Still not beta'd... a section with an OC kinda snuck into this one on me... and the direction it took me was *not* what I'd originally planned... and it feels a little tangental and rambly in parts... but I've been struggling with this idea without a word coming out for 5 days and now there's nearly 4,000 of them (The first/last ~quarter was the original idea... all the middle just... happened). I feel like I'm starting a series I should call something like "Let's Try That Again a Little More Maturity" or something like that...

Seeking Friendship
by Lieta

Disclaimer: This is a fan work based on “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros. No profit was made off this work.

Frantic knocking on his door pulled Clark from his sleep. Quickly scanning through the glass panes, he saw Lois.

Lois who should have been exhausted by the jet-setting date Luthor had undoubtably arranged for her this evening.

Clark flopped back onto the bed with a groan. Lois had gushed most of the afternoon about the date, flaunting to Cat that Luthor planned to take her out to his favorite Italian restaurant. Only Clark had guessed that said restaurant would likely be *in* Italy. Well, Lois could find someone else to rave about her *boyfriend* to, he was done listening to how amazing Luthor was.

"Clark?" he heard her call through the door. He closed his eyes, fully prepared to wait her her out.

Then he heard the tell-tale scrape of her lock-picking instruments. He suddenly wanted to wring Jimmy's neck for *ever* teaching her that particular skill.

Then again this *was* Lois Lane, he should have been shocked she hadn't taught *Jimmy* how to pick locks instead of the other way around.

As he heard the lock turn, he fished for his glasses, settling them on his nose and grabbed his rode, shrugging it on as he shuffled into the open living area of his apartment just in time for Lois to open his door. He was fully prepared to drop his 'country manners' as his partner liked to tease him about and get her back out that door any way he could.

He froze as, instead of the whirlwind of excitement he expected, he watched a pale and tense Lois lean against his front door, letting her body push it closed. Her head was hanging listlessly forward, her hair falling forward just enough to obscure her expression. She was still dressed to the nines, but she looked more like a girl playing dress-up than the confident reporter he was so used to.

"Lois?" he queried quietly, much the way he would approach a flighty animal on his parent's farm.

He head snapped up and in an instant she had launched herself into his arms. "Oh Clark, I thought maybe you weren't home... I don't even know why I'm here, but I just need someone to talk to... Lucy and I haven't really talked in ages and there's *no way* I'm going to my mother for advice... I just don't know what to do, it's all too quick and new and..." To Clark's shock she cut off her own babble and buried her face in his shoulder before whispering so quietly that he doubted a normal man could have heard her, "I just need my best friend..."

Clark wondered what in the world could have happened after her 'wonderful' date... had someone gotten hurt? She mentioned her mom and sister, maybe her dad? The uncle she'd mentioned a scant handful of times? He hoped whatever it was wasn't something Superman could have helped with, he had been too drained emotionally to go looking for places to intervene, though he wouldn't have ignored anything he had *actually* heard... Clark shook himself internally, he was picking up the Lane babbling habit even if only in his head.

He squeezed Lois in a reassuring hug before guiding her to his sofa. "We can talk all you want, Lois. But first do you want some tea?" he offered.

Lois shook her head and replied, "No, not now..."

Clark nodded and settled in next to her on the couch. "What happened, Lois?" he asked in a gentle voice.

"Lex proposed," she dropped the bombshell in his lap and it took everything in him not to physically react to it.

Luther had *proposed*? He wanted to *marry* the woman Clark lo- he didn't let himself finish that thought even in his own head. "What was your answer?" he asked in a voice that was far more strangled than he would have liked.

Lois drew her knees up as much as she could before answering, "I told him I needed to think about it..."

Clark tried to calm himself as he asked in a whisper, "Do you love him?"

Lois, focused fully on her own issues, didn't seem to notice how hard *he* was taking this conversation. Something for which he supposed he should be grateful for. She nibbled on her lip uncertainly, something that in any other conversation would have had him fighting distraction. "No," she finally voiced. "I don't love him..." the uncertainty grew stronger, "But I think I *could*... and you're a guy, Clark," her earnest gaze suddenly impaled him, "how would you take it if your girlfriend said she needed to get used to you as a couple more before considering such a big step?"

It took all of Clark's well developed control not to lash out at her as his heart shriveled at her words. He was almost used to her infatuation with his caped persona, but now she thought she could love *Luthor*? *Luthor* of all the several billion people in this world? Clark viciously reminded himself that she saw him only as a friend... and given the past year, likely would never see him as anything else. So, he should at least try to answer his *friend* without letting his own feelings get in the way. Good old Clark, always there when she needed him... but never should he try to push her boundaries...

"Clark?" Lois called softly. He returned his gaze to hers, having averted his eyes without even realizing it. Lois now looked worried, "I know you don't really like Lex, not that I can see why... should I go try and call Lucy?" the hesitancy in her voice pierced him and he forced what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

"No Lois," he soothed, "I'm just trying to gather my thoughts." He drew in a steading breath before continuing, "If the woman I loved," he hoped she hadn't noticed how his voice quivered on that word, "told me she needed time after I proposed to her, well, it would hurt. But I'd hope that I would be able to reassure her that she could take all the time she needed to be comfortable with the idea..." But he was quite sure that billionaire playboy Luthor wouldn't have the same patience.

Lois seemed to relax, apparently assuming that since she viewed both Clark and Luthor as decent men, that Luthor would automatically act in the same fashion as Clark.

Clark cleared his throat, "However," Lois tensed beside him, "if there was no hope. If she and I wanted different things from our relationship or if our lives would be incompatible in some way, then I'd want her to be honest with me. It would be better to have a clean break then, than have more pain drawn out as waiting turned to doubt..." He trailed off. He should definitely start taking his own advise. Obviously, Lois would never view Clark Kent in the way she did Luthor or Superman...

Lois was frowning, "Incompatible? What would make you give up someone you love?"

Clark sighed, he was going to have to dredge up some ghosts it seemed like. Well, he did still owe Lois for sharing her experiences with Claude and Paul he guessed. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, "Well, take my high school girlfriend, for example."

"Rachel Harris?" Lois cut in sharply.

Clark blinked, "Uh no. Lana. Lana Lang." Off Lois' look of total confusion he pinched the bridge of his nose before continuing, "Lana and I were childhood sweethearts. Our parents got along so we knew each other as children, and Smallville's only got one school of each level so of course we saw each other in school. We'd always been close, and by 15 we were dating, and 'going steady' almost immediately." He glanced up at his partner and noticed her jaw was loose and she looked utterly appalled. He frowned at her for a bit before continuing his story, "But then came college plans, carrier dreams... Lana wanted to stay in Smallville and raise a large family on either her parent's farm or her husband's."

His head tilted as he remembered how trapped he'd felt in Smallville at 17. He'd felt the stifling shame of constant secrecy with people he'd known his entire life combined with a constant need to *belong* somewhere that neither the farm nor the town could alleviate. "I wanted to go off to college, and I'd already been bitten by the wander-lust that carried me on between college and my interview with Perry." Clark cleared his head, "By winter break our senior year Lana and I had both realized we wanted different things in life. I think most of the town was stunned when their 'golden couple' broke up. But by senior prom she was with another friend of ours, Pete Ross (to whom she's now married) and I went with Rachel."

Lois looked mystified, "There was no fight? No angsty breakup?" she looked at him in blank incomprehension, "no awkwardness when you see each other now?"

Clark shook his head. "No, we're still friends, even though we lost touch eventually. She and Pete married by age 20 and both of them exchanged letters with me all through college. Once I was traveling, of course, it was harder to keep contact, but by then they were busy with other things too. She'd just had her third baby, and first girl, before the mess with Trask or you'd have probably met her at the corn festival."

"Three kids?!" Lois looked horrified by the prospect and Clark couldn't suppress a wry grin. But then Lois seemed to push the thought out of her head. She thought for a moment before hesitantly asking, "So, you two just realized you couldn't make it work?"

Clark frowned and considered, "I don't know that it was that we *couldn't* make it work... but that we didn't want to work hard enough to find a compromise we could both be happy with." He shrugged, "If I'd wanted to stay on my parent's farm them maybe *I'd* be the one with three kids now... but then, Lana and Pete seem much happier than Lana and I ever really were so it's still for the best."

"You weren't happy with her? Then why date her?" Lois shot in.

Clark shrugged, "We weren't... unhappy. We just," he grappled with the words for how to explain what he wanted to say, "we learned how to be boyfriend and girlfriend together... we were comfortable together... but when I saw her and Pete together their eyes just lit up around each other and they sought each other out all the time..." he scrubbed a hand over his face, careful not to dislodge his glasses. "I don't know how to explain it better, but there was obviously something between them that hadn't been there between her and me."

Lois nodded thoughtfully, seeming to lapse into her own world.

Clark considered his partner for a moment before grabbing her sides, making her screech and squirm away from him as he grip brushed agains a ticklish spot, "And for the record, Ms. Lane, I *never* hid out behind the Dairy Freeze with Lana or Rachel, much less gave either of them a *hickey*!" he teased, recalling her words from so long ago.

Lois had escaped and now whirled to stare at him in horror as a flush crept up her cheeks, obviously recalling the same memory. "Clark..." she moaned in embarrassment, "do you remember *everything* I say?"

Clark's eyes lit with mischief, "Pretty much..."

Lois huffed and shoved against his shoulder. Then she turned pensive again, "So is that it? Your great romance in Smallville and nothing else? What about college or your travels?"

Clark sighed loudly, "In college I was in football and on the school paper and working two jobs..." he'd never been so thankful for his memory or his decreased need for sleep. Then his eyes unfocused as another name whispered through his mind, "But traveling..." he trailed off.

Lois groaned. "Sowed your wild oats, did you?" she asked sarcastically.

Clark's eyes flew wide, "No!" he yelped. "I did not... I wasn't..." he was a *virgin* and Lois thought he was some Lothario?

Lois snorted, "You sure didn't turn Cat down... or Toni..."

Clark groaned in frustration, "Lois, Cat *lied*! I'd barely been at her place for 15 minutes before you and Perry paged me... she just wanted to, I don't know, salve her pride or something by sharing some *fantasy* around the newsroom... and Toni? Who..." he gaped at her as the name registered, "Toni *Taylor*?! The *mobster*?!" He was appalled. Sure, he'd felt a bit of sympathy for the woman she'd shown him, the facade of trying to legitimize her family business while all the while she'd been the one to *create* the gang of pyromaniac lunatics that had been terrorizing the city.

Lois folded her arms defensively, "You sure didn't *kiss* her like you were planning on hold hands all night..."

Clark shook his head slowly in abject disbelief. "I was *trying* to give you an opportunity to sneak out of my apartment. And you'd *just* told me to fake a moment of passion the next time we were in a sticky situation!" He flopped his head onto the back of his sofa. "She'd just been named head of a mob family... never mind her association with L-" he off that name and wished he could bite his own tongue off for a moment, "-the Toasters. Talk about incompatible life styles..."

Lois waved a hand dismissively, but he wasn't sure if she believed him or not, much to his annoyance. "Fine, fine... but you were saying *something* about what happened during your travels..."

Clark sighed loudly and looked away, "Giulia," he stated quietly. Clark let out a long sigh, much as he loved Lois, that name still hurt. "I was fresh out of college, planning to spend the summer traveling after graduation using money I'd saved up..." and considering he didn't need to worry about transportation, his savings had gone a lot farther than most, "...and I met her in London. She was still in college and studying there to improve her English. We hit it off, and had fun with her teaching me Italian and me teaching her American English rather than what she was learning from her formal European classes. Instead of traveling on, I stayed in England, taking day trips when she was tied up with classes and studying and I found a sympathetic editor at the newly minted Daily Star who put me to work as a copy editor and even published a few of my articles on my travels in England from an American perspective."

Clark's eyes lost their focus as he recalled those days. Then he continued, "Then Giulia graduated. We took off together, traveling the way I had planned on after my own graduation. We spent a year as constant companions. Oddly enough, it wasn't until she started to show me around Italy towards the end of that year together that I started to look at her as more than a friend. We were on Capri, a small island off the Amalfi Coast... the rooms were so expensive that we decided to share one for the first time..." he blushed, he had had *reasons* not to share rooms... "We shared our first kiss in the Grotta Azzurra there, then..."

Then that night, after Giulia rather forcefully reminding him that they would be as friends only in their room... she'd caught him floating in his sleep. "Diavolo, demonio, Dio mi proteggo!" she had screamed at him. "Devil, demon..." Imploring higher powers for protection against him. The hotel manager had thrown him out, threatening to call the police. He'd barely managed to gather his things and had flown back to Kansas to lick his wounds. He'd never told his parents about Giulia, he'd just told them that they were friends and then they'd parted ways, that he'd left Italy for good after someone had spotted him about to fly home... He'd never seen Giulia again.

Although a letter from her had reached the Superman Foundation after he'd gone public with his powers. She'd couched her terms guardedly, using both vagueness and the language barrier to most of the people who had handled the letter to guard his secret. In it she had named him an angel sent from heaven to help this world... as much of an apology as she could safely work into the letter. He had the envelope with her address and a picture of herself, her husband and her young son and infant daughter. He'd been debating making contact, but so far hadn't had the nerve to do it.

"Clark?" Lois asked softly. Placing a hand on his arm. "Are you okay?"

Clark shook himself. "We fell asleep in our room, her in the bed and me on the floor. I woke up to her screaming at me... and the manager threw me out, threatening to have me charged with..." he stuttered on the last word, unable to even say it. "I left the island as soon as possible and I've never seen her again."

Lois had a hand clamped over her mouth in horror, "Oh Clark..." She wrapped her arms around him tightly. "I'm so sorry that happened to you... and for you to not even know *why*..."

Clark squeezed his eyes shut, hating the half lives he led that prevented him from being totally honest with Lois. He brushed a hand through her hair. "I'm okay Lois... it hurt. But, it hurt more because I lost someone who had become a very good friend." He sighed, "And here I've been airing out my dirty laundry all night when you came to *me* for advise."

Lois nibbled her lip and it took all he had not to soothe the abused tissue with his own lips. "Are you sure, Clark?" she asked him gently. "I feel like I've stirred up a lot of things for you tonight..."

Clark shrugged, "I'd still like to help you, Lois."

Lois gave a suddenly decisive nod, "Okay, what should I do about Lex?"

Clark considered her, "Do you want to marry him?"

Lois huffed, "That's what you're helping me figure out, Clark!"

Clark tilted his head, "Lois, I mean... do you *want* to live the life you would need to live if you were his wife?"

Lois froze and stared at him, "What do you mean?"

Clark sighed, "I get the feeling that Lu-" on her glare he rolled his eyes and corrected himself with an inner cringe, "-Lex has been extremely careful with your dates. There hasn't been a hint of you two as a couple in the more unsavory underbelly of our business. No trashy articles, no paparazzi photos..."

Lois' eyes were wide, "No one following me around or watching my every move..." she groaned and leaned away from him against the arm of the sofa. "How can I do my job if I'm married to the third richest man in the world?"

Clark considered her carefully, this was the calmest conversation they'd *ever* had about Luthor... but if she now had doubts even without knowing about Luthor's more... criminal side... "Maybe he thinks that won't matter to you... that you'll move into some other roll in the news business after you're married..."

Lois launched to her feet, starting to pace. "He *did* say the other day what an asset he thought I'd be at LNN..." she seethed, then let out a sound of frustration, "But I *hate* television news... and I'm *not* becoming some little society pet to trot out to all the charity galas..." she suddenly went absolutely still.

Clark stood, approaching her cautiously, "Lois?"

"It'd be the same way with Superman..." she said with heartbreak in her voice that had Clark fighting the urge to pull her into his arms. "He's just as much a media magnet as Lex..." Clark broke and pulled her into his arms as he saw tears gathering in her eyes. "Oh, Clark..." she sobbed, "have I so lost sight of what's important to me?"

Clark hugged her tightly, "You've been dazzled, maybe... but can you say you haven't also been honestly attracted to either of them? There's nothing wrong with your feelings, Lois..." he said softly, and he suddenly realized it was true. He'd lamented her feelings for Superman for so long, but he shouldn't fault her for how she felt, just mourn that he couldn't comfortably return her affections as the caped hero.

Lois sniffled as she pulls back to meet his gaze, "What are *you* looking for, Clark?"

Clark froze, caught, then whispered, "A partner... in everything. Like my mom and dad... oh, job wouldn't matter so long as it means we both want to live in the same place and have time together... but I want... a best friend and lover rolled into one... to build a life *with* someone... choose a house together, raise children together if we can..."

Lois lay her head against his shoulder, seeming to scrutinize him in some new way he couldn't place, "That's beautiful," she said wistfully, "maybe you should go look up... what was it, Julia?"

Clark took a fortifying breathe, "No, not Giulia..." he brushed his fingers against her cheek softly, "I do have someone in mind, but I'm not sure if she'd give me the chance..." he tilted his head towards hers, his eyes drifting shut...

She pushed out of his arms and his heart shattered on the ground.

Hands cupped his face, "Clark... I..." she squeezed his cheeks until he met her gaze. "I'm still Lex's girlfriend. I can't..." she sighed, leaning her forehead against his. "I need to break things off with him and get my head on straight..." she smiled tremulously at him, "but don't give up hope, please?"

Clark's face broke into a brilliant smile. "Lois, if there's hope, I can be the best friend to you that I can until you're ready to give me a chance."

Lois returned his smile and nodded decisively. "Give me the weekend to break off things with Lex, then we should work on being the best friends we can," she gazed at him shyly through her lashes, "We'll decide together when it's time for anything more." She turned towards his door.

"Lois," he called out to her.

She stopped and looked back at him, "Hmm?"

"Giulia caught me floating in my sleep," he told her, holding her gaze steadily.

Shock stole across her face and her jaw dropped, "You... you... *floating*?!"

Clark smiled, feeling free for the first time in years, more free than the ability to fly had ever given him. "Yes, Lois..."

She marched back to him and pulled his glasses off his nose. Not satisfied she swept his hair back, muttering things he chose not to hear under her breath. After arranging his hair to her satisfaction she let out a low growl, "We'll have a *lot* to talk about after this weekend," she threatened.

The End
_________________________
Sara "Lieta"