“Clark Kent said you wanted to see me?”
She looked up at him, a smile blooming across her face, and Clark felt his heart clench. Why couldn't she ever smile like that for him? Why did she have to reserve it for a flashy superhero...or a suave billionaire? It was bad enough constantly seeing her on the arm of a man he didn't trust an inch, but when Lois told him about the marriage proposal, Clark had died a little, inside. Hearing that she wouldn't accept it until she spoke to “someone else” was just ample salt rubbed into the wound.
“Superman! Please, come in,” she said, abandoning the book she'd been reading and crossing the room to him. “I'm so glad you came; I could really use your help.”
Clark froze. “My help?” he echoed, mystified.
“Yes.” She fidgeted. “Um, won't you please have a seat? This might take a little explaining...”
Confused, Clark let himself be led to Lois's sofa. She sat down beside him, gently resting a hand on his arm. “I...uh...I'm at kind of a cross-roads in my life,” she began, “and I could really use some unbiased advice.”
Clark's conscience sharply reminded him that he was not, in fact, unbiased about anything in Lois's life right now, but he refused to let it have any say. “What kind of advice?” he asked.
“Well, I have this friend...”
Clark raised an eyebrow at the cliched opening. She must have seen his expression, because she immediately smothered a laugh.
“No, really,” she said. “There's someone I'm very close friends with—in fact, I think we might even be best friends, kind of—and he recently asked me to marry him.”
“Oh!” Clark exclaimed. Clearly, she must be talking about him. He squirmed, suddenly uncomfortable but still curious about what she had to say.
“I'm actually considering it,” Lois continued, “even though I don't love him...not that way, at least.”
Clark wasn't sure if his heart should sink or soar. “Oh?” he managed to croak out.
Lois nodded. “In fact, that's kind of a plus, in my book: since I don't love him as anything more than a friend, I don't have to worry about him breaking my heart. But then...” She took in a deep breath. “His proposal made me realize that I am in love...with someone else.”
Sinking it was, then! Clark tried not to let her see that his insides were completely crumbling. Was she talking about her cardboard-cutout superhero now, or—?
“And this someone else proposed recently, too,” she continued, her words falling like the blade of a guillotine. She carried on, oblivious to the fact that his heart was being slowly ground into a fine powder while she spoke. “I always knew he cared a lot about me, of course, but I never realized until now that I felt the same way. It's kind of scary, you know? I mean I guess it makes sense that if I love him, I should be with him, but then what if it doesn't work out, after all? Superman, what should I do?”
He took a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves. “You...uh...said you were considering your friend's proposal?” he asked. “Even though...even though you don't love him?”
“...Why?” he asked.
“Well...” Lois leaned back on the arm of the sofa. “Even though I don't love him, we're still very close. He's always been good to me and, like I said, he's safe...”
“Safe,” Clark echoed, bitterly. “Of course.”
She gave him a look that he couldn't quite read. “Superman,” she said, her voice lowering a little bit, “can you keep a secret?”
He fought to keep his expression blank. “I think I can manage it,” he said at last.
“This friend of mine,” she continued, lowering her voice even further so that a normal man would have had to strain to hear, “he kind of...needs...to get married.”
Clark frowned. Did Lois honestly think he was incapable of living alone? Granted, some of the ladies in Research had told him that no woman would have allowed him out of the house with some of the ties he wore, but that was hardly grounds for saying he needed a wife...
“I mean,” she added, apparently seeing the confusion on his face, “he needs to be seen...with...a woman.”
After a few moments, her meaning clicked. Did she think he was—?! Wait a minute... She couldn't possibly! So that must mean she was talking about...wait a minute... His jaw dropped. “Do you mean—?!” he began, but she clapped a hand over his mouth.
“Shh!” she scolded. “Remember, Superman, this is in the strictest confidence.”
He nodded. “Of course,” he said once she removed her hand. “But...Lois, why didn't you tell Clark any of this?”
She folded her arms and gave a snort. “Even if it was my secret to tell, Clark's been acting like a big baby about Bruce ever since he saw us dancing together at Luthor's White Orchid Ball. I get that he's jealous, but he had the gall to insinuate that I don't know my own friend as well as I think I do, just because he thinks the man acts a little suspicious.”
Clark winced. “Well, um, from what I gather, he does act a little suspicious,” he replied. “It probably wouldn't hurt to be careful around him, just in case...”
Lois looked up at him with a hurt expression. “Et tu, Superman?” she asked. “Look, I'll grant you that Bruce does have secrets, including some I don't really approve of, but he's still a good man. We've known each other since we were kids; our dads went to med school together! Don't you think it's a little presumptuous to assume that just because you and Clark are out of the loop, it must mean I am, too?”
Clark hung his head. “You're right,” he admitted, duly chastened. A sudden thought made him brighten. “Wait a minute,” he said. “If Bruce Wayne is the friend you don't love, then the man you have feelings for must be...?”
“My partner,” she admitted. “He's kind of grown on me over the past year. I always convinced myself that we would never be anything more than friends, but then when Bruce proposed, I hesitated, and he asked me why...” She sighed. “Superman, why does everything have to be so complicated?”
“It doesn't have to be complicated, Lois,” Clark assured her. “Just...follow your heart. I'm sure Clark won't mind if you want to take things slow for a while.”
She smiled at him. “Thanks, Superman.” She paused. “You know, it's funny,” she said after thinking a moment, “but Bruce has always been kind of suspicious about Clark, too. I can't think why; Clark's just a naive Kansas farm-boy. It's not like he really has anything to hide.”
Clark chuckled nervously. “I'm sure everyone has some secrets, Lois.”
“Even you?” she asked.
Alarms began to ring in his head. “Maybe,” he hedged.
“Think you'll ever tell me any of them?” she asked, grinning impishly.
“Maybe,” he replied, smiling back at her. “But certainly not tonight, Lois.” And with that, he left.