PART ONE (FRIENDS), CHAPTER TEN


"And when the hell did you think this up?"

"Just last night," said Clark, still flustered as he glanced down at the folded sheet of paper in Lois's grasp. "I was going to tell you."

"Sometime before five o'clock tomorrow, I hope."

He sighed, regretting the lapse that'd led him to his present predicament. Whilst they'd re-rehearsed their entrances, their officiant's greeting, and their escorts' blessings, Lois had frequently been able to move about, even if only in a prescribed manner. But once they'd proceeded to a more thorough discussion of J'onn's remarks, she'd had to remain in one place, which was something she never did do for very long. At some point, she was bound to get fidgety. At some point, she was bound to need a diversion.

He'd felt her part the opening to his pocket and lean closer to him to peer inside. But as he always kept snacks for her on him and as she always went looking for them eventually, he hadn't thought twice - at least, not until it was too late. He'd quickly recoiled the second her fingers pushed aside the folded sheet blocking her view into the rest of the small space. Unfortunately, his doing so piqued her impishness, prompting her to withdraw the page before he could retreat very far. Had he been less frantic in his insistence that she return the item to him, she almost certainly would've cooperated after a brief round of keep-away. But his reaction betrayed not only that she'd chanced upon something of importance, but also that he knew the something wouldn't thrill her.

Hands on hips, she'd asked once and only once what it was that she was holding. He'd paused, readying himself for rebuke, and admitted the truth of what the paper contained.

He could've hoped for less severity to her immediate reaction, but he took comfort in presuming that her annoyance had less to do with the substance of her discovery and more to do with his delay in telling her of it, thus putting her in the position of finding it out for herself. As a result, he resigned himself to what would surely be at least a few more barbs and replied in earnest to her latest remark.

"We hadn't gotten to the part about the vows yet. I was going to ask you about it then."

Crossing her arms, Lois retorted, "Oh, 'ask' me, huh? So this isn't so much a late-breaking bulletin as a lamebrain, last-minute request?"

"Of course it's a request. I wouldn't just -"

"- Renege? Because that's what you're doing." She turned to J'onn and pressed, "He's totally reneging, right? We already settled this. Please, tell me I'm not the only one who remembers that conversation."

J'onn wasn't sure of how to respond. Without doubt, he recalled the afternoon gathering between himself, the intendeds, and the wedding planner, during which the couple conveyed their wishes for the ceremony and gave him the vows they'd composed. But J'onn suspected that to say as much would only exacerbate the situation. Fortunately, however, the groom broke in and saved him from making a reply to the bride.

"Lois, I'm not reneging," Clark quietly told her, moving forward a bit and reaching for her hand. But in spite of his gesture, she took a step back, warding him off. He stopped mid-motion and happened to glance over her shoulder at her maid of honor, whose face reflected what he imagined to be the amused expressions of every other witness to the tiff between himself and his fiancée. Nonetheless, Clark accepted that the misstep he'd taken publicly would have to be atoned for under the same circumstances, and he thus cleared his throat, gathered himself, and articulated at a volume that everyone nearby could make out.

"I haven't forgotten anything. It's just that the closer we get to tomorrow, the more particular I want to be about what I say to you. You know how much you mean to me. How invested I am in you. How committed I am to us. But our ceremony is as much about me swearing to all that in front of you as it is about me swearing to all that in front of everyone who isn't you.

"That said, if you're more comfortable hearing what we've already agreed on, then that's exactly what I'll go with. Whatever you want, whatever makes you happy is my priority. And if I didn't know that you feel the same way when it comes to me, then I would've never even considered bringing this up in the first place. But I was always going to, because you've been telling me for years that if I can't find the right moment to talk to you about stuff, then you'd still rather I speak up at a bad time than never at all. And I'm just trying to respect that. And to apologize for putting off something important… again."

Lois was certain that somewhere in the distance she could hear the swooning sighs of the same two ushers to whom Clark had endeared himself earlier, just as she'd been certain she could hear Clark's declaration melting the smirks of nearly every other onlooker. If only to prove that she could, though, she maintained her professed resistance to his persuasion.

"You can sweet-talk me 'til your cows come home, but I've still got half a mind to toss this," she insisted, holding up the page in her hand. "Late notice should get you an automatic no-go."

"Yeah, but it won't," interjected a snickering voice from one of the front rows. "She'd let him get away with practically anything short of her own murder."

All present slowly turned to regard the least tactful of Clark's groomsmen, who was receiving an elbow from Stuart for disrupting the spat that was taking place up on the dais.

"Ow!" complained Bart, turning to the young man seated next to him. "What was that for?"

Stuart responded by pointing a thumb out in front of them and motioning toward the eyes that were fixed in their direction. Bart looked around, but he couldn't be bothered to care about the scrutiny. "Whatever. History's on my side," he thus said, checking his watch. Upon seeing the time, he dropped his empty plate into Stuart's lap, got to his feet, and, with an assurance that he'd be right back, rushed off.

Stuart, left alone, recoiled into his seat a bit and mouthed a meek "Sorry" in apology for Bart. Lois, perhaps as a gesture of mercy, then returned her attention to Clark and accordingly drew the others' attentions away from Stuart.

"And on top of everything else, you're putting me on the spot," continued the bride, shifting about to stand alongside her maid of honor and leaning her shoulder into his sturdy frame. "Now, I'm gonna have to come up with something, too."

Setting aside Bart's brief interruption, Clark replied, "No, you won't. You can use what we already have. I like those vows."

"So do I."

"So you should use them."

"And sound like I'm spouting boilerplate while you're waxing poetic? Fat chance."

A small smile spread across his lips as he realized she was finally beginning to relent. "This isn't a competition, Lane."

"The hell it's not. But don't worry; I've already got you beat." After loudly clearing her throat, she then professed, "'I, Lois, take you, Clark, to be my lawfully wedded pain in the ass. As mistakes go, I probably couldn't be making a bigger one. But the thing is, you're taller than the average bear and you cast a great shadow. So I guess I'm prepared to put up with you and your many, many faults for all the days of what's bound to be our miserable life. However, please know going in that if I ever manage to find a less annoying shade tree, I won't hesitate to chop you up and use you as fuel in the fire that me and your replacement cuddle up by.' Sound good?"

Chuckling along with the onlookers, Clark stepped toward her, replying, "Sounds perfect." Then, at a whisper, he added, "Except that I was looking forward to you using your real name this one time."

"You of all people do not wanna get into the name issue with me," she told him, offering him back the sheet that had sparked their exchange.

He accepted it from her and started to lean down to touch his lips to hers in thanks. But, refusing to let him make a gesture that would put her in the same smitten state as the ushers, she pressed a hand into his chest, stopping him short.

"Points for effort, though," remarked the maid of honor, verbalizing the bride's thoughts.

Clark lifted his eyes from Lois to the man looming almost protectively at her side. With a wry look, he held Bruce's gaze while slipping his vows into one pocket and producing a small bag of dark-chocolate-covered almonds from another. Delighted, Lois seized the offering from him. Bruce shook his head and smirked, as if to say to Clark, "Well played."

While Lois started in on her almonds, Clark asked J'onn for a private few minutes to share with him what he'd prepared. J'onn agreed and the two men excused themselves from the rest of the crowd, which subsequently broke up for the interval.

Clark had only just descended the dais's handful of steps, though, when he felt his mother's hands grasping his arm and drawing him down to her height. She kissed his cheek and then let him go, after which he, surprised, promptly pulled back to regard her.

"Aw, Mom -" he started to say, upon finding her misty gaze.

"- Never mind me, Honey," she insisted, shooing him away. "Go with J'onn."

Clark hesitated for a moment, but upon receiving a reassuring look from Perry, he simply offered his mother the handkerchief he carried in his back pocket, gave her a quick hug, and left her side.

"For Pete's sake, Red," remarked Perry, once Clark was several strides away, "he gets gushy with her at least once every other minute; you should be used to it by now. Besides, if you can't even make it through one drippy declaration today, how are you gonna hold it together through the entire ceremony tomorrow?"

Martha smiled as she dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief that bore her initials. "My only child is getting married. I'm sure no one will mind me shedding a tear or two."

Moira, who'd congregated with the other older adults, stated her agreement with Martha. As it happened, her own only child's brief marriage had been annulled a year prior to her restoration to mental health. Even so, Moira had regretted being absent for the duration of Chloe and Jimmy's romance, but was grateful to Jimmy for braving what Chloe couldn't in spending an emotional day with her going through photos and videos of the couple's young love, courtship, and eventual wedding.

"In that case," retorted Perry, "I'm warning both you ladies that I've never been good with waterworks. So, come tomorrow, do me a favor and plan on directing all overflow at Gentle Ben or Mild Mike here."

The sound of the small group's light laughter filled Clark's ears as he made his way up the aisle with J'onn. He stopped and turned back, however, when he realized that he was unaccompanied by a necessary presence.

Diana had just seated herself in a chair when Clark unexpectedly appeared at her side.

"What are you doing?" he whispered to her, his amusement evident.

Confused by the address, she looked up at him in surprise. "Pardon me?"

"Why aren't you coming?"

"Did you wish me to?" she replied after a moment's contemplation.

Clark smiled, shaking his head at her sincere misunderstanding. "Yes, Diana. You're my best man for a reason. I want you with me as much as possible."

She smirked at his sentiment, uncrossing her legs and standing up. "I told you I would be no good at this," she reminded him.

"And I told you I wouldn't care," he replied, offering her his arm and gesturing up the aisle. "Now, if it's not too much to ask…"

As always, his attentions pleased her. Without hesitation, she therefore took his arm and let him lead her away, chuckling when he began teasing her by re-explaining her role.

At least three pairs of eyes followed the twosome as they departed. Of those three, Lois's were the first to turn away from her fiancé and his companion. With concern, she studied the expression of her maid of honor as he feigned disinterest in the best man receiving and reciprocating the groom's warmth. Before she could pull him aside, though, her bridesmaid pronounced that she hadn't had enough for breakfast and could use a snack.

One of the wedding party's attendants, who wasn't enough acquainted with Dinah to know when she was inventing an excuse, asked the apparently peckish woman whether she'd like something prepared for her. Dinah insisted that there was no need to trouble their chef and that she'd just make a quick run to the hotel's food hall.

"Anybody else want something while we're down there?" Dinah then asked one and all, grabbing the arm of an unsurprised Lois.

A few individuals made small requests, to which both the bride and the bridesmaid nodded in acknowledgement. Rolling her eyes, Lois then allowed Dinah to drag her off for a private chat.

"All right, Lane," said Dinah, squaring herself to Lois the moment they were out of the hall and alone in the long gallery adjacent to it. "I'm only gonna ask you this one last time, so speak now or forever hold your peace: Does that really not bother you?"

With a laugh, Lois retorted, "Sounds like somebody's projecting her own issues. Gee, I wonder how she could knock that the hell off. Maybe by sucking it up, making a phone call, and hearing straight from the horse's mouth what I've been trying to tell her for weeks?"

"'Somebody's' issues aren't up for discussion right now. And 'somebody' doesn't give a damn that she's talking to a bride; she'll still ring the bitch's nuptial neck if she doesn't cooperate."

Lois responded with a smirk to Dinah's blunt insistence. Indeed, she'd expect no less from the sharp-tongued, straight-talking woman who'd become one of her closest friends.

Along with nearly all those who were aware of the groom's alien heritage and double identity before his now-fiancée was, Dinah had been not only pleased but also relieved upon learning that Clark intended to finally reveal the truth to Lois. As the child of a vigilante mother and a civil servant father, Dinah knew firsthand how vital openness was for any romance where duality and duplicity were necessarily involved. Thus, out of compassion for both Lois, whom she respected despite their professional rivalry, and Clark, in whom she still believed despite the damage he'd done to his relationship, she offered Lois a more objective ear and a keener insight than anyone else could've provided her in the wake of her revelation.

The two women grew steadily closer from that point onward. They discovered that although their politics differed, they shared similar interests, similar attitudes, and similar notions as to how to have a good time. What's more, as daughters of odd couplings, they knew what it meant to believe as strongly in law and order as in nonconformity and outright revolt.

In view of that, Lois thought with amusement of the ease that now existed where there had once been only hostility between herself and her now-bridesmaid. Dinah, however, failed to appreciate Lois's apparent mirth and demanded that she answer her.

"That really doesn't bother me," chuckled the bride.

Dinah paused for a moment to study her friend, whose expression conveyed that Dinah's concern, while understandable, was also unfounded. To be sure, Lois had long maintained her present stance on the subject of their discussion. Nevertheless, Dinah felt obliged to pursue the matter just a little further before putting it to rest once and for all. "But they're so damn cozy with each other," she thus replied.

Lois laughed harder. "Yeah, they are, and it sounds like I'm not the one who's got a problem with that. What are you, jealous? Smallville hasn't showered you with enough affection lately?"

With a smile, Dinah gave Lois a nudge and remarked, "As a matter of fact, it has been too long since I've been wrapped up in those burly arms. It's as if Sugar enjoys tormenting me between our good-mornings and our good-nights."

"So tell him that. You know how much of a hugger he is."

"I'd have to pry him away from his Amazon first."

"Yeah, somebody's definitely seeing green."

Dinah, setting aside their jest, began to say that no one would fault Lois herself for being that person. But Lois, anticipating her reply, cut her short.

"- C'mon. This is Clark Kent we're talking about," she said, speaking in earnest. "There is no middle ground for him; once he takes even the slightest interest in someone, he goes all the way."

"All the way to some magical land for a pre-honeymoon, apparently."

"She ran that whole thing by me before she ever mentioned it to him," Lois reminded Dinah, alluding to the late-night visit she'd received on the eve of Clark's birthday. "And she did that knowing I'd actually like the idea, if only because it'd get him away from this world for a while. My workaholic mom always said the secret to never being stressed is never waiting until you need a break to take one."

Dinah sighed, "It's still beyond me why you're content to be this laissez-faire about the two of them."

Lois chuckled a bit and shook her head at Dinah's skepticism. "One, seeing as Smallville used to have a god-awful habit of getting attached to self-deluded or self-destructive types, I'm just glad he's finally learned to make friends with people he doesn't have to save all the time, with people who are actually good for him. Two, his relationship with her makes him happy. And the happier he is all around, the better it is for him, for me, for us, -" - lowering her voice momentarily - "- for the world. And three… to be honest, I think it's kind of adorable how moony he gets around her. He wouldn't be the same guy I've known for eight years if he hadn't fallen just as hard for his playmate as he did for his… well, you know, his, uh -"

"- Soul mate?" retorted Dinah.

"Roommate," rejoined Lois.

The two women shared a laugh. Afterward, Dinah plucked one of Lois's almonds from the bag in her hand and tossed it into her own mouth. "All right, Lane. Consider me convinced," she smirked, turning on her heel and starting down the long gallery with her friend.