By Bethy <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2004
Summary: What if…when Lex proposed, he didn't wait for Lois to answer? What if…Lois's uncertainty caused a delayed reaction to his question? One Lex assumption + One Lois delayed reaction = One woman who is Reluctantly Engaged.
This past year, Kaethel was *incredible* in helping me with French stuff. She edited papers, answered word questions, helped me translate idioms… She was super. So, Kaethel, once again, I would like to tell you thanks, for all the help you've given me (and all the future help I'm probably still going to ask for! <g>). This is for you.
Lois entered her apartment, shut the door, and immediately started the process of locking all five barriers there. It was habit, something she always did as soon as her arms were empty enough to reach them all. In fact, sometimes she forestalled emptying her arms in favor of locking the world out.
It had only taken that one time to teach her the importance of priorities. Fortunately, it had been an easily felled idiot the one and only time an assailant had broken in during the brief moment she was in the kitchen depositing her groceries on the kitchen table — and it just had to happen the one time she was being domestic and bringing home groceries, too. Not when her arms were full of files for an investigation, oh, no. No wonder she never had any food in her fridge or cabinets. That one time was enough to scare her off domesticity forever.
But anyway, that time it had just been someone with a petty grievance because of one of her exposes. A soft, white-collar worker, easily flipped and properly chastened by the time the police arrived. But it had been enough to convince her that the locks were more important than her aching arms full of burdens carried all the way home from wherever…usually work.
Today, however, she hesitated with only two and a half locks completed. Since this was such an oft-repeated habit, she'd fallen into a pattern of how she did it. She started at the top with her right hand, alternating all the way down in order to get them done in half the time. But her right hand stilled on the middle lock as something on her left hand caught her attention.
She spread her fingers out to fully display the gigantic rock on the ring finger. Gaudy really was the only word that came to mind. *I mean, really, what was he thinking? The thing's practically bigger than my whole finger!*
Forcing herself to ignore the blinding diamond, Lois quickly finished with the locks, retrieved her keys from the floor — where she'd dumped them, in favor of dealing with her locks — and headed to her bedroom to divest herself of the horrid things on her feet some sadistic person decided to call shoes. Yes, they looked spectacular with her dress, but, man, could they *kill.*
As she went through her normal post-date rituals, her irritation with the stupid hunk of gem and gold — oh, no, sorry, *platinum* — grew. It snagged her nylons as she took them off. It got stuck on her dress as she tried to unzip it. It got caught in her hair as she took off her necklace. It got caught in her hair again as she took off her earrings. It managed to twist itself around on her finger somewhere along the line (another statement to its annoyance — the darn thing wasn't even sized right) and scratch her cheek as she washed her face.
It was all she could do not to yank it off and throw it across the room.
*What is wrong with me?* she thought. *I just got proposed to by the fourth — no, third richest man in the world, and I'm complaining that the diamond is too *big*?*
But it was. It was big, and gaudy, and annoying, and a complete and total pain in the butt!
Finally in her pajamas and ready for bed, she sat down and stared at her hand. How had this happened to her?
Oh, yeah. It was because she'd been speechless. Her. Lois Lane. Supreme Babbler.
Had been speechless.
Hard to believe, but it was the truth. They'd been in Lex's private jet, on their way to Italy for a romantic dinner, when, out of the blue, he'd unfolded the two sides of a dark velvet jewelry box and said, "Lois Lane. Will you marry me?"
Okay, so it hadn't been totally out of the blue. She'd asked what she was going to do with him, and he'd answered, "Spend the rest of your life with me, I hope." She'd giggled, thinking he was joking.
But then he unfolded that infernal box.
She's been stunned. No, shocked. That really was the most appropriate word. For pete's sake, they hadn't even really been dating that long! She'd been so shocked that all she could do was stare. At that shockingly huge diamond. Shockingly huge, shockingly tacky, and shockingly hers.
Yup, that's what it was now. Lex had taken her silence for affirmation and slid the ring right on her finger. Her finger. Her ring. Her decision. But now her finger bore his ring after *his* decision. His assumption.
She didn't want the blasted thing!
Lois glared at the offending object, tempted again to fling it across the room. Instead, she carefully took it off and stowed it in her jewelry box, where it would be safe. From temper tantrums, at least.
Why hadn't she said something? "I need some time to think." "It's a big decision." "I'm sorry, but no." Something. Anything! Anything that would have prevented him from sliding that…that monstrosity onto her hand.
And yet, what was the big deal? Lex was, as her mother would say, a great catch. He was handsome, he was smart, he thought *she* was beautiful… When she was a little girl, she'd dreamed of marrying someone like him. She'd dreamed of the handsome white knight coming in and sweeping her off her feet, taking her away to their perfect life together. As she grew older, she realized that the 'perfect life' was an impossibility. She'd also borne enough disappointments to make her jaded towards relationships in general. But there was still that part of her, way deep down, that remembered that little girl and really wanted to get married.
It was buried so deep inside that most of the time she forgot about it. She focused on her job, on her novel, on her friends. A few years ago that last one might have been followed by a snort of laughter and the thought, 'what friends?' but now it was true. She had friends.
But having that ring slipped on her finger had brought back that little girl and suddenly, she really wanted to get married. At the same time, though, she wanted it to be *her* decision! What right did Lex have to take silence as a yes? To assume that her shock was joy and that she *wanted* him to go ahead and put the ring on?
So what if he was one of the most powerful men in the city, if not the country. If not the world. So what if he was unaccustomed to being told no. Or even being told wait. So what if she would have to be a fool to turn Lex Luthor down.
That did not give him the right. No man had the right to put a ring on her finger, to *claim* her, unless she gave him permission.
The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. How *dare* he? Lois Lane was not some sissy woman who needed a man to make her decisions for her! She was a Kerth-winning investigative reporter who'd been living on her own for almost a decade. She was perfectly capable of answering a yes or no question!
And, really, this did not bode well for any future decisions in their relationship. If he just assumed she was of like mind, without any discussion or input from her, what would he do with future decisions? He would probably plan their wedding, their honeymoon, their entire *lives* without even consulting her! After all, she'd set the precedent by letting him assume yes tonight.
Because she hadn't said anything right then. Nothing at all. She hadn't given the ring back, or said she needed to think, or anything. She'd just stayed silent, simpering appropriately during the date, pretending as if she were thrilled, all the while wondering what on earth she was going to do.
And now, how could she say anything? How could she, essentially, go back on her word? Tell him she'd changed her mind? Which, technically, wasn't exactly true, since she hadn't answered in the first place, but that's what it would look like.
What was she going to do?
What did she want to do?
She didn't know the answer to either one.
The next morning, Lois woke up early. Even though it was Saturday and she had the day off, she decided to go into work and talk to Perry. She knew he'd be there, and maybe he'd have something insightful to say to help her make her decisions.
After getting dressed, she was almost to the door when she remembered it. The ring. She didn't exactly want to wear it in public and be forced into an announcement before she was ready, but what if she ran into Lex and he wondered where it was? Then again, how would she run into Lex going to the Planet?
But what if he'd already told people and she met someone wanting to see the ring? Uh-oh. What if he'd already told people? How was she supposed to break it off if he'd already told people? It would be bad enough telling *him* that she didn't want to marry him. How would the rest of the world take the news?
Then again, it was all a moot point if she decided to marry him.
But how could she? How could she just give up all control of her life, her entire identity, to become Mrs. Lex Luthor?
She didn't think she could do that.
"Perry, I need to talk to you." She barged right into his office without even knocking, the ring safely in her purse where it was easily accessible should she need it, but out of sight for any prying eyes and gossips.
"Well, good morning to you, too, Lois," Perry replied calmly. "Why don't you come in, have a seat? Would you like a cup of coffee? A donut? What can I do for you this fine morning?"
"Okay, okay, drop the sarcasm. Sorry. Am I interrupting anything?" There was nobody else in the office, and Perry's desk was relatively clear, so she didn't think she was. But she didn't want to get on his bad side before bringing this up.
"Naw, honey, you're fine."
"Good." She shut the door, plopped down on the couch and said, "I need your help."
"What's this?" Perry started fumbling around his desk, looking for something. "Mad Dog Lane admits she needs help? Where's my calendar? I've got to mark this one down!"
She was not amused and let him know it. "Cut the jokes, Perry. I'm in a predicament and I don't know what to do." For crying out loud, this was big! Not just big — huge. No, gigantic. No, colossal!
"Sorry, darlin'." His expression turned serious and she knew that he was paying attention and ready to help. "What's wrong?"
Lois wasn't sure how to go into all the details, so she went with stating the basic issue. "Lex proposed."
Obviously, that was the wrong approach, because Perry just looked baffled. "Well, um, congratulations?"
That was not the response she needed. "But I don't know if I want to marry him," she wailed.
"Oh. Okay, then." Perry seemed to be searching for what to say. "So you told him no?"
"No! That's just it. I was too shocked to say anything and he assumed that was a yes and he slipped the ring on my finger and now I don't know how to tell him I'm not sure without it seeming like a slap in the face, which would pretty much end any chance of a future proposal if I decided I do want to marry him and would make him really mad at me even if I do end up deciding that I can't marry him ever and I just don't know what to do!"
There went the babble-mode. Why couldn't it have kicked in last night, when she needed it? Okay, so she probably would've put her foot in her mouth more than once, but the result of that would be infinitely better than the situation she now faced. Maybe.
Perry leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. "You've sure got yourself in a pickle, now haven't you?"
"Thanks, Perry. I figured that one out on my own. Got anything useful to say?"
"Thought you told me to can the sarcasm."
"Perry!" Unable to sit still, Lois got up and started pacing the office. "I really don't know what to do here! I mean, I should tell him right away. I shouldn't keep this from him. If I decide I don't want to marry him, it's just cruel to let him believe I'm thrilled with the idea for weeks and then just drop a bomb on him."
She paused in her pacing to directly face Perry. "But then again, what if I decide I *do* want to marry him? If I've told him I have any doubts at all, will he even want me back? And even if he does, it'll take forever to establish any decent level of trust between us. I mean, basically, I *lied* to him!"
"Now, slow down, honey." Perry held up a hand to forestall any further outbursts. "Sit down."
He stared her down. "I said. Sit. Down."
She heaved a sigh. "Fine."
"Thank you. Now." It was obvious Perry was organizing his thoughts. That's what she liked about him. She knew she would get a reasoned argument. Well, except when she came in with some crazy undercover scheme. Then he usually went off on a rant before letting her go. But that was as much for show as for anything else. He couldn't let the rest of the reporters think that he'd let them *all* start deciding all their own assignments.
"First of all," Perry said. "You did not 'lie' to Lex."
"Yes, I did! And I'm not a liar. Okay," she backtracked. "So, I've bent a few rules…well, laws, actually, when pursuing a story. And I've fudged the truth, a few times… But all in the name of the story! And I guess I've lied a couple times to get annoying dates off my back… But I don't lie to people I care about, I don't do—"
She looked up at him, her eyes wide at his outburst.
"Lois, sit back down."
Sit back down? When had she gotten up? Oh. During her tirade. Oops.
"Sorry," she muttered.
"Now, listen to me, Lois, and you listen good. You didn't lie. You simply had a moment of…miscommunication."
Miscommunication? Yeah, miscommunication. She liked that. Slightly mollified, she allowed herself to relax into the soft embrace of the couch. "But, still, Perry, what am I going to do?"
"Do? Well, now, that depends."
"On what you want."
"But, Perry, I don't know what I want!"
"Lois, honey, think like a reporter. Look at the facts. Are there any gaps? If so, fill them. Then go over all the information you have and make a decision. So, first off, do you love him?"
"Yes. Do you love Lex?"
"I—I—I don't know."
"You know," Perry mused. "Elvis wasn't the first man to propose to Priscilla."
She should have been timing him. She'd known Perry couldn't go long without bringing in an Elvis story. Then again, sometimes Perry's wacky stories ended up bringing a flash of idea, or understanding, so she might as well play along. "He wasn't?"
"Oh, no, sirree." Perry settled back in his chair and Lois stifled a groan. Not a long Elvis story. She didn't think she could handle a long one right now. She had to go figure out if she loved Lex or not.
"One of the colonels on the army bases—"
"You mean the Colonel?"
"What?" Perry was startled out of his Elvis reverie to look at her. "Aw, no, not *the* Colonel. A different one. Anyway, this officer was head over heels for her. He was a mighty handsome fellow. And powerful, too, what with being a colonel and all. And charming. Yup, he was a charmer."
Lois tried not to squirm. Would he just get to the point? Then again, half his Elvis stories didn't have points. So, barring a point, couldn't he just get to the end?
"Now Priscilla was just about to accept his proposal when Elvis started coming around." Perry smiled dreamily at the thought of his favorite couple. Then he turned his attention back to Lois, "You know, Priscilla and this colonel might not have been half bad together, but Elvis… Elvis was her perfect match. And you know what else? She'd have missed that if she'd settled for 'not half bad.' You see what I'm saying?"
No, she didn't.
She sighed and told herself not to be stubborn. Okay. It *seemed* like he was saying that Lex was only 'not half bad,' and she should hold out for someone better. But that made it seem like she was desperate to get married and only considering his proposal because she thought nobody else would have her. And that was crazy. Not to mention impossible — there *wasn't* anyone better than Lex. Well…unless you included Superman.
But that was impossible, too. Superman was a fantasy. He belonged to the world. And no matter how much she might love him, he would never be hers. The thought had been growing in the back of her mind for a while now and really solidified now. She still loved him, she still wanted him, and she still made comments about him — like after Perry's crazy bungee-jump after that whole Superman clone thing a couple weeks ago. She'd told Clark that companionship for Superman wasn't a problem — she was available!
Really, though, regardless of whether or not she was available, companionship for Superman *was* a problem. He was an icon, a celebrity beyond all celebrities. He, and his life, belonged to the world. And there was nothing she or any other person could do about that. Oddly enough, that idea didn't hurt as much as she would have expected it to. Because she was in love with Lex now? She wondered.
Speaking of Lex… It was just ludicrous to say he was only 'not half bad.' But Perry was trying to be helpful, and she had been the one to ask him for advice. She stood up.
"Thanks, Perry. You've given me a lot to think about." *Yeah, so much that I'm more confused than ever.*
"Good. You go…think."
Perry watched Lois leave his office and walk towards the elevator. As soon as the doors slid shut behind her, he leaned back and gave a sigh of relief. One of these days she was going to realize that most of the Elvis stories he told were made up on the spot.
He just hoped it wasn't today.
After stopping at the grocery store for some power food — double chocolate fudge ice cream, a twelve pack of cream soda and watermelon bubble gum — Lois headed home to think. Again.
From what Perry said, it sounded like his advice would be to go tell Lex she couldn't marry him. He offered no nuggets of Elvis wisdom as to *how* she should tell him, though.
But she couldn't just say no based on what Perry thought. She needed to go with what she thought. What was best for her. How was she supposed to know what that was?
She needed to talk to Clark.
No, that was out of the question. Clark had always had a grudge against Lex, for who knew what reason, and there was no way she could expect him to be rational about this. Plus, well…she got the feeling Clark had a bit of a crush on her. And she didn't want to cause him pain. Of course, if she did end up marrying Lex, there was no way around hurting Clark. But that was still in the future. If she decided to turn Lex down, Clark didn't need to know anything about it. At least not until it was over and done with and firmly in the past.
Besides, what was she thinking? She didn't need him to tell her what to do. Lois dug the ice cream scoop harder into the frozen carton to punctuate that thought. She'd gotten along fine in all the years before she'd met Clark and, seeing as how they tended to butt heads on half the decisions they made as partners anyway, she was perfectly capable of making her own decision without him even now.
But it would sure help to talk to him.
Lois shook her head. No. She was not going to go running to Clark.
After setting her ice cream bowl on the kitchen table, she pulled out a pad of paper. It always helped her to write things out. For some reason, seeing things in print seemed to make them more concrete and easier to connect. She decided to start with the question Perry had asked her.
Did she love Lex?
Away from Perry's penetrating gaze, she admitted the truth. She didn't love Lex. She admired him, yes. She respected him, both as a businessman and as a philanthropist. But love? She had to be honest. No, she didn't love him.
Well, wasn't that her answer, there? What kind of marriage could they have without love? Admiration wasn't enough to base an entire lifetime together on. Because if she got married, it *would* be for a lifetime. After what she went through as a kid, there was no way she would ever even consider getting a divorce. If she got married, it would be for keeps.
But Lex loved her. Wasn't that something? And she could grow to love him, couldn't she? Or maybe…maybe marriage without love would be better. Then it would hurt less if it didn't work out.
What was she thinking? 'If it didn't work out'? What kind of attitude was that? If she thought that way, they would be doomed to failure! And, if nothing else were true, she knew this: Lois Lane was not a failure.
She scraped the last vestiges of chocolate from the bowl. Nothing. That's what she had. Nothing. Nothing to help her decide. Nothing to tell her what she should do.
If only Clark…
She took a deep breath to calm herself. No, she was not going to call Clark.
His mother on the other hand… Now that was an idea. Clark's parents had been married for a long time. And they seemed really happy together. Really, really happy. Maybe Martha would have some advice that, unlike Perry's, would actually help. And besides, she'd said that Lois shouldn't hesitate to call her, anytime.
Suddenly remembering the time difference, Lois glanced at the clock. 2:17. Oh, no problem. Her decision made, Lois went to find where she'd stashed the Kents' number.
*Ring.* *Ring.* *Ring.* After three rings, Lois started to worry that they weren't home. Or, worse still, that she was about to interrupt something. Maybe she should just hang up. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Maybe—
"Martha?" Lois said in a hurry and instantly berated herself. Of course it wasn't Martha — that was a man's voice.
"No," he answered pleasantly. "I'll get her for you. May I ask who's calling?"
"Um…" *Bad idea, Lois, bad idea.* "This is Lois. Lois Lane. I don't know if you remember me, but I'm Clark's—"
"Of course we remember you, Lois! Is everything okay? Is Clark…?" His voice trailed off worriedly.
"Oh, no, Clark is fine!" she said, horrified. She knew she shouldn't have called. Look what she'd done — worried Clark's dad over her own selfish desires.
Jonathan's voice relaxed. "Glad to hear it. So how are you doing? The big city still treating you right?"
"Uh, yes. Yes, the city's great."
"Well, here's Martha. Nice to talk to you, Lois."
"You too." Bemused, Lois waited for the phone to change hands. She called out of the blue, after no contact in months, worried him over the well being of his son, and then he acted like he chatted with her every day. No wonder Clark turned out to be so nice.
"Lois!" Martha's voice sounded very pleased. "What a nice surprise! How are you doing?" She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Clark hasn't done anything stupid, now, has he?"
"Oh, no! Clark's fine. I'm fine. Everything's just fine. I just wanted to—" To what? Now that she actually had Martha on the line, Lois had no idea what to say. If it were anybody else, Lois would just blurt it out. Actually, if it were anyone else, Lois wouldn't even be bothering to ask for help in the first place. But for some reason, she really wanted Martha to respect her. And something inside her said Martha would never respect her for considering marrying a man she didn't love.
"What? Oh." Lois realized she had just gone silent, with no explanation. "Sorry."
"Are you okay, Lois?" Martha sounded so sympathetic and sincere that it was all Lois could do not to cry.
Well, here went nothing. "No, actually. No, I'm not."
"Oh, honey, what's wrong?"
"Lex proposed to me last night and I don't know what to do about it."
"Lex Luthor?" Lois heard the uncertainty in Martha's question and could've kicked herself. Of course, Clark would have told his parents his reservations about Lex. Now she was sure this had been a stupid idea.
"Yeah," she mumbled, embarrassed and wondering how she could end this conversation quickly and still save face.
"Oh." Lois could just see Martha blinking in surprise, trying to figure out what to say.
"Never mind, I shouldn't have called you."
"No! No, Lois, it's fine, I was just surprised." Instantly Martha seemed to change gears and focus on trying to help Lois. "You say you don't know what to do about his proposal?"
"Okay. So when does he expect an answer?"
"Um…that's kind of part of the problem." Lois could turn her face turning red. She really didn't want to admit to Martha what an idiot she'd been. "I sort of didn't tell him anything. I was so surprised I didn't know what to say and he took that as a yes and I didn't know how to tell him I wasn't sure without it sounding like a slap in the face and so I didn't say anything at all."
"Oh." Well, at least Martha didn't state the obvious about her 'pickle' as Perry had done. "Well. That does make things a bit more complicated, doesn't it?" For some reason, that didn't sound judgmental at all.
"I guess my first question is, 'what do you wish you had told Lex?' If you hadn't been so surprised, I mean."
Lois sighed. "I don't know. It was all too sudden. I mean, we've only been really going out for a couple weeks and even then it was more like a society thing than a real courtship. At least, that's what I thought."
"So do you love him?"
Here was the moment of truth. Now Martha would tell her what an awful person Lois was. "No." Lois's voice was so small she could barely hear herself. But Martha understood her anyway.
"You know, Lois," Martha said thoughtfully. "Love isn't the most important thing in a marriage."
Huh? "What do you mean?"
"I'm not saying it's not important at all, because it is, but it's not *the* most important thing."
"I'm—I'm not following you, Martha," Lois said with a little laugh to try to cover her discomfort. "Sorry."
"Oh, no, I'm the one who should be sorry, honey. I'm probably not making much sense. Let's see if I can explain this better…" Martha paused in thought and Lois fiddled with her phone cord. Even if Martha couldn't help her with her decision, just talking to the older woman was comforting somehow.
"Okay, I've got it. When I was in high school, my favorite teacher, who also happened to be my favorite babysitter from when I was little, told me, 'Martha, if you only ever listen to one piece of advice in your whole lifetime, listen to this: Marry your best friend.'"
"Marry your best friend?"
"Yes! Don't get me wrong, romance and love certainly have their place, but marriage is so much *more* than that. It's about commitment and respect and laughing together and crying together and snuggling in your pjs on a cold winter's day and challenging each other and talking and arguing and living life together. And who better to do that with than your best friend? Am I making any sense here?"
"I think so. But…what about…um…"
Lois bit her lip and almost laughed. "Yeah. That."
"That's why I said love and romance have their place," Martha said with a laugh. "You do need to have some physical attraction. But remember, when you're old and gray like me, what you're really going to want is someone who understands you and someone you can talk to. And if you still sneak off behind the Dairy Freeze to neck every now and then, so much the better."
"What?" Martha sounded innocent. "I may be old, but I'm not ancient!"
Lois laughed. "Okay. Thanks, Martha. You've been a big help."
"You're welcome, Lois. Call me anytime you want to talk, okay? Not just when you have a problem."
"I will," Lois said softly. "Thanks."
"Oh, and Lois?"
"One more thought before you go. I know it's hard to picture your far off future, but try for just a minute. Picture yourself in fifty years. What do you want to be doing? Who do you want to be doing it with? Is that person Lex? I think the answer to that question will help you answer *your* question."
A shiver ran over Lois. She knew the answer to that question immediately. "Okay." She hung up and then realized she hadn't said good-bye. Somehow she knew Martha would understand.
But she had the answer to her question. In fifty years, she didn't know for sure what she'd be doing — she doubted she'd still be in investigative reporting, simply because it wasn't feasible — but she knew right away who she wanted to be doing it with.
And it wasn't Lex.
"But I don't *love* Clark!" she protested aloud.
*So?* another part of her countered. *You don't love Lex, either, and you were considering marrying him.*
And Clark was already her best friend. And she already talked with Clark, and laughed with Clark, and cried with Clark, and argued with Clark, and respected Clark. And he challenged her in a way no man ever had, not even Lex. Lex paid her compliments all the time, but suddenly they all rang hollow.
When Clark praised her, it was honest. It was true. And when he challenged her, it wasn't to belittle her, but to help her improve. Or keep her safe from one of her foolhardy schemes. Not that she always listened, but at least he meant well.
She was comfortable with Clark. And yet, he still managed to excite her. And, as much as she tried to deny it, there was definitely physical attraction there. All she had to do was remember the glimpse she'd gotten that first morning she'd picked him up and he'd been standing there in nothing but a towel. Oh, yes, definitely physical attraction. Their subsequent kisses — for cover, of course — and contact only served to confirm that.
She didn't have any of that with Lex. Oh, so there was a little bit of excitement, but that was mostly because he purposefully set out to impress her with his riches and his charm. She wasn't excited by *him.* And she definitely wasn't comfortable with him. Sure, she could talk to him one-on-one in a way few other people could, but there was still that subconscious feeling that he felt superior. Little wonder, since almost everyone he dealt with was employed by him in some way or another. But Lois didn't relish dealing with an inferiority complex for the rest of her life.
Making that decision seemed to free something deep inside her and she wanted to sing out her joy.
Better yet, she wanted to go find Clark.
To tell him she loved him. Funny, the thought of baring her soul like that should scare her, even terrify her, but it didn't. This was Clark. This was her best friend. She hoped she was right about him having a crush on her, but even if she wasn't, even if it took a while for love to grow on his side, well, she could wait. Because now she knew where her heart lay and it wasn't with the owner of that giant rock in her purse.
Lois didn't allow herself to think as she parked her jeep and hurried towards Clark's door. If she allowed herself to think, she'd probably come up with some reason to back out of doing this and she didn't *want* to back out.
Doubt assailed her as she lifted her hand to knock. What if he thought she was crazy? What if he laughed in her face? What if he was only interested in being friends? What if he—
The door opened.
"How do you feel about me?" she blurted.
He looked so adorable in his cut-offs, t-shirt, and bare feet. She'd probably caught him in the middle of doing his housecleaning or something. That was another advantage to falling in love with Clark — he made up for all of her deficiencies. Not that she had many, of course. But he was domestic, where she was not. He was patient, where she was not.
Now she only hoped it wasn't also that she was in love, where he was not.
"How do I—feel about you?" She thought she caught a flash of yearning in his expression before he could hide it. Could it be? Was she right that he had a crush on her? Was there a chance that he could…feel more than a crush? She hardly dared let herself hope.
"Yes." She tried to keep her expression as bland as possible even as she barged into the apartment. If she was totally off base, she didn't want to make a complete fool of herself. "How do you feel about me?"
"Lois, you know you're my best friend. What is this about?" Clark sounded so confused. He closed the door and followed her to the couch, where she plopped down. He remained standing.
What she really wanted was to get a confession from him before she told him her side, but now she realized that was probably asking too much. After all, she had told him not to fall for her, way back when they'd barely started working with each other. And she'd made things plenty clear along the way that she was *not* willing for anything more than partners and friends. And *she* had been the one going through the agonies of soul searching this past day, so this was forefront in her mind. It wasn't in his.
"This is about us," she finally said in answer to his question.
"Lois, I don't understand."
"I know you don't," she said, frustrated. "I'm getting there." What was wrong with him? Didn't he know he was supposed to read her mind, figure out exactly what she was talking about and swoop her up and kiss her? Her irritation at her own foolish expectations caused her to snap, "Would you sit down? My neck hurts, craning up to see your face."
Warily, Clark sat down on the furthest edge of the sofa.
"Us." She searched for how to say it.
"You already said that, Lois," he reminded her.
"I know." She fiddled with the zipper pull on her sweatshirt. "Well, basically, I'm wondering if there could be an us."
"Lois, you aren't making any sense." Clark ran a hand through his hair, making it look tousled and messy. And gorgeous. "There *is* an us. We're partners. We're the best reporting team at the Planet since Norcross and Judd."
"No, no, no." Lois waved her hand impatiently to brush that off. "*Us.* As in, us, romantically, us, a couple. Could there ever be an *us*?" Well, there. It was out. And now that it was, she wanted to hide. She held her breath and looked anywhere but at Clark. If there was any semblance of rejection in his gaze, she wasn't sure if she could handle it. All of a sudden, the love that she recognized before intellectually slammed into her, full force.
She *loved* Clark.
With all her heart. With all her being. He was more than a date, more than a boyfriend, he was her *best* friend. Someone she could spend the rest of her life with and never be bored. Someone to talk to, to fight with, to cuddle with, and, yes, to neck with behind the Dairy Freeze. He was someone who could be a companion, a life-mate, a friend *and* a lover.
Hesitantly, Clark asked her, "Do you mean that, Lois?"
She shot a quick glance over at him as he continued talking. He was leaning forward, elbow propped up on his knees, staring intently at her.
"I mean, are you serious?" he continued. "This isn't some joke, or dare, or weird, twisted idea of a prank or—I don't even know what?"
"Of course not!" Lois replied, indignant. "Why would I do that?"
"I don't know, Lois. But you've got to admit, this is kinda coming out of nowhere here."
She paused, considering. He did have a point. After all, she'd been out on a date with Lex just last night. She'd been seeing Lex consistently for a few weeks now, as well as mooning over Superman. Clark must think she was the most fickle of creatures. He didn't know she'd been doing nothing but fighting with her thoughts and emotions and analyzing her feelings and desires for the past twenty hours.
"I know," she whispered. "But I was talking to your mom—"
"Yes, your mom," she retorted.
"Would you just let me get on with the story, Clark?"
"I'm sorry! I just don't understand why you were talking to my mom."
Lois sighed. Was she really going to have to go through all of it? It was too embarrassing. It was too humiliating. It was too cruel to tell him she only realized she loved him because another man proposed to her.
"Tell you what, I'll tell you *after* I finish with the important part."
Clark looked like he was trying to figure out the loophole in that agreement and then acquiesced. "Okay, you were talking to my mom and…?"
"Thank you." She nodded primly and was pleased to see him crack a small smile. "Anyway, I was talking to your mom — getting advice for a decision I had to make." She saw Clark open his mouth, *knew* he was about to ask what the decision was, and then he thought better of it and closed his mouth. Good.
"And she asked me what I saw myself doing in fifty years. And, more importantly, who I saw myself doing it with."
She looked directly into Clark's eyes, hoping he was able to see the sincerity, the depth of her emotion. "And the first person, the only person, that came to mind was you."
Clark's expression softened and she saw him look at her with such tenderness as she had never seen directed at her before. "Me?"
"Yes, you." She wanted to look away, to laugh, to deny the importance of this moment, but she couldn't. "And when I realized that, I realized I loved you. Not as a brother, not as a friend, but as the man I want to spend the rest of my life with."
It was almost comical to watch Clark's eyes widen in shock. Well, since she'd already bared her soul about as much as she could, a little more daring wouldn't hurt any. Quickly, she scooted across the couch, somehow ending up on her knees, facing him. She placed a hand on each of his shoulders and leaned in towards his face. He didn't back away, but he didn't do anything to encourage her either. Slowly, giving him plenty of opportunity to break contact should he choose, she moved closer.
She'd kissed him before. He'd kissed her. But this was different. This wasn't a ploy, this wasn't a cover, this wasn't a good-bye. This was Lois Lane kissing Clark Kent, the man she loved.
As her lips met his, her eyes drifted closed. Nerves filled her and she prayed that he'd respond. With a soft groan, he did, wrapping his arms around her to pull her in closer. She let her hands slip off his shoulders to slide behind him, one running through his hair while the other made tiny circles on his back.
For a moment, their souls touched.
Then Clark pulled back. Fear flooded Lois. What if he was just responding to the physical? He was a man, after all. Or maybe he was taunting her, throwing her declaration back in her face. No, this was *Clark.* He would never do something like that to her.
He just sat there, searching her face for…what? What was he looking for?
"You really mean it, don't you?" he asked.
"Yes." She nodded. This moment became the most important in her life. How he responded would decide the course of their partnership, their relationship.
"I don't know what brought this about," he said, "but I don't think I care." With a deft motion, he flipped her so she was sitting on his lap and he followed what had been the most extraordinary kiss she'd ever experienced with one even more beautiful.
Because in the midst of this one he murmured, "I love you, Lois."
Surprised, overjoyed, she pulled away from him. "You mean it?!"
He crooked a smile at her. "Lois, I've known for a long time that you're the one I want to be with fifty years from now. A hundred years from now. For the rest of my life."
She wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. "Thank God."
He kissed her again. "Thank my mom."
She laughed and snuggled closer to him. "Yes, definitely, thank your mom." Lois sighed happily, content in the closeness she shared with Clark. Her fingers intertwined with his and she leaned her face up for another kiss only to find him looking down on her. He looked as happy as she felt.
"You know what you need to do?" he asked her.
"No, Clark, what do I need to do?" she said back. She was so blissful that he could ask her to fly to China and bring back dinner and she wouldn't care.
"You need to kiss me again."
She was happy to comply. After another round of fantastic kisses, Clark murmured playfully, "You know, you never did tell me why you were talking to my mom in the first place…"
Lois just laughed and kissed him again. "Later, Clark. We've got more important things to do."
Author's Note: I'd like to thank Annie for all her help beta-reading and coming up with a good Elvis story, the NC beach crew for helping me come up with the idea for this story, and the people on the fic boards who were so helpful and supportive with their comments.