(Part III of III)
Weeks had passed since that fateful night tempered with confessions of love and insecurities. Clark had been true to his word and hadn't attempted to take their relationship any further. He had, as promised, found a way to tell her that he was in love with her each day. Lois looked forward to seeing what his creativity birthed each morning.
Sometimes it was a note scribbled on the napkin that bore her pastry 'de jour'. Other times brought a fading message finger carved in the condensation around a plastic cup of iced mocha. While plastic cups didn't make as nice keepsakes as the napkins did, her favorite declarations were simply those voiced in a hushed tone when Clark was able to corner her alone.
Lois sighed and glanced around the makeshift newsroom in hopes of locating the man who was the focus of her thoughts. There were times of instant panic that overtook her as her overactive mind would tell her that the next day would be the day he stopped loving her. What man would wait this long for a woman whose fear of emotional commitment bordered on neurotic?
She knew that she loved Clark. She became surer of it every day, and yet she was still unable to jump in head first, throwing caution to the wind. Ironic, she thought to herself, seeing as that's how I do everything else.
The careful avoidance of intimacy had not done anything to help her come to terms with her feelings. Instead, she missed the hugs, arm rubs, and gentle caresses that had become second nature between them. That, and there was an extra electricity that shimmered in the air when they were close.
Clark had told her that he would give her time to decide what she wanted, and at the time it had sounded like the right idea. She had been questioning her instincts and if she could trust herself to love again. Time and distance was what she thought she needed, but she had only become more convinced that she needed him near her the more he was away. If her dreams were any indication of what she was subconsciously craving, she knew what she wanted, and she wanted it now.
Stepping from the stairwell, Clark couldn't keep the grin from spreading across his face as he saw Lois sitting at the table she was using as a desk. She was leaning back in her chair, thoughtfully gazing in the direction of her laptop screen while nibbling on the eraser of a pencil.
The Daily Planet building was still in shambles and no rebuilding efforts were yet in the works as the police were still conducting their investigation. Fortunately, Perry's retirement had been cut short when Franklin Stern had bought the rights to the paper from Luthor. The Planet wouldn't be putting out any papers anytime soon, but that hadn't stopped the core group of Lois, Clark, Perry, Jimmy, and Eduardo from doing what they could to regroup. As much as the evidence seemed to be pointing at Jack, none of them believed it, and thus, they had work to do to get him in the clear.
Lois had finally gotten the chance to inform Luthor of her decision to reject his proposal. To Clark's relief the meeting was held during daylight hours, in the public confines of a LuthorCorp conference room, and with the (unknown to both Lois and Lex) presence of a nearby eavesdropping Superman. It might have been attributed to the fact that the conference room had glass walls that Lex had taken the news so calmly, but Clark feared Luthor's last word had yet to be heard.
Since their investigation into his possible illegal dealings had run cold, Luthor's pending retaliation could play into their hands. The thought made Clark both frightened and anxious at the same time. He hated the idea of Lois inadvertently being used as a target or as bait, but he instinctively knew that Luthor wasn't one to give up easy, and he certainly wasn't going to take no for an answer without a fight. A disturbing image of a bull seeing red flashed into Clark's mind. If anything, Lois's rejection had probably piqued Lex's attention- not deterred it.
It was thoughts like those that made him ever aware of the danger Lois courted on a daily basis. Without having an official place of work and no official stories, things had been extremely calm and uneventful for the partners. Clark's duties as Superman hadn't stopped, of course, but he found it to be quite a relief that unlike normal, his rescue efforts weren't dominated by one Lois Lane, inexorable reporter.
There were other thoughts about her safety that had been plaguing him lately as well, and the combination of all his worries left him feeling hesitant. There was no doubt in his mind that he loved that woman – he spent every possible moment trying to rebuild her trust him both him and in herself – but there were times when he wondered if love and trust were enough.
"Oh!" Lois exclaimed, having turned around in her chair and been startled by his presence behind her. "How long have you been standing there?"
Clark blinked out of his abstraction and shrugged. "Not long."
Her eyes narrowed slightly and she seemed to sense his distraction. "Everything go okay?" she asked, making a subtle movement with her hand that mimicked flight.
"Yeah," he answered with a slight shrug. "I had to give the story to the Star."
Lois grimaced at that, but until they had the capability of putting out their own news, farming stories out to other establishments was a necessary evil. All the same, she couldn't wait to get back to business. Clark rubbed his hands on his pants and her attention was once again drawn to his apparent unease.
"How about some lunch?" he suddenly blurted, giving the impression that it wasn't actually what he'd planned on saying. "We could walk."
Lois fought to ignore the quick stutter-step her heart did and covered with a bright smile and a nod. She had read the inference in his tone and in what lay under his words. While he had offered to walk, she knew that what he really wanted to do was talk.
Clark sighed and tossed what remained of his Shay's Papaya hot dog into a trash bin as they passed and reflected that their walk had brought them to the fountain.
Fitting, he thought wryly to himself. In the circle of life, we end where we begin.
Deliberately, but in a way that he hoped wasn't obvious, he kept walking, steering them away from the scene of their emotional breakdown over a month before. If Lois was aware of the detour, she didn't make it known.
Thoughts fluttered around Clark's head, and he was having trouble deciding which of them to voice and which of them to ban. Over the past few weeks he and Lois had seemed to grow closer even though they were consciously moving slow with their progressing relationship. Her knowledge of his secrets had once been a scary thing but time had proven it to be the exact opposite. It was a form of intimacy that couldn't be expressed in words.
In a way, the sharing of the burden had made it her secret too, and it alleviated a loneliness that he'd never admitted was in existence. The problem was, the secret carried with it great responsibility, and his overactive imagination delivered numerous hypotheticals of how the burden could more than either one of them could bear.
He'd voiced these concerns to his parents, explaining that his identity placed Lois in danger. Many people had already used her as bait for Superman, and that was before she'd even been secretly linked with him. His parents had cautioned against his making any rash decisions about what either of them could handle… but even with their sage wisdom in hand, Clark still felt the need to draw the proverbial line in the sand.
Feeling buoyed and resolved, Clark turned to address his partner only to realize that she was no longer walking with him. Spinning around, he found that she was sitting on a park bench looking at him with an expression that made it obvious that she was expecting him to return to her side and hash out whatever it was that was weighing on his shoulders.
"Well?" she asked, once he'd sat down. Her anxiety over his apparent anxiety had caused her to seek out the nearest seat when it had gotten to be too much to handle. The fact that he had kept walking had proven to her just how out of it he was. A traitorous voice kept trying to tell her that this was the day.
The day he stops loving you.
Swallowing in an attempt to dislodge the lump in her throat, she met his gaze defiantly… and immediately felt her courage dissolve- her hand reaching out to cover his in a sudden need for contact. She couldn't lose this man. She couldn't lose her heart.
Clark looked down at her hand and turned his over so their fingers could interlace. "Lois, I…"
When he stopped, Lois felt her breath catch. She didn't start again until he did.
"I thought I loved you before, I thought that what I felt was the deepest emotion that a man – that a super man – could possibly feel for a woman." He looked up to meet her eyes. "I was wrong. I know that now."
This time, the lump in her throat was impossible to swallow and even though her mouth opened in preparation for a protest, nothing came out.
"What I felt for you before…" He paused, and it seemed that he was having his own issues with swallowing. "What I felt for you then pales in comparison to what I feel for you now."
Lois felt dizzy as her heart started pumping again, sending blood rushing into recently neglected areas. Clark shifted on the bench, turning slightly so that he was facing her. The movement resulted in their clasped hands being pulled to rest on his thigh.
"I guess, what I wanted to say… what I'm trying to ask is, um, if you'd consider maybe…" He blew out a breath. "…If you'd want to…"
"Marry me," Lois inserted breathlessly, so soft and forceful that it came out as something between a whisper and a cough.
Clark blinked at her in a stupor. "What?"
Confronted with the possibility of having to repeat herself, Lois felt embarrassed and pressed her lips together firmly. For his part, Clark's superhearing prevented the need for repetition. He knew what she'd said, he just couldn't quite believe she'd really said it.
"Lois?" Clark's mind was once again tripping all over itself, but for a whole slew of new and delightful reasons. He studied her face, her eyes, the lines on her forehead, and smiled. Suddenly the anxiety was gone and in its stead he was filled with irrational amusement. "I was going to ask if we could start dating."
Lois bit her lower lip, and to his relief appeared to be trying to hold back a laugh of her own. "Yeah. That's probably what's comes before…" She paused and waved her free hand in the air, "...the other thing."
She may have slipped and brought the 'M' word into the conversation, but that didn't mean she wanted to say it again.
Clark couldn't help his sudden euphoria. The day seemed to have gotten brighter, the grass greener, the air cleaner. If he couldn't already fly, he would have felt like he could. More than anything, he was happy that his decision hadn't backfired.
Earlier, when he was pondering the world and his role in it, he had chosen Lois. In his musings, he had determined that he had two options. The first one was that he could separate himself from her in order to preserve her safety and not ever have to choose between his love and his (second) job. But when he realized that he couldn't live in a world without her – and didn't ever want to have to live in those circumstances – he'd gone with the other option. He would love Lois Lane with the entire essence of his being and if the world ever demanded that he choose between it or her – he would choose her. It was selfish, yes, but those were his non-negotiable terms.
And now, Freudian induced slip or not, she had brought out the biggest 'M' word he knew of.
"Are you even ready for that? The other thing, I mean," he queried, tightening his hold on her hand.
With a small smile, she shook her head, but there was a certain something in her eyes when she did it. "Are you?"
Clark thought about that original conversation next to the fountain and the one that had followed in her apartment. He thought about the days full of contemplation and introspection he had been embroiled in since those events and then shook his head, answering her honestly. He needed to grow up a little more before he could be worthy of her hand.
He leaned over and placed a warm kiss against her lips, sliding his free hand first to cup her cheek, and then into her hair as the kiss deepened. When he pulled away, they both were smiling. "I want you to know that when you're ready, I'm going to ask."
Lois leaned in an initiated a kiss of her own. Their foreheads remained together as she pulled back just enough to be able to get in the last word.
"And when you're ready, I want you know that I'm going to say yes."