By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted September 1999
Summary: In the original script of the episode "Man of Steel Bars," when Clark resigns from the Planet, he leaves a letter for Lois, not Perry. This story, written mainly from Lois's POV, considers what might have been in that letter.
The script for Man of Steel Bars is a little different from the version which made it to screen. In the screened version, when Clark resigns from the Planet he leaves a letter for Perry. However, the script — both when he says goodbye to Lois, and at the end when he comes back — is rather different:
— From the Script: —
Clark takes a sealed envelope out of his pocket. It says "Lois" on it.
CLARK: This will explain everything.
She takes it from him.
I'm not going to read it. I know you'll be back.
He looks at her, studies her, so he won't forget her. Then he kisses her. They look at each other for a beat.
(And later, when Clark returns: )
Clark smiles and walks back to Lois. He spots something on her desk.
CLARK: You won't be needing this any more.
He picks up the unread note and puts it back in his pocket.
Hey, wait a minute! I didn't even get a chance to read it. What did it say?
CLARK: I guess you'll never know.
— End of Extracts —
So what did that letter say? Read on…
Dear Lois… Love, Superman
By Wendy Richards (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lois touched her fingers to her lips, barely able to believe what had just happened. Clark Kent had resigned - left the Planet. Just like that!
And - he had kissed her.
It wasn't the first time they had kissed, of course, but she hardly counted that other time. She had been trying to distract Trask while she figured out a way of getting them off that plane alive. However, at first it had seemed that Clark hadn't realised the kiss was merely subterfuge. His participation had been enthusiastic, passionate.
But this kiss… it had been tender, loving, and sad all wrapped up together. He had been saying goodbye.
She swallowed. She had never expected *Clark* to leave - and with Superman leaving as well, how was she going to cope? She was losing all her closest friends at once.
She caught her breath as she realised what she'd admitted to herself. Clark was one of her closest friends. He was; there was no denying it. He had sneaked under her skin and into her affections in the couple of short months she had known him. He had seen her at her best and her worst, and he still cared about her. He had listened to some of her worst fears and temper tantrums, and though he occasionally teased her, he had mostly been infinitely patient and considerate with her. And, despite all her protests, she had really enjoyed her time in Smallville with him. She had got to know him much better, had seen him in his own familiar surroundings, and she'd had to admit that this country boy was a pretty nice guy.
And now he had left, to return to Smallville. To edit the Smallville Post - a tin-pot weekly paper no-one had ever heard of. And he'd given up a prestigious reporting job at the Daily Planet for *that*?
Why? Why would anyone do that, especially with a promising career ahead of them? Unless… unless Clark had felt he couldn't hack it, couldn't cope with living in the big city any more, couldn't take the pressure of the job.
But somehow that argument just didn't seem convincing, Lois thought. All she'd seen of Clark in the past few months suggested that he loved Metropolis; loved the excitement and vitality of the city, and the opportunities it afforded him. He had fitted into the Planet's circle very well, too; she had to admit that Clark was a very easygoing, likeable guy and in the short time he had worked there he had become a popular member of the team. Other members of the newsroom team were much more likely to stop and chat to Clark than to her, Lois had realised to her dismay a few days earlier.
And he had seemed to enjoy the job, too. He loved it when they got a scoop, when they beat off the competition to get to the story first. His delight when an investigation of theirs righted a wrong, or put someone who deserved it into prison, was palpable. And he was *good* at it. She'd had to admit that he had a way with words. Oh, he lacked her own hard edge, but he could make a story flow. He had passion and sensitivity, and no-one could write a human interest story better than Clark. His writing style complemented her own; she could see now that was why Perry had partnered them.
And now he had upped and left abruptly, just like that, in the middle of the night… She paused for a moment as the significance of *that* little detail sank in. He had not intended to see her. He had sneaked into the newsroom at a time when he'd thought hardly anyone, and certainly no-one from the day shift, would be around. Yes, she realised, he had been surprised to see her there. All he had been intending to do, other than collect his personal belongings, had been to leave the note for her.
The note… She looked thoughtfully down at it. Without volition, her finger traced the letters of her name on the envelope.
What had he said? "This will explain everything."
Everything? Hah! What was there to explain? In the middle of a *crisis*, Clark 'Farmboy' Kent had quit. So much for a reliable partner, she thought with a cynical curl of her lip. She needed him now - *Superman* needed him to help prove that the Man of Steel wasn't responsible for the heat wave. But Clark clearly couldn't stand the heat after all, so he'd got out of the kitchen.
She tossed his note to one side, and refocused her attention on the piles of notes and books on her desk.
It was almost three am when Lois staggered into her apartment, piles of books scattering to the floor as her arms proved unfit for the task of holding them up any longer. She had got no further with the task of trying to work out what - other than Superman - might be causing the ongoing heatwave. And she was tired; downright exhausted, in fact. She needed a couple of hours' sleep before resuming her research.
The problem was that time was running out. Superman might even already have left town. He had given his undertaking to the court to be gone within twenty-four hours. Someone else who had barely said goodbye; she didn't really count that couple of seconds outside the court, surrounded by the media and rubber-neckers.
She glanced wistfully towards the window: perhaps he would fly in to say goodbye properly. But even as she hoped, she knew he wouldn't. He believed that his Super-abilities were causing the abnormal weather conditions, and so he would not use his powers unnecessarily. Coming to say goodbye to a reporter was not an essential use of his abilities.
<He could use the door> she thought, clinging to a desperate hope. But again, she knew he would not. She didn't know Superman very well, but she did know that he was a very proud man, and he wouldn't want to see her distress - or let her see his. She knew he was upset, that he felt rejected and hurt by the city which he had made his home and which, not long ago, had declared him Citizen of the Year. That had been apparent in his expression outside that court-room. And he would not allow Lois to see his suffering.
Superman *and* Clark - how would she cope with losing both of them?
Clark… she scowled as his departure re-entered her thoughts. How could he just walk out like that? And without even working his proper notice? She frowned suddenly - there was something nagging her, perhaps something she'd meant to do. What was it?
Oh, yes… the note he'd given her. She had been in two minds whether to bother reading it or not. But right now curiosity was getting the better of her.
She was about to search her bag for it until she remembered. It was still on her desk; she'd noticed it in her peripheral vision just as she'd been walking out of the newsroom.
Oh well, she could read it in the morning. It was hardly going to contain anything particularly important, was it?
She arrived at the newsroom early the following morning despite having had little sleep. It was very important that she continue trying to find out what had caused the heatwave. But to her surprise, many of her colleagues seemed to have lost interest in saving Superman; they were all dejected about Clark's departure. Jimmy had lost his jokey demeanour, Cat's pout was gone and even Perry had no new Elvis stories.
Jimmy had made up some new maps for her, plotting the 'hot-spots' against the dates and times of Superman's rescues. They still seemed to match… until Jimmy knocked some of the sheets onto the floor and two ended up stuck together. To her shock, Lois realised that by complete chance they had stumbled on proof that Superman couldn't be responsible for the heatwave: the charts showed beyond a doubt that, if the *locations* of Superman's activities were cross-referenced against the locations of the hot-spots there was no match at all.
She grabbed Jimmy's arm. "Take these charts off and fax them to that scientist from the press conference. And get hold of our science editor… Torrens, or whatever his name is. I want to know whether this rules out Superman's involvement!"
"And what else could be causing it, huh?" Jimmy added with a grin, already anticipating Lois's next request. His answer was a grunt and an impatient wave of Lois's arm.
Now she had to wait; she began to check her email but found it impossible to concentrate. Her eye was caught by a white rectangle on her desk, with 'LOIS' inscribed on it in firm black letters.
Clark's letter. She reached out for it and stared at it for a long moment.
Finally, she ripped it open and removed the contents. As she unfolded the page, another sheet of paper fell to the desk. Lois glanced curiously at it before focusing on Clark's letter. It was hand-written, in the strong, decisive script she had become familiar with over the past couple of months.
By the time you get this I'll have left Metropolis. I've resigned from the Planet. I've told Perry that it's because I was offered the job of Editor of the Smallville Post, but that's not true. It's just a story to cover up my real reason for leaving."
<Hah!> Lois thought, laying the letter down. <I knew there was more to it than he was saying! Can't take the heat, right?>
She returned her attention to the letter.
"Ever since I've known you, Lois, I've been lying to you about something. It's not something I've been proud of, but I had no choice about it. I lied to protect myself and my family. Even now, I'm not sure whether I can tell you the whole truth, but I do know that I can't lie to you about why I'm leaving. I'm not leaving because I want to. I'm going because I have no choice.
If things were different, I would love to stay; I've loved living in Metropolis and working at the Daily Planet. Most of all, I've loved working with you and, I hope, becoming your friend. I'll miss you most of all, Lois. I'd like to think that maybe you'll miss me a little too."
She paused, moved more than she cared to admit by Clark's words. She would miss him; she would miss his gentle humour, his habit of bringing coffee to her in the morning, the way he always ensured that she got her favourite doughnut from the office selection, the quiet but insistent protective stance he adopted when they were in a potentially dangerous situation - even his irritating habit of editing her copy.
Swallowing in an attempt to hide the emotion she was beginning to feel, she turned to read the final paragraph.
"I can't tell you here the real reason I'm leaving, Lois - it's not something I'd want to put in writing. But I know what a brilliant investigative reporter you are, and I think you'll be able to work it out for yourself. All I ask is that you keep it to yourself - if I ever want to make all this stuff public, I promise you can have the exclusive.
"Goodbye, Lois. It's been a privilege to know you.
Lois swallowed again, the tears closer this time than she'd imagined. She was really going to miss him.
Taking a gulp of her coffee in an attempt to calm herself down, she reached for the other piece of paper, wondering what it could be. Was it some sort of clue to the reason for Clark's departure, this mysterious thing he'd lied to her about? She unfolded it to see that it was another letter; puzzled, she glanced down at the signature.
*Clark* had a letter for her from Superman? But how?
She began to read.
"You were there this afternoon; you know that I have no choice but to leave. But I'm afraid that after what has happened here Superman is unlikely to be welcomed anywhere else, so I can't let you know where I am going or what I will be doing there.
"I wanted to say goodbye to you properly, not in front of the city's press. You were the first reporter to talk to me, and your coverage set the tone for everyone else. If you had chosen to portray me as a dangerous alien, then I would not have had the welcome in Metropolis which I have had. You have also been a good friend, and I value that, more than I can say. Your own life has been put in danger a couple of times by people who wished to cause me harm, and I deeply regret that.
"I know you have been trying to find out what else might have been causing the heatwave, and for that I thank you. But, please, if you want to do something for me, let it drop now. Focus your energies and your talents on other things.
"For the brief duration of my stay in Metropolis, I have been proud to call you my friend.
"Goodbye, Lois. It has been a privilege to know you.
Lois had given up trying to control her emotions by now, and the tears were flowing freely. Ignoring the amazed stares of colleagues, she seized a bundle of tissues and blew her nose loudly, wiping away tears at the same time. Superman's letter had been so beautiful… she would treasure it for ever.
How could she cope with losing the two of them at the same time?
But Jimmy came hurrying up to her desk at that point, disturbing her thoughts. Hurriedly sweeping both letters into her desk drawer, Lois focused on what he had to say.
"We've been looking at all these maps," Jimmy exclaimed breathlessly, "and trying to find out what other correlations there could be as well as Superman, and then we saw it!"
"Saw *what*?" Lois objected.
"*This*!" Jimmy pointed. "That dot there - that's where the heat is most intense. It's underground. And Superman hasn't been anywhere near there!"
"So what's above that dot?" Lois demanded, excited herself now. Superman was in the clear - and they might have found out what was really causing the heat.
Jimmy pointed to another map. Lexcorp Nuclear Plant.
Lois frowned. "But that plant isn't operational yet."
Jimmy considered for a moment. "Could be a slow leak out of the reactor core."
But Lois had remembered something else. Grabbing hold of Jimmy's arm, she said urgently, "They're due to go on-line this afternoon. What happens when they throw the switch?"
Jimmy grimaced. "It could send a surge of neutrons straight into the ground and then it won't matter how hot it is any more."
Lois jumped to her feet, about to race out of the building to go straight across to City Hall and the environmental protection department. But although this was important, something else was more important. She collected together the maps.
"Jimmy, you and Torrens need to get over to City Hall. Don't talk to Mayor Berkowitz - he's totally convinced the Lexcorp plant is just what this city needs. Talk to his deputy or someone else with authority. Get them to see that the plant can't go live, and that the leak needs to be found and made safe."
Jimmy stared at her. "Don't you want to do it, Lois? It's one hell of a story."
"Yes, Jimmy," she agreed with him. "And you should get a great headline and an impressive by-line with it too."
He stepped backwards, as if in shock. "You're *giving* me the story?"
She smiled at him, knowing he wouldn't understand. "I have a partner to find."
On the flight to Kansas Lois wondered yet again why she'd chosen to go after Clark rather than Superman. On one level it was easy to rationalise. After all, she didn't even know where to start looking for Superman, and once the news broke about the leak at the nuclear plant being responsible for the heat he would probably come back anyway. Assuming he felt welcome and wanted, that was. And if Lois had anything to do with it the Daily Planet would make sure that Superman knew he was wanted.
But Lois could have been at the forefront of that call to Superman. She could have got Perry to call a press conference, at which she could have gone public herself with the information about the nuclear plant. She could have called on Superman to come home. Then not only would she have gained public credit for the story, but she could also have earned Superman's gratitude for making him welcome again.
But instead she had chosen to hand over the story to Jimmy and, presumably, Perry, who would edit it to ensure that it was up to the high standard expected of the Planet. She had done that so that she could chase off to Smallville to find Clark.
He had to be there, she thought. Despite the fact that he'd admitted the fact that there was no job at the Smallville Post, where else would he be? She knew how close he was to his parents, after all; it had only been a couple of weeks since she had been in Smallville with him. She had seen - and envied - the real love and closeness between the three Kents.
Clark hadn't physically resembled his parents, she'd thought, other than being tall like his father. Of course, that was a merely superficial factor. Even when Martha had shown her some photographs of Clark as a boy, in which his parents had, of course, also been younger, there hadn't been much of a family resemblance. Still, family members didn't necessarily always look like each other. Nevertheless, Clark and his parents had presented a far more credible image of a happy family than the Lanes ever had. She had envied Clark that.
So, if he was hurting, or running away, where else would he go but home?
At Wichita airport, she had to queue at the car rental counter, getting increasingly impatient as the irritating person at the head of the queue couldn't find his driving licence and then had his credit card bounce so he had to pay with another card. Finally she was on the interstate heading towards Smallville, trying to remember the route Clark had taken only a couple of weeks ago. Events in Metropolis were still occupying her mind, though, and she managed to find a news-based radio station. Half an hour later. the announcer finally switched from local stories to national news, and Lois heard with relief that Jimmy had done it. The opening of the Lexcorp Nuclear Plant had been cancelled, and the environmental protection people were now investigating the plant.
There was no news of Superman, however. Apparently Mayor Berkowitz had made a public appeal for the Man of Steel to return, and had apologised on behalf of Metropolis for laying the blame for the heatwave on him. But so far there had been no sightings of Superman at all. Lois grimaced as she heard that; she couldn't really blame the guy. He'd given so much to Metropolis, he had made his home there, after all. And then to be rejected so thoroughly as he had been; it would be completely understandable if he *did* take up one of the offers his agent kept getting from other cities.
She hoped he didn't, however. She would miss him enormously. And his letter had suggested that he might miss her too…
But Superman wasn't the most important issue right now, she reminded herself. Clark was. Once she saw Clark, and got him to come back to Metropolis with her, then she could - or they could, since Clark seemed to be closer to Superman than she had realised - work on finding the Man of Steel and getting him back too.
And what had Clark meant by his statement that he had lied to her, and that she should be able to work out his reason for leaving? Lois was still none the wiser about that, though she had studied his letter again on the plane. Perhaps Martha would be able to help.
"Lois! What are you doing here?" Martha Kent exclaimed, hurrying down from the porch to greet her unexpected visitor. "I heard a car, and thought it might be Connie, one of our neighbours - she wanted some fresh eggs. But I never expected… what am I saying? Come inside! You must be tired!"
With that, Lois was swept into the Kent farmhouse; glancing around, it didn't seem to have changed since her previous visit. She was looking for evidence of Clark's presence, however, and the shrewd woman beside her observed that.
"Lois? Is there something you're looking for?" Martha enquired gently.
Embarrassed to have been caught staring, Lois flushed and replied rather incoherently, "No… er, that is, um, I was wondering, well… um, you must be wondering why I'm here…"
Martha smiled warmly, giving Lois a brief hug. "Not at all - we told you before, you're very welcome whenever you want to visit. Now come into the kitchen and have something to eat. Jonathan will be in for his lunch any minute, and I know he'll be delighted to see you."
Watching Martha as she bustled around the kitchen, Lois felt like a spare part; Clark's mother had certainly made her very welcome, but she was aware that she still had to explain why she was there. And so far there was no sign of Clark, though she supposed that he was helping his father out in the fields or the barn somewhere. Although Martha had only mentioned *Jonathan* in the context of lunch.
Shortly afterwards, Jonathan did indeed come in, and after the greetings had been dispensed with and Martha had served lunch, Lois finally managed to ask her burning question.
"Martha - is Clark here?"
Both elder Kents regarded her with open interest. "Is that why you came, Lois?" Martha's voice was excited, as if she was delighted that Lois had come looking for her son.
"Yeah - well, he's left Metropolis, you see, and I thought he'd be here," she explained, a little awkwardly.
Jonathan shook his head. "No, Clark said he didn't want to come back here. He was going to start again somewhere else."
"Where?" Lois demanded. It wasn't too late to drive back to Wichita and get on a plane to wherever…
But Jonathan shook his head. "He wasn't sure himself, Lois. He told us he'd call once he was settled."
Martha leaned across the table to Lois. "Why did you want to see him, honey?"
Lois swallowed; this was the question she wasn't even sure she could answer herself. Raising her gaze to meet the clear, uncomplicated expression on Martha's face, she decided to be honest. "I'm not really sure, Martha. I only knew once I'd read his letter that I had to talk to him, see if I could persuade him to change his mind. I want him to come back to Metropolis."
"Why?" The question was asked in a straightforward, non-judgemental manner, and Lois knew she had to try to answer it honestly.
She inhaled deeply; it would take courage to admit this. "Because I only realised after he'd gone just how much he meant to me."
Martha reached across and took Lois's hand in hers. "What does Clark mean to you, honey?"
Lois blinked; this was getting too intense for her. She was definitely not used to explaining, putting into words, her feelings for anyone; it was easier to bury her emotions under her hard-bitten career woman exterior that it was to admit that she cared about people. But somehow, in the couple of months she had known him, Clark Kent had managed to slip under that exterior.
Martha noticed Lois's discomfort and silently signalled for Jonathan to get back out to the barn. Once they were alone she poured Lois another coffee and sat back down beside the younger woman. "It's hard, isn't it, to admit how you feel about someone?"
Lois's eyes widened. "How do you know?"
Martha's eyes twinkled. "Oh, honey, I've been around a very long time. And I know my son - he doesn't hide his feelings very well, and I could see how much he cared for you long before he brought you here. And even underneath your awkwardness and your teasing of him, it was obvious that you cared for him too."
Now feeling miserable again, Lois nodded. "Yeah. I do. But now he's gone, and I don't know where. Or even if I'll ever see him again!"
Martha smiled sympathetically. "Of course you'll see him again, sweetie. I promise you that as soon as Jonathan and I hear from him we'll tell him to get in contact with you."
Lois grimaced. "Only if he wants to."
"And do you really think he won't?" Martha asked her incredulously. "You said he'd left you a letter, so you must have some idea how he feels about you."
Brushing away an unwelcome tear, Lois muttered, "He said he'd miss me. That he'd considered me a friend."
"He still does, honey!" Martha exclaimed. "I can promise you that. He cares about you more than you could imagine, Lois. It really cut him up to have to leave Metropolis. Jonathan and I wanted to bring him home with us, but he wouldn't come. I think he just wanted to go somewhere alone and lick his wounds."
Lick his wounds? Exactly what was going on? Lois was more confused than ever. But she was determined to find out what was going on. "Martha, exactly why did Clark leave Metropolis? You know, he told Perry that he'd been offered the Editorship of the Smallville Post, but in his letter to me he told me that wasn't true."
"He did?" Martha now seemed intrigued. "What else did he tell you?"
Lois dug out Clark's letter from her bag and showed it to Martha. "Martha, what does he mean, he's lied to me since he met me?"
Clark's mother frowned briefly as she read the letter, but when she passed it back to Lois her eyes were twinkling again. "Lois, I'm not sure this is my business to tell you - even if I knew what Clark was talking about. But he says that you should be able to work it out for yourself, so maybe you should think about any clues he might have left for you, or that you might find in his behaviour." She paused briefly, then continued more seriously, "And I know this isn't my place to say to you either, but perhaps you should think about why you want to know. Is it just to satisfy your curiosity? Because if so, that might not be what Clark needs."
Lois hesitated, frowning as she tried to think. After a moment, she reached into her bag again. "This was in the same envelope - I thought at first it might have something to do with what Clark wouldn't tell me, but it turned out to be a letter from Superman." She paused, then added, "I did wonder why Clark had a letter for me from Superman."
Martha merely smiled, adding, "I have a lot of respect for your intellect, Lois. Maybe you just need to think about things for a while." Standing up, she added, "I need to get on with a few things, but you're very welcome to stay for as long as you want." She paused on her way out of the kitchen. "If you'd like to talk some more later, honey, you just come and find me."
Left alone in the kitchen, Lois smoothed the two letters out in front of her again and mused on Martha's words to her. It was clear that Martha knew more than she was letting on, but it was equally clear that the older woman had no intention of saying any more than she had already done.
So Lois should think about any clues that Clark might have left, should she? Or that might be apparent from his behaviour… She began to puzzle over Clark's behaviour during his final day at the Planet. She hadn't actually seen all that much of him, not since the evening before when she had gone over to his apartment with food for him and Superman. Clark hadn't seemed especially pleased to see her, but she had put that down to his usual jealousy when Superman appeared on the scene. He really seemed to resent the fact that she considered Superman a friend.
No, that wasn't true, Lois conceded. Clark was upset that she was *interested* in Superman - romantically interested. Which was silly, really, because even she knew that she was never going to get anywhere with Superman. Why would he be interested in her? He hadn't exactly encouraged her, although he had told her that she would always be special to him. And he usually seemed to be very concerned about her whenever he saved her life. That letter, as well… Superman had made it clear that he cared about her. But as a friend, of course.
So really, Clark hadn't had any real reason to be jealous. Yet he clearly had been that evening; once Superman had appeared he had stayed out of the way, and had then rushed off to cover the threatened rail disaster without waiting for her. And the next day she hadn't seen him at all; he had called in sick, though later she'd discovered that he'd managed to make it down to the courthouse to cover Superman's surrender and agreement to leave Metropolis. The next time she'd seen him had been late at night, when he'd simply announced he was leaving.
So… what clues could Martha be referring to? Clark was jealous of her feelings for Superman. He had kissed her just before he'd left. If she put those two things together, did it mean…?
Surely not! she told herself impatiently. <Okay, maybe Clark has a little crush on me, but that's nothing. It doesn't mean anything…> And that couldn't possibly be why he'd left, she assured herself.
And anyway, didn't he know that Superman was also leaving? Of course he did! He'd written the article for the Planet about Superman at the court; he'd written it as a sort of valedictory for the Super-hero.
So, given that he knew Superman was out of the way, if he *did* have a crush on Lois why would that make him leave? It didn't make sense.
Lois tried to focus on working out what else she knew which might present a clue, but instead Martha's other remark floated back into her mind. 'You should think about why you want to know. Is it just to satisfy your curiosity?' the older woman had cautioned. She had added that, if this was Lois's reason, then it might not be in Clark's best interests for Lois to find out whatever it was he was hiding or had lied to her about.
Why did she want to know? Come to think of it, why had she flown more than a thousand miles from Metropolis, just to find Clark and get him to come back?
Okay, she missed him. *Missed* him? Lois Lane, who never wanted a partner, *missed* Clark Kent, the hack from Smallville? Clark had said something similar, she remembered. Just before he'd given her the letter, as she'd been trying to persuade him to stay he'd told her that she didn't need a partner and never had done. She had told him that she *wanted* one.
Yes, she wanted a partner now. She wanted *Clark* as her partner. She'd become accustomed to him in the few months he'd been at the Planet; his writing style did seem to complement hers, and he had a talent for investigative work. There were times when she just didn't know how he did it, but he came up with the goods. That farmboy from Kansas sometimes seemed to be able to find a needle in a haystack!
So she would miss him as a partner. But, strangely enough, she would also miss him as a friend. Those few days in Smallville with him had shown her that. She had seen a side of him she'd never glimpsed before; a more relaxed, natural Clark, who was more confident and sure of himself. He had been on home territory, after all, while she had been the visitor. She smiled slightly as she remembered that evening they'd spent together at the Corn Festival, putting work aside for a while. She had asked him to dance, and they'd had a great time doing the line dancing routines together. He had turned out to be a great guy to spend time with; no pressures, no fending off unwanted attentions, just relaxing, laughing and having fun.
Then, the next day, when she had arrived at the farmhouse just in time to see Trask pulling a gun on Clark, she had been frozen to the spot with cold dread. She had managed to alert him with a warning shout, but it had only been Sheriff Harris's swift response which had saved Clark's life. And Lois had been so relieved; even more relieved, she realised, than when she'd discovered that Superman had survived the missile which Trask had aimed at him several weeks earlier.
She sat back in her chair as it dawned on her that she would have been devastated had Clark been killed. She had revealed her feelings to him in that moment when, overcome by reaction, they had hugged and she had caressed his face, holding him close to her. He had touched his forehead briefly to hers before Martha, untied by Jimmy, had hurried up to urge Clark into the house to get into some dry clothes. Lois had then stood alone for a few moments, not realising that she too was shaking until Jonathan Kent had come to lead her inside.
Involuntarily, her hand lifted to run itself shakily through her hair. Yes, she cared for Clark. Martha had been right; but it was very hard for Lois to admit that. She knew why, of course; no need for her to spend a fortune on therapists just to be told that her inability to admit to her feelings was due to her previous history with relationships, both family and lovers. Everyone she had loved or trusted had let her down. So why should she care about anyone else? What reason was there to trust anyone?
But somehow she had come to have feelings for Clark, although she usually did a great job of covering it up with barbed remarks and flippant quips. Martha had realised that; she hadn't had to be told why Lois had come to Smallville looking for her son. But what Martha had also understood was that Lois herself needed to accept her reasons for needing Clark. *That* explained her request that Lois examine her motives for discovering the nature of Clark's deception.
Lois sat back in her chair as the implications of that discovery sank in.
In the barn Jonathan was busy sharpening farm implements; he looked up and smiled warmly as Martha approached him. Laying down his scythe, he asked, "How's Lois doing?"
"I left her to do some thinking about why she came looking for Clark," his wife explained.
"Do you think we should contact Clark?" Jonathan suggested.
But Martha shook her head. "Not yet - we can call him a little later, if Lois is as honest with herself as I hope she will be. Otherwise, maybe not at all."
Jonathan leaned against the barn wall, frowning. "Yes, I think you're right, dear. Our boy's suffered enough and if he has to start over somewhere else we don't want him getting upset by seeing Lois again."
Martha hurried to correct him. "I never got a chance to tell you, but I heard on the radio just before Lois arrived. They found out that it wasn't Clark causing the heatwave in Metropolis after all - it was some nuclear plant which had sprung a leak." She shook her head in disbelief, then added, "Actually, the reporter said it was some newspaper journalists who'd worked it out - I must ask Lois if it was her. Seems they're calling for Superman to come back now."
Furious, Jonathan exclaimed, "And they hounded our boy out of town! Well, he should just keep on going - start over again somewhere else. Metropolis doesn't deserve him, and he should tell them so."
But Martha laughed. "Jonathan, you know very well that Clark won't do that. His heart's in Metropolis now."
Both Kents turned their gaze towards the house, both well aware that most of their adopted son's fondness for Metropolis was connected with the young woman presently sitting in their kitchen.
Lois's brain hurt. She had been sitting and thinking for almost two hours; she had admitted to herself that her feelings for Clark went a lot deeper than she had previously acknowledged. It was something which was almost indefinable, she thought. Yes, he was a close and dear friend, someone on whom she had come to rely. But he was more than that; how else could she explain her jealousy when she'd thought he was really interested in Toni Taylor or Rachel Harris? How could she explain the fact that when they'd kissed on board Trask's plane - however much of a diversion it had been - that kiss had awakened something in her?
She didn't just care about him as a friend; she was also attracted to him.
Before, though, she had buried that attraction somewhere deep inside, and she now admitted that this was because she'd been afraid. If she'd allowed herself to act on that attraction, and it had all gone wrong for some reason, she would have lost a good friend as well as a potential lover; much safer to submerge her emotions and focus on the friendship.
Although she had to be honest and admit that she hadn't actually done very much to build their friendship either. Clark had done almost all the work in that direction; she had been happy to take his friendship, accept the little things he did for her - she had even come to expect that he would be there for her, without offering much in return. Take this latest development: Lois acknowledged guiltily that she had not been much of a friend to Clark if he hadn't felt he could talk to her about the reason why he'd felt he had to quit the Planet and Metropolis. Hell, she hadn't even noticed that there was anything wrong. Some friend she had been! And yet she was well aware that had the situation been reversed Clark would have noticed, and would have been doing his best to help her.
<If I get another chance, I'll be the best friend I can be to him> she promised herself suddenly. Then she paused; if she really meant what she was telling herself about taking risks, not shutting herself off forever as a result of what had happened in the past, she ought to offer Clark more than friendship. She knew he was attracted to her. It was time - assuming that she got the chance - to do something about it.
Assuming she got the chance…
So, how could she get Clark to come back to Metropolis? First, she thought, she had to figure out why he'd left in the first place.
Which brought her back to the beginning of the circle again. Her head hurt.
Her hands smoothed over the two letters again; suddenly the feel of the paper under her fingers caused her to take a second look. Both were written on the same type of paper - from the same writing pad, she would have guessed. She looked a little closer: both had been written using the same pen. The ink was exactly the same colour on both, and the thickness of the strokes was identical.
Okay, she reasoned; so Superman came over to Clark's place to say goodbye before leaving Metropolis; Clark was writing his goodbye letter at the time, so Superman decided to write one as well, using Clark's paper and pen. Plausible enough.
But something made her study the letters more closely. There was something strange about Superman's handwriting, and she lifted the page to study it. That was it! - the formation of some of the letters made it clear that the writer had used his left hand.
But was Superman left-handed? Lois couldn't remember ever having seen him write anything, but she *had* seen him lift or catch things. She concentrated on remembering; she was as sure as she could be that he'd always used his right hand if only using one hand. Surely a left-hander would use their left hand for a primary grip?
Unless Superman was ambidextrous… on the other hand, it occurred to Lois then that the writer could have written with his left hand in order to disguise his handwriting.
But why would Superman want to disguise his handwriting? Because… because he was worried that it might be recognised otherwise. But recognised as whose?
Something made her glance at Clark's letter again. The final phrase caught her attention. 'Goodbye, Lois. It's been a privilege to know you.'
With a shocked gasp, she grabbed Superman's letter. The final phrase of that read: 'Goodbye, Lois. It has been a privilege to know you.'
The same phrase, except that Superman had written 'it has' instead of 'it's'. The same paper. The same pen. And… yes, the same character formation on some of the letters - Clark's 'E's for some reason were quite distinctive, and the 'E's on both letters were shaped almost identically.
So the answer was suddenly clear: Clark had written both letters, but had disguised his handwriting on the second.
But why had Clark written her a letter, pretending it came from Superman? To make her feel better that Superman hadn't said goodbye?
<Oh, stop being stupid, Lois!> she told herself angrily, no longer willing to ignore the truth: the truth which had probably been staring her in the face for some time. <The answer's obvious!> And that was why Clark had told her that she would be able to figure it out; he had left her the clues in the letters. He'd been confident that she would see what he hadn't been able to tell her outright: that he was Superman.
And, of course, that explained exactly why Clark had been forced to leave Metropolis. If Superman had to go, of *course* Clark couldn't stay, especially since Clark had actually believed that Superman's use of his powers was causing the abnormal weather conditions.
But… Lois jumped to her feet as she realised the implication of this discovery. She'd managed to prove that the heatwave had nothing to do with Superman, so Clark could come back! He probably knew about it already - for all she knew, Superman might already have returned to Metropolis.
She began to calculate how long it would take her to get back to Metropolis, envisaging rushing over to Clark's place and announcing that she knew his secret. But a further thought made her hesitate. She had just, before making this momentous discovery about her partner, come to a decision about the future of their relationship and what she intended to do about it. If she went straight to Clark and announced that she knew he and Superman were one and the same, and immediately afterwards asked him out, he would naturally be suspicious as to her motives.
So perhaps it would be best to say nothing. Perhaps he would prefer it that way, anyway, she rationalised. After all, he hadn't said anything to her about it so far; not even a hint in all those times when she had made it clear to Superman that she was interested. Or all the times when she'd ignored Clark's interest in her. Maybe he would prefer her to carry on the pretence that he was two separate people; perhaps he didn't trust her to keep the secret, or was afraid that she would give him away by careless behaviour.
Was she angry that he hadn't told her? Strangely enough, she realised that she wasn't. He hardly knew her, after all. And she hadn't exactly been the best friend he could have had; she'd just acknowledged that. There had been no reason why he should have confided in her, and in any case she had never invited any confidences from him. So, no, she had no right to be angry.
And it was perfectly easy to see why he'd needed to keep his real identity secret… or was Clark his real identity and Superman the disguise? Actually, Lois realised, it made more sense for it to be the latter. Superman had only appeared for the first time the day the Messenger had gone up. Clark, on the other hand, was an adult male of twenty-seven. And since his parents had shown her photographs spanning his youth from childhood to late adolescence, it was clear that Clark Kent had been around a lot longer than had Superman.
<One day, Clark Kent, you are going to tell me the whole story> Lois resolved. <Not necessarily for publication - but because I want to know>
Martha was feeding the chickens when she realised that she was no longer alone. Glancing around, she saw Lois moving hesitantly in her direction; she gave the younger woman a welcoming smile and invited her to join in the task.
Several minutes later, Lois broke the companionable silence. "Thanks for giving me the time alone, Martha. I think I understand a lot more now."
Martha smiled. "About yourself or about Clark, honey?"
Wondering yet again just how Clark's mother had come to be so wise, Lois nodded. "Both, I guess. And if Clark ever does come back to Metropolis, or if I get to see him again, I know I'll behave a lot differently."
"I'm sure you'll see him again, honey," Martha assured her. "He cares about you a lot, and I know it really cut him up to have to leave."
<To leave Metropolis, or to leave… me?> Lois wondered, almost but not quite daring to hope. But she smiled back at Martha. "I should probably get on my way. But when Clark calls you, would you tell him I'd love to hear from him?"
"Oh, you don't have to rush away," Martha brushed aside Lois's protests. "You'll stay to dinner, surely."
"Well…" Lois ducked her head awkwardly; she was torn between wanting to get back to Metropolis in case Clark, as himself or in his guise as Superman, had already returned, and wanting to stay so that she could learn more about this incredible man who was her partner and could be, if she let him, the best friend she had ever had; possibly more.
Martha seemed to understand her indecision, for she suggested that Lois go and clean up in their bathroom, and then decide whether to stay or go. It was a pretty good way of postponing the decision for a few minutes, so Lois took Martha's advice and went back into the house.
She didn't see Martha hurrying off to the barn, removing a cellphone from her apron pocket at the same time.
"Lois, do you mind if I leave you on your own for a minute or two?" Martha enquired about fifteen minutes later as she had just handed the younger woman another cup of coffee.
"Um, no, not at all. I mean, I realise you must have loads to do, and I'm in the… Well, I really should be going," Lois apologised, feeling out of place suddenly as she realised that she was preventing Martha from getting on with her usual chores.
"No, not at all, Lois. It's lovely to see you, and you'll always be welcome here whatever your relationship with Clark." Martha came to stand beside Lois, placing a hand warmly on her arm. "Now, I must just go out to talk to Jonathan for a moment. You just sit and take it easy."
Martha hurried out, and Lois sat back down at the table, cupping her coffee in her hands as she again tried to work out her strategy as regards Clark - always assuming that he did decide to come back to Metropolis. It was always possible that Superman would simply decide not to return after the way he'd been asked to leave.
The door creaked open behind her; was Martha back already? She didn't look up immediately, and so she was completely taken aback to hear a familiar male voice address her.
"Lois? What… what on earth are you doing here?"
"Clark!" Lois jumped to her feet and almost rushed towards him, then hesitated, remembering that she was not only in the company of her partner, but of the man who was also Superman. Clark seemed all at once so familiar and so strange.
But he didn't hesitate; he strode towards her, saying, "It's so good to see you! But here… in Smallville?"
"I… came to look for you," she whispered uncertainly.
He stared. He looked so normal, so Clark; standing there in his jeans and soft cotton shirt, his hair a little unruly and that light in his eyes which told her that he was delighted to see her. She made a tiny move towards him, and that was enough. A bare second later, she was in his arms, being hugged warmly.
"You came to find me?" he asked her incredulously a few minutes later.
"Yeah. I thought you'd be here for sure, even though you told me there was no Smallville Post job. And when I came and your parents said you weren't here, and they didn't know where you were, I was… I didn't know what to do or where to start looking," she explained, completely overwhelmed by the warmth of his gaze, the mute emotion in his eyes.
His voice, when he spoke again, was husky. "Why, Lois? I… I mean, I thought you were totally wrapped up in working on the heatwave thing?"
"I was," she told him. "And it's over - we know it wasn't Superman!" she hastened to assure him, in case he didn't already know. "But I left Jimmy in charge - I just felt that finding you was more important."
He gazed at her, his stunned expression revealing how much her confession meant to him. "Lois - you walked away from saving Superman to come after me?" His voice was little more than a whisper.
She nodded. "Yeah, that's pretty much what happened." Except, of course, that she hadn't realised that in saving Superman she would also have been saving Clark.
"Lois…" He trailed off, as if he'd lost the courage to say what had been on his mind. But his eyes were still sending a very clear message to her; he wasn't just pleased to see her because she was his partner. He was amazed and deeply moved that she'd come in search of him, and - apparently - very touched that she had put him before Superman.
One of them had to make the first move here, and Lois was aware that, given her previous treatment of Clark, it would have to be her. He was still holding her loosely; she reached up with her hand and caressed his face. Her voice was soft, hesitant, and more nervous than she could ever remember feeling before. "Clark… I came because I realised that I didn't want to lose you. I don't mean just as a partner, or even just as a friend. I… want… well, I need you to know that I care about you."
He touched his forehead to hers briefly. "Lois, I care about you too. Very much."
"Yeah. I knew that," she acknowledged. "I… oh God, this is so hard. Clark, I… I need to know if you're going to come back to Metropolis?"
He hesitated for a moment; Lois, watching, wondered whether he was trying to figure out how to explain his departure, since it was pretty obvious from his demeanour that he didn't think she had worked it out. Then he smiled, his expression suddenly decisive. "Yeah, I'm coming back. I had some things I needed to work out, but I think they're all sorted out now. As long as Perry will take me back, of course - I mean, he might not after the way I walked out on him…"
"I'm glad, Clark," she told him. "And of course Perry will give you your job back - if he doesn't I'll threaten to walk out too!" Then, reaching up, she planted a kiss firmly on his cheek. He brought his own hand up and slid it along her jaw and into her hair, holding it there for a long moment.
"Thanks for coming, Lois," he whispered. "I had no idea you were here - I just got here… um, back from town, and Mom told me I had a visitor… it's really great to see you."
<Just got back from town?> Lois thought sardonically; <your excuses are going to have to improve if you're going to keep up this double life, Kent! I've already told you your parents told me you weren't here and they didn't know where you were!> But she didn't pick him up on it, deciding for the time being to say nothing about knowing he was Superman. She smiled warmly at him instead. "I had to come, Clark - someone had to knock some sense into you! I need my partner back…" Remembering her promise to be more honest, she added, "I needed my best friend."
For that statement, she received another warm hug; as he released her, she laughed and told him, "I can see I'll have to come after you more often, if this is the reward I get!"
He grinned. "You like me hugging you?"
"Yeah," she assured him. "You're just the right height for me - my head fits into the hollow of your shoulder. And you're strong enough that I feel you could sweep me right off my feet if you wanted."
He laughed at that, then swooped on her and scooped her up into his arms. "Come on - Mom and Dad are outside, and I just know they're being diplomatic, waiting until they're sure we've talked." He strode towards the screen door, her weight clearly not bothering him at all. Of course it wouldn't, Lois knew, given his Super-powers, though she couldn't help wondering whether he was being a little careless. Wouldn't he normally pretend that she was a little heavy, or make a joke of it? Perhaps his behaviour suggested that he did trust her, and was therefore not so concerned with covering up in front of her.
Outside in the yard, the two elder Kents were conferring closely about something, but they stopped abruptly and stared at the unexpected sight of their son with Lois in his arms. As he approached them, Clark lowered Lois to her feet and stood close beside her with his arm around her shoulders.
"Mom, Dad, I'm going to go back to Metropolis," he announced.
Martha laughed. "We thought you might, honey. Did Lois persuade you?"
Lois shot Clark a glance; how would he answer that? But he shrugged slightly. "Sort of, though things had already changed before I spoke to her."
"Well, it was very good of Lois to come all the way here to talk to you," Jonathan commented. "Are you two going to travel back together?"
Was it Lois's imagination, she wondered, or was there a decided twinkle in Jonathan's eye as he asked Clark that question? Of course Clark wouldn't fly the traditional way; he could presumably be back in Metropolis within minutes. Whereas she would have several hours on a plane, and that would come after the drive back to Wichita airport.
But Clark avoided the question. "Let's discuss that over dinner."
Clark insisted on accompanying Lois back to Wichita; when she threw him a questioning look he insisted that he could catch the Greyhound back and that he wanted another chance to talk to her. Lois, knowing full well that he had no need of public transport in order to get back to Smallville, accepted his escort for her journey, half-hoping that he might decide to tell her the truth about himself.
As she said her goodbyes to Clark's parents, Martha hugged Lois tightly and murmured, for Lois's ears only, "He'll tell you himself when he's ready, I'm sure." Lois shot Martha a puzzled glance: how did Clark's mother know that she knew about Clark's secret? But then Clark was urging her out to the car, and all she could do was, behind Clark's back, mime that she would call Martha soon.
In the car, Clark asked for more details of the nuclear reactor leak; it transpired that he had heard that it had been the real cause of the heatwave, but knew no more than that. Lois filled him in on the details, also adding that she'd spoken to Perry a couple of times since leaving for Smallville. "I told him the Planet should lead with a call for a public apology to Superman from Lex Luthor, since the mayor has already apologised on behalf of the city."
"Luthor? I thought he was a friend of yours," Clark pointed out softly.
Lois shrugged. "I'm not sure if Lex Luthor's the sort of person who is anyone's 'friend'," she commented thoughtfully. "Oh, sure, he's been charming to me on a couple of occasions, and he happened to be in the right place at the right time to save me from Mencken - "
"When Superman couldn't get there in time," Clark muttered.
Lois shot him a glance; was he feeling guilty, or jealous, that he hadn't been the one to rescue her on that occasion? "Yes, but Superman was pretty busy then. And… you know, I've been wondering just how Lex came to be there anyway. Like how he also just happened to be at the Metro Club talking to Toni Taylor at the time the Toasters were burning down half of Riverview." She paused as she concentrated on negotiating a junction. "Luthor didn't get to be the third richest man in the world by being nice to people. I know you don't like him, Clark - why is that?"
She glanced over at him; his mouth tightened, but his response was brief. "I just don't trust him, Lois. Problem is, I have nothing concrete to base that on. I'm just pretty sure that he's behind some nasty stuff."
"Okay, well, your hunch is good enough for me," Lois told him, enjoying the look of shock she received in response. "You're my partner; I trust your judgement. Look, I know Perry's going to have lots of stuff for us, but how about we start investigating Luthor once you get back? I know it'll take a while, but imagine the headlines if we did expose him! That'd get us a Pulitzer for sure!"
Clark laughed, a genuine expression of mirth and joy. "Lois, I think it's a great idea, though you know it could be dangerous. I really want you to promise me you'll be careful," he urged. "But, you know, what really makes me smile is that you talked about *us*, you and me, winning a Pulitzer. Before, it's always been you."
Lois smiled at him. "We're a team now, Clark."
As Lois turned the car into the hire company's parking lot, she glanced at Clark again. "When are you coming home?"
She didn't miss the way his face lit up at the way she'd phrased her question. "Tomorrow. As early as I can - I have to pack a few things here first. But I'll definitely see you at the Planet tomorrow."
She drove into a parking space and cut the engine. "I'll look forward to it, partner."
"Me too," he replied softly. "Come on, partner, you have a plane to catch."
He crossed to her side as they exited the car, and touched her arm lightly. "Lois, I won't come to the airport with you - I really should be getting back. But…" He hesitated, his gaze seeming to search for something in her face.
She stepped closer to him. "Clark - I'm really glad you're coming back. There's so much I want for us… I promise you that I'll be more appreciative of you from now on."
He shook his head, the flash of his white teeth indicating, in the dimming light, that he was smiling. "Lois, I don't want your… appreciation."
"Clark…" She hesitated, wanting more from him, some gesture which would acknowledge that their relationship had altered. He seemed to realise, for his hands came to rest lightly on her shoulders and he dipped his head. Their lips met, briefly but warmly, in an affectionate kiss with a hint of passion, which spoke of promises for the future, other such kisses which might be shared between them.
Clark stepped back then and raised his hand in a brief salute. "See you tomorrow, Lois," he murmured huskily, then walked briskly away towards the bus station.
Lois, left alone, began to walk towards the hire company's reception to return the keys and take the courtesy bus back to the airport. As she did, she reflected on the state of her relationship with Clark. That kiss might not have been the most passionate she had ever received, but for the first time she felt that she had *shared* in a kiss with someone, rather than being the taker, or having a kiss taken from her. Perhaps her relationship with Clark was about to alter irrevocably… and, to her amazement, she was looking forward to the prospect. Not that she wasn't also terrified, afraid that it might all go horribly wrong and that she would lose him entirely; but for the first time, she trusted him - and herself - enough to take the chance.
All that she needed now was to work out a way of letting him know that she knew he was Superman; it was important, if they were thinking of embarking on a relationship, that there were no more secrets between them.
"Need a ride?"
At the sound of the deep voice, Lois spun around. A tall figure dressed in blue and red Spandex, arms crossed in front of his chest, stood in front of her.
What was Clark up to now, she wondered. But she played along. "Superman? What are you doing here?"
"I heard you were here, and I thought you might like me to fly you back to Metropolis."
Lois frowned, still playing along. "But I have my air ticket, Superman."
"But I could have you back in about fifteen minutes, instead of a few hours," he replied persuasively. He glanced around; a few people were walking across the parking lot towards them. "If you want to come, we should get going."
"Okay then. It's very kind of you to offer, Superman," she told him.
Shaking his head, he stepped forward and lifted her into his arms preparatory to taking off. "Not at all, Lois. And I owe you a few favours anyway, after you cleared my name today."
She decided to tease him a little. "You do? Then could you do something else for me, Superman?"
"Of course, if I can," he assured her as he drifted upwards. "What is it - an exclusive interview about my return to Metropolis?"
"You are coming back, then?" she queried. He nodded, a movement she felt rather than saw since the light was now so poor. "Well, an interview would be great, of course. But what I wanted was to ask you if you'd help Clark move back to Metropolis. He's coming back tomorrow, and I thought… well, he'd do it a lot quicker if you'd help." She just hadn't been able to resist that, she thought, wishing that it wasn't so dark. She would have loved to be able to see the expression on Clark's face as he thought his way out of that one.
But he recovered quickly, saying briefly that he'd be glad to help. The noise of the wind rushing past made further conversation impossible, and he shifted his grasp on her to tuck her more closely against his chest, protecting her against the worst of the breeze.
All too soon, for she had been enjoying both the flight and the sensation of being held so closely against Clark's chest, he was setting her down just outside her apartment building. He stood back and wished her goodnight, drifting upwards again as she hurried up the steps into the building.
<Goodnight again, Clark> she thought as she let herself into her apartment.
The following morning, the newsroom staff's collective stares were drawn to the large picture window as a very welcome sight met their eyes. It was snowing. The weather had returned to normal.
Lois smiled with pleasure as she watched; the Lexcorp plant was now completely sealed off and was in the process of being dismantled. Superman himself had visited the site very early that morning, conferring with the clean-up people before flying off to rescue a couple whose car had run off the road up in the mountains.
Perry's voice broke through her contemplation. "Snow on the ground. Superman in the sky. Everything's right with the world."
Jimmy glanced pointedly over at Clark's empty desk. Perry, noticing, added wryly, "Almost everything."
A solitary figure strolled down the ramp. "Uh, Chief?"
"CK!" Jimmy exclaimed delightedly. Lois smiled at her partner; he flashed her a quick smile in return before turning to Perry.
The Planet's editor faced Clark, his tone gruff. "Everything. So, Kent, I heard you were doing some early spring cleaning night before last." As Clark tried to interrupt, Perry continued, Well, in case you hadn't noticed, it's winter out there. Now put these things back on your desk and get to work. Lois needs help on the nuclear plant follow-up."
Clark grinned, clearly relieved. "Thanks, Chief." He moved to place the box with his personal belongings on the desk before turning to Lois.
Lois, noticing that Perry, Jimmy and Cat, to say nothing of a few other newsroom staff members, were watching this little reunion with barely disguised interest, raised her finger and beckoned Clark. "Get over here, Kent."
"Um, Lois…?" He frowned uncertainly as he walked towards her.
"I think you've got some explaining to do, Kent," she told him sternly. "Like why you walked out on me… and what you're going to do to make up for it."
He came closer still. "Um… I can do all the research for the follow-up?" he suggested.
Standing up, she reached out and grabbed his tie, tugging him down towards her. "That might do for starters. But I need a down-payment too…" To loud cheers and cat-calls, she reached up and kissed him in full view of their colleagues. As she drew away, she felt a secret sense of satisfaction at the shock on Cat's face.
"We can talk about us later, Clark," Lois murmured as she drew his attention to the papers and notes on her desk. "Right now, we need to get to work…"
Much later, Lois leaned back in her chair and stretched. Noticing her movement, Clark glanced at his watch and then called across to her, "Ready to call it a night, partner? Can I walk you home?"
She smiled warmly at him. "I was going to insist on it, Clark. Want to get some takeout and eat at my place?"
"Sure," he agreed. "I want to talk to you anyway."
He did? She wondered what was on his mind: was he going to ask her for a date? Or perhaps he could even be planning to confide in her. Pulling on her coat, she moved to stand beside his desk and waited as he shut down his computer.
As they exited the Planet building, Lois shivered. "I can't believe two days ago it was ninety-five degrees, and now it's nearly freezing! Why did I leave my car at home today?" she grumbled.
Clark laughed softly, wrapping his arm securely around her shoulders. "I'll keep you warm," he offered.
She snuggled into him, enjoying the feeling of being held close to his warm masculine body. He did have a magnificent physique; the Suit made that perfectly obvious. One of these days she would have to ask him exactly why he wore such a revealing costume.
Clark kept up a cheerful conversation about the progress of their stories during their walk home, but as they neared Lois's apartment he spoke again, in a very different tone of voice. "Lois… I said there's something I want to talk to you about. I know I owe you an explanation for what's happened over the past couple of days, including why I left town. Maybe… well, would you mind if we talked first? We can eat later, if you still want to by then."
Lois's heart skipped a beat; was he going to tell her the truth? She led the way into her apartment, quickly making coffee to give herself a little time as she thought of how best to handle this. Should she just tell him that she knew? Or let him confess?
He drew her to one of the sofas, sitting in the opposite corner and turning to face her. His voice was low but very sincere, his gaze holding hers as he spoke. "Lois, you've been very patient and asked me very few questions about everything. But I know you must be curious, and anyway you deserve an explanation. And I think that if we're going to be… well, if you want our relationship to be closer, like I hope you do… well, you need to know the truth."
Suddenly she knew what to do. She would make it easy for him. Reaching across and bridging the gap between them, she gently removed his glasses. "It's okay, Clark, I figured it out."
He didn't stop her, allowing her to place the glasses down on the coffee-table; as she turned to face him again, his brown eyes stared solemnly at her from Superman's face. Superman's face; Clark's hair and clothes. And Clark's nervousness, she quickly realised.
She placed a hand on his arm. "It's okay, Clark, I'm not mad and I won't tell anyone either."
He nodded. "Thanks - I appreciate that. So how did you figure it out?"
<Come on, Clark!> she thought, amused. "You told me you thought I'd be able to work it out for myself, if you remember."
His eyes widened. "My letter?"
She grinned at him. "*Both* letters."
"Ah." He had the grace to look abashed. "You realised I'd written both of them?"
She moved a little closer to him, slipping her hand into his larger one. "Not immediately - in fact, not until about an hour before I saw you yesterday afternoon." And that, she thought, told him that when she'd travelled to Smallville she had thought she was choosing Clark over Superman. She studied his reaction, the raised eyebrow and rueful grin. "Anyway, you did intend me to work it out, didn't you? Otherwise why would you have left the clues for me? The same paper and pen, the same phrase in both letters, the obviously disguised handwriting in Superman's?"
He smiled back at her, clearly relieved that his confession was unnecessary. "Yeah, I hoped you would. When I left, I really thought I wouldn't see you again and I thought you deserved to know the truth. Who Superman really was, and why Clark Kent had to leave. So - yeah, I wrote both letters, leaving enough clues that I thought you'd eventually work it out. Never thought you'd do it so quickly, though."
Lois grinned, reaching up to tap him on the nose. "That just shows you that you should never underestimate Lois Lane."
"No, I shouldn't," he agreed. "So… when I left you at the parking lot, and then came back two minutes later as Superman you knew it was me?"
She nodded, her eyes dancing. "Yup."
"And when you asked me to help… um, me, to move back to Metropolis…?" He trailed off, Lois having dissolved into giggles in front of him.
"Yeah, I was just winding you up. I couldn't resist it," she admitted, then squealed in protest as he began to tickle her.
"I'll have to teach you that it's not advisable to wind Superman up!" he growled at her, before collapsing with laughter himself.
A few minutes later, Lois saw Clark's expression grow serious again and he reached out to take her by the shoulders. "Are you sure you don't mind?" he asked her.
"Mind what? That you're Superman, or that you never told me?"
He smiled wryly. "Both, probably. I mean, you did think I was two people, and you probably said things to Superman you wouldn't have if you'd known…"
Lois pondered the question for a moment, but then faced him with a level gaze. She had already faced this question herself yesterday, and she knew the answer. "No, Clark, I don't mind. I understand why you had to keep it a secret, and that means it had to be a secret from everyone. Including me - you had no idea whether I'd rush off and print the story if I knew."
He studied her thoughtfully. "No, that hasn't been a reason - not for some time, anyway. I know I can trust you, Lois." He hesitated, then seemed to decide that honesty was called for. "I guess, in the beginning, I thought that might be your first reaction. But after a while, especially after you gave me the courage to carry on being Superman when Luthor was testing me, I knew you wouldn't rush to expose me if you knew."
Enjoying the knowledge that Clark had trusted her, Lois was puzzled by his last remark. "Luthor was *testing* you? What was that all about?"
She listened in amazement as Clark described the incidents which had required his powers, one after the other, which had put people's lives at risk for the sole purpose of allowing Lex Luthor to discover just how fast, how strong, how invulnerable Superman was. "*That's* why Superman wasn't seen for several days?" she queried in astonishment.
"Yep," Clark nodded agreement. "I'd even put the Suit away - I decided that I couldn't take the risk that Luthor would carry on his 'tests' and that people might die because I couldn't make it in time. But then we talked that night in the newsroom - you said that what mattered was the *idea* of Superman, that he gave people hope. So even if I couldn't always get there in time, it didn't matter. And I realised that you were right, and I started again."
Lois stared at Clark in amazement, recalling the conversation he described. "I remember that! And all the time… my God! I was talking to Superman and I never even knew it!"
"You were. And Superman was very grateful for your wisdom. Grateful enough to have tried to warn you to ignore that envelope I'd had sent to you apartment," Clark added ruefully.
The envelope… Lois remembered *that* as well. The anonymous letter which had contained a map purporting to show the location of Superman's spaceship. Her breath caught in her throat: *Superman* had set her up! She turned her gaze slowly to Clark, intending to give him a piece of her mind, but she noticed the apprehension in his expression, and paused. Then his mouth twitched, and she was unable to help herself. She laughed aloud.
"Oh, Lois! I'll never forget you limping in with a broken heel and your clothes filthy and stinking!" he exclaimed through his laughter. She threatened to hit him; he caught her wrist lightly and shook his head. "I really wouldn't advise it, Lois - you'd hurt yourself." His gaze holding hers, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. "I really admired your courage that day, you know. Anyone else I know would have slunk off home to get washed and changed, and wouldn't ever have mentioned it. You had the courage to face everyone in the newsroom, and to admit publicly that I'd bested you."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Don't expect me to do that again, Farmboy."
He smiled back, but then his expression changed, and she noticed something in his gaze which she'd seen before on occasions when she'd glanced up from her desk to find him watching her. That expression told her that there was one very important topic which they hadn't yet discussed; a subject which, she had promised herself, she would talk about with him at the earliest opportunity.
This was the perfect opportunity; but suddenly Lois felt reluctant to broach the subject. She realised that it had nothing to do with her feelings for Clark; she cared about him very much, and given that she was also attracted to him there wasn't any reason why they *shouldn't* move their relationship on. But the old fears started to hit her again: what if he let her down? What if she told him she loved him, and he rejected her? What if he turned out to be just using her?
But this is *Clark,* she reminded herself. And Superman - neither of them would behave like that. But as much as she tried to convince herself, her inner fears would not allow her to say the words to Clark which would indicate that her feelings for him had changed. She got up from the couch and began to fuss with the coffee-cups.
Clark stood as well, taking her hands in his and removing the cups. Suddenly his solid form became a blur, which moved to the kitchen. There was the sound of running water, and then the blur was beside her again. As it coalesced into Clark once more, he murmured wryly, "That's one less distraction for you, for now."
Pretending she didn't know what he was talking about, Lois protested at his attempt to get her to join him on the couch again. "Clark… we really should order the food. It's getting late, and by the time it gets here…"
He took her hand firmly in his. "Lois, when we want to eat I can get us takeout from anywhere in the world that you want. *And* have it back here quicker than any local delivery. Please, sit and talk to me."
She allowed him to draw her down beside him, and nervously raised her gaze to meet his deep brown eyes. He hadn't replaced his glasses since she had taken them off, and the deep emotion she saw in his gaze almost overwhelmed her. "Clark… I'm not sure…" she began, but he forestalled her by placing his finger lightly across her lips.
"Lois, I know this is hard, but we do need to talk. When I realised you'd come to Smallville looking for me, I knew we both had to stop pretending we felt nothing for each other. You must know how I feel about you - but I need to know how you feel too." He continued to gaze at her, his expression earnest.
Lois smiled wryly. "I know, Clark. I just… I'm not sure how I feel."
"Then why did you kiss me this morning, in front of everyone in the newsroom?" he asked gently.
"Why did you kiss me at the car rental lot last night?" she retorted, then added, "This morning… I don't know. It was kind of an impulse - I overheard Cat making a bet with Ralph that I'd probably just rip up at you for walking out instead of welcoming you back. So I decided to call her bluff."
He smiled. "I'm glad you did. And for the record, I kissed you last night because I wanted to. And I thought that maybe you might want me to as well."
Lois felt an involuntary tear prick in the corner of her eye. She swallowed. "Yes, I wanted you to. But Clark, I'm… oh, I'm not just teasing you or anything like that. I'm just… scared."
He shifted closer to her, and she felt his arm go around her, encouraging her to lean back and relax into the comfortable haven of his broad chest and shoulders. "I know you're scared, Lois. I'm scared too," he whispered.
"You?" She turned her head and stared at him in amazement. "But… you're Superman!"
He nodded. "And you think Superman's never scared? Sure, I can lift a space shuttle with my bare hand. But I've never told a woman that I love her before now."
Lois's breath caught in her throat. Was Clark telling *her* that he loved her? "Clark… I'm not sure that I'm ready…"
"Hey," he whispered. "I'm not putting any pressure on you here. I know we've only known each other a couple of months. All I know is that you are very special to me, and I'd love it if you were my girlfriend. But I'm prepared to wait, and leave our relationship undefined - just as long as I know that you're prepared to think about it, at least."
She lay back in his arms, remaining silent for a few moments. Clark was so different to any other man she'd encountered before: anyone else she'd dated had wanted to move things as quickly as possible onwards, and she'd ended a number of relationships after the second or third date because the man made it clear that he expected sex as soon as possible. Yet Clark was prepared to wait until she was ready.
"Um… what do you mean by 'undefined', Clark?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I mean, not defined. Like now - we're friends. Partners. And we might be on the threshold of dating. You know how I feel about you, and I have no interest in getting involved with anyone else. But we won't take it any further until you're ready."
She studied him through narrowed eyes. "And by taking it further, you mean… going to bed together?"
He looked visibly shocked at her question. "Lois… of course not! Well…" He flushed suddenly, and Lois could barely believe she was seeing it. This was really her farmboy Clark, not Superman. But he continued, "That might come later - or not. All I meant by 'taking it further' was dating, going steady."
"Oh," Lois replied in a small voice. She felt wrong-footed, but also very reassured. Clark definitely wasn't like Claude; he wanted more from her than sex and a swift way up the career ladder. She felt that she owed Clark an explanation.
Shifting away from him to sit cross-legged on the sofa facing him, she said quietly, "I need to tell you a few things."
He nodded, giving her an understanding smile. "I'm listening - I've got all night if you want it."
"Unless someone calls 'Help, Superman!'" she retorted with a dry smile. Taking a deep breath, she continued, "Remember I told you about the guy who stole my story?"
"The one you worked with?"
Nodding, Lois continued, "Well, he was pretty much the last in a long line of federal disasters. I haven't had very good taste in men up until now - and I criticise Lucy's choice of boyfriends! There was a guy in college who dumped me for my best friend, and someone shortly after who, I finally realised, had just asked me out because he had a bet as to how long it would take him to get me into bed. I guess I just stopped trusting my own judgement in men, and stopped believing that there were any decent men left out there."
Clark hadn't taken his eyes off her during this recitation, and somehow she found his silent regard comforting. He reached out with his right hand, and it was only when he brushed away the moisture from her cheek that she realised she'd been crying. She gave a little sob, and then suddenly she was cradled on his lap, being held tightly against him.
Resting his chin on top of her head, he murmured softly, "I know I can easily tell you I'm a decent man, that I won't dump you or anything like that, but you've just got to learn to trust me for yourself. And I know that's not going to happen overnight. I'm prepared to wait, Lois."
She tilted her head back to look at him. "I know I can trust you, Clark. But I have to learn to trust myself, and that's what's so hard."
He brushed her hair back with his hand before replying. "I trust you. And I think you're a very special, very wonderful woman." He paused, then continued in a soft voice, "When you told me, a few weeks ago, about how your father treated you, I wanted to make it all up to you somehow, to show you what a worthwhile person you are just the way you are."
He was right, Lois realised: she did have a tendency to see herself as worthless; even now, so many years on from her childhood, her father's opinion of her still clouded her own feeling of self-worth. Clark had seen that; she remembered the sympathy in his gaze that night at the Planet when she had told him just why she didn't get on with her father. And she remembered the supportive hand on her back after the conversation with Sam Lane which had represented their first step towards rebuilding the damaged father-daughter relationship.
But *Clark* didn't see her as worthless; she remembered his husky-voiced comments to her when they'd been tied up together in Toni Baines' warehouse. He had told her that he thought she was very special, and a brilliant journalist. He had meant it, too.
And Clark himself was special. Not just because of what he could do, but because of himself. He was the kindest, most sensitive and thoughtful man she had ever known. She had seen him perform acts of kindness and generosity, both as himself and as Superman. He would never needlessly or deliberately hurt someone, she instinctively knew that. Even as she thought about it, she remembered times when he had come to her just to ensure that she wasn't upset about something: telling her, as Superman, that he didn't need to bid for his attention, or… yes, coming to sit with her as Clark to cheer her up after he'd seen she was upset at failing to buy the date with Superman. Now that she thought about it, she realised that Clark hadn't even been supposed to be there. He had turned up because she needed comfort. He'd been an even better friend to her than she had realised.
And there was something else: as she sat and studied Clark, saw the depth of his feeling for her which was written clearly in his eyes, she realised that he wanted her own happiness perhaps even more than his own. She swallowed; that took some getting used to. She had never before had anyone who cared about her that much; not even her parents, who had always seemed to be too wrapped up in their own concerns to pay much attention to their daughters.
Clark was different. And suddenly the thought of taking a chance on a relationship with him was no longer so scary as it had been.
She reached out to touch his hand. "Clark… if this doesn't work out, promise me you'll always be my friend?"
He swallowed, and replied huskily, "Always. Even after you no longer want me to."
She made a movement in his direction, and he reached for her again. A moment later, she was being cradled on his lap again, and he was kissing her. Not like the kiss at the car rental lot; this one was deep and passionate and long.
As she came up for air a little later she gazed up at him again, seeing again his feelings for her evident from his expression. "Clark," she said hesitantly.
"Yes, Lois?" His voice was soft, inviting.
"I… I can't say it… the 'L' word… I want to, but…."
"Hey, I know," he reassured her gently. "It's too soon for you. It's okay. I told you, I'll wait as long as it takes."
And he would, she realised. Her dear Clark… her dear Superman. Whether it took a week, a month, a year, he would be there waiting for her. Loving her… and teaching her how to love in return.
She reached up to kiss him again, and as his arms closed more tightly around her she knew that one day she would be able to tell him that she loved him. And, for the first time in her life, she would mean it.