By Erin Klingler <email@example.com>
Submitted: December 2006
Summary: When Lucy calls to say she's getting married, Lois is determined not to let her sister ruin her life chasing the impractical myth called love. But, sometimes, just when you think it's someone else's life you're fixing, your own life comes sharply into view and surprising revelations ensue.
It has been a long time since I've written anything, so this was exciting, nerve-wracking, and therapeutic, all at the same time. I just hope you that enjoy reading this even half as much as I enjoyed writing it. It was nice to feel "back in the game." :)
I have to admit, though, I was very nervous about dipping my toe into the writing pool after having been away from it for so long, but LabRat was so very kind and willing to beta read this for me when I emailed her, pleading for help. She had so many encouraging things to say, and that gave me the courage to keep working on it. Thanks, Labby! I owe you one. :) Also, thanks to CC Aiken, for humoring me by taking a look at a very early rough draft of this and encouraging me to keep going. I may not have attempted to finish this without you two. Thanks, guys!
Feedback and constructive criticism always welcome. :)
"What do you mean, you're getting married?!" Lois sputtered, clutching the phone more tightly to her ear. "Lucy, are you *insane*?"
As her sister started to answer—clearly not understanding that it had been meant as a rhetorical question—Lois tuned out and tried to digest what she'd just been told.
Lucy? Engaged? No, surely, she must have heard wrong. Lucy wasn't getting married. Couldn't be getting married. Not to Mr. All-Brawn-And-No-Brains. The guy was a barbarian. Raw eggs in a glass for breakfast. Red meat for practically every meal. Who ate like that? Certainly not a normal person. But that was Lucy's problem right there. Since when did Lucy fall for anybody normal?
Gathering steam, Lois's hand clenched the phone even more tightly and launched into her protest, cutting off Lucy's feeble explanation. "Lucy, you hardly *know* this Neanderthal! You met him on your vacation to Los Angeles…what? Four months ago? That's hardly enough time to get to know somebody, let alone build a relationship!"
She listened another moment as Lucy reminded her that Lois, herself, had met him—granted, only fifteen minutes on a Saturday morning over coffee—but had said she'd liked him. Lois hurried to correct that misconception.
"I never said that I liked him," Lois argued, turning to pace across the kitchen. "All I said was that at least he didn't seem to be a scumbag like your last boyfriend, who, I don't have to remind you, turned out to be a cyborg, kidnapped Clark, and tried to kill Superman!"
That silenced her sister. For a few moments, at least. But when Lucy had recovered, her voice was softer, pleading.
"Lois, please," she asked in earnest. "Can't you be a little more supportive about this? Brian's not a Neanderthal. He's a great guy. And he loves me. We love each other. Why can't you understand that?"
A small pang in the area around her heart made Lois catch her breath. Love. What was that? As much as she longed to know, she *didn't* know. And certainly her little sister didn't know. The thought of true love was wonderful and fairytale and all that, but real? She doubted it.
Lois bit down on her lower lip and waited for the pang to ease. With everything she'd been through in the last few months, she, of all people, had reason to doubt love. After having given much thought to the matter, she'd at last come to the conclusion that love was just that—a fairytale. Something that was talked about and dreamed of, but didn't truly exist. If it did, *she'd* never seen it. Not with her parents…not with Claude…not with Lex…not with anybody.
Her sister's voice brought her back to their conversation and she didn't miss the defeat in Lucy's voice. "Lois, all I'm asking is that you give Brian a chance. He's flying in next week and Mom is planning on throwing us an engagement party that Saturday. You'll be there, right?"
Lois considered making up some excuse and saying she was busy, but Lucy's voice came across the line again.
It was the voice her little sister had used successfully on her for years—the plea that Lois had never been able to refuse. Apparently, it still worked.
Releasing a heavy sigh, Lois rolled her eyes and dropped down onto her sofa. "Fine," she muttered. "Tell me what time and where."
Lucy's voice perked up at Lois's acceptance, and Lois made note of the details. Then, with a hasty 'goodbye,' she hung up the phone.
Lucy. In love. Getting married.
Drawing in a deep, cleansing breath, Lois stood up and headed for the kitchen. It was time for chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
Walking into the kitchen, she opened the freezer and reached for the half-gallon container of Chocolately Chocolate Chip ice cream. Her heart skipped a beat when she realized it felt alarmingly light. Anxious, she didn't even bother shutting the freezer door. She ignored the cold clouds of air pouring out around her from the compartment as she pried the lid off the ice cream carton and peered inside.
It wasn't full, but it would do. At least she couldn't see the bottom of the container. Turning, she elbowed the freezer door shut and reached for a spoon in the drawer.
"Married," Lois muttered around her first spoonful of ice cream. "How can she even consider getting married?"
She shook her head in disapproval and took another bite. Knowing her sister's romantic soul, she supposed she could understand that her sister might see something as glamorous as a wedding to be the ultimate in romantic. But Lois knew better. Weddings were definitely overrated.
Her stomach turned as she thought of her own disastrous wedding. 'Non-wedding,' she hurried to correct herself. Not only had she changed her mind at the last minute and made a fool of herself in front of a room full of important people, but she'd realized just how much of a fool she'd been for not seeing Lex for who—or what—he was.
Her chest tightened and her eyes felt moist. How could she not have seen it? Somehow Clark had known. He'd never quit warning her about him. He'd been adamant, and still she'd ignored his warnings. He was her best friend and she'd hurt him.
But still he'd been there for her. After the dust had settled, he was there, helping her pick up the pieces of her shattered life.
A little bit of warmth crept back into her heart. Clark was amazing…had *been* amazing. Thanks to his kindness and gentle patience, what had seemed unmanageable had become manageable. She had his broad shoulders to help shoulder her load, and the countless times they had spent talking had made a huge difference. She was finally starting to heal. It had been a slow and painful process. She knew Clark, though, had been a big part of that healing process. He could have said 'I told you so' a hundred times over, but never once had he spoken the words. He'd been kind and sympathetic, and had given her a shoulder to cry on these last few months.
He was her support system, her rock. It had felt so good to spend time with him again, to feel comfortable and safe. He had been an amazing friend over the past few months, and she knew she wouldn't have made it through without him.
An amazing friend.
Tears of a different nature filled Lois's eyes. Quickly, she shoved another bite of chocolate ice cream into her mouth as a balm.
Yes, he was her friend. Her best friend. She supposed that was a step in the right direction. Before meeting Clark, men had become the bane of her existence. But Clark had slowly changed her mind. Some men were tolerable. Comfortable and trustworthy, even. The very notion that she could call men that told her she'd come a long way.
Having a man for a friend—a best friend—had succeeded in proving something to herself. It proved that she could share her life peacefully (well, maybe not always peacefully, she thought with a smile, if she were to be completely honest with herself about her up-and-down relationship with Clark) with a man. But why couldn't she find a man to love, who loved her in return…a man who she felt as comfortable with as Clark, who wanted to be more than just a friend?
When Clark had told her that day in the park that he loved her, it had been awkward. She'd had to tell him she didn't feel that way about him, and their relationship had suffered because of it. But that tiny seed he'd planted had continued to grow in her mind as her wedding preparations continued, and by the time she'd stepped into her wedding gown prior to walking down the isle, she realized she had stronger feelings for Clark than she'd ever let herself hone up to.
The realization had been astounding. Clark loved her. She was beginning to love him.
Ever since she and Lucy had been little girls, they had talked about and dreamed of the day when they would meet their handsome princes, fall in love, and live happily ever after. The harsh reality of life and love had made Lois cynical over the years, but somewhere deep within her heart, that dream still lived on, even though she refused to believe it was possible.
But then, for the first time in her life, the prospect of being in a loving, committed relationship with a man as good as Clark loomed larger than life and appeared to be more than just an unattainable dream. It was real, and within her heart she felt the first stirrings of hope.
But in the end, Clark's confession of love that day in the park had turned out to be a cruel hoax. Just when she'd worked up the nerve to tell Clark how she was beginning to feel about him, he'd interrupted her and told her he hadn't really meant it when he'd said he loved her—that it was just a desperate, last ditch attempt to keep her from marrying Lex.
She'd been crushed. What could she have said to that? There'd been no way she could have confessed to her growing feelings for Clark after that kind of confession. So, she'd squashed whatever growing feelings she had for him back into a little, undisturbed corner of her heart and forced herself to move on. She had to. It hadn't been easy, but she'd come to realize the hard way that having Clark in her life as a friend was better than not having him in her life at all.
When she spent many an evening crying on Clark's shoulder over her doubts and insecurities that had arisen from having been involved with a man like Lex, she never once let on that those weren't the only reasons why her heart was aching.
She could talk to Clark about a lot of things, but not about this. Never about this. How could she tell him that, even above the feelings of being betrayed by Lex, she was hurting because she was seriously doubting that she was capable or even worthy of being loved?
But apparently Lucy was. As much as Lois hated to admit it, her sister seemed truly happy. She'd seemed to have found "it," whatever "it" was. And that made the ache even deeper.
A tear slid down her cheek. She reached up with the hand still clenching the spoon and wiped the tear away with the back of her hand. Sniffling, she looked down into the carton of melting chocolate ice cream.
Sadly, even chocolate ice cream wasn't cutting it tonight. That meant she was going to have to resort to her other balm.
Setting what was left of the ice cream down on the counter, she opened the cupboard doors beneath the sink and reached for the bucket of cleaning supplies.
Clark soared over the darkened city, glad that it was quiet tonight. The past week had kept Superman busy—a jewelry store robbery, a fire in an old warehouse down by the docks, a gang fight in the bad part of town… He was relieved to see that there didn't seem to be much needing his attention tonight.
By force of habit, Clark steered himself toward Lois's apartment. In the past months since the Luthor fiasco, he'd spent most of his free time with Lois. She'd needed a friend, as well as a shoulder to cry on, as she worked to put her life back together. He made it a point to drop by often, usually after Superman's nightly patrol. He'd come to learn that it was just before bedtime when the toughened exterior she put on for public display would start to crumble, and the self-doubt resulting from Luthor's betrayal and deceit would start to creep back in.
They'd spent many hours talking, often into the early hours of the morning, about the pain that opening her heart to yet another man and being crushed in the process had caused. It tore at his heart to see her so broken and shattered.
More than anything, he longed to comfort her and tell her that he was one man who loved her and would never hurt her, but he knew that wasn't what she needed right now. She had enough things to deal with in her life, and he didn't want to be the source of any more turmoil or conflict. So, as much as he longed to share his feelings for her and maybe one day have them returned, he decided he needed to wait.
He'd forced himself to be patient, and had instead put all his love for her into the role of a sympathetic friend. He'd given her a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, and was grateful to accept the little piece of her heart that she had to share.
Time seemed to be doing its part to heal her heart, but he suspected she still had some demons buried deep within her soul that time might not mend so easily. At least the healing process was taking place, he continued to remind himself, and she seemed to be well on the way back to becoming her normal self. She smiled much more frequently these days, and the expression was genuine. It hadn't escaped his notice, either, that that beautiful smile of hers seemed to come more often and more freely when she was around him.
His heart warmed at the thought. It was at times like those when he found the words of love on the tip of his tongue, but he continued to bite them back and wait for a better time to express them in the future.
Veering left in the starlit sky, he steered himself towards Lois's apartment. A quick peek inside drew him up short.
Lois was in her kitchen, wearing long yellow gloves and yielding a scouring brush as she attacked the tile on her counter with a ferocity rarely seen during such a task. His gaze shifted to the left. A tub of chocolate ice cream sat, melting, on the counter.
Uh-oh. Intense scrubbing. Chocolate ice cream.
Melting and forgotten chocolate ice cream, at that.
This was bad. Very bad.
Recognizing that this looked to be one of those times when she needed his sympathetic ear, he landed in the deserted alley behind her apartment and spun into Clark's clothes. He was knocking on Lois's apartment door moments later.
Lois answered, looking just as he'd seen her from above. Gloves. Hair pulled up in a hasty, disheveled ponytail. White T-shirt and baggy jeans. A red flannel shirt thrown hastily over her T-shirt and hanging open, unbuttoned. If it hadn't been for the glowering expression on her face, he would have thought she looked beautiful.
"What are you doing here?" she grumbled as she moved away from the open door and turned to stalk back into the kitchen.
He fought with the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. "It's nice to see you, too, Lois," he said as he stepped inside and shut the door behind him. He followed her into the kitchen where she'd resumed her scrubbing.
Leaning back against the opposite counter, he watched her scrub viciously at the grout for a long minute. When she didn't say anything, he ventured, "Want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" she mumbled. "What makes you think I have anything to talk about?"
"Oh, I don't know…maybe the fact that you've scrubbed the entire top layer off that tile?" He grinned. Then is tone turned solemn. "What's wrong?"
She made a little noise of disgust and scrubbed harder. "Nothing's wrong. Not really. I mean, what should be wrong with my sister calling me to tell me she's getting married in two weeks? Nothing could be wrong with that, right?"
Clark winced. It was impossible to miss the heavy sarcasm in her voice, and Clark decided he'd better tread carefully. He didn't understand what was so bad about Lucy getting married, but something about it had upset Lois.
"Your sister's getting married? That's great," he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. When she turned to give him a murderous glare, he swallowed. "Uh-oh, that's not great?"
"Clark, you don't get it," she said, attacking the grout on her counter once more with such ferocity that Clark wasn't sure the tile would survive. "Lucy's just a kid. She doesn't know what love is. If she ends up marrying this guy, she's just going to get hurt and her life's going to be a mess. I don't want to see that happen."
"Now, Lois," he soothed. "Just because you had a bad experience…okay, a couple of bad experiences," he altered when she cast another harsh look his way, "doesn't mean marriage—or even love, for that matter—is such a terrible thing. It *can* work, you know."
"Oh, yeah?" Lois shot back, slamming her container of cleanser down on the counter and sending up a plume of white dust. She whirled and glared at him, her expression challenging. "Give me one example of who it worked for?"
"My parents." Clark met her gaze without blinking. "They've been happily married for over thirty years. I think it goes to show that marriage isn't always bad. There is such a thing as true love."
Lois's anger softened. She slumped against the counter and lifted a yellow-gloved hand to her forehead to brush back a few stray strands of hair from her face. "Yeah, well…maybe you're parents are just the exception to the rule. Heaven knows I wasn't the exception."
For a moment, Clark thought he caught a look of deep, vulnerable sadness in her eyes. But before he could be sure, she straightened and pulled off her gloves. "Anyway, I just don't want Lucy to have to go through what I did, or find out down the road that marrying this guy was all a big mistake."
"How do you know it would be?" Clark asked, his tone gentle. "Have you even met him?"
"Once." Lois sighed and tossed her gloves onto the counter behind her. "For fifteen minutes." She shrugged. "He seemed like an okay guy, but what do I know? The last guy I thought was 'okay' and ended up almost marrying turned out to be psychotic criminal instead of a world-renowned philanthropist. That says a lot about *my* judgment."
Clark's voice was sympathetic. "Lois, we've talked about this before. Luthor fooled everybody. You can't blame yourself for not seeing him for who he was."
Lois pushed off from the counter and grabbed a wet dish towel from the sink to begin wiping down the tile. "Yeah, well, obviously I'm not the only one who doesn't see people for who they are. Lucy's just as bad. Look at her track record! Her last boyfriend turned out to be a cyborg that tried to kill Superman."
Clark cringed. He remembered that situation all too well.
"Anyway," Lois went on. "Apparently, I wasn't the only one surprised by Lucy's announcement. My mom's freaking out because she insists she can't throw a proper wedding in two weeks time, but my sister insists she wants something small and no-fuss. She even asked me to be her maid of honor." She looked at Clark and rolled her eyes. "Can you imagine that? Me, in some horrible bridesmaid's dress?"
Clark didn't respond, figuring what Lois needed right now was to let off some steam. He watched her finish wiping down the counters in silence. When he wasn't sure she would say anything else, she spoke again.
"The thing is," she said in a small voice, her back still to him, "she seems…happy."
Clark caught the hitch in her voice, and his heart lurched as he realized she was close to tears. Straightening, he pushed away from the counter and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Aside from her concern for her sister's happiness, there was something going on here.
"Lois, what's this really about?" he asked, his voice compassionate. "I sense there's more to this than Lucy's announcement. I'm here, you know, if you want to talk about it."
She didn't respond for a long moment, but then turned under his hand to face him.
"It's just…" she began, her lower lip quivering.
Clark's heart went out to her and he reached for her hand. Pulling her gently from the kitchen, he steered her toward the couch. "Come on," he urged, his manner tender.
She surprised him by following him without protest, then sat down beside him on the couch. "So, what's going on?" he asked once more.
Reaching up to wipe a tear from her cheek, she gave a defeated shrug. "It just doesn't seem fair," she began. "My life is in the toilet while everything seems to be going right for Lucy. I mean, I still think she's making a huge mistake by jumping into marriage like this, but…she really does seem happy. What's wrong with me that my life has to be such a shambles?"
When the first tear was followed by two, then three and four, Clark did the same thing he did on each of these occasions over the last couple of months. He reached out and pulled her in for a hug. Slipping his hand into her hair, he cradled her face against her shoulder and muttered soothing words of sympathy. He held her for a long time as she cried, wishing he had the magic words to say that would fix everything she felt was wrong with her life.
At last her tears subsided and she pulled away, wiping at the smudged mascara under her eyes. She gave a self-deprecating laugh. "Sorry. I seem to be dissolving into this same blubbering mess around you a lot lately."
"That's okay." He spoke tenderly, reaching up to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "That's what I'm here for."
She captured his hand and held it against her cheek for a long moment, closing her eyes at the contact. Clark's heart began to pound in his chest as he studied the beautiful face against his hand—the long, dark lashes of her closed eyelids fanning out against the porcelain skin, slightly blotchy from crying; the tiny worry lines around her eyes that had only recently appeared after Luthor's ill-fated jump and ultimate demise; and the full, enticing lips that had quivered against her tears not long ago.
The thumb of his hand that she still held captured under hers moved on its own accord, and he trailed it along the smooth skin of her face in a loving caress. Her lips parted slightly as she gave a contented sigh, and his gaze dropped to her lips once more. He fought for all he was worth to keep himself from leaning in and pressing his lips to hers.
The clock in the corner began to chime, and the spell was broken. Lois's eyes drifted open and she released his hand, sending a mixture of sadness and relief through his body.
He cleared his throat. "Well. It's getting late. I guess I should be going."
He stood up quickly, already bent on giving himself another strong talking to about not overstepping his bounds, but he caught the glimmer of disappointment in Lois's eyes. He froze beside the couch. "Unless…" he stammered, uncertain. "Unless you want me to…?"
"Stick around?" Lois offered a smile and stood up beside him. She shook her head and gave him a sheepish smile. "You've already put up with enough from me tonight. I'm sorry I unloaded all that on you."
"You never need to apologize, Lois," he told her, his voice sincere. "I'm always here for you. You know that."
She nodded and gave him a grateful smile. "I know. Thank you, Clark."
Then, to his surprise, she stepped forward and slid her arms around his waist, hugging him tightly and burying her face against his chest. His heart soared. He slipped his arms around her and returned her embrace, feeling as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.
Dropping his head to her hair, he closed his eyes and breathed in the heady scent of her shampoo that he'd come to know well over the past few months. For long moments he savored the feeling of her in his arms, the feel of her warm body pressed against his. It wasn't that he hadn't held her before—he'd held her often over the past few months as she'd needed a shoulder to cry on—but he couldn't remember her ever initiating the contact before.
He knew why he'd had to take back his declaration of love for her shortly after the whole Luthor fiasco, but in many ways he wished he hadn't. Maybe then he'd be free to hold her like this all the time, to be able to love her openly, and to tell her over and over again how much he loved her.
As it was, he had to settle for loving her in secret. He hated keeping his feelings for her to himself, but at least this way they could be together. He wasn't sure she would have stuck around if he'd tried to forge a relationship with her when her life had been in so much turmoil as it had been theses past few months.
No, it was better this way. Even if he hated it.
In a muffled voice, he heard her say, "I appreciate all you do for me, Clark. You're my best friend."
The words—heartfelt and meaningful—drove the hurt more painfully into his heart.
It should have been enough, but somehow it wasn't. He doubted it ever would be. Not when his feelings for her only continued to grow stronger every day.
Putting on a brave face when Lois pulled back and looked up at him, he forced a smile and tried to control the tremor in his voice. "I'm glad I could help," he managed before moving away, needing the distance to maintain his composure.
He took a few steps toward the door and she followed. "If you need me, you know where to find me," he said.
She nodded. "Thanks again, Clark."
Saying a quick goodnight, he slipped out the door and hurried down the hall. The corners of his mouth tugged down into a frown as he exited the building and stepped out into the night.
It was hard, this balancing act he was doing. He loved her and wanted to be there for her, but he also wanted to love her as she deserved to be loved. He wanted to be able to tell her that's how he felt. But he knew he couldn't.
He shook his head in despair. Sometimes he wished he had a superpower to help him fight the longings of his heart.
Lois closed the door behind Clark and locked it, then moved back into the kitchen. Feeling troubled, she frowned as she thought about Clark's expression when she'd moved out of his embrace. For a split second, she'd seen a look of frustration and despair in his eyes.
What had caused that? she fretted. She hadn't said something to hurt him, had she?
'I wouldn't be surprised,' the little voice in the back of her head accused. 'You weren't exactly nice to him tonight.'
She sighed. She supposed that was true. It was just that the news of Lucy's engagement had come as such a shock. Clark had at least seemed happy about it.
Smiling and shaking her head, she started to put away her cleaning supplies. Why wouldn't Clark be happy about it? He saw the good in everybody and believed in true love. She wouldn't have been surprised to discover that beneath that handsome, rugged exterior beat the heart of a hopeless romantic.
Of course he'd think the idea of Lucy falling in love and getting married was good. Only Clark could be so unjaded by the idea of love. But then, look at how he'd grown up. He'd had parents who loved him and loved each other. She'd seen that for herself and had been shocked to discover that people could be as happy as they were together.
Her experiences, however, had been much, much different. She lived in the real world—a world that dealt with divorce, betrayal, and hidden agendas disguised as love.
Love? No way. It may exist in small towns in Kansas, but here in the real world, it didn't exist.
With that last, depressing thought, Lois finished putting away the cleaning supplies and headed into her room. It was late, and she was tired…tired of feeling down and discouraged, tired of feeling jaded by love, tired of everyone having their happiness but herself.
After changing into her pajamas and climbing into bed, she stared out her bedroom window at the dark, night sky and envisioned the stars above that she couldn't see for the city lights. Closing her eyes, she made a heartfelt wish on those stars—a wish for a better life…a life filled with happiness and love.
Even if love didn't really exist.
When she woke up the next morning, she felt better, less emotional. Her mind was clearer, and for the first time since Lucy's phone call, she felt more capable of looking at things objectively.
As she dressed, she remembered her silly star wishing the night before and laughed at herself. It was something she and Lucy had often done as children. She couldn't believe her life had gotten so messed up that she would think that something as silly as wishing on a star could make anything better.
No, only she could make things better, and it was time to take things into her own hands. If she thought her life was a mess, it was up to her to straighten it out.
Feeling more empowered, she headed into the shower and get ready for work. As she went through her morning routine, she found herself replaying her phone conversation with Lucy.
Love. There was no such thing as the fairytale kind of love she and Lucy had dreamed of and talked about as little kids. And the fact that Lucy seemed to be falling into that trap made Lois worry.
Yes, Lucy had seemed happy on the phone when she'd talked about getting married, but then, her mother and father had supposedly been very happy together when they first got married. And look how that had turned out. Did she really want that kind of life for Lucy?
She got out of the shower and blow dried her hair. As she did, her anger mounted. Ever since they'd been little, she'd protected Lucy—from her parents' embittered battles, from her mother's drunken rages, from the harsh reality of life. It was her job to protect her now, this time from a hasty marriage that she worried would ruin her sister's happiness forever.
There was no such thing as true love. And the fact that her sister believed there was told her an intervention was in order.
Her hands stilled as she applied her eyeliner. Was that what she was considering? An intervention?
She considered that for a long moment. Did she really want to stop Lucy from marrying Neanderthal Guy?
'Of course you do,' the voice in her head spoke up. 'How else are you going to keep her from ruining her life?'
For a moment, bits of her conversation with Lucy replayed in her mind. She had seemed happy. Could it be possible that her sister really knew what was right for her? Could she really be in love with somebody who loved her back?
Lois's throat tightened and tears blurred her vision. For once, she wished she could realize what that felt like—to have somebody love her so deeply, and love them just as much in return. What must that be like? She'd thought she been in love with Claude, and then later with Lex. In both cases, she'd been able to look back and see what a fool she'd been to not see what had been right in front of her. She'd longed to be in love, to be a part of some fairytale-like romance, but in both cases, she'd been a fool.
She shook her head, grabbing those feelings of longing by the collar and hurtling them into the closet in the back of her mind before slamming the door and locking it. She'd been a fool once…okay, twice, and she wasn't about to let it happen to her again. And not to Lucy. She wasn't about to stand by and let her little sister ruin her life.
She knew what she had to do. An intervention was definitely in order. And by the time she was done, there would be no wedding. Lucy would be hurt, but Lois knew she would thank her some day.
Feeling a renewed sense of determination, she finished getting ready for work and went outside to get into her Jeep. Horns blared as she pulled out into a narrow opening in the traffic, but she hardly noticed. Her mind was too busy plotting her course of action.
"Clark! Good, you're here!"
Clark looked up from his desk to see Lois closing in on him from across the newsroom. Her expression was one of determination.
He felt a rush of relief when he gave her a studying glance and didn't note any depression lingering from their talk last night. The look of determination, however, gave him pause. She was not what he'd call a morning person. Usually it took her a couple of hours to get worked up to this level of determination.
He leaned back in his chair, his research forgotten, and met her gaze as she stopped beside his desk. "Morning, Lois. What's up?"
"I've been doing some thinking," she began, her voice matter-of-fact. "Lucy's…fiance…" She stumbled over the word. "…is flying into town next week, and my parents are throwing he and Lucy this big engagement party at my mom's house a week from Friday. I'm supposed to bring a date." She made a face. "The whole idea of an engagement party makes my stomach turn, but there's no way my mother's going to let me miss it. If I have to go, I might as well make the best of it. Would you go with me? We wouldn't have to stay long. Besides, I'm going to need some help with something I have cooked up."
Clark eyed her warily. "That sounds ominous. What do you have in mind?"
"Nothing." She shrugged and tried to school her expression into a look of innocence.
He knew better. "Lois, what's going on?" he asked suspiciously. "You have that look on your face."
"That look that says 'I'm planning something and Clark's not going to like it.'"
She laughed. "Clark, where do you come up with these things?" She waved a hand dismissively. "I'm not going to go into a lot of details, but I'm hoping I can persuade you to buddy up with this Brian guy and check him out. You know…really give him the third degree. When you find out he's yet another loser on her long list of losers, I want to know about it."
"Have a little negativity with your coffee this morning, Lois?" he quipped with a wry smile. Shaking his head, he went on, "Why are you so determined to hate your sister's fiance? What if Lucy is right and he really is a great guy?"
"Puh-leease." Lois rolled her eyes. "When have you ever known Lucy to date a great guy? Huh? Take your time. Name somebody," she taunted. "No? See, I rest my case." She squared her shoulders and tugged on the hem of her suit jacket to straighten it. "Just say you'll go with me to this stupid engagement party and you'll see for yourself what a disaster this is going to be."
Clark pushed his chair back from his desk and stood up. "I'll go with you on one condition."
A slight frown marred her pretty features. "What condition?"
"That you'll promise to be a bit more open-minded about your sister's fiance." When she opened her mouth to argue, he held up a hand to cut off her reply. "You said yourself that your sister is happy. Give this guy a chance before you go all half-cocked and line him up in front of a firing squad."
She put a hand on her hip and gave him a curt nod. "Fine. But by the end of the night, I'm sure you'll see this my way. This guy is going to turn out to be just as big a loser as all the others, and if I don't do something about it, he's going to break her heart. And I, for one, refuse to let her go through with it and have that happen."
Clark's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean, if you don't do something about it?"
"Never mind," she said coolly before turning and heading to her desk. "Just plan on me picking you up at seven. We'll head over to my parents' house and you'll see that I'm right about all this."
Clark breathed a heavy sigh as he watched her walk away. It was clear that no amount of convincing on his part was going to change her mind about this and convince her to give this guy a chance. Not today, anyway. He could only hope that by the time the engagement party rolled around, her heart would have softened enough to be objective.
When Clark saw Lois pull up in front of his apartment the next Friday, he grabbed his jacket and keys and hurried out the door. She was just climbing out of her Jeep and had come around the front when she saw him and stopped.
He couldn't help noticing how beautiful she looked. She was wearing dark slacks and a beautiful red sweater that complimented her dark hair and eyes and made her complexion glow.
He smiled as he jogged down the stairs and stopped in front of her. "You look great," he told her, reveling in her answering smile.
"Thanks. So do you," she replied. She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at the Jeep. "Should we go?"
"Sure. Do you want me to drive?"
"No, it's okay," she answered as she moved around the front of the car and opened her door. "It'll be easier if I do. It's a little confusing to get to my Mom's house."
Clark climbed into the passenger side and studied Lois out of the corner of his eye as she concentrated on pulling out into traffic. Ever since the morning last week when she'd asked him to attend this party with her, she'd been unusually quiet. She didn't seem depressed; Clark had become an expert at recognizing her moods, and the signs of depression weren't evident. It seemed more a quietly determined type of mood, but if that's indeed what it was, he'd been unable to get her to talk about whatever was on her mind. Each time he'd broached the subject over the next several days, she'd assured him nothing was wrong. Even his mentioning the party in hope of shaking something out of her did little but get her to admit that she'd be glad when the whole engagement party was over.
They rode in comfortable silence to her Mom's house. When they finally turned into an influential gated community north of town, Clark's eyebrows flew up. He knew her parents had been well-to-do before they divorce, but this…
The gorgeous two-story Tudor style house sat back off the road and had a long, winding driveway leading to the estate and to the guest house beyond. The main house boasted impressive brick columns, huge window bays, and a huge circular driveway where a handful of coated valets were greeting guests and parking cars.
Clark whistled as they pulled into the driveway. "Nice place."
"I guess," Lois mumbled as she climbed out of the car. She turned her keys over to the valet that appeared beside her.
She walked around the car, and Clark held out his arm for her. She looked surprised, but she took his arm and marched up the long front walk with determined strides.
Clark had to quicken his step to keep up with her. He gave a little laugh. "Lois, where's the fire? When you first mentioned this party, you said you hated the idea of attending. Now you can't seem to wait to get to the door. What's the deal?"
Lois's expression became more determined. "The deal is, I have a purpose for our visit here tonight."
"Yeah, I know. You want me to give Brian the third degree. I remember."
"That's only part of my plan."
"Oh?" he asked, eyeing her curiously. "Care to fill me in?"
She didn't break stride. "Sure. I'm going to make Lucy and Brian see the errors of their ways and break them up."
Clark stopped so suddenly that Lois, still holding onto his arm and walking quickly, was whipped around toward him. She yelped and looked up at him in surprise.
"Lois, you're not!" he gasped in disbelief.
Her expression steeled. "I am. And you're going to help me."
Clark's eyes widened and he shook his head. "No, Lois. No way. You said yourself that Lucy seemed happy. How could you even think of destroying your sister's happiness?"
A look of anger flashed in Lois's eyes. "She may think she's happy now, but if she goes through with this, she'll be sorry she ever said 'I do.' And I'm not about to let that happen. I'm going to save her before she has to deal with a lifetime of heartache. It may hurt now, but she'll thank me later. You wait and see."
She slipped her arm from Clark's and hurried on. Glancing back at him over her shoulder, she cocked an eyebrow at him and asked, "Coming?"
Clark groaned and rushed to catch up. He caught up with her on the top step. "Lois, stop," he hissed. "Let's talk about this."
"Clark, there's nothing to talk about," she whispered back as she stepped inside the entryway and handed her jacket to the man taking coats.
"Yes there is. Lois, what's wrong with you?" he demanded, giving her a reproving look as she moved through the entryway and stopped in the doorway to the living room. "You've come up with some stupid ideas before," he whispered in her ear from behind her, "but this might just be your stupidest one yet!"
She whirled, her face a picture of shock and anger. "Stupid? How dare you!"
"That's what this is, Lois. Stupid." He emphasized the word and stood his ground, glaring back into her flashing eyes. "How can you even think about doing something so mean and thoughtless to your own sister?"
Lois put her hands on her hips and leaned in toward him. He could feel her breath on his face as she hissed back at him. "I'm trying to *help* my sister. I'm protecting her just like I've done all her life. What's wrong with wanting to make sure she doesn't get hurt?"
"Giving her advice to protect her is one thing," Clark argued, refusing to be backed down by the flash of her temper. "But this so-called plan of yours borders on 'running her life.' You need to let her make her own decisions, and it sounds to me like this could be a good one. Why don't you give her the benefit of the doubt?"
Before she could respond, a family friend spotted Lois and came over to say hello, effectively ending their conversation. Lois introduced Clark, and they chatted with the friend of Lois's father for a few minutes before he moved on.
When he was gone, Lois stood on her tiptoes and peered as best she could out over the crowd. Clark felt Lois's elbow in his side a moment later.
"There they are," she stage-whispered, nodding toward the far corner of the room.
Clark looked where she directed and spotted Lucy standing next to a tall, well-built, athletic-looking man with sandy blond hair and handsome features. He watched him and Lucy laugh together at something somebody in their group said, and he couldn't help thinking that they looked very happy together.
What was Lois thinking, trying to destroy that happiness?
He frowned and shook his head in disapproval. Lois was definitely off her rocker this time. He could only wish to be as happy in love as Lucy looked to be.
Just then he saw Lucy look up at Brian and say something, then give him a quick kiss before turning and making her way through the crowd toward the adjoining room.
"Great, here's our chance," Lois said, grabbing Clark's arm. "I'm going to talk to Lucy; you go talk to Brian."
"Lois, I am *not* helping you break them up!" he hissed at her as she started to move away.
She threw a murderous look at him over her shoulder and made a jerking motion with her thumb toward Brian, telling him in no uncertain terms to get going.
He groaned in exasperation and glared at her retreating back. There was no way he was going to be a conspirator in this. But if she wanted him to talk to Brian, at least that was something he could do. But that was all he was going to do. Talk. From where he stood, Brian seemed like a nice guy. Getting to know him better could only help him to somehow convince Lois not to go through with this crazy plan of hers.
He crossed the room and caught Brian before he could engage in a conversation with somebody else. "Brian," he said, getting the man's attention. Brian turned toward him and smiled in greeting, then stuck his hand out to shake the one Clark offered him. "I'm a friend of Lucy's. Of her and her sister's, actually. My name's Clark Kent."
A light of recognition lit up Brian's rugged features. "Oh, you're her sister Lois's partner at the newspaper," he said, his smile broadening. "It's great to finally meet you. Lucy has talked a lot about you and her sister."
Clark's heart gave an involuntary leap at the way he'd said "you and her sister." Did that mean Lucy had talked about them as if they were…together? A couple? Had Lois mentioned something to Lucy during one of their conversations to suggest there might be something more happening between them? Or did it simply mean she'd talked about them in passing during the course of a conversation?
'Stop reading so much into this and get on with it,' Clark chastised himself. Pushing his thoughts aside, he turned back to his reason for approaching Brian—to get to know him better.
"So tell me about yourself," Clark said. "Lois says you're a personal trainer?"
"Yes, but that's only a part-time job to help put me through school," he admitted.
"Oh, really? What are you studying?"
As they talked, Clark realized Lois's assessment of Brian was all wrong. He wasn't some weight-lifting, egg-drinking Neanderthal. Yes, he lifted weights and was a personal trainer, but Lois had him figured all wrong if she thought he had no life ambitions. He was going to college and studying to be a medic and expressed his desire to one day be a trainer for a college or professional sports team, caring for the injured athletes.
But what impressed Clark the most was the way Brian's face would light up when he talked about Lucy. It was clear that his love for Lucy was genuine, and as he talked about how he and Lucy had met, Clark knew Lois would have been happy for her sister. Or should be. Her fears of Lucy not having any stability in her life after marrying Brian were unfounded. Brian was a nice guy and would be good for Lucy.
At least this guy wasn't a cyborg powered by Kryptonite, he thought with a grimace. Brian was perfect for Lucy, and he was sure that if Lois could take a step back and was a little more objective, she would see that, too.
When another couple came up to introduce themselves to Brian, Clark excused himself and nodded at Brian's suggestion for them to talk again later. They had similar interests and had both played competitive ball, and Clark knew they were on their way to becoming friends.
Deciding Lucy's life was in capable hands with this man, he decided to hurry after Lois and stop her before she could do any damage to what seemed to be a very happy couple's relationship.
With a quickness to his step, Clark headed in the direction Lois had gone.
"Lucy, you can't love this guy. He's all wrong for you!"
"Lois, stop!" Lucy frowned as she picked up the spatula and starting removing brownies from the cooling tray to a waiting platter on the counter. "For the past ten minutes you've been telling me everything that's wrong with Brian, but you don't even know him! If you'd quit criticizing him and listen to me, I could tell you everything that's *right* about him." She set the spatula down and licked a smudge of chocolate from her fingertip. "He's an amazing man. He's studying to be a medic and wants to be an athletic trainer for a pro sports team. He has goals and ambitions, Lois. He's not some loser. And most importantly, he loves me and I love him."
Lois made a snorting noise. "Love? More like infatuation. Let me tell you something. The kind of love we talked about as kids? That fairytale, happily-ever-after, knight-in-shining-armor kind of love? It doesn't happen."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "Lois, why are you always so cynical?"
"Why are you always so *un*cynical?" Lois shot back in frustration. "We both grew up in the same family…you know as well as I do what happened with Mom and Dad. And the couple of times I tried to change my own opinions about love…well, look what happened? There was Claude…" She glowered and stopped right there, because Lucy knew all about Claude. "And then there was Lex."
A look of genuine sympathy crossed Lucy's face. She reached out to place a hand on Lois's forearm. "Lois," she said, her voice soft. "Nobody could have predicted that Lex…"
Her voice trailed off, and Lois was grateful. A lump was already forming in her throat and her chest felt tight. Even after all these months, the fact that she'd almost married that psychopath hurt. Hurt more than words could say. But it had also shown her that love was something that couldn't truly exist—not in anything except fairytales, anyway.
Lois swallowed to try to ease the burning in her chest and took a long, deep breath. "I'm just saying that you're setting yourself up to get hurt by this guy, Luce. I don't want to see that happen."
Lucy's expression softened and she stepped forward to give her sister a hug. "I appreciate that, Lois…really, I do. But Brian loves me. He's not going to hurt me."
"I'm sure that's what Mom said when she married Dad, too," Lois grumbled stubbornly.
Lucy sighed. "All I'm asking is that you give Brian a chance. If you'd only get to know him, I'm sure you'd realize how great he is. He's good and kind, and he loves me for me. Just once, Lois, I wish you could feel like I do, and feel how much love—and finding that one special person—can change a person. How it can make you want to be a better person. I wish you could see how it feels to have somebody love you, totally and completely and unconditionally. If you did, maybe then you would see that love really does exist, and that it's the most amazing feeling in the world. I love Brian. He's a good man who loves me. And whether or not you think I should, I'm going to marry him. Maybe if you really understood what love feels like, you could finally be happy for me."
Her words hit home. Lois felt frozen in place as Lucy picked up the tray of brownies and hurried out of the kitchen. Feeling tears sting her eyes, Lois slumped against the counter and rubbed a weary hand along the back of her neck.
Lucy's words hurt. A lot. Her sister had no way of knowing that what she was suggesting was something that Lois longed for and was, in fact, one of her deepest desires—to be loved completely and unconditionally be a good man who she loved and trusted in return. If her sister had known that, she might not have thrown the accusation so lightly.
As it was, the steel prongs of her sister's barb bit into her heart. Lucy was right. She had never been lucky enough to experience true love. But did she have to throw that in her face? She was already miserable enough about her lack of good fortune in that department. Couldn't it be enough for her sister to realize that she was simply trying to protect her? Why couldn't Lucy see that was all she was trying to do?
Deciding that she needed to find her sister and apologize for voicing her arguments so harshly, and maybe try again with a softer approach, she pushed away from the counter and turned toward the door.
To her surprise, there, in the doorway leaning up against the door frame, stood Clark. Judging by the sympathetic expression on his face, he'd overheard at least the last part of her and Lucy's conversation.
Unable to hold his gaze for fear he'd say something to make the sting of Lucy's words plunge even deeper into her heart, she looked away and hurried past him through the door.
She paused a few steps inside the room and watched Lucy approach Brian. Her sister's hurt and frustrated expression changed into one of adoration as Brian broke off whatever it was he was saying and slid an arm around her waist. She lifted her face to his and they shared a gentle, loving kiss.
Lois's throat tightened. It really did look like they loved each other. And the way he looked at Lucy—it said everything. He obviously cherished her and would treat her like a princess.
For the first time in her life, she felt jealous of Lucy. Happily-ever-after didn't seem to be something that existed in real life, but at least Lucy had a man willing to try for it.
A tear slid down her cheek and she quickly lifted a hand to swipe it away before anybody could see it. Just then she heard a quiet voice behind her.
The familiar gentleness and compassion in Clark's voice wrapped around her like a warm blanket. He was there. Just like always.
A sob rose in her throat. It wasn't fair. How had Lucy gotten so lucky to find a man who loved her, when all Lois had were federal disasters for relationships? She had friends like Clark—a good, decent, honorable man—who was destined to remain a friend and nothing more. Why couldn't she be as fortunate in love as her sister? To have men as good as Clark love her and cherish her?
Lucy had found that in Brian, and Lois knew she shouldn't be feeling jealous of her sister; she should be happy for her. And she was happy for her. But it also caused the aching longing in her heart to grow to almost unbearable levels.
Clark must have sensed her teetering emotions because he took a step closer and put a hand on her shoulder. His touch was her undoing.
Tears that had been threatening finally started to blur her vision. Clark was a good man, always watching out for her and caring about her. He deserved better than the way she'd treated him tonight when they'd arrived. He was patient and kind, but he stood his ground when he felt he was right. And in this case, he was. Lucy was happy. She should have left things well enough alone and trusted Lucy's decision.
Unable to stand there and watch Lucy and Brian share loving kisses and meaningful glances a moment longer, she moved out from under Clark's hand and headed for the door. She caught a glimpse of Clark's confused, concerned expression as he hurried to catch up.
"Lois, where are you going?"
"I'm sorry. I just…I need some air," she managed, opening the front door and heading outside into the cool, fall night.
Clark watched her leave, concern for her mounting in his chest. She was upset. That much was obvious. He suspected it had everything to do with Lucy's remark in the kitchen about wishing that Lois could experience what love really felt like.
The pain he'd felt when he'd seen the hurt on Lois's face had rivaled any of the times he'd encountered Kryptonite. From all the talks he and Lois had had since the Luthor fiasco, he knew her self-confidence had taken a beating. Once, she'd even admitted to him that she worried she might never be fortunate enough to be in a solid, loving relationship. To this day, he could still hear the pain in her voice as she'd confided that to him. Having Lucy tell her she wished Lois could feel what it was like to have the love of a good man must have cut Lois deeply. Knowing that had made him hurt deeply, too.
As he stood in the entryway staring at the closed door Lois had gone through, a young man appeared and asked if he'd like his coat. He made a quick decision.
He answered yes, waited impatiently for his jacket, then hurried out after Lois.
Standing on the driveway, he lifted a hand to his face and lowered his glasses. A quick glance around his surroundings with his enhanced vision proved helpful. He spotted Lois walking into the deserted grounds of the gated community's park across the street from her mother's house.
He set off at a jog to catch up. The immaculately landscaped lawn of the park was damp from a recent watering and the grass made a squelching noise as he moved across it. He saw Lois wander over to the nearby swings and sit down on one of them. His steps slowed as he neared her, and he watched as she rested her head against one of the chains and toed the swing slowly back and forth.
When he reached her, he walked over to her and wrapped his jacket around her shoulders. She accepted it wordlessly and slipped her arms into the sleeves. As she drew it more tightly around her, he moved to the swing beside her and sat down.
They swayed in silence for several moments before he spoke. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Her reply was soft but immediate. "No."
He sighed and turned to look at her. "Lois, please? This is me. After everything we've been through, you should know you can trust me."
She glanced up and their eyes met and held. After a moment, she gave a sad sigh and pushed backwards, then let herself swing forward in a slow, smooth motion. "You were right, Clark. I should have listened to you. Brian's not a bad guy. In fact, Lucy seems quite convinced he's going places."
"I think he is, too," Clark agreed. "I talked to him and I really like him. He has goals and ambitions, and Lucy supports him in those just as he supports her in the things she wants to do. Did you know that she's enrolled in college next spring and wants to major in accounting?"
Lois's legs went slack and her toe dragged her to a stop in the sand. She looked at Clark in surprise. "No, I didn't know that."
Clark gave her a sympathetic look. "Sorry. It's probably not my place to say, and you're probably going to get mad at me for saying it, but maybe if you talked *with* her instead of *down* to her a little more often, you'd learn things like that."
Her gaze dropped to her lap. "I guess you're right. And no, I'm not mad at you for saying it. It's a valid observation."
"What happened between you guys?" he ventured softly. "I know you guys used to be really close."
"We were. At least we were until she moved to California and started seeing Brian." Her tone held an unmistakable note of regret.
Clark keyed in on that, and something clicked in his head. "You're jealous!"
"Jealous of Lucy?" She snorted and toed her swing back into a gentle rocking motion. "Not a chance. It's just…"
Clark waited for her to continue, picking up on the wistfulness in her voice. When she didn't respond, he prompted, "Just…what?"
She sighed again. "I don't know. We just…we used to be like the three Musketeers or something. Well, the two Musketeers. I just didn't think she was going to run off to California and marry some guy and be so…happy."
Clark frowned. There was that word again. And the emotional undertone that went with it.
"Lois," he began, his voice low and firm. "You don't have to be jealous of Lucy. Your turn will come. You deserve to be happy, too, and I promise you, you will be."
Lois's eyes widened in surprise. A moment later she carefully schooled her features into a neutral expression and waved a hand as if dismissing his claim. "Oh, come on, I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do." His tone was quiet and unassuming. "Lois, it's me. You don't have to pretend."
The sincerity of his tone caused her brave front to crumble. She looked away from the intensity in his gaze and fingered a loose thread on her sweater.
Clark waited patiently for her to speak, the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves in a nearby tree. Finally, she spoke, her voice soft and vulnerable.
"When I was a little girl, Lucy and I both had that dream all little girls do, that some day a handsome prince would appear and sweep us each off our feet and we'd live happily ever after." She shook her head and smiled at the memory. Then she sobered and went on. "It wasn't long after that that my outlook on love got pretty jaded. I realized that a love like that was something only found in fairy tales. I had proof."
"Proof?" Clark prompted, raising his eyebrows.
She nodded. "My parents. They supposedly loved each other but they ended up miserable. I figured that if that's what love was, I didn't want any part of it. Still, I guess some part of me always held onto that shred of hope that true love, whatever that means, was out there somewhere.
"But every experience I've had with relationships has seemed to prove otherwise. Everybody I ever dated seemed to have an agenda. You already know about Claude. He had an agenda to steal my story and take all the credit. And then there was Lex…" She let out a breath and shook her head. "He was the ultimate in hidden agendas, it turns out. The question is, what was his agenda for me?" She gave a plaintive shrug. "I guess I'll never know."
She brushed back a tear that strayed onto her cheek. "Anyway, when the dust all settled after everything with Lex, I realized something. I've spent all these years hoping for something that doesn't exist—at least not for me. Lucy found it. She's lucky. But me…" She sighed. "I don't know. Maybe I'm destined to be alone. I hoped I might find somebody to fall in love with, who would love me completely and unconditionally in return. But that just isn't possible, is it?"
Another tear slipped down her cheek and Clark's heart twisted painfully. He swallowed past the lump in his throat as, once more, a war raged between his heart and his head. He loved her. Loved her more than life itself. But he'd almost lost her not long ago because he'd admitted his feelings for her. He'd driven her straight into the arms of Luthor.
Not that there was any chance of that happening now, but the aftereffects of that time were still fresh in his mind. He didn't want to lose her again. But he couldn't stand the thought of her feeling so lost and alone, either. He'd already taken back his declaration of love for her, and now they were making a fresh start as friends. But was that what he wanted? What either of them wanted?
Maybe she didn't love him the way he loved her, but he wasn't about to let her keep thinking she wasn't capable of being loved, or of thinking that there was nobody out there to offer her the kind of love she'd been looking and hoping for all these years.
There was somebody like that out there. And he was sitting right beside her.
Making up his mind to tell her was easy. Saying the words was harder.
He took a deep breath to give himself courage and twisted his swing to face hers. "Lois, look at me."
When she did, he reached for her hands and turned her swing toward his so she could meet his gaze head-on. "Don't throw away the idea of being loved," he said, his tone serious. "It's a desire that's pure and honest and beautiful. You, of all people, deserve that kind of happiness."
When she rolled her eyes in self-deprecation, he tightened his hands around hers. "I know you don't believe this, but you are such an amazing woman. There is a man out there who is ready to love you like you want—and deserve—to be loved. He'll be somebody who will love you and treasure you every day of his life. He'll be somebody who *lives* for the moment he can fall asleep holding you in his arms at night, feeling your soft breath against his skin. He won't even want to close his eyes at night for fear that if he does, he'll wake up and realize it was all just a beautiful, unattainable dream. He'll be the kind of man who wants nothing more than to see you smile because it will mean that you're happy, and he'll want your happiness more anybody else's, even his own. He'll live to share your joy and sorrows, and he'll even cry with you when you're sad, because his soul will be so attune with yours that your pain will be his pain. So don't rule out love, Lois," he finished, his tone fierce and insistent. "Don't you *ever*. That kind of man is out there for you. I know it."
Lois let out a sniffly laugh and pulled one of her hands free to wipe at the tears that were streaming down his face at his words. "You definitely have the soul of a writer," she said on a sad laugh. "It's a beautiful dream, Clark, but what you're talking about is impossible. Somebody like that would be straight out of a fairytale, and fairytales just don't happen in real life. Let's face it. There's nobody out there who'd love me like that."
"You're wrong, Lois," he said with a quick shake of his head. "I happen to know there is a man out there who loves you like that. You just have to open your eyes and see it."
"Who, Clark?" she asked, sounding defeated and unbelieving. "Who would love me like that?"
His heart starting to pound, Clark swallowed and took a deep breath. It was now or never.
In a vulnerable whisper, after only the briefest of pauses, he said, "Me. *I* love you like that."
Lois stared at Clark in disbelief. When she was finally able to form the words, she asked in a shocked whisper, "What did you just say?"
Clark let out a shaky breath and managed a small smile. "Don't make me say it again, Lois. I can't believe I had the courage to say it the first time." When she only continued to stare at him, his smile broadened and he rolled his eyes. "Okay, I can tell I'm going to have to say it again. I love you, Lois Lane. I love you with all my heart and soul."
She continued to stare at him for long moments. Clark loved her? No, it wasn't possible. Was it? But when she looked into his eyes, she saw only sincerity and yes, love, shining in his gaze.
After a long moment, she asked the question foremost in her mind. "Why?"
Clark chuckled. "Why? You're kidding, right?"
Lois shook her head in an attempt to clear it and, at the same time, show Clark that she truly didn't understand. "No, I'm not kidding," she said in earnest. Her forehead creased into confusion. "Why would you love me? I'm not exactly the easiest person to love. I'm stubborn and headstrong and outspoken, and I have this really bad temper…"
"Don't worry, I know all about the temper." Clark flashed her a teasing grin.
She smiled sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess you do. But…it makes me wonder how you could really love me knowing all that. You must not know me as well as you think you do."
Clark let out a snort of laugher. "Lois, are you kidding? I know you better than anyone! It's true that we've only known each other for a little over a year, but we've spent most of that year *together*. I know how you like your coffee and what kinds of donuts you like. I know you eat your sandwich with extra mayo and no pickles. I know you hate doing laundry and can't be bothered with grocery shopping. Whenever I spot an open carton of chocolate ice cream in your apartment, I know it means you're depressed. And I know that when you tap your pencil eraser in that totally annoying rhythm at work it means you're stressed out." He gave her a broad grin.
"I also know," he continued, "that whenever I see you scrubbing the grout in your kitchen with those long, yellow gloves on, it means I'd better choose my words carefully because you're angry about something. I think it's safe to say that I know you better than *anyone*. Who else knows all those little nuances about you and still loves you for them as much as I do?"
Lois felt her eyes grow misty at the love she heard in his voice as he made his observations. He really did know her. Her knew her pesky quirks and loved her in spite of—or maybe even because of—them.
She blinked back her tears and shook her head. "And that brings me back to my point. Surely there are better—easier—people to love than me."
Clark smiled and drew her closer, wrapping his lower legs around her calves to keep her and her swing close to him. "Maybe that's one of the reasons I fell so hard, so fast for you when I met you. You were a challenge. You were this puzzle just waiting to be solved. And the more time I spent putting the pieces together, the more I realized that I loved you."
"But…" she began, still unable to believe somebody as solid and wonderful as Clark could really love her. "You told me months ago that you loved me, but admitted later that you'd only said that to keep me from marrying Lex."
He let out a long sigh and his shoulders slumped. "I know, but I wasn't being honest. I loved you then, and I love you even more now. I just told you back then that I'd lied because I was afraid I'd mess up our relationship. You were coming off some life-altering events and I didn't want to turn your life upside down any more than it already had been.
"But the truth is," he went on, his voice soft and deep as he lifted a hand to brush a strand of hair back from her forehead, "I've never stopped loving you."
She felt her body release the tension it had been storing up for so long, and she slumped against the chain of her swing. "Oh, Clark," she murmured, profoundly touched by his admission.
"But to answer your question from a few minutes ago," he went on with a smile, "I love you for so many reasons. I love that you have such a good heart. You try to pretend you're tough and act like nothing affects you, but I know better. Deep down, you care so much. You care about what you're doing because you feel like you can make a difference in people's lives, and you do. You also have such passion for everything you do that when I'm around you, it makes me feel alive. *You* make me feel alive. And I love you so much for it that I plan on never letting you go."
Lois felt the tears begin to stream down her face once more. "I don't know what to say," she whispered as the cool evening breeze picked up and played with the ends of her hair.
He flashed her a nervous smile. "Just say that I haven't totally freaked you out and I haven't scared you away for good."
Laughter bubbled up in her chest and it came out as a half-laugh, half-hiccup. "I'm not freaked out, and you haven't scared me away. I'm just…"
"Just…what?" he prompted. "Scared? Appalled? Happy? Give me an adjective, Lois. You're making me a nervous wreck, here."
"Happy," she blurted out on a genuine laugh. "Happy." She sniffled, then looked down at his jacket as she shoved her hands into the pockets in search of something.
"There are tissues in the inside pocket."
"You really do know me," she said with another sniffly laugh as she looked where he'd directed. She pulled out a tissue and wiped her nose.
"I told you I did," he said with a smile.
When she folded the tissue and tucked it into her slacks pocket, she looked up at him once more. "Clark, hearing that you love me makes me so happy. I would never had admitted it, but I was heartbroken when you told me that day outside the Planet that you'd only said you loved me to keep me from marrying Lex. I'd been about to tell you that I loved you, too."
A surprised gasp escaped Clark's lips. "What?"
She nodded. "It was true what I'd said to you in the park that day—I hadn't thought of you as more than a friend. But over the next few weeks, you and your declaration of love were all I was able to think about. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I'd come to love you and depend on you. The thought of not having you in my life hurt more than anything. Just before Perry came barging into that chapel, I told Lex I couldn't marry him. And that was because of you, Clark. I realized I didn't love Lex. I loved you."
This time, Clark's eyes were the ones that became moist. "Really?" he managed, his voice ragged. "You loved me all this time and never said anything?"
"What was I supposed to say?" she asked with a smile. "You told me you didn't love me. I felt like a fool."
Clark gave her a watery smile and chuckled as he reached for her hands once more. "I guess we were both fools. We could have saved ourselves a lot of heartache if we were honest with each other."
"Yes, we could have."
As she sat, her hands held firmly in Clark's, she tried to sort out her jumbled thoughts. Clark loved her. Yes, he had said it once before…but he had taken it back. At the time, she'd been hurt and heartsick, but she'd realized that was that and had made a conscious effort to put it behind her and move on.
But it hadn't been easy. The love she'd developed for Clark had grown slowly and steadily, surprising her with it when she finally was forced to examine those feelings. Her love for him hadn't been the kind of love that struck somebody between the eyes. But she was glad. It had given her a chance to grow into her feelings and be ready for them when she recognized them.
Now, she realized, she was hopelessly in love with a man she'd never thought she would love. Or who would love her in return.
She felt herself tremble at the enormity of what she was facing, and for a moment, a sliver of fear pierced her heart. It was a scary thing, talking about taking a relationship that was based on friendship and moving it on to the next level.
Clark seemed to sense the change in her mood because he lifted a hand to gently caress her face. "You don't have to be afraid, Lois. We can take this as slowly as you need. I don't want you to feel like I'm pressuring you into anything."
She nodded, grateful for his reassurance. "It is a little scary," she admitted, her voice tentative. "I know I love you, and I want to be with you. But…where are you suggesting that we go from here?"
"We don't have to rush, Lois. Let's take it a day at a time and see what feels comfortable. Let's go out on a few dates, get to know each other even better on this level. And if you ever feel like things are moving too fast, you tell me. We'll talk about it. All I'm asking is that you give us a chance. I want you to let me love you."
"Oh, Clark," she murmured, leaning in closer and bringing her hands up to his chest.
He let his head fall forward until his forehead was resting against hers, and they sat that way for several minutes, rejoicing in their newly expressed love.
The flash of Clark's smile broke through the darkness. Pulling away slightly so he could meet her gaze, he asked, "Okay, I'm just going to ask so you don't think I'm coming on too strongly… Would it be okay if I kissed you?"
She giggled. "If you have to ask that, I'm a little worried about the future of our relationship."
He grinned in response. "I'll take that as a yes."
His amusement faded as he moved toward her slowly, and she felt herself leaning in to meet him halfway. Her heart started to pound out an erratic rhythm as he inched closer and his face hovered only inches before hers for a long moment. She felt the warmth of his breath on her face as his mouth descended upon hers.
Her eyes drifted closed at the contact. Fiery sensations of pleasure ripped through her as his lips moved over hers slowly, deliciously, telling her without words how much he loved her. His kiss was soulful and passionate, and as it deepened into something more intense, she thought her heart might leap right out of her chest.
When he pulled back and they gazed into each others' eyes, Lois wondered how she had gotten so lucky. He was everything she could have ever asked for in a man—he was strong and solid and gentle and kind. And best of all, he loved her. It was the fairytale kind of love her heart had always longed for, and it was hers. Theirs. All they had to do was accept it and surrender to it. But as she looked into Clark's eyes, she realized she had already done both.
The wind picked up, causing their swings to sway. It pulled Lois's thoughts back to her surroundings, and she looked around them and giggled.
A smile tugged at the corner of Clark's mouth. "What's so funny?"
She leaned back and swung away from Clark. "I was just remembering the last time I was kissed on a playground. I was nine, and Bobby Stewart paid me five bucks to kiss him." She made a face at the amusement on Clark's face. "It was kind of a dare."
Clark threw his head back and laughed. "Now that's something I didn't know about you."
"Yeah, well, I had an interesting childhood." She grinned sheepishly. "I'm sure there are things about you that I don't know. What juicy secrets do you have to share about your childhood?"
Looking uncomfortable at her question, he shifted on the swing. "It's true, there are things you don't know about me, but that won't last for long. We'll have some long talks over the next few weeks. I'm eager to get to know everything about you that I don't know, and I'm eager to tell you everything about me that you don't know."
"What things don't I know about you?" Lois asked, genuinely curious.
He shook his head. "That's for another time. But I promise we'll have plenty of time to talk about anything and everything you want."
"Fair enough," she agreed. Then she laughed, and a teasing expression flitted across her face. "You don't have some dead body under the floorboards of your apartment, do you?"
"No." He chuckled. "No dead bodies under my floorboards."
"Then we're good."
He laughed along with her, then stood up and offered her his hand. "Whatever things you end up learning about me, they can't be as juicy as the fact that you accepted five bucks to kiss Bobby Stewart in third grade."
With a grin, she put her hand in his and let him pull her to her feet. When she was standing beside him, he laced his fingers through hers and pulled her toward the street.
"Should we go back to the party, or go home?"
"Home, I think," she said, enjoying the feeling of his hand against hers as they walked. When she looked back up at him, there was a touch of apprehension on her face. "Then what?"
"Lois, there. is. no. rush." He said each word with emphasis. "You've heard that expression that some things are worth the wait?" When she nodded, he smiled. "Well, I can attest to the fact that you are."
Her heart warmed at his words. She returned his smile with a tender one of her own and tightened her grip on his hand. "Did anybody ever tell you you're a hopeless romantic?"
"Not that I can remember."
"Well, you are." They walked in companionable silence for a moment. "It's just that this is a little scary, you know? It's a big step. We're best friends. Something like this could change everything."
"Yes, it could," he agreed solemnly. He watched as a breeze picked the ends of Lois's hair and tossed them across her face. Lifting a hand, Clark brushed the strands away and gave her a tender smile. "It could," he repeated, his voice growing husky and deep, "but it could make everything better…better than we ever believed possible."
She looked up to meet his gaze and the intensity in his eyes took her breath away. Spoken with the passion that she heard in his voice, she was sure he was right. If anything, he had made her a believer.
One month later…
"I can't believe you did that," Clark was half-laughing, half-scolding as they walked in through the front door of Lois's apartment. He switched the paper bags of groceries and Chinese take-out to one hand so he could shut the door behind them.
His laughter and teasing was contagious, and Lois laughed, too. "But I didn't!" she protested between giggles. "I was going for that last tub of Monster Choco Chocolate Chip ice cream before that lady was."
"But she was standing there before you were. She was just making up her mind what to pick when you swiped that last carton right out from under her nose."
"Is it my fault she couldn't make up her mind?" Lois laughed again as she carried her bag of groceries into the kitchen and set it on the counter. She took out the carton of ice cream in question and stuck it in the freezer, as if afraid Clark might go all Boy Scout-y and make her take it back or something as penance.
Clark shook his head but was grinning as he moved into the kitchen behind her. "You know, if some kind of fight had ensued, Superman might have had to intervene."
Lois giggled again and sidled up to Clark. She ran her hands up his chest and slid her arms around his neck. "Well, you know," she said, her voice slow and flirtatious, as she began pressing light, teasing kisses to the base of his throat. "That would have been okay. You see, I have this 'in' with Superman."
Superman. There was a whole subject within itself.
Just two days after Lucy's engagement party, Clark had sat Lois down and told her everything. She had been shocked, angry, fascinated, and speechless, all at the same time. The news hadn't been easy to digest, but Clark had been patient with her, letting her work through the gamut of emotions she was feeling. He gave her her space when she needed it and was there when for her when she needed *him*, Clark, her best friend. It wasn't long before Lois accepted the reasons why he'd kept such a thing a secret from her, and their relationship had moved forward.
Looking back, Lois was grateful for the adversity that his sharing the news with her had caused. It had brought them even closer together in the end, strengthening their connection and their love for one another.
And she had to admit, being in a loving, committed relationship with a man with super powers had its advantages. Clark had been eager to show off for her, so dinners from exotic, foreign locations had become the norm rather than the exception those first couple of weeks, and flights over the city had been spectacular and breathtaking.
Those flights were her favorite. Not only did it give her an opportunity to see the city from a vantage point most people would never see, but it gave her much cherished time in Clark's arms. Sometimes the beauty of the city lights below them went unnoticed as she and Clark shared light, loving kisses high against the backdrop of the dark, star-speckled night sky.
As Lois moved her kisses to the particularly tender spot near his ear, Clark chuckled and lifted his hands to her shoulders. "You might have an 'in' with Superman, but Superman's supposed to be impartial, you know."
"Really." Lois abandoned his throat and looked up to meet his gaze. With a flirty smile, she leaned in, her lips hovering mere centimeters from his. "Are you feeling impartial right now?" And with that, she pressed her lips to his in a long, sweet kiss.
"Mmmm," Clark murmured against her lips. "No, I have to admit, 'impartial' really isn't what I'm feeling right now."
She giggled and pulled away, looking into the beautiful, soulful brown eyes of the man she loved. Their path to love hadn't been easy, but everything they had been through together to get to this point had prepared them for this time. No longer were their feelings taken lightly, but rather cherished and treasured. They were lucky to have found each other through the turmoil of their lives, and they knew it.
After a few more light kisses, Clark stepped back. "As much as I'd love to continue this, we should probably get these groceries put away."
"Yeah, you're right," Lois agreed on a disappointed sigh. She loved kissing Clark. She just couldn't seem to get enough. Forcing her thoughts back to the task at hand, she took the bag of groceries from Clark and set it on the stove.
As she started pulling things out of the bags and putting things away into the cupboards, she smiled at Clark. "Funny thing about our relationship—my cupboards have been full for the first thing since…well, ever."
Clark laughed. "Yeah, and that's only because I make you go grocery shopping with me every week."
"Hey, whatever works," she said, her smile broadening. "Even going to the grocery store is fun, as long as I'm with you."
He gave her a loving smile as he pulled out some eggs and put them in her fridge. "Fun? I never thought about it that way. But then, grocery shopping with you is a full-contact sport—especially in the ice cream section."
She smacked him on the arm, and he ducked away, laughing. "Oh," he said a moment later, pulling a small stack on envelopes from the inside pocket of his jacket. "Your mail."
He dropped it onto the counter and turned his attention back to the groceries. Lois wandered over to the stack and flipped through it.
"Hey," she exclaimed, holding up a small, square envelope. "It's from Lucy and Brian."
Shrugged out of her coat and laying it over the back of a nearby chair, she ripped open the flap and pulled out the card. "It's a thank-you note from them." She began to read it out loud to Clark: "'Thanks for going in on the set of china with Mom and Dad. I can't wait to host a dinner party and use it. I just wish you were here to attend my first dinner party. I miss you. Thanks for everything. Lucy and Brian.'"
Lois's smile was a little sad as she closed the card and looked up at Clark. "They sound happy."
"Yes, they do." He finished putting away the last of the bags contents, then walked over to her and reached for her hand. "What's wrong?"
She sighed. "I guess I just feel bad about all the grief I gave her when she first told me she and Brian were getting married. And now I miss her."
"We can go see them anytime you want, you know," Clark reminded her with a twinkle in his eye. "Superman Express is a great way to travel."
The sadness disappeared from her face and a smile touched her lips. "Don't I know it," she said, tipping her face up to his to accept a kiss.
Clark led her over to the couch, her hand still in his. They sat down together and Lois tossed the thank-you note still in her hand onto the coffee table. "I'm just glad Lucy is happy."
Clark stretched his arm along the back of the couch behind her and Lois snuggled into his side. "And what about you?" he asked gently. "Are you happy?"
Lois craned her head to look up at Clark. She could see the sincerity in his gaze, the love he had for her shining clear up from his soul.
She lifted a hand to his cheek and traced her fingertips along his strong jaw. "Yes," she said on a whisper. "I am happy…happier than I ever thought I could be."
Clark's answering smile lit up his face. "So am I," he whispered back as he leaned toward her. Lois tilted her face up to his, looking forward to the touch of his lips on hers.
As she stared into his eyes as his face drew near, she saw so many things in those beautiful, dark eyes. She saw proof of his love, of his friendship, of his caring and trust.
And in that moment before his lips met hers and his eyelids drifted shut, she was surprised to realize that she could see more than just his feelings in his gaze.
She could see her future.