The investors’ dinner had gone much easier than planned. It turned out that they were just concerned over the repair costs related to the recent disaster, and Richard managed to soothe them far quicker than he’d expected. It helped that the Daily Planet globe was already back in place, courtesy of Superman. The investors had wondered why telling them about it made Richard chuckle, but he couldn’t explain.
That left him with a couple hours free, and Richard decided to call Lana. Lois had practically insisted on it, after all. But this time, he wouldn’t just call. Standing outside the Centennial Hotel, Richard dialed Lana’s cell number and got her voicemail. Clearing his throat, Richard said, “Well, I guess you’ve been busy. Listen, I was in the area, and I thought I’d drop by. Anyway, if you get this message, I’m in the restaurant at your hotel. If you’ve got some free time, I’d be delighted to buy you dinner.”
Richard winced slightly as he hung up; hopefully Lana wouldn’t think he sounded like a stalker. To his surprise, he actually had to gather his courage to walk into the hotel. He hadn’t even been this nervous over Lois, but then, he’d had a pretty good idea of what she thought of him. Lana, however, was another story. Richard had no clue how she really felt about him.
He waited nervously in the hotel restaurant for almost twenty minutes, wondering if Lana had gotten his message, if she would show up, or if she was even in the hotel that night. It’s a good thing I only had a light dinner with the investors already. My stomach’s so knotted up, I probably won’t be able to eat a bite. Assuming she even shows up.
Half an hour passed with excruciating slowness, and Richard was ready to give up. But just as he turned to leave, he caught a glimpse of red hair at the restaurant entrance. Accustomed to Lois’ level of confidence, it only then occurred to him that Lana might be as nervous as he was. That was the only explanation he could imagine for her to lurk just outside the restaurant.
The waiter had stopped by just at that moment. “Sir, would you like something to drink while you wait?”
Richard smiled. “Actually, if I could ask a favor of you…”
“If you go out the front doors, you’ll find a very beautiful woman with red hair standing just to one side of the entrance. Her name is Ms. Lang. Could you let her know her table is ready?” Richard added his most winning smile to the request, and the young waiter cheerfully complied.
Lana was nearly as red as her hair when the waiter led her over to Richard’s table. The International editor got up to pull out her chair, and Lana sat down with a shy glance at him. The waiter kept smiling the entire time he took their order, which fortunately amused them both enough that they could laugh at themselves.
Richard kept the conversation to small talk during the meal. For her part, Lana was perfectly willing to speak of trivialities rather than the intensity of her feelings toward him. At times their eyes would meet, and silence would fall for several long moments while they were captured by each other’s gaze. Then one or the other would look away with a nervous chuckle, breaking the tension.
By the time they reached the dessert course, Richard was feeling much better. Lana showed all the signs of being captivated by him, which did wonders for his confidence and his appetite. The fact that he felt the same way about her still left him slightly nervous, but it was the kind of anxiety that kept him alert and witty.
Lana had been nibbling at her caramel cheesecake, and she finally set her fork down with a sigh. “If I eat another bite I won’t be able to fit into anything in my wardrobe.”
Richard took her hand gently, and Lana curled her fingers around his. Another silence descended, this one comfortable and affectionate. “I’ve been thinking about you a lot,” he said quietly.
“No more than I’ve been thinking about you,” Lana replied.
He ran his thumb over her knuckles, surprised to see her shiver at that gentle touch. “When … when we were in the plane, going to rescue Lois, I said we had some things to figure out after everything was over.”
She nodded, those amazing green eyes meeting his steadily. “You said something else that day, too, Richard. Right before you dove at Luthor’s helicopter.”
“Yeah…” His throat was suddenly dry. “Yes. I meant it then, and I still mean it now. I’m in love with you.”
For the first time, Lana closed her eyes, but her fingers tightened over his. “I’m in love with you, too,” she whispered. “God help me, I never meant to be.”
She almost sounded as if she would weep, and Richard brought her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles gently. “Hey, don’t. Don’t, Lana. It’s not cause for tears.”
“Is it?” That look again, and now he could see the fear in her eyes. “Richard, this is all happening way too fast. It hasn’t even been a week since you broke up with your fiancée. And we barely know each other.”
“We know each other well enough,” he told her firmly. “I’ve seen you in a hell of a lot of different circumstances. I’ve seen you at your job and at leisure, around old friends and new acquaintances, and around the kids. Not to mention, I’ve seen you risk your life to save someone else’s. Several someones, in fact, one of whom was my fiancée at the time. Your rival, if you want to be technical, and you put yourself in danger to save her.”
“Speaking of Lois…”
“She’s the one who told me to call you tonight,” Richard said.
That left Lana momentarily nonplussed, and he took the opportunity to reassure her further. “I said I wanted to figure this out. You need time to consider, I’ll give it to you. Lana, I’m not asking you to go down to the courthouse with me tomorrow morning or anything.”
The remark had the desired affect, making Lana chuckle. “All right. And … thank you. I know you’re not used to someone who takes time to make decisions like this…”
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” he admitted. “But I love you more for that, Lana. You’re special.”
“Charmer,” she said, smiling.
And they kept smiling at each other like dazed teenagers until the waiter brought the check. They held hands, too, until he brought back Richard’s credit card, and then it was time to go. Richard pulled Lana’s chair out for her again, and tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow as they strolled out of the restaurant. She laughed softly at his gallantry, but her smile was affectionate.
At the doors, he asked, “Shall I walk you to your room, my lady?” His very old-fashioned courtliness clearly pleased her, and Richard meant nothing more than exactly what he’d said.
Lana, however, raised an eyebrow at him, reacting to the implication. “Absolutely not, Mr. White. I do have a reputation to consider.” And if he had seen into her mind, he would have known that she wasn’t angry with him. Her heart was beating faster at the thought. Lana refused him not because she thought he would try to finagle his way into her room, but because she was afraid she’d invite him in.
Aware that he’d crossed the line, Richard just smiled. “To the elevators, then.”
Lana acquiesced to that, delighting in his nearness. It had been a very long time since a man had made her feel this shy and wistful, long since she’d learned the way she craved Richard’s touch. So the walk to the elevators was slow, savoring every moment of each other’s company.
Both elevators were on the upper floors, and Lana didn’t particularly mind the wait. She was leaning slightly against Richard, breathing in his scent, when he whispered her name.
Lana turned toward him, looking up, and his arm slid gently around her waist. For a moment as he leaned down to her, she had the choice; she could’ve drawn back, and he would’ve let her go. But instead Lana tilted her face up and let her eyes slip closed in pleasurable anticipation.
She had meant to keep the kiss simple, but at the touch of his lips on hers Lana’s defenses crumbled, and she found herself kissing him deeply. Even more surprising, she didn’t feel a trace of guilt, only the sweet thrill of being in his arms and running her fingers into his hair. Time seemed to stop while they kissed…
Until the porter coughed politely behind them. They broke apart, Lana’s cheeks burning even as they both laughed. No telling how long the elevator had been standing open waiting for them to get on; the porter standing inside just gave them an approving grin.
“Lana,” Richard murmured, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
She placed a finger over his lips, suppressing a delightful little shiver at the thought of how she’d been kissing him, and said softly, “Good night, Richard.”
Still grinning, he caught her hand and kissed the back of it. “Good night, Lana.” And she could feel the warmth in his eyes even after the elevator doors closed behind her.
Stanford closed the door of his room behind him and breathed a huge sigh of relief. At last, peace and quiet…
Lex had been in a boiling fury ever since they lost Lois Lane. The chain of disappointments that followed – Superman surviving, the helicopter breaking down, Kitty escaping – had only stoked his wrath. And then today’s discovery … Stanford shuddered to remember it.
The steel case containing the crystals had remained locked ever since Stanford gave it to Kitty – or so he thought. Lex had never let it out of his sight while they traveled back to Nevada, but as soon as they arrived at the lab complex here, he had taken the case into his own rooms. Stanford had begun to relax then, looking over the stacks of research reports that awaited him and meeting with his team. The fascination of the work had begun to calm his shattered nerves.
And then Lex had burst into the lab and ordered everyone else out. Though his voice had been low and controlled, the wild look in his eyes had made the scientists scatter. Luthor had placed the steel case on the table in front of Stanford, flipped it open, and asked softly, “Is this your idea of a joke?”
Instead of the Kryptonian crystals neatly arranged in foam, the case held only the fragments of kryptonite and an alarm clock. Stanford had stared, dumbfounded, feeling his spine turn to ice. If Luthor believed that he’d been betrayed… “Sir, I have no idea how that happened,” Stanford had told him, his voice shaking. “But it certainly wasn’t my doing.”
“Oh? And can you prove that?” Lex had all but purred.
Stanford knew he still had the Lane woman’s gun – he’d taken to running his thumb over the cylinder repeatedly in moments of stress – and the will to use it. He’d swallowed, hearing his throat make a dry click, and replied, “If I’d done such a thing, sir, I would be smart enough not to be here with you now. I would’ve run as far as I could the moment I was out of your sight.”
Lex’s eyes had narrowed then, and the frenzied anger in them had hardened into cold, bright rage. “True, you are smarter than that. But Katherine… She carried the case from you to me – and she took the first chance to run. I thought she was still upset with me, but it seems she was suffering from a guilty conscience.”
Stanford privately thought that Kitty would’ve run anyway, and been wise to do so. She was no real use to Lex anymore, only an expense and a convenience. She had tried to kill him once, and defied him openly over Ms. Lane and the kids. Stanford had actually been surprised that Lex hadn’t killed her before she managed to escape. But to his boss he merely nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“Well,” Lex had said, closing the case. “I will deal with Ms. Kowalski in my own time. Don’t speak of this to the men, Stanford. I’ve no idea what she did with the other crystals, but she can’t have thrown them overboard. We might still be able to recover them. And if not,” he had chuckled, “that’s precisely why we made copies.”
“Exactly, sir,” Stanford had said. Lex had left moments later, and to the scientists drifting back into the lab he had appeared his usual cool, collected self. But Stanford was shaken and the rest of the day ruined for him. But it wouldn’t do to appear too apprehensive, not when cameras monitored everything in the complex. Lex might interpret that as guilt and decide that Stanford had something to do with the loss of the crystals, even if it was only neglecting to lock the case firmly.
Now, at last ensconced in his private rooms, Stanford gave in to the shivers he’d been suppressing all day. Lex was sane – terribly, utterly sane. It wasn’t madness that made him so dangerous, but that absolute sanity coupled with absolute ruthlessness. Wherever Kitty was, he hoped she had the sense to keep running.
The morning after her date with Clark, Lois woke up at her usual hour. Not even being on leave could stop her from rising early; though she hated mornings, she was too accustomed to her schedule to sleep in unless utterly exhausted. Grumbling, she started her morning routine.
It was only once she was in her shower and starting to come out of the fog that she remembered the words and actions that had passed between her and Kal-El before they parted. Biting her lip as the spray beat down on her, Lois sighed. Maybe he’s right. Maybe trying things this way is good idea. But why didn’t she believe herself? Shaking it off, she reminded herself that she had promised to think things through and forcibly cleared her mind.
Just as she started down the stairs, feeling more awake and confident after showering and getting dressed, she heard Richard start to swear and abruptly stop himself. That piqued her attention, and she hurried down to see him glowering at a newspaper.
“What’s the competition done now?” Lois asked. Being assistant editors, she and Richard subscribed to every paper printed in the Metropolis area, and several of the major national papers as well. Of course, the Star was used to line Captain Jack’s cage after they’d read it, but at least they always knew what the competition was up to.
Richard reacted oddly to her casual question. He hurriedly closed the newspaper, putting it behind his back. “Nothing important,” he said. “Want some toast?”
“Sure, but right now I want that paper,” Lois replied. She’d seen the masthead as he folded it shut, and to her surprise it was their paper. “What on earth could be printed in the Planet that you don’t want me to see?”
“What makes you think I don’t want you to see it?” Richard countered. Lois just rolled her eyes and held her hand out for the newspaper. He sighed, and handed it to her, but before letting go of it he said, “You were the one who told me to call her.”
Now that sounded intriguing. “Gossip column, I presume?” Lois started flipping through looking for that section.
“Look, she hasn’t been answering her phone,” Richard said. “I finished glad-handing the investors quicker than I thought I would. So, since your mom had the kids, I decided to go over to the Centennial. I called Lana and left her a voicemail saying I was in the restaurant…”
The evening was sharply etched in Richard’s memory, and while Lois read the article his mind lingered on Lana’s green eyes, her amazingly red hair. Lois brought him back to the present with a snort of laughter. “Good God, Richard,” she muttered, shaking her head as he looked away, unable to meet her eyes.
His embarrassment amused her, and Lois proceeded to read the blurb aloud. “’Millionaire designer Lana Lang, due to arrive in Milan last Sunday, was spotted yesterday afternoon in the passionate embrace of an unidentified man. The couple was observed snogging for nearly five minutes in the lobby of Metropolis’ Centennial Hotel, holding up elevator service. Ms. Lang has made her mark in the fashion world without succumbing to the temptations of the jet set lifestyle – at least, until recently. Now that her recent fall line has received rave reviews and she’s apparently acquired her own boy-toy, who knows what Ms. Lang will do next?’”
Richard had turned crimson, muttering threats toward the columnist. “Boy-toy,” he growled. “In my own damn paper.”
“Snogging,” Lois chuckled. “Shouldn’t have let Rita vacation in London. She brought home their slang. What the hell did you do, Richard, lean her all the way back like you were Rhett freakin’ Butler or something? You and I kissed in front of 300 people at the company Christmas party, announced our engagement, and still didn’t get this much notice.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Richard protested, then changed the topic hurriedly. “Did you know Lana was a millionaire?”
Lois grinned. “Don’t change the subject. Is Rita exaggerating, or was it really five minutes?”
“And how was your date with Clark, Lois?” Richard countered. “You may not have made the papers, but he’s better at flying under the radar.”
“You’re avoiding the topic again–”
“Damn right!” Lois had never seen Richard blush like that.
“–but I’ll have you know he caught a flight to Smallville this morning.” Lois crossed her arms and tapped the newspaper against her hip.
“He what?” Richard asked. “But … why?”
Lois’ smile dimmed a little. “He thought I needed some time to get my head together.”
Her ex-fiancé stared at her. “That man is too damned chivalrous for his own good. I wouldn’t have given you the chance to get away, not when you’re so obviously meant for each other.”
“That’s what happened the last time, Richard, and look where we wound up,” Lois replied. “The Zod Squad almost took over the planet, and I wound up with unexpected twins. He won’t rush into things this time.”
Richard nodded slowly. “Yeah, I can see that. I couldn’t bear to lose you twice, either.” Lois bit her lip, and realizing what he’d just said, Richard chucked her under the chin. “Cheer up. Not like you ever have to worry about that again. I’m not going to knowingly try to steal the girlfriend of a guy who can vaporize me with one look.”
“At least you have that much sense,” Lois retorted. She paused for a moment, her expression going very serious, and then she tilted her head to the side as she looked at him. Even though she’d asked him once, the question still caught him by surprise. “Do you love her enough to be completely serious about her?”
Clark stretched his legs as far as possible, thinking ruefully that airline seats weren’t designed for men his height. Beside him, Martha was dozing with her headphones on; the in-flight movie was one she’d seen before. That left him alone with his own thoughts. And, perhaps inevitably, those thoughts were of Lois. Their date last night had gone very well, especially the end. He’d walked her to her car, and for a moment, just a brief instant, Clark had thought of kissing her. But then he’d seen a surprised look on her face, and thought to himself that of course she wouldn’t kiss him then. Not when he was so clearly Clark, glasses and all, just the best friend with the puppy-dog crush. At that moment he hadn’t exactly been the hero she loved.
For years he had dreamed of kissing her; a large part of being Clark Kent was looking wistfully after Lois Lane. But it was obviously doomed. No one like her would ever take anyone like him seriously. The kiss in the supply room had been too unexpected, and too quickly interrupted, for him to think much on it. Even the kiss in the hotel had been a shock, and Lois hadn’t been kissing Clark then – she had been remembering the past, remembering Kal-El.
But last night, to his utter shock, Lois had kissed him. It had been surreal to see her looking at him so seriously just before she caught his tie and rose up on her toes, eyes sliding closed as her lips met his. No illusions now; she was wide awake, and she had chosen it. She had made the first move, and for once it hadn’t been pulling his glasses off.
Clark smiled as he remembered it, the pair of them standing by her car, kissing leisurely and thoroughly. The urgency of their stolen kisses wasn’t there, but a deeper passion was. He’d felt as though he could spend the rest of the evening kissing her, just kissing her, and be satisfied. And the memory of her taunt…
But all good things must come to an end, and Lois had eventually pulled away from him slightly. “Good night, Clark,” she’d said softly, and he had stood by watching her drive away, a small smile on his face. Eventually the scent of her perfume and the warmth of her skin had faded, but not in his perfect memory. And though Clark had known even then that he would be leaving the next morning, he had begun to count the hours until he would have Lois in his arms again.
Clark sighed deeply, reluctantly returning to the present, and adjusted his glasses. He’d have to remember to take them off when the plane landed; in Smallville, he tended not to wear them. He shifted his feet again, trying to get comfortable and failing miserably.