By Sue S. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November, 2006
Summary: Clark continues to flirt with disaster. Third in a series. This probably won't make much sense if you haven't read "Proof" and "Proof and Consequences." This is set sometime between the episodes "Fly Hard" and "Barbarians at the Planet" in the first season.
Huge thanks to my betas - DJ, alcyone and Yvonne. It's a tragedy that only the three of you know just how much of the story is due to your suggestions, corrections and comments. Be assured that I know how much of it is yours and just how deeply indebted I am to all of you.
Lois twisted awkwardly, feeling like her arm was going to come out of its socket but she still couldn't get the zipper to budge. She swore under her breath and let her arm drop to her side, raising her other hand to massage her shoulder. One more try, she told herself. One more try and then she would just rip the stupid dress off. She was reaching back again, her fingers fumbling for the zipper's tab, when a cool breeze blew across her back.
She whirled around to see Superman floating outside her window.
"Superman, or uh, Kal-El, I, uh, sure, thanks. I can't get this unzipped. I think it must be caught on the fabric or something." She turned her back to him, watching his reflection in the mirror as he came inside. "I can call you Kal-El when we're not in public, can't I? At least until you tell me what your other name is."
"Sure," he said genially. He didn't tell her that he loved the way the name sounded when she said it. He came up behind her and bent to the task of helping, trying not to look at the straps of her bra. The zipper was caught on the fabric and he had to be careful as he worked it loose. He felt awkward, as if his hands were too large and clumsy to be of much use.
When the zipper finally slid free he wondered if he should continue and unzip the dress all the way. Did he dare? His gaze fixed on the pale valley of exposed skin between her shoulder blades. The desire to see more was all the reason he needed to continue. It was also precisely the reason he should stop.
He didn't stop. After only a moment's pause he brought his left hand to rest on her hip while his right hand continued to draw the zipper downward. Did she feel the same way he had, when their places were reversed? Those few minutes lived in his memory and invaded most of his dreams. The sensation of her undressing him, of her lips on his skin, existed in a place beyond the reach of space and time and rules. And now, somehow, he had found his way back to that moment.
What would she do if he kissed her now? His eyes wandered over the exposed skin of her back as his lips parted slightly in readiness. It would only take a tilt of his head and he could taste the nape of her neck. With only a little more effort he could kiss her in the same place she had kissed him. His mind rapidly filled in the fantasy as his fingers brushed over the small of her back. He glanced at the mirror, wanting to see her expression. What he saw instead was Superman and the image jolted him back to reality.
He pulled his hands away, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He couldn't do this - not as Superman. It was the worst kind of deceit and yet he was helpless to stay away from her.
"You look very nice," he said, needing to fill the scant space between them with something. Their eyes caught and held each other's in the mirror.
"Thank you," she managed to whisper. She was imagining it; she had to be. There was no way that Superman would ever look at her with hunger in his eyes. It had to be a trick of the light or the mirror's reflection.
"Where did you go tonight?" he asked, dreading the answer.
"I had dinner with Lex," she said.
"Oh, right." He looked away, cursing himself for imagining that he could have her, for reminding her of Lex, and for coming here in the first place. This had been his fourth trip past her apartment tonight - it wasn't a coincidence that he happened to be here, no matter what she might believe.
Lois watched his reflection curiously; feeling a surge of optimism at his sudden uneasiness. Maybe she wasn't imagining it. Maybe he really did have feelings for her. Maybe he had given up on the idea of this other woman who didn't appreciate him. "So have you told her yet?" she asked.
"Told her?" he repeated in confusion as his eyes met hers in the mirror again.
"*Her*. You never told me her name, you know, this woman that you're in love with. Have you told her how you feel about her yet?"
"No. Not yet." He sighed and looked away from her again. He should never have come here. Why did he insist on torturing himself like this?
"Why not?" Lois turned to face him and he took an unsteady step backwards.
"She's with someone else," he said dully.
At last, she thought, there was a ray of hope. Lois cleared her throat softly before speaking. "I'll make you a deal. Why don't you give up on her and I'll stop seeing Lex? How would that be?"
He smiled to himself. "It's tempting, I'll give you that. But I'm hoping she'll notice me for me and not for Superman."
"Notice you? She asked you out to the White Orchid Ball, didn't she?"
"I was more of a last minute replacement than a date." He watched her carefully. There wasn't even the slightest flicker of comprehension in her eyes.
Lois shook her head in disbelief. He was in love with a moron.
"So how did we meet at the White Orchid Ball? What did we talk about? I've been wracking my brain trying to remember you."
"You were there before me," he said, looking past her to focus on the reflection of her nearly-naked back in the mirror. His fingers flexed, aching to touch her again. "I came in and saw you from across the room."
"Did I see you?"
He shrugged. "Not really. You were obviously pursuing Lex. So just how serious are you about him?" He turned his attention back to her face.
"I, uh…" she paused, caught off-guard by the question. "I enjoy his company. He's a very charismatic man."
"And powerful," Clark added.
"Well, sure. But it's not like that. I'm not drawn to Lex for his power any more than I'm drawn to you for yours."
He raised an eyebrow but didn't comment.
"It's not your powers that make you so… you. I mean, obviously the powers are what make you Superman, but there's also so many intangible things about you. Like your caring and your integrity and…" Desperate to change the subject before she came across just as shallow as his mystery woman, she tried another angle. "So you only saw me from across the room? Why didn't you ask me to dance? I would have liked to have danced with you."
Clark wished he dared to tell her that he had tried dancing with her - only to have her walk away in impatient disgust. "What if I promise that the next time I see you at a social function, I'll ask you to dance?"
"And will you tell me that it's you? Just whisper 'it's me, Kal-El' or something to tip me off? I promise I won't tell a soul." When he looked doubtful she plunged ahead. "I swear I would never tell anyone. You mean more to me than a story, I hope you realize that."
"I do. I realized that as soon as you didn't use those photos to win your bet." He stopped himself at the last moment from saying "with Cat".
"Oh," she said softly, a smile spreading across her face. "So you do trust me?"
"I do," he admitted, his voice dropping to a lower register. No, his mind whispered. You *want* to trust her - but you're still afraid.
"It doesn't have to be while we're dancing, you know. If you ever see me on the street or anywhere when you're not in the Suit then I hope you would come over and tell me."
"I wish it were that simple."
"It can be. I think you're making this more complicated than it has to be. Maybe that's your problem with *her*? Either you trust her or you don't. There's only one way to prove it."
"It's not that I don't trust her - I don't trust me." He realized with a jolt that he wasn't making excuses. He really didn't trust himself. And why should he? He was nothing more than a garishly-dressed voyeur at this point.
Lois watched his expression darken and was intrigued. "Why wouldn't you trust yourself? Are you afraid the truth might hurt her?"
"I'm terrified that the truth will hurt her." His eyes closed briefly as he grimaced. "God, Lois, I promise you I never wanted to hurt…" His voice trailed off and he swallowed, trying to find a new direction for the conversation.
A thread of hope shot through her. For just the briefest of moments she had actually believed he was going to say "I never wanted to hurt you". It was crazy and yet… It was impossible.
"It's just that it's too late now," he said quietly. "The truth is going to kill her."
Lois swallowed back her regret and gave him a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can help you on this one."
He watched her eyes, seeing the disappointment she wasn't able to hide. "Would you understand?" he asked hesitantly. "What if someone you thought you knew, like Jimmy, came to you and confessed he had a secret life - would you be able to understand?"
"You're not Jimmy, are you?" she asked, fighting the urge to laugh. "I mean, not really. Are you?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm not Jimmy. I was just trying to give you an example, that's all."
"I would be surprised," she said, forming the words slowly as she tried to give him an honest answer. "Actually, I would probably be flabbergasted, but I would value the secret, or at least the trust inherent in sharing that secret."
He slowly nodded; a faraway expression on his face as he considered her words. "She's my best friend. I'm just afraid of losing that."
"Then you have to tell her," Lois said, trying to sound supportive and not jealous. "What if she's already figured it out? Maybe she's afraid to tell you that she knows you're Superman?"
He blinked and looked at her in astonishment. "She already knows?" he repeated in disbelief.
"I don't know. I'm just saying maybe she already does? Maybe she hasn't said anything because she thinks…" Lois shrugged and spread her hands out in front of her. "Maybe she thinks you don't want her? Maybe she's only dating that other guy to try and get you to wake up and see her as more than a friend?"
"That seems an odd way to get someone's attention."
Lois let out an exasperated sigh. "I don't know her, so I really couldn't tell you. I'm just trying to help you out here. Is it serious, between her and the guy she's dating?"
"I… I guess it's like you and Lex. She seems to enjoy his company." He couldn't keep the annoyance out of his voice.
"But you don't like him," she pointed out, picking up immediately on his change in tone.
"No. I know who he really is."
"Who he really is? Is he a superhero, too?"
Clark let out a bitter chuckle. "No. He's a fake. A dangerous fake."
Lois shook her head ruefully. "Clark says almost the same thing about Lex."
"Clark's right about Lex."
"Where's the proof?" Lois raised an eyebrow expectantly. "If either of you could show me one single shred of proof that would be different. Do you know what I think?"
"What?" he asked, suddenly pulse-poundingly aware that he was flirting with absolute disaster.
"Personally, I think Clark says Lex is dirty because he's jealous. Do you have proof or have you just been listening to Clark for too long?"
Clark winced. What could he tell her? The fact that Lex had tested the range of Superman's powers was disturbing, but it wasn't patently evil. He had nothing concrete that he could show her.
"Well?" she asked pointedly. "Where's your proof?"
He sighed. "I guess I don't have any."
"Exactly," she said smugly.
"I should be going now," he said, taking a step backwards towards the window. He was parting the curtains to leave when he stopped and turned back around to face her. "Lois?"
"Were you just telling me what you thought I wanted to hear? Or did you mean it when you said that you'd understand how difficult telling my secret would be?"
"I meant it," she answered without hesitation.
He smiled at her and opened his mouth as if he were about to say something else. Then, suddenly, his smile turned into an expression of frustration and he gestured at the window behind him. "I have to go now."
"Go," she said with a shooing motion. "You always know where to find me if you need to talk to someone."
He gave her another smile and then he was gone. She went to the window to close it, peering up into the darkness above her without catching a glimpse of him.
"Kal-El," she murmured, savoring the way the name felt on her lips. It seemed dark and sensual - just like the brush of his fingers against her bare skin. Had he done that on purpose? Or was she just projecting her feverish hopes for intimacy onto his innocent gesture?
She closed her eyes, trying to recall the moment. It had to be deliberate, the way his fingers had lingered for just a couple of seconds too long after he had unzipped her dress. And what about that look he had given her in the mirror?
Why was he so reluctant to pursue her? It couldn't just be due to his mystery woman. His reticence had to come from another source. A little jolt of excitement shot through her at the thought that he *wanted* to tell her the truth.
It was simply a matter of time.
Aw, go on, tell me what you're *really* thinking. <g>