A/N: I own none of these characters, and I make no profit. This is the final companion piece to Recrimination and Bewitched, so if you haven't read them yet, you should do so!

Yielding

"So, how have things been going between you and Clark?" Chloe asked as she took a sip of her coffee and regarded her cousin of the rim of her mug with knowing eyes.

With a glare that could curdle milk, Lois replied shortly, "Terribly, thanks to you."

Though Chloe tried to convey an air of injured innocence, her smirk belied her culpability in causing the renewed tempestuous nature of her best friends' relationship. "What'd I do?" she asked, as if even the mere suggestion that she could somehow carry any blame was preposterous.

"You know what you did!" Lois huffed. "You…you made me go to dinner with him!" Chloe's arched eyebrows more than adequately conveyed the unsatisfactory nature of this charge, so Lois continued, "You made the two of us pretend like we were dating. I mean we actually had to pretend we liked each other."

"Perish the thought," Chloe muttered. "But, still, as traumatizing as I'm sure you found the entire experience – and, yes, I can see why you would feel the urge to take to your bed for days to give your nerves ample time to recover – the date was several weeks ago. Don't you think you should be over it by now?" Lois's scowl deepened. "Okay, well don't you think you should at least cut Clark a little slack?"

Lois sucked in a breath and demanded, "Why? What's he told you?"

Laying her mug aside, Chloe responded quickly, "Nothing! He may have implied that you've been a little…tense."

Lois quirked an eyebrow. "Tense."

With a nod, her cousin replied. "Yes, tense. Also, maybe a little testier than usual, too. And it's possible that you may – and I do stress may – have maybe bitten his head off. A couple hundred times."

"He told you all that?" Lois demanded incredulously.

"No," Chloe replied on a sigh. "Actually, all he said is that he's worried about you. I filled in the blanks." At these words Lois made a sound closely resembling a snort, and Chloe's smug look returned. "So, do you want to tell me what's bothering you?"

"No." She paused, noticing the way her cousin's eyebrows had shot up almost into her hairline. "Oh, don't look at me like that! Don't think I've forgotten your role in this entire fiasco! I mean, he definitely carries his share of the blame, don't get me wrong. But I haven't for one minute forgotten the fact that you were the evil genius behind the Machiavellian scheme in the first place."

Chloe truly did seem surprised when she asked, "Wait a minute. You're honestly blaming me for the problems you're having with Clark? Why am I –?"

"Because I think I've fallen in love with the big…stupid…idiotic…jerk!" she huffed, throwing herself onto the couch next to her cousin and crossing her arms over her chest in a petulant gesture. "And you made me do it!"

"Really?" the younger woman drew the word out for all it was worth as the smug expression returned to her face. In a tone that implied this was the most interesting thing she'd heard all decade, she said, "You can't just stop there, cuz. I want all the details."

In a voice that equated the current conversation, in her estimation, with methods of slow torture involving hot needles, Lois reluctantly revealed the infatuation that had been keeping her up nights. She explained how she began to suspect she cared for Clark in a way that had nothing to do with being partners, and she further expressed how totally and unequivocally furious she was about the whole matter.

When she'd finally finished with her confession, her cousin fixed her with a thoughtful look and said, "So, let me get this straight. You're treating Clark like a leper because…you're in love with him? What are you, six?"

Lois began to protest, but then she winced, thinking of her behavior towards him that afternoon. Maybe Chloe wasn't far off-base.

"Morning, Lois." She had been in the middle of pouring herself a cup of coffee when Clark came up behind her and offered her this greeting, causing her to start in surprise and slosh coffee over the sides of the mug. "Oh, sorry," he said contritely, noticing the mess. "I didn't mean to startle you. You want me to –?"

"I've got it," she snapped, hastily yanking a couple paper towels off the nearby roll and using them to wipe up some of the mess. After tossing them into the trashcan, she topped off her mug, added sugar, and turned to head back to her desk when she realized that she had a huge, solid Clark-wall obstructing her path. "Hey, He-Man. You wanna let me through?" she asked, arching an eyebrow challengingly at him.

He didn't move. Clearing his throat, he asked instead, "Lois, is something wrong?"

Damn it. He was doing it again. He was looking at her again. He should never be able to look at her. In fact, it should be a new clause in his contract with the Daily Planet; any looks Clark Kent might feel compelled to give any reporters of the opposite gender – most especially his partner – should be verboten. The Powers That Be would surely see the importance of this stipulation once they realized what a look from those baby blues could do. Lois hadn't been caught in Clark's crosshairs longer than a minute and a half, and already her heart was racing and she was beginning to entertain fantasies of things that had absolutely nothing to do with responsible journalism.

"Do you have to do that?" she snarled, placing her mug on the counter beside her with enough force to cause it to spill once more. "Oh, holy crapping hell!" she barked, bringing her thumb to her lip to suck gently on the skin that had just been scalded by her carelessness. No, she corrected herself firmly. It wasn't her carelessness. It was his fault. It was all his fault. "It's still too early, Clark. Isn't there someone else around here you can annoy?"

Oh, crap. Ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap. Now he was breaking out the big guns. There they were: the Puppy Dog Eyes. She had to remain strong. She couldn't cave. A woman's strength was measured in the way she handled herself in the face of adversity and she would…but he looked so hurt! Maybe one little kiss of apology wouldn't be out of…

No! Down girl! There would be no kissing of any kind! Her lips were going to remain a Clark-free zone!

Besides, if she did give into temptation and lay one on him, he'd probably snort the Wheaties he'd had for breakfast out his nose in surprise and alarm.

She was never going to get over this ludicrous infatuation with her partner if she thought about how absolutely gorgeous his eyes were. Or how well he filled out his suit. Or how the endearing little grin he threw her way was more than enough to break down her defenses. Or how kissable his lip…

"GAAH!" Lois screeched, forcibly yanking her mind off the subject. "I'm going to my desk!" Okay, her voice was possibly an octave and a half higher than usual, but she still had a firm hold on her dignity. Okay, maybe not a firm hold, per se. But she certainly had a rough idea of where her dignity might have got to, so she was still going to count herself ahead of the game.

Clearly misunderstanding the source of her distress, Clark grabbed a hold of her hand and brought it towards his face to get a better look at her injury, "Oh, god, did you hurt yo –"

"Don't touch me!" Lois yelped, yanking her hand away and stumbling backwards to get more distance between them. If there was one thing more difficult to withstand than Clark when he was injured, it was Clark when he was concerned for her wellbeing. "Just – just don't, okay?" Scooting past him without looking at his face, she tried to make a break for her desk, but he shifted to cut off her escape route.

"Lois, wait," he said firmly. "I don't understand. Did I do something wrong?"

Well, that was just too much. Did she mention he was oblivious? In case there was so much as a cell in her brain that had not yet been clued into that fact, she reiterated it for good measure. Stupid, oblivious, plaid-wearing (she was running out of epithets) idiot.

"Yes!" She cried, relieved that he'd finally seen what had been right in front of his face. "Yes, you did something wrong! And you're only now cluing into this?"

Frowning, he gazed intently at her as he demanded, "Well, what did I –?"

She was all but stomping her foot in frustration. Did he really need it spelled out for him? "You're an idiot, Clark! A blind…stupid…oblivious…stupid…"

"You already said stupid," he interjected calmly, and this time, Lois really did stomp her foot in frustration.

"You have no idea, do you? You went and messed up everything, and you don't even have a clue that you did it! I can't believe you!" Laying one hand on his chest, she shoved him with all her strength, which produced absolutely no noticeable effect. When she glared at him, however, he reluctantly took a slow step back, giving her room to escape.

Before she could scoot past him, however, he sighed heavily and said, "Look, Lois, I don't know what I did wrong, and I'm sorry that you seem to think I should. But I can't fix it if you won't at least tell me what it is!"

Her gaze skittered away from his, worried that it might give something away that she would prefer to keep hidden. "You can't fix it, period, Clark," she growled in reply as she finally made her way past him and all but flew to the sanctuary of her desk.

"Well, he started it!" Lois retorted, seeking to acquit herself but only backing up Chloe's argument that her attitude in this matter had perhaps not been that of a responsible adult. "Okay, so maybe I've been a little harsh. But, actually…" an unholy gleam lit her eyes as she bolted upright on the couch and began rooting around in the various papers and books covering her coffee table. "Actually, Chlo, I'm glad you're here. Because I've been doing some thinking lately about the situation, and I think you're right. Something has to be done. And, as it just so happens, I have a plan."

It was amazing how quickly Chloe's expression morphed into one of horrified dread. "Lois, what are you going to do?" she asked, clearly uncertain that she really wanted to hear the answer.

Having finally found the object of her search, Lois cried out triumphantly and waved it in the air in front of Chloe. "It's absolutely perfect, Chlo. No need to be alarmed; everything I need is right in here. I'm going to make him fall in love with me!"

Snatching the item out of Lois's hands, Chloe peered at it intently. "Metropolitan magazine?" she asked skeptically. "I'm sorry, have you just gone insane, because I just don't see –"

"Look! At the articles! It's right there!" Lois demanded, with an emphatic wave at the cover.

Taking a deep breath, Chloe glanced down again. "You're going to show him six ways to shiny, lustrous hair?" she asked doubtfully.

Snatching the magazine back, Lois growled, "No. It's right here. 'Ten Ways To Drive Your Man Mad'. Okay, granted, he's not my man. But isn't the whole point that I'd like him to be? I figure driving him mad's gotta be a pretty big step in the right direction, don't you?"

"I think the chances of this ending badly are only narrowly surpassed by the odds that this will be one of the most entertaining things I've witnessed in the last twenty years," Chloe retorted with a smile.

"Spoilsport. Just you wait. Tomorrow night, I'm going to have him eating out of the palm of my hand."

---

Standing outside Clark's door the next evening, Lois hastily whipped the magazine out of her bag and flipped it open to the dog-eared article. Though she'd read it so many times she almost had it down verbatim, she scanned it once more to reassure herself that she hadn't overlooked anything.

Several of the suggestions were inappropriate for use at this stage in her relationship with Clark. He was going to be confused enough already to find her at his doorstep, a container filled with the best cookies money could buy in hand. If she made a sudden lunge for his zipper, he'd probably do himself an injury, trying to get away from her. Or, even more likely still, he'd have her committed for what was pretty clear evidence that she had suddenly gone stark raving mad.

While she wasn't entirely certain he'd be wrong in this assumption, she'd been dealing with her sudden and inexplicable attraction to Clark long enough to suspect that being sent to a room with padded walls wasn't going to do anything to break her out of it.

However, barring these inappropriate suggestions (though she might be up for attempting trick number five, if everything went well this evening), the list didn't seem all that difficult. Cook him something. Well, that was what the cookies were for. She didn't dare actually cook him anything; he'd no doubt be convinced she'd decided, in her wrath, to do away with him. Laugh at his jokes. She could handle that. Be supportive. She could…well, she could certainly try. Compliment him; flatter his ego.

She was so screwed.

She almost lost her nerve. She could still make a run for it. He would never know that she'd even been to his place. She could go home, curl up on the couch, and anesthetize herself with the cookies she'd been planning on offering to Clark.

Lois was about to bolt when the door was flung open. When she saw Clark on the other side, she hastily shoved the magazine back into her bag. She wondered how he'd known someone was on his stoop, but maybe he hadn't. He was shirtless, dressed in nothing more than an old pair of sweatpants, so maybe he'd just been about to run out to check the mail or something. Either way, there was no way she was getting away scot-free now.

"Lois," he greeted her, his surprise evident in his tone. "I wasn't – Is everything okay?"

With a grimace, she realized she probably deserved the suspicion in his voice. Her attitude towards him lately wouldn't exactly lead him to believe she was there because she'd missed his company. Taking a deep breath, she decided to race ahead with her original plan. "Er, yes. Yes, everything's fine. Can I come in?" she asked nervously.

After a moment's pause, he nodded almost imperceptibly and stepped back, allowing her room to brush past him. Once she'd crossed the threshold, he slowly shut the door behind her and turned to fix her with a wary look. A tense silence fell between them, so Lois broke it by thrusting the container in her hands in his direction. "Here. I brought you these." She saw him glance at her offering and, when she realized he'd jumped to the wrong conclusion, she rushed to explain, "I didn't make them. You don't have to worry about me poisoning you or anything."

Her joke fell flat, and Lois twitched nervously. Oh, this was even worse than she'd feared it would be. Opening her mouth, she prepared to ramble her way out of this awkward situation, but then Clark raised his eyes to hers again and she could barely find the breath to keep functioning, let alone speak. "Thanks," he said tersely, obviously still wounded by the previous day's encounter. "Mind telling me what you're doing here?"

There was no getting around it; she'd have to bite the bullet and do something she'd never really been very good at doing before. "I came to apologize," she blurted. "I know I've been…well, frankly, I've been awful to you. And you probably don't deserve it. Wait. I didn't mean that to come out that way. Anyway, I wanted to say s-sorry for being…um…well, for my attitude towards you lately, and…hey! I brought you cookies! Nothing says I'm sorry like cookies, right?" Well, that came out nowhere near as polished as it had sounded when she'd practiced it on the drive over.

His eyebrows arched almost into his hairline, Clark was silent for a long moment after this semi-coherent confession. Just when she'd decided he was doing it to torture her, he stepped forward and took the container out of her hands. "Thanks." When he said it this time, it sounded like he really meant it. He offered her a soft smile as he turned away and headed for his kitchenette, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all. "You want one?" he asked, pulling some plates down from the cabinet.

"Ah, no. No thanks," she replied. She was already wired for sound; if she introduced any more sugar into her system, she'd probably take flight. "But some water would be great."

Another awkward silence fell between them as he piled some cookies onto a plate and poured her a drink. Once he'd rejoined her in the living room, they moved together towards the sofa and sat down upon it, each being careful not to look at the other as they did so. Neither seemed to know what to say, so Lois took the opportunity to run through the list in her mind. Time to put her plan into action.

"So, how's your day off been?" she blurted abruptly, her question clearly startling him, as the cookie making its way towards his mouth paused mid-trip.

"Um. It was okay," he replied. "I didn't do anything exciting. Mostly, I just cleaned up around the apartment and did some laundry."

That wasn't giving her much to go on. He was going to have to do better. "That's it?" she pressed determinedly. "That's what you did all day? Just…stayed in and did some cleaning? That's all?"

Looking at her as if she'd suddenly sprouted a second head, he said slowly, "Well, I did run out milk, so I ran to the store earlier this afternoon to get more."

Tip Three: Be supportive. "Oh, that must have been terrible for you! Running out of milk, I mean," Lois said sincerely. Even as she said the words, she knew her tone was entirely inappropriate for the situation's lack of severity, but he really wasn't doing his part by giving her better openings. She had to show she was supportive of him somehow.

Unfortunately, now her second head must have actively started to drool, because his look of mild concern was rapidly escalating. "Well, you know, it was touch-and-go there for a while, but somehow, I managed to survive the unpleasant experience." Great. Now he was humoring her. "Lois, are you sure you're okay?"

Wait! He was humoring her! If she was very generous with the definition of that word, it was almost like saying he had said something mildly amusing, and that meant it was time for Tip Eight: Laugh at his jokes. Lois forced a laugh that caused him to jerk back in alarm. "Oh, Clark, you're really funny, you know that?"

"No. No, I didn't. Lois, really, are you feeling okay? Do you need me to call someone?" A second later, and he demanded, "Have you been drinking?" Even though he had poured it himself, he was fixing her glass with an accusing stare, as if somehow her water had been spiked with something more sinister.

Her plan clearly wasn't working. What was wrong with him? She was already a third of her way through the magazine's suggestions, and he looked like the idea of wrapping her in his arms and declaring his undying love was the farthest thing from his mind. Calling an ambulance, on the other hand, seemed pretty high up on his list of things to do.

"I'm not drunk," she said firmly, desperately searching her brain for what she could do to salvage the situation. Maybe she was rushing things. She should have started with something a little simpler. Turning to face him, she reached towards him, intending to rub it slowly up and down his arm (Tip One: Touching him often is a subtle way of telling him that you are attracted to him.). Unfortunately, she hadn't taken into account that she'd be touching his bare arm, or how good it would feel. The warmth he exuded alone made it very tempting to curl up in his arms, but that seemed like a bad idea at this point in the evening. So, instead of subtly showing him how attracted she was to him, she flinched her hand away the moment it had made contact. Though she'd hoped her flinch had gone unnoticed, the dark look that suddenly crossed Clark's face lead her to believe that her reaction had both been noted and been misunderstood.

Clearing her throat, Lois decided to give it one last try. She wasn't a quitter! Soldiers don't quit the field of battle at the first sign of adversity! She was going to find a way to make this work! One way or another, he was going to fall in love with her before the night was through. She honestly didn't know how she was going to survive another day with a one-sided infatuation if her plan failed entirely.

"I'm not drunk," she repeated, just to make sure she'd gotten the point across, since he still seemed doubtful. "I've just been thinking about it, and I realized that there are some things I've been meaning to tell you but, for whatever reason, haven't."

Very slowly, his look of concern faded in the light of her obvious sobriety. No doubt he had begun to think her odd behavior was due to her being nervous, which actually wasn't entirely untrue. Reaching out, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it comfortingly. "It's okay, Lois. You can tell me anything; you know that."

"I know," she replied with a shaky smile. "I want to say that…um…that I think …" she paused. Nope; she couldn't do it. She couldn't just blurt out those three little words. Not when she didn't have any reason to believe he returned her feelings. Rather desperately, she continued, "I mean, that I think your apartment's really nice. Did you decorate it yourself? And those are really nice sweats you're wearing. You really have good fashion sense, have I –?"

Clark scrambled to his feet suddenly. "Okay, Lois, that's it. Now I know something's wrong," he interjected. "Maybe you should just relax. It's okay; we'll figure this out." Running his fingers through his hair, he began to pace back and forth in agitation, worry coming off of him in waves.

Jumping to her feet, she tried to comfort him. "No, really, Clark, I –"

"It's going to be okay," he said firmly, whirling around to face her. He rested his hands on her shoulders and began to massage them gently as he looked intently into her face. "I promise you, I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you."

Lois was a bit taken aback by the ferocity that he'd sworn to protect her, and she nodded in agreement before she'd even realized she was going to do so. "Um. Okay. I mean, great. Thanks. Um. Look, you know, I think I'm going to give Chloe a really quick phone call. She and I were going to talk tonight, and I should let her know that I'm over here and that you're…um…that you're taking care of me."

Before he could protest, she darted over to the bag she'd dropped by the door and then hurried over to the door leading to his balcony. Offering him a reassuring smile, she quickly scooted through the door and closed it firmly behind her as she hit a number in her speed-dial.

The other line rang twice before it was answered by a sleepy-sounding Chloe, and it was only then that Lois realized how late the hour had grown. She'd have to apologize tomorrow, but tonight, she was in critical need of her cousin's advice. "Chloe, it's me. I need your help. I'm over at Clark's, and I've tried to follow the steps in the magazine, but it's just not working and I don't know why but I'm afraid that I'm messing everything up and Clark thinks I'm insane or at least drunk or something and he's offering to help but he's definitely not falling for me which was kinda the plan but it's all going wrong and…"

"Woah!" Chloe interjected, finally managed to interrupt Lois's monologue. She sounded completely awake now, which was at least something. "You actually did it? You actually tried to get Clark to fall for you using the advice in a magazine, for crying out loud?"

"I told you I was going to, didn't I?" Lois snapped in reply, glancing over her shoulder to keep a wary eye on Clark. The last thing she needed was for him to overhear her conversation. He was still pacing back and forth in front of the couch, but, just to be on the safe side, she edged closer to the railing and hunched over to hiss into the phone, "What, you didn't believe me?"

"To tell you the truth, no," Chloe admitted. "I thought surely you'd regain your sanity before you actually did anything."

Somewhat offended, Lois hissed, "Well, I didn't, and may I remind you that if I had, I wouldn't be so hung up on him in the first place, and the entire point would be moot! But now you have to help me!"

A slight groan traveled through the line before Chloe capitulated. "Okay. Tell me what you've done and I'll see what I can do."

Reaching into her bag one more, Lois grabbed the magazine and opened it to the article that had thus far proved to be unhelpful. "Thank you! I knew I could count on you! Okay, I've tried to follow the steps laid out here so far, but they clearly aren't helping. I brought him food, I've laughed at his jokes, and I've complimented him. Oh, and I've tried to be supportive. But he just thinks I've had too much to drink or something!"

Sounding slightly amazed, Chloe replied, "That's it? Are you kidding? I would have thought you were dying at the very least!" When Lois made a scoffing sound, he said, "No, seriously! I'm not joking!"

"Oh, thanks a lot!" the affronted woman said with a scowl.

"Lois, I love you. I really do. But, don't you see, you can't just come out of the blue at Clark like this and expect him to fall for you! Following a ten-step program isn't the way to get someone to fall in love with you, and even if it were, it's not going to happen over the course of one evening!"

"Why not?" she demanded irritably. "Clark made me fall in love with him in one evening; why can't I make him do the same?"

Another sigh, and then Chloe explained softly, "Because love doesn't work that way."

"Well, I don't buy that," Lois retorted. "Clearly, it has to work like that, at least sometimes. A month ago, I was a perfectly sane, rational human being; then we had dinner together, and now I can't stop thinking about Clark. And it's driving me crazy!"

"Okay, but scaring the crap out of him isn't going to accomplish anything. You do know that, right?"

With a growl of frustration, Lois cried, "I can't help it! I've never felt this way about anyone before, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do about it!" A brief pause followed this admission, and then she charged ahead. "I think I should –" Before she could tell her cousin what she thought she should do, the sound of the door opening behind her caused her to jump. Clark was joining her out on the balcony.

Glancing around desperately, she tried to find a place to stash her magazine before he could get a look at it. Unfortunately, she didn't see anything helpful, and the steps she heard coming her way meant she was running out of time. She probably wouldn't even be able to get it back into her bag without him seeing it.

With no other options, Lois did the only thing she could think of: she dropped her phone, flung the magazine over the rail, and whirled around quickly to throw as innocent a smile as she could muster Clark's way.

"Is everything okay?" he asked with arched eyebrows as he moved to stand next to her and watched as the magazine fluttered to the ground below. "You seem to have lost something."

"Everything's fine. I'm fine," she said firmly, trying to regain his attention. "You just surprised me."

Turning back to face her, he looked at her intently once more and said, "Look, Lois, I don't know what's happened to you, but I'm really getting worried. You haven't been acting like yourself. I think maybe we should take you to a doctor to have you checked out. I know you're not drunk, but that doesn't mean you have been drugged. And if somebody has slipped you something, we need to find out what it is."

It was all she could do to keep from screaming. From the time she'd first cracked open the magazine and come up with the idea for how to win Clark's heart, she'd envisioned several different outcomes to putting her grand plan into action. Hospitalization hadn't been one of them. He thought she was drugged! Somehow, that was worse than thinking she was intoxicated; at least the argument could be made that an inebriated Lois was acting on her innermost desires.

Shaking her head, Lois replied, "No. I appreciate your concern, Clark, I really do, but I haven't been drugged, I swear. I'm not sick, and I'm not crazy. I'm fine, really, and you can stop implying otherwise any time now." Her last statement came out a bit more snappishly than she'd intended, but she was beginning to lose her temper. She had been so certain that her master plan would work, but it hadn't. Chloe had clearly thought she was insane for even attempting it, and now stupid, oblivious Clark was under the impression that she was in need of a doctor. He knew her so well – well enough to know when she wasn't acting like herself. Why couldn't he just see what was right in front of his eyes?

"But you have to admit that you've been acting weird," he countered. "You've been avoiding me for weeks now, and when the two of us have been together, you've practically bitten my head off! Yesterday, you let me know in no uncertain terms that you didn't want to have anything to do with me, but then come to my door tonight and act like…well, frankly, I don't even know how to explain your behavior. Can you blame me for thinking there's something wrong?"

"There's a perfectly rational explanation for my behavior!" she replied angrily.

Clearly beginning to lose his temper, he demanded, "Okay. Do you want to tell me what it is?"

"No! I shouldn't have to tell you! If you weren't such an oblivious idiot, you would have…"

"Okay, I'm getting pretty sick of you calling me an idiot," Clark interjected angrily, his eyes flashing.

"Well, then maybe you should stop being one!" she countered, stepping forward and tilting her head back to meet his eyes as she glared up at him. "It's right in front of you, and you don't even see it! Some great investigative journalist you are!"

Lois was almost shaking, she was so angry. She hadn't wanted to admit it, but she suspected Chloe was right. It was impossible to make someone fall in love over the course of one evening, and that meant that Lois had only come to recognize feelings she'd already had. She thought of all the times she'd felt jealous when Clark smiled at another woman and had struggled to dismiss the emotion for some halfway plausible reason or other. She thought of the fact that her first instinct, whenever anything good or bad happened to her, was invariably to talk to Clark before even considering doing anything else. She thought of the compulsion she felt to do whatever it took to break him out of his occasional moody spells, because it hurt her to see him so sad.

If Chloe was right, then Lois had loved Clark for years, and he didn't see it, even though it was right in front of him. She was right in front of him. She had always been right in front of him. And it was pretty clear that he'd never once noticed.

Clark actually growled in response to her declaration. "Oh, I'm the blind one now? That's a little ironic, coming from you, don't you think?" Though she didn't really understand the reference, she spluttered anyway. She couldn't believe he was trying to turn this back on her!

"You have some nerve saying that to me when this is all your fault to begin with!" she practically screeched.

"Oh, really? What did I do, Lois?" he demanded angrily.

"You made me fall in love with you!" she cried, cutting him off. Then a silence so deep Lois would have sworn she would have heard a pin drop to the floor followed that declaration, and she gulped. He looked completely poleaxed by her admission; she doubted he would look more stunned if, instead of declaring her love for him, she'd suddenly punched him in the face.

"Lois," he began, still sounding stunned, and when he opened and closed his mouth mutely a few times as he tried to process her words, she winced. Well, really, what had she expected? She'd known falling in love with Clark Kent had been an incredibly foolish thing to do; had she honestly expected him to return the favor?

She had to find a way to climb out of the hole she'd dug herself into, before Clark did something incredibly stupid and noble and pointless, like try to find a way to convince her that she didn't really love him, after all. As if she hadn't tried that very thing, herself. Breathing out a shaky sigh, she said haltingly, "Damn. I-I really didn't mean it to come out like that. I mean, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. What I said. About l-loving you."

She could tell Clark was beginning to recover from his shock when she saw the wonder in his eyes as he asked, "Oh, really? So, when you said you were in love with me, what did you mean, exactly?"

Though she tried desperately to think of a lie that would somehow extricate her from the situation in which she'd launched herself, nothing came to mind. "Okay," she said finally, admitting defeat. "I meant it. But it's no big deal. I'll get over it. So there's really no reason why this should have to get in the way of our friendship. I don't expect anything from you, you know." She swore, if he looked at her as if he was even thinking about pitying her, she really was going to slug him.

He didn't look like he pitied her, however, as he reached towards her and twirled a lock of her hair around his finger. "Actually," he began, sounding endearingly nervous, "I think it does have to get in the way of our friendship, Lois, because I'm absolutely crazy about you." When his words struck her speechless, he gave her a slightly bashful smile and asked, "Couldn't you tell?"

"You don't really mean that," she breathed, convinced for a moment that he was simply trying to spare her feelings. When he responded by wrapping his hand around the back of her neck and pulling her closer for a searing kiss, however, she realized that he did. When his arms traveled down to her waist and he held her like he never intended to let her go, she leaned into his embrace.

Finally, the kiss finally broke off, and Lois leaned back slightly to see an astonishment in his gaze that matched her own. Over the last few weeks, she'd entertained some pretty intense fantasies of what it would be like to kiss Clark Kent, and the Clark in her fantasies wasn't lacking in technique. So it was something of a surprise to discover that he didn't hold a candle to the real thing. "Wow," she breathed.

She had just begun to lean towards him to pick up where they left off when a soft, tinny whooping sound broke the silence, and Lois looked down at the cell phone on the ground in surprise. She'd forgotten all about Chloe. Bending down to scoop it up, she threw Clark a devilish smile and said into the mouthpiece, "Chloe? I'm going to have to call you back. I think it's time I gave tip five a try."

Then, reaching for Clark once more, Lois snapped the cover on her cell phone closed, cutting off the sound of Chloe's triumphant laughter.