going to do all-night stakeouts, or go undercover in an auto theft ring, if you've got a kid to worry about?"
"Clark, you can't seriously believe I haven't thought about all of that." Her voice had risen. "I'm well aware that I have a choice between having a child or being the best in my career, and I've made that choice. And while we're talking about choices, I thought you'd made yours when you signed that contract. You agreed to help me get pregnant. Why are you so keen to talk me out of it now?"
He hitched himself to his feet and walked to the window. "I meant to talk to you about it last night, Lois, but you… I… things got out of hand." He turned to fix her with a pleading look. "Lois, it's obvious you think all men are rats when it comes to taking responsibility, but I care about what might happen to a child of mine. A child of anyone's for that matter. Being a single parent… it's hard, Lois. There's no one to help out when you're sick, or it's just too much for you. It isn't something anyone should take on lightly. What happens when -"
"It's not something I'm taking on lightly, Clark." She was on her feet too and was squaring up to him, her hands on her hips. "I've been trying to explain that to you, but you won't listen. And it's not your call, Clark. At the end of the day, it's my body and it's my child and it's what I decide to do that counts."
"It's my child too, Lois."
"Oh yeah?" Her lip curled. "You signed a contract that says it isn't."
He opened his mouth to reply, found nothing to say and shut it again. She smiled derisively.
He turned back to the window, gazing at the darkened offices opposite. After a moment he said in a low voice, "What happens when your child asks who her father is, Lois? And why he didn't love you, or her, enough to stick around?"
There was a pause before she answered. "I tell her the truth. That her father wasn't important to me in that way. And that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby, but sometimes it's enough just to have one parent to love you."
"And what if I'm still around? What if she guesses it's me? What if it's a boy and he looks like me, have you thought about that, Lois? I'm not going to take the blame for you, you know. Are you going to tell the truth then, tell him it was you who refused to let me have anything to do with him?"
She didn't answer immediately, and he turned to stare at her. She was paler than ever, but her chin was tilted obstinately. "In that case I'll lie. Say it was someone else. Someone who left, or died."
"But *why*?" He flung his arms out incredulously. "Why are you so determined to do this the hard way, Lois? Why the hell can't you do it the usual way, find some guy you like who wants a family, get married and have kids together?"
Her lips stretched in a bleak smile. "I don't know if you've caught up with my reputation on the office grapevine, Clark, but my record with guys is less than stellar. All my relationships have been federal disasters — I just don't seem to have what the good ones are looking for. I don't imagine that's going to change just because I've decided I want kids. And marrying some loser and then having a messy divorce five years down the track wouldn't be doing the kids any favours."
"Have you even dated anyone since Claude? Seriously, I mean?"
She hesitated, her lips compressing, then shook her head.
"Why don't you give it a chance? You never know what'll turn up, Lois. What's the hurry — you're several years short of thirty, aren't you?"
"Twenty-seven." Her voice had gone husky.
"Well, you're not exactly an old maid. Why do you have to rush into this now?"
She looked down at her hands, twisting them nervously together, biting her lip. She seemed to be hesitating on the brink of saying something… hurtful?
His temper snapped. "You're just not willing to give any man a real chance, are you, Lois? We're all just pond scum, not worth your time. You can't be bothered to give a guy like me the time of day, can you? I'm just 'Mister Green Jeans' or 'Farm Boy' to you, and a 'hack from nowheresville'. You don't have the guts to admit that any man could be as good a journalist as you, or that any man could have any decency or integrity. Well, that's your loss, but when it comes to wrecking a child's life -"
Lois had turned several different shades from red to white while he was speaking; now she burst out angrily, "What gives you the right to tell me what a child needs, Clark? It takes more than just being handsome and good in bed to raise a family right! My father obviously has that sewn up, the number of mistresses he's been through, but when it came to his family he -"
There was a screech of tortured tyres and then the dull crunch of metal on metal. Glass shattered. Someone was moaning in pain.
Lois was still shouting at him, her words a meaningless roar of sound. Clark shook his head, screwing up his face against the onslaught.
"I'm going out."
His own voice hurt his ears. Belatedly he tuned down his super- hearing, feeling the sounds of the accident fading like a fist releasing his heart. He glanced down, realising he couldn't leave the suite wearing just a hotel robe; nor could he spin into something else. He turned and made a beeline for the bedroom door, panting with the effort to hold himself at normal speed.
He couldn't spare the time to answer. He ripped open his overnight bag, dragged out the first clothes that came to hand, threw them on haphazardly.
"Where do you think you're going?" Lois had followed him as far as the bedroom door.
"Out. Away." Was he shouting or whispering? He couldn't tell. There were more screams now, a whole choir of them, and more screeching brakes. Two more impacts… three… He blinked at Lois, moved her out of his path. "I don't think that contract gives you the right to know my movements."
"Clark, I haven't finished with you! Come back here and face me, buster, or…"
The door of the honeymoon suite banged shut behind him. There was no one in the corridor. He shifted thankfully into super- speed and vanished down the stairwell, spinning into the suit on the way.
Chapter Five: Bridge Over Troubled Water
How could he just walk out like that, when she was talking to him? Okay, shouting at him? How could he up and leave in the middle of a fight? How dare he?
Lois stood, fists clenched, staring impotently at the door through which he'd vanished. And slowly, the red rage receded and the old terror bled in to take its place.
She knew this scene intimately, had lived through it dozens of times. The shouting, the man turning and walking out of the door, the woman collapsing in a sobbing heap before opening a bottle and sinking into a stupor till morning. Only before, she'd always seen it from the perspective of the petrified child sitting huddled on the stairs.
Before her eyes, Clark had turned into her father. And she… she was turning into her mother. "Come back here this minute, Samuel Lane, or -"
What did you do when the man you loved just walked out on you, left you high and dry and empty?
Not the man she loved.
She wasn't her mother; she was Lois Lane, intrepid Kerth-winning journalist, and she didn't need anyone. Certainly not a bastard like her father, who couldn't deal with personal conflict and who, when his family needed him, generally found some excuse to be elsewhere.
She had nothing to fear. She should be grateful that Clark was showing this side of himself before she was stupid enough to fall in love with him and come to depend on his non-existent support.
Before she'd really opened up to him, told him all about her endometriosis. About the steadily growing pain every month, the mingled relief and unease she'd felt when her doctor had told her it wasn't as normal as she'd always assumed; the panic when he'd told her the diagnosis, and that there was no cure short of a hysterectomy. The desperate desire to have a baby before it was too late.
Lois sank into the nearest chair and waited for her heart to stop pounding. The sick feeling in her stomach was just the all-too- familiar after-effect of the adrenalin rush. Nothing to do with being disappointed in Clark, because Clark was just a man, and she knew through and through that men — especially handsome, charming, sexually experienced men — were simply not to be trusted.
There, that was better. Her hands were scarcely trembling at all. She could stand up again, and cross the room to where she'd been sitting before, and pick up her plate. She could sit and force down the chicken salad that tasted like ashes in her mouth, because she needed something in her stomach to counteract the nausea. And she could ignore the wine glass, because she was not going to use alcohol to drown her sorrows. She didn't have any sorrows to speak of, anyway.
She was fine. Everything was going according to plan; Clark had done what she needed him to do, and with any luck she was already pregnant. It didn't matter that he'd left, and it didn't matter if he didn't come back.
Except that she was lonely.
She'd bargained on being alone, when this brief affair was over, at least until the baby arrived. She was used to being alone. She wasn't used to this nagging feeling that something was missing, that someone ought to be there and wasn't. She hadn't bargained for loneliness.
She put her empty plate down on the table. Clark's plate was already there. Balefully, she eyed the sandwich sitting there innocently, missing its single bite.
It made a good metaphor for Clark's behaviour, she thought morosely. He'd taken a single bite at their relationship, a whirlwind of pleasure lasting a mere few hours, and then the minute they'd got into a more serious discussion, he'd abandoned it.
Why did she care, anyway? She picked up the sandwich, frowning, and pulled off a corner to nibble at. Had she thought things would be different?
Had she hoped, somewhere in a hidden corner of her mind, that once she'd opened the door to him, Clark would sweep her off her feet and away into happy-ever-after land?
That was ridiculous, even for her. Even for the woman who secretly adored Ivory Tower and was writing a trashy romance novel that would never see the light of day. That didn't happen in real life.
She sniffed loudly and popped another bite of sandwich in her mouth, resolutely ignoring the prickling at the corners of her eyes.
If only she could forget about him. Forget about his defection, forget about their argument. Forget that he'd actually had a point when he'd yelled at her that she'd never given him a chance; because for a moment she'd actually felt guilty about prejudging him, as a man and therefore not to be trusted. And then, bare seconds later, he'd proved how little decency and integrity he had after all by walking out on her.
Find something else to do.
She dumped the half-eaten sandwich on the table, picked up the remote and switched on the television, flicking automatically to LNN. The news channel was showing live footage of what looked like a traffic accident scene, with red and blue lights strobing the darkness and figures in reflective jackets hurrying to and fro with stretchers. An LNN reporter — the caption identified her as Carmen Alvarado, but bundled to the cheekbones in a scarf as she was, it could have been anyone — was shouting hoarsely through a gusty wind about the icy condition of the roads contributing to the problem and the fourteen vehicles thought to be involved in the pile-up. Lois winced.
Just then, midway through a sentence, brakes squealed in the distance and the picture cut from Alvarado to a hazy view of what looked like the Trans-Metropolis Expressway. A truck had obviously just sped around a bend and the driver had realised too late what lay ahead of him — the truck was braking, but not fast enough, and as Lois watched, heart in her mouth, it skidded and began to spin as it travelled.
Then a streak of primary colours flashed across the screen and a caped figure appeared in front of the truck, bringing it to a miraculous stop only feet from the wreck of an SUV at the rear of the pile-up. After a brief colloquy with the driver, Superman picked the truck up bodily and moved it to the end of a row of vehicles parked safely in the slow lane, then flew off again in the direction of the mangled vehicles. The camera lingered for a moment on the truck driver climbing down from the cab, wiping his forehead, before cutting back to the reporter.
"As you can see, Superman has been working tirelessly at the crash scene, preventing further tragedy as well as assisting emergency personnel to reach and evacuate casualties from the crashed vehicles. And I'm just receiving word that the death toll has risen to twenty-three… also that police are closing the Trans-Metro at this time, so exciting as that was, we won't be bringing you any further live footage of hair's-breadth escapes…"
Grimacing in disgust, Lois switched channels, searching for some light entertainment. The Trans-Metro ran only a couple of blocks from the Lexor Hotel, and she was tempted to fling on some clothes and go out after the story — but she was off duty, and for once in her life she was going to ignore the opportunity. Besides, it looked as though the story was already cold.
The trouble was, everything she could find on TV was either some stupid sit-com or the sort of romantic movie that, in her current emotional state, she'd rather avoid. Gritting her teeth after hearing first Marlon Brando, then Meg Ryan, then Rock Hudson declare their undying love, she finally hit on the opening scenes of Basic Instinct and sat back with a thankful sigh.
It was some time later, and she was silently encouraging Sharon Stone to stick an ice pick in Michael Douglas, who was far too good-looking and charming to be credible, when there was a quiet knock on the suite door. Suddenly embarrassed at the scene playing out in front of her, Lois hurriedly turned off the TV before going to the door.
"Who is it?"
"I forgot my key."
Lois took a moment to collect herself before opening the door. "So you decided to come back after all," was what she planned to say.
Instead, she took one look at his face and blurted out, "Omigod, Clark — what happened? You look as if somebody died."
"Quite a few people, actually." He was leaning wearily on the door-frame, his face grey. "There was a traffic pile-up." Bleak eyes met hers. "May I come in?"
"Of course," she said automatically, stepping back. He hitched himself upright and walked past her to flop down on the couch. He was still wearing the T-shirt, jeans and sneakers he'd flung on before storming out of the suite. "Clark, were you out on the street in those clothes? You idiot — you must be freezing! What were you thinking?" She hurried to the bedroom and grabbed a couple of spare blankets out of the closet, almost ran back to the living room. She shook one out and draped it round him toga- style. He gave the faintest of smiles as she tucked the edges in. "Do you think if I phone housekeeping they'll send up a hot water bottle?"
"Don't." He caught at one of her hands to stop her going to the phone, and at the contact she felt again that almost electric surge of attraction. "I'll be fine, Lois — I'm not cold. I, uh, borrowed a coat."
It was true — the fingers around hers were cool and trembling slightly, but not icy the way she would have expected. Unthinkingly, she threaded her fingers between his so that they were holding hands. "Can I at least get you a hot drink?"
He nodded. "Coffee. That would be good. Please."
She needed to let him go so she could go and fill the machine.
Instead, she perched uneasily on the couch next to him. "Clark, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I'll be fine. I just need… some coffee, that's all."
"Clark, look at me."
He hesitated, then his eyes met hers. The depth of misery in them shook her to the core. She reacted on pure instinct, dropping his hand and sliding her arms around his neck, pressing her cheek to his. After a second his arms came tightly around her and pulled her roughly onto his lap. She could feel tremors shaking his body.
She held him close, stroking the back of his neck, till she felt some of his tension drain away. It was as though he was drawing strength from her comfort. At length some of the pressure from his arms eased, and his lips moved against her hair. "Thank you."
She shifted so that she was curled against him, her cheek on his shoulder. "Clark, what is it? I mean… we've seen bad accidents before. There were, what, twenty-five fatalities?"
"Thirty-one. Thirty-one people dead. There was a bus… it stopped in time, and I think the passengers were standing up to get out, and then something hit it from behind, and it spun, and something else hit it from the side… there were just people all over… and kids, Lois. And not just dead. One kid lost an arm, and there's another one who'll probably be paralysed…" His voice trailed off, and he started to shake again.
"I still don't understand why… We've seen stuff like that before, Clark."
"It's just…" He stopped and took a deep breath; then it seemed to burst out of him in an anguished flood. "It shouldn't have happened, Lois! Superman should have been there as soon as he heard the first collision. Instead, he was… it took him several minutes to arrive, and all those people were killed and injured who shouldn't have been. It's his fault the death toll is so high -"
She sat bolt upright. "Clark!" She pushed him back against the cushions so that she could glare into his face. "Are you saying it's *Superman's* fault that people get killed in traffic accidents?"
"Well…" He shrugged. "If he could have helped, then yes. And he could have changed things this time, Lois. He should have been there quicker."
"Clark, Superman does what he can! He's saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives! How can you blame him for not saving everyone? He's only one man, Clark — one extraordinary man, sure, but even he can't be everywhere and save everyone. You might as well blame him for spending time here, in Metropolis, when he could be saving far more people in all the wars in the Middle East, or the Balkans. And so what if he took his time getting there — it's still not his fault people have accidents. Blame the drivers who speed in bad weather conditions, or the city council for not salting the roads when they know it's going to freeze! Give Superman a break — the poor guy deserves to have some time to catch a nap, or brush his teeth, or… Clark Kent, are you *laughing* at me?"
"No, no!" he said hurriedly, but he looked a little guilty all the same. She was relieved to see more colour in his face as he quirked his lips straight again. "Oh, Lois…" He drew her into a fierce hug. "You really are Superman's number one fan, aren't you? His one-person cheerleading squad. No, I'm not laughing — I'm thankful. Truly. You don't know what it does for me to get a different perspective on things once in a while."
"Hmph." She sat silent in his embrace for a little longer. But their physical closeness was beginning to make her uncomfortable, after their earlier fight. There were unresolved, irreconcilable differences between them.
She stirred, and at once his arms loosened. "I'll get you that coffee." She slid off his lap, then turned. "Clark… why don't you write up the crash story for the Planet? I always find that helps, when I'm too… too caught up in it. I've got my laptop here, you can use that."
"Okay. Thank you." He smiled slightly. "I thought you were meant to be relaxing completely this weekend?"
She blushed. "I didn't bring it for work. I… I thought I might write something else."
To her relief, he didn't mention her novel. She'd always regretted telling him about that when she'd thought they were both about to die; perhaps he'd forgotten about it. He must have been pretty scared, too.
She got out her laptop and set it up for him at the table, then filled the coffee machine standing next to the mini-bar. By the time it had bubbled and spat itself into silence he was totally absorbed in his typing, his face set grimly as he remembered, but no longer so chillingly bleak.
As she set down his cup beside him, she realised he had no notebook — he was working completely from memory. Of course, he hadn't thought to take a notebook and pen any more than his room key.
She suddenly wondered how he'd known to go out after the accident story. Dressed as he was, he'd surely just been planning to wander around the hotel for a while until he judged that she'd cooled down enough for him to return. But she was being silly — he'd probably heard the sirens from downstairs, though they hadn't penetrated the sound-proofing on the higher levels.
The question reminded her of something that had struck her earlier, though. He'd said his day had been boring — not even a Superman story to liven it up. But he'd been sitting at his desk all day — Superman stories didn't drop in your lap, you had to go out looking for them. At least, that was true for most people…
Did Superman somehow contact Clark when there was a story to be had?
Jason Trask had been convinced that one of them could contact Superman. And Clark had been unaccountably nervous about taking that polygraph test — she'd noticed it at the time, but hadn't made anything of it.
How could Clark know that Superman could have been quicker tonight, unless he had some sort of hotline to the superhero?
Oh, for heaven's sake, she was being ridiculous! Clark had almost certainly spoken to Superman during the accident cleanup tonight — Lois had every reason to know how good he was about giving personal quotes to reporters on the scene. Perhaps he'd said something about being too slow. He was friendly with Clark, after all — he'd chosen to stay at Clark's place when he'd been grounded during the heatwave last November. Trask had been a complete madman; and Clark had probably just meant that watching a Superman report on LNN in the newsroom would have provided a break.
Clark sat back with a sigh and reached for his coffee. "Done," he said, looking over at her.
"I'll email it in to the Planet for you," she said, coming round the table and bending down beside him. When she straightened a minute later with a "Done!" he didn't reply.
She looked down and saw his gaze fixed on her cleavage. She was still wearing just a robe, she realised, and it was gaping open; he must have had an excellent view… She should have felt embarrassed, but the way his gaze was smouldering lit an answering fire inside her.
Unable to turn away, she sank down onto the couch beside him. He swallowed as her body approached him, then closed his eyes. When they opened again, they were fixed on hers.
"Lois… what I was saying earlier…"
She drew in a breath. Curse him! But it was true — they hadn't finished their quarrel. Because he'd run away. "About my being an unfit mother, you mean?"
He winced. "Lois, I didn't mean to imply that -"
"Well, you did. You were out of line, Clark."
"Was I? I'm sorry I upset you, Lois. And I'm sorry I had to run out on you, but I simply can't believe -"
*Had to*? She blinked. "It doesn't matter, Clark."
"- you're making the right… It doesn't?"
It did. It mattered terribly, because it proved how right she was about having this baby alone. But there wasn't any point in telling him that — hearing him deny it wouldn't change anything. "It doesn't matter what you believe, Clark, because it's my choice." The hurt in his eyes tore at her, but she forged on. "And you agreed to help — or have you changed your mind about that?"
His eyes closed and he seemed to wage a brief battle with himself before they opened again. "No, I haven't changed my mind," he said.
She leant forward and lifted a hand to his cheek. "Good," she said huskily, and drew his head down until his lips met hers. He shivered and then reached for her hungrily. She could feel his desire leap to meet hers. He tugged at the belt of her robe and then his hands were running over her body, trailing fire in their wake. She pulled his T-shirt over his head, careful to leave his glasses in place this time.
They should by rights be making up after their fight, she thought hazily. They weren't, though: they had resolved, could resolve, none of their differences.
But in one sense, at least, what she'd said to Clark had been true. The fight, and the fact that he ran away from conflict instead of dealing with it, seemed to make no difference at all to the way she wanted him.
Clark woke promptly and fully, as he usually did at this time. Patrol time.
Lois was snuggled up against him in the curve of his arm, though, and for the longest time he couldn't bring himself to move. She felt so good there, so natural, as if they'd been designed to fit together like this.
Their bodies fitted each other perfectly. In every way.
Heat rose in him at the thought. It wasn't the blush of embarrassment that he'd have felt only a couple of days ago, though. He'd travelled a very long way from innocence in those two days.
No, he was no longer innocent. He was guilty.
Guilty of lying to Lois about what he was doing. It had never occurred to her to ask whether he was capable of getting her pregnant, and he was callously trading on her naivete. Taking advantage of her.
He'd told himself when he'd signed that contract that he was only doing it to stall her until he'd had a chance to talk her out of the whole idea. It had never occurred to him that he would fail. He'd made one mistake after another trying to put his case to her, of course — he should have discussed it rationally, dispassionately, instead of letting his feelings about her choice leak out and anger her. He should certainly never have brought up her personal opinion of him, as though that mattered to her decision, much less shouted at her. And the timing of that Superman emergency couldn't have been much worse.
But he had a sinking feeling that no matter how lucidly he'd put his case, she still wouldn't have listened. She'd shown no sign of wavering in her decision at any point; she'd recognised the strength of some of his objections, but they seemed to make no difference to her at all.
She was as stubborn as a whole stableful of mules.
He'd never thought about what would happen if he couldn't change her mind. He could scarcely keep sleeping with her for three days a month for the foreseeable future — even if she was stupid enough to keep trying after he'd failed to get her pregnant the first few months, that would be the most appallingly cynical manipulation.
If he really respected her, he would tell her the truth — that he was infertile, and that Luthor was a criminal and totally unsuitable as a potential father — and let her take it from there.
And when she'd done tearing his spleen out and feeding it to the buzzards for the way he'd tricked her into bed, she'd demand proof of Luthor's villainy — and when he couldn't produce that she'd laugh at him and revert to her original Plan B. Just like Plan A, only with Lex Luthor replacing Clark Kent.
He stifled a groan. Lois shifted and made a sleepy, contented sound deep in her throat, then was still again.
He didn't respect her decision to have a baby on her own. It was as simple as that. It seemed completely crazy to him, and he didn't see how she could possibly be happy if she went ahead with it.
And if that meant he didn't respect her… well, there didn't seem to be much he could do about that.
He had to try harder to make her see sense.
And meanwhile, he had Superman duties to perform.
He levitated Lois' sleeping form off the bed just far enough to extricate his arm from around her, then settled her gently back down again. She barely stirred, and he waited a moment and then inched reluctantly away from her and out of bed.
Once again he left the suite dressed as Clark — not forgetting his coat and sweater this time — and spun into the suit in a convenient alley near the hotel. The city was quiet again, and his patrol was brief. Lois was still sleeping peacefully when he got back to the hotel.
He simply stood and watched her for a while, enjoying the opportunity he so seldom got to let his eyes linger on the curves of her beautiful face. In a simpler situation, he would have had a huge, sloppy grin plastered all over his face… as it was, his conscience didn't let him enjoy the sight for very long before it was pricking him back into worry.
How on earth was he going to persuade her to listen to him?
And then he had an idea.
Half an hour later, he piled his clothes on the floor beside the bed and climbed back under the covers. Lois was still curled up on her side, breathing slowly and deeply, but as he laid himself down next to her she stirred and shifted to fit herself into the curve of his body.
He looped his arm around her shoulders and gently brushed his lips against her temple in the very softest of butterfly kisses. He lifted his face, considered for a moment, and then repeated the kiss on her cheekbone. Three more followed, along the line of her jaw.
Her breathing was altering, quickening. As he continued to dust her face with kisses, her eyelashes trembled but didn't lift; then her mouth slowly curved into a smile. So slowly that it seemed almost coincidental, she rolled away from him and tilted her face so that he could reach the side that had been against the pillow. He responded obediently by lavishing equal attention on that side, then pressed his lips to each eyelid, the centre of her forehead, and finished by planting one last kiss on the tip of her nose.
"Good morning, beautiful," he said softly.
Her eyelashes fluttered open, laughter dancing in her warm brown gaze. "I don't think I've ever had a morning that started out better," she replied. Her eyes dropped to his mouth and she wound an arm around his neck, pulling him down till their lips met in a soft, tender caress.
She pulled back after a few seconds. "I should probably warn you, though," she said, stretching cat-like and sending every nerve fibre in Clark's body into instant overdrive, "I'm difficult to deal with before I've had my first cup of coffee."
He let his eyes linger for a moment on the vista of ivory skin where her stretch had pulled the sheet dangerously low. "A man of foresight is equal to the challenge," he said, hitching himself into a sitting position.
She gasped as he lifted the tray from the chair beside the bed and presented it to her with a flourish. "Madame's breakfast is served."
Her laughter rang out. "My hero! Oh, Clark — fresh croissants, and what's that?"
"Mocha cafe, with whipped cream."
"Oooh, how sinful!" Lois sat up, clutching the sheet, and Clark put the tray on her lap and then propped the pillows behind her to support her back. She attacked the tray with gusto while he watched, eating a little himself but mostly just appreciating the amount of enjoyment she could get out of food.
At last she leant back with a sigh. "Nothing left but crumbs. Clark, that was heavenly… and so indulgent!"
"I figured you could do with a bit of indulging," he said, taking the tray. "Your mornings are likely to be stressful for the next few years."
He turned to set the tray back on the chair, carefully not watching her reaction, but some of the gaiety had left her voice as she replied, "Guess I'd better make the most of it, then. What's next on the agenda?"
"Cleanup time," he said, grinning at her. He leant forward and delicately removed a few crumbs of pastry from her skin with his tongue. Her breath caught and then she murmured approvingly, her hand coming up to stroke the back of his head. The murmur turned to a squeal as he pulled the covers off her in one swift movement and swept her into his arms.
"Clark! It's cold! What are you — put me down!"
"Not yet," he said, holding onto her firmly in spite of her struggles and striding across the room. He negotiated the bathroom door successfully and stepped down into the heart-shaped sunken bathtub. He'd judged the water temperature about right, he thought with satisfaction; it hadn't cooled too far while she'd been eating.
"*Now* I'll put you down." He sank to his knees and lowered her carefully into the foam. She was giggling helplessly.
"Clark, this is… ridiculous! Incredible! What's next?" She looked at him under her lashes. "Do you wash me, too?"
He grinned. "If Madame wishes… but I thought you might like to -" He reached forward under the water and splayed his hand gently over her stomach. "- soak for a while?"
Her eyes darkened in a way he was beginning to know well. "After all," he added casually, "you won't be getting many long hot baths in future, either."
She stiffened. "Clark." Her voice had chilled several degrees; in spite of the warm water, it raised gooseflesh on the back of his neck. "I know what you're doing. Stop it."
"What am I doing, Lois?" He met her eyes with what he hoped was a guileless expression.
"Trying to change my mind by pointing out what I'm giving up by having a baby. Well, I've thought about all these things already. Stop interfering."
A hopeless feeling of defeat enveloped him, and he sighed. "You can't blame a guy for trying, Lois."
Her lips pursed. "I can't even figure what you hope to gain by this, Clark. We've slept together — how many times, now? I'm probably already pregnant. Are you hoping I'll get an abortion?"
He winced. "No, Lois, never that. I just…" He had to lie, lie convincingly. Again. "It doesn't always happen first time. I'm hoping it's not too late for you to change your mind."
"But *why*? What does it matter to you if I have a baby? I'm not asking you for anything except your genes!"
"As I said before, Lois — I care about how my child grows up. Single parenthood will be hard on him or her. And on you." He swallowed, tried a smile. "Besides — have you thought that I might not want to lose my partner? I was planning on riding your coat-tails to my first Kerth…"
There wasn't a glimmer of an answering smile. "If you feel like that, Clark, why are you here? Why on earth did you sleep with me in the first place?"
For heaven's sake! She had to know how he felt about her — did she have to drag a confession out of him?
Better that than admitting the other reason — that he knew he couldn't get her pregnant.
He caressed her slowly and deliberately, letting his own instant reaction show on his face. "In case it escaped your notice, I seem to have very little willpower when it comes to sleeping with you." His voice had deepened satisfactorily. "And I'm not too keen on the idea of anyone else doing… this… with you."
"Oh, Clark!" Her eyes closed. "I don't know how you do that…"
"Do what?" he asked softly.
"Even when I'm angry with you, you just have to touch me, and I…" She reached out a wet arm and ran her fingernails over the skin of his shoulder. His breath caught. "Did you learn that from your Nigerian princess?"
The familiar flood of desire was clouding his mind. "Ni-" Oh. The White Orchid Ball, so many months ago, and his stupid attempt to impress her. "No, Lois — Shadima's virtue was closely guarded, I assure you. I'm learning this from you… only you…"
Her eyes, equally clouded with desire, met his. "You have a silver tongue, Clark Kent." She drew him closer, and soon his only thought was of the way their bodies moved together, in a harmony their minds could never reach.
Chapter Six: Overs
"I'll be back this evening."
Clark hesitated, and for a moment she wondered if he would kiss her; then he turned and left the bedroom. A few moments later, Lois heard the click of the outer door closing.
Drawing the bed covers closer around her, she snuggled into the nest of pillows. Her body was pleasantly tired and languid; her mind was churning.
But Clark had gone, neatly attired in his office clothes, with one of his usual gaudy ties, and for a few hours she was free of his mind games. Free to try and work out why she felt so… confused.
Not about getting pregnant, for all his efforts to change her mind. He'd said she had years ahead of her to take that step, but it was only months, and she had no doubt at all that it was what she wanted.
No, she was still determined to have this baby. So the clamour in her head had to be about… him. About her feelings for Clark himself.
He'd said that he didn't like the thought of anyone else sleeping with her. And silently she'd agreed with him. He only had to touch her for her body to burst into flame; the thought of anyone else touching her the same way… She shuddered, revolted.
So how, in two days, had she become so addicted to Clark?
And where did it leave her once she was pregnant?
That was easy — the same place as she'd always intended. On her own, raising her child alone. The overwhelming physical attraction she felt for Clark made no difference at all — it might make it harder to say goodbye, but it changed nothing.
More important was what happened if she didn't get pregnant with Clark. He was right — it didn't always happen at once, if at all, and he might decide at any moment that he'd had enough. In which case she'd have to find another father.
And she had to face up to it — given the way she felt about Clark, there was no way on earth she was going to sleep with anyone else. If she needed to find a different father, she was going to have to try a different approach altogether — ask him for a sperm donation and use artificial insemination, most likely.
Which raised a question she didn't want to face. Why hadn't she done that with Clark?
Oh, it had seemed a simple enough strategy at the outset — ask him out, get him tipsy to lower his inhibitions, invite him to bed, and when he was too far gone to change his mind, get him to sign the waiver so she'd be safe from his interference later on. If she hadn't misjudged her moment so badly, it might even have worked.
Only, she'd never really considered the repercussions… when they had to work together afterwards.
As they would tomorrow.
She'd known it would be difficult, maybe disastrous, and she'd pushed the knowledge to the back of her mind and refused to think about it. And she was starting to suspect, now, what her motive for that refusal had been.
She'd simply wanted to sleep with Clark. So desperately that the repercussions just didn't matter. She'd refused to admit, after that incident with the pheromone perfume, what had been staring her — and anyone else who'd been capable of paying attention — in the face: that she was overwhelmingly attracted to Clark. But at some level she'd known it, and her mind had come up with this convoluted plan for satisfying her desire.
Which left her feeling even worse than she'd bargained for. She'd known, when she'd planned her seduction-with-ulterior- motive, that she was being devious and underhand. She'd dismissed her qualms on the pretext that all Clark would really be interested in was the opportunity to get her into bed, and that he wouldn't care about the baby beyond being relieved that she wasn't calling on him to support or look after it.
Ever since he'd protested and then refused to do it, she'd known that she had been mistaken about him. She'd closed her eyes to that knowledge, too — because, after all, what option had she had? She had a very limited time to get pregnant, and then her chance would be gone forever. So she'd ignored what she was doing to Clark and forged ahead with the plan, piling one manipulation on another. Only to get caught in her own web…
He'd turned the tables on her in a way that she had to admit she richly deserved, and trapped her in a situation she'd never foreseen. She was his for the weekend, waiting here like a kept woman for him to return. A love slave… she had to giggle at the gothic phrase.
And she was loving it… the admission killed her momentary amusement. They'd made love more often than she would have believed possible, and she still couldn't get enough of him.
And now she had to face the fact that at some deeply repressed level of her mind, this was what she'd wanted. In spite of her conscious fear of sex, deep down she'd felt this desire for him all along. Deep down she'd known she couldn't give in to her feelings for him and still maintain her dignity, and yet she'd gone ahead regardless.
She'd all but admitted it to him, there in the bath earlier. Not content with allowing him to do what he liked with her body, she'd been on the brink of admitting openly the power he had over her. Just in case he hadn't already guessed.
The thought of what he would do with that knowledge frightened her. He was already playing mind games with her, trying to persuade her to change her mind about getting pregnant. So that he could maintain this sex game, no doubt — for as long as it amused him.
She shivered in spite of her cocoon.
No matter what her rational mind thought of him, when he touched her like that her defences just crumbled and vanished. If he didn't stop after the three days were over — if he kept pursuing her after they left the hotel — she wasn't sure she'd be able to resist him. And where that would leave their working relationship, her ability to hold her head up in the office, she didn't dare to speculate.
Men like him rarely stuck with one woman for long. She had to cling to that ray of hope. He'd get bored with her and move on to someone else, someone more exciting. Someone who offered more of a challenge.
His fling with Cat had lasted only the one night, it seemed. Of course, Cat was infinitely more experienced than Lois, and she would never allow herself to become entangled in this sort of power game.
Was she just being ridiculously paranoid, suspecting Clark of wanting to maintain a hold over her? Was she just overreacting badly to her own loss of control — and to realising that she was actually enjoying, had sought out, this humiliating situation?
She'd thought, that first night, that Clark was enjoying dominating her; but then she'd changed her mind. She'd decided their sexual relationship was purely about pleasure.
And then he'd started trying to manipulate her feelings.
He'd fed her that line about "learning from her" — as if she had anything to teach someone with his background!
But he'd run away from her last night, when they'd been arguing, and it had seemed obvious he couldn't deal with personal conflict — a far cry from relishing it the way he would have to do if he wanted to dominate her. Was he, after all, just a weakling like her father, with a transparent line in compliments?
Oh, she was so confused!
If he was toying with her, manipulating her, she had to guard herself against him — that was clear. Insofar as she could. He'd be back tonight, and she'd sleep with him again — because it might be this time she got pregnant, and because she just wouldn't be able to help herself. But she'd reveal as little of herself as possible, and pay no heed to his honeyed words. And in the morning she'd kiss him goodbye and make it perfectly clear she considered their relationship over — at least till next month.
And if he was a silver-tongued weakling, then the same applied.
It seemed everything was perfectly simple after all. She didn't need to understand what motivated his confusing behaviour after all — it made no real difference to her actions today. And his reaction tomorrow would tell her as much as she needed to know in order to get through the difficult days ahead. When she would have to work beside him, ignoring her attraction to him and dealing as ruthlessly as she could with any attempt to seduce her back into his arms.
She sat up in bed, squaring her shoulders and stiffening her resolve. She'd get through today, and all the difficult days ahead, because she was a fighter. A survivor. Lois Lane didn't lie down and give up when the going got tough; she fought back and forged her own path through life. Even when she was fighting her own desire as well as opposition from other people.
She spent the day in the pool and the sun lounge, wishing that she'd brought a less trashy novel to while away the time. When the early sunset had faded from the sky, she finally yielded to the desire to drop the awful thing in the nearest rubbish bin and went back to the suite to shower — alone, this time — and arm herself for her last evening with Clark.
But the evening came and went, and there was no sign of him. Her second attempt to watch Basic Instinct ended when Sharon Stone tied Michael Douglas's hands to the bed frame, and Lois shuddered and switched off the TV.
If she recalled correctly, the movie ended with Douglas narrowly escaping being impaled by agreeing not to have kids. Lois's subconscious was beginning to scare her.
The hotel suite was deathly quiet around her. She had to face up to it: Clark wasn't coming. Either his qualms about getting her pregnant had finally won the day, and he was too weak and spineless to tell her so; or he'd decided that letting her stew in suspense, waiting for him to arrive, was more fun than coming back for more sex.
Either way, she'd had enough. She was going to bed.
It had taken hours to subdue the bush fire that had been raging out of control in the Australian outback, threatening the lives of thousands of sheep and other animal life, and the livelihoods of dozens of stock farmers. It felt good to have taken part in the fight, but Clark's euphoria was mingled with bone-deep weariness.
And a healthy dose of apprehension. Goodness knew what Lois would be thinking of his abandoning her a second time. It was almost two in the morning in Metropolis.
Clark showered off the distinctive smell of blue-gum smoke at his own apartment and changed into jeans, trusting that Lois wouldn't be awake — or, if she was, that she'd be too distracted by his behaviour to notice his change of clothes. When he arrived at the hotel, however, she was fast asleep.
Not, this time, peacefully. She was curled on her side as usual, but she was breathing erratically and now and again her hands would twitch as though reaching out for something in her dreams. As Clark shucked off his clothes beside the bed, a whimper from her sent an ache through his heart.
He climbed under the covers and settled his body in a curve around hers, a protective barrier between her and the world. She tensed for a moment, then relaxed with a sigh. Her breathing quietened.
He laid his arm along his side, wishing he could cuddle close to her but not wanting to disturb her sleep. The aching of his tired muscles slowly drained away, soothed by her presence.
After several long minutes she stirred and rolled over, her arms reaching automatically to wind themselves around his body. He responded gladly, gathering her close against himself at last.
"Clark…" she slurred. "Thought you… 'bandoned me."
He sighed and rubbed his cheek softly over her silken hair. "I couldn't stay away from you if I tried."
Silence. Then the faintest of snores. Lois had relaxed back into slumber, and this time it was quiet and peaceful.
After a long time, the sound of her heart beating next to his lulled him to sleep.
When he woke for his morning patrol, she'd rolled away from him again. That made it easier to get out of bed… easier in one way, at least. He lay for a while, missing the feel of her skin on his, before he could persuade himself to move.
Three days, he thought to himself as he took to the air behind the hotel. Three short days, and they were nearly over. He had so little time left to persuade her to change her mind…
… about getting pregnant? Going back to their old relationship as work partners — was that what he wanted?
He didn't know whether to laugh or cry at his own stupidity. He couldn't bear the thought of turning back the clock. Three days had changed him totally — he lived and breathed her presence now. No, he had to persuade her that what they'd found together was rare and precious, and they must hold onto it. Persuade her that, baby or no baby, they should stay together.
If she was still adamant on getting pregnant, he would help her — surely they could find a sperm donor somehow and do it that way. And then they would raise the child together. It wouldn't be his, but it would be hers, and that would be more than good enough for him.
He had to confess… everything. That he loved her, that he couldn't bear the thought of leaving her. That he wanted to marry her. That he would do whatever he could to help her have a baby, but that he himself was infertile. And then, if she accepted what he said, if she could forgive him for the way he'd deceived her… that he was Superman. That might soften the blow.
Or maybe he should put it the other way round. That he loved her, that he couldn't bear to leave her, that he'd only walked out on her the other night because he was Superman… that he wanted to marry her and help her raise her child, but since he wasn't human, she'd have to get pregnant some other way. That might make her more likely to accept him. He didn't like the thought that she might accept him only because he was Superman, but he was rapidly running out of time and options…
"No, stop! Help! Somebody help me!"
Turning in mid-air, he streaked towards the source of the cry. Superman to the rescue… it was what he did.
By the time he got back to the hotel, Lois was gone.
Lois lay still, wondering what had woken her.
The outer door of the suite clicked shut.
She lay listening, but there was no further sound. No approaching footsteps.
She sat up and looked at the other side of the bed. Yes, he had been here — she could see the indentation in the pillow. It was still warm.
It hadn't been a dream, then. He'd come in some time in the night, barely waking her, but soothing away her inner turmoil by his mere presence. Had he — no. Surely she'd have woken if he'd tried to do anything more than cuddle her close.
So he'd come in, long after she'd gone to sleep, and left again before she was awake.
No note this time.
More mind games? Or was he just vacillating between willingness and refusal to sleep with her again, finally deciding he couldn't face her anger and ducking out before the inevitable confrontation when she awoke?
Either way, she felt betrayed once again — even more so than when he hadn't arrived last night.
It was time to pick herself up and face reality — stop caring why he was behaving like this. Stop yearning for him to walk back through the door and sweep her into his arms. Start building her protective armour against him.
And the first step was to get out of this hotel room with its constant reminders of the last few nights and the ecstasy she'd experienced with him… and the distress she'd felt, still felt, at being without him.
She should be grateful to him, really, for running away again… she didn't know how, otherwise, she'd have found the strength to say goodbye to him. To what they'd shared together.
By seven she'd been home, unpacked and showered, and walked to work. The brisk exercise in the frosty air had left her feeling alive and tingling in every limb, full of energy for the day ahead. As though it had finally woken her from a dream state where she was helpless in the face of hostile forces. She wasn't helpless at all; she was Lois Lane, she knew her own mind, and before long Clark was going to know it too.
It was a while before he arrived at work. She sat at her desk, the suspense slowly twisting her stomach, completely failing to concentrate on her email. She found herself staring instead at the TV screens on the opposite side of the newsroom which allowed the reporters to keep an eye on the major news networks. LNN was in the middle of an item about Superman stopping an armed robbery at a convenience store some minutes before — no live footage this time, the excitement had been over before the camera team had got there — when something made her glance across the newsroom in time to see Clark emerge from the stairwell.
At once her heart was in her mouth. She looked away before he could notice her gaze.
He normally went to his desk to take off his coat, then came past her desk on the way to the coffee machine, to collect her mug and say good morning. It was time to act.
She picked up her mug and stood up, feeling her knees wobbling. Get a grip on yourself, girl… She squared her shoulders and walked steadily over to the break area.
There was already a cluster of reporters around the coffee machine, gossiping. She'd almost forgotten what it was like here, first thing in the morning — the whole reason she tended to avoid this area and was normally so happy to have Clark bring her her first cup.
She was on her own now.
The knot of people broke apart as she approached, giving her a clear path to the machine. Only a couple of people ventured a hesitant greeting as she filled her mug, and she muttered a grudging general "Morning" in response. Idiots — hadn't they worked out her cycle by now? It was at least another week before her temper would get really bad… and perhaps, this month, it wouldn't… She helped herself to creamer and sweetener, ignoring Jimmy's attempt to ask her about her weekend. If she told him a fraction of what had happened, his brain would probably explode, she thought mordantly.
Turning to head back to her desk, she found herself face-to-tie with… only one person would be wearing a design like that, she thought despairingly. She raised her eyes as far as his chin.
"Morning, Lois." The soft words woke a storm of emotion inside her. Ridiculous! She was being completely and utterly ridiculous!
She sucked in a breath. "Morning, Clark," she said flatly. "Excuse me, please."
Hyper-alert, she caught the tiny, instantly controlled flinch. She waited, not daring to breathe, for his reaction. "Lois, can we talk?" he said after a moment.
"I don't think we have anything to discuss," she said coldly. She hesitated, conscious of the listening silence around them. "All the information we need is in that… letter we got on Friday."
He didn't respond. She didn't dare look at his face; she checked her watch instead. "Anyway, don't you have to be at the courtroom in a few minutes for the Trevino trial?"
She pushed past him without waiting for an answer, and walked on wooden legs back to her desk. When she sat down and shot a covert glance around the room, he'd gone.
She should have felt relieved. Instead, she had to bite her lip hard to stop herself bursting into tears.
Chapter Seven: Bye Bye Love
Even breathing hurt, without her.
Clark strode moodily along the sidewalk, eyes fixed on the paving, restraining the urge to kick a discarded soda can into orbit. The few other pedestrians braving the icy wind in downtown Metropolis gave him a wide berth.
He ached, every minute of every day, for want of her. The ability to touch her, talk to her, smile at her. The touch of her hand on his. The feel of her eyes resting on his face.
She wouldn't even look at him.
He'd tried. She'd refused to talk to him that first morning; but, he'd reasoned, she could just have been mad at waking up and finding him gone. He'd raced back to the Planet at lunchtime to see if she'd let him buy her lunch — and she'd been out. He'd raced back again as soon as court had adjourned for the day — and once again she'd cold-shouldered his attempt to talk.
He'd watched her from the sky as she'd made her way home, then flown to his own apartment and called her. He'd got the answering machine. He'd left a message, pleading with her to talk to him… no response.
He'd written a letter. "Lois, We can't let it end this way. Please let me talk to you. I promise not to touch you, but please, we have to talk. Yours, Clark" He'd pushed it under her door.
He hadn't sunk quite so low as to watch her reading it, but he'd listened to her opening the envelope, unfolding the single page. Her breath had caught, and for a moment he'd permitted himself to hope. Then he'd heard the sound of ripping paper.
During his patrol next morning, he'd found a man tied up at the waterfront, staring dully at the sea; as he'd released him, the man had babbled that a tidal wave was coming. Bizarrely, it had turned out to be quite true, but Superman had had little difficulty stopping it by digging an underwater trench across its path. Returning to the waterfront, Clark had questioned the man — who had turned out to be a crooked congressman, now repenting of his misdeeds — and had been able to find and apprehend the evil genius behind the tidal wave, one Thaddeus Rourke, waiting in his boat offshore for the destruction of Metropolis to finish.
Clark had returned as himself to speak to Congressman Harrington, and had persuaded him to tell his story not to him, Clark Kent, but to star reporter Lois Lane. He'd thought that working together on a story would allow him to get past Lois's defences.
He'd been quite wrong.
Lois was every inch the professional reporter while interviewing Harrington, and while writing up the story with him. At least on the surface… Clark could hear her heartbeat jump whenever he made a sudden move, and knew she was aware of him physically in a way she'd never been before. But he couldn't draw any comfort from it. She'd obviously made up her mind to freeze out any hint of a connection between them beyond the professional one, and he couldn't find a single chink in her armour. In public he couldn't say much, and she deflected any attempt he made to talk to her privately; at her desk, out of earshot of their co- workers, she'd simply taken to affecting deafness when he addressed any non-work-related remark to her.
It had crossed his mind to stand in front of her desk and say, in a loud voice, "I love you, Lois, and I want to marry you." See if that would persuade her to give him a few minutes in private. The thought of her scornful laughter prevented him. She'd made her feelings plain enough, after all — he'd have stopped trying, stopped hoping, if it hadn't felt as though that would kill something inside him.
He'd even considered going to her as Superman, tapping on her window. She'd let her hero in quickly enough; then he'd spin into Clark and, while she stared at him speechlessly, tell her he loved her. And then…? Would she throw him bodily through the window, or fall into his arms?
He couldn't bear it if the only reason she accepted him was his superpowers. And he had to swallow the bitter truth… she'd spent three nights with Clark the ordinary man, in the most intimate possible circumstances, and she wanted nothing more to do with him.
He couldn't fool himself any longer. He'd been hoping against hope, all weekend, that if he invested all his heart into making love to her, a miracle would somehow occur and she'd fall in love with him in return.
Some hope. She'd enjoyed every minute of it… well, nearly… but it just didn't mean that much to her. And now it was over.
He was surely the world's most pitiful fool.
Clark walked through the doors into the front lobby of the Planet building, exchanging a nod with the doorman, and headed for the stairs. The Trevino trial had finally ended in the expected conviction, conveniently early for the weekend, and he'd walked back rather than fly or take a taxi. Walking ate up some of the lonely, painful minutes.
Four and a half days since he'd left Lois's bed for the last time. A hundred and seven hours. Six thousand, four hundred and sixteen minutes, give or take a few seconds.
Seven thousand, six hundred and eighty-four minutes since they'd made love.
He had to stop this, or he'd go crazy.
Pushing open the stairwell door on the newsroom floor, he flicked an automatic glance at Lois's desk, and his heart constricted painfully. She was there.
He walked across the newsroom to his own desk, exchanging greetings with various colleagues on the way, and hung his coat up next to his chair; but he couldn't sit down. He picked up his coffee mug, turned and walked a few steps.
"Can I get you some coffee?"
Her pulse skittered, but her gaze remained riveted to the screen. "No, thanks — I have some already."
She picked up her mug and took a swallow, as though to prove it. He saw the flicker of disgust on her face as she registered the temperature — he could see the scum of cold artificial creamer on the surface from where he stood — but she put down the mug without comment and typed a few words on her keyboard.
He'd set himself up — he had to visit the coffee machine now, or the gossips whose eyes he could feel watching them would have just a little more to go on.
They'd been watching avidly all week, ever since Lois had first stonewalled him on Monday. Clark hoped he'd been giving them very little reward, but sometimes it was almost impossible to keep the impassive mask in place in the face of Lois's obduracy. Just as well he'd had hours of practice as Superman, or he'd never have managed it.
He was adding the usual three sugars to his mug when a feminine arm snaked around his shoulder. If he'd had less control over his reactions, there'd have been coffee all over the newsroom.
It was the wrong scent, of course, the wrong shape. The wrong response in his gut.
"Aw… I thought I'd surprise you." Her voice was amused. As he put down the sugar spoon and turned to face her, she ran a seductive hand up his tie. "Or were you expecting li'l ol' me?"
Odd, he thought. A week ago he'd have been intimidated by her advances, panic setting in as he cast about for some way to head her off without being rude. Now, her manner roused no more than a tired chuckle. "I'm sure you pride yourself on being unpredictable, Cat."
Her eyes widened a little, and she looked suddenly… knowing. It unsettled him. "So it happened at last," she purred. "You and Lois."
He felt his face go stiff. He scanned the area with his super- hearing, even as he locked eyes with her and tried to look uncomprehending. There was no one close enough to have overheard, thank God. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, and with an effort managed to raise a questioning eyebrow.
Cat laughed. "Very good, Clark… not good enough, but full marks for effort. But it didn't work out, did it? So I was wondering… you've been brooding all week, and I'm sure you're ready for a little… relaxation." Her hand had left his tie and was wandering across his shirt front. He intercepted it with his own, lifted it away from his chest. "You took a raincheck once before — how about cashing it in tonight, and I'll show you the sights of Metropolis?"
He smiled at her. "I appreciate the offer, Cat, but — you do know it's never going to happen, don't you?"
Her smile widened a little, Clark guessed for the benefit of the onlookers, but he saw disappointment and a grudging respect in her eyes as she absorbed his honesty. She studied him for a moment, her head on one side. "You know, I hope she's worth it," she said.
"I happen to think she is," he returned softly, and released her hand. "I hope you find what you're looking for one day, Cat."
She drew a sharp breath, then turned away with a silvery laugh. "Later, then," she said more loudly, and strolled off.
He couldn't help but grin at the calculated innuendo. Then, as he set off for his desk, he looked up and caught Lois's eye.
It was like swords clashing in mid-air. He almost fancied he could hear the sound reverberating through the room. He felt himself break stride as their gazes held…
… and then she looked away, back at her computer screen, her mouth curling contemptuously.
Blood pounding in his ears, scarcely aware of his surroundings, he made his way back to his desk and sat down to write up his final report on the trial.
She'd been telling herself all week that she was doing the right thing, the only possible thing. Following her original plan to the letter. She'd come so close to breaking down, at times, and letting him talk her into continuing their affair. Ignoring his letter had just about broken her heart, but she'd clung to her conviction that it was for the best.
She couldn't afford to make the same mistake her mother had made… get involved with an idle charmer who would let her down when things got tough. Let her child down.
Her child, the baby she hoped she was carrying, had to be her top priority now. She'd told herself that over and over, at work, in her empty apartment in the evenings, in her cold bed when she'd woken in the night, tears running down her face, reaching out for him.
Her reaction just now, when she'd looked up and seen him flirting with Cat, told her just how little she'd really believed it.
It was over — the struggle to prevent herself calling him and suggesting he come over, or simply flinging herself into his arms in the middle of the newsroom. He was moving on. As she'd known he would.
It hurt even more than she'd expected.
Not least because it was playing out in front of her eyes. Apart from that first fling with Cat, Clark had always conducted his private life away from the newsroom. Now he'd decided to go for a second bite at that apple. To punish her, rub her face in his defection? To tease her with the implication that some women got more than one opportunity for a fling with him? At the very least, to make sure she got the message. That he was moving on.
Damn him. Damn him to hell for putting her through this, in front of the curious eyes of the newsroom. Because every breath she took felt like a knife in her chest, and her eyes were burning. In a minute she'd…
No. She was not going to burst into tears at her desk.
Lois got to her feet, picked up her purse and walked at a carefully casual pace to the ladies' room. Her one sanctuary from him, which she'd used more than once over the past week when things had got too much for her. And, thank heavens, it was empty and she could grab a couple of tissues and hold them carefully to the corners of her eyes, making sure the tears now spilling out irrepressibly didn't damage her makeup.
She'd invested in a new set of cosmetics earlier in the week, but even the best waterproof mascara wasn't completely impervious to tears.
Her eyes had dried and she was finishing her running repairs when the door opened. Lois gathered her dignity ready to face the newcomer, but a gasp escaped her as Cat's eyes met hers in the mirror. She swung around, closing her mouth on the ugly words that had shot to the tip of her tongue.
"Big date tonight, Lois?" Cat stepped up to the mirror and inspected herself with an air of preening satisfaction. She hitched her skirt round a little on her hips, then turned sideways to admire the flat line of her naked midriff.
Lois didn't answer. She was fighting off a sudden compulsion to rake her nails down the side of Cat's face. She closed her hands into fists to ward off the temptation.
"So how's Clark… in bed, I mean?"
Lois's jaw dropped in shock. Had the woman no shame?
And then she was submerged in images. Clark's eyes, so dark they were almost black, watching her as she moaned with pleasure… those same eyes closing in bliss as their bodies moved together… his solemn face, moving worshipfully over her body, quirking into a brilliant smile as he glanced up and found her watching him in awe…
"That good, huh?"
She came back to reality to find Cat watching her in the mirror, her eyes narrowed in… envy?
"I have no idea what you're talking about," she croaked.
Cat smiled sardonically. "Save it, Lois," she advised. "Clark did a far better job of denying it, but I didn't believe him, either." She pinched her cheeks and looked at the effect critically. "I just hope you know what you're doing, turning him away. He won't stick around for ever, you know."
She turned, laughing as she saw Lois staring at her, dumbstruck. "Got a reception to attend… can't hang around here talking," she said breezily, and actually patted Lois on the arm before sashaying out of the ladies' room.
It didn't make any difference.
Lois paced her living room. Back and forth. Up and down.
She couldn't rely on anyone but herself. She couldn't make her mother's mistake all over again. She couldn't trust him.
She'd said the words so often to herself that they were starting to lose all meaning.
And the meaning rang hollow.
She wanted Clark, so badly she could taste it. She wanted his arms around her, his presence soothing the ache inside her, filling up the void in her soul.
Twice she'd sat down and grabbed the phone, on the verge of calling him. Once she'd punched in half his number before resolution had deserted her and she'd slammed the phone down again.
He wasn't busy swinging from the chandeliers with Cat. Lois couldn't mistake the message the other woman had been giving her — had, she suspected, come to the washroom purely to give her, in a fit of generosity Lois would never have thought her capable of.
Clark wasn't with Cat… but that didn't mean he wasn't moving on. He might be out at a bar or nightclub or wherever he usually met girls. The thought tore at her heart.
But Cat had given her more than one piece of information. Her first question… the envy in her eyes… Cat hadn't slept with him at all.
Clark had said as much, plaintively, the morning after he'd been home with Cat — while Cat herself had been spreading scandalous rumours about what they'd been doing. "Nothing happened, Lois." And she, like everyone else at the Planet, had chosen to believe Cat's version of events.
She'd said she didn't care what he'd been up to… and in a way she'd been relieved, because it had allowed her to categorise him not only as the sort of man who would have a one-night stand with someone as shallow as Cat, but as the sort who would lie about it afterwards. A handsome, unreliable playboy, unworthy of a second's consideration. Just like her father.
She'd judged him from the outset and found him wanting. Just as he'd accused her of doing. And she'd been completely wrong.
Lois cast herself onto her loveseat, chewing at her lip.
How much else was she wrong about?
He'd told the simple truth about Cat. What if everything he'd said to her was the simple truth?
Starting with his confession, on their ill-fated date, that he was in love with her — that he'd been in love with her as long as he'd known her. She'd dismissed his words as just another ploy… she hadn't even been aware, till now, that she remembered them so clearly.
He hadn't even been trying to get her into bed at the time, she thought hollowly. She'd invited him to bed, and he'd demurred… "We don't have to, you know." Then, when she'd questioned his desire for her, the confession of love. Which she'd ignored, intent on leading him up her primrose path.
No wonder he'd been so angry when her hidden motive had become clear to him. At the thought of the pain she must have inflicted, Lois whimpered.
Memory after repressed memory unspooled in unrelenting procession. His shock when she'd told him she wanted to get pregnant. His revulsion… "Five minutes of mindless pleasure, and then I'll just walk away without a backward glance?"
"Did you think I was going to fall in love with you, and that we'd get married and settle down in the suburbs?"
"That's exactly what I hoped would happen, God help me."
"Oh, God…" She found herself groaning the words aloud. What a fool she'd been… if it was true. And she had little doubt that he'd been sincere. His cold anger, that had lasted until they were in bed together. The contract, that insane contract, that had been his way of getting back at her — that she'd accepted with barely a second thought, because it put her exactly where she wanted to be, in bed with him, with no strings attached.
She'd taken everything, his love and his lovemaking, and offered nothing in return. Nothing but herself as a willing bed partner, special offer for three nights only… and if he wanted her to love him, that must have seemed like the last word in cruelty.
And yet he'd stayed. Not because she needed him… he didn't understand why she wanted to get pregnant at this point in her life, and she hadn't had the decency to explain. But because, he'd said, he couldn't help himself… and because she'd threatened that if he turned her down, she'd go to Lex.
Her cheeks flamed.
No wonder he'd stayed. No wonder he'd hated himself, despised himself for staying. No wonder he'd been so bent on talking her out of it.
It didn't explain why he'd run away in the middle of their fight… but perhaps his feelings had just become too much for him. Perhaps he'd been tempted to hit her, and he'd walked out instead… Or something. She couldn't know. Maybe she owed it to him to let him explain himself.
Because she did know one thing. Both times he'd walked out on her, he'd come back within a matter of hours, and both times he'd tried to pick up where they'd left off. Both times it had been she who'd refused to discuss it any further.
Her father had never done that. After a fight, it had sometimes been days before he'd come home again, and never — to the best of her, admittedly imperfect, knowledge — had he so much as acknowledged there'd been anything wrong. He'd simply breezed back in and proceeded as though everything had been completely normal.
The point was… did it make a difference?
Did it make enough of a difference? Did it warrant her risking her emotional future — and that of her child — on the chance that she could, after all, trust him?
Because he might not have slept with Cat, but he was still pretty darned experienced in bed. And that meant… he moved on. She wouldn't be able to bear it if she took a chance on him now, and then he moved on.
What had he said, the last time they'd made love? She'd thought him a silver-tongued liar, but she owed it to him to reevaluate her judgement.
Of course. She'd been embarrassed, resentful, at how easily he could arouse her desire for him, and she'd tried to cover by asking him about a previous lover. And he'd said, "Shadima's virtue was closely guarded, I assure you. I'm learning this from you… only you…"
He couldn't have.
She couldn't have been his first. He'd seemed so self-assured…
… but now that she thought about it, she wasn't so sure. She'd been too aroused, too confused by the fact that he wasn't satisfying his own needs first, to pay much attention at the time, but she seemed to remember a bit of uncertainty now and again. And then, the first time… he'd been selfish, as he called it, and he'd been pretty embarrassed about it…
How could she have forgotten that?
Because everything after that had been quite wonderful, was the answer. And now that she was letting herself remember every detail, she recalled his surprise that he was ready again so soon. But it wasn't a fluke, as he'd proved repeatedly after that — so he should have known, unless…
Unless he'd been completely inexperienced.
Curled in a foetal ball on her couch, Lois buried her face in her hands and moaned.
She'd been wrong about everything, from beginning to end. She'd been wrong about herself and her motives, and she'd been even more wrong about Clark. She'd hurt him unmercifully… she'd have been well-served if he'd turned out as brutal and selfish as she'd feared, that first night. Instead, he'd given her the gift of his love, a weekend of lovemaking such as few women — if she read Cat's envy accurately — ever experienced, and he'd even stuck around afterwards trying to patch things up while she'd trampled his hopes and his ego in the dust.
She didn't deserve him.
Could she trust him?
Could even she face him, after what she'd done to him? The prospect terrified her.
It would be easier to ignore what she'd realised… to let him get over her, as he surely would, and realise that she wasn't worth it. That way she'd never have to face him and admit what she'd done to him, apologise for the way she'd treated him.
She could do that… ignore what had happened, as she'd been doing all week, and get on with her life. The prospect of the empty days and nights ahead was bleak, but surely it was better than raking over the agony again with Clark, apologising for the hurt she'd inflicted — as if apologising could ever undo what she'd done — and then having it all fall apart a few months or even years down the line?
Because it would fall apart, eventually. She didn't have what it took to be a good wife, she knew that, and Clark deserved nothing less. He'd find someone else one day, someone who deserved him. And she… she'd have his child to love and to look after.
Because surely, if there was a merciful God in heaven, she was already pregnant and she'd never have to call on Clark to spend another night with her.
She just had to carry on pretending nothing had happened, and in time it would sort itself out. Given enough time, these issues always went away.
The thought sustained her through the weekend, while she covered some press conferences and a pet show and saw practically nothing of Clark. She was aware that Perry had noticed the constraint between them and was assigning them to different stories to keep them apart; the pet show was his way of showing that he blamed her for the problem. He didn't miss much.
It sustained her through Monday, when she came to work to find that Perry had sent Clark to New York to cover the international trade treaty negotiations going on at the UN. It sustained her through the ensuing days, while she discovered that, much as it hurt to see Clark at work every day and ignore him, it hurt a hundred times worse not to see him at all.
It sustained her right up until the day she'd designated, back when she'd first drawn up her plan, for the fateful pregnancy test. Until the moment when she sat looking at the test strip, tears streaming down her cheeks.
She had to see Clark again. She had to feel his arms around her again, make love with him.
Her heart was breaking.
How ever was she going to tell him?
Chapter Eight: Homeward Bound
Clark lay on his hotel bed, staring at the ceiling.
The room was a far cry from the luxury suite he'd spent three nights in. It wasn't a flea-pit, the Planet ran to more than that, but it was very basic — a bed, a wash-basin, a phone. A bathroom down the hall.
It hardly mattered. He'd spent very little time here since he'd got to New York. He scarcely slept these days, and he couldn't risk doing too many Superman rescues here and having his presence linked to Clark's; so he spent a lot of his time patrolling Metropolis and the rest, when he wasn't actually covering the trade talks, sitting hunched in his cape somewhere in the Arctic.
He hadn't been back to Kansas. He'd told his parents that he'd had a fight with Lois, and they'd responded in a duly concerned fashion, but he couldn't risk their probing any deeper. They hadn't tried very hard to find out what the fight was about, which both relieved and surprised him… he had wondered if there was something odd going on between them. Dad had phoned him here one night, sounding lonely, and saying that Mom was out at some artist's studio. He was usually very supportive of Mom's efforts to express herself… Clark hoped there was nothing wrong.
Still, after a lifetime's experience, he trusted his folks to sort out their problems. Which was more than he was capable of doing for himself.
More than two weeks since they'd been together, ten days since he'd seen her as Clark, and he still couldn't get Lois out of his mind for more than a few minutes at a time. He was scarcely sleeping; he suspected he hadn't eaten anything for several days, either. He generally used his lunch breaks to sneak a quick visit to Metropolis, nervous that the city he'd placed under his special protection would have some sort of crisis while he was away. Or that Lois would go and get herself killed when he wasn't close enough to hear her calling him and rescue her.
So far the only incident of note, besides the usual petty crime and cats up trees, had been the discovery of an asteroid headed straight towards the Earth. Nightfall. He'd visited the observatory after reading about it in the Planet — he read the paper daily to keep up with the news from home — and been asked to help in destroying the asteroid. The scientists had cooked up some hare-brained scheme for him to smash into it and break it to bits, apparently under the blithe assumption that none of the bits would pose a hazard to the Earth. He'd listened courteously and then asked why he shouldn't just shift the thing off its present course and onto some harmless trajectory, preferably into the sun?
They'd hemmed and hawed a bit before admitting that they hadn't thought he could move something that big. His response, pointing out that it was in free fall and that, given an oxygen supply, he could spend anything up to several hours coaxing it onto the right path, caused some embarrassed shuffling of feet; and when one of the scientists came right out and asked him if he could move that amount of mass, his answer — that he'd never so far reached the limits of what he could move — caused a dead silence and a nervous exchange of glances with the army observer in the corner.
No doubt the army considered him a threat to national security, he thought cynically. Would they consider him more or less of a threat after today, when he'd succeeded in doing what he'd promised and set Nightfall on a new, non-hazardous course? He'd demonstrated his commitment to protecting the Earth by going out into space and destroying a threat no one else could deal with, but he suspected that his good will counted for little in the military mind against the awe-inspiring display of his powers.
It didn't matter. He cared little about what the military made of his abilities, as long as they didn't send another Trask after him.
He cared considerably more about the reactions of a single woman reporter he'd spotted at the send-off today.
She'd been in the centre of the pack of reporters, an unusual position for her: she was normally right at the front, pushing and shoving to hold her position, shouting out challenging, insightful questions.
Today, she'd looked scarcely aware of where she was. She'd been taking notes, but she hadn't asked a single question of her own. He hadn't even felt her usual admiring glance at him, and although in a way that was a relief, it made him wonder if she was all right.
But he had a shrewd suspicion he knew what was wrong with her. It was over two weeks since they'd been together… she must know by now that she wasn't pregnant. And, no doubt, she wasn't too happy about it. Maybe not too certain, even, what to do about it. He sure as heck didn't know what he was going to do.
But that was the reason he was lying here, staring at the ceiling, instead of patrolling the skies of Metropolis or looking up at the Northern Lights through several hundred feet of ice cap.
He'd seen her today, looking pale and withdrawn, and he'd wanted to fly over and sweep her into his arms. He'd restrained himself, of course, and gone about saving the Earth like a well- trained superhero, but he still felt that urge for some sort of meaningful contact with her.
Slowly, he reached out a long arm and picked up the phone. One by one, no need to look, he keyed in the digits of her phone number. His heart beat twice and then it rang. Once, twice. On the third ring, her answering machine would pick up.
There wasn't a third ring.
He nearly slammed the phone down. What was he doing?
He cleared his throat. "Lois. It's me."
Great. Of all the lame starts.
No, Lois, Superman. He lives in a hotel in New York.
"I called to find out…" How you've been. Whether you remembered my name. Whether you'd consider marrying me. "… if you've had the test result."
"I… yes. I have." She sounded strangled — evidently she was finding this no easier than he was.
"I assume it's negative?"
She drew a laboured breath. "Why do you say that?"
Stupid, Clark, stupid. Think, now. "Because if it was positive, I imagine you'd have let me know."
She hadn't been going to tell him, either way. He heard the plastic creak protestingly and loosened his grip on the phone.
"So I would need to keep some time free, early next month, I assume?" he said jerkily.
Tell me to go to hell, Lois. Please.
"Yes." He heard her moisten her lips, had to screw up his eyes against the picture that presented in his head. He could be in Metropolis, outside her window, in seconds… "Please."
"I don't know, exactly. I… I have a machine that measures my hormone levels, tells me when."
"So you'll let me know?"
"Okay." He desperately wanted to keep her talking, not to break this fragile link between them, but there was nothing more to say. "Good night, Lois."
He broke the connection.
He was insane. There was no other explanation for it.
He should have told her that hell would freeze over before he came anywhere near her again. Or else, given this was the first time he'd spoken to her in private since he'd left the Lexor, he should have told her he loved her.
He couldn't bear going through another weekend like the last. Nor could he dream up a shred of justification for it. She was quite obviously not going to change her mind about getting pregnant, and it was time he took himself out of the equation and let her get on with it. No matter what that did to his feelings.
As long as she didn't try to involve Luthor. Clark's mouth set grimly. That was the sticking-point he couldn't get past.
Maybe this way would work. Pretending he was willing to sleep with her again would, at least, guarantee him a private meeting with her, face to face. And then he'd confess, and implore her not to go to Luthor. Invoke Superman, if he had to — pretend to go in search of the superhero, and then come back in the suit and assure Lois that, although there was no proof beyond his word, Luthor could not be trusted.
And if she still refused to listen… maybe, he thought tiredly, he could just kill Luthor. Or kidnap him and take him to a desert island for a few months, till Lois gave up and found someone else to be the father.
That would kill two birds with one stone — ensure he himself was far away while it happened. Hopefully, he'd never even have to know who it was… or he might, some dark night, yield to the temptation to track down the miserable bastard and rend him limb from limb.
In fact, once he'd seen Lois and told her he couldn't give her what she wanted, maybe it was time to move on. Give in his notice at the Planet, and Clark Kent could get a job elsewhere… or maybe just disappear. He wasn't sure he had the stomach to start all over again somewhere else. He'd never stayed more than a few months anywhere before, but this time was different… this time he'd created Superman, and he'd thought he'd be able to stay longer without anyone getting suspicious. He'd thought he'd be able to stay near Lois… Now he just needed to get away.
Superman wouldn't be able to leave Metropolis at the same time as Clark, obviously, but he could keep patrolling from afar the way he'd been doing from New York. Especially if he didn't have to hold down a job at the same time. And in about six months he could announce that he'd decided one city shouldn't receive special treatment, or something. Become international, even. See the world again — from the air.
Leaving would solve Perry's problem. He'd called Clark into his office to give him the New York assignment, and in the process had wandered off into Elvis territory — a sure sign he had something he wasn't prepared to say outright. This time the anecdote had been about Elvis's time in the army, about keeping a good morale among the troops and the occasional need to split up a unit temporarily when there were personality conflicts. Clark had got the message: Perry expected the problem between him and Lois to be resolved by the time he came back. Lois didn't seem to be allowing the tension to affect her work, but Clark knew his own concentration had suffered badly; he also knew that the rest of the newsroom had been tiptoeing round himself and Lois all that first week, waiting nervously — or eagerly, according to their disposition — for the brewing storm to break.
Well, resolving the conflict and getting back to a stable working relationship with Lois was beyond his powers. He was sure losing one of his top investigative reporters wasn't what Perry intended, but it was the only solution Clark could offer. He hated the idea of leaving his dream job at the Planet with his tail between his legs… but it was better than staying and slowly dying inside as Lois went serenely on with her life.
Finally making the decision gave Clark a measure of bleak comfort. He rolled onto his side on the too-soft mattress and, for the first time in several days, dozed off.
"Lois? What have you got?"
"The prosecution's winding up its case, Perry. Their evidence is all circumstantial, though. I have a hunch Laderman didn't do it, but if his lawyers don't produce something good, he's going to get convicted."
"Hmm. Well, you're going to need something better than a hunch to make that into a front-page story, Lois. Keep on it. Myerson, did you get…"
Lois tuned out the rest of Perry's query and Myerson's reply. She was only interested in one other person in the room, and he'd evidently had his say some time before she'd slipped apologetically into the room, out of breath from hurrying up the stairs. She only had an hour's court recess, and her taxi had got snarled up in the Friday lunch-time traffic.
She resisted the temptation to keep checking her watch, but she could feel the seconds ticking past as Perry finished checking on the reporters gathered around the long conference table and started to talk about sales figures. Sweat was starting to prickle on her forehead. She still had to get a taxi back to the courthouse, and before she left she absolutely had to speak to Clark.
He'd been back from New York for a few days already, but this was the closest she'd been to him in that time. He seemed to have developed a sixth sense for when she'd be in the newsroom, and a genius for making sure he was elsewhere at the time. She suspected he would have ducked this meeting, too, if he'd known she'd be here.
She sneaked a peek at him from under her lashes. He looked… exhausted, she thought with a pang of conscience. He didn't actually have rings under his eyes, but his eyelids were drooping, as was his posture.
As she watched, he looked down at the notebook in front of him and started to write something, and his pencil broke with a sharp crack. Lois actually saw a fragment of it whizzing off into the corner of the room. Clark started in consternation and clapped his other hand guiltily over the broken pieces, then looked up at Perry and gave a sheepish grimace. "Sorry."
"You be careful with Planet property, son. Now, advertising revenues…"
He looked as though he hadn't smiled for days, Lois thought, lowering her eyes as remorse gnawed at her. She hadn't dared question anyone about him, but from certain remarks Jimmy had let drop, she'd gathered that Clark hadn't been himself since he'd got back from New York. He'd always been so cheerful and laid back; now he was wound tighter than a watch-spring. All her fault.
It was up to her to make amends. If she could.
Perry wrapped up at last, and the reporters burst into chatter and started getting to their feet and filing out. Clark stayed where he was, apparently checking earlier pages in his notebook. Waiting for her to leave.
She pretended to search for something in her bag until the last few people were at the door. Clark had got to his feet now; she stood up and intercepted him as he approached the door.
"Clark, could I have a word?"
He nodded and looked at the knot of people at the door, some of whom looked as though they would like to stay and eavesdrop on what she had to say. They turned and hastened out of the room under his sombre gaze, and he closed the door behind them and leaned against it.
Thank heavens the blinds were already closed. She wasn't sure she could have done this with a dozen pairs of eyes glued on them.
"I presume you want me tonight," he said abruptly.
"I… yes…" She could feel herself blushing vividly. "How did you…"
He shrugged. "Why else would you speak to me? Your place or mine?" His lip curled unpleasantly. "Oh, no, stupid of me — you wouldn't want me in your apartment, would you? My place, then. Seven?"
She couldn't believe the change in him. She stepped closer to him, trying to reach him. "Please, Clark…" She lifted her hand and laid it on his chest, beside the vivid orange tie, and at the instant of contact that familiar electric spark seemed to leap between them. That, at least, was still there.
He lifted his lids and met her eyes for the first time, and she could see the struggle for control in their tortured depths. Then he reached down and silently turned the key in the lock.
"Clark? What are -"
"That contract says 'days', doesn't it, Lois? Not 'nights'." His hands gripped her upper arms firmly and his mouth came down hard on hers.
She yielded instinctively, moulding herself against him, and he plundered her mouth ruthlessly. The gentleness she associated with his lovemaking was gone, but its effect on her was still the same. She arched her head back as heat flooded through her, and his mouth left hers and imprinted hard, heavy kisses down her neck to the curve of her shoulder.
Then he was lifting her, hands at her hips, and settling her on the edge of the conference table. His hands were fumbling at her clothes. She clutched at his shoulders, incredulous — were they actually going to have sex here, now, yards from their curious colleagues? Yes! She wanted it as much as he did.
She'd wanted him since the day she'd seen the pregnancy test.
But Clark seemed scarcely aware of her, focused completely on satisfying his own needs. Far too soon, he was pulling away from her. He'd straightened his clothing and he was tugging her to her feet, smoothing her skirt down. He hadn't looked her in the eyes since he'd kissed her; his face was blank, like that of a sleepwalker. She wasn't sure he knew quite where he was.
Then he took a step backwards, and she glimpsed the turmoil raging in his eyes. He tried to speak, swallowed and shook his head dumbly, retreating another pace. He turned to the door, unlocking and opening it in one swift motion. Then he was gone.
For a moment she considered going after him, grabbing him and… what? Dragging him into the storeroom till he satisfied her? Tempted as she was, the thought of the watching eyes outside stopped her cold. They might as well have sex in the middle of the newsroom.
She had to get out of here first, under the interested gaze of all those eyes. The eyes which had just watched Clark walk out and were no doubt trained eagerly on the doorway, waiting to see her face.
Lois took a deep breath.
She had just about enough time to get back to the courthouse before the afternoon session started. She could grab a sandwich from the concession stand in the lobby, and repair her lipstick in the taxi…
Mentally reviewing the morning's evidence to suppress any lingering thoughts of what had just happened, restraining her eyes from even flickering in the direction of Clark's desk, she walked calmly out of the conference room and across the newsroom to the stairs.
What had he done? Oh, God…
High above the Pacific, well away from any commercial flight paths, Clark flung his arms over his face and keened in anguish.
He'd all but raped her. At work. On the table in the conference room, where she had to go practically every day and where she had to feel safe.
The fact that she hadn't uttered so much as a whimper of protest didn't alter his guilt. He'd seen her face afterwards, and the memory was seared into him. She'd been shocked beyond speech.
He'd never intended to lay a hand on her. He hadn't been able to stop the bitter words coming out of his mouth, but he'd had every intention of walking out of there afterwards; of giving her his carefully rehearsed speech tonight and then saying goodbye to her forever.
She just had to touch him and he lost all control.
That was that… he couldn't be Superman any more. Truth and justice! Lies and sexual violence would be more accurate.
He'd have to retire Superman. Kill him off somehow… or say he had to go home. To Krypton. He'd saved the world from destruction once, from Nightfall — that would have to do. The world would do better without someone like him looking after it.
As for Clark… would she prosecute him for rape? Probably not. It would be too embarrassing for her, privately and professionally. Not that he'd contest the case, if she did. He deserved to be punished for it.
He'd make sure she never had to see him again, though. Hand in his resignation to Perry and leave at once. He couldn't even remember what he was supposed to be working on this afternoon, but it wasn't anything important. He could clear out his desk while Lois was at the courthouse…
What was he thinking? She'd just been raped — she wouldn't be at the courthouse!
But she would.
This was Lois, remember. She wouldn't let anyone guess what he'd done to her; she'd square those slim, determined shoulders and lift her gallant chin and carry on as though nothing had happened.
What if she came to his apartment tonight? As though nothing had happened.
As though rape was just another part of the contract.
She'd been afraid of him, that first night — she'd expected him to hurt her. And now he had. The way he'd been gripping her arms, mauling her neck — with his strength, he could have injured her! In fact, how did he know he hadn't? No — surely she'd have cried out if he'd broken her arm. But she must be covered in bruises, at least.
He was as bad as whatever man it was who'd first hurt Lois — who'd caused the fear he'd seen in her eyes that first night. No, he was worse, because with his powers came the responsibility to keep himself, always, under the strictest control. If he couldn't control himself, no one else would be able to.
But Lois had taken him to bed in spite of her fear — to her, it seemed, getting hurt was less important than getting pregnant. And he had a horrible suspicion she would turn up on his doorstep tonight, even after what he'd done.
Perhaps, after he'd told her he couldn't get her pregnant, he should just provide her with some Kryptonite and let her get on with it.
Luthor probably had some stashed away somewhere, waiting for the right moment to get rid of his nemesis…
Self-pity wasn't going to help.
Nothing much was going to help, after what he'd done.
He needed to get back to the Planet and give Perry his resignation, and then… then he'd wait. Till seven. See if she showed up.
If she did, he'd abase himself. Apologise abjectly for what he'd done to her. Tell her he couldn't help her get pregnant, warn her about Luthor.
If he could, if there was a chance she would listen, try to convince her that she should never, ever allow anyone to treat her the way he'd done. That she was worth so much more than that. But coming from someone who'd abused her, it probably wouldn't make any sense.
And then, after she'd gone, he'd pack up his apartment and leave. He could drop off his stuff at his parents' place, but he wouldn't stay there — it would be a long time, maybe forever, before he'd be able to discuss this with them.
And if Lois didn't show up at seven — and he hoped, he really did, that she had enough self-respect to condemn what he'd done — he'd write her an apology before he left. He didn't know what he'd say, and she might simply destroy the letter unread, but he'd like her to know that he hated himself for what he'd sunk to. That he wasn't sneaking away because he was scared of reprisals, but because he knew she'd never want to lay eyes on him again.
Uncurling himself, Clark heaved a sigh and set a course for ho— no, not home, not any longer. For Metropolis. He forced himself to fly at a steady pace, not hurrying towards his doom, but not allowing himself to linger, either.
He was halfway across the city when he heard the scream. He altered course automatically, then pulled himself up.
He couldn't. He didn't have the right to wear the Superman costume any longer — to sit in judgement over others.
The same voice let out a strangled gasp. "No, please!" A woman's voice. Elderly, frightened.
He couldn't stand by and refuse to help, either. Grimacing helplessly, he darted towards the source of the cries.
An old lady in much-mended clothing was huddled in the corner of an alleyway as he approached, staring hypnotised at the wicked knife-blade that a young man was pointing at her chest. He was busy rifling through her handbag with his other hand, cursing as his search turned up only a few dollars.
Clark landed beside him in a swirl of cape, plucked the knife from his hand and crushed it into a lump of useless metal. Then he reached forward to pick up the youth and fly him to the nearest police station, as he'd done a thousand times before.
He couldn't. He couldn't touch him. He couldn't trust himself not to hurt him.
He compromised by grasping the handbag and wrenching it out of the young man's grip, holding it out to the old lady. She seized it and clung to it, her lips quivering, and Clark thought he saw some of the same shock in her eyes that he'd seen on Lois's face earlier.
He whirled on the young man. "How dare you tyrannise a woman who's old enough to be your grandmother?" he demanded. "How dare you try to steal the last of her pension money, which she needs far more than you do? Have you ever thought what it's like to be held at knife-point, and wonder if you're about to feel it ripping into you, and die alone in an alley because some young punk wanted a few more dollars for drugs, or booze, or…"
He stopped with an effort. The boy — he was only about sixteen — was shrinking away from the fist being shaken in his ashen face. It wasn't one of the usual street gang that Clark picked up regularly in this area — it was a kid Clark had seen begging before, and once or twice washing windows, but never in trouble till now.
He lowered his fist.
"Please, sir," the boy babbled, terrified, "it wasn't for drugs or drink, sir. It's for my sister, she wants to go to college, sir, I don't want her to end up on the streets like me, sir…"
Clark stared narrowly at him, sizing him up.
It could even be true.
"Does your sister know you're trying to put her through college by mugging old ladies?"
The boy shook his head, wincing. "She don't know nothing about it, sir, I ain't ever done this before. Please don't put me in jail, sir, or she won't have no one to look after her…"
"What's your name?"
"Jonas, sir. And my sister, she's Marina, sir, she's real smart…"
Clark chewed his lip for a moment, made up his mind. "Here's what I'm going to do with you, Jonas. Take your sister to the Superman Foundation in the morning. It's on Hudson Way — you know where that is?"
"Two-three blocks up from Centennial Park, sir, middle of town?"
"That's the one. Tell them I sent you. If Marina's as smart as you say, they'll find her a college place, and they'll give her a scholarship to cover the fees and living expenses. As for you, I'll see if they can't find you a job. No, don't thank me — when you find someone who needs a helping hand one day, pass the favour along. And remember, I'll be watching you."
Detaching his hand with some difficulty from that of the boy, who was pumping it up and down with tears of gratitude in his eyes, Clark lifted into the air and flew off.
As he rounded the corner, he heard a quavering voice behind him. "You leave my shopping be, you young varmint…"
He'd completely forgotten the boy's victim. His judgement was going to pieces.
He halted in midair and wheeled, using his x-ray vision to look back through the building into the alley-way. The boy was on his knees, picking up the tins that had rolled away when the old lady had dropped her shopping and stuffing them back into the carrier bag. "Let me give you a hand, ma'am," he was saying in a reassuring tone. "This ain't a good neighbourhood, I'll pick up your stuff and then take you home. I'm sorry I frightened you before, ma'am, you don't haveta be scared of me n'more — Superman took the knife away, and anyway, I ain't gonna be doing that n'more, ma'am, I'm gonna have a real job now."
He stood up, swinging the carrier bag, and offered the old lady his arm. After a long, suspicious pause she took it, and the odd couple walked slowly out of the alley, the boy talking nineteen to the dozen about his sister and what she was going to be doing at college. Clark shadowed them back to the old lady's tiny apartment, then tracked the boy back to his own home, six blocks over in a marginally more respectable area of town, where a girl who must be Marina greeted him affectionately and listened in awe while he poured out the tale of how he'd "met" Superman and what the Superman Foundation was going to do for them.
Clark was frowning thoughtfully as he flew off.
Sometimes human nature could surprise you.
Chapter Nine: Song for the Asking
Light footsteps outside, approaching his door, then a brisk knock.
Clark didn't have to check the clock to know that it was seven on the dot.
Feeling as though he was walking to the guillotine, he mounted the steps and opened the door.
Lois was standing there, fiddling nervously with her coat fastening. She paled slightly as she took in his face; no doubt he looked awful. Or maybe she was just frightened of him. As well she might be.
"Come in, Lois." He stood back.
She stooped and picked up… "Oh, God," he found himself saying aloud, "you brought a suitcase."
She stepped over the threshold, a challenging look in her eyes. "Of course I did," she said. "I assumed the invitation was for three ni—"
He gave a snort of laughter, or was it pain? "The invitation…" He swung the door closed behind her. "Lois, we have to talk, but we can't, you can't possibly want — no!" She'd set down her bag and turned to face him, raising her hands, and he found he'd leapt at least a foot backwards. "Please don't touch me, Lois — every time you touch me I lose my head. Just sit down, please."
He turned and bolted down the steps into the living room.
He looked terrible.
Lois settled herself on the couch, hands folded carefully on her lap, and watched Clark pacing back and forth in front of her. She'd thought he was looking tired and strained at the lunch-time meeting; now he was positively haggard, his shoulders bowed, his hands twitching.
She wasn't at all sure she could fix what she'd done, but she had to try.
Clark stopped pacing, turned towards her, swung away again and knitted his hands tightly together. "Lois, what I did earlier — it was unforgivable," he said wretchedly. "I can't apologise enough. You shouldn't even be here after what I did — you should have more respect for yourself than that -"
He stiffened and the flow of words stopped abruptly.
"Can you tell me what it is you're apologising for?"
He whirled around, staring at her in horror. "Lois, I— I—" He swallowed, then forced the words out. "I raped you! How can you just sit there calmly and ask—"
"Clark." He stopped again, and she could think — could try to pull some order out of the sudden maelstrom in her brain. He thought he'd raped her? What could possibly…? "Clark, to rape someone — doesn't there have to be a lack of consent?"
He closed his eyes, looking sickened. "Lois, I know technically that contract says you consented, but you can't think that really gives me the right to force you into -"
"You didn't force me."
His eyes opened, fixing pleadingly on hers. "Lois, I know I hurt you -"
"Clark, why are you so determined to be in the wrong?" She drew a breath. It was time: time to abandon the instinctive evasion she'd cultivated over so many years, the prickly armour that kept her safe; time to be honest with him as well as with herself. Payback time. She felt herself flush, forced herself to hold his gaze. "I wanted it as much as you did."
"To get pregnant," he said dully. "Lois -"
"No, Clark." She started to get up, but he flung out an arm towards her and she subsided back onto the couch. "No, not to get pregnant. Clark… I haven't been honest with you. If anyone should be apologising here, it's me. I've treated you…" To her chagrin, she heard her voice start to tremble.
"Lois, it doesn't matter -"
"Let me finish!" The interruption had stiffened her spine, thank heavens. "Clark, from the first day I met you I treated you like dirt. You were right — I never gave you a chance. You proved you were an excellent reporter, so I allowed Perry to assign you as my partner, but as a man — as a human being — I just discounted you."
There, that was the easy part… now for the hard part. "When I found out I needed to get pregnant, I knew I wanted you to be the father. No, don't interrupt. And I could have gone to you and told you about it, and asked you for a sperm donation, and used artificial insemination. I never even considered that way. I told myself that you were like any other man, just a rat who would be happy to sleep with me and not have to worry about the consequences. No, I know, Clark — I realised I was wrong as soon as you refused to sign the paper. But I bullied you into it anyway, and I really only realised why afterwards." Deep breath. Her whole face was burning. "Clark, it was like you said, after I got sprayed with that perfume — I *was* so attracted to you. And I set up that whole date thing so that I could sleep with you and still not have to admit it, even to myself."
He made a sudden move towards her, stopped himself. "Lois, are you saying -"
"I'm saying that the only thing I regret about what happened earlier is that it was over so quickly." She paused, then added, "And that I somehow let you think I wasn't willing."
"Oh, thank God." He closed his eyes, his face lightening as though she'd lifted the weight of the world from his shoulders. He made no move in her direction, though, and Lois found herself aching for the feel of his arms around her.
"Clark… I haven't finished 'fessing up, but can you come over here so I can give you a hug?"
He stiffened, and his face darkened again. "No. Lois, I'm so relieved to know I didn't actually rape you, I can't tell you, but when you touch me… something happens, and I just lose control. I might not have forced you today, but I know I hurt you. Your arms… I can't let that happen again."
"You didn't hurt me, Clark! I admit you were holding me hard enough that I thought there'd be bruises, but you didn't leave a mark on me. Look." She stood up and took off her coat, then her jacket, pulled up one sleeve of her blouse and then the other. "See? No bruises. You hadn't completely lost control. Oh, Clark, relax — I'm not about to leap on you and ravish you, tempting as the prospect might be!"
She tossed her jacket over the back of the couch, then stomped up the stairs to hang her coat beside his front door, frowning. Was he always as uptight, as neurotic as this? No, of course not… usually he was the calm one, the reasonable one. Somewhere in the last few weeks he'd lost that, and she was responsible. She had to be patient with him, help him regain his perspective.
Who'd have guessed Lois Lane could do patient?
She took a few deep, steadying breaths and then turned. "Clark, this is really important to you, isn't it?" He nodded dumbly. "Why?"
He heaved a sigh. "Lois, I… I can't tell you. You just have to trust me on this… I can't afford to lose control. Ever."
His eyes looked haunted at the mere thought. Had he really never done anything completely irrational and impulsive before today? "Clark, let me ask you something. How many women have you slept with, besides me?"
He gasped, scandalised. "Lois!"
"Come on, Clark — after the number of times we've slept together, you're embarrassed about it? How many?"
"Other women… before you?"
She stifled a grin. She was right. "Before or after."
He flushed. "Lois!" She folded her arms and quelled him with a look. "Actually slept with, as opposed to…"
"Clark, I'm not asking if you kissed Rachel Harris at the prom! It's a simple question. How many?"
"Well…" His eyes slid away from hers. "Well, actually… none."
"I thought so. No, don't look like that, Clark — you have to know it wasn't a problem… not a problem at all…" She let herself remember for a few moments, let the dreaminess and the longing show on her face for him to see, then pulled herself together. Focus. "So." She walked back to the couch and sat down again. "You're in your late twenties…"
"Thank you… and you've never slept with anyone else. But with your looks and your charm, you must have had plenty of opportunity — I bet Cat isn't the only woman who's been all over you."
Now beetroot red, he didn't reply.
"That sounds to me like excellent self-control. You know, Clark… don't get me wrong here, but I kinda like the idea that you find me, of all the women you've ever met, irresistible."
He gave a half-smile. "Lois, I appreciate what you're saying, but you don't know… I haven't told you the truth, either."
"So tell me. I don't know what you can be hiding that's worse than what I've been doing to you."
Instead of reassuring him, that just made him look miserable. "I don't suppose you do," he muttered. "Lois, can I ask you… what did you mean just now when you said you *needed* to get pregnant?"
She grimaced. "I know I should have told you from the start. I would have told you last month, after you said I should wait for the right man to come along, why I couldn't afford to wait… I was about to when we ended up shouting at each other, and then you walked out…"
He nodded guiltily.
"So, the medical reason." She looked down at her hands; it was still difficult to talk to him about this. "Clark, will you come and sit down? I won't touch you till you let me, but it's difficult to talk with you hovering over there."
He hesitated for a long, uneasy moment before subsiding into the chair beside her, looking anything but relaxed.
Any other man of her acquaintance, including her father the doctor, would have been fleeing from the discussion… but Clark was different. And Clark needed to know. She drew a deep breath and forced the words out. "I have this condition called endometriosis. It's to do with the lining of my uterus not shedding properly… you don't want all the gory details. But it's, well, clogging up my system. And it's irreversible. So my doctor told me, a couple of months ago, that I'd need a hysterectomy within a year… unless I got pregnant first." She smiled wanly. "Last chance."
"Oh, God." Clark raked a hand through his hair, looking utterly wretched. "And I thought it was just a whim… I should have trusted you. I've been stalling for time, hoping you'd change your mind…" He looked hopelessly at her. "Lois, you're going to kill me… I can't get you pregnant. I'm… sterile."
There was a stunned silence. For the second time that evening, Lois found her thoughts whirling in confusion as she stared at him. "You're not."
His mouth turned down bitterly. "I'm completely serious. I signed that contract knowing full well I couldn't give you what you wanted. I deserve whatever you're about to do to me. I just…" He swallowed. "Lois, before you kill me, can I just ask you — I know you need to find another father, but please don't go to Luthor. I can't prove it, but he's -"
"Okay? Just okay? Lois, he's a crook!"
"He is?" She brushed that aside, focused on the urgent issue. "Never mind that. I told you earlier I had more to confess. Well, this is part of it. When you called me from New York… I didn't tell you the truth. You jumped to a conclusion, and I just let you go on believing it because it was the easiest thing to do, but… Clark, I'm already pregnant."
"What?" He stared at her disbelievingly for a moment, then his face blanched and he leapt to his feet and strode away from her.
Her heart sank like a stone. He'd spoken out so eloquently, so persuasively against her having a baby, but she'd convinced herself it was just because she'd planned to raise it alone. Obviously there was more to his opposition than that.
He'd halted at the archway out of the kitchen, gripping the brightly painted plaster with his hands. His voice, low and agonised, came drifting back to her. "I don't want to know whose it is, Lois… but just tell me it isn't Luthor's?"
"Clark!" She gave a shocked laugh. "Clark, what do you — you lunkhead, do you think I went and — Clark Kent, you come right back here and look at me!"
He released his grip on the archway and turned. It must have been her fancy that dust came sifting down from the plasterwork as he moved obediently to stand in front of her. She fixed him with an earnest gaze, willing him to believe her. To trust her. "Clark, you're the only person I've slept with in years. And before you ask, no, I haven't tried any other method of getting pregnant. I don't know who told you you were sterile, but they were wrong."
He believed her at last. Relief spread over his face like the sunrise, quickly followed by blank shock. "Omigod…" he whispered, staring at her. "That's even worse…"
He pushed his hands through his hair, wheeled away from her and then just kept turning till he was facing her again. "Lois…" He dropped to the couch beside her and took her hands. "Lois, you're going to need help with this baby. You have to let me help."
"You have to tear up that ridiculous contract. I'd never have signed it if I'd had any idea…"
He shook his head impatiently. "Lois, you *must* listen to me! You don't under-" He stopped abruptly, peering at her suspiciously. "What do you mean, 'okay'?"
"You mean this contract?" Reluctantly freeing one of her hands, Lois reached out and drew an envelope out of her jacket pocket. As she tugged it open one-handed, a few scraps of torn paper escaped. She held it out so that he could see the rest of the fragments inside.
He stared at it and then at her, his mouth working soundlessly.
She smiled at him lovingly. "Clark, it hasn't occurred to you to ask what I'm doing here if I'm already pregnant, has it?"
He shook his head.
"I thought I could walk away from you after we'd been together. I was wrong. When I saw the test result, and realised I didn't have any excuse to spend another night with you, I suddenly knew I couldn't do it. I couldn't bear to spend the rest of my life without you. Clark…" Her voice wobbled. "I know I treated you appallingly, but I came here to ask you if you'd give me a second chance."
"Oh, Lois." His eyes closed as he reached out and gathered her into his arms. At last. She clung to him, feeling his strong heartbeat under her cheek, knowing that finally, she was home. "As if you even had to ask… Lois, will you marry me?"
She opened her mouth to accept. Remembered. "Oh."
"'Oh'?" He held her away from him, looked at her in disbelief. "Lois, I love you. I want us to get married, be together for the rest of our lives, bring up your — *our* baby together like proper, loving parents." His eyes dropped to her midriff for a moment and she saw a gleam of astonished delight in them, then they were searching her face once more. Pleading with her. "What does 'oh' mean?"
She mustered all her willpower and fixed him with a stern gaze. "It means I have a condition. Clark, you ran out on me in the middle of a fight. You also ran away instead of facing me, the last morning in the hotel. I love you too, but I'm not prepared to marry a moral coward like my father. If you're going to promise to love and obey — Clark, this is serious — love and cherish me, I mean, then that means no more running away. Ever."
His eyes had kindled at her confession of love, and he'd choked at the word "obey", but his face had become very serious, even grim, while she'd been speaking. Could that be fear in his eyes? She waited nervously for his response. If he couldn't deal with it…
He was nodding. "You're right, Lois… there's another issue to deal with here, and I shouldn't have asked you to marry me until you knew…"
He paused, and her heart lurched. Suddenly she found herself speaking again. "What is it, Clark? You're ill, aren't you? That's why you had to go. You've got some awful genetic condition, that's why you were shocked about the baby -"
"- and you had to rush out and get medicine or something -"
She shut her mouth on the torrent of words.
"Lois, do I look ill to you?"
She shook her head, then nodded. "Actually, you look as if you haven't slept much recently. I don't know why, because you don't have circles round your eyes or anything, but you just look exhausted -"
She sucked in a breath. "Sorry."
"Please — give me a chance to explain. It's not easy."
Some of the grimness had eased away while she'd been babbling, but that was quite definitely fear in his eyes.
"I do have a… a genetic condition, I think you called it. It's not quite what you thought, though. I'm… not human. I don't know how I managed to get you pregnant, because I shouldn't be genetically compatible with humans."
He was doing it again. This time the whirling in her head was worse than ever.
"Clark… you look human to me. What do you mean, 'not human'?"
He gave a humourless chuckle. "'All the parts of a man.' Lois, I come from another planet. Called -"
"Krypton." She nodded, clutched at her head as the room swayed in response. All the blood seemed to have left her body.
It made no sense.
She shut her eyes.
After a while, it occurred to her to breathe. She found her jaw hanging open, shut it. Swallowed.
It made perfect sense. All the pieces were falling into place.
"The glasses. You wouldn't take them off. They're part of your… disguise."
"You ran away because of… something you heard. The accident?"
"You were late because… you had to get away from me first."
She opened her eyes. "Clark, you weren't responsible for those people dying."
He sighed, smiled. "I guess not, Lois. You made me see that."
She was still in his arms, still clinging to his shirt. She still felt as if she belonged here. She leant forward and rested her cheek against his strong chest. Stronger even than she'd imagined.
A sudden stray thought occurred to her. "So the suit does come off," she murmured wickedly. She felt him start, and a slow, delicious heat started to build inside her. She released his shirt and smoothed it down with her palm, feeling the muscles bunch underneath. "You know, I was right," she said thoughtfully. "There was a special connection between me and Superman. I just couldn't recognise it — no, let me be honest, I refused to recognise it when he… you weren't in the suit."
Clark stirred uncomfortably. "I'm not sure there is still a Superman," he said in a low voice.
"What?" She sat back and stared at him. "Why ever not?"
She'd seen what he was capable of doing, experienced it first- hand, and she could still ask that?
"I…" He looked away from her narrowed eyes. "Lois, I know you say I didn't rape you, but I lost control of myself. I don't even know if I could have stopped myself if you'd screamed or… or struggled. And no one else — nothing else — is capable of stopping me, Lois. I can't risk losing control in the suit. I don't have the right to be Superman any more."
"I… see." She nodded slowly. "At least I understand now why you're so hung up on self-control, Clark."
"Hung up? Lois, last time I lost control of my emotions I broke the school bully's arm. I was six then — imagine what I could do now! If I lost my temper, I could kill someone in a flash!"
"Actually, I don't believe you could."
"Clark, you always have your powers, right? They don't come from wearing the suit, do they?"
"That thing? Good grief, Lois, no — that's just the disguise my mother made me so I could help without being recognised. The powers are something inside me."
He wasn't sure what she'd been getting at, but his words had distracted her completely. "Wow — your mother really made the suit? Martha? I mean, I remember you saying, the first time I saw you, but I never realised — does she have the slightest idea what effect that spandex has on… no, what am I saying, she's made of flesh and blood, she must know exactly what effect it has. I suppose it's all part of the disguise. Your mother is an awesome woman, Clark."
She wasn't even out of breath. "Not the only one I know."
"You know, I must introduce you to someone called Jonas one day. He could talk at Olympic level, too."
"Clark, stop talking nonsense." She glared at his teasing smile. "We were discussing whether you should still be Superman, not your friends." His smile faded; not a permanent distraction, then. He should have known — this was Mad Dog Lane, after all. "How much sleep have you been getting recently?"
"Huh?" Her lightning shifts of direction were starting to lose him. "Um, not much. Why?"
She nodded. "I thought not. You don't show it much — I suppose that's something to do with your super-powers — but you're exhausted, and you've been brooding for weeks, which is my fault -" She looked at him contritely, and he cupped her cheek comfortingly in his palm. "- and now your control is starting to slip. I saw you break that pencil today, in the meeting."
He winced. "That proves my point, doesn't it? Lois, I stopped a mugger today, and I couldn't trust myself to pick him up and take him to the police. I had to let him go! Superman has to be one hundred percent trustworthy, or he can't exist at all."
"What did he do afterwards?"
She sighed impatiently. "The mugger, Clark. Stay with the programme. What did he do after you let him go?"
"Oh. He… uh, well, actually he picked up his victim's shopping and took her home. Then he went home and, uh, told his sister what I'd said. That the Superman Foundation will help them out."
Lois's eyes were laughing at him; for the life of him, he couldn't see why. "So you don't think he'll be a danger to society."
"No. Well… not unless he becomes a salesman. Or a politician."
"And what would you have done if he'd threatened his victim again, or gone off and mugged someone else?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know, Lois, I really don't. If he'd hurt someone… a woman…" In his mind's eye, he saw again the shock in the old lady's eyes, the way she'd been, for a moment, inseparable from Lois. "… maybe I'd have picked him up after all. Maybe I'd have broken his arm, or his neck…"
"Clark, stop it. You're just torturing yourself needlessly." Lois was scowling angrily at him, but he could see the concern in her eyes. The love.
He'd seen that concern for Superman before, but it had never been for *him* until now. His heart did a somersault in his chest.
"I love you, Lois."
She blinked, and her eyes darkened, but she shook her head. "Stop trying to distract me, Clark. I'm busy saving Superman here."
"What if he's beyond saving?"
"In a pig's eye. The world needs Superman, Clark. Nightfall would have killed us all if it hadn't been for you. We need your powers, and we need you as a concept to believe in. Are you going to let us all down, let people die instead of saving them, just because there was a single occasion when you slipped up and did something you're not proud of?"
"Have you really lost your nerve, Clark, or are you trying to punish yourself because you can't forgive yourself for what you did to me?"
"Lois!" He gaped at her. "That's not fair! Superman has exceptional powers, and because of that he has exceptional responsibilities. He has to keep to a higher moral and ethical standard than anyone else. You know that — I can't count the number of times you've said 'Superman wouldn't do that' — lie, cheat at cards -"
"I beg your pardon?" He sounded strangled, some remote corner of his brain noted. He could stay cool and calm in the face of fires and tornadoes, asteroids and tidal waves… all it took to tie his brain up in knots was one small, determined woman.
"So what if Superman has to have a higher standard? That doesn't go away if you never wear the suit again, Clark. Or, when you say Superman, are you excluding your real self? Is Clark allowed to lie, and cheat, and x-ray women's clothing?"
"Of course not!"
"So you have to control yourself in or out of the suit. Why let that stop you being Superman? Helping people? Saving people, like the ones who would have died if you hadn't stopped the pile- up last month?"
He sighed heavily. "Lois, I can't deny your logic. It's just… It may be irrational, but I just can't trust myself any more."
"Because if you lose control, you might hurt someone?"
He nodded. "Exactly."
"I don't believe you, Clark. All that power — you could crush me with your little finger — and I drove you to the very edge of control today. And you didn't leave a single mark on me."
She was unbuttoning her blouse. He swallowed. "Lois, what are you -"
"I'm showing you, Clark." She slid her blouse down her shoulders, drew her hands out of the sleeves and held out her arm in front of his eyes. "See? Not a mark." Her ivory skin before him, unblemished… satin-soft to the touch, as he knew so well… She turned, and his eyes slid helplessly to her bra… black and lacy, like what she'd been wearing that night when he'd walked into the bedroom…
He licked dry lips. "Lois, what are -" Because she was standing up, and her hands were behind her, on the fastening of her skirt…
"Showing you the other places you touched me today, Clark. Don't you want to make sure you didn't hurt me… anywhere?"
She pushed her skirt down, and it dropped to the floor. His eyes didn't follow it, couldn't follow it, riveted as they were on the sight before him… ivory skin, black lace… He tried to say something, but all that came out was a strangled moan of longing.
"Go on, Clark. Lose control. I know you can't hurt me — prove it to yourself, as well."
She stepped forward and settled herself astride his lap. His arms wrapped themselves around her and with a groan he finally gave in.
Chapter Ten: Feelin' Groovy
Making love with Superman could become slightly surreal, Lois discovered.
Clark swivelled to lay her down on the couch. Gently, almost reverently at first — and then, as she responded, with desperate hunger — his mouth moved over her skin, trailing fire in its wake.
Her jacket slithered down the back of the couch and fell on top of them. There was a muffled exclamation of annoyance from within its folds, and then the room blurred…
… and when it cleared again, Lois was looking up at what had to be Clark's bedroom ceiling. Clark laid her gently on the bed, floated up into the air and then spun into a blur, reappearing a split second later without his clothes.
This time, the glasses had gone.
Lois barely had time to register the change before a light wind seemed to pass around her, and then her underwear, too, had vanished. Then Clark's arms came around her and his mouth descended on hers, and conscious thought was swept away by the storm of feeling he was arousing in her body and in her heart.
Strange, she thought dreamily, a good while later.
She'd never have guessed that their lovemaking could get any more wonderful. But then, she'd never before made love with a man she was completely and wholeheartedly in love with. The man she planned to spend the rest of her life with, for better or for worse…
It was as though they'd fused into one being, somehow. Every movement, every caress, every word had stoked the fire of their love until it had burnt brighter than anything Lois could have imagined, consuming them both. For a time, nothing else had existed in her universe but Clark and their love. So different from before, when she'd been acting out the part of a lover, hoping nervously that she was doing it right… like the difference between sailing a boat and swimming in the waves.
Between flying in a plane and flying in Superman's arms…
Superman who had, incredibly, turned out to be Clark in disguise. The implications of that were something she hadn't yet had the time to consider, but she filed the thought away for later. For now, it was enough to be lying here with Clark, in the afterglow of their lovemaking.
She sighed her utter contentment. Clark's body was still sprawled on top of hers, warm and solid in her arms, yet not oppressively heavy. His superpowers again? They could come in useful in a host of ways she'd never thought of before…
Clark stirred, pressing a soft kiss into her hair. He let out a sigh to match hers. "Lois… I love you."
She brushed her fingertips over the curve of his shoulder. She'd been dreaming of this, every night for the last month… "I love you too, Clark."
His arms tightened around her. After a moment, she realised his whole body was quivering. Something touched her cheek, rolled down it. She lifted a hand to brush it away, and her fingers came away wet. "Clark?"
"Oh, God, Lois…" he whispered into her hair. "I thought I'd lost you forever." He rolled away from her, scrubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Look at me — some superhero, huh?"
She bit her lip. "Clark, stop that! You're the strongest person I know! And I don't mean just physically." She reached out and cupped his face in her hands. "What you do for us — giving your time and energy, getting rid of asteroids, rescuing people, stopping muggers and bank robbers and preventing foolhardy journalists from getting themselves killed…" That earned her a faint smile. "… and having to juggle your day job to do it, it's just, well… awesome. And the things you must have seen… A lesser man would crack under the strain."
He was blushing faintly, his eyes lowered as he considered her words. "And that's even before what I did to you," she went on bitterly. His eyes leapt to hers. "The way I…"
"Oh, Lois, don't!" He cupped his hand over hers, lifted it so he could press a kiss into her palm. "You weren't the only one at fault. If I'd just been honest with you, instead of thinking I knew what was best for you…" She could see the sincerity in his eyes — he really had forgiven her. She felt a rush of humbled awe.
"What matters is that you're here now," he said. Then his eyes slid down her body to her abdomen, and he looked suddenly solemn.
She had to ask. "Clark — you are pleased, aren't you? About the baby?"
He smiled slowly, and she caught her breath. It was like the sun coming up in his face. "I can't tell you how pleased I am, Lois! I'm… thrilled. And astonished. Flabbergasted. And just a bit scared. But mostly thrilled." A thought struck him, and the smile dimmed. "Uh, you are going to let me, I mean, you want me to help…"
"Help bring it up?" She frowned thoughtfully. "Well, I guess we can probably make some sort of arrangement. As long as you promise to change all the diapers, especially the middle-of-the- night ones, and clean up when it's sick, and cook all the meals, and bring me coffee whenever I — no, Clark! No tickling — pregnant woman here, remember…" She squealed and counter- attacked, and they wrestled for a while, laughing, before Clark managed to pin her to the bed and kiss her until she was breathless.
She was here, in his bed, in his arms. It was bliss; it was something he'd thought he would never experience again.
It still wasn't enough.
He couldn't bear the thought of parting from her. Not now, not ever. He'd asked her to marry him… and she'd had a condition.
Clark raised his head. "Lois…" He smoothed her hair back from her face, tucked a strand behind her ear. "What you said about running away… I can't guarantee I'll always be there when you need me. Or that I won't have to rush out in the middle of something because someone screams for help. But I can promise this — I'll always come back to you."
"Oh, Clark." Her voice was shaky, her eyes huge and earnest. "I just didn't understand. Now I know why… well, I don't know how easy it's going to be to share you with the rest of the world, but we'll work it out somehow." Her lips curved. "I do know you're nothing like my father."
He pressed his lips to her forehead, smiling wryly. "Praise indeed."
She pushed him away a little so that she could look up into his face. "So, if you're going to be Superman again — did my therapy work?" He frowned, confused. "Did you lose control?"
"Oh…" He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Yes and no."
"What does that mean?"
"No, because I could have stopped — if you hadn't wanted it just as much as I did." In some strange way, he'd almost been able to feel her presence within him, urging him on to greater passion. "I felt more in control this time than I ever have before. I guess…" He smiled. "… for the first time, my brain and my body were pulling in the same direction. Instead of my body being unable to resist you and my brain telling me I shouldn't be doing it and you were going to kill me when you found out I'd been lying to you."
"Oh," she said in a small voice, looking contrite.
He hadn't meant to pile on any more guilt. "And yes, because even though I was scared to touch you, I still couldn't help myself… I think I finally gave up fighting you." He stroked his thumb down her cheekbone, searching her eyes and finding her indomitable courage there. The cornerstone of his own strength. "You don't know what you've meant to me, Lois. To Superman. You gave me the idea when you told me to bring a change of clothes to work… you formed him when you said he wouldn't cheat, or lie. And you've kept me going so many times when I would have given up. So if you still believe in him… in me… I guess I can't do any less."
"Oh, Clark…" There was a tear sliding down her cheek. He brushed it away.
"So… now that you know the worst about me… will you marry me, Lois?"
She gazed up at him. He could see love and fear warring in her eyes. "Don't you think it's too soon?" she asked worriedly. "I mean, you haven't even tried living with me, and I can be really difficult…"
He grinned crookedly at her. "I've tried living without you, and I don't think I can manage it any longer. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And our child — I want him or her to grow up in a proper family, Lois. With two full- time, totally committed parents. Maybe it won't be easy learning to live together, but we'll work it out."
Another tear was trickling down her face. "Okay." She smiled at him, the love winning out at last. "Yes, Clark Kent, I will marry you. As soon as possible."
His eyebrows shot up. "As soon as possible? Are you sure?"
"What — you changed your mind already?"
He grinned. "Not a chance. But don't you want a fancy wedding with bridesmaids and everything?"
"No!" Lois made a face. "Give my mother half a chance and she'll make it into a society occasion, in the cathedral, with massed choirs and rose petals and pageboys, and half of Metropolis will be sitting there whispering about how awful my dress looks and how much it cost and whether that's a bump under it — ugh!" She shuddered. "No, I think we should get a licence tomorrow and do it as quietly as possible. And we'll have to find someone to marry us. I wonder if you can get an appointment at the registry office the same day? I suppose we'd better invite my parents… if we can track down my father in time."
"And Superman can fly my parents in for the day. That sounds perfect." Clark grinned at her. "Good thing New Troy doesn't have a waiting period for marriage licences, huh?"
"Even better that we don't need to take a blood test," she retorted. "Wouldn't that be fun, having some poor nurse trying to stick a needle in you?" He laughed. "I can't wait to see everyone's faces on Monday," Lois went on happily, "when we walk in wearing wed— oh!"
"I just remembered something." She fixed him with a stern look. "Clark, there's one thing we haven't discussed. I'm not going to get married to a freeloader. My child's father had better have a job."
"Oh!" The resignation letter… He coloured guiltily. "You know about that. I… I didn't think you'd ever want to see me again after what I did today…"
"Well, you thought wrong. I want my partner back, Clark. I was planning on riding your coat-tails to my next Kerth."
He chuckled wryly. "Do you think Perry will hire me back?"
"How do you think I found out about it? He called me into his office when I got back from the courthouse, waved your letter at me and told me he was considering whether to accept your resignation. I told him I'd do my best to change your mind about leaving."
Clark gave a relieved sigh. "You've got everything sorted out, haven't you? I can hardly believe it — a couple of hours ago, my life was in ruins and I was about to leave Metropolis. Now everything's wonderful… perfect." He kissed her and then laid his head on her shoulder. "Heavenly." Her heart was beating steadily, comfortingly, under his ear. His eyes drifted shut.
He still had questions — what did this endo-thingy mean? Would Lois have long-term health problems? Would they be able to have more children? — but for now, they didn't seem important. There was still something nagging at his conscience, though… oh, yes…
"I guess I should go on patrol," he mumbled. "Didn't go earlier."
Lois lay quietly, enjoying the feeling of his arms around her. Perfect. Heavenly. In a moment he would get up, put on the Superman suit — she was looking forward to that! — and fly off on his patrol, but for now this was enough.
They'd come so close to losing each other. The thought of being without Clark made her feel physically sick… or perhaps that was just the baby.
Would he, or she, have super-powers? Lois knew so little about what being a Kryptonian meant, biologically speaking. "Clark?"
There was no answer. Clark's chest was rising and falling slowly, rhythmically. For the first time for who knew how long — since the night of their date, Lois guessed guiltily — he looked at peace.
On the nightstand beside the bed, the phone rang. Clark's brow furrowed and his hand twitched. Reflexively, before it could ring a second time, Lois snatched it up. Then she froze, the receiver halfway to her ear.
Who was likely to be calling Clark? What was she going to say to them?
The receiver chirruped questioningly. Lois lifted it to her ear. "Clark Kent's apartment," she said in a low voice.
"Oh! I… Hi, it's Martha Kent. Could I speak to Clark, please?"
Oh God… Clark's mother. Lois had to steel herself for hours, sometimes days, before calling her own mother, and now she had to explain to Clark's mother that he'd fallen asleep after…
"Hi, Mrs Kent. This is Lois Lane, we met, uh…" Mrs Kent? She would be Mrs Kent if she married Clark…
"Lois!" The voice warmed instantly into enthusiasm. "Of course I remember you! And please, it's still Martha. How are you?"
"Fine, I'm fine. How are you? How's the f—" Fax machine? "- farm?"
"Oh, very quiet at this season. I've been taking a few art classes…" As Martha talked, Lois tried to get a hold on her skittering thoughts. What had Clark told his parents about her? It wouldn't have occurred to Lois to share any confidences about Clark with her mother, but Clark seemed to have a much closer relationship with his parents. On the other hand, Martha was chatting casually, seemingly unaware of any problems between Lois and her son.
"What? Uh, I'm sorry, Martha, I…"
Martha laughed. "Is Clark there?"
"Yes. Uh, no. Uh…" Lois gulped. She prodded Clark's shoulder gently; he gave a half-smile and let out a sigh that sounded like "'oisss…", but otherwise he didn't move.
What on earth was she supposed to say to his mother? He was out interviewing a source, or having his hair cut, or… come to think of it, who did cut his hair?
"Actually, Martha, he is here, but he's asleep." Lois shifted Clark's arm off her and sat up. He didn't stir. "We were, uh, having coffee and he just dropped off. He was looking exhausted, so I'd rather not wake him…" That sounded awfully proprietorial, Lois thought, flustered. Would Martha notice? "Should I ask him to call you back?"
"Yes, okay. I really just called to ask, well… Lois, does he seem all right to you? I mean, it's not like him to be so tired — has he been on stakeout a lot, or something?"
"I'm sure he's fine, Martha," Lois began, then hesitated. Should she be issuing the sort of kneejerk reassurance she gave whenever her own mother called to fuss about Lucy? After all, Superman was invulnerable, so Clark's health was annoyingly perfect — it was understandable that Martha would worry if he suddenly seemed unwell. But how did Clark feel about his mother fussing over him? Would he mind his girlfr… his fian… would he mind Lois discussing his health with her?
And what could she wear? She was starting to feel uncomfortable talking to Martha with no clothes on.
Martha broke the awkward silence. "I'm glad to hear that," she said, obviously unconvinced. She gave a nervous laugh. "I dare say I sound like an old mother hen, but we just haven't heard much from Clark in the last month or so." And that was her fault, Lois thought guiltily. "We're used to see… uh, speaking to him regularly, you know…"
"Oh!" Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. "Of course — Clark can come to see you any time, can't he?" And, unlike Lois, he was close to his parents — no doubt he flew to Kansas regularly. Probably flew in for a home-cooked dinner every week.
What was Martha going to make of her precious only son getting married in such a hurry, to the partner who'd been so rude and dismissive when she'd met his parents? Lois felt a sudden chill.
There'd been a tense pause on the other end of the phone. "I'm not sure what you mean, dear," Martha said now, in a gallant attempt at a light tone. "Clark doesn't get that much leave -"
"Martha, it's okay," Lois said reassuringly. "He told me about it earlier this evening."
"Really?" Martha actually sounded more pleased than shocked, and Lois felt herself relax slightly. Maybe Clark's mother didn't detest her. "Oh, Lois, I'm so glad. He's found it so hard, leading a double life, having to think up excuses all the time — it'll be much easier now you know."
Lois hadn't even thought of that aspect. "I guess it will."
"Are you mad at him for lying to you about it?" Martha asked shrewdly.
"No. Yes. Oh, I don't know… I'm still trying to take it in! I was pretty awful to him when he first arrived, you know, so I can understand why he wouldn't tell me — and obviously I'm a journalist, and he didn't have any reason to trust — but he pretended to be two people! He even kissed — when he was Superman, that is — I'm a bit mad at myself for not guessing, to tell you the truth. I mean, a pair of glasses and a hairstyle — though of course, that suit is really distracting, so you don't really look at his face, but I guess you know that, because Clark said you made it — and he must have to change clothes really quickly, I never thought about that before — does he do that spin thing? And where do his clothes go when he does that, and does he have to keep his bedroom so obsessively neat? There isn't even a T-shirt lying around that I can put on, and omigod, I can't believe I just said that aloud…"
"I think he hangs his robe on the back of the bathroom door, dear," Martha said with the barest hint of a tremor in her voice.
"Thank you." Blushing furiously, Lois retrieved the robe and slipped it on, juggling the phone, then went to sit on the couch where her voice wouldn't disturb Clark… or the sight of him disturb her equilibrium. Was Martha horrified? Upset? "Martha…"
"It's been obvious for a while that Clark has feelings for you, Lois," Martha said matter-of-factly. "Even though he never said anything about it. He didn't seem to think he stood much chance with you."
And he hadn't, of course. Lois bit her lip, remembering again how she'd warned him off. She'd have run a mile if he'd suggested a date… until she'd decided she could use him for her own purposes…
"Then, a few weeks ago, he said you'd had a fight, and he seemed very depressed about it. He wouldn't say what it was about, and we hardly saw him after that. He went to New York for a while, of course, but he usually… Anyway, I'm very glad you've made up. You're obviously very important to him."
"He's important to me, too. But yes… we had a lot of things to get out in the open." Lois caught herself up, blushing again.
But Martha didn't seem to have noticed. "I know he always felt bad about having to lie to you," she said soothingly. "He's a very truthful person at heart, you know."
"I guess I did know that. I always believed Superman stood for truth and justice. It's just hard reconciling that with Clark…"
"Lois…" For the first time, Martha sounded concerned. "I know we give Clark a hard time when he talks about Superman in the third person, but… well… don't make the mistake of thinking they're just the same."
Martha knew she'd been star-struck by Superman, Lois realised suddenly. She was worried that Lois had simply transferred her crush to Clark. If she only knew… "I think I know what you mean," she said. "Clark is so much more, isn't he? Superman's really just a sort of caricature. But he wouldn't be what he is if Clark didn't have the same qualities."
There was a brief pause, and when Martha spoke again, Lois could hear the relief in her voice. "You know, Lois, I've always worried about Clark being able to find someone who really understands him. Both sides of him. But then, from the first time he mentioned you, his father and I knew you were someone special."
"Oh, Martha…" Lois felt her eyes prickling. "You know, if you were my mother, you'd have torn several strips off me by now. Clark is very lucky." She couldn't keep a wistful note out of her voice.
"We just want him to be happy," Martha said gently. "It's what most parents want for their children, Lois — your mother too, I'm sure. We just have different ways of showing it. And with Clark being so… unusual, we've wondered at times if he'd ever find somewhere and someone that was right for him."
"I can hardly imagine what it's been like, bringing up someone so different!" But she might be finding out for herself soon, Lois thought, putting a protective hand over her stomach. "How did you — I mean, you're just regular — you aren't -"
Martha laughed. "No, we're just ordinary Kansas farmers. We found Clark in a crashed space ship when he was a few months old — didn't he tell you?"
"No, he didn't mention that… we were talking about other stuff, and then he, we…"
"You were having coffee. Of course, I forgot." Martha seemed to be having difficulty with her breathing, and broke off to cough. "Well, it was a bit of a shock when he started developing all sorts of strange abilities. We didn't even know till a few months ago that he was from a different planet — we thought he was some sort of weird Russian experiment."
"You know, Lois, we were hoping Clark might come over for dinner tomorrow night — why don't you get him to bring you? We can tell you all about it, and I'll even show you the pictures, if he'll let me. He was such a cute baby…"
She could well believe that, Lois thought. But… "Uh, Martha — I know Clark was going to tell you himself, but, well, since you called…" She took a deep breath. "We were hoping, if you don't have plans for tomorrow, that you might be able to come to Metropolis — Clark said he would come and get you -" Her throat was tight, her mouth dry, but she managed to finish in a nervous squeak, "- because we're getting married."
There was a breathless pause, and then Martha gave a sort of crow. "Lois! That's wonderful news, honey — Jonathan! Wait till I tell Clark's father! Oh, I couldn't be happier, Lois. Jonathan! You're going to have to tell us all about it tomorrow…"
She would leave that part to Clark, Lois thought, brushing at her eyes as Martha continued to babble delightedly. After they'd decided what, if anything, to say about the baby to their respective parents…
"What time should we expect him, Lois?"
"I… I don't actually know," Lois confessed with a laugh. "We don't know where or when yet. We might even have to go to Vegas, if we can't find anyone who can do it here. At least we don't have to worry about air fares!"
"That's true." Martha chuckled. "Well, maybe I'd better let you get on with your planning, while I find Jonathan and give him the news. Getting married…" Lois could almost hear her shaking her head. "When that son of mine wakes up, give him a kiss from me and tell him just how lucky he is… and tell him to call us in the morning."
"I will. Bye, Martha — see you tomorrow."
Lois rang off, shaking with delayed nerves. She seemed to have passed the test, with Martha at least… and perhaps it was just as well she'd been caught by surprise this evening, before she'd had time to get worked up about what Clark's parents would think.
Clark was unlikely to have as easy a time with Lois's mother. Would he be as nervous as Lois? She had a feeling his calm good sense would be more than a match for Ellen, once he'd had a good night's sleep.
She tiptoed as far as the archway to the bedroom, to check on him, and had to suppress a gasp. He was still fast asleep, but now he was floating a couple of inches above the bed.
Hadn't he worried about giving himself away by spending the weekend in a hotel room with her? Probably… but she hadn't given him much choice. And he'd always been awake long before her — she'd never actually seen him sleeping till now.
And the sight was starting to interfere with her breathing. Lois gave a last, lingering look and turned back to the couch. In a while she'd go through there and put him to bed, cuddle up beside him and see what the night would bring… but first, she'd order a takeout pizza. He might not need to eat much — if at all — but she was suddenly starving. Clark probably didn't have a pizza delivery service on speed dial, the way she did, but he'd have the latest Metropolis phone book neatly filed away somewhere.
But before that… She picked up the phone and dialled a Planet number.
"Perry? How did I know you'd still be in your office? You should take more time off, you know… Yes, I've spoken to him, and he's changed his mind about leaving… No, I doubt he'll be back before Monday. Maybe even the Monday after. And speaking of time off, I want to take some, too… I know I had a weekend last month, Perry, but come on — before that, when did I last take a vacation? It's not as if I'll be going on my honeymoon every other week… Yes, I did say honeymoon." She broke off, chuckling, and held the phone a little way from her ear to dampen the shout from the other end of the line. "What's that? Tomorrow, as soon as we can get a licence and find someone to marry us… Really? Church of the *what* did you say? Perry, I'd love that. I'll mention it to Clark as soon as he, uh, gets back with the pizza… I'll call you tomorrow, then. Night…"
Copyright 2004, Meredith Knight
Inspiration for Clark's visit to the bookshop in Chapter 3 came from my husband; for Clark's tears in Chapter 10 from Kathy Brown.