Disclaimer: The recognizable characters and settings in this story are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions, and anyone else with a legal right to them, and I have no claim on them whatsoever, nor am I profiting by their use. The new situations are mine, and the story belongs to me. The setting of the story and part of the dialogue is borrowed from the episode "Honeymoon in Metropolis", by Dan Levine, and all such parts are credited to him.

Feathers

By Nan Smith

"People are entitled to private lives and thoughts, Lois. Who are we to judge?"

"Are you sure you're in the right business?" Lois cast her partner a slightly contemptuous glance. "Our job is to rip away the veil of secrecy and reveal the naked truth."

As usual, Clark seemed to completely miss the irony in her tone. "Well, when you put it like that --" he said. She didn't, however, miss the twinkle in his eyes and had to bite her tongue. Sometimes the thought occurred to her that her na?e partner might not be as na?e as she would like to believe, and sometimes might even be secretly amused at the way she acted, but she hurriedly dismissed the impression. He was from *Kansas*, after all. How could he possibly understand the sophistication of the residents of Metropolis?

Another glance at him gave her the uncomfortable feeling that he was trying not to grin. She stood up. Time to put an end to this.

"Okay, I'm going to bed. Set the recorder for voice activation and wake me when our friends across the way show up." She started toward the bedroom.

"Wait a minute," Clark's voice said, "aren't you forgetting something?"

She turned back. It was hard to tell, but she thought there was a hint of amusement in his expression. "What?"

"This is our first night here -- alone -- together."

Lois eyed him distrustfully. "So?"

He produced a quarter. "So, we flip for the bed."

Why that little -- "How about: I get the bed, I lend you a pillow."

He gave her a faint grin. "How about we alternate nights?"

"How about we don't?" Lois shot back.

Clark's eyebrows rose and this time she was sure she didn't mistake the amusement. "Well, it's a really big bed. How about we share?"

"How about we alternate nights?"

"Deal," Clark said. Lois went through the door without a backward glance.

**********

Lois stared up into the dark of the room, wondering what had gotten into her. She'd let Clark maneuver her into agreeing to alternate nights in the bedroom, which meant that tomorrow she would have to sleep on that sofa out in the living room -- and she could swear that she'd heard Clark fall off it once, already. What on Earth had she been thinking? Why would she let a na?e hick like Clark wangle an agreement like that out of her? He was a nobody! He was new at the Planet, while she was the paper's top investigative reporter!

Of course, Clark had already shown that he was good. He was very good. That was part of the problem. If she were to give him the slightest break he was bound to try to step into her favored spot, just as she would have done in his place. And that wide-eyed naivete was almost certainly not the real Clark Kent. She wondered for a small sad minute if there were any men that were really as nice as Clark seemed to be -- except Superman, of course. Not that she had ever seen Clark be anything other than nice, except for the time that he'd sent her on that hideous, never-to-be-forgotten trip to the sewage reclamation facility and much as she could wish to blame him for that, she couldn't. She'd acted abominably and stolen his story, and he'd given her a good reason not to do anything like that again. But that also was a good reason to remember, even in her weaker moments, that Clark Kent could be dangerous -- even if only to her dignity.

Well, tomorrow night she could simply ignore the agreement. That would be the easiest, and Clark would probably let her get away with it. She doubted he'd take revenge as he had after the theft of his story, but the most annoying thing was that, underneath, she liked Clark and actually wanted him to have a good opinion of her. Violating their agreement would be one more reason for him to mistrust her word.

She turned on her side, squeezing her eyes shut. Why was it that she was worrying about what Clark thought of her, anyway? Okay; she'd been upset when he'd left Metropolis during that heat wave thing a few weeks ago, and she'd been glad to see him come back, but, in the long run, he was just another reporter who was a threat to her position as Perry's favorite reporter and the Planet's star. She had to remember that. Getting soft wasn't going to do her any good.

She turned onto her other side. All right. She'd honor the agreement. Maybe if she settled that in her mind she'd be able to get some sleep instead of lying here thinking about Clark Kent.

The trouble was, the longer he stayed around the more she liked him. The fact that he was quite literally the best looking man she'd ever known -- again, with the exception of Superman -- had set her instantly on her guard. Good-looking men, in her experience, were usually self-absorbed jerks, who were so used to getting everything they wanted that they didn't give a thought for anyone else. It was all about them. Claude, for instance, had been perfectly willing to betray her in an instant to steal her story, and his complete lack of remorse had flayed her raw. It had been, she privately acknowledged, one of the rationalizations she had constructed when she'd taken advantage of Clark's trust and stolen his Superman story back in the beginning. Clark, in a way, was paying for Claude's treachery, and the slight uneasiness she'd felt about it had further annoyed her. She'd almost managed to convince herself that she'd been justified, until Lucy's obvious disapproval and, yes, contempt for what she had done, brought her back to Earth with a thud. And even then she'd been unwilling to apologize to Clark for her appalling breach of journalistic ethics. Which was one reason that, after her initial anger had worn off, she'd never brought up the subject of the sewage reclamation facility again, or even tried to pay Clark back for his perfidy. After all, all he'd done was dangle the bait in front of her and let her get herself into the mess. She couldn't blame him, as much as she wanted to. She only thought wistfully of her inability to pay Claude back in a similar way. That was another minor irritant. Clark's creative lesson had been a very effective one. It had won her grudging respect. Claude had never respected her, either before his theft of her story, or afterwards.

But, in spite of his good looks, Clark never seemed self-absorbed. He was unfailingly quiet, courteous and an all-round nice guy. He was so dratted nice that she even felt guilty when she went behind his back to gain an advantage over him. Not that the guilt stopped her, but it annoyed her. She didn't like to feel guilty over what should have been business as usual.

Okay, okay! She'd fulfill her part of the stupid bargain! Now for Pete's sake, Lois, stop obsessing over Clark's niceness and get some sleep!

Twenty minutes later, she was still wide-awake. Finally, in frustration, she slid out of bed and grabbed for her robe. Maybe if she got herself a glass of warm milk from the suite's kitchenette she would be able to relax. Assuming the dratted honeymoon suite even had something as unromantic as milk. Well, if it didn't, she'd just call room service and order some!

Quietly, without turning on the light, Lois moved toward the door. The moonlight through the window provided plenty of light, and if she was quiet she didn't need to wake up Clark. The poor guy was probably sleeping badly enough on the couch, anyway. The thing was pretty narrow for someone his size, after all. No need to disturb him if she didn't have to.

The living room was dim and quiet, except for Clark's soft breathing. He didn't snore, she noted in surprise. She'd thought all men did. Her father had, and the couple of nights that Claude had "stayed over" he'd snored most unromantically. Clark's breathing was quiet, except for one faint snuffle that caused her to freeze in her tracks, but after several seconds he seemed to relax and his breathing became soft and regular once more.

She tiptoed past the couch, casting a glance at her partner in this surveillance operation. He was sleeping on his back with his head turned to the side and the diffused light from the mega-city below fell across the couch, leaving his face in shadow. As silently as she could, Lois crept past him toward the kitchenette. The faint light was enough to show her where everything was and she located the refrigerator without difficulty.

Oddly enough, there was an unopened quart of milk in the refrigerator. The tiny cupboard contained, besides wine and champagne glasses, a pair of earthenware mugs imprinted with the logo of the Lexor Hotel. Lois removed the milk carton, opened it quietly, poured milk into a mug and replaced the carton in the refrigerator. The tiny microwave oven ought to heat the milk satisfactorily enough without making a lot of noise, she thought, and she proceeded to place the mug into the microwave. While the milk was heating, she investigated the other cupboard and discovered, much to her surprise, packets of powdered chocolate for the purpose of making hot chocolate -- probably for a nice homey breakfast drink, she thought. Well, maybe a cup of hot chocolate would help her to relax and fall asleep. As soon as the milk was finished heating she would take it and a packet of chocolate back into the bedroom. No point in lingering around in here and possibly waking Clark.

The microwave finished its cycle and beeped softly. Clark mumbled in his sleep and Lois quickly opened the oven door to silence the alarm.

The mug was hot, she discovered an instant later, and, after a moment's futile search, she used a corner of her robe in order to protect her hand from the hot handle of the mug. Ready at last, she started back toward the bedroom.

Passing the couch, she felt something brush softly against her bare toes, tickling her foot lightly. She glanced down and then paused, struck by what she thought she saw.

Feathers? What on Earth were gobs and gobs of feathers doing lying all over the carpet? It looked as if a bird had exploded all over this place -- or maybe, common sense pointed out to her an instant later, a pillow.

She glanced over at Clark.

In the dim light, she could see that the pillow she had loaned him the evening before was lying on the carpet, and judging by its caved-in appearance, it had indeed exploded. She took a careful step toward the couch, trying to make no noise. Feathers brushed lightly against her feet, rolling and puffing up softly in the faint breeze of her passage.

Something glinted on the end table and after a second she identified the object as Clark's glasses. The diffused light reflected faintly off the lenses and she glanced back at her partner's sleeping face, turned toward her in the shadowy living room.

It was a little hard to see. The curtains, partially drawn across the window, blocked the city light from falling across his face and left it in deep shadow. She could make out his heavy eyebrows in the blur of his face, and as she drew closer she began to discern his features more clearly. He was, she thought, even better looking without the glasses, even with his dark hair mussed across his forehead and his expression relaxed in sleep. Again she glanced down at the feathers, frowning in perplexity. What could possibly have happened?

Well, the last thing she wanted to have happen was for Clark to wake up and find her standing here in her robe staring at him. As quietly as she could she turned and made her way across the carpet, the feathers wafting around her feet, toward the bedroom. She closed the door silently behind her and went to set the mug on the nightstand. She tore open the packet of chocolate and stirred the contents into the milk. A moment later, she was sitting in bed, sipping the chocolate, contemplating what she had seen in the other room.

What on Earth could have caused the pillow to explode? Had Clark decided to take his frustration out on the furniture by pounding on it with the pillow? That certainly didn't seem in character for her calm, relaxed partner. It must have been a fairly vigorous explosion, too, judging by how far the feathers seemed to have spread. For a moment, the vision of Clark beating on the living room furniture with the hapless pillow crossed her mind and then she shook her head, rejecting it. No, whatever had really happened, that couldn't be the answer. She sipped the chocolate slowly, savoring the rich taste of the drink. Clark was such a good-looking man, even more so without his glasses. Why didn't he wear contacts?" She frowned, envisioning her partner's face without the glasses. His heavy eyebrows, the high forehead, the well-shaped cheekbones and square jaw, and the dark hair mussed across his forehead. He reminded her of someone else she knew, she thought. She'd seen that face somewhere before, but she couldn't quite place it.

She swallowed the last of the chocolate and set the cup on the nightstand. Tomorrow would be time enough to ask him what had happened. She slid down under the satin sheets and pulled them up around her shoulders. The hot chocolate had accomplished its purpose. At last, she was feeling sleepy. Her last coherent thought before she slipped over the borderland into sleep was that the explanation for the feathers was going to be very interesting. Clark's explanations always were -- if somewhat out of the ballpark.

**********

Clark gave Lois one of his patented wide-eyed stares. "What about the feathers?" he asked.

"How did they get all over the living room?" she asked.

"There aren't any feathers in here," Clark said.

Lois opened her mouth to contradict him and then paused, looking around the living room of the honeymoon suite -- only now, for some strange reason, it resembled Clark's apartment. He was right. No feathers were to be seen. She looked back. "But there were," she said. Clark stared at her, clad in blue, yellow and red, and his glasses were nowhere to be seen.

"Why do you think there were feathers on the floor?" he asked. Superman smiled his famous smile at her and Lois couldn't pin down exactly why the scenario was wrong. Something about Clark and feathers, hadn't it been? Feathers in the honeymoon suite of the Lexor?

Superman's face and voice began to fade as she swam up from the depths of a dream, only to hear the same voice speaking softly to her and to feel a hand shaking her shoulder gently.

"Lois, wake up."

Lois opened her eyes with a start. Clark was leaning over her, his glasses firmly in place. "They're back," he said.

She blinked up at him in confusion, taking in the familiar face -- and yet now it was overlaid with another image. Clark, without his glasses -- and behind the glasses resting on his face, Superman looked back at her.

She looked away so that he wouldn't see her expression. "Go on back," she said. "I'll be there as soon as I put on a robe." Not to mention some pajamas, she added silently. This was something she had to think about. Was she imagining things, or was she seeing the real man for the first time: Superman, standing before her in the guise of her hayseed partner?

And if it wasn't her imagination, what was she going to do? If she hadn't gone crazy, and Superman was really hiding in plain sight in the guise of Clark Kent, how was she going to handle this?

Well, she told herself, sliding quickly out of bed to pick up the boxer shorts and the T-shirt that she often wore as pajamas, first she had to find out for sure. And then she would have to think hard about what she was going to do. If Clark was really Superman, there had to be a reason for this strange masquerade. Now was not the time to jump in without checking the water level, she thought. Just this once she would wait and watch, and see what was really going on before she made any moves whatsoever. This time the stake was much too important to make an error.

Quickly, she pulled on her dressing gown and opened the door to the living room of the honeymoon suite. Clark was at the window, watching the movement of two men in the room across the way. She smiled sleepily and covered a yawn. "What's happened so far?" she asked.

The End