Maggie dropped by the riverside house two days after Superman left the hospital. She found Toby camped on Lois’ doorstep, hoping for an interview, and had to chase the Star reporter off before going inside. Toby couldn’t leave without calling over her shoulder, “You have to talk to someone, Lois, it might as well be someone who actually cares how you’re represented in the press!”
Any further commentary on her part was forestalled by Maggie threatening to lock her out of their apartment. Lois just shrugged; she had expected as much. Her answering machine at work was already clogged with requests from other journalists, and at least Toby had asked how she and the twins were doing before fishing for a quote.
Once inside, Maggie gave her the good news right away. “You’re cleared,” she said. “Forensics proved that whoever shot Grant had stepped in Riley’s blood, and we have video showing that you never did. There won’t be any charges.”
“Thank God,” Lois sighed. “Now if only I could get my gun back from that rat bastard.”
“Well, I guess I can help you out a bit there,” the lieutenant said. “You know there’s a ten-day waiting period on handgun purchases in the city, right?”
“Yes,” Lois growled, “and I didn’t dare go out and buy one while Officer Smith was trying to hang me for at least one murder.”
Maggie grinned and unbuttoned her jacket. Her service pistol hung at her belt, as always, but she was carrying a second gun in a shoulder holster. Lois recognized the rosewood grip and her eyes brightened. “Now, this is the model 65, not the model 60 you had. A little heavier and a little bigger, but it has less recoil and fires six shots instead of five. I already had my gunsmith polish all the working surfaces and lighten the trigger pull for you.”
She set the gun and holster on the table, and Lois just grinned. “Thanks, Maggie. This goes a long way toward making me feel better whenever I hear noises at night.”
“You’re welcome,” Sawyer replied. “Just don’t expect a Christmas present this year. Or next year, for that matter.”
On an overcast afternoon three days after he’d left S.T.A.R. Labs, Clark stood in front of the hall mirror, straightening his tie and smoothing down his hair. He was so focused on making sure he looked his best that Martha’s voice startled him badly. “Well, son, where are you going looking so very handsome?”
Clark whirled around, still not used to sharing his small apartment with his mother. Having dinner cooked for him every evening was a definite plus, but random maternal supervision was something he could do without. “I’m going out, Ma,” he said.
“With whom?” she asked, silver brows rising.
“What makes you think I’m going with anyone?” Clark asked.
Martha just chuckled. “Clark. I love you, son. When did you call Lois?”
“Earlier this morning,” he muttered. “We’re going to dinner. I figured she ought to know… Well, there’s a lot we need to talk about. Especially if I’m going…”
“And you want to see her,” Martha said shrewdly. “Don’t look so surprised, son. I’ve been in love enough to know it when I see it. Just don’t forget, there’s still her fiancé to consider.”
“Not anymore,” Clark said. “Lois told me this morning. The engagement’s off; Richard ended it, not Lois.”
“Well, now that’s interesting,” Martha said, but Clark didn’t let her interrogate him further.
“I have to run, Ma. We’re meeting in an hour, and I can’t use any ‘special’ means of transportation to get there. Not in this suit, anyway.” He straightened the lapels of his new black three-piece suit, silently praying that the city would take care of itself long enough for him to have an uninterrupted meal with Lois.
Lois was trying to hurry and get ready without admitting to herself that she cared quite so much about this dinner. I will not act like some idiotic high-school girl, dithering all over the place because her crush asked her out. I will not. I ought to be a little more calm about this – we have six-year-old twins, for the love of God!
In spite of what she kept telling herself, she was running late and panicking about it. She’d gone through her entire closet trying to find something to wear, something elegant but not overdone. Something that respected the occasion and the man she was meeting for dinner, but that didn’t make her seem as if she’d put too much thought into the choice. The blouse and skirt she’d finally chosen now lay on the bed, and Lois was wearing only her bra and panties while she stood in the bathroom putting on her makeup. After all, Richard was at work and Ella had picked up the twins, so she had the house to herself.
So thinking, Lois put the final touches on her makeup and walked out into the bedroom, her mind firmly on getting dressed and out the door with enough time to make the dinner date…
A moment later, Richard just walked in the bedroom door and skidded to a halt. For one long second, Lois and Richard stared at each other in utter shock. Then he mumbled, “Sorry,” as he turned to leave, and Lois retreated to the bathroom with a startled yelp.
She laughed nervously as she flung on a robe. Oh my God, what’s wrong with me? When did I turn into a modest little ninny? “This is ridiculous. It’s not as if you’ve never seen it before.”
“Yeah,” Richard replied, and his laugh sounded forced. “I was just coming in to get a different shirt. Olsen managed to spill coffee on me right before that stupid dinner with the investors.” He paused, standing outside the open bedroom door while Lois picked up her outfit and retreated to the bathroom again. “So … you’re going out?”
“Yes,” she answered, dressing quickly and telling herself she was being an idiot. You slept with him for three years, Lane, why are you suddenly acting like this? Hell, you haven’t been body-shy since you were a teenager. And there’s not an inch of said body that he hasn’t already seen. Get real!
Richard was silent for a long time, then he said quietly, “With Clark?”
“Yes,” Lois replied in what she hoped was a nonchalant tone, unable to look at him as her heart clenched. Why did the softness of his voice have to make her feel so guilty? “Momma has the twins.”
“I’ll get them after the meeting,” Richard said. “Lois … I was thinking about staying over at Perry’s for a while.”
She stopped in the act of putting her earrings in. Now she was the one who sounded hurt when she said, “Oh. I guess … I guess that means we have to talk to the twins first. I don’t want to surprise them.”
“Very little surprises Kala,” Richard replied. “She hears everything whether she wants to or not, and Clark already said something to them.”
“She understands, but not completely,” Lois said, adjusting the blouse slightly. She came out of the bathroom looking very serious. “Richard, I don’t think the kids have even imagined you moving out.”
Richard raked his hand through his sandy hair, watching Lois hunt for her shoes with a slight smile. He didn’t like it, but seeing her fidgeting around made him feel vindicated. At least he wasn’t the only one who found this topic profoundly uncomfortable. “Well, that’s something all three of us probably need to talk to them about. When he gets some free time, you know.”
Lois slipped her heels on and glanced at the clock, wincing. Trying to stop feeling like her conscience was bleeding. She had never felt the urge to flee so badly. “Oh, crap. I’m gonna be late. Dammit. Richard, I’m sorry, I’ve got to get going…”
She’d been walking toward the door as she spoke, and Richard stepped to one side to let her pass. For an instant, it was almost like old times, brushing past each other casually on the way in or out of a room. For the last three years, Richard would have automatically taken the opportunity to steal a kiss, and for most of that time Lois would have already been tilting her face up to his in expectation.
Their eyes met for the first time since Richard came home that day, Lois’ wide and wary, Richard’s resigned and wistful. Lois’ expression turned sadly apologetic as she placed her hand on his shoulder, neither of them knowing what to say.
Richard covered her hand with his and gave a little squeeze, forcing himself to smile. Lois looked up for a moment more, and then whispered, “Don’t be noble for my sake. I know about her and it’s okay. Call her, Richard. Forget about propriety and call her.”
He laughed shortly. “I tried. She’s not answering. Not returning calls, either. I guess she’s not as interested as I thought she was.”
Lois sighed, tilting her head as she shook it at him. “Richard. She’s running because she’s that interested.”
“Lana’s been divorced once, and she’s an old-fashioned girl. Plus, you two have known each other less than a month. She’s scared. The only reason she came to Metropolis was to do a fashion show, and she went and fell in love with you. Not to mention nearly getting killed saving the twins – that wasn’t on her day planner, either.”
“Oh, nice to see you’re comparing falling in love with almost getting killed,” Richard replied with a touch of his usual sarcasm.
“Hey, it’s two of the most terrifying things I know of,” Lois said seriously. “All I want is for you to be happy, Richard. If she’ll make you happy then I’m all for it.”
“Well, I’m glad someone is,” he said.
“She doesn’t want to be a rebound, Richard,” Lois told him gently. “I’ve known her long enough to know that. And she’s probably never fallen head over heels this fast before. She knew her ex-husband for, what? Most of her life? Give the girl a chance to get her mind wrapped around it.”
He nodded wearily, and said, “You’d better get going if you’re already late. When should I tell the kids you’ll be home?”
“Around eight, at the latest,” Lois replied. “You think about what I said.”
“Yes, General,” Richard teased, and saluted her.
Lois grinned and touched his cheek before hurrying to leave. She waited until she was at the front door to call over her shoulder, “Smartass!”
And had the satisfaction of hearing Richard laugh.
Dinner was a strange event for both of them. Katrine’s Ristorante specialized in upscale Italian cuisine, but most of the locals hadn’t yet discovered it, so it was fairly easy for Clark to get a table where they could talk privately. Lois arrived only a few minutes late, finding Clark waiting for her. He had been early, of course. They shared a nervous chuckle over the fact that both of them had worn black – “Look, we’re a matched set,” Lois tried to joke anxiously.
They’d been out to dinner in the past, before Lois knew the whole truth, but she rarely thought of those as dates. It was Clark after all, her best friend, and half the time they’d been going someplace casual with Ron and Lucy after work. All of the coffee and donuts consumed at three AM while they chased a story together didn’t count as dates, either – that was business.
This experience was something else entirely. Lois hadn’t expected him to take her to the kind of restaurant that didn’t print the price on the menu. For that matter, she had never imagined dinner with Clark to involve an unbearable level of sexual tension.
He was being himself, for one thing, not the clumsy and clueless person he was around the office. And the black suit fit him very well indeed, recalling the night of the Pulitzer ceremony to Lois’ mind. As a matter of fact, he’d been wearing a black suit in that godawful suite in Niagara, too. The night she shot him and learned the truth … the night the twins were conceived. God, it seemed like everything reminded her of something in her past with this man these days.
Lois started to blush and glanced down, feeling even more like a fool when she realized she was wearing the ankle-strap heels. Their waiter saved them by arriving, and Lois ordered wine with her portobello chicken marsala. After placing his own order, Clark scolded her gently. “Isn’t it a little early for wine, Lois? It’s barely four o’clock.”
Lois’ eyebrow arched up and she retorted without thinking, “Listen, you. If I have to sit across from you, looking like that, in a black suit that fits that well, and go home alone afterwards, I’m damn well having a drink.” Clark was so startled he couldn’t help laughing, and it was the richly amused laugh she could feel like her bones.
That set the tone for the entire meal. Unintentional double entendres flew back and forth between them, as always, somewhere between the usual Lois and Clark teasing and the bantering Lois and Superman had enjoyed. Lois limited herself to two glasses of wine, knowing she had to drive home, and for the most part they simply enjoyed each other’s company and conversation during the meal.
After the last course had been cleared, Lois leaned back in her chair and sighed with pleasure. “Ummm. Clark, that was lovely,” she said, the name seeming a little less strange after having used it for the last couple of hours. Then her lips quirked up, and she added in an almost-offhand way, “It only took seven years and a pair of twins to get dinner somewhere other than a diner.”
He glanced up and saw her devilish smile, his own answering it. “What, dinner at the Fortress didn’t count?” he replied in a low voice.
Hazel eyes gleamed with mischief. “Of course not. I had to tell you how to make the soufflé. Which was very good, by the way, if I do say so myself. And I do.”
“So was everything else you taught me that night.” His voice had gone very soft, and Clark blushed to have said such a thing. Not that it made it any less true…
Lois blushed to remember. Oh dear God, I can’t believe he said that. Out loud, even. I think that’s the first time either of us has actually said something overt about it, in spite of all we’ve thought about and alluded to… She couldn’t resist upping the ante, however. “What, you’re trying to discount the next morning?” Lois couldn’t stop her voice from sounding breathless, her expression softening.
“No, that was beyond the power of words to describe,” he replied huskily.
The words hung in the air for a long moment, blue eyes staring into hazel, and in their minds the pair of them were taken right back to that night and the dream that wasn’t a dream. The room suddenly grew warm, and both of them knew that they were only a word or a touch away from leaving the restaurant to finish what they’d started in the hotel room on Cape Cod. It had begun as a half-asleep mistake, but Lois was wide awake now, and her heart beat quickly.
Clark took a deep, shuddering breath, and she looked away from him, unable to bear the tension. Breaking eye contact seemed to help a little, and Clark chuckled nervously. “Lois, there was something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Fine, as long as I don’t have to look right at you for the next five minutes or so,” came her muffled voice, her face buried in her hands. The magnetism between them was as strong as ever.
He cleared his throat and pressed on. “I’ve been thinking… And this is the perfect illustration, you know. Neither of us can think clearly when we’re around each other.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
Clark toyed with his napkin, trying to figure out how to word it, and then sighed. “Lois, I’m going back to Smallville.”
“What?” Her head came up from her hand quick as lightning to stare at him in shock, her heated thoughts suddenly evaporating.
“Not permanently,” he hastened to say. “Just … Mom needs to get back, and she doesn’t much like flying alone. And I have leave time from the Planet. I can commute to my other job, but staying in Smallville will help me sleep better, I think. I’ve … I’ve been having nightmares, and all of the noise of construction keeps waking me up, too.”
The effort to restore the city had been going on round the clock, and most citizens weren’t complaining about the noise level since it was rebuilding their homes. Kal-El could hear everything, but Lois knew that was only part of it. She looked at him very seriously and said after a moment with a knitted brow, “It’s me, isn’t it? You’re leaving town because of me, because of this.”
“I hear your heart wherever you are,” Clark replied. “I … Lois, I love you. I’ve known that for years. And I know you love me, too. But whether we can be together … that’s a little more complicated. A lot of things are going to change, for all of us. I just… If being around you affects me this much, I assume it does the same to you. And I don’t want you to make a decision just based on this, on how much we long for each other.”
Lois’ brow furrowed even more. “I’m not…” she began, then stopped herself. He had a point. And it occurred to her that Clark didn’t want to be a rebound either. “All right. I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand.” It was impossible not to feel just a little hurt.
He reached across the table and took her hand. “Lois, don’t think I love you any less. And don’t think I don’t want us to be a family. I want that with every bit of my soul. But I want you to be sure this is what you want. I can’t be half of who I am, like my father wanted me to be. It has to be everything, Lois. And it won’t be easy.”
“I know,” she muttered under her breath. “It hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park so far, you know.”
“Yes, I know, and I’m sorry I made everything harder for you by leaving,” he said sincerely.
Lois chuckled then, unable to help herself. “Oh, for crying out loud. I didn’t mean that part of it. I meant the last week – the twins getting kidnapped, Luthor, all of us almost getting killed…”
“That, too,” he said. “You and the twins will never be entirely safe if you’re with me. But I can deal with that – I can keep you as safe as possible.”
“I wasn’t entirely safe from the moment I met you,” Lois reminded him in a soft voice, eyes on his. “Especially not once I realized how I felt about you. Everyone in the world knows that Superman always comes to rescue Lois Lane.”
“Always,” he said, squeezing her hand slightly. “So. I just want to give you a chance to think without me constantly hovering nearby. I’ll be in Smallville. I’ll have my cell phone. You can call me anytime you need to talk to me. I’m not leaving, I’m just taking a break.”
“How long?” she asked.
He shrugged. “A week, no more. I need to get back to work before Perry decides rehiring me wasn’t such a good decision. Maybe less than a week. But it will give us both a breather.”
“All right,” Lois said with a deep breath that trickled out into a sigh, and she squeezed his hand back. “One week.”