By Emerald Shine and Kelly Feenstra (firstname.lastname@example.org) and (email@example.com)
Summary: Clark's ill-timed proposal in the park, during a downpour, leaves their relationship strained — and Lois with a nasty cold. Playing matchmaker, Perry orders bedrest for Lois, with Clark to stay by her side. Meanwhile, Jason Mazik, new to prison life, meets up with Lex Luthor.
Many sincere thank you's go out to Caroline Baker, Barbara Geraud, and Dick Sidbury and his daughter for taking the time and effort to proofread this lengthy work of fiction! We would like to dedicate this fanfic to Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, (our inspirations!) to our dear friend Diane Elliott, and to all the recording artists of the many love songs we listened to throughout the writing of this. :)
NOTE: This was written (and completed) before seeing 'We Have A Lot To Talk About'. As for the Martha and Lois scenes, what can we say but… great minds think alike! <g>
"Ah… Ah… AH-CHOO!!!!" Lois Lane sniffed miserably and reached for another Kleenex. This damn cold was driving her crazy! Funny, she hadn't felt as bad two days ago, when the virus had first manifested itself, though, she admitted to herself, she had been a lot chillier then. It didn't appear as if it was going to leave her anytime soon. After blowing her already raw nose, she fell back against her chair and sighed. She knew work was no place to be when she was sick, but she had to do something to keep her mind off other matters — matters she was trying desperately to avoid.
Straightening up in her chair, she willed her aching fingers to do their job and type out a prize-winning journalism piece. Had her nose not been so plugged, she might have snorted at that thought. If this could actually be called a newspaper article, then Perry could be called Elvis' reincarnation. It wasn't just the fact that she was tired and sick — it was that she was _sick_ and _tired_. But there was no use harping on that. What had been done two nights ago had been done, and there was no going back. Better just to concentrate on what she was writing, though at this rate, she'd be too embarrassed to have her name appear in its byline.
*A byline you share,* the annoying voice in her head reminded her. *You know, with that man over there? Tall, good-looking, sensitive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, then get on his knees and propose to you?*
"Oh shut up!" Lois growled, attracting the attention of the very man she had been thinking about. Damn. That was what she had _not_ wanted to do. As she saw him approach her desk, with the usual spark in his eye replaced by uncertainty, she groaned. *Nice going, girl.* How could she get out of another one of those awkward conversations with him, if they could even be called that?
It had been horrible these past two days, each of them valiantly attempting to put on a ridiculous facade that nothing was wrong, like nothing had happened that night in the park. Sometimes Lois wished it hadn't. It was, in a sense, due to that night that her cold was worse. She didn't blame the rain, either; stress could make anything ten times worse, and Lois was one stressed-out, unsure woman.
It was killing her a little, each time they talked, when she could see the pain and hesitance in his eyes, wanting to ask so much, yet unable to fill the uncomfortable pauses that occurred so often. Nuh-uh. No way did she want to go through another one of those.
Her best bet on an escape route was to head toward the coffeepot — to do one of her well-known 'I need caffeine and will brutally hurt all who get it my way' charges. As she was standing up, though, she began to cough. It wasn't just a tickle either, and it evolved into a huge, almost-choking fit. She found herself being guided carefully back into her chair, and being offered a paper cup full of water. Clark.
As Clark Kent helped ease Lois back into her chair, his mind clouded with guilt and worry. She was in awful condition, and he knew he had contributed to that greatly. He handed her a cup of water, which he had inconspicuously sped to get the minute the first bit of a cough had left her throat. It gave him something to do, something to offer, instead of just some meaningless, empty conversation. When Lois looked up at him with her beautiful eyes, so troubled and hurt, he felt like he would cry. He had never wanted to hurt her this way; she'd had enough pain in her life caused by him already. He'd known that one day he would have to reveal the rest of his life to her, but perhaps he had waited a bit too long. And proposed too soon. *Real bright, Kent.*
Clark couldn't ever remember feeling this way: so devastated that it was hard to look at himself in the mirror. Or maybe he had. Three days ago, when he had almost lost Lois. He felt that way again. To see her without her spirit and willingness to debate, to look defeated and as if she didn't care what else the world did to her, for her to ignore him so purposefully… it was like losing her all over again. It was as if she weren't even real. Without thinking, he reached out to stroke her hair, as if he might never touch her again. Lois looked at him, startled. He quickly retreated his hand. "Sorry," was all he could mumble.
Perry White shook his head and looked at the picture of Elvis hanging on his office wall, as if for inspiration. What had gone wrong? There was no doubt about it now, his suspicion about Lois and Clark having eloped was sure to get him committed. Right now they were acting like a couple of strangers, not like the loving couple he had seen just three days before.
Two days ago, this little fiasco had surfaced, leaving him to puzzle over what in the Sam Hill had happened. Trying to talk to Clark was like smashing an Elvis record — you just didn't do it. And a conversation with Lois… well, it was like talking to this picture of Elvis — useless. If she wasn't sneezing and coughing, she was a million miles away.
Why she came into work was a mystery, at least to those who didn't_know_ Lois Lane. Perry figured it had something to do with keeping her mind off something, but this new Lois Lane was a stranger. No spunk, no pep, though if he wanted to he could blame it on her cold. The same cold that she had refused to let drag her down three days ago, the cold she had used as an excuse the next morning. Somehow, Perry didn't think the cold was the problem.
Something was up with the lovebirds — one had plucked a feather in an uncomfortable place, and Perry didn't think his sanity could take it if this feather took much longer to grow back. He looked over again at Elvis. "Take me up to your Graceland in the sky." Earth had too many problems for him.
*There has to be some way to fix this.* With all his years of experience, there had to be something he could do to get this relationship back on track. Forget the vow not to meddle; they had gone too far. They were both a mess, and they needed to clean up their act, but someone would have to hand them the mop. Maybe a little cleaning fluid too…
Perry opened the door to his office, and marched assertively up to Lois' desk, where Lois was seated and Clark was standing. Both looked as if they didn't know what to say. They busied themselves with such activities as looking at their feet and picking imaginary lint off their clothes, until Perry cleared his throat. They both looked up at him.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"Our jobs?" Lois asked, though it sounded a lot more like "Ow jods?"
"So that's what you call this? And may I see just what you have written, _together_, in the past two hours?" When neither volunteered a sound, Perry let out a deep breath.
"You two, this has got to stop. For these past two days, all you've done is mope around and write worse than… well, than Jimmy! At least he can continue something he's started!" Perry added meaningfully.
The point in Perry's statement was not lost on Lois and Clark. They avoided meeting Perry's stern gaze and were surprised when his tone softened.
"Look, kids, I can see that it's been a rough week. I want you to take off from here…"
"But Chief—" both protested in unison.
"No buts here! And I'm not finished yet, so listen up, and listen good. Lois, you are in no condition to be in anywhere but under a down comforter, sleeping the day away. You know it, Clark knows it, but more importantly, I know it. I want you at home, ASAP. And Clark, I want you to take her there."
Perry could see the two start to protest again, so in attempt to keep them quiet and resign them to their fate, he continued. "Also, Clark, I want you to stay with her. And I mean it! You are to be with her, 'round the clock, until she recuperates. You can make a quick run home to get anything you'll need, but you are to be there watching her, _taking care_ of her till she's better. You got that?"
Perry had said it in that 'argue-with-me-and-die' tone of voice, so Clark knew it was useless to even try. "Yes, Chief."
"Good. Now Lois, Clark, collect your things and get going. I don't want to see either of you till Lois' cold is gone. And I expect some stellar work from you two when you get back, so take your time. Now, go on!"
Five minutes later, Clark was helping Lois to the elevator. As the doors closed, Jimmy came up to Perry and asked, "Where are Lois and CK off to?"
"Destiny," was all Perry would reply.
Inside the Metropolis Penitentiary, Jason T. Mazik was being led down a corridor to his new cell. The armed guard didn't say a word as he began to sort through an assortment of keys connected to his belt loop. At the very end of the dark hall, the guard stopped.
"Here it is." the guard growled as he lifted the key he had been searching. Slowly, he put it into the keyhole. Before he turned it, he looked at Jason Mazik. "Maybe you'll last longer than the last guy did in here." He laughed loudly, though Jace thought it sounded more like wheezing. "I pity any man who has to bunk with this one." The guard nodded his head toward the cell Jace was about to enter.
Finally, the guard turned the key, and with some amount of force, pushed the door open. The hinges groaned, badly in need of oil. "Sweet dreams, Mazik." The guard smirked as he slammed the door shut once again.
Jace just stood there for a moment, trying to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. Although he couldn't see anything, he sensed that someone else was there, watching him. So maybe he was a little scared. He just couldn't let his cell mate know that. He cleared his throat and took another step into the pitch black cell. And then he took another step, and another. He now was able to hear breathing close by. Much to his surprise, the prisoner spoke.
"You Mazik?" a smooth, quiet voice inquired.
"Do I know you?" Jace asked, trying desperately to keep his voice from shaking. For a few moments he received no response, but his eyes were picking up the objects of the room more clearly. Two small cots stood on opposite ends of the room. There were no windows. In the farthest corner Jace could see a person. He was slumped over, and looking toward Jace.
Again the prisoner spoke. "Why are you here? Did _Superman_ have anything to do with it?" He almost spat out the word Superman as he said this.
Jace decided he had nothing to lose in telling this fellow prisoner how he came to be here. He had nothing. If he died, then maybe it was for the better. "I killed a man." Jace said slowly. "I poisoned him, and, yes, Superman brought me here."
"Then you really are Mazik." The voice sounded excited somehow.
"How do you know of me?" Jace asked warily.
"Mr. Mazik. I know many things. You killed Nigel St. John, did you not?"
"Who are you?" Jace gathered more courage and proceeded to walk closer to the mysterious man. Suddenly, the man stood up straight, causing Jace to falter in his step.
"Go ahead. Take a good look at me," the man challenged.
Jace came up to the man so that they were only a foot away from each other. He looked carefully at the bald man before him. He was about the same height as Jace. When Jace leaned forward to see the face more clearly, he gasped. "Lex Luthor?"
"In the flesh." Luthor replied with a grotesque smile. "And may I be the first, and quite possibly the last, to congratulate you on the death of Nigel St. John." He extended a dirty, wrinkled hand, which Jace immediately grasped. And so, a new partnership began.
"Won't you sit down?" Luthor gestured toward one of the cots. The two men sat down together.
"Politeness even in a jail cell, eh, Luthor?" Jace laughed bitterly.
"Now now, Mr. Mazik. We don't have time for sour attitudes," Luther chided as he rose to his feet again. "I must kill Superman."
Jace watched Luthor as he paced the length of the cell, mumbling hateful things about his arch enemy.
"All you need is a little bit of kryptonite," Jace said, barely above a whisper. "And I know where some is."
Luthor's eyes widened and Jace could see his teeth glow as he smiled wickedly. "Do you really? And what _exactly_ do you know about kryptonite, Mr. Mazik?" Lex was quite intrigued. At last, someone who seemed to understand him. But it always paid to be cautious. Not too much too soon.
"Ah… that lovely green rock. Nigel introduced me to it just before… well, his untimely end." Jace snickered a bit, remembering how stupidly shocked the cantankerous old man had looked before dying. "Probably one of the more idiotic things he ever did."
Lex stopped his pacing and looked at Jace. "No, I'm afraid that title was taken when he double crossed me. If you hadn't taken care of him, you can bet I would have. That man…"
"Anyway, Mr. Luthor," Jace continued, "as you know, I would have succeeded in killing him had it not been for those hack village people… no, I believe they were Kansas farmers… well… they interrupted my plans."
"Farm people? From Smallville?" Lex pressed this issue as if it were of extreme importance.
"Why yes, I believe they were," was all Jace would offer.
"The Kents? And why were the Kents at the scene?" Lex smelled something bigger than what Jace was letting on. Something _much_ larger was involved.
Jace was a clever man. And his perverse intelligence told him that he should keep one tiny detail to himself, at least for now. "The Kents… yes… Well, you see, Mr. Luthor, it was all part of an elaborate scheme. We wanted to kill Superman, and we knew the only way to get him precisely where we wanted was to… have something, sort of as collateral, you might say. It's no secret how close Superman and Clark Kent are, so I figured, 'what better to lure Superman with than the very bait of his best friend's parents?' "
Lex liked the sound of this. Finally, someone with a mind remotely similar to his own. "So tell me, Mr. Mazik, why Clark's parents instead of the real McCoy?"
"Easier to get a hold of. And please, call me Jace."
As Clark carried Lois into her apartment, he couldn't help but notice how peaceful she looked when asleep. If only she could always appear that way… Clark closed the door softly behind him, and proceeded to carry Lois to her room. Car-to-bed service.
Lois had fallen fast asleep on the drive home. Clark envied her. She had an escape. For most of the ride, Clark had enjoyed the silence that came not from not knowing what to say, but instead a quiet contentment of Lois being off into la la land. He remembered the tiny smile that appeared on her face when he had gently brushed a flyaway strand of hair away. That expression had almost made the Man of Steel melt. But, he told himself, reflecting on it now, it probably meant he'd have a better chance with Lois if she were in a comatose state.
Lois stirred as Clark lay her down on her bed. Still not fully awake, she clung to him, whimpering softly, not wanting to let go. Clark rubbed her back soothingly. "Shh… Lois, it's okay. You're at home. You need to get some rest. Change into your pajamas while I go find you something to clear your head. Dristan maybe?" Still, she kept her grip on him.
Suddenly, she bolted awake. For a moment, she simply froze. Then slowly, she loosened her grip and fixed Clark with an icy stare. Not saying a word, she stood up, but as she did, was hit by a dizzy spell. Clark caught her as she fell. Then she did something Clark never expected, and it scared him more than kryptonite. She began to cry.
Clark sat with her on the bed, and put his arm around her, pulling her close. "Lois… Lois… what's wrong? Shhhh… It's alright. Everything's okay…" he murmured to her, not really aware of what he was saying.
This time, Lois didn't pull away. In fact, she snuggled closer. Between desperate sobs, she managed to say, "No… no it isn't! It never… never will be!…" Clark stayed silent, simply rocking her back and forth. He knew that, given enough time, she would let out all that was troubling her. And he wanted to be here, because a lot of what was bothering her had to do with him. Them.
"Oh, Clark… it's just… well… _us_! We've… we've been dancing around and… hiding from the truth… and… I'm sick of it! I'm sick of being sick, and I'm sick of feeling sick, and I'm sick of being sick and feeling sick because we can't face up to reality!"
Clark knew it was his turn to say something. "Lois… I'm sorry. For everything I've put you through, and for how awful you feel… Lois, I feel like I'm dying. When you shut me out, a piece of me fades away. Only… it's my fault. I should've told you before…"
"Before I figured it out. You're right. But… I… don't want to… relive that! Not ever again! I want to be able to move on in our relationship! I don't want to be stuck in this unsure plateau anymore. Now that there's nothing to hide…" Lois yawned. She was totally drained.
Clark knew that eventually, they _would_ have to talk about what happened that night, and that Lois was still avoiding it. But at least she was trying to work things out, though he also knew that before they could go forward, they'd have to move back. But now was not the time. Lois needed her sleep, and Clark was going to take good care of her, and nurse her back to health. He wasn't going to let this go and be forgotten, though. "We have a lot to talk about," he said. "But later." He kissed Lois lightly on the forehead, and rose to his feet. "Now you, my patient, are going to crawl into that bed and stay there! I'm going to go see if I can rummage up some ingredients for my famous chicken soup. Guaranteed to make you feel better!"
Lois grabbed onto his hand, causing him to pause and look down at her. She smiled gently at him and then released his hand. Clark smiled back, a bit confused by her sudden affection.
"I'll be back in a jif." He turned and left her bedroom.
Thankful for a moment alone, Clark used his time in Lois' kitchen to relax a little. Every confrontation he had with her used up an incredible amount of energy. What did she want? What did she need? *We've been partners for two years and I _still_ don't know?* He sighed in anguish. *Lois! If only I knew what you were thinking.* He turned the heat up higher on the burner and began stirring the soup. No super- vision tonight.
When it was finally ready he poured the steaming broth into a large bowl and headed back toward her bedroom. A part of him wished she would be asleep when he got there, but instead he found her staring up at the ceiling, lost in thought.
"Ahem." He cleared his throat, breaking her reverie. She blinked and then lifted her head to focus on him.
"Here's your chicken soup." He walked over to her and set the bowl on her nightstand. "We've got to sit you up." Gently he slid his arm beneath her back to help her sit up, and pulled the pillow up higher so she could lean against it. "There. Is that comfortable?"
"Uh huh," she answered between sniffles. He took hold of her hand and then placed the bowl in it carefully.
"Do you have it?"
"It smells really good. Too bad you have a cold." She gave him a look that said, 'You don't need to remind me.' He just smiled, trying to keep the mood up.
Clark sat on the floor beside her bed while she savored each spoonful of soup. Neither said a word until she had finished. She set the bowl back on the nightstand and took a deep breath.
"Ah. I think that soup cleared my sinuses a little. Thanks, Clark."
"It was my pleasure." He leaned his head against the side of the bed and gazed up at her.
"I'm really tired…" Lois said quietly. Clark knew she was avoiding a conversation. It was probably for the best though. They would both be thinking more clearly in the morning anyway. He stood and helped her settle back down in her bed. He pulled her comforter up and around her. As he tucked the blankets in tightly, not wanting any cold air to reach her in the night, his head came closer to hers. He turned off her bedside light, and he could see that she was still watching him. Unable to restrain himself, he allowed himself to move closer to her.
"Goodnight, Lois," he whispered in her ear, kissing her cheek ever so softly.
"Goodnight, Clark…" she sighed as a deep sleep enveloped her.
*I love you!* he wanted to yell. *I would give my life for you, Lois!* He shook his head, knowing he didn't have the courage to say those things to her. He took the bowl and left her room quietly. *Coward* "None of this would have happened if _you_ hadn't been such a coward all this time," he said to his reflection in the window above Lois' sink. He rinsed off the bowl and made his way to her couch. He was hot, but he didn't dare open a window for fear that a cold draft would waft in during the night and find his dear Lois. He pulled off his shirt and flung it over an arm of the couch, and then did the best he could at making his large body feel comfortable in such limited space.
His mind was filled with thoughts of Lois, and he hoped his dreams would be too.
Jace was staring at Lex with the utmost respect. "Whoa. That is _some_ plan!"
Lex looked quite pleased, beneath the grime covering his face. "Well, I didn't become one of the richest men in the world relying on collecting interest, you know. To be the best you have to be one step ahead — thinking all the time. And you have to be brilliant."
"That's my man! Modest as always!" Jace slapped Lex on the back, and the bald man grinned.
"No one has ever described me as modest — and I don't ever intend for that to be one of my attributes." He paused a moment, eyeing Jace up carefully. "Should we go through the plan one more time?"
"I don't think I could hear it enough! Genius, Mr. Luthor. Plain and simple."
Lex laughed quietly. "There's nothing simple about this, Jace. You must know _every_ detail, and be prepared to carry it off, or you will fail." A cold look outlined his features. "And I do not tolerate failure."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You 'don't cross Lex Luthor.' I think Nigel figured that one out, now didn't he?"
Reminded of, indeed, _why_ this man was sitting next to him in a dark, damp jail cell, restored Lex's trust. "Alright — I suppose you know it better than anyone. Anyone alive, that is." He went on. "First, we have to contact this man…"
Clark sighed in happiness as Lois stepped into his embrace. He closed his eyes as she wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head against his chest. He pulled her tighter and breathed deeply the scent of her hair. They swayed slowly back and forth to soft music playing on the radio. They had finally talked things out. *Finally!* Clark smiled. Lois had been so willing to work things out. To listen to him. Now she understood everything.
"Used to be that I believed in something Used to be that I believed in love It's been a long time since I've had that feeling I could love someone I could trust someone I said I'd never let nobody near my heart again, darling I said I'd never let nobody in
"But if you asked me to I just might change my mind And let you in my life, forever If you asked me to I just might give my heart And stay here in your arms forever If you asked me to If you asked me to
"Somehow ever since I've been around you Can't go back to being on my own Can't help feeling, darling, since I've found you That I've found my home That I'm finally home I said I'd never let nobody get too close to me, darling I said I needed, needed to be free
"But if you asked me to I just might change my mind, And let you in my life, forever If you asked me to I just give my heart And stay here in your arms forever If you asked me to If you asked me to
"Ask me to, I will give my world to you, baby I need you now Ask me to, I'll do anything for you, baby, for you, baby
"If you asked me to I'd let you in my life forever If you asked me to…"
"I love you, Lois," he whispered quietly. She shivered slightly when his breath tickled her ear. Her heart was pounding hard. Clark could hear it. *This is it.* He stepped away from her slowly and guided her to the couch where they both sat down.
"Lois, thank you for listening to me. You don't know how much it has meant to me for you to be able to accept me as a _complete_ man." He got up from the couch and knelt down on one knee before her.
"Lois, I'm…in love with you. I…" he took hold of her hand. His voice cracked with emotion. "Lois, will you marry me?" He raised his head slowly to look at her. Her eyes narrowed and she spoke evenly. "Clark. Clark. _CLARK_!"
"Huh?" Clark shook his head. "What are you…"
Suddenly everything faded into dark oblivion. His head was tingling when he opened his eyes. That had all been a dream! A lousy dream! He and Lois hadn't worked anything out. Clark groaned and sat up on the couch, rubbing his eyes. Then he heard Lois again, coughing and choking. _That_ part was real. He hurried to the kitchen and poured a glass of water, then went straight to her room.
"Lois! Are you okay?" He sat down beside her and lifted her head so she could sip the water. Her coughing began to dwindle as she swallowed the cool liquid. Clark looked at her in concern and gently touched her flushed cheek.
"My poor, Lois," he said barely above a whisper. She tried to give him a smile, but she couldn't hold back her tears.
"Lois…" Seeing her like this made _him_ feel sick. He wrapped his arms around her and she continued to cry on his shoulder. He felt her hands grip his arms weakly. She _wanted_ him there! He rubbed her back softly and spoke soothing words to calm her tears. "Shhh. Don't worry, Lois. I'm here."
Her body began to relax against him as he spoke to her. Once she was asleep, Clark couldn't bring himself to move. He was perfectly content to hold her in his arms. As carefully and as quietly as he could, he brought his legs up onto the bed and lifted her into his lap. Listening to her quiet breathing made him tired. He too fell asleep. His head resting against hers.
In the dead of the night, Jace was preparing for his escape.
"Okay, one more time, Jace. What are you to do?" Lex stared him straight in the eyes.
"When that corrupt guard of yours comes by, whistling the first two bars of the 'Andy Griffith Show' theme, I'm to whistle the next one. He'll unlock the door, and guide me through a secret door to the outside, where my double will be waiting. By the way… how _did_ you arrange for someone to actually _willingly_ go to jail?" Jace interrupted himself.
"I'm giving him an incredibly large amount of money. Anyway, that's not important. Back to going over our plan…"
"Yeah, yeah. Alright. Okay. So I switch places with the double, and I drive the car waiting for me out the escape road and to that cabin in the woods, where there will be a change of clothes and a laptop computer. I go online on the computer, and click on that icon in the corner of the screen that looks like a dollar sign…"
At that moment, an annoyingly familiar tune was being badly whistled by a burly man approaching their cell. Jace immediately picked up the song, having no time to finish reviewing the plan. The man stopped in front of their cell, took out a huge ring of keys, and unlocked the door. Grabbing Jace by the shoulder, he grunted, "C'mon Mazik. It's time for your one phone call."
They walked down the corridors and rounded corners until they came to an almost-hidden door. The man unlocked this door, and out Jace went into the crisp night air. He did a double-take at the man with whom he was being exchanged. He really _did_ look exactly like him! The "guard" took this man and returned inside. Jace was free, and on his own.
He easily found the car Lex had described. "Nice," he commented, getting in behind the wheel. Now, to follow that secret road…
When Jace was finally out of the prison compound, he breathed a sigh of relief. He wanted to put the pedal to the metal and burn it out to the cabin, but didn't for fear of being caught speeding and the whole scheme blowing up in his face. He took his time.
The cabin was well hidden. *What a perfect hideout!* he thought. Inside, he found an expensive-looking suit. "No expense spared here, eh Mr. Luthor?" Then he got down to work. Plugging in the laptop, he started up the modem. When connected to the server, he went into a program called 'LexKeeper'. After entering a password Lex had told him but he had not had the time to review, ($$Richard_the_3rd$$) he had access to the icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. It was quite tiny — no more than a speck. What it took him to was a _lot_ bigger, in more ways than one. The screen read:
"YOU HAVE ACCESSED LexKeeper CONTROL. Please type what it is you would like to connect to."
In the space provided, he typed, 'Metropolis Police Department'. A flurry of screens flashed by, and all Jace could say was, "Whoa." Lex certainly had _infinite_ control over _anything_ that used this system to protect its files! Astounding, really. Jace looked back at the screen. There was a list of things to choose from. He scrolled down until he read the heading, 'Prisoner Records — A to M'. When contacted, it asked for the name of the person whose file he wished to alter. "Mazik, Jason T.," Jace furiously typed. "One moment," a pleasant computer voice informed him. Then a new screen popped up. This is where the application Lex had someone program came in. With a few clicks of the mouse and another ludicrous password, Jason T. Mazik now had the fingerprints of his double. No evidence — ever.
"Too easy!" he gleefully exclaimed. All the information on him had been changed. No one could prove _anything_. Jace chuckled. "Gawd, how I _love_ technology!"
He checked the clock hanging above a heavily- curtained window. 2 a.m. Jace wondered if there was an IRC program installed in this thing. He'd missed his online time last night! He did a little searching, and found that there was, in fact, a program installed. Connecting to the UnderNet, he went under the nickname 'Lurker'. Not sure of which channel would interest him the most on this night, he typed the command to list all the channels available. He came across one that caught his eye. "14 people — wow!" Then he looked at the name. "#loiscla????!!! Nah… couldn't be!" His curiosity peaked, 'Lurker' joined the channel. Immediately, he was greeted with loud choruses of 'hello's and 'howdy's. After greeting them back, he watched what the topic of conversation seemed to be. Something about a gutter?
Jace yawned. He supposed it was time for him to log off, and get some sleep. The afternoon would bring Phase Two…
The sunlight streaming in through the window was playing on Clark's face as he awoke the next morning. He felt somewhat disoriented, and was trying to figure out why it seemed there was more weight on his chest than should be. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Lois' bedroom! And that weight on his still-bare chest — Lois herself. He gazed at her lovingly, stroking her silky hair while trying to remember the previous night. Had he and Lois talked things out? No… that had been just a dream. The memory of her coughing and choking and looking so frail in the pale moonlight came flooding back to him. His poor Lois… He held her tighter, not wanting to let go. He loved the expression of peace and contentment her face took on while she was sleeping. He wouldn't mind waking up this way _every_ morning…
*Get a grip, Kent,* he told himself, feeling deflated. *She had a fever, she was sick, it was the middle of the night. She'll probably feel different this morning.* He couldn't help but lightly trace the outline of her face with a gentle, caressing finger, though. He looked at the clock resting on her night table. 9:30! She'd be waking up soon. He should have breakfast ready for her — served in bed. He would try to baby her a bit, her protesting that she was perfectly fine and fully capable, the whole while secretly enjoying it. Clark smiled to himself. That was what he loved about Lois… that's _why_ he loved her.
Clark decided pancakes with a _ton_ of strawberries and _heaps_ of whipped cream were just what the doctor ordered. He knew her cupboards and fridge would contain all the ingredients necessary — he remembered the contents of both from his exploration of them yesterday.
Carefully, Clark tried to gently transfer Lois off of him and onto the space beside him. The second he began to slide her over, though, she made a tiny sound, then rested her head back on his chest and snuggled closer. With that small movement, Clark was overwhelmed with so much love and feeling for her that he thought he might go crazy. But her breakfast was at stake here… He tried it once again. This time Lois sleepily opened one eye.
"Clark… no," she murmured in a quiet, groggy voice. "Don't go… don't leave me…" she sighed, and reached for his hand before closing her eyes again out of mere exhaustion.
"Lois… my sweet Lois…" He lightly ran his hand up and down across her back in a soothing manner. Now, he _knew_ something unspoken had occurred between the two of them last night. Lois trusted him again. It was somewhat of a relief for Clark, knowing that this might be the first step toward resolving the matter of her revelation. They both were scared to confront it, he knew, and they were hiding from reality. He hoped that when the time came, he could convince both her and himself to talk about it. They were stalling, but they couldn't avoid the topic forever. If anything was to happen in their relationship… before he could propose again… Clark looked at his beloved Lois once more. It appeared that her ailment had improved slightly overnight — not fully recovered, but on her way. She needed strength, though, and that was the only thing that made him force himself to get up from under her. *Breakfast… got to make breakfast… keep Lois' strength up… _then_ you can _talk_!* Again, Lois reached for him, but this time he was getting up. "Lois… I'm not leaving you! I'll just be in the kitchen, making you breakfast. I'll be _right_ back, I promise!" He fluffed the pillows on her bed and rearranged them, then guided her head onto them. "Go back to sleep… it's alright. That's right… just close your eyes…" His voice seemed to have a calming effect on her. He left the bedroom quietly, and went into the kitchen
A little while later he returned, a plate full of delicious looking pancakes piled high with strawberries and whipped cream in his hand, and in the other, a tall glass of orange juice. Lois was awake again, and sat up against the pillows by herself this time. She immediately dug into the pancakes, with the same expression of absolute _bliss_ upon her face as she had wore during their first date, when Clark had fed her a bite of a heavenly chocolate cake. Seeing that look gave him an idea. He slowly removed the fork from her hand, and speared a piece of pancake. Lois seemed to catch on. Closing her eyes, she opened her mouth and waited expectantly. Clark carefully aimed the fork at her awaiting lips. She closed her mouth around it and he slowly slid the fork away. In tradition, she rolled her eyes in satisfaction and could only say, "Mmmmmm…" Clark felt a silly smile spread across his face, and noticed the same thing happening to Lois. Suddenly, she grabbed the fork back from Clark and proceeded to feed _him_ some of the pancake. After popping it in his mouth and removing the fork, Lois leaned forward and kissed him, retreating back as fast as she had come, relishing the look of pleasant surprise on his face. She felt better than she had in _days_.
Becoming thirsty, Lois looked at the glass Clark had brought in with him. *Orange juice?* Certainly he was joking! Looking him solemnly in the eyes while keeping a straight face, she playfully uttered but one word. "Coffee?"
Early the next afternoon, Jace was off and running again. As he drove along, lead-lined box of kryptonite sitting atop the dashboard, he went over Phase Two in his mind — the final phase. Or so Mr. Luthor thought. Jace had other plans for later on…
Now, how to attract the attention of Clark? Jace thought for a moment, then gave a wicked laugh. Of course! He had a score to settle with an old girlfriend of his — she'd dumped him for his brother. Their relationship hadn't lasted too long, either. Jace had heard that she was now one of Bill Church Jr.'s girls. Jace felt he could now look down upon the head of Intergang. The crime he was committing was far superior to anything that cigar-smoking pretty boy could ever hope to accomplish.
Jace pulled up outside a rundown apartment building. He remembered it well. Getting out of the car and entering the structure, he wondered if she still kept the spare key hidden in the pot of that always-dying plant. Oh well, if not, it didn't really matter. He could pick the lock with ease. *Gabrielle, I'm coming…*
As it turned out, the key _was_ in the same old spot. Jace quietly unlocked the door. He could hear Gabrielle in the bathroom, brushing her teeth. Jace made himself at home on the sofa.
When Gabrielle came out, she didn't see him. She had not a clue that she wasn't alone until a hand clapped roughly over her mouth, and she felt a gun press into her right temple.
"Hello again, Gabby. Long time no see!" Jace said. Let's take a little drive, shall we? For old time's sake."
Gabrielle could only nod. Jace led her out of the apartment building and into the car. Keeping the gun aimed at her, he started up the vehicle and drove away.
Lois leaned against Clark's shoulder while inspecting her Scrabble tiles and the game board resting on the table in front of the couch on which they were seated. It was such an enjoyable afternoon, something that had surprised them both. They were so comfortable together, something so _right_ between them. Lois tilted her head upward to look at Clark, while at the same time, he was looking at her. Lois felt a warm feeling spread through her. She wondered what she'd be doing at this moment, had he not come into her life. Without thinking, she ran a hand through his thick, dark hair, smiled, then went back to the game. She laid out her tiles before truly realizing the double meaning of the word.
R-E-V-E-L-A-T-I-O-N. "Revelation," she whispered softly. "Triple word score."
Clark pulled her closer to him, holding onto her a little tighter. It seemed the time had come to talk, like it or not. "Lois…" he spoke gently.
"I know…" She took his hand in hers, and sort of toyed with it — fingers intertwined, and holding it also with her other hand. Something to distract her. He touched her cheek, and she glanced at him, so much emotion in her eyes, then a loving fear. Clark knew that meant she was about five seconds away from babbling. *3-2-1…*
"You know, this reminds me of a song I like. It says, 'Still I remember, I'd like to say I'm sorry, I'd like to make amends. I'd close my eyes and tell the truth, where would I begin…' It's a… it's a _great_ song. Would you like to hear it? I _think_ I know where I left the CD…"
"Lois…" Clark simply repeated. Lois stayed silent, and let him cradle her head. "Maybe I should start…"
"I know… I never should have kept this from you. I should have trusted you… I _do_ trust you!" he corrected himself. "It was just… hard. I thought that… right after finally… well, you loving me… for Clark, the 'farmboy'," she cringed, "… that I'd lose you. That you'd hate me forever."
"Oh Clark…" Lois paused, seeming to gather her thoughts and plan out what she was to say. "For awhile… I _was_ mad. I acted like I hated you because it made it easier. I guess I was… distancing again. When I realized… I felt so…" Lois stopped and weakly squeezed Clark's hand. "When we were at work… I didn't want to talk to you because we could never think of anything to say. And last night…"
"Last night… I knew I had to stop acting like that. When you were here, being so patient with me… I cried because I knew I'd been treating you badly! Clark… you could never control who you are or where you came from… or needing to help others. I love you because you're… you're so kind… and caring… patient… because you're _you_! Both of you… Just _you_! And…"
The phone rang. Lois felt like screaming. She looked at Clark, who had one of his 'I-can't-believe-the-timing-of-this- phone' looks on his face. But then his expression started to change. He was picking up a cry for help. Lois sighed resignedly. Which was more important — their future, or saving someone's life so that person could have one? Futures.
"Lois… honey. I'm _so_ sorry…" Clark looked like he wanted to die. Why was this happening _now_?
"Clark…" She gave him one last look, then picked up the still-ringing phone as he spun into his Superman costume and took off out the window. "Hello?" Silence. "Hello?!"
"Miss Lane…" came a rasping voice.
"Yes?" *This better not be a prank call. I'm not in the mood.*
"There's something down here you'd be _very_ interested in. It would make a _great_ story!"
"Is this a joke?"
"No… no joke. I have details on the jailbreak of a very dangerous criminal. I need your help. Please. Meet me at…"
Lois took down the address, hung up the phone, then proceeded to find her keys. Sick or not, this sounded good, and could pan out quite well. She scribbled out a quick note to Clark in case he returned before her, then left the apartment. All was still in the empty home.
Jace laughed to himself as he hung up the phone. That woman was _so_ gullible! She'd arrive just in time to watch him take away a near-dead Clark. He didn't plan to kill him just yet, as Lex had meant him to. No… what would be the fun in that? Take him away to the cabin, taunt him with kryptonite, make a few bucks off of ransom money from Little Miss Lois Lane first… And Lex could forget about him ever returning to jail again! How easily conned that man had been!
Superman would be arriving shortly. He looked at the limp body of the girl who, with her last words, had called for help. Absolute genius for him to kidnap and torture and use her to alert Clarkie-boy! Jace mused over how disappointed Supes would be when he discovered that dear Gabrielle here… was dead.
SWOOOOOOOSH! Jace turned around, hiding the box containing the kryptonite behind his back. "How polite of you to be on time! It's been awhile, hasn't it, Clark? How are you and Lois doing? I hope she's not feeling too under the weather after coming back from the dead! Give her my regards!"
Clark was knelt down beside the bloodied Gabrielle. He could see that she was indeed, dead. He stood up and glared at Jace. "How did you get out?"
"I had a little help… But that's not really important, now is it, Clark?" He opened the box and watched as the Caped Crusader began to stagger backwards. "The real question here is, how are _you_ going to get out?"
Clark writhed in pain, stumbling to the floor. "Yes, Clark… see the pretty green rock? I know you do! So will Miss Lane, before I take you away…"
"Lois?" Clark just barely managed to croak out. "Don't… touch… her…"
"Not to worry, _Superman_! I won't lay a hand on her! I just invited her here so she could enjoy our little show…"
Lois entered the old, empty warehouse she had been given directions to. She spotted the staircase, and climbed up as she had been instructed. When she reached the top, she gasped in disbelief.
"Lois! So glad you could make it!" Jace called out.
Lois surveyed the scene, becoming dizzy with the gruesome sight. In one corner, she saw a dead body.
"Oh Lois! Don't trouble yourself over _that_! I have someone coming for her. _This_ is what I wanted you to see!" Jace stepped aside. Outside a door leading to some sort of roof, was a helicopter. Jace walked out the door and climbed into it. Lois stepped closer, and what she saw almost caused her to faint.
"Clark! Ohmigod, Clark…" she whispered. There he was, just barely conscious, his eyes showing great pain as he lay helplessly inside the chopper. Jace proudly held up something green, as a pilot Lois didn't recognize rose the helicopter into the air. Jace gave her a mock salute, once again waving the green object around. Kryptonite.
"Ohmigod…" Lois stumbled out of the warehouse in a trance. She was not aware of anything. Not aware of getting in her Jeep, not aware of starting it up. Not even of the fact that she ran two red lights on the way home. She parked, opened the front door of her building, and ascended the stairs. When reaching the fifth floor, she took out her keys and unlocked the door.
But Jace was in _jail_, wasn't he? After reaching the security of the inside of her apartment, she slowly sank to the floor, thinking of everything that man had done. First, he had told Clark to _kill_ her because Nigel wanted it that way, and they'd had his parents. But _why_?
And suddenly, it clicked. Jace knew. Somehow he had found out that Clark Kent equals Superman, but wanted to change that equation. He wanted him dead. What was to stop him? "Oh God…" Lois cried, hugging her knees to her chest while the tears rolled down her face. *Clark. He _can't_ do this to my Clark! I love him…* Things had just started getting better for them. She _couldn't_ lose him now! *I've got to do something! What would people say if they saw Lois Lane sitting around bawling?* Actually, she didn't care about anyone but Clark. But what was she to do? She couldn't tell anyone Clark was missing, because he'd been kidnapped as Superman, and what would be the explanation for Clark disappearing like that? She couldn't let the word out about Superman being gone — the Metropolis crime rate would skyrocket! She knew only two people to turn to, and they were Martha and Jonathan Kent. She sat in thought awhile, about two of the most caring and considerate people in the universe. And they had raised the most wonderful man in the world as their son. She wondered now how they could have been so kind to her all these past several years, when she must've hurt Clark so badly by first falling in love with him as Superman, and writing Clark off as a 'hack from Nowheresville.' How they had been able to _stand_ her when Clark told her he loved her, and then she proceeded to almost marry Lex Luthor. How they had been able to look her in the face and still smile warmly after she turned to the arms of another, when Clark would run off at the most significant times with seemingly no reason. The Scardino disaster. Lois had a disgusted look on her face. And now… how could she talk to them when she was so embarrassed about the past, and even more so because she had this feeling that they knew she had figured it out? Lois groaned. She seemed to be doing a lot of that these days. This might be the most difficult phone call she'd ever make. But she had to try. For the man she loved.
With shaking hands, she picked up the phone. She knew the number off by heart, having spent hours absent- mindedly memorizing it. One ring. Two. Click.
"Hello?" a pleasant voice chirped. Dear Martha.
"H-hi… Martha…" Lois' voice trembled uncontrollably, sending off warning bells on the other end of the line.
Martha's voice instantly took on a maternal concern. "Lois, dear, is that you? What's wrong?"
Lois swallowed hard. This was so difficult for her to say. She didn't want to confront the danger Clark was in. How could she face this?
"Lois? My God, honey. Are you okay?"
The word was out of her mouth before she realized it. "No…"
"Oh no… Lois, is this about… you knowing?…"
"No… no, not exactly." Lois took a deep breath. "Clark's… in trouble. He was… kidnapped. There's kryptonite…" The tears returned to her eyes as she said the last word. That horrible green rock. _How_ did people keep obtaining it?
"Lois! Are you _sure_?" Martha was trying to keep her voice steady, for Lois' sake.
"I've never been more sure of anything, Martha." The tears began to roll down her cheeks. "I-I'm just so scared," she said in a whisper. "I don't know what to do!"
"Oh, honey! Don't cry. Let's think this through, okay, Lois?"
Martha's strong voice calmed Lois. She sniffed pathetically, but then sat up straight and answered softly, "Okay."
"Now, do you have any idea _who_ did this?"
"Yes, I know, but, I'm not too sure about saying all of this over the phone, I'm just… so scared right now…" Lois' voice trailed off again.
"Lois, would it make you feel better if Jonathan and I came to Metropolis?"
Lois' eyes registered volumes of relief. "Oh! Yes! You don't know how much that would mean to me… and to Clark."
"We'll get on the next plane. Why don't you meet us at Clark's apartment. We can all stay there. Do you have a key?"
"Uh, yes. Clark's keys are still here. He didn't take them with him because he was going to come back…" Tears began to form in her eyes once again.
"Lois. You get over there, and we will be there. You just stay strong, you hear?" Martha tried to sound encouraging, even though she knew that the life of her beloved only child was fading away as she spoke.
"Okay, Martha." Lois hung up the phone and fell back against the couch. "Clark, I'm coming as soon as I can." She hugged her knees against her and rocked slowly back and forth.
Lois entered Clark's darkened apartment very slowly. Just seeing his home, the place where he lived, brought tears to her eyes again, but she held them back this time. She had to be strong. Clark needed her to be strong. She made her way down the stairs and set her bag on his couch.
She had hung up with Martha only two hours ago. They probably wouldn't arrive for a few more hours. She began walking around, looking at everything, thinking about him. She wandered around his bedroom and stopped to look at a picture on his nightstand of the two of them. Jimmy had taken it while the three of them were covering the Fourth of July celebration at Metropolis Park. Clark had his arm around her with a silly look on his face. He had probably made a smart alec comment to tease her. The kind of comment she had secretly loved hearing. She was grinning ridiculously, staring up at him. She smiled at the happy memory. She found a large leather binder on one of his many shelves. When she opened it, she found that it was a scrapbook, similar to the one she kept of all her stories. There, on the first page, was the headline: SUPERMAN'S BACK- Disaster Averted. His first story for the Planet. One he had scooped her on. She could still remember the wild goose chase he had sent her on so he could get the story. She had known then that he was something special, but she never told _him_ that. *Why didn't I just _tell_ him?* She was furious with herself for keeping her feelings from him for so long.
She glanced at the clock. 9:45pm. It had been a draining day. Jonathan and Martha weren't there yet, but she was tired. She got ready for bed, and by 10, she was lying comfortably in Clark's bed. She hugged one of his pillows tightly and breathed in the smell of him. She thought back to the previous night, when she had slept in his arms. She had felt so safe, so content. It frightened her to think she might never feel that way again. Instead of a peaceful sleep, she tossed and turned throughout the night, waking practically every hour. The image of Clark, helpless, in the helicopter, repeated itself over and over in her nightmares.
She was having the nightmare again. Clark was reaching out to her from the helicopter. She was running to him, but her legs were moving in slow motion.
Suddenly she felt a hand grab her arm and shake her. "No!!!! Let me go!! Clark, hold on! Wait!" The helicopter rose into the sky. "Wait!" The hand continued to shake her.
"Lois. Lois, honey." Lois' eyes shot open.
"Clark!" But it wasn't him. It was Martha Kent, gently touching her arm.
"I'm sorry, Lois," Martha spoke softly. "We just got in and I wanted you to know."
"Don't apologize! I'm so happy to see you!" Lois threw her arms around the dear woman. "You just saved me from a terrible nightmare."
Martha hugged Lois tightly and stroked her hair as though she were a little girl.
"What time is it?" Lois asked, still leaning her head on Martha's comforting shoulder.
"It's seven in the morning. We had a hard time getting a flight at such short notice."
"Seven. Perry's probably already at the Planet. I think I need to call him."
"What are you going to say?" But Lois was already dialing the number.
"Hello. Perry White, please? This is Lois… Hi, Perry!… Oh, I'm feeling _much_ better, but, I'm afraid I got Clark sick… Yes, I know he rarely gets sick, but he's pretty bad, and since he took care of me while I was sick, I think it's only fair that I take care of him… Thank you. I will, Perry. Bye." Lois smiled as she set the receiver down. She knew Perry probably didn't believe her story. She wouldn't be surprised if he thought she and Clark had eloped!
"Well, that's taken care of." Lois looked at Martha, "Where's Jonathan?"
"He's in the kitchen making breakfast. Come on! You must be hungry." Martha put her arm around Lois and they walked to the kitchen.
Jonathan was just sitting down at the table, but when he saw Lois, he stood up. "Hello, Lois." He smiled at her kindly, but Lois could see pain in his eyes.
"Hi, Jonathan." She returned his smile. Suddenly the whole scene hit her. Here she was, about to sit down to breakfast with Clark's parents and he wasn't even here. The picture was incomplete. Her smile faded as she spoke the name of the one they were all thinking of. "Clark."
Unwillingly, tears began to form in Lois' eyes as she said his name. She would give anything just to have him here with them. Just to hold him, touch him… make sure he was real.
"Lois… honey, you've barely touched your food!" Martha broke into Lois' thoughts.
"What?… Oh, right." She sent an apologetic glance at Jonathan. "It looks and smells great… really! I'm just not… well… I don't have much of an appetite…" When had been the last time she'd eaten? She started to reminisce out loud, as if in a trance. "Yesterday morning… Clark made me breakfast in bed…" Lois realized Martha and Jonathan were staring at her. She played back in her mind what she had just said. "Oh… no! Clark was there… he was taking care of me… I mean…" Lois stumbled over her words somewhat flustered, and wondering what the Kents were thinking. "I was sick. I _am_ sick. Sort of. Clark and I hadn't been getting along too well at work because… Well, you know…" she added hastily. "Perry told Clark to take me home and stay with me until I was well. We almost talked things out…" she trailed off.
Martha could see where Lois was headed with this, but now was not the time for it. "Lois," she asked gently, pulling the weary young woman back into the present, "you said before that you think you may know who has Clark? Can you tell us?"
Lois took a deep breath. This concept was hard for even _her_ to accept… She was scared. "Jace… Mazik…"
Stricken looks flashed across the faces of Martha and Jonathan, then confusion. It was Jonathan who spoke. "Mazik? Didn't Clark have him put in jail?"
"That's what _I_ thought, but it looks like he may have escaped. But why hasn't anyone noticed yet?"
"Is there anyway to find out?" Martha asked.
Lois thought for a moment. "Bobby Bigmouth!"
Martha and Jonathan looked at each other. "Bobby Bigmouth?" But Lois was already off and running. She left the kitchen to use the phone, then returned to the table several minutes later. The Kents looked at her expectantly.
"Lucky for me, I got hold of Bobby at this new restaurant-buffet that opened about ten minutes ago. He says he'll check into the Jace thing, and get back to me. It could take a while…"
*The poor girl looks exhausted!* Martha thought to herself. Actually, they _all_ did. "It looks like we have some waiting to do. We're at a dead end until this Bobby Bigmouth of yours, Lois, turns up something for us." Lois just looked at Martha glumly. "Lois… why don't you go back to sleep for a bit, hon?" Martha half-expected Lois to protest, but surprisingly, Lois obliged. "Maybe we should _all_ get some rest."
"But where will _you_ sleep?" Lois was puzzled.
Martha gestured to the stairs leading upward. "A guest bedroom was just finished being furnished up there," she explained.
"Oh!" Lois appeared startled. "I'd completely forgotten about the upstairs here. I usually just slept on the couch… that is, when I couldn't stay at my apartment… because some loon was trying to kill me… and Clark said he'd never let anything happen to me…"
"Lois," Martha touched her shoulder. "It's okay. You never have to explain why you stayed over or why Clark was at your place or _anything_ of that nature to me. I know how much he loves you, you can see it in his eyes. I know how much you love him, just by looking at you now. _And_, I know Clark proposed…" Martha chuckled to herself. "His timing may have been a little off, but he did pop the question…"
That conversation stayed with Lois for a long time. Even as she tried to fall asleep in Clark's bed, clutching the teddy bear he had won for her tightly, that was weighing on her mind. Yes, he had popped the question. But no, she had not given him an answer. She had put off that just like she had put off talking about her discovery, and now she might never be _able_ to talk with him about it. *Stop that, Lois. Clark will be fine! He _has_ to be…* As she lay there, the events of that night not so long ago came back to her. She remembered her revelation…
The dark-haired couple strolled down the path. "You chilly?" Clark asked Lois, placing his arm around her shoulder.
"No," she replied. He started to move his arm away but she caught it, intertwined their fingers, and held it there.
"You are, too!" he said, and began to laugh. They stepped in silence, simply enjoying being together. He spoke first.
"I've been thinking…" She could feel him tense up, and instinctively knew he was going to say something important. Was he going to tell her? Without meaning to, the words, "Me too…" escaped from her lips.
"What about?" Clark looked at her.
"You first." This time, Lois _wanted_ him to be the first to talk.
"Sometimes you think you're immortal. You start to think the people around you are too. It just takes a second to realize how wrong you are. About everything…" He paused for a moment, seeming to gather his courage.
"I guess what I'm trying to say, Lois, is… I almost lost you. And I feel… ashamed."
_That_ surprised her. "Ashamed? Why?"
"I kept pushing you away, even when I promised I'd stop. If you had died, without ever knowing why… I'd never be able to forgive myself. Because I love you."
Lois smiled as Clark said this, and she ruffled his hair.
"Sit…" he prompted eagerly, whispering. She perched herself on the edge of the fountain — the kind that you threw pennies in to make wishes. Was her wish about to come true? Was he going to let her inside his secret world?
Mother Nature had awful timing that night. *Lightning crashes,* she thought to herself as the rain started to fall. Clark appeared to be frustrated.
"Come on! Give me a break!" he called to the sky.
This struck Lois as funny. "Do you want to go back?" she giggled.
He was determined. "If the earth opened up at my _feet_, I wouldn't move until I'd said this…"
*He's going to tell you!* the voice inside her head exclaimed.
Wrong. In her confused state of mind, things seemed to happen in slow-motion as Clark got down on one knee. And her eyes were playing tricks on her. _How_ had his hair gone from wet to dry back to wet again? She didn't have long to wonder before he broke into her daze.
"Lois…" he reached into his pocket and pulled out a black velvet box. Holding it up, he opened it to reveal the most gorgeous diamond ring she had ever seen. "… Will you marry me?"
She stared at him. He was asking her to share a life with him, when he wouldn't even admit to his other side? This was not a good first step. "Who's asking?" she blurted out. "Clark," she started to remove his glasses, "or Superman?"
"Whaaaa?" Clark's jaw dropped.
"Did you think I wouldn't figure it out? That we could… that we could get _married_ without my ever knowing? Were you ever going to tell me?" Lois' tone turned from anger to one of a bittersweet sadness. "I need time, Clark," she said, touching his cheek for a brief moment, echoing what he had done as Superman to confirm her suspicions. With that touch, it seemed to dawn on Clark how her revelation had come about. He tried to touch _her_ cheek, but Lois turned away and began to walk back from where they came from, in the middle of the pouring rain.
"Lois," he called out softly, almost choking with emotion. She turned around.
"I have a lot to think about. I need time, Clark," she repeated.
He could see the hurt in her eyes.
It had all been left like that.
Lois tossed and turned, unable to find a comfortable position. Frustrated, she sat up and looked around. What could she do to occupy herself?
On Clark's night table, she spotted a book. Curious, she picked it up and looked at the title. 'Sati' by Christopher Pike. It _looked_ good, _and_ would provide her with something to do until Bobby called. She opened it to Chapter One.
"I once knew a girl who thought she was God. She didn't give sight to the blind or raise the dead. She didn't teach anything, not really, and she never told me anything I probably didn't already know. On the other hand, she didn't expect to be worshipped, nor did she ask for money…"
For a few moments, Lois could only stare at the page. Change the "she" to a "he"… She turned page after page, as the hours ticked by.
The book wasn't that lengthy, and Lois was a quick reader. She was just finishing the last page as Martha tiptoed down the stairs. Lois put the book down and looked up as she approached. Martha sat on the corner of the bed.
"How are you doing, Lois?" she asked. Lois could tell she hadn't slept, either.
"Better… I think. A little, anyway. I just finished reading this book…" She held it up. "It made me think a bit…"
"'Sati' is a wonderful story," Martha agreed.
They seemed to have an unspoken bond. On a sudden impulse, Lois hugged Martha.
"I'm so glad you're here… I don't want to be alone…"
Martha started to speak, when the phone rang. Lois almost _leaped_ out of bed to answer it. "Bobby?" she asked hopefully.
Thankfully, it was. "Okay Lois, I found what you were looking for."
"Yeah?" Lois was impatient, knowing Clark's _life_ could depend on this.
"Word on the street is, Jace is out."
"So why hasn't there been a search out for him? I mean, this is a dangerous criminal we're talking about. Why aren't the police doing anything?"
"Cos your Mr. Mazik here, has a double covering for him. Someone involved in this operation has leaked… says it's a cue straight from 'The Net'. All records changed, the works…" Lois waited for him to continue. She could tell there was more. "There's something else you may find interesting… Jace's cellmate was none other than… Lex Luthor. It appears he may have something to do with this."
"What?" Lois whispered in disbelief.
"Lois, what is it?" Martha wore a worried expression.
"That's all I got on this, Lois. And you didn't hear it from me—"
"Thanks, Bobby." Lois began to hang up the phone, in a zombie-like state. As the receiver went down, Bobby was frantically yelling, "Hey! Lois? Food?!"
"What did he say?" Martha watched as Lois sat back on the bed.
Lois turned to her with panic-stricken eyes. "Lex Luthor may be involved…"
Martha was confused. "But didn't you say that Jace—"
"—Is the kidnapper," Lois finished for her. "Yes, and he still is. But somehow Lex has something to do with this… Oh God, Martha…"
"Do you think Lex knows that Clark is Superman?"
"No… I don't think Jace told him… I think—" Suddenly, it came to Lois. "Wait! That's it!"
"What's it?" Martha had long ago given up on following Lois' train of thought.
"Jace didn't tell him so he would know something *more*! Maybe Jace isn't going to kill him! Maybe he wants money…" Lois looked excited. "All Jace's records have been changed to match those of a double. Lex thinks he's coming back… but what if he isn't? Would you?"
"Lois, honey! Slow down!" Martha was trying to comprehend what Lois was getting at, without much success.
"What if I can convince Lex that Jace isn't coming back? That I _know_ what's going on? Everyone thinks that Lex has no vulnerabilities… but _I_ know one…"
"And what's that?"
"Me. Even after I left him at the alter," Lois shuddered at the memory, "he still loved me. He still does! If _someone_ told him how Jace wanted me dead… Well, he's half-cracked as it is!"
What Lois was saying made some sense, Martha had to admit. "Do you think it will work?"
The fear in her eyes was evident as Lois said, "It has to."
Lois' skin crawled as she was led down a dark corridor toward the only visiting room in the Metropolis Penitentiary. Her high heels clicked against the hard ground and echoed back and forth against the cold, bare walls. Before she stepped into the dimly lit room, she smoothed her hair and straightened her outfit, which was compiled of a tight black skirt and a silky white blouse. Confident that he would be pleased with what he saw, Lois entered. She saw him, sitting at a table at the far end of the room. His eyes met hers and a sickening chill ran down her spine. Suddenly she was frightened. She wanted to turn and run, but she would not. The life of the person she loved most depended on her. He needed her. *This is for you, Clark,* she said silently as she moved toward Luthor slowly, unsure of how he would react.
"Lois," he said in a hoarse whisper. She felt sick.
"Hello, Lex," she spoke with a confidence she did not have.
"You look more beautiful than ever." He rose to his feet and approached her. She forced herself not to cringe when he grasped her hands tightly and raised them to his lips. But instead of kissing her hands, he closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of her perfume.
Lois felt as though she had never experienced something so revolting. He was a grotesque figure of a man, a poisonous snake, the man who wanted to kill her Clark. She quickly remembered her purpose for being there, and disengaged his hands from hers as she sat down in the hard seat. Lex did the same, as he looked at her with adoration. Lois could feel her stomach churn.
"My dear, what brings you by? Have you finally come to your senses, my love?"
Lois ignored this, appearing to be too upset to even have heard it. She made her eyes show fear, which really wasn't too hard considering the situation. "I… have to tell you something." Silently, she cursed herself. She had thought of no way to get _him_ to reveal what she was about to say, and wondered how he'd react to learning what she knew.
"My love…" he murmured. "Yes, Lois?"
"I know that-that… Jace Mazik is your cellmate. And… that he's… not _here_…"
Lex's eyes narrowed. "Pardon?"
"Lex." Her eyes filled with tears, a feat she had learned in high school drama years ago. But with all the emotions she was feeling, they were easier to come by than usual. "Lex, I-I need your help… desperately."
Lex's face seemed full of concern. So far her little act was working. "My dear Lois. What is it?" He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. She gritted her teeth and went on.
"Jace is… a very dangerous criminal. Though I'm sure you're aware of that. I know this would seem impossible to anyone but you and I, but I know he had an exact double of himself made and somehow got his fingerprints changed through the computer police records, then he escaped from jail and another person took his place here at the jail." Lex looked at her curiously.
"Lois? Where have you been getting this rubbish? Mr. Mazik is back in my cell, my dear. Why, might I ask, would this be any of your concern?"
She trembled a bit, but then continued. She knew this could be it. "You think the only reason Jace was brought here was because he killed Nigel St. John, and kidnapped Martha and Jonathan Kent, right?" Lex nodded, though not impatiently. He could listen to Lois every waking moment of the day. Her dark, pool-like eyes stared up at Lex with such beauty, yet so much fear, and he was completely pulled under her spell.
Lois' voice dropped to a terrified whisper. "That's not all. Lex," she cried tearfully, "he tried to have _me_ killed."
A coldness settled into Lex's expression as he set his jaw. He started to mutter to himself. "That imbecile! No one touches my love…"
"I know he's out there, Lex. I know he may come for me. I know he may never come back…"
Lex was jolted back to the present with the sound of her voice. He stood up and walked over to her, putting his arms on her shoulders in what Lois guessed was to be a comforting gesture. It only succeeded in making her shiver with disgust.
"Well, I should have expected as much. Trust no one, my dear. Trust no one. I have always lived by that rule, and, until recently, it has done me a lot of good." Lex's voice no longer sounded angry, merely matter-of-fact, as if he had suspected something like this to happen all along.
"You sound confident." Lois knew she needed to pry out some more information.
"Lois! Have you underestimated me again, darling? Nothing can stop Lex Luthor." He raised his eyebrows slightly as he studied her face.
"I'm sorry, Lex. It's just that, you make it sound like it's no big deal, yet there is a man out there who could quite possibly try to kill me again!"
"I know where he is, Lois." Lex's voice took on a mysterious tone.
"YOU DO??" she practically shouted, but then realized what she had just done. "I mean, uh, do you?" Her eagerness to find Clark was beginning to override everything else, and she was forgetting about the character she was playing at that moment.
"Yes. And he'll never hurt you again. I'll have, shall I say, the 'proper authorities' sent for him, but I'll need you help. My darling, I need you for this…"
"I will, Lex, I will." She refrained from the desire to grab Lex by the collar and ask where the heck Clark was!
"There is only one place Mazik could be, and that is up in the woods, in a little town called Forke. It's a beat up old town, filthy, ugly, inhospitable, and the people there are notoriously pushy. He's in the old log cabin across the lake. You'll see it. It's a hard thing to miss while in Forke. They don't have much to look at there, not that the cabin is anything to look at either. I'm sorry, Lois. This place just gave me a bad impression when I first visited. In my opinion, the whole thing should be burned, or blown up, or something to that effect, so that the whole town can rebuild… start over."
As Lex went on about the town he disliked so much, Lois was slowly trying to break away from the grasp he had on her shoulders. Finally she cut in.
"Lex…" she said softly. He stopped talking to gaze at her. "You said you needed my help. What am I to do?"
"Yes, yes… If you can be brave, sweet one. I need you to go to the cabin where Mr. Mazik is — I need you to show my men the place. You needn't enter… just direct. I don't want you to _ever_ face that thug again! I can't believe I trusted him to kill… well, he must be dead by now, anyway…"
Lois chose not to ask what Lex was talking about. She knew. All she could hope was that he was wrong. "When do I have to do this?"
"One hour. It will all be arranged. Meet my men outside the Lexor hotel, and lead them to the cabin. I will draw you a map. While you're gone, I have some computer business to take care of…"
Ten minutes later, Lois headed out of the building. She had fifty minutes to wait until she could be on the road to find Clark. And she _would_ wait for Lex's men — she couldn't handle Jace alone. Not when Clark's life was at stake. Somehow she knew he was still alive.
Clark had given up struggling against the ropes that bound him many hours ago. He wasn't dead, or anywhere near dead, really, but he wondered what was preventing Jace from killing him. What was stopping him from setting the kryptonite just out of Clark's reach, and leaving him to die? Was he going to do it? Or was he going to continue the periodic exposure — just enough to make Clark too weak to use his powers, but strong enough to have a clear mind.
Since his capture, all Clark could think about was Lois. Was she in danger? He remembered the look on her face when he'd left her apartment, and then the helplessness it appeared she'd felt when watching the helicopter fly away. Just to touch her one more time, to hear her voice…
"Clark!" *Lois?!* Was she there? But how… or was it a dream? An illusion created by the effects of the kryptonite? Clark heard the ropes being untied. He raised his head. It was her! He wanted to simply throw his arms around her and hold her tight forever, but he didn't even have the strength to stand up.
"Oh Clark…" Lois whispered. She helped him to get up. "Come on! We have to get out of here!"
"But Jace… the kryptonite…"
"Jace is gone. They took him away."
Clark didn't even have the presence of mind to ask who "they" were.
"As for the kryptonite…" her voice shook, "we don't have time! They're going to blow this place up! They have orders!"
Lois helped Clark to the back exit, near where her jeep was parked. When he was sitting inside, she raced over to the driver's side and hopped in. As she burned it away from the cabin and village of Forke, black smoke could be seen behind them. Both knew the terrible place would be in ashes before the dawn.
This time it was Clark who slept most of the way home. From time to time, Lois would glance over in his direction and smooth his hair, but mainly concentrated on driving. Her head was spinning. Clark was weakened, but he was alive! And she was going to take good care of him. Now and forever.
"Clark… honey, wake up!" Lois spoke gently into his ear. They were parked outside 344 Clinton. His eyes opened slowly, and he looked at her groggily.
"Lois…" His hand reached out to touch her.
At that moment, Martha came rushing out of the building and opened the passenger door. "Clark!" she exclaimed. "Oh, honey…"
Clark was helped inside, where he changed into a loose t-shirt and shorts. As instructed by Martha and Lois, he settled into his bed. Ever-so-slowly, his strength was returning, though he knew it would be awhile before he was 100% recovered. He still had the loss of his superpowers, perhaps the longest they'd ever left him for. His exposure to the kryptonite had been severe.
Lois and his parents fussed over him, hyper from all the worrying they'd done, and the relief of having him back. At one point when he protested that he didn't need anything more, Lois lay down beside him and rest her head on his shoulder. Clark brought his arm up and around her, and they stayed in that position for the longest time. They were about to doze off, when Martha, who had been watching them for a long while with a smile playing at her lips, spoke.
"Jonathan, haven't you been wanting to try that new hotel they just finished here? You know… what's it called now? The Cain Regency?"
"What are you talk— Ow! Oh, right, Martha! The one they finished last month?" Jonathan rubbed the arm that Martha had elbowed.
"A hotel?" Clark broke in. "Mom, Dad, you are welcome to stay here! That's what the bedroom upstairs is for." Though his attention was now directed toward his parents, he was gently massaging Lois' shoulders as she continued to lay there.
"Clark… it's nothing for you to worry about! We _have_ been wanting to see this place, and," Martha gave him a serious look, "I think the two of you need some time alone."
Clark couldn't protest to this. It was true. More than anything, he simply wanted to talk to Lois, to hold her… for her to hold him. He wanted to say to her everything he'd felt since his abduction. He just wanted them to be together… with nothing to hide from each other.
Martha approached Lois and Clark. "Goodnight, you two. Take care of each other," she smiled warmly. "We'll see you tomorrow… evening…" There was a mischievous glint in her eyes as she and Jonathan left the apartment and started up the car they had rented from the airport.
Lois and Clark were together, alone, once again.
Jace felt his stomach sink below his knees as he was once again locked away in the Metropolis Penitentiary. It had been done under the cover of darkness, just as the first switch had been made. Only this time, Jace was not happy, nor was he excited. He was terrified.
"Well, well, Mr. Mazik. It looks like we have a lot to talk about!" Lex grinned evily.
"W-we do?" he stuttered.
"yes, we do." Lex glared at Jace coolly. "Do you remember what was said to you before you were locked in this cell for the first time?"
"'I pity any man who has to bunk with this one'." Lex laughed coldly. "I intend to live up to that."
Jace swallowed hard.
They were settled in the familiar, comforting position: Clark's chin resting atop Lois' head, one arm each around each other, and with the other arm, hands grasped tightly together. Even without the luxury of super-hearing, Clark could hear Lois' soft breathing. Though she appeared calm, he could sense she was still a little keyed up. He squeezed her hand, trying to reassure her that everything was alright. They were together now, and that was all that mattered.
Lois began to quietly speak, without moving to look at him. She spoke in a rush, as if she were afraid this was the only chance she'd ever have to say what was on her mind. Clark could hear the sadness in her tone.
"Clark… when you left, I thought it was just another routine deal, that you would be back before I knew it. I wanted to finish our conversation. When I saw you being taken away, I felt so helpless, and then… I felt despair. I couldn't tell anyone that you were gone… except your parents. Your secret had to be kept. I guess that's why, the whole time you were gone, I felt so _guilty_…"
"Guilty? My God, Lois, why?" He stroked her hand with his thumb as she carried on.
"We'd waited so long to talk, and we were _finally_ getting somewhere! I was just starting to realize _why_ you'd never told me… this opened my eyes more. We could've talked everything out by then — the revelation… the proposal…" her voice was hardly even audible, "everything…"
Clark thought she was finished, but Lois still had one more thing to say. She was frightened by it, causing her to pause for a moment. "Clark, I want to be with you like this forever. I never want to leave your arms… be separated from you… again. But I'm so afraid I'm going to lose you! What if the aftereffects of the kryptonite are still working? What if…"
"Lois! I'm fine!"
"Really. I'm back to normal and healthy… except for my superpowers. I think they're wasted for a little bit." Clark gave a wry grin.
"No interruptions…" Lois murmured.
"Nothing will take me away from you Lois. Ever," he whispered into her ear. He held her a little tighter, tears starting to well up in his eyes. One lone teardrop made its way down his cheek and onto Lois' hair.
She lifted her head to look up at him. The unshed tears shone bright in her eyes as well. "Oh please don't cry, Clark… I'll cry too…" He couldn't control them, though. Lois gently brushed his tears away, and looked deep into his eyes. Their gaze was both hypnotic and magnetic. They found themselves being drawn into a long, soft kiss. It wasn't wildly passionate — just sweet enough to set them both off into tears again.
"Clark… I never thought I'd be in your arms again this way. The thought of living my life without you… I can't imagine it. It's too unbearable…" She buried her face in his shoulder.
Clark held her there, comforting her the only way he knew how. By loving her. "Lois… when I was at the cabin, all I could think about was you. Would I ever see you again? Would Jace go after you next? Why all this was happening…" he trailed off. They lay there for a long time, the light of the moon shining upon them.
Much later, Clark once again spoke. He knew Lois was not asleep, yet was unsure if she'd answer him. "Lois… will you marry me?"
The seconds which ticked past felt like hours. Slowly, Lois sat up and fixed her gaze upon him. Clark didn't know what to think. Had he botched things up again?
She surprised him. Taking both his hands in hers, she looked him straight in the eyes and answered. "Yes… Clark Kent. I would love nothing more than to marry you! If you'll still have me." Her voice sounded unsure. Her fears had not subsided.
"Lois… sweetheart, _I_ should be the one asking if you'll still have me!" His eyes shined as he opened his mouth to speak once again. "I love you, Lois Lane."
"I love you, Clark Kent."
"We seek the comfort of another, someone to shape and share the life we choose. Someone to help us through the neverending attempt to understand ourselves, and, in the end, someone to comfort us along the way."
— Marlin Finsch Lupus
"If You Asked Me To" copyright 1991 by Celine Dion
"Sati" copyright 1990 by Christopher Pike
You may be wondering why we chose the title we did for this story. As proved by the events which occurred throughout, if Clark's secret was to fall into the wrong hands (Jace Mazik, etc.) it could be dangerous for everyone concerned, and difficult for all who care about our superhero as well. We hope you enjoyed our "project". :)
— Emerald and Kell