By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2005
Summary: Lois *really* wants to know why Clark quit his job during the heatwave. Will he tell her the truth?
This story was written in honour of my friend Chris Carr's birthday. Glad you enjoyed it, Chris, and I hope you had a lovely day! Here's hoping to see some more wonderful fic from you soon. :)
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of property is intended by this work of fiction, which is not written for profit.
Lois leaned back in her chair and stretched, using the movement as a cover for her real purpose. Good. He sat bent over his desk, seemingly engrossed in some papers. Suitably distracted.
She stood in one smooth movement and glided over to his desk. "Feel like walking me home, partner?"
His head swung round and his startled gaze fell on her. "You want *me* to walk you home, Lois?"
"You have a problem with it?"
He scrambled to his feet. "Of course not."
"Good." She smiled at him. Like a lamb…
Her coat hung on the rack behind her desk, where it had languished unworn for days. She reached for it, but Clark took it out of her hands and held it for her. Always the gentleman. She really would have missed that about him.
Okay. She'd have missed an awful lot more than that…
She slid her arms into the coat and allowed Clark to lead her outside into the bitter November cold. Snow crunched under her feet. If anyone had told her, a week ago, that she'd welcome freezing temperatures and treacherous white stuff on the ground, she'd have sent for the nearest shrink. Yet now she felt like celebrating the harsh, wintry landscape.
Lois shook her head. It was another reminder that Superman was safe and, by extension, Metropolis was safe.
And that she had her partner back…
Which was why she'd made him accompany her now.
He was walking beside her, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his long winter coat, apparently lost in his own thoughts.
"Yes, Lois?" He turned to look at her.
Time to strike. A quick, clean blow, giving him no opportunity to predict or evade it.
"Why did you leave?"
"Oh." An odd look crossed his face, but then he shrugged. "Like I said, the heat made me go a bit crazy."
"Uh-uh." She shook her head. "Perry said that. He was giving you an excuse, telling you that he'd forget you'd resigned. So what's the real reason?"
It had been bothering her all afternoon. Last night — or early this morning — when she'd woken to find him packing and he'd announced that he was leaving, she hadn't given much thought to what lay behind his decision. He'd been abandoning Superman. Abandoning *her*.
He turned his attention to something apparently fascinating up ahead. "I told you last night, Lois. I had a job offer. I had a chance to be —"
"Managing Editor of the Smallville Post." She repeated his ridiculous claim. "Clark, don't lie to me."
He halted abruptly. Threw out his arm in protest. "Lois, I am not —"
"Don't compound your lie!" That hurt. The pain surprised her; after all, why should she really care if he lied to her? Continued to lie? She'd lied to him occasionally, after all, without a twinge of conscience.
Yet she didn't want him to lie to her.
"Lois…" He seemed at a loss.
"Clark, there was no job offer at the Smallville Post. I knew it last night, and you know I knew it. But, just to be sure, this afternoon I checked it out. The managing editor of the Smallville Post is a woman called Dolores Fremont. She's in her mid-forties, a long-time Smallville resident with kids in the local high school. Her husband runs the hardware store in town. She's not going anywhere. And she sure doesn't have plans to retire any time soon. You lied to me."
Last night she'd made excuses for him. Had been eager to — she'd hated the dawning realisation that he was actually walking out on her. That he'd even planned to leave without saying goodbye — that she'd have come in to find him gone, except that she'd been working late and had fallen asleep at her desk. She'd concocted a crazy explanation that, because he idolised Superman, he couldn't stay around when Superman was being ordered out of town.
He hadn't contradicted her but, in the cold — very cold — light of day that explanation held no water at all. Did Clark idolise Superman? She couldn't say that for certain. At times he spoke admiringly of the man, yet at other times he seemed cynical and almost critical of him.
Clark didn't answer for a long time. He started walking again, though, and his pace quickened. That spoke volumes.
Finally, he took a deep breath and exhaled. Tendrils of mist curled in front of him. "Lois, why are you doing this?"
"Doing what? Clark, I just asked you a simple question!"
"But it's not a simple question." He sighed. "If it was a simple question, you wouldn't have been calling Smallville to check up on me. Why is it so important to you to know why I almost quit?"
"You did quit." She had to correct him. "And it's important because… It just is, okay?"
"And if I don't want to tell you?" He was getting impatient with her now. But this was too important for her to drop.
<Then you're not the friend I thought you were> The words almost spilled out, but she caught them in time. Friends didn't walk out on each other. Friends didn't refuse to tell each other things. That was exactly the problem here.
*Was* she Clark's friend?
She faked a careless shrug. "I can't make you."
"But if you could, you would." He sighed again. "You're not going to let this drop, are you?"
"Clark, you just walked out on your job last night! You walked out on *us* — our partnership. Don't you think I have a right to ask why?"
He halted again. Swung around to face her. "You think I *wanted* to do that?"
"Yeah? So what was making you?"
"No, I see you're not going to let it drop." He rolled his eyes. "Lois, please, can't you just let it go?"
"Not when you walked out on our partnership!"
That was what she'd spent most of the afternoon brooding about. Oh, sure, Superman was exonerated, and it was all her doing. She was a hero in the newsroom, and through much of the city. She should have been exhilarated. On cloud nine.
But, instead, a black shadow had clouded the joy she should have been feeling. The memory of Clark's defection. He'd just walked out, giving her a threadbare excuse she'd known was false and which, even now, he'd still tried to make her believe was true. And, instead of telling her the truth once she'd told him she knew he was lying, he'd reacted with indignation that she'd dared to challenge him.
So much for partners.
He was silent again. She gave a frustrated sigh, then resumed walking. He fell into step beside her.
Just as she was about to tell him that she could find her way home on her own, that she didn't need his company, he spoke again. "Lois, I'm sorry. I obviously hurt you by leaving, and now I feel like I'm only hurting you more by not telling you why."
"Hurt me?" A strangled laugh escaped her. "What makes you think that?"
"Lois!" Now he sounded frustrated again. "You just told me not to lie to you. I don't want you to lie to me either! I hurt you. And I'm sorry."
"Yes, you did!" Okay, he could hear the truth, even if he wasn't so sold on telling it. "I needed you, Clark. And last night I told you so. Yet you left anyway."
And it had cost her more than she could afford to lay those feelings on the line. Lois Lane *never* needed anyone. And certainly never told anyone that she needed them.
His head lowered. "I didn't have a choice, Lois."
And what was that supposed to mean? "So you say. But you still won't tell me why."
"Can't or won't?"
He didn't answer. After several seconds, she said, "Okay, so I'll ask Superman."
He stumbled and almost lost his footing. "You'll — why would you do that?"
It had been a stab in the dark. But it looked as if she'd hit the bullseye.
Time for another strike. "Because I think Superman knows whatever it is you're not telling me."
He shrugged, but the gesture looked awkward. "There's no reason that he would know."
"He does, though. What's more, I think your reason *is* to do with Superman."
He glanced at her; his expression was strained. "What makes you so sure?"
She shrugged, stifling a triumphant grin. "You just confirmed it."
"Just now. And you know you did it, too. Come on, Clark, I'm an investigative reporter! I know when someone's hiding something, and I know when I'm getting close to the truth, too."
She'd been very stupid where Clark Kent was concerned. That was now clear. She really hadn't paid him all that much attention. In the beginning, she'd tried to ignore him, though he hadn't made that easy. He'd made her notice him. Made her take him seriously. But she'd still treated him as a… well, like a wall, really. Like a wall, he was just there. He propped things up — propped her up daily. He was necessary, but barely visible. Unnoticed when present, but he'd be badly missed if absent.
This brief conversation, if it could even be called that given his uncommunicativeness, was revealing that there was a lot more to Clark than she'd guessed. There was something going on here. And it involved Superman. How, though? Nothing came immediately to mind. But she would find out. There was no doubt whatsoever about that. She *always* got to the bottom of things when she set her mind to it.
"You don't need to investigate me." Was that defensiveness in his voice? Was he worried?
"I think maybe I do, Clark. I think there's a mystery surrounding you, and I want to find out what it is."
"There's no mystery." Yes, he was definitely on the defensive. "I'm just an ordinary guy. A Kansas farmboy, like you've reminded me often enough."
She tilted her head to one side and studied him. An ordinary guy? Yes, perhaps. But he was hiding something, all the same. The question was: what? And what did Superman know about it? Why was he so anxious for her *not* to ask Superman about him?
Okay. That confirmed her decision. Her new project: investigate Clark Kent. Find out what the enigma was. What he was trying so hard to stop her from finding out.
"I don't buy that, Clark. And I'm warning you: either you tell me what it is or I'm going to find out on my own."
He halted again and pivoted to face her. "Lois." His face was pale, his jaw clenched. "Please. I'm asking you — as my *friend* — to leave it alone. I don't know why this is so important to you, anyway. I was stupid last night. But I came to my senses today and I'm back. Isn't that all that matters?"
She put her hands on her hips and met his gaze. "It would've been, except you've made it very clear that it was something important and you won't tell me what it was."
"And that rouses the insatiable Lois Lane curiosity." He sighed and dropped his gaze from hers again. "I should have known."
"You think I'm just pushing you because I hate mysteries?"
"Well, aren't you?"
"Not this time!" Damn. She hadn't intended that to come out as… resentful… as that.
"Why, then?" His voice was softer, his frustration less obvious.
"You want to know why it matters to me?" He really needed to be told? He'd already acknowledged that he'd hurt her — did he think he could just apologise casually as if it wasn't that big a deal?
"Okay, then. You just asked me, as your *friend*, to drop it. You really think of me as your friend?"
"Of course I do, Lois!"
"Well, it didn't feel like it last night. It doesn't feel like it now."
His head jerked up and he stared at her, his expression aghast. "Lois, how can you say that?"
"Easy!" she retorted. "You lied to me! Last night, and again now. And you won't tell me the truth even when you know I know you're lying."
His mouth twisted. "Do friends always have to tell each other the truth? Can't one friend just occasionally respect the other's need for… for privacy?"
"Secrecy, you mean."
"If you must call it that." He shook his head. "Lois, don't friends have that right?"
She hesitated. Didn't he have a point? If she *was* his friend, she'd respect his wishes, wouldn't she?
But, at the same time, his refusal to tell her grated. Hurt. If he was *her* friend, he wouldn't hide things from her!
He was speaking again. "I'm sorry, Lois. I guess I just didn't realise that you'd be hurt by what I did. I suppose I thought I was the only one who'd describe us as friends."
She blinked. Why would he think that? Didn't he know that he mattered to her?
Had she really been that cold? That obnoxious? So unwilling to let him see what he meant to her?
But then, that was quite possible. After all, she'd barely realised herself what he meant to her.
All the same… "Don't you remember Smallville, Clark? When Trask almost killed you?"
His expression softened. "Yeah. I… that hug meant a lot to me, Lois."
A connection, like an invisible thread, seemed to form between them as he met and held her gaze. Like last night, it drew her inexorably closer to him. The world around them faded away and all she could see, all she could think of, was him. The way he was looking at her. The softness, the affection, in his eyes.
There was a bond between them. Something intimate. Something… tying the two of them together, uniting them against the rest of the world.
She blinked and looked away. Getting close to someone — anyone — scared her. Getting close to Clark was terrifying.
After the way he'd touched her last night, she'd had butterflies in her stomach for ages. And the way he'd looked at her when he'd come back this morning had sent her thoughts skittering in all directions.
She didn't let herself care about people. Couldn't let herself care. Any time she let someone get close to her, she got hurt. Even the thought of letting someone into her life as a friend presented danger. Friends could betray as easily as lovers did.
Clark was different. Wasn't he?
And anyway, it was already too late for caution. Too late to tell herself not to let him in. He was already there, had already taken up residence in her life, in her heart, as the sort of friend she'd never had before.
Could she trust him?
Or should she retreat again, back to the safe place where she didn't admit anyone into the rite of friendship? Where she held Clark at arm's length, closed herself off to make sure that he couldn't get near enough to hurt her?
She probably should. After all, he'd just refused to be honest with her about why he'd walked out on her. He'd already hurt her.
On the other hand, the way he'd looked at her just now…
That look said that she could trust him.
If she dared to take the chance…
Slowly, she raised her head and met his gaze again. "Clark, I have to tell you something."
He nodded. "Okay. Want to walk on?"
That would be a lot easier. She wouldn't have to look at him. Nodding, she began to stroll again. "I realised something this morning, Clark. When I came into work, everyone — and I mean *everyone* — was being nice to me. Bringing me things. Patting my shoulder. Saying comforting things. Even Cat. And I lost it. Told her to stop. I said that everyone was acting like I'd lost my best friend or something."
His hand touched her arm briefly. "I'm sorry, Lois. I didn't —"
She interrupted him. "And then I realised that I had."
He halted. Stopped her with a motion of his hand.
"Oh, Lois." And he turned her towards him and took her in his arms. She went, allowing him to hold her. She tucked her head into the crook of his shoulder and his hand stroked her hair. And she was comforted. Warmed. Cared for. "You're my best friend too. Don't you know that? You were the one thing that made me hesitate last night, Lois. If I hadn't *had* to go, I could never have left you."
"Really?" She pulled back to stare up at him.
"Really. I love working with you. Spending time with you. I've been so happy that we're becoming friends."
"But you left." And he *had* to see now that she was still hurting because he'd walked out on her.
After a while, he spoke again. "I'm sorry. I didn't think about what I was doing to you. Well, not until we spoke last night. But I didn't think I had any choice."
Any choice about what? She wanted to ask him, but he'd made it clear that he didn't want to answer. That, as his friend, he didn't want her to ask. Maybe, too, part of friendship was not pushing for answers the friend didn't want to give.
Yet he was holding out on her. And she *hated* knowing that someone was holding out on her…
"Lois, I know you're hurt because I won't tell you why I left. But can I promise you something?"
She tilted her head to look up at him again. "What?"
"I will tell you why. Not yet, but some day. You have my word on that."
She wanted to push him. Make him tell her now. Insist that she had a right, as his best friend, to know. Or ignore it but find out on her own.
And then she realised that she had a choice to make. She could investigate him, get to the bottom of the mystery she now knew existed, but in the process betray him and more than likely lose this fledgling close friendship they'd formed. Or she could accept his promise. Believe that one day he would tell her what he was hiding. And from now on have the kind of friend she'd never even imagined possible.
"Lois?" Her silence was putting a worried look on his face.
She took a deep breath. If this friendship meant anything, it was time to take a leap of faith.
"Okay, Clark. I won't ask any more. I trust you to tell me when you're ready."
A whoosh of breath escaped him. And he smiled at her. It was a warm, affectionate, caring smile, and it warmed her from the inside out. It made her glad that she'd chosen the right path — that she'd decided to claim this man as her friend.
"Thank you, Lois. I appreciate it — more than I can say."
Okay. So he had secrets. So did she, if she was honest. Admittedly, she'd told him more than one of hers — and that was one reason why it galled her that he wasn't telling her this. But that was his prerogative. She was going to respect it.
And he was right: whatever his reason for leaving, he'd come back. The truly weird thing was that even Superman's return hadn't banished the hollow feeling she'd had inside when she'd come into the newsroom and seen the empty desk. No Clark.
She hadn't felt truly happy again until he'd walked into the newsroom carrying that idiotic cardboard box of his.
Superman was special to her in many ways. Clark was… her best friend.
She looked up at him again. He was still holding her loosely, and a flash of memory came to her. Last night. Barely awake, hot and exhausted, trying to get to grips with Clark's crazy story about leaving… and he'd bent over her and caressed her face very gently. Then he'd astonished her by brushing his lips softly over hers before walking away.
A kiss goodbye. A Judas kiss, she'd insisted in the aftermath, once his departure — his betrayal — had truly sunk in.
Impulse made her stretch up. Before the doubts warring inside her head could get the better of her, she touched her lips to his. Just a tentative, brief kiss, and over in seconds.
His eyes widened and his arms tightened around her. "What was that for?"
She hastened to explain. "Last night you kissed me goodbye."
"Yeah, I remember." His expression told her how sad he'd been to do it.
"I figured we needed a kiss hello. And to seal our friendship."
He grinned. "Excellent idea."
For an instant, she wondered if he'd misunderstood. If he was going to cross the line between friendship and… more. And a faint excitement warred with sheer terror.
But, instead, he drew her back into his arms. Relief coursed through her, and she relaxed against him, enjoying the protective, affectionate embrace. If this was what being Clark's friend meant, she'd definitely made the right decision.
His lips brushed her hair. And he murmured, "Friends, Lois."
He released her. Offered her his arm. And, as the snow began to fall again, they walked together into the night. Going home, and towards a new beginning.