"So I'm coming back to Kansas for the holidays," Pete said after a swallow of beer. "Mom's still in Wichita, but I was going to swing through Metropolis for a couple of days."
"Really?" Clark's eyebrows shot up, and he looked like the farthest thing from Superman. "That's great! You can stay at my place!"
A waitress came by to refill their drinks. Even though Clark was established in Metropolis, Pete insisted on a standing dinner date at the Capitol Café on the second Wednesday of every month. If it were any more often, they would be regulars, and tall, broad, kind Clark Kent couldn't risk being remembered. Not even 1200 miles away from home.
"You're not too busy to put up an old friend?" Pete asked, only half-kidding, as the waitress walked off.
Clark smirked. "I'll be sure to save at least five minutes for you, barring a nuclear catastrophe or an alien invasion."
"Wow, if you can only put aside five minutes for me, it's amazing you can devote so much time to your love life."
Clark's shoulders slumped. "What has Chloe told you?"
Pete laughed. "Dude, you might not have noticed, but she's a girl. She tells me everything about the juicy stuff. Or, y'know, lack thereof."
Clark heaved a weary sigh and cleaned his glasses quickly on his shirt. "Pete, I'm working two very full-time jobs, and I've only been in Metropolis for six months. Chloe and Lois are all the estrogen I need right now."
Pete cocked an eyebrow. "You do know there's a difference between a friend who's a girl and a girlfriend, right?"
"Do I look that dumb?" Clark asked hotly.
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
Clark took a sullen bite of his steak, wearing an expression that reminded Pete a little too much of Clark's moodier high school days.
"But Clark, man, listen. Remember Lori? Lori Lemaris?"
Clark made a show of trying to recall, but Pete had learned long ago that his friend had an unfoilable memory. "The girl at the White House? The other intern?"
"Yeah, that's her. She's from Metropolis originally, and she'll be in the city over Christmas, too. So I was thinking…"
"No, Pete," Clark intoned, his voice dangerously close to Superman's resonant baritone. If Pete didn't know better, he would be afraid. "You're not setting me up with that girl. With any girl."
"Come on, man!" Pete had been prepared for this reaction. "She's cute, smart, and sweet. And, bonus points, she's a huge fan of you-know-who. What's not to like?"
"You know, Lois' fixation with Superman is one of her least endearing qualities, and that's saying something."
Pete leaned forward, incredulous. "How can you not want to go out with a girl who's obsessed with you? Egotism is human nature."
Clark shot Pete a glare over his glasses – an impossible cocktail of anger, pain, and petulance.
"Sorry, man. It's a figure of speech."
"It's okay, it just stings." Clark pouted. "So, if this girl's so great, why haven't you asked her out?"
"I did. It was my first week in DC, and I wanted to do something impulsive." Pete shook his head at the memory. "We went on one date, and it was a horrible train wreck – my fault. She's been giving me the evil eye from her cubicle ever since."
"Then why is she going to listen to you about me?"
"Well, I showed her a picture of you, and, let's face it, you're a handsome devil." Pete took another swig of beer with a smirk. "And I told her you know Superman."
"Look, it's just an in. Like the best pick-up line ever." He gestured grandly. "This is the gift I give to you, as your wingman."
Clark's glasses slid down his nose. "You're my wingman now?"
Pete shrugged. "Chloe said you needed one."
"Well, for once, Chloe's wrong," Clark mumbled into the neck of his bottle.
"C'mon, man. You're always saying you just want a normal life. You're never going to get one if you're only ever around people who know exactly who you are." Pete sighed. "Just spend this one evening with someone who only knows Clark Kent, simple Kansas farmboy. You might even like it."
Clark shook his head and slid his glasses back up. He met Pete's pleading eyes with a level gaze. "Well, if I'm doing this," he said, "I'm taking you and Chloe down with me."
On the day of the date, there was a bank robbery on 31st and 6th. As usual, there was a crowd outside, staring skyward, hoping for a glimpse of the Man of Steel. Clark, however, had learned his lesson: he'd tied up the robbers inside and then called in police to bring them out. He may have been wearing a giant red cape, but he didn't want to be the center of a circus.
The cops left with the culprits and, since he had some time before his date, Clark stayed behind to make sure that none of the hostages needed to be hospitalized. When he walked out onto the street, most of the crowd was gone.
Clark was just about to turn and take off when a voice behind him called, "Superman!" He turned on his heel in time to see a redheaded woman bouncing toward him, her hand waving back and forth.
"Superman, it's me! Lori Lemaris, from the White House?" Clark was fairly sure she was only breathless because she had been running.
"Of course, Miss Lemaris," he said, giving her his friendliest smile. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
"So, Superman, I was wondering…" Lori said, her eyes glittering, "I was wondering what you do in your off-hours."
"Miss Lemaris." Clark could see where this was going, and he didn't like it one bit. "I don't have off-hours. Crime simply doesn't sleep."
She pouted. "But you're not just Superman all the time. You can't be."
Clark's breath caught in his throat. His voice cracked. "What?"
"You have friends. I'm going out with one of them tonight." Clark jaw had dropped, and Lori mistook the expression. "No, no, it's just a blind set-up thing, as a favor for someone else." Clark snapped his mouth closed and tried to regain some of his Superman posture. "But I guess what I'm saying is that – well, if you have friends, do you have…girlfriends?"
When Clark decided to become Superman, he and Chloe had prepackaged answers to every question but this one. "Excuse me, Miss Lemaris," he said. "I think I hear someone screaming across town."
He didn't break the sound barrier flying home, but he came pretty close.
Pete picked Chloe up at her apartment and they walked the seven blocks to the restaurant together, arm-in-arm.
"Clark's terrible with women, you know," Chloe said as they sat down at the table. "I think you'll recall from high school that he has three moves: x-ray vision card tricks, getting drugged with red-K, and accidentally lighting the girl on fire."
"And if that were the only evidence, I'd agree with you. But the guy-" he looked both ways, dropped his voice, leaned in, "-the guy is Superman. And anyone who can turn up the smoothness like that has got a least a shot."
"But Clark" – and in their code, Pete understood Chloe to mean the "Clark" part of Clark's persona – "can't be smooth. Ever."
"Nerds can get laid, too," Pete said.
Lori barged into the restaurant a few minutes later and sat down without preamble. "So where is he?"
Chloe raised her eyebrows at Pete and then cleared her throat. "Hi, Lori, I'm Chloe Sullivan."
"Oh, hey." She took Chloe's hand. "You went to high school with Pete?"
"He and Clark, yeah," she said, offering her sunniest smile.
"So then tell me." Lori leaned in conspiratorially. "Is this Clark guy hot?"
Chloe looked at Pete and then back at Lori. She decided, for the first time in nearly a decade, to answer a question about Clark with complete honesty.
She smirked. "Oh, yeah."
Pete rolled his eyes but played along. "Man, I'm glad I wasn't around to be Clark's sidekick during his varsity quarterback days."
Chloe laughed. "Try nursing a crush on him while he's scoring touchdowns and getting the eyes from every cheerleader on the squad."
"Um…" Lori blinked. "Oh."
Pete triumphantly nudged Chloe with his elbow under the table.
And as if on cue, Clark stumbled through the front door, only seven minutes late. On one hand, Pete had to give him credit – he didn't look in the slightest like he played high school football, let alone like Superman.
On the other hand, he didn't deserve wingmen as good as him and Chloe.
"Sorry, sorry." He had turned up the stuttering and was avoiding Lori's eyes by fiddling with his glasses. "I was on a deadline, and then there was…a thing." He sat down, keeping his massive overcoat on. "And then my mother called." He reached out a hand in Lori's general direction. "I'm terribly sorry. I'm Clark."
"Lori." She took his hand as if in a daze. "Pete and Chloe were just telling me – you were the quarterback at, um, Smalltown High?"
"Smallville," Clark corrected, "and yeah. But only for half a season, and only because they were short varsity players."
"Clark," Chloe admonished. "That's not true. You were amazing. You were about to get a scholarship and everything."
Clark grimaced. "Yeah, but I didn't."
Lori sipped her water with waning interest. "Why not?"
Clark ducked his head. "There was…a thing. It's not important."
"Yeah," Chloe said, jumping in. "It's a good thing you didn't go pro, Clark, because then you never would have started working at the Planet."
"And you never would have met Superman."
Clark turned to Pete with a death glare that was almost a fiery orange.
Lori's head popped up. "Oh, yeah!" she squealed. Then, composing herself: "What's he like? And how did you meet him?"
Clark blinked hard. "Um…he saved me. From being mugged."
"Ooooh." Lori's eyes were glinting the same way they had earlier, at the bank. "Did he melt the guy's gun with his heat vision or something?"
"Yes," Clark said quickly. "Yes, that's exactly what he did."
"And then what?"
"And then I got an interview." Clark was glancing around the restaurant, looking everywhere but at Lori. "And now we help each other out from time to time. I wouldn't really call it a friendship."
"That's what Superman called it when I talked to him today," Lori said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "I ran into him on the street. He remembered me. Oh, and he says hi."
Chloe and Pete shot Clark identical looks of shock, but Clark just shook his head with amusement.
Pete couldn't stop himself from intervening any longer. "So, Clark," he said, "Lori wants to be a senator someday."
Clark was so polite that his interest looked sincere. "Oh yeah? My mom was a senator."
"Wait, seriously?" Lori looked surprised and a little impressed. "Do you think she has any connections left on the Hill?"
Clark winced and took a sip of his water. "Um, probably not."
Lori's face fell again, and she looked like she could barely contain an eye roll. "Oh."
Suddenly, three cop cars sped past the restaurant, sirens blazing. Clark, Chloe, and Pete all froze. Pete looked from Clark to Chloe with pleading eyes – No, not now, you need this, please, he tried to say – but Chloe gave Clark a small nod and Pete's shoulders slumped in defeat.
Clark turned to Chloe. "Hey, do you have a piece of paper I could borrow? I, um, I just thought of something."
"Of course," Chloe said smoothly, pulling her ever-present reporter's notebook and pen out of her purse and tearing out a page.
Clark scrawled a few words and handed the paper back to Chloe. "Thanks, Chlo. Could you put this in my desk at the Planet, please?"
Chloe glanced quickly at the note, her face impassive, before passing it subtly to Pete under the table. He opened it in his lap. In Clark's narrow handwriting: Metallo, Suicide Slums.
Lori was glancing between the three of them, her eyebrows knitted. "Jeez, Clark, where's the fire?" she asked.
Clark tensed up until Pete nudged him softly with his knee as a reminder to not take things so literally.
Chloe jumped in, as she often did. "Oh, Lori, I forgot to mention it. Clark's on the MPD beat this week, he's going to have to head down to the scene to cover this story."
Lori glanced wistfully out to the street. "Maybe we could all head down together. I mean, Superman's probably going to be there, right?"
Pete could have sworn there was real fear in Clark's eyes. "Um, Lori, I don't think that's a good idea," Clark said. "It's probably too dangerous for us to all be gawking around."
"Plus," Pete interjected, "it seems rude to leave your date with one dude so you can go ogle another one."
"Pete!" Lori squealed. "I do not ogle!"
"No, you ogle."
Lori, Chloe, and Pete swung their heads in Clark's direction. Chloe recovered first.
"Clark, how would you know that?" she asked, an eyebrow cocked dangerously.
Clark nervously pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Pete told me," he said mildly. He stood, gathering his coat. "Anyway, I have to go. I'll see you guys later." He reached out and shook Lori's hand hurriedly. "It was nice to meet you Lori."
With that, he turned and left, dashing out of the crowded restaurant a little too deftly for someone his size. Peter just laughed and shook his head.
Lori downed the rest of her water and grabbed her purse. "This is the last time you set me up with someone, Pete Ross," she snipped, sliding on her jacket. "See you back in DC, I guess." She stood up from the booth, and then turned back around to Chloe to add, "And he wasn't even that cute."
As the door slammed behind her, Chloe raised her eyebrows. "Well, she didn't deserve him at all."
Pete just shook his head. "Clark is never going to get laid," he said.
Chloe smirked. "Eh," she said, "I'd rather Metallo destroy Metropolis than see that girl get so lucky."
Pete stirred his drink. "There are just no Earth girls good enough for our boy."
Chloe clinked her glass against his. "Ain't it the truth."
The rest of the dinner, in Pete's opinion, was wonderful. Clark never came back, but Pete wasn't worried. He'd see him again in a couple Wednesdays at the Capitol Café.