The Day After

originally written as Sunkist

"Lois, maybe we should talk about this," Clark said in a low voice.

She'd been avoiding him the entire morning, and even now refused to make eye contact.

"There's nothing to be said," she replied evenly, continuing on her path toward the break area.

Clark watched her silently as she picked up the coffee pot only to find it was empty. Turning to face the bustling newsroom she angrily glared at anyone she could make eye contact with… although not even attempting to look at Clark.

"I just want to say thank you to whomever it was that drank the last of the coffee and left it empty!" She yelled, startling her colleagues into silence.

Glancing from the incensed woman brandishing the empty carafe, to the furrowed brow of her partner standing across the room, they figured that the top reporting team was in the midst of another fight. Shrugging, they all continued with their previous conversations as if the outburst hadn't taken place. Lane in a bad mood was almost a daily occurrence, and Kent seemed to always be the one to bring out her best tantrums.

Hearing the commotion, Perry stepped to the door of his office and peered out. Seeing that his two star reporters were seemingly at odds once again, he shook his head and went back to his desk. Hopefully this meant he had a good story coming.

Lois, frustrated that no one seemed to care that there was no coffee ready at the distinct time that she wanted it, growled and turned back toward the mini-kitchenette. Clark moved to go to his desk, but his super hearing picked up on a string of mild explanatives coming from Lois as she ripped filters and dropped coffee packets. Deciding that his intervention was needed to spare his colleagues from bitter brew, he strode to his new destination.

'This is a job for Superman,' he mused as he walked.

Lois' hands stilled as Clark's brushed against them while removing the packet that she had found to be impossible to open. Needing something to occupy her suddenly shaking hands, she grabbed her empty mug and moved to lean against the counter a safe distance away.

She'd taken for granted the fact that there was always a hot mug of java on her desk whenever she needed it. Without fail, anytime she reached out to pick up her cup, it was there and fixed just like she liked it. Perfect, at least until this morning. She'd glared when Clark had reached for her mug to fill it; silently telling him it was off limits. That had only been the beginning.

For the first time in a long time, they were back to acting like strangers around one another. Clark had looked confused, and then given her space, as he would on other days when she would get moody. Then, later, when he'd tried to approach her again, she'd still been standoffish, and he knew this was more than a 'mood.'

Finished prepping the machine, Clark turned to face his partner as the coffee began to percolate.

"Lois, this is crazy. If this is about last night…" he began, speaking low enough so that only she would be able to hear.

"This is not about last night!" she forcefully responded, matching his quiet tone.

"I think maybe it is."

"It's not! I mean, there's nothing… there is no 'this'!"

She had been less successful in whispering that time, so Clark glanced around him to make sure they hadn't called any unwanted attention to themselves.

"Lois, I think we should go into the conference room," he hinted, indicating that she should look over his shoulder with his eyebrows.

Lois turned to see that they were beginning to attract the attention of a few of their nearby colleagues. One very interested person, the new gossip columnist, cocked her head and moved closer.

Uncompromising, Lois rolled her eyes and cut her eyes at Clark. "I came here to get some coffee and I'm not leaving without it."

Clark reached over, pulled the mug from her, and fixed her a cup, just the way she liked it.

"I guess… I wanted to say thank you… for last night. It was…" he tried again, as he handed her mug back to her.

"It was nothing special. It's in your best interest to forget it even happened. I won't be able to work with you and your ego."

His face took on a pained expression, and he took a small step backwards as if he'd been physically struck.

"Not… special," he stammered. "I can't believe, wait, yes I can. I mean, we're talking about the Ice Maiden here right- must be, because that was really cold. Really…"

Clark couldn't even find the words to finish his sentence. His right hand was in the air making small gestures as if he were trying to summon some way to respond.

Immediately after she'd said it, Lois had wanted to retract to statement.

That wasn't really what she'd meant to say, but being stubborn, she refused to apologize. In defiance of the sinking feeling that was going through her stomach, she set her jaw and gave Clark a challenging look.

Trying to distract the panicky thoughts that were racing through her mind, she brought the mug to her lips. Not paying full attention, she sucked too much into her mouth and immediately felt the extreme heat on her tongue. Unable to stand it, she spit the beverage back into the cup.

Clark winced as he misunderstood the gesture to be an added insult. He knew the coffee was just how she liked it, so if not to purposely affront him, why would she do such a thing.

"You know Kent, it's not that big of a deal…"

His mouth hung open in disbelief. "But you know it was my first!" he whispered urgently, barley moving his lips.

Lois only shrugged in response, feeling somewhat like a heel, but not knowing how to gauge her feelings. "Well, of course I know that. That's what I mean. I can hardly remember my first time…"

'That's a lie,' a voice in her mind stated nonchalantly, but she ignored it.

Clark coughed with indignation and threw both hands up. "You know what. You're right. There's nothing to say. In fact, let's not even talk. Let me take that. It seems to me that you're finished."

He took her mug and dumped the contents into the sink, before slamming it down on the counter. Cracks appeared on its shellacked surface, and he spun away from her and walked briskly back to his desk.

Lois let out a sigh, not realizing she had been holding her breath since he'd grabbed her cup. Closing her eyes, she massaged her temples. Again, she'd let her inane since of pride cause her to say something that was totally inappropriate and wounding.

The truth was, last night had scared her. For the first time, she'd become aware that she could really have feelings for someone else, and care about their happiness more than her own. She had always been proud of her 'Ice Maiden'
reputation. It signified that she was detached and isolated, which meant she was safe from being hurt. Now, something, no, someone, threatened to dissolve that wall she'd built. Worse than that, she was afraid that the wall was already gone.

And so, instinctively, she'd lashed out, turning her emotions off and striking the source of her fear with intent to draw blood. Victory really didn't taste so good this time.

Looking up, she saw Clark standing next to his desk, too agitated to sit down.

His right hand was rapidly tapping the desk top in what Lois recognized as an attempt to calm down. It was rare that he'd ever needed to use any such method, as he was always so calm and collect. She grimaced as she replayed the conversation they'd just had.

His hand began tapping faster, and he reached to tug on his tie. He turned and headed for the elevator, walking past her without so much as an angry glance in her direction.

When he stepped on to the waiting car, Lois finally moved and sprinted to follow before the doors closed.

"Get out."

The startled young intern that was already in the elevator before it arrived blanched at her command and hurriedly stepped off the elevator.

Clark crossed his arms and leaned into the corner, as far away from her as was possible in the cramped compartment.

"Clark, listen, I…"

"No. Please. With your vast experience in this area, I shouldn't have expected anything more. It was my fault," he spat. "My fault."

"Where are you going?" she asked softly. She knew she had done some pretty bad damage, but she needed to see how deep it ran.

"I just need some air!"

He wouldn't meet her eyes, and somehow that hurt more than the tone he used.

The doors opened on the ground floor and he stalked out. Lois was close behind him, and she grabbed his arm as they walked through the front glass-plated doors. A funny feeling told her that if she didn't hold him, he would probably have taken off running.

"I'm sorry," she inserted quickly, before he could cut her off again.

Tears threatened to fall from her glazed eyes.

Hearing it in her voice, Clark kept his face turned. There was no way he would be able to hold on to his anger if he saw her cry, and right now he wanted to be angry.

He knew Lois. At times he felt he understood her better than she did herself. Last night had been wonderful. Starting with the dinner, the dancing… everything.

And she'd been enjoying herself- he knew it. He'd been afraid that she would try to withdraw, but she hadn't, and he'd experienced pure joy.

Part of him had even been prepared for the change in behavior today. Somewhere deep inside, he'd known that her insecurities might resurface seven times stronger after last night's taste of happiness. Yeah, he'd known this might happen,
but he was disappointed all the same.

This was supposed to be one of the best days of his life, and it was ruined.

Sure, normally he would have accepted it and gone on playing the punching bag until she felt safe and in control again, but he was too tired today. He had his share of insecurities too, y'know! She had left last night without so much as saying that he'd been... well... good at what he did.

She sniffled and he knew she was trying not to cry. She hated crying, and they were standing in front of the Daily Planet in mid-afternoon. Crying alone and in the dark was one thing; it was a whole different level when it took place in broad daylight, amongst the stares of complete strangers. In the end, that sniffle did it, and his resolve to leave was broken.

Deflated, but still hurt, he nodded. "Let's go somewhere and talk."

They'd walked the rest of the way to Centennial Park in silence. Neither speaking, sharing looks nor touching; as each brooded over thoughts on how to fix this situation.

Once seated on a bench, minutes passed by before either spoke.

"I just want to confess," Lois started softly. "That it has really only been three times… and I definitely remember the first…"

They fell back into silence again.

"I said some terrible things," Lois began again.

"Yeah, you did. But I think I get it." Clark reply held a tinge of bitterness. This needed to be resolved so they could move on.

"Wha...? How can you understand when emI/em don't fully get it yet?" she asked him, confused.

"We've had some rough times, but I think through it all we've gotten really close. I … I consider you my best friend, and I don't take that lightly. Do you feel the same?" he asked, waiting for her nod before continuing.

"As I see it, we're alike for different reasons. I didn't have too many friends growing up, and certainly not any close ones… I think you were taken by surprise to find yourself caring for me as much as you do."

Lois was shocked at his intuitiveness, and was unable to respond.

Clark took in her expression and nodded, having found his answer. "And all of this probably came to a head last night, right? All of a sudden realizing that we'd become this great set of pals, and finally not having this competitive wedge between us. So here you are thinking about all of this and wondering if…"

"If last night was going to change all that," Lois finished his thought uncertainly.

"Maybe that was why I got so upset. Lois, you know me. You know I'm not that shallow. I think I was hurt and disappointed that you weren't as happy as I was… but maybe I had no right to expect that anyway," he concluded sadly.

"No!" she said, shifting her position on the bench to face him. "I had never felt so happy- even when it was emmy/em first time, and maybe I was a little astounded by that. Maybe a little jealous, too. I guess that's why I tried to down play it. It was just… amazing to experience it with someone you care about- knowing that you're cared about in return. It just made it so wonderful, that it scared me."

"I figured that, but it still hurt."

"I am so sorry, Clark. I don't want to do anything to endanger… us… what we have together."

"I don't either. I would never do anything to hurt you, and I would never let something like that get in our way." He turned to smile at her. "That's why I want to give it to you to keep."

"What? No, you can't do that," she exclaimed.

"Lois I want to. You were the perfect date last night, and I couldn't have even gotten to that point without you."

"You've got some talent, Farm boy. I'll give you that," she teased, relieved that they were okay after her earlier insensitive behavior.

He chuckled, equally comforted. "I am the best partner you'll ever have."

"Careful- I might not let you go."

"Is that on the record? I might just hold you to that."

They shared a laugh.

Clark turned to her again. "Seriously, I want you to have it. Put it with your other ones- Just know that it's a symbol of how much you mean to me, and that some stupid award will never be more important than our friendship." He patted her hand.

"Besides, when I get my second, third, fourth, and fifth Kerth, I don't think I'll even remember the first one…" he said leaning back on the bench to look at the sky.

Lois swatted his chest with the back of her hand. "Oh, you'll remember!"

"So how did I rate as an escort?" she asked, leaning back to match his posture.

"Hmmm… I'd give it an A+."

"Hung on your arm just right?"

"Umm hmm," he agreed.

"Fawned appropriately?"

"You were… perfect."

- FIN -