By Erin Klingler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: October 2008
Summary: Turn your man into a superhero! Or your love life into a super mess....
Lois leaned back into the mound of pillows on her bed and shifted her laptop on her outstretched legs. This was ridiculous. Clark's birthday was a little over two weeks away, and still she hadn't a clue what to get for him.
What did you get a new boyfriend for his birthday? They'd only been officially dating a couple of months. What did that amount to?
Not jewelry. That was more along the line of a gift you'd give somebody you'd been dating seriously for several months, or even a year. Besides, did Clark even *wear* jewelry? Did guys in general? She didn't think so.
And definitely not cheese. Clark apparently already subscribed to a Cheese of the Month club. Not that she'd ever get a gift like that for somebody she liked. There had to be better, more thoughtful gifts than that.
Ties? That thought brought a smile to her face. Surely stores around the world had run out of any more crazy ties for Clark to buy. He had them all. Besides, that wasn't very personal.
So what did she get that *was* personal but not *too* personal? She didn't want to scare him off or anything. Not that she was sure that was possible. Clark was amazing. He knew how hurt she had been by her past experiences with men, and he had made the effort to steal her heart slowly, so slowly she hadn't even noticed it was happening. Sometime over the past two years, though she couldn't pinpoint the exact time or place, Clark had become the one person she'd come to rely on, to trust, to love.
"Oh, good grief," Lois complained aloud, letting her head roll back on her pillows in dismay. "When did you become such a pathetic romantic, Lois Lane? What happened to you?"
But even as she chuckled at herself and lifted her head back off her pillows to stare once more at her laptop screen, she realized that she knew exactly what had happened. Clark had happened. He was changing her into somebody she had never thought she would be. A woman in love. And not just the infatuation or lust that could be misconstrued as love, but an honest-to-goodness kind of love. The kind of love you could spend the rest of your life sharing with somebody.
That thought pulled her up short. Wait a minute. The rest of her life? Where had that come from? She had only recently admitted to herself--and to Clark just a week ago during a romantic walk in the park after an amazing dinner out--that she was in love with Clark. But they hadn't said a word about a lifetime commitment. Where was she getting that from?
She snapped the lid of her laptop shut and just sat there, not wanting anything to distract her from this surprising train of thought. If she'd stumbled into this topic, there must be a reason why. Was Clark somebody she would honestly want to spend the rest of her life with?
Up until a few months ago, she had sworn she would never be at this place in a relationship--whispering 'I love you's' to each other under a star-speckled night sky, with a glorious full moon hanging overhead to light the emotion on each other's faces just before lips met in an explosion of delicious sensations. But that was exactly what had happened, and here she was, in a loving relationship with a man who was kind, gentle, caring, and oh so good.
And that's what Clark was. He was good. Innately good. Of everything, she loved that the most about him. He was good to others, good to her, and saw the good in everything. She'd needed a touch of that in her life, someone to restore some faith in humanity to her cynical views. He made *her* want to see the good, and he'd opened her eyes to a softer side of herself that she'd forgotten existed.
At first that had scared her. She was so used to being Mad Dog Lane that she didn't know how to be both. How could she possibly let her guard down and love someone? Show a softer side yet still be the determined, brilliant reporter that always got her story? But Clark was teaching her, if only in example, that she could be both. And it was an exhilarating feeling to discover that.
Every day it seemed like her relationship with Clark taught her something new, and in the process, her love for him grew. But was it a lifetime kind of love?
Lois absently reached for the pen beside her and brought it to her lips, lightly tapping it against her bottom lip as she thought. The times she'd thought she'd lost Clark were probably the most traumatic times in her life. Looking back, she knew she'd loved Clark even then. And now that they were together, the thought of losing him made her chest so tight she could barely breathe.
If she couldn't stand the thought of being without him, one would reason that meant this was, indeed, a lifetime kind of love. She couldn't imagine a more 'happily ever after' than growing old with Clark.
But she wasn't ready to go rushing off into marriage yet, even if Clark did ask. No, she needed to take things slow. Build the trust they already had growing between them. That was her biggest hurdle to overcome, she realized. She'd had her trust destroyed and her heart destroyed so many times in her young life that it had almost kept her and Clark apart. Luckily he was understanding, and he seemed to be enjoying taking his time establishing a solid foundation between them.
Satisfied with that, she dropped her pen back to the notebook beside her. Foundations. Yes, that's what they needed to focus on. Foundations of love, friendship, and trust. That's what it was all about. She could worry about lifetime commitments later when they both felt they were ready to take that step.
Opening up her laptop once more, she continued her quest for the perfect birthday gift, if there ever was such a thing. After several long minutes of surfing, she realized everything she was looking at was boring. Nothing jumped out at her. She needed some unusual ideas.
Typing "unusual gifts" into the search engine, she hit the 'enter' key and waited. Moments later, the page loaded and, in big letters, the first website listed announced, "Superheroes-R-Us! Customized and Unusual Gifts for the superhero in your life!"
Lois laughed out loud. "Okay. That sounds interesting," she said as she clicked on the link. A colorful webpage opened, showing an array of gifts you could customize. There were key chains, hats, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and various toys, all relating to the superheroes from the comic books she'd seen guys tuck into the math books during her elementary school and junior high years. But one item in particular practically leaped off the page at her.
It was a Superman action figure, about 3/4 the size of a Barbie doll, on a stand. "Make the man you love into a Super Man!" the description read. "Send us front, back, and side-view headshots of the man in your life and we'll make him into a Superman!"
Lois started to giggle. Clark. As Superman. The thought made her laugh even harder. The man couldn't even open a peanut butter jar by himself.
But once the irony of the situation wore off and she was able to stop giggling, she decided it might be a fun gift that said something. Clark knew how infatuated she used to be with Superman. She was embarrassed now to look back and realize just how big a fool she'd made of herself over the resident superhero. But now she had Clark and was happily in love.
A smile grew as she thought about the potential gift. She could give Clark the Superman action figure with a rose and a card that read, "You're my one and only superhero." It could be her way of letting him know she was past all that, and had given up that school-girl crush on the superhero that had only seemed to come between them.
She thought for a long minute, then heard the clock chime in the living room. Her eyes darted to the alarm clock on her nightstand and she gasped when she realized what time it was. If she didn't hurry she was going to be late for work.
She looked back at the webpage, still undecided. Bold print at the bottom of the item's description told that half the proceeds would be going to the Superman Foundation. And with a small fee (she cringed at the price of the "small fee"), they could do an in-plant rush and have it done inside of two weeks.
Well, heck, what was she waiting for? The perfect gift for Clark *and* proceeds going to charity. It was a win-win situation.
"I'm going to do it," she said aloud, cementing her decision. She snatched her pen from her blanket and quickly jotted down the information she needed into the notebook. Then scrambled off the bed in search of her camera. Apparently, she was going to need to take a couple of pictures of Clark today.
A smile darted across her face. How exactly was she going to explain to Clark why she was taking pictures of him?
She shook her head and giggled in excited anticipation as she pulled clothes off hangers in her closet and headed into the bathroom to shower. She didn't know the answer to that yet, but she was sure she'd come up with something.
The second flash in as many minutes made him flinch, and Clark threw a hand up in front of his face, trying not to upset the coffee cup in his other hand. "Lois, what on earth are you doing?"
Her grin flashed as she pulled the camera down from her face. She moved forward and took one of the donuts out of the box next to the coffee maker where Clark was standing. "I'm taking pictures of you."
"O-kay," he said, giving her a long look. "I see that. And...why is that, exactly?"
She took a small bite from her donut and he could practically see her brain working as she deliberated over something. Finally she gave him a resigned smile and lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "Okay, here's the deal," she began, obviously having decided to confide in him. "I'm working on something for you for your birthday, and I need a few pictures for it. So don't ask any more questions because I'm not telling you anything else."
Clark's heart melted. She was *working* on a birthday gift? Working, as in putting some time into it? He stopped to consider that. Wow. He felt flattered beyond words.
"So?" she asked, lifting one dark eyebrow at him in silent question. "Can I take a couple more pictures? For the gift."
He smiled and set his coffee cup down on the counter. "What do you want me to do?"
She pointed to the center of the kitchenette. "Just stand there and I'll move around you."
Clark felt silly as he stood motionless while she walked around him, taking pictures of the front, back, and sides of his head. When she finally stepped back, he said, "Can I move now?"
She grinned. "Yep. You're free to go about your business."
"All right then," he said, moving toward her and pinning her against the counter. "This was my next order of business."
He leaned in toward her, stopping with his mouth mere inches from hers. "Thank you for the birthday present, Lois," he murmured just before kissing her tenderly.
She giggled against his lips. When he pulled back, she said on a laugh, "You don't even know what it is."
"If it's from you, I'm sure I'll love it."
"I'm sure you will," she assured him, then stood up on tiptoes and gave him a quick kiss. Then she picked up his steaming cup of coffee from the counter and held it up with a cocky smile. "And because I know you'll love it, you're giving me your coffee and getting yourself another one."
Clark laughed as she sashayed out of the kitchenette with the cup of coffee. Raising his voice, he called after her, "You'll notice that one is decaf, no sugar, which means I made it for you, anyway!"
She gave him a quick, flirty grin over her shoulder and held the coffee up as thanks, then headed for her desk.
Clark shook his head and chuckled to himself as he pulled another cup from the stack and filled it with coffee for himself. How had he gotten so lucky? That woman was amazing.
Not that this was news. He'd known that from the first day they'd worked together. She was passion personified. She would go after stories with reckless abandon, not only because it was her job, but because she loved the thrill of the hunt. There was something exhilarating and exciting about being around Lois--and something even more special about being *with* Lois.
When they'd made it official two months ago and started dating exclusively, he felt as if all his dreams were finally coming true. Lois was everything and more that he'd ever dreamed of having. She was vibrant and passionate, and the love of his life.
Over the last several weeks, he could finally see all the carefully constructed barriers around Lois's heart starting to crumble. It had taken him two years to get this point, and while they'd been two good years, they hadn't been easy. But they had shown him that she was a woman worth waiting for--worth fighting for--and it had all culminated in this.
And "this" was wonderful. He knew now, more than ever, that she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He couldn't imagine anything he'd love more than to grow old with this fiery, incredible woman. One thing was for sure...living the rest of his life with Lois meant there would never be a dull moment.
Grinning at that thought, he walked back to his desk with his freshly poured cup of coffee and settled into his desk chair. Swiveling it slightly, he studied Lois at her desk several feet away while he sipped his coffee.
His pounding heart at the sight of her stilled as he considered the one thing holding him back from moving their relationship to the next level. Superman.
He hadn't told her yet about the romantic dinner he was putting together for the weekend after next. He was planning on cooking chicken parmesan with home-baked dinner rolls, serving it with her favorite salad, and he'd even arranged to pick up a chocolate mousse from her favorite bakery. He'd planned every aspect of that night down to the tiniest detail...even the part when he told her he was Superman.
He took a deep breath and let it out on a sigh. He could only hope that she would be so bowled over by the romantic evening that she wouldn't kill him. That was the plan, anyway. He refused to lose her. Over this or anything else.
She might be mad, hurt, angry or all of the above, but he knew if he handled her emotions with love, they could get through this.
Impatiently, Lois turned her keys in the locks on her apartment door and gave the door a shove with her knee to open it. Her attache swung precariously from her shoulder as she did and she gasped, trying desperately to balance the styrofoam take-out container, the small cardboard box, and the stack of mail in her arms.
Before everything toppled, she squatted down and let the attache slide from her shoulder, then set her load on the floor. The only thing she cared about right now was the box.
She had hardly been able to contain her excitement when she'd come home for a quick lunch, gathered her mail on the way up to her apartment, and found the note in her mail slot saying she had a package waiting for her in the superintendent's office. When she'd picked it up and spotted the bold red and blue return label that read "Superheroes-R-Us," she could hardly wait to get upstairs and open it.
Carrying the box over to the table, she set it down, then grabbed the scissors from the kitchen to cut through the packing tape. She pulled out the bubble-wrapped item and eagerly unrolled it from its packing.
She frowned as she stared down at the action figure in her hand.
Wait a minute. They must have gotten her order wrong. She hadn't ordered a regular Superman action figure. She'd ordered a personalized Superman figure with...Clark's face. The only thing to indicate they'd even looked at Clark's photographs was the fact that a pair of glasses sat on this action figure's face.
Anger started to roil in her chest. How dare these people! Had they looked at the pictures she'd sent them, decided Clark held a passing resemblance to the Man of Steel, and figured they'd save a few bucks by simply slapping a pair of glasses on a Superman action figure and sending it to her?
Oh, well she was going to have something to say about this! She made a living off righting the injustices in the world, and some toy company trying to rip her off and get away with it had now been bumped up to the very top of her list. They weren't going to get away with this!
She picked up the action figure, took one more look at the ridiculous glasses on its face and snorted.
Putting a pair glasses on Superman was laughable. Whoever thought of doing so in the factory just to save a few bucks should be shot. It was almost blasphemous, really. If this factory worker had ever met Clark and Superman, he'd see what complete opposites they were. Sure, there was a passing resemblance, but that's where the similarities stopped.
Okay, maybe there were one or two other similarities. Clark's inherent goodness, for example. And Clark seemed to practically worship Superman. Every time somebody said something bad about him, Clark rushed to his defense. Lois knew they were friends, and maybe Clark was just being loyal, but there seemed to be more to it than that. It seemed to be almost like how Lois felt about her sister Lucy. Lois could badmouth her and it was allowed, but if anybody else tried it, watch out. Lois would come out swinging in her sister's defense. That's how it seemed to be between siblings. You watched out for each other, stood up for each other.
But Clark wasn't Superman's brother. Superman was from Krypton and Clark was from Kansas. Besides, they looked to be about the same age. That would have had to make them twins.
She snorted again. There wasn't *that* much resemblance. Unless they were fraternal twins in the extreme sense. Even if Superman tried to disguise himself and look like Clark, he wouldn't fool a soul. There were too many things different about the two men.
The glasses, for one. Superman certainly wouldn't need glasses. His eyesight went beyond perfect. He could probably see bacteria in a glass of water.
Then there was Superman's chiseled body. The only way he could try to look like Clark would be to borrow a couple of Clark's boxy suits to hide behind. To be fair, Clark's body was nothing to slouch at. She'd gotten a good look at Clark shirtless just after they'd met when she'd stopped by to pick him up at that hole-in-the-wall apartment he'd first stayed in when he'd arrived in Metropolis. But nobody else would know he had all those muscles because they were hidden under those conservative suits.
And what about Superman's strength? The man had lifted a space shuttle into orbit, for crying out loud. How could you hide that? She supposed Superman, trying to pass off for Clark Kent, could pretend to be a wimp. That seemed to come naturally enough for Clark. He couldn't open a can of olives. Sure, Superman could try to fake that inability.
All in all, she supposed Superman could slap on a pair of Clark's glasses to hide his drop-dead-gorgeous face, slip into one of Clark's business suits to hide those perfectly formed muscles, pretend to be a wimp, and avoid lifting or doing anything that would give him away.
She laughed out loud, giddy with her brilliant line of reasoning. It could be possible, she supposed, if Superman ever wanted to lead a normal life, avoid being mobbed at every turn. Heck, it might even be the perfect disguise.
Lois's laughter cut off with her quick intake of breath.
Wait a minute. Wait. Just. A. Darned. Minute.
Sudden realization crashed down around her and she had to remind herself to breathe. She let the breath she'd been holding out with a whoosh and sucked in another deep, painful one.
Blindly, she fumbled for the chair behind her. When her hand felt solid wood, she collapsed in the chair and gripped the edge of the table as the room spun around her.
This couldn't be right. She'd only been joking around as she'd pretended to disguise Superman as Clark. He wasn't really Clark. He couldn't be.
But the aching awareness pounded down on her, making her slump in her chair. Looks. Innate goodness. Perfect body. It was all there. Leading to one thing. One realization.
Superman was Clark. Clark was Superman.
After several dizzying minutes, the room finally stopped swaying and Lois slowly came back into herself. She tried to pull her jumbled thoughts together and make sense out of this new discovery.
Clark was Superman. Huh. Well, that certainly explained a lot of things. Like Clark's frequent disappearing acts. And the ridiculous excuses. Did he really belong to a cheese of the month club or had that just another of his more insane ones? And his defense of Superman. Of course he was loyal. He'd been defending himself!
The shock and fascination of what she'd discovered slowly began to turn to anger. He'd been fooling her for two years! Lying to her, pretending to be two people. And...oh, geez... She'd practically thrown herself at Superman this whole time!
She groaned and leaned forward in her chair, burying her face in her hands, her cheeks flaming. She'd been such an idiot. How had she not figured this out before now?
And they'd been dating for weeks now. Shouldn't she have seen the clues more clearly? What was the matter with her!
No, wait... What was the matter with *Clark*! How could he do this to her? She'd let him into her life...into her heart, and still he hadn't come clean about his little act. Did he not trust her? And did she even trust *him* after managing to piece this together? He'd been toying with her for two years. Two whole years. And just when he'd gotten her to open up to him, this is how he thanked her for giving him her trust?
Her simmering anger began to boil. He couldn't do this to her. He wouldn't get away with this. There was only one thing left to do.
Clark jumped when something was set down hard on his desk. Startled, he saw that a cardboard box now sat on his desk. When he looked up from the stack of research he noticed Lois standing beside it. Her appearance was the same as it had been before she'd left for lunch--long-sleeved, shimmery white blouse; slimming black, calf-length skirt; strappy black high heels that showed off her shapely calves and long legs--but it was her stance that caught his attention. It was all wrong.
Arms crossed over her chest. Body rigid. Mad Dog Lane glare. Tensed jaw jutting out in silent fury.
He swallowed tensely. Uh-oh. What had he done this time?
Before he could speak, she picked the box back up, grabbed one of his suit coat lapels, and started walking. The movement caused his rolling desk chair to roll after her with him in it. He quickly stood and followed her meekly before she pulled him, still in his desk chair, all the way into the conference room where she was heading.
She didn't speak, nor did she release his lapel until they were inside the conference room and the door was shut. With angry motions she walked to the conference room window and twisted the blinds closed. For the first time, he noticed a box held securely under her right arm, one she didn't set down even to close the blinds.
Clark didn't move--didn't dare--until she told him he was allowed. It was better that way. He knew how she was when she got like this. It was better to let her take the lead and get whatever it was off her chest.
With the blinds shut, she whirled, eyes flashing, and pointed to the nearest chair at the conference table. "Sit." Her tone was cold, daring him to defy her.
She set the box down with an angry thump in front of him once more. "So," she began, her voice tight and with barely contained fury. "I got your birthday present in the mail today. Would you like to see what it is?"
"But it's not my birthday until Friday," he offered meekly.
The seething look Lois gave him would have dropped a charging bull moose without a bullet. He muttered an apology and waited for her to continue.
"I know your birthday's not until Friday, but I thought I'd let you have an early look." And with that, she pulled out an object and plunked it down on the conference table in front of him.
He recognized it instantly. It was a Superman action figure...with one anomaly. It was wearing glasses.
Clark's brows furrowed. What in the world...?
Glancing from the odd Superman action figure to Lois and back to the figure, his confusion only grew. Looking at it more closely, his heart started to thud. It was him. 'Well, of course it's me,' he corrected with sarcasm. 'I'm Superman. But...it's *me*. Clark Kent. As Superman. Complete with glasses.'
This was not good.
Lois was in possession of a Superman figure that looked like Clark. In a Superman costume.
His heart started to pound with terrifying realization. She knew. Somehow she'd figured it out. And his guess was it had something to do with this weird little action figure sitting on his table before him.
He looked up at Lois once more and swallowed painfully past the growing lump in his throat. In a rough voice, he asked, "Lois? What's going on?"
That was it. The starting bell Mad Dog Lane had been waiting for that gave her permission to come out of her corner fighting. She jerked her folded arms apart and slapped her hands down on his desk with a loud clap, upsetting the plastic superhero on the table--as well as the real one sitting next to it.
"Well, you see, Clark, it's a funny thing," she said, barely managing to keep her voice down in order to keep from being heard outside the conference room door. "That little birthday gift of yours I was working on? Well, this is it. I found this website where this company could make various dolls and action figures in the image of whoever you wanted. Send them the money and a few photographs of the person you're buying the gift for, and they'd personalize the item. They could put somebody's daughter's face on a doll for Christmas, somebody's son's face on a GI Joe action figure, or..." She waved her hand at the Superman figure between them and then leaned in closer, her breath tickling his face as she spoke again. "...a boyfriend's face on a Superman action figure."
She straightened and made a wild gesture with her arms. "I had it all planned out. I was going to give you this with a rose and a card that read 'You're my one and only superhero'...you know, kind of tie it into that old, annoying crush I had on Superman. But then just imagine my surprise when this..." She gestured once more at the action figure. "...came in the mail today."
Clark's eyes followed hers and he imagined it as she would have, seeing it for the first time. And it was clear she'd taken one look and put two-and-two together. There was no doubt from her anger that she had made the connection.
"At first I thought it was some kind of mistake," she went on, her anger transitioning her explanation into a smooth ramble. "I guessed they took one look at the pictures I'd sent them, saw you had dark hair and the same olive skin tone as Superman, and thought they'd save a ton of money by just putting a pair of glasses on one of the Superman action figures they already had in stock, then send that to me."
Looking for an outlet for her anger, Lois started to pace in front of Clark, and Clark felt helpless to do anything but watch her and let her vent. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized you've always had more than a passing resemblance to Superman. You and Superman both have the same build, but as Clark you hide it behind those conservative suits and crazy ties. You both have the same brown eyes, but as Clark you hide them behind a pair of glasses. And that 'I'm in charge because I'm a superhero' attitude? It's hidden behind that sometimes-bumbling, mild-mannered exterior of yours that you've shown me every day the past two years. I mean...who would, for even one second, consider that Clark Kent could also be that guy who saves the world from killer bees and props up the Golden Gate Bridge? Nobody, that's who."
Her voice faltered, and for a moment, a chink appeared in her armor of Mad Dog Lane fury. "Not even me."
Her breath caught on a barely repressed sob, and it was then that Clark realized the anger was only a cover for her painfully breaking heart.
Clark pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. His eyes were pleading as he took a step toward her. "Lois, please. Let me explain."
When she didn't bolt for the door, Clark felt a tremor of hope. He closed the remaining distance between them and reached out to put a gentle hand on her arm. "Lois, you need to know that I've been wanting to tell you this for a long time," he began, keeping his voice soft and unthreatening. "I even had this romantic evening all planned out for next weekend to do just that. I was going to cook you Chicken Parmesan and serve chocolate mousse for dessert from your favorite bakery, Geraldine's. I was going to do the whole nine yards--candles, soft music, good conversation..."
Lois's eyes flashed. "And then you were just going to spring it on me? Lois, I'm Superman?"
Clark cringed. "Well, not exactly like that. I was going to be tactful. Break it to you gently. Maybe after a couple of glasses of wine." He gave her a little smile but her answering glare quickly wiped it off his face. He sobered and went on. "And I was going to tell you that this little...new detail...didn't change the fact that I'm still Clark Kent. That other than this one thing, I'm the same guy you've come to know over the past two years."
"How can I even believe that, Clark?" she demanded, refusing to let him off the hook. "You know all about my past, about how hard it has been for me to trust anyone, to open my heart like I have to you. And just after I do, I find out the man I love has been lying to me! How do you think that makes me feel?"
"I'm sure it hurts you more than I could even understand," Clark answered truthfully. "But I need you to understand that I'm still me. I'm just that same guy who brings you coffee in the morning, let's you take point on stories because he knows you're the best, walks you home at night...and loves you more than anything."
A flicker of something moved across her face that gave him hope. Gathering his courage, he lifted his hand to her face, stroking his thumb over her delicate cheekbone. His heart swelled as her eyelids flickered closed for the briefest of moments, and she leaned the merest fraction of inches into his hand. He knew then there was hope. This might not be the nail in his coffin he had thought it might be.
"Lois, please, you have to know how much it has hurt me to keep this thing from you. And I know it's hurt you too. But we can work through this. Give me the opportunity to show you that you *can* trust me, that I'm the same man you fell in love with."
Her eyes opened fully and she looked up to meet his intense gaze with her uncertain one. He could see her silently warring with her emotions behind the depths of those beautiful brown eyes.
"I don't know, Clark," she said with hesitation, moving out from under his hand and turning to pace in front of him once more. "Two weeks ago my whole world was different. I was in love with this wonderful man who I thought I knew everything about. But everything I thought I knew about you changed the moment I took that stupid action figure out of the box." She waved her hand feebly at the box on the conference room table behind him. "Now I realize I don't really know you at all. The man I thought I was going to grow old with isn't the man I thought he was. Can you understand how much that hurts?"
Clark sucked in a lungful of air and held it in shock. Grow old with? He ran her words through his mind again, carefully examining each word. Yes, she'd definitely said grow old with. She'd been thinking he was the man she wanted to grow old with?
She looked over at him and frowned. "What, Clark?" she demanded, putting a hand on her hip and waving a hand for him to speak. "Don't just stand there like a gulping goldfish. Say something."
Still feeling sucker punched, he managed, "You planned on growing old with me?"
Lois dropped her hand from her hip and let her head roll back in frustration. "Clark, that wasn't my point!"
He took a step closer. "But you said it," he pointed out, his tone cautious. "That must have meant you'd been thinking about it. Have you really considered that? Honestly?"
Lois put both hands on her hips and glared at him. "Okay, yes. I was. Happy? But that was before I found out that you're this totally different guy who spends half his time flying around the world in a tights and a cape, and the other half of his time pretending to be Clark Kent."
"Lois," Clark said gently, "I still *am* Clark Kent. Superman is just this guy I pretend to be so I can use these powers I have for some good. Believe me, nothing has changed."
"How can you say that?" Lois threw her hands into the air. "*Everything* has changed. Nothing is the same!"
Clark shook his head and his tone was determined. "No, Lois, you're wrong. *Nothing* has changed where it really counts--between us. We're still Lois and Clark, partners...best friends. And in love. We just have to iron out this...little detail."
She leveled him with a look. "Little detail? Clark, you can *fly*."
He chuckled, the warm, rumbling sound surrounding them like a flannel blanket on a cold winter's day. "Yes, I can fly. And heat your coffee without electricity. And refreeze your ice cream after you've left it sitting on the counter because you got distracted by a message from Bobby Bigmouth on your answering machine."
The first genuine smile--albeit small--touched Lois's lips, and Clark felt his heart soar with hope. He moved toward her and put both hands on her cheeks, cupping her face between his hands. He met her gaze and made sure he conveyed with his eyes the truth of what he was about to say.
"I can do lots of things, Lois, but the thing I want to do most is love you." He paused to let the words sink in, all the while smoothing his thumbs over Lois's cheeks. "Please, Lois, let me love you."
Clark waited and watched as Lois warred with her emotions. And he waited some more. Tears started to fill her eyes, and still he waited. He had learned over the years that patience with Lois was key. She was working this out in her mind and he refused to rush her.
A single tear escaped from the pools in her eyes and carved its way down her cheek to her trembling lip. Clark smoothed the moisture away with the pad of his thumb. His gesture appeared to finally draw her thoughts to the surface.
"Oh, Clark," she murmured. Her previous anger seemed to have dropped out of the bottom of her strappy black heels. "It's just a lot to take in, and as you can tell..." She gestured to the tears he was caressing from her cheeks. "...I'm still working on this new...development. And I'm not done being angry. Or hurt. Or a dozen other things."
"I'll give you time, Lois," he assured her. "I have no problem with that. Just don't push me away. Can we work through this together? Please?"
Her silence seemed to last two lifetimes as she mulled over his plea. At last, she lifted one dark eyebrow in inquisition. "Chicken Parmesan? And chocolate mousse from Geraldine's? Can we still do that?"
Clark laughed again, this time with sheer joy. They'd survived. He wasn't sure they were going to for a minute there, but here he was, still standing before her, being allowed to touch her. To love her.
"There's something I have to do right now," he said, his voice growing deep and husky.
"This." He leaned down to touch his lips to hers. The instant their lips met, Clark's senses launched into overdrive. His hand slipped from her cheek and around the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her hair.
To his relief and delight, she softened in his arms and her lips became compliant against his. He deepened the kiss, and a soft whimper escaped her lips. Clark captured the sound in his mouth and slipped his other arm around her waist, pulling her more tightly against him.
The sensations that came from kissing Lois had always made him feel heady and tingly, but this time the explosion of emotion took him by surprise. His mouth played lightly over hers, and he allowed his senses to take in every beautiful discovery--the merest taste of coffee on her lips, the scent of lavender from her perfume, and the soft, shapely woman in his arms. Every aspect of kissing Lois assaulted his senses and made his chest tighten with emotion. He loved this woman. And no way was he letting some ridiculous Superman action figure come between them and a lifetime of love.
When he finally broke their kiss, he pulled back only far enough to meet her emotional, tear-filled gaze. He tilted his head down, touching his forehead lightly to hers. "I love you, Lois," he murmured. "That's what that kiss was for. To show you just how much."
"I love you too."
Her simple declaration filled him once more with joy and he gave her one last kiss before releasing her.
Taking a step back, Lois sniffled and swiped away the lingering tears on her cheek. Then she gave him a teary smile and gestured at the action figure still standing on the conference room table. "That stupid thing. It caused all sorts of problems that I hadn't bargained for."
Clark laughed as he glanced over to see the label on the box. "True. But maybe I should send Superheroes-R-Us a nice-sized, anonymous donation."
Lois looked back at him in confusion. "What? Why?"
"Well, the way I figure it," he said, smiling into her eyes, "I was planning on having to do some major damage control after having our little romantic evening when I told you everything. I figured I'd have to buy my way back into your heart with jewelry...flowers...a few expensive gifts... Since I won't be having to do that, maybe I should send the money to them instead, as a thank you for doing my job for me. I wouldn't tell them that, of course, but to be honest, I actually deal with them a lot. Half the proceeds from their sales go to--"
"--The Superman Foundation," she finished for him. A slow smile worked its way across her face. "*Your* foundation. Clever. That would be a strange kind of irony, wouldn't it? Superman donating to his own foundation?"
Clark laughed again. "Yes, it would be. Funny thing is, the sales of those personalized Superman action figures from Superheroes-R-Us account for a large portion of funds raised for the Superman Foundation. It seems every woman wants to turn her man into a superhero." His eyes twinkled as he looked at her. "Only now, you don't have to."
"Because I have a Superman of my own?" She shook her head and regarded him seriously. "Clark, that's not what that gift was supposed to mean--that I wanted you to be Superman. Nor did it have anything to do with my old crush on him...you...whatever." She growled and rolled her eyes. "How confusing is this? Anyway, what I meant that action figure to say, was that *you* had become my personal superhero. That I loved Clark. Er...you." She sighed once more at the confusion then tried again. "I mean, I love you."
Clark felt his heart swell within his chest. "And I love you," he told her, brushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear tenderly. "I always have and I always will." She smiled up at him and he smiled back. His glance shifted to the action figure on the table. "At least you picked a good company to fork out some money on for a gift."
The reminder caused Lois to pull a face. "Great. That reminds me, now I still don't have a gift for your birthday."
With a chuckle, he pulled her back into his arms and nestled her head beneath his chin. "You're the best present I could ever have, Lois."
"Now you're just trying to kiss up."
"Yes. Is it working?"
Lois smiled and pulled back from his embrace. "We'll see." She walked over to the box, then, without speaking, she wrapped the action figure into the bubble wrap and set it back in the box. Turning to Clark, she asked, "What do you say we get out of here?"
"Perry's at that meeting with the suits upstairs and will likely be gone the rest of the afternoon, and we don't have any pressing stories. What exactly do you have in mind?"
She sobered, and a look of vulnerability settled across her face. "Could we...maybe...talk? Go for a walk or something?"
"Anything, Lois." He crossed over to her and rubbed his hands up and down her arms in an effort to soothe away her fears. Just then an idea flashed into his mind. "Hey, I have an idea. "Instead of a walk, how about a...flight?" He lifted his eyebrows in offer. "The perfect place to talk. No interruptions...no overheard conversations...."
The look in Lois's eyes changed. Anybody else might have overlooked the subtle glimmer of interest, but he'd been staring into those eyes for the better part of two years. He'd come to know every mannerism, the slightest of mood changes, every subtle tone and inflection in her voice, and better yet, he knew what each of them meant. He knew *her*. Maybe he was the only person who every really had.
Lois cocked an eyebrow at him and regarded him seriously, though the tiniest hint of a smile twitched around the corner of her mouth. "I could even yell and scream at you and nobody would hear."
Clark responded with a low rumble of laughter. "I suppose you could. And I'd even let you, Lois. It wouldn't be undeserved."
She thought about that for a minute, then picked up the box and turned toward the conference room door. "Sure, okay," she said. Her tone was casual, but it was impossible to miss the underlying excitement and anticipation she was trying so hard to disguise. "Let me just grab my sweater."
Not waiting for her to change her mind, he moved at only slightly above human speed to snatch her sweater from the coat rack beside her desk and then guided her with a hand on the small of her back to the stairwell door.
By the time he reached the roof with her, spin-changed into his Superman outfit before her astonished gaze, and lifted her into his arms, he was sure of one thing. This was just a minor setback. Once they got through it, they would move forward.
And he could see, at the very moment he swept her into his arms and flew off toward the horizon, that her anger and the hurt in her eyes was dissipating and being replaced by the love he'd seen shining through them these past few weeks. Everything was going to be okay.
"Maybe we should make a quick stop at my apartment and drop off that box," he suggested as they flew above the city.
"Why not my apartment?"
He smiled. "It's *my* birthday gift, isn't it? So that means it belongs at my apartment."
"Fine. You win," Lois conceded. "But I don't think it's a good idea to put it out in plain sight for everyone to see. Somebody else might put two and two together."
"I agree. Not a good idea." Then Clark chuckled. "But I just have to show it to my parents. They'd get the biggest kick out of it."
"Oh, no," Lois groaned, burying her face in Clark's shoulder. "Your parents. This is so embarrassing. They must think I'm blind for being fooled for so long."
Clark tightened his arms around her. "No, they don't. They'll be thrilled you finally know. My mom especially. She's been rooting for us from the beginning."
Lois seemed soothed by that fact. "I guess that's something." Then she frowned and turned pleading eyes to Clark. "You won't tell her that's how I found out about you, will you? That some stupid action figure with glasses brought the great investigative reporter Lois Lane to her knees?"
Clark threw his head back and laughed. "Are you kidding? You bet I will. Or I'll at least threaten you with it. I'd say that's great blackmail material, wouldn't you?"
Lois groaned again, and dropped her head to his chest. "I'm doomed."
As Clark laughed and cradled her more tightly against his chest, he soared off into the open sky. And for the first time in a long time, he knew exactly where his life was going. He was flying himself and Lois into their long and happy future together.