Submitted August 1999
Summary: A gem of a "what if" story where Lois gets the opportunity to really learn what being a superhero is all about. Plus lots of warm moments and fun lovey-dovey stuff that no one does better than Lois and Clark.
This is one of those fun "what if" stories. What if Ultra Woman took place *before* Lois knew the secret? I think that's all you need to know for background in this one ;) It is also what I call a 'request fic' in that someone requested that I write this story. That person is Adrienne, AKA "aev". I also have to thank Debra Berg for writing me an e-mail almost three years ago involving "stigma".
Lois was tired. She tossed her purse and jacket into a chair and then stared at her fish tank.
"What's happening to me?" she asked the disinterested occupants of the aquarium. "Why am I thinking about Clark in *that* way so much lately?" She placed her hands on the glass. "You've got it *so* easy. No feelings. Just instinct. You don't have to worry if you've lost your mind paying a hundred bucks for a dress in hopes some fish you swim around with will notice and maybe start thinking of you as more than just a friend."
Lois rubbed her eyes. "I paid full price for that dress! Oh, God," she moaned as she walked away from the aquarium. "Clark has me screaming at fish."
Lois shook her head and stretched out on the sofa.
"It was the Christmas dinner," she assured herself. "I'm just putting way too much meaning into that. It could have been pity…yeah, it was probably pity." She kicked off her shoes. "Not like I need pity, of course, but Clark sees the world from the watchtower at Fantasy Island." She turned on her side. "He was being a friend…my best friend," she yawned. "It's better this way. Lovers can't be trusted. They use you, and then they dump you."
"Of course," she said thoughtfully. "I can't imagine Clark being like that. I'm sure if he made love to me—" Lois stopped and sat up abruptly. "If he made love to me?! Enough of that!" she said, trying to banish all thoughts back to the forbidden zone. In short order she put her train of thought on another track, took a shower, and went to bed.
The ocean rushed beneath Lois. The sparkle on its surface was almost painful to the eye. She lifted her gaze and noticed she was rapidly approaching a beautiful little island. The cacophony of tropical birds chattering stopped abruptly at the sound of a bell clanging. Lois spotted Jimmy enthusiastically pulling a bell rope. The moment he caught a glimpse of her he pointed up into the sky. "The Lane! The Lane!" He shouted.
Clark, dressed in a suit almost as white as the sand, stepped out of a hacienda style building that sported the Daily Planet logo. He looked quite handsome, Lois thought, as she drew nearer. However, that very thought confused and upset her. She began to lose altitude rapidly. "Look out, Clark!" She shouted, but he just stood there.
Moments before the impact, Clark pulled Superman's cape from behind his back and held it to the side of his body in perfect imitation of a matador brandishing a muleta. As Lois came within inches of the cape, Clark deftly swept it aside.
"Ole!" Jimmy shouted from the tower.
As Lois tumbled across the sand, an annoying buzzing sound intruded. Jimmy, Clark and the beautiful island all began to fade away. Soon there was only blackness and the buzzing sound. Lois swatted the alarm clock and staggered out of bed.
Lois plodded wearily into the news room. Her eyelids felt like sandpaper and her tongue felt as if it had been coated in library paste.
"Good morning, Lois," Clark greeted her brightly.
"If you say so," she yawned.
"Good morning, Clark," he said, filling in for Lois' absent response. He smiled. "Rough night?"
"I…tossed and turned a lot, I guess."
Clark pulled his hand from behind his back, producing a cup of coffee. "Tum ta dum." He grinned as he employed his homemade fanfare accompaniment.
Lois gratefully accepted. "I owe you my firstborn."
"Only if I can help in the manufacture."
Lois turned her head and looked at Clark. Less than a year ago she would have judged his comment to be laden with lewd innuendo, but after she'd gotten to know Clark better, she'd come to realize he was incapable of that. He was like a kitten hiding inside a lion.
"In your dreams," she smiled.
"Always," he laughed.
She raised the cup to her partner. "Thanks," she said, her voice a touch gravelly from the drowsiness.
Clark's whole body seemed to react to Lois' lowered defenses. The lack of sleep had given her a soft vulnerability and her heavy-lidded eyes looked incredibly sexy. Though Lois was correct about Clark not being the least bit lewd or crude, he was undeniably attracted to her, and sometimes he found that impossible to hide. He leaned down slightly and touched his cup to hers.
"You're welcome," he said, his own voice lowering in response. As his eyes locked with hers, he wondered how long he'd be granted the magic moment. Unfortunately he didn't have to wait long for the answer.
"Lois! Clark!" Perry shouted, and then just pointed to his office.
Lois, dragged out of a spell she hadn't even realized she'd been drawn into, exited her chair.
"Finally," she said as they headed for Perry's office. "An assignment to wake me up!"
"Because it's *boring*, Clark," Lois said as she paid the cab driver.
"Lois, these are minerals and gemstones from all over the world. Some will be displayed for the first time anywhere right here in Metropolis."
"Clark, please. You might raise my heart rate to a dangerous level."
"Suit yourself." Clark smiled as he opened the door. "But being angry over an assignment won't make it go away."
"Angry? I'm not angry about this assignment, Clark. If you must know, I *resent* this assignment."
"Resent it?" Clark asked as he watched Lois struggle to seat her purse strap properly on her shoulder and wondered if the chip she carried there was getting in the way.
"Yes, *resent*, if it's any of your business," she said, the pleasantness from earlier in the morning all but gone. "Why send the Planet's top reporter … uh … reporters to a glorified rock hound convention?" Lois flashed her press pass at the sign-in desk. "We work the city desk, Clark."
"For what it's worth, Lois," Clark said, clipping his pass to his pocket. "This exhibition *is* in the city."
"Droll, Clark. I'm sure that quick wit came in handy at the "Name That Weevil" contest in Smallville."
Clark was about to respond when a short bald man, oblivious to where he was going, bumped into Lois, causing the press-kit folder and its contents to scatter to the floor.
"Ignoramus," she muttered as she and Clark began retrieving the pages.
"Exceptional rock identification skills," the man commented as they rose from the floor.
Lois raised her eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
The man held out two rather unattractive stones. "You were correct — these are in fact igneous. Picked them up from a lava flow in Hawaii."
Clark tipped his head to the side and looked at Lois. "Did you say 'igneous,' Lois?"
"Go…hug a rock, Clark."
Clark laughed through his teeth as he moved away from Lois and the rock hound.
He approached a long table laden with stones, quartz, geodes, all in an eye-catching display. Oddly, however, the further he moved down the table, the more he felt his enthusiasm waning. He stopped in front of a large red stone and just stared at it. The longer he stared, the more disinterested he became…in everything.
"Unless that's the world's biggest ruby, Clark, you're wasting a lot of time staring at it," Lois said, finally catching up to her errant partner.
"You're right, Lois," Clark sighed. "This *is* a waste of time." He turned and faced her. "You're also right about it being boring. Wanna take in a movie?"
"What? No! I do not want to take in a movie. We're on assignment, Clark!"
"Ah, but you said you resented the assignment. I agree, so let's just…get out of here," he shrugged.
Lois hooked her arm through Clark's and began ushering him through the door into the adjoining display room. "If this is what passes for Kansas sarcasm, you're way out of your league."
Clark yawned. "Whatever you say, Lois."
As the two of them moved along the display, Lois taking notes, Clark alternately yawning and sighing, the distant strains of the "Star Wars" theme could be heard.
Clark smiled. "Finally, something interesting."
He handed her the press-kit. "The laser light show - it's starting in the other room."
Lois looked at the page. "I am not going to sit through some hackneyed … Clark?" She looked up in time to see Clark hurry back through the other door. "God," she whispered. "It's like keeping up with a three-year-old."
She walked into the room squinting into the darkness. She found Clark standing in the front row. Jamming the press-kit into her purse, she weaved her way through the throng of enthusiasts.
"Why do they always play the "Star Wars" theme at laser light shows?" she commented offhandedly.
"Because it's not boring," Clark said, and then stepped directly in front of Lois. "Check it out."
Lois put her hands on Clark's back and tried to push. "I'd love to, but something's blocking my view," she said, and craned her head awkwardly around his arm so she could see.
At that moment the red rock that had so disenchanted Clark was struck with a random blast of laser light. A red beam issued from it, striking him in the chest. There was a momentary sensation of warmth and the apathy that had plagued him earlier vanished. He was just about to make comment about the sensation to Lois when he heard her moan behind him. He spun around just in time to catch her as she was collapsing.
After a couple of seconds her eyes opened. "Wh..what happened?"
"You fainted. Are you all right?"
"Fainted?" she asked, still sounding disoriented. "I'm fine. I guess skipping breakfast caught up with me."
"Look, why don't you go get something to eat? I'll finish up taking notes here, then we can meet back at the Planet in an hour."
Lois started to protest, but she was still feeling a bit out of it. "Okay, thanks, Clark," she said and left through the main convention exit.
She walked down the steps feeling better in the fresh air.
"Taxi!" she called.
As the vehicle pulled up, she reached for the door only to have the handle snap off in her hand. Lois leaned into the front window and dropped the handle on the seat.
"It must be an omen, warning me not to ride with a Metro cabby," she said, and headed off down the sidewalk, leaving the stunned cab driver behind.
She decided to walk. It was a nice, almost spring-like day. She could smell the pretzels and mustard even though she was more than two blocks from Centennial Park. Everything looked, sounded, and smelled so vivid that Lois wondered if she was suffering some weird high concocted by a combination of sugar drop in her bloodstream and happiness at leaving the abysmal assignment behind.
How strange, she thought as she neared the park. Clark had wanted to leave the exhibit, play hooky, just have some fun, but she had protested. Why? Well, it *was* an assignment, she reassured herself, and good or bad, it was their job to cover it…still, what would have been wrong with taking in a movie with Clark? They had notes, an overview, the press-kit, more than enough to cover a story of this kind. Besides, she was still having those…feelings for Clark.
Lois shrugged off the dangerous thoughts as she entered the park. She knew she should be hungry, but the fact that she didn't *feel* the least bit hungry bothered her a little. Regardless, she bought a large soft pretzel and coated it in mustard.
"Mm," she cooed after taking a bite. It did nothing to increase her absent appetite, but her sense of taste did seem to be heightened. Unfortunately that wasn't all that was heightened. She lifted her head. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" the vendor replied as he placed more pretzels in the warmer.
"Someone calling for help."
The man listened a moment. "Nope."
"Are you deaf? There it goes again," Lois said, and began moving off in the direction of the sound.
The vendor sniffed the mustard dispenser and shrugged. "Why are the good-looking ones crazy?"
Lois continued, almost in a trance as she followed the sound. All around her the park visitors seemed as unaware of the cry for help as the vendor had been. Her quest took her down to the oriental gardens near the southernmost limit of the park. So much of the bridgework and walkway area were under repair in anticipation of the summer festival that it was nearly deserted, but still the cry for help persisted.
Lois concentrated in the direction of the cry and was startled to see a young boy trapped behind a grating under one of the crumbling bridges. She moved toward the frightened boy only to have his image disappear. But she could still hear him. She shook her head and continued walking. Was she seeing visions?
The toe of her shoe caught in a small hole causing her foot to fall through. She cursed under her breath and pulled her leg out. She could hear the boy more clearly now. It was obvious that this had been where he had fallen through. It was equally obvious that she could not fit.
She continued down the face of the sculpted ground, and there it was - the grating from her "vision."
"Help! I'm here!" the child cried.
"It's okay, sweetheart," Lois soothed. "I'll get help."
"No! Don't leave me!" the boy wailed.
His desperation cut into Lois' heart. "I can't get you out by myself. I'll need help." Help, she thought, and then smiled. "Help! Superman!"
The boy rushed to the grating and stared through the slats expectantly, the tears cutting through the grime and dust on his face.
Lois looked up into the sky, but there was no sign of Superman. "I'm sorry, he must be too far away. I promise I won't be gone more than five minutes." This only caused the boy to weep bitterly.
"Sweetie," Lois sighed. "I'm sorry, but these bars are strong, I can't…"
She stood in astonished silence as the entire grating easily pulled away in her hands. She stared at it a moment and then dropped it, refocusing her attention on the child. She stretched her arms out to him.
Still sobbing, the boy quickly crawled through the newly created exit. Lois helped him out, and though he was about eight years old, it was as if he weighed next to nothing. She easily held him at eye level as he reached out his arms to hug her neck.
Lois rubbed his back and started walking up towards the more populated area of the park, whispering comforts to him. She had reached the outer perimeter of the picnic area when she spotted a frantic, teary-eyed woman talking to a policeman.
The boy turned his head in the direction of the commotion. "Mommy!" he shouted, displaying a toothless grin. Lois put the boy down and watched him run to his mother, who was also running towards her son, happy tears streaming down her face.
Clark tucked the note pad into his pocket and hurried down the steps to the street. He was ready to cobble together the article, but he was still concerned about Lois' fainting spell. He decided he'd take the "super " route back to the Daily Planet.
He ducked into the alley, spun, and … nothing. Clark looked down. To his dismay, he was still dressed in his suit and tie. Within seconds he realized he didn't have any of his powers. Panic washed over him. He had lost his powers before, but only as a direct result from exposure to Kryptonite. This time, though, nothing. No pain, no dizziness, just … no powers.
He debated a moment whether to go to his apartment instead of the Planet, but aside from phoning his parents and letting them know what had happened, there was nothing else he could accomplish there. Besides, he did have the assignment to piece into something cohesive by the time Lois returned, and if she didn't find him there, she would track him down at his apartment anyway. A scolding from Lois as well as questions he would face from Perry were things he didn't need right now. Opting for the Planet, Clark hailed a cab that was missing a door handle and returned to work.
Clark felt out of phase with himself. His mind was used to working with a body that could do some extraordinary things, so now it seemed there was a lag from command to execution. He had learned to slow his typing to a realistic pace, but his thoughts and actions were not firing in proper sequence. He had been capable of reading very fast and comprehending what he read at that speed. That was gone as well, and he began to realize just how much his super self had made his life different, even on a mundane level, from those around him. The whole thing was disconcerting.
"Something the matter, son?" Perry asked as he passed Clark's desk.
"Huh? No, no, Chief, I just … I'm having a little trouble getting in gear here."
"Well, I know it isn't the world's most exciting story, but it's usually Lois who has trouble getting in gear with that kind of … where is Lois, by the way?"
"She wasn't feeling well, Chief. I think it's because she skipped breakfast. I told her to go out and get something to eat."
Perry chuckled. "More like covering a rock exhibit made her sick." He patted Clark on the back and headed for his office.
Clark sighed with relief. He hated looking so incompetent in front of Perry, and it was taking longer than he'd thought to get used to doing this the "human" way. When he'd lost his powers before, he at least didn't have to fumble with a computer at the Planet in front of his boss.
His phone rang and he sighed again. How did Lois handle all of this without superpowers? Speak of the devil, he smiled to himself when he heard her voice on the other end of the line.
"Hi, Lois. Ditching our assignment?"
"Clark." Her voice sounded strained. "Can you get hold of Superman?"
Clark's heart started to pound. "Are you in trouble?"
"Yes … no … I don't know!" There was a long exasperated sigh on the other end of the receiver. "Quit playing "20 Questions" and get Superman to come to my apartment!"
"I … can't."
"*Can't*? You have something so important you can't get in touch with Superman?" she asked, sarcasm creeping into her tone. "I have a *problem*, Clark!"
"So do I, Lois. I can't get in touch with Superman." Clark sighed yet again. His exasperation level was easily matching Lois'. "He seems to be gone … somewhere … at the moment."
"I knew it. I called for help earlier and he never showed up."
"Are you all right?" he asked, and now felt more helpless than just moments earlier.
"I'm fine. A little boy was trapped in a grating in the park, and then …"
"God," Clark whispered. "Is he okay?"
"He's fine, but I really need to talk to Superman, but if you can't find him … would you please come to my apartment, Clark. I … I'm scared."
"I'm on my way," he said, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair. He hurried for the elevators and snagged Jimmy as he was exiting. "Jimmy, could you save the file I have on my screen and attach it to an e-mail and send it to Lois' home computer?"
"Sure, CK, no problem," he smiled. "You and Lois pulling an all-nighter?"
Clark fixed Jimmy with a stare that the young man had come to recognize as Clark's "don't go there" expression.
Jimmy swallowed. "Attach the file to an e-mail and send it to Lois' home computer. I'm on it," he said and was grateful when the elevator doors broke the eye contact.
Clark took a deep breath and knocked on Lois' door. As soon as the array of locks were undone, the door flew open and Lois embraced him. "I'm so glad you're here."
Clark winced. "Easy, Lois, I can't breathe." He couldn't believe he was *that* wimpy without his powers.
"Oh, God … oh, God," she said, fanning her hands as if they were wet. "I don't know how to control this!"
"Calm down, Lois," he soothed. "Control *what*?"
"Can you keep a secret?"
"Clark, just yes or no!"
He shrugged, completely befuddled. "Yes, I can keep a secret."
"I have Superman's powers!"
"I knew you wouldn't believe me," she said, and then gazed at him. "You have a pen, note pad and checkbook in your jacket pocket. You have sixty-one cents in your left pants pocket and your apartment keys in the right."
Clark immediately folded his hands in front of his trousers.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Don't flatter yourself!" she snapped. "Do you believe me, or do I have to fall out the window and break the concrete?"
Clark shook his head. "I believe you, Lois, but how…?"
"I have no idea! I swear I don't, Clark," she said, her anxiety mounting.
"We'll figure this out, Lois. It'll be okay," he said softly as he pulled her into a comforting embrace.
"Thank you," she whispered against his shoulder and then pulled back. "I can feel you."
Clark swallowed. "Sorry?"
"Your body warmth, your breath on my hair," she said and reached up and stroked his cheek. "And your skin. I didn't think Superman would be able to feel things like that. I mean his invulnerability …"
Clark reached up and wrapped his hand around hers. "Of course he feels those things, Lois," he said gently, and rather sadly, or so it seemed to Lois.
"He called it his "aura", and I … really don't know how that works," he said hesitantly. "But I know … that is, he told me … that even though he can't be physically hurt, it seems that when someone is close to him … touching him … it's like the aura—"
"Surrounds them both."
"Maybe." Clark shrugged. He really wasn't sure. "I don't think Superman even knows exactly."
"But if it's true," she said, "wouldn't someone being held by Superman be able to hurt him?"
"I hardly think Superman would hug a gunman, Lois."
"Lois, I'm as clueless on this as you are!"
Lois put her hand on Clark's chest. "It's okay, Clark," she said earnestly. "I forget sometimes that just because you're Superman's friend, it doesn't mean you know everything about him."
Clark ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Lois. I didn't mean to snap like that. I guess … this thing —"
"I know. We're both edgy, and I wouldn't have dragged you into this, Clark, if I'd been able to find Superman…" Lois' eyes widened. "Oh, God, Clark. Maybe I don't just have his powers, maybe I have *his* powers."
Clark felt lost. "Lois, I don't —"
"Don't you get it? If I have *his* powers, not just a duplication of them like Waldecker, that means he doesn't have them anymore and that's why we couldn't reach him!"
"I … I guess that's possible," Clark said, relieved Lois had figured it out.
"Where would Superman be without his powers?"
For some reason that question rubbed Clark the wrong way. "He'd still be a person, Lois. He'd just be a person without superpowers."
"What?" Lois blanked a moment on what seemed a non sequitur. "No! I don't mean philosophically! I mean *physically*! Is there some place Superman stays, and if so, could he be … stuck there without his powers?"
"Oh," Clark said, feeling a bit chagrined. "Well, yeah, I guess so."
"Great! Tell me where, and I'll go look for him."
Lois sighed in exasperation. "Quit answering my questions with a question, Clark!"
"I'm sorry, Lois, it's just that … there are several possible places Superman could be. I mean, think about it," Clark said, trying to play for time. "If you had his powers … er … if anyone had his powers, would they stay in the same place all the time if they had the whole world to choose from?"
"Well, I guess not," Lois considered. "But I always thought of Metropolis as his home. Maybe I had too domesticated a view of him."
Clark pulled the notebook from his pocket. "Look, I'll make a list of locations Superman has mentioned," he said as he began to write. "He loves Metropolis, but sometimes he likes to find a quiet place." Clark tore out the page and handed it to Lois.
Lois glanced at the list. "Clark, these places are all over the world!"
"*And* I may have his powers, but I don't know how to use them! The x-ray vision thing just happened when I was trying to find that lost boy, but I don't know how to fly or use heat vision or—"
"Okay," Clark said, raising a hand. "I do remember Superman saying the flying part was actually the easiest."
Lois folded her arms. "Clark, I've tried jumping into the air, flapping my arms, and everything else, but I *can't* fly."
Clark smiled. "It's more like walking. You don't really think about moving your legs when you're walking, and flying is the same way."
"Maybe it's like *walking* to Superman, but I can't even crawl yet."
"Look," he said softly, and placed his hands on her shoulders. "You're thinking in terms of true flight, and, well …Superman doesn't really 'fly'."
"Of course he flies, Clark," Lois sighed. "I ought to know - I've flown with him enough."
"No." Clark shook his head. "Not *true* flight. He … floats. That puts him off the ground as high as he wants to be. He reaches a certain elevation or altitude, and then it's like walking. He thinks of the direction and speed he wants to go, and he … goes there."
Lois smiled. "That's right, he does sort of just 'lift off' without having to jump."
"Just clear your thoughts, Lois, and concentrate on floating," Clark encouraged.
Lois took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She closed her eyes and concentrated. After a few moments she drifted from the floor, taking Clark with her.
Clark laughed with relief, and maybe even a touch of pride. "You did it!"
"I did it!" Lois shouted and impulsively hugged him. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he whispered.
Lois drifted them back to the floor. That foolish feeling was overtaking her again. That inexplicable desire she felt for Clark. It was also intruding at the most inopportune moment. She had Superman's powers to deal with, for crying out loud! That should override *everything* else. Yet, there it was, and maybe even heightened *because* she had Superman's powers.
"That reminds me," she said casually, as if levitating was something she did every day. "That aura thing. You know, if Superman could be hurt—"
"If he's holding someone?"
"Right," she smiled. "And also if the aura protects the other person."
Clark shrugged. "Well, that hug you gave me when I first got here felt like an anaconda. Remember?"
"Okay," she said. "Then I guess we need to experiment."
"Experiment?" Clark frowned. "Lois, I am *not* going to hug you and stab a knife in your back, if that's what you have in mind."
Lois considered his words. "Actually that sounds like most of the men I've dated. However," she said, pulling him closer, "I think something like a … hickey would be a fair but safe test."
Lois couldn't believe she had suggested that. She hadn't had a hickey since the 8th grade, but then again, she was employing a tactic for getting close to a reluctant boy that she hadn't employed since 8th grade either. Truth or dare. Make it sound like something totally unrelated to a show of affection, and it was perfectly legitimate.
Clark was stunned, obviously not believing Lois had said that either. "A *hickey*?"
"Not unless you prefer that knife thing."
"Of course not, but—"
"Or unless the idea repulses you."
"Lois—" Clark stopped himself and sighed. "All right," he said, knowing it was pointless to argue with Lois when she had her mind made up.
He had to admit that under any other set of circumstances this would be a dream come true, but now? This moment when the world was literally without Superman? Then again, Lois had no way of knowing Superman was truly out of commission, but still …
Superman. Clark's mind began to work overtime. Could Lois be practicing something she might want to try on his counterpart? She did seem intrigued that Superman could feel things as humans do … No, he chided himself, if Lois was after Superman then she would have taken that list he had handed her and gone in search of *him* and not be satisfied with practicing on "Clark." That truth was promising, even revealing.
Encouraged by this revelation and hoping his supposition had merit, Clark applied himself to the "test" with all due enthusiasm. Even if his theory had no merit whatsoever, Lois Lane was in his arms and he was placing his lips against her lovely neck. If this was to be his only shot, then he was going to make sure he did his best.
With that thought in mind, Clark began to kiss her neck. Softly at first, just tracing his lips down her neck and back up again. Even an aura couldn't conceal her body's reactions. Encouraged even further, he pulled a bit of her skin in between his teeth, and applied gentle suction. When Lois moaned in response, Clark began to breathe so heavily that only a clap of thunder could upstage him.
He reluctantly pulled his lips from her neck. "Did you feel that, Lois?" he asked, and was literally panting.
Lois, though trying not to show the impact of his kiss in her voice or face, failed. "Yes," was all she could manage to say, her own breath robbed by Clark's intensity.
Clark derived a deep satisfaction from Lois' response. Even her eyes were slightly glazed, and it pleased him to know that he, Clark Kent, had accomplished that. Feeling bold, he moved his face closer to hers.
"So, was the experiment a success?"
"Well … it … I mean—"
Clark suppressed a smile. Lois had a sweet vulnerability that she guarded so well. It touched his heart when she would reveal even a fraction of that to him, and more so this time because even superpowers couldn't protect her.
"I hope it didn't hurt."
"Um, actually … it did … a little," she said, slowly regaining composure.
"I'm sorry," Clark said, and with no warning began to bestow apologetic, sensual wet kisses over the "hurt."
Lois gasped. Her eyes rolled back and superpowers or not, her knees weakened. "Oh, Clark…"
Clark lifted his head. His eyes were now as glazed over as Lois' and he had to stop himself simply because he wanted to go further, and this wasn't the time. Not yet, and not with Lois so vulnerable.
Another man might take advantage of Lois at that moment, but Clark didn't want an "advantage." He wanted mutuality. The day in the future when he and Lois would make love for the first time, and this taste of long-denied passion convinced Clark that day *would* come, would happen when Lois was fully aware of that and not because a "kissing experiment" started burning out of control.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
Lois nodded. "Yeah. I think I got my answer."
"Good." Clark smiled.
After an awkward pause Lois patted Clark's chest. "I guess I'd better take that list and see if I can find Superman."
"I guess so," Clark said, and kept up the deep eye contact.
"Where'd I put the list?"
"Um … it's in your hand."
"Well," she said rather airily. "Thanks for being here for me."
Lois regarded Clark curiously for a moment, and then kissed his lips. Not deeply or passionately, but definitely voluntarily. "Wish me luck."
Clark returned the kiss. "Good luck."
Lois held the eye contact a moment longer. Then, in a blur, she was gone.
Clark walked over to the window and glanced up into the sky. "Wow," he whispered.
Clark sat on his sofa dressed as Superman. He'd known the list of locations he'd given Lois would keep her occupied for a while, at least long enough for him to take a cab home and change. He'd left a note in Lois' apartment explaining that he'd heard from Superman, and that he was indeed without his powers, and that both he and Superman would be waiting for her at his apartment.
After a while an all too familiar "whoosh-thud" sounded behind him. He rose from the sofa and turned.
"Oh, Superman! Thank God! I looked everywhere for you," she said as she approached him. She reached out her arms, and then pulled them back. "I better not hug you. I hugged Clark and nearly crushed him."
Clark grimaced. "I wouldn't say "crushed" exactly."
"Oh. He told you?"
"Uh … yes, Clark told me. He had to go and get … something," Clark said, blanking entirely on a reasonable excuse.
It was finally crash time. It had been too much. Lois broke down and crumpled tearfully against the hero's chest. "Superman, take the powers back now."
Clark wrapped his arms around her. "Lois, I don't know *how* to take them back. I didn't give them away," he sighed. "I have no idea how this happened. It's not like Resplendent Man. He *shared* my powers, but I never lost mine in the transference."
Lois pulled back slightly. The tears had spilled to her cheeks. "If they can be transferred to me, then they can be transferred back. The world needs you, Superman."
"The world just needs a hero, Lois," he said, brushing tears from her face with his thumb. "You can be the hero … at least until we can find a way to switch the powers back."
Lois' moist eyes widened in terror. "I *can't*, Superman!"
"Well," he smiled. "The 'man' part definitely doesn't fit."
Within seconds Lois' expression morphed from terror, to astonishment, to … anger. "Are you saying that you're nothing more than a refillable costume?"
"What? No, I—"
"That there's nothing more to your heroism than a super repertoire and a red cape?"
"That's what you made it sound like, Superman," she said, her arms defiantly folded.
"All right," Clark said, raising his hands almost in a gesture of surrender. "I do admit that being Superman is a lot more than the powers. It's why I chased Waldecker all over the place."
"You chased Resplendent Man?"
Clark nodded. "I felt he was using *my* powers for personal gain."
"I admit he was mercenary, but in that case you didn't lose your powers, Superman."
"That's not the point," Clark said flatly. "If he had invented a pill or a magic suit or anything else that duplicated my powers, fine. It would be his invention and he'd be free to do whatever he wanted with it. But," Clark said, his tone darkening. "He had *my* powers and those powers I see as a trust — an obligation, and they should only be used to reflect what Superman stands for, *regardless* of the costume or the person inside."
Lois was silent a moment. She wasn't prepared for this. She still had self-doubts and insecurities. Doubts and insecurities that had held her back one way or another her whole life.
"But I'm not a hero, Superman," she finally said, her voice rather small.
"Aren't you?" Clark asked, and swept his cape out of the way and sat on the sofa. "You've helped me be a hero from the day I met you."
Lois, bewildered, sat on the coffee table facing the sofa. "I have?"
Clark leaned forward and took both her hands in his. "Sure," he smiled. "I was kind of lost when I debuted in Metropolis. I mean I knew I wanted to help, but I didn't know if I'd be appreciated or feared. But you were the deciding vote on that issue."
"Me? But, I—"
"You may not have had superpowers, but you did have the power of the press. And," he added before Lois could interrupt, "you could have painted me as an invading threat or even a monster from outer space, but you didn't. You said I was a hero."
"But you are, Superman. Everyone can see that."
He smiled. "Everyone? Like Trask?"
"Or Lex. " Lois shrugged. "But they were … the bad guys, Superman. Everyone else knew you were good." She smiled. "I just stated the obvious in my article."
"Maybe," he said softly as he glanced down at their joined hands.
"There's no 'maybe' about it, Superman. You saved the shuttle, all those people on board—"
"Ah." Clark smiled and lifted his gaze. "The *only* reason I went to rescue the shuttle is because someone had cut through some crucial cables causing an instant halt to the countdown." His smile widened. "Now *who* was that 'someone'?"
"Oh … well .." Lois blushed.
"You were a hero, Lois."
"Now wait a minute—"
Clark rose to his feet, gently urging Lois to stand as well. "Now you'll be a *super* hero."
"I *can't do this, Superman," she pleaded. "I'm not as nice as you are, and not nearly as patient and on top of that I can't be a full-time hero like you. I have my job at the Planet—"
"Lois," he said, interrupting her string of excuses. "I'm not saying it'll be easy; it won't be, trust me. But I also know you're a good person, and you won't be able to sit still with this power knowing you can help people who need it."
"All right." Lois sighed loudly. "Should I go to Perry and tell him I have this power and need time off to—"
"No," Clark said, perhaps a bit too anxiously. "I mean you *could* do that, but I think the fewer people who know you have this power the better."
"I guess so, but the minute I save somebody, they'll recognize me, so what's the point?"
"Not if you wore a disguise."
"Oh," Lois moaned. "I was afraid you'd say something like that." She folded her arms. Some of her defiance was returning. "How am I supposed to dress as Lois Lane and … that's another thing, who am I supposed to be? Superwoman?"
Clark smiled. "Well, the name fits."
Lois shook her head. "No, maybe it's a bad idea if I'm associated to you in any way. I don't want to raise suspicions, or see gossip in the National Whisper about you having a sex change."
"Good point," Clark said, laughing softly. "Then how about … Marvel Woman or Miracle Woman?"
Lois grimaced. "No offense, Superman, but one sounds kind of like a comic book and the other sounds like a TV show my grandmother would watch on Sunday night."
"Maybe we can work on the name later. As to the costume, I think you could probably go to a costume shop and mix together a few things that might work."
"I suppose," she sighed again.
"I know it all sounds kind of overwhelming right now," Clark soothed. "But we'll find a way to get things back to normal."
"I'll be fine, Superman. I just need time to get used to the idea, I guess. Which reminds me," she added. "There are a few of these powers I haven't quite mastered, and some seem automatic, like when I heard that little boy in the park."
"Okay, we can go to the outskirts of town and practice a few things. As for the superhearing, it works on two separate levels," Clark continued. "You can attune your hearing for something specific, but be careful," he smiled. "If you're set for super- hearing and someone or something near you makes a sound, it can feel like a knife in your head."
"Great," she replied flatly.
"With the little boy, that's harder to explain." Clark thought a moment. "It's as if there's a kind of … default setting for distress calls, and you can pick those up within a specific range."
"Range? Like ultra-high frequency?"
"No, I don't mean a sonic range, I mean distance from …" Clark interrupted himself and put his hands on Lois' shoulders. "Ultra Woman!"
"Ultra Wo… oh!" Lois smiled. "I kind of like that one."
"Good, then we'll go with that for now and concentrate on getting you up to speed on the superpowers," he said and headed for the door.
Lois touched his arm. "I think you're dressed more for leaving through the window." She offered her hand.
"You've got a point," Clark said, taking her hand. He saw the self-doubt in her eyes. "We'll get though this, Lois. You've always been the bravest person I know, and that was long before you had superpowers."
"Thanks. That means a lot coming from you," she said as she walked with him to the window. "But you're the one flying with me. That makes you pretty brave too, Superman. I don't even have my learner's permit."
They both laughed as they exited Clark's apartment.
Lois felt a slight upswing in her confidence after Superman's tutoring session. Though she had missed a row of bottles with her heat vision, incinerating a defenseless tree stump instead, for the most part she'd done well, and thankfully Superman had been very supportive. While Lois had enjoyed their time together, she was actually more pleased when Clark returned later that evening and suggested they head to Smallville so that Martha could design a unique costume for "Ultra Woman".
Lois had been reluctant at first, harboring doubts about getting Clark's parents involved, but Clark had used the leisurely pace of the flight to his advantage. Somewhere over Missouri, he had convinced Lois that having his mother create the costume would avoid an "off the rack" costume from possibly being recognized and traced back to her.
The only odd moment in their entire conversation occurred when Lois asked what kind of experience his mother had making costumes. Clark had done his "stammering routine", but finally rattled off something about the great costumes she had created for him at Halloween.
It was half past ten, in Kansas anyway, when Lois slipped on her "superhero" boots. She was feeling much better about Clark's suggestion. It made sense, as did most things Clark said. At least when Lois took the time to listen. Besides, Lois liked Jonathan and Martha. They were good people and Lois envied Clark for having such sane and supportive parents. It explained a lot about him, Lois thought as she attached the teal cape to a capital U on one shoulder and W on the other.
"Not bad," she said to the mirror as she pulled the pink mask over her eyes.
Lois stepped into the living room where all three Kents had been very conspicuous by their silence since she and Clark had arrived at the farmhouse. They all rose to their feet in unison.
"Wow," Clark whispered. "Great costume."
Martha placed a hand to the side of her cheek, admiring her handiwork, and sighed.
Jonathan, his eyes slightly widened, attempted to say something. Failing that, he merely lifted a hand and gave the "okay" sign.
Lois made a slow turn. "It's a little tight."
"I know, honey," Martha said as she fussed with the cape, "but that cuts down on wind resistance."
Lois hugged Martha. "Thank you," she said and pulled back a moment. "You and Jonathan have been great about this, and Clark —" She reached out a hand and touched his shoulder. "You're the best."
Clark blushed. "You looked like you could use a friend."
"A best friend," she said softly, but noticed the silence that accompanied the 'moment' she was sharing with Clark, and so changed the subject. "It's a shame I can't tell anyone who made this costume. I guess if anyone asks, I can give Superman's answer," she smiled. "I'll just tell them my mother made … "
Lois simply stared. Her smile lingered as if the data — the *truth* — had not yet reached her face. It seemed to serve no function other than to highlight the irony of the realization. All at once Lois felt as if she had been transported back to the Messenger space shuttle to the instant little Amy Platt complimented Superman's costume. Superman's response sounded as clear in Lois' mind as it had over a year ago; "Thank you, my mother made it for me."
Why had Lois *never* followed up on that? His *mother*! The very *day* Lois had met Superman he had mentioned his mother, but for some inexplicable reason it was not until this extremely awkward moment that Lois had even given it a second thought. How many midwestern moms took "wind resistance" into account when creating a Halloween costume?
The truth was now embarrassingly clear, and Lois felt the flickering image of an old cartoon playing around the edges of her humiliation. She was Lois Fudd, tricked off a cliff by Bugs Kent! "Oh, my God," she whispered.
She quickly scanned the faces. Jonathan looked a bit wary. Martha seemed to be expressing an apology, if only facially, but Clark … Clark seemed almost as if he were in pain.
He stepped forward, stretching his hand towards her. "Lois—"
"Don't!" she snapped. "I can't—" She stopped herself and turned her head slightly. Listening.
"What is it?" Clark asked, his concern momentarily overriding the unfolding drama.
Lois fixed him with a glare. "Trouble," she said, and was gone in a teal and pink blur.
"Oh, honey," Martha said, as she approached Clark. "I'm so sorry."
Jonathan sighed. "I've seen Lois mad before, but—"
"I know, Dad," Clark interrupted. "And she's so mad now she's gone off to help someone, and I don't know where, or how much danger she's in," he said, and began to pace. "And it's sure not like she'll ask for *my* help or advice any time soon."
"She'll be all right, Clark," Martha soothed.
"In my mind, I know that, Mom. But here," Clark said, placing a hand on his chest. "I worry about her all the time."
Despite the situation, Jonathan managed a soft chuckle. "That's where we worry about *you*, son."
Martha put an arm around her husband's waist. "It's because we love you, honey, just like you love Lois. She'll calm down eventually."
Clark shook his head. "That's like saying the universe has a limited lifespan, Mom. Both statements are true, but there's no exact range limit data available."
Martha finally laughed. "Sweetie, you'll both get through this. Maybe it's better Lois knows. I have to admit I didn't like keeping secrets from her or lying to her."
"That's the part I always hated," Clark agreed. "So many times, especially lately, I've wanted to tell her," he sighed. "But something would always happen to change my mind. But now—"
"Lately?" Martha asked as she exchanged a conspiratorial glance with Jonathan.
"Oh," Clark blushed. "Well, yeah. I mean, it's strange. I've been getting this feeling since about Christmas that Lois has been kind of … warming up to me."
The blush deepened. "Maybe it's just wishful thinking, Dad," Clark said. "But there's this closeness … she …" Clark shook his head. "I guess it doesn't matter much now."
"Honey," Martha said and started ushering Jonathan towards the stairs. "Lois can't stay mad."
"That's debatable. Sometimes I think her ability to stay mad is some kind of … *gift*."
"Well, your father and I are going to bed, and you can either get some sleep—"
"Or sit down here and stew like some lovesick puppy," Jonathan added.
"I'm kinda into that 'stew like a lovesick puppy' thing right now, Dad."
Jonathan laughed and continued up the stairs. "Suit yourself, son. We Kent men are destined to suffer at the hands of devious women."
Clark looked up when he heard a sharp 'smacking' sound and saw his father rubbing his posterior. Clark smiled. Sometimes he felt that kind of teasing and love was so close with Lois, and other times, like tonight, it seemed as distant as Saturn.
Clark sat up for hours in the old glider swing waiting for Lois' return, finally falling asleep on the uncomfortable wooden bench seat. Near dawn a faint breeze stirred his hair, and he knew she was back.
He opened his eyes and groaned into a sitting position. "Lois?"
"It's me," she said, little emotion in her voice. "The *emergency* turned out to be some kids with fire crackers."
"You were gone a long time."
She was silhouetted against the gray of the coming sunrise. He could tell she was still dressed as Ultra Woman, but couldn't see her face. She removed the mask as she approached him, and then took a seat on the glider. They remained silent for a while.
"I've never seen you with stubble," she finally said.
"Stub—? Oh, yeah," he shrugged. "I'm not too smooth shaving the old-fashioned way."
"Used heat vision?"
He nodded. "Reflected off a mirror."
The light began to grow and the sky flushed with color. Lois looked down at the mask in her hands. "I guess I could shave you."
Clark leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he stared at the sunrise. "Without my aura, the heat vision would barbecue me. Not that I don't deserve it."
Lois ignored the self-reproach. "But I've been experimenting a little. It seems the heat vision has varying degrees of intensity."
Clark smiled sardonically. How odd to hear Lois theorize on the flexibility of heat vision. "True," he conceded. "But heat strong enough to burn away human hair is also strong enough to burn the skin, and I'd just as soon not have a beard-shaped sunburn."
"Okay," she sighed. "Then I'll just shave you the old-fashioned way."
Clark turned his head and looked at her. "Lois, what are you doing?"
Lois frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Lois, you know *exactly* what I mean," Clark said, rising from the bench. "You're purposely not talking about what happened earlier."
"Ah, the revelation." She smiled and rose to face him. "You want to know why I'm not screaming, yelling, condemning and threatening to expose your secret to the known universe."
Clark folded his arms. "Yeah, something like that."
"Well, as a matter of fact," Lois began, and folded her arms as well. "If that "emergency" hadn't called me away—"
"Good morning, Lois. Clark."
Lois and Clark turned and looked at Jonathan and Martha. Jonathan held up a pail. "Have to feed the chickens."
Martha held up a basket. "Have to collect the eggs."
Clark blinked a couple of times. "Need any help?"
"No, honey," Martha said casually as she followed Jonathan. "There's biscuits in the oven and preserves on the table if you and Lois are hungry."
Clark ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe this is catching. You act like nothing happened, my parents are acting like nothing happened—"
"Come on," Lois said, tugging at his sleeve. "Let's get you shaved and have some breakfast."
Clark resisted. "No offense, Lois, but until I know how you really feel about what happened, I'm not real comfortable with the idea of you holding a razor to my throat."
"Don't be ridiculous," Lois chided, and once again began tugging him towards the farmhouse. "If I wanted to kill you, I'd just freeze you, throw you into the air and let you shatter into a million pieces."
Clark swallowed. "Sounds like you've given this some thought."
"No," she said casually as they entered the door. "I've given it a *lot* of thought."
"Oh boy," Clark muttered under his breath.
They reached the bathroom and Lois indicated Clark should sit on the toilet. He grimaced, but complied. He found the whole thing surreal. He was in the home he had grown up in, sitting on the toilet in a bathroom that hadn't changed in thirty years aside from an occasional coat of paint and new curtains, waiting for his friend and partner to shave him. She also just happened to have superpowers and was dressed in a costume that was driving him a little bit crazy.
As Lois removed a disposable razor and can of shaving cream from the medicine cabinet, Clark's eyes drifted to Lois' long, taut thigh. He licked his lips reflexively. Just as Clark was imagining what it would be like to run his hand slowly over that surface, the antiquated water heater groaned into service as Lois began filling the sink.
She glanced over at him. "Where do you keep the towels?"
"Mother ship to Clark," Lois said and placed her fists on her hips. She looked quite … superhero-ish. "I need a towel to cover your shirt so I won't mess it up."
"Oh, the towels are under the sink" he said, and slipped his shirt off and threw it in the hamper. "But this way might be easier. I'll just take a shower afterward."
It was now Lois' turn to lick her lips. "I .. well .. good idea," she finally managed to say. "Um, maybe you should come over here and splash some water on your face."
Clark nodded and approached the sink. The Kents' bathroom was a great deal smaller than the one he and Lois had shared on their assignment as the Lexor Hotel. With one stride Clark was at the sink and very close to Lois, who was already against the wall with no maneuvering room.
Their eyes met for just an instant. Lois swallowed. She didn't want to think about how sexy Clark looked right now. It interfered with her anger, but he did look incredibly sexy with stubble on his face. Fortunately, Lois was saved from succumbing totally by the memory of a boyfriend she had dated during the waning "Miami Vice" era of gold chains and five o'clock shadow. As sexy as it looked, it was hell to kiss. Even a casual make-out session would leave a woman looking as if she'd been hit in the face with a high-velocity porcupine.
Clark doused his face a couple of times, reached under the sink and extracted a towel from the cabinet, and dried his hands. Several drops from his moist beard spilled onto his chest. The effect was rather hypnotic.
Lois followed the progress of one droplet that flowed all the way to Clark's navel and was stopped by the rough trail of hair that disappeared into his waistband. Don't go there, she warned herself, and grabbed the towel.
"Have a seat. We'd better get started."
"Okay," Clark said softly. He enjoyed noticing that Lois was … noticing.
Lois shook the can of shaving cream and sprayed a small mound into her hand. She walked over to Clark and stepped in close so that she could better reach his face. She straddled one of his legs, her knee barely grazing his inner thigh.
Clark closed his eyes and tipped his head back. He hadn't imagined being so close to Lois could be so excruciating, then again, the excruciating part came from not being able to act on what she was making him feel.
The cool lather touched his face and Clark pulled a breath in through his teeth. He opened his eyes and watched Lois applying the lather. She smiled at him briefly and went back to her task.
"Don't forget you have superstrength now," he cautioned. "I mean when you start the shaving part."
Lois rinsed her hands and picked up the razor. "I'll try not to cut all the way to the bone, but no promises."
She placed the tips of her fingers to the side of his head, tipping it slightly, and with the other brought the razor next to his skin. "Here, or higher for your sideburns?"
"That feels about right. I'm surprised you noticed."
Lois began a short stroke with the razor. "I see you every day, Clark. What kind of investigative reporter would I be if I didn't—" Lois interrupted herself. "Well, I didn't notice you were Superman, but then again, your sideburns are the same."
Clark swallowed. Lois' voice had taken on an edge that easily rivaled the razor. "Maybe we should talk about that now. At least I don't feel like you're ignoring what happened."
"I can't right now, Clark," she said and swished the razor through the water. "We need this thing reversed first. I don't want to lose my temper with this power." She tapped the razor handle on the edge of the sink.
"Ah," Clark said. "Then you're mad."
"Make a cheek."
"Make a cheek," she repeated and then trapped a pocket of air in her cheek causing it to puff out.
Clark complied and Lois began shaving him again. "Yes, I'm mad, but I like to give my anger my full attention, and I can't do that until things are back to normal—other cheek now—relatively speaking anyway."
"Fair enough," Clark said, feeling the razor glide gently down his jaw line. Lois was getting the hang of using the superpowers within a human standard. "You're becoming really good at this. I'm impressed."
Lois shrugged as she ran hot water over a fresh towel. "I've had a lot of practice. A boyfriend of mine ended up in a body cast for a couple of months after a skiing accident." She chuckled to herself. It was the same boyfriend who had gone through the "Miami Vice" craze. He'd temporarily swapped it for a skiing craze. She didn't stick around long enough to suffer through the next craze.
Clark felt a twinge of jealousy at the mention of an old boyfriend. It was ridiculous to feel that way over someone who was in and out of her life long before he met her. Not to mention that despite his desires and fantasies, Lois wasn't even his girlfriend. "No, I didn't mean the shaving part. I meant getting a feel for using the superpowers, or I should say *not* using them."
Lois dabbed at his face with the towel to remove the excess lather. "The powers scare me," she sighed. "But I noticed if I don't make exaggerated movements, or think in terms of human strength, I do okay."
Clark moaned. Lois pulled the towel away. "Too hot?"
"No," he said, almost too eagerly. "My neck is a little stiff from keeping my head tilted back."
He wasn't about to tell Lois that the moan was in response to her shin pressing gently but firmly between his legs. He found it instantly arousing and couldn't hide that fact, but as long as the aura seemed to be hiding it from Lois, he saw no point in bringing it to her attention. Besides, that might only serve to embarrass her, he justified mentally. Deep down he knew he was kidding himself, but despite his best efforts to summon a bit of Superman nobleness, the reality of Lois' shapely leg clad in pink tights discomfiting his blue jeans was overriding all higher brain functions.
"Here," she said, and pulled Clark's head forward and pressed the hot towel at the back of his neck.
"Mm," he moaned again. "That feels so good." He naturally didn't say *what* felt good, but when Lois leaned forward, her gentle pressure increased. Then, when her ample cleavage brushed against the top of his forehead momentarily, Clark had to bite his lip. The pleasure was reaching an unbearable level.
Lois finally stepped back. "Feel better?"
Clark rose to his feet quickly and grabbed the towel, letting it drape naturally yet propitiously in front of his jeans. "Lois, trust me, that was the best shave of my entire life."
"I'm not sure that's much of a compliment since you've never had to shave much without superpowers your entire life," she said, and then smiled. "Ready for the biscuits and preserves?"
Clark was starving, but his stomach would have to wait. "I think I'll grab a shower first."
Lois patted his cheek. "Better make it a cold one," she said, and left the bathroom.
She knew! Clark's ears began to burn. He was left wondering if it had been his guilty pleasure … or hers.
Lois had heard the shower stop running about twenty minutes ago, yet still no Clark. She wondered if she had embarrassed him. She began to butter another biscuit and then sighed with relief hearing him enter the kitchen.
"I was getting worried that maybe I—" She stopped talking. The butter knife clattered to the floor.
Clark, dressed as Superman, retrieved the knife and set it in the sink. He fetched another from the drawer and handed it to her. "Are you all right, Lois?"
"I … it's just that—" She paused a moment and took a breath. "It's just that for over a year I've loved and respected what that outfit represents … and now, even knowing you're really Clark and that you don't even have your powers, it doesn't change that feeling."
Clark glanced down at his costume, and then back into her eyes. She had said it, though maybe not meaning to- "loved and respected" and "knowing you're really Clark … doesn't change that." He tried to compose himself, and his thoughts. He had to. He loved her, and she needed him right now.
"I'm going with you the next time there's an emergency."
"And it's not because I don't have faith in you," he added hastily. "I have *complete* faith in you, Lois. It's just that for me, learning how to be a superhero was kind of on-the-job training, but it doesn't have to be for you." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "If you'll let me help you."
"Because you might be facing something I've already dealt with and I … 'all right'? You said 'all right'."
Lois shrugged and reseated herself. "I think it's logical," she said, and buttered a biscuit and handed it to Clark. "Besides, I don't like taking the responsibility for someone's life. I wasn't born for this like you were."
Clark dipped a spoon into the preserves. "I'm not sure anymore *what* I was born for," he said in a decidedly defeatist tone.
"Don't worry, we'll figure this out and you'll get your powers back."
Clark shook his head. "It's not just the powers and the Superman thing, Lois. It's the 'Clark Kent' thing too," he sighed. "Lois, I was working in the office without my powers and I was just *this* close to feeling completely incompetent. I suddenly realized that the superpowers are a part of my everyday life, and so I guess I'm really more Superman than Clark Kent."
Lois smiled. "Quit thinking about yourself as two people. It's just *you*. The names or outfits don't matter. Superpowers are a part of you and so it's natural that you use them."
"But that's my problem, Lois. I kept thinking that Clark Kent was the real me, just a normal guy, and that Superman was only a costume I put on so I could use my powers to help in public. But I was kidding myself," he said, and waved the biscuit around, gesturing. "Clark is just as phony as Superman."
"Here," Lois said and tucked a checkered napkin into the neck of Clark's costume. "Your mom would have a fit if you got preserves on that and I can't imagine how you'd get strawberry stains out of spandex."
Clark was incredulous. "Lois, you haven't heard a word I've said!"
"Of course I've heard," she said nonchalantly. "And you're right, you're not a normal guy, at least not by human standards. But you *are* normal for you, and so Clark Kent is a normal guy."
Lois watched Clark gloomily munching away on his biscuit. Obviously she wasn't reaching him. "Okay," she said. "The way I see it is that Superman is the stigma of your superpowers."
Clark stopped chewing. "You're calling Superman a *stigma*? Some kind of … character blotch?"
Lois laughed softly. "Sure, 'stigma' can mean that, but it's also a kind of … well … identifier, and I know it has a negative connotation because it's associated with illness, but—"
"Lois," he interrupted. "I know you mean well, but this is starting to feel like a foreign film subtitled by Mad Magazine."
Lois, undaunted, continued. "What do you think of when you see an inhaler?"
"Answer the question."
"Okay," he sighed. "I think of asthma when I see an inhaler."
"Right. A seeing-eye dog?"
"Lois, look, I get it, I really do," he said flatly. "Those items would be considered the 'stigma' associated with specific illnesses or handicaps, but superpowers do *not* fit into those categories."
Lois leaned back in her chair. "Is it at all possible for you to think in anything besides black and white? I'll settle for shades of gray if you can't do color."
Clark's frustration level was getting critical. "You just said that those were the stigma—"
"*Why* does a blind man have a seeing-eye dog?" she interrupted.
Clark rubbed his right temple. He was getting a very human headache. "To be his eyes. To keep him from walking out into traffic—"
"To keep him from being dependent on others so that he—" Clark stopped and smiled, even blushed a little.
"So that he …?" Lois prompted.
"So that he can lead as normal a life as possible."
"Bingo!" She smiled. "Not normal for *you*. Not normal for *me*, but normal for *him*," she said and handed him another biscuit. "Clark, you're normal for *you*."
Clark just stared at her, a definite love light glowing in his eyes. "Lois," he said softly. "If I've never told you how brilliant you are, let me apologize."
Lois raised an eyebrow. "Well, if there's anything in this town that resembles a real restaurant, and at this point I'm willing to accept Rosie's Rib Tickler All-You-Can-Stand Buffet as a *real* restaurant, then you can apologize properly tonight over some —" Lois cut herself off and grabbed the table. "Do you feel that?"
Clark frowned and shook his head. "Feel what?"
"A … tremor, or some kind of strong vibration."
"It could be a minor earthquake, but there hasn't been one in this area since—"
Lois suddenly winced in pain and covered her ears.
Clark rose quickly from his chair and raced to her side of the table. He crouched next to her and put an arm around her. "Lois? Lois!"
"It's too loud!"
"*What's* too loud? Lois, are you—?"
The lights in the kitchen flickered briefly and then winked out. Glassware in the cabinets rattled and the uneven leg of the table tapped violently for a few seconds. The sound of the event finally caught up to human ears as a deafening roar.
Lois lowered her hands. She looked as though an excruciating pain had stopped. Everything was silent.
Clark took Lois' hands. "You okay?"
Lois nodded. "A huge explosion, but I guess you figured that out."
Clark smiled weakly. "Yeah, but even without superhearing I could tell it didn't come from the direction of Smallville."
"Thank God," Lois whispered as she rose from the chair. "I guess we should take a look at where it *did* come from and see if anyone needs some help."
"It's near Simpson's quarry," Jonathan said as he and Martha entered the kitchen. "You can already see black smoke billowing up in that direction."
"Does anyone live out there?" Lois asked.
Martha shook her head. "No, dear, it's pretty isolated. Not even any farms."
"Too rocky," Jonathan added.
Lois' expression shifted quickly from relief to dismay. Clark recognized the expression. He'd worn it enough himself.
"What are you hearing, Lois?"
"Radio messages … lots of them … frantic," she said. "It's too confusing!"
"I know it's hard, Lois, but concentrate — separate the voices. You can do it."
Lois nodded. "A helicopter headed back to Kansas City reporting the explosion at the quarry … a repeating message to the engineer of the Sundowner Limited … switch …" Lois opened her eyes and looked at Clark. "I couldn't make it all out, but there was no reply from the Sundowner as far as I could tell."
Martha placed her finger tips on her chin. "The Sundowner is the passenger train that makes the circuit from Miami to Los Angeles."
"Son," Jonathan said, urgency rising in his tone, "the trestle's at the quarry."
Lois took Clark's hand and ran out the door. The couple left the ground in mid-stride. The checkered napkin fluttered to the floor.
The flight to the quarry was a brief one. Within seconds they were descending through the black smoke and landing near the remnants of the trestle.
Lois assessed the damage. "What could have caused this?"
Clark placed his hands on Lois' shoulders. "I'll stay and examine the trestle — *you* have a train to catch," he said. "Be careful."
"I will," she whispered, and vanished in the direction of a rapidly growing dot on the horizon.
Clark sighed with a mixture of worry and admiration, and then turned to what was left of the trestle. He picked up a shoring plank and sniffed. "Cordite," he whispered and shook his head.
He peered over the edge of the gorge. The bottom was still obscured by smoke and dust. As Clark pondered why anyone would deliberately destroy a trestle, particularly one out in the middle of nowhere, he heard the train *still* approaching.
Lois, braced in front of the engine, unable to span the rails, was splintering crossties with the heels of her boots as the train kept advancing.
Clark ran forward.
"Lois!" he shouted, "I know you can hear me! The train's still under power! A *lot* of power! Friction won't stop it in time!" Clark took a deep, calming breath. "You can do this, Lois," he said, his voice almost a whisper. "Detach the engine — set it off the rails. Then you can use friction to stop the other cars."
Lois flew to the back of the engine. Cowling, cables and wires, along with a coupling, attached it to the next car. She examined the tangle of attachments, her mind racing. She couldn't concentrate. Everything was moving too fast. She was certain that Clark would probably detach everything at super speed, but Lois couldn't think in those terms yet, so she simply cut through the jumble of lines with heat vision. Unfortunately that caused an instant ball of fire to erupt.
Lois recoiled instinctively as she pulled the engine away from the rest of the train. What good was invulnerability, Lois thought, if her mind and body were programmed from birth to fear physical contact with fire. "Think!" She admonished herself, and then inhaled deeply. She extinguished the blaze with a blast of freezing breath, and then flew back to the last car and held on. She dug in her heels, and again the crossties began to break and splinter away, but this time, the train was slowing down.
Clark, still running, finally caught up to the train just as Lois emerged slowly from the back. She looked pale and exhausted.
Clark wrapped his arms around her. "You did great."
"I was so scared," Lois said as she returned the hug. "I made so many mistakes."
"It's okay," he soothed. "I made my share in the beginning, and still do. Remember what I said this morning about feeling incompetent without my powers? Well," he said, pulling from the embrace, "I think it'll take practice for *both* of us. In the meantime though, people will be getting off that train with some questions."
Lois shook her head. "I *can't*, Clark. I … it's too much right now," she said, and was gone.
Clark sighed. He understood. He'd been there, and though it got easier with time, there were still moments that were overwhelming.
He glanced up at the dazed passengers as they debarked. Their expressions of relief and gratitude were always a reminder of why he kept doing this job. If Lois had only waited long enough … Oh well, he thought, maybe she's still nearby.
The engineer, obviously shaken, made his way to the front of the train. "Superman," he said, his voice ragged. "I couldn't stop the train. I couldn't do *anything*. It's like it had a mind of its own!"
"It's all right," Clark replied reassuringly. "It seems someone was bent on sabotage. The trestle was destroyed deliberately. Someone was trying to make sure you didn't get a chance to stop the train."
"That would be me," a diminutive man in dark glasses said casually as he stepped forward.
The engineer, outraged and running on ninety percent adrenalin, lunged at the small man. "You maniac!"
The engineer's fingertips barely brushed the man, but it was enough to send the engineer flying backward about thirty feet. He lay on the ground groaning where he fell.
The mystery man chuckled. "Isn't that cool, Superman? It's a repulse field," he said casually, as if the feat had merely been a demonstration at a high school science fair. "But the *amazing* part," he added quickly as Clark took a couple of angry steps forward, "is that it reads, interprets and duplicates any energy directed at it."
Clark stopped and folded his arms. "So if I flew at you at full speed—"
"You'd probably land somewhere in the Texas panhandle," he said, and smiled benignly. "But the point is, I decided to attempt to duplicate your powers. I'm your biggest fan, Superman," he proclaimed proudly. "Sadly, my attempts proved futile, but while trying to duplicate your force field, I inadvertently created the repulse generator, which, as you can see—"
"Is that what this is all about? You rigged this train wreck to get my attention so you could impress me with your homemade aura?"
The man stared blankly for a moment. "No," he finally replied. "I rigged the train wreck as a field test for the … aura. Thank you for the proper terminology. I considered a plane crash," he continued calmly, "but there were too many unacceptable variables, and so I decided—"
"You were going to kill all these people as part of a *test*?" Clark asked, no longer able to hide his anger.
The man suddenly looked crestfallen. "If my theories and calculations were correct, Superman, no one on that train would have been harmed. Part of the work I did on the engine was to hide a small, but more powerful version of the repulse generator. That way," he shrugged, "the train would never have hit the bottom of that chasm … theoretically."
"How much more powerful?" a female voice asked.
All heads turned skyward as Ultra Woman made her grand entrance. She landed a few feet from the little man.
"Let's just find out," she said and pointed a small device at him.
The man instantly began to skid backward. His former placid, self-assured expression was replaced by one of horrified realization. "Shut it off!" he shouted as he continued his backward momentum.
"Did it ever occur to you," Lois commented, still advancing on the man as he receded, "that the engine could have become disconnected from the other cars, and if it had, every passenger would have died anyway?"
The man glanced quickly over his shoulder and noticed he was being pushed towards the remnants of the trestle. "Shut it off, lady!"
"Of course you had your private little aura just in case things didn't go right."
"In retrospect," the man said in panting breaths, "a bus might have been a better test subject."
Lois shook her head. "What touching remorse."
The man looked pleadingly at Clark. "Help me, Superman! That generator she has will bury me like a pile-driver!"
"Sorry," Clark shrugged. "But that generator *you* have makes me a little leery. I mean I wouldn't want to end up in the Texas panhandle, for example."
"Here!" the man said, frantically tearing at his pocket. "Here it is!" He tossed the device at Clark.
Clark retrieved the small box and trotted up to the man just as his feet slipped over the edge. He grabbed his wrist and lifted him easily from his perilous fate. Lois looked on admiringly. Clark was pretty dazzling even without superpowers.
The man wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "Thank you, Superman."
"You'd better save your breath for the sheriff," Clark said, as Rachel Harris arrived on the scene.
Lois' discomfort at the whole situation showed clearly in her eyes. Clark remembered the early days of being Superman all too well. The unwanted but inevitable attention was almost claustrophobic. He walked over to Lois and took her hand and then looked into the crowd.
"I know you all have a lot of questions," he said in a loud stage voice. "But Ultra Woman, like me, is just here to help."
"And speaking of helping," Lois added abruptly, "Superman and I are needed elsewhere." Before the crowd could advance, the couple was airborne.
"Well, I figured since you were holding my hand, it would look like we were both flying under our own power. But," she sighed, "You shouldn't have confronted that man without your powers, Clark."
Clark lifted his eyebrows, a definite mocking expression in his eyes. "Oh?"
Lois smiled. "I get it. You've warned me repeatedly to "stay put" when you're doing the Superman … thing."
"And do you know *why* I warn you, Lois?"
She laughed. "Because if you screw up, I won't see it?"
"Okay … because you *worry* about me," she acknowledged. "and I love that you worry about me, Clark, but you're not my mother."
"I'm not trying to be your, mother, Lois, I just … you *love* that I worry about you?"
"Sure," she smiled, and drifted upward, but didn't release his hand until she had made contact with his shoulder. "Don't you remember last year when you were my bodyguard and I told you practically the same thing?" She asked, slowly slipping her arms around his neck.
Clark nodded. "I remember," he whispered. It was so hard to speak when she was so close. "But if you'd told me like this last year, I would have—" He stopped himself.
Lois moved her face closer. "Would have what?"
"Done this," Clark said, and moved his face wordlessly towards hers, kissing her tenderly. The contact felt so good and so right, he deepened the kiss, freeing a desire he had kept in check for nearly two years. Whether it was the liberation of realizing that there were finally no more secrets between them, or just the cumulative effect of a growing affection he had sensed from Lois, the feeling was an unbearably sweet ache.
The usually staid, controlling, self-denying workaholic, Lois Lane, was at last granted dispensation. She was finally ready for dessert, and so accepted Clark's overture hungrily. Some deeply buried lecturing voice had always warned Lois that if she ever gave into her feelings for her best friend, she would be lost to those feelings. The voice was right. Lois was utterly lost and devoured by the sensation. If there was a word that could shame "passion," then she and Clark were on the threshold of its discovery as they drifted eastward — rewinding the sunrise.
Clark's eyelid twitched in response to the phone ringing. He stretched out his arm and fumbled with the receiver. "Hello?" he said and then yawned.
"Oh, good morning, Perry." Clark said, and was relieved that a quick glance at his watch revealed it was still an hour before he and Lois were due at the Planet.
"Uh … good morning, Clark," Perry said, his tone sounding a bit peculiar. "I'd like to speak with Lois. That is, if she's not … busy."
"Lois? Why would you think Lois is here?"
"Well, son, I dialed *her* number."
Clark winced and wiped the lingering sleep from his eyes. Sure enough, he was in Lois' apartment. The fog was lifting, and he was remembering yesterday — and last night.
At that moment Lois entered the room drying her hair. A short, satin nighty clung to her lovingly. She lifted the towel from her head. "Morning," she said, but with no emotional inflection.
Clark waved the receiver at her. "Perry," he whispered.
Lois rolled her eyes and took the receiver. "Hi, Perry. You're calling awfully early," she said, and rather curtly it seemed to Clark. He pantomimed "shaving" to Lois. She nodded an acknowledgment and then turned her attention back to the phone.
Clark walked to the bathroom, alternately yawning and stretching. He would have loved to have slept that extra hour, but Sunday was over, and he and Lois would be expected back behind their desks.
He sighed as he filled the sink with hot water. Now their time would be severely cut. At least the time they had to devote to solving the problem of figuring out how to switch back the superpowers.
He opened the medicine cabinet and removed the can of shaving cream and the razor Lois had mentioned buying for him last night. "Last night," Clark whispered as he opened the cap and shook the can. He and Lois really needed to talk about last night. Actually, all the events leading up to last night.
Just as he sprayed a small mound of lather in his palm, Lois entered the bathroom and leaned against the wall, her arms folded.
Clark looked at her reflection in the mirror. "I'm sorry about answering your phone, Lois, I—"
"That's okay, Clark," she said. "I love Perry, but it's none of his business what we do away from the Planet," Lois added, her expression changing slightly. "Not that we actually *did* anything."
Clark raised his eyebrows as a means of conveying recognition and nodded. He turned back to the sink and rinsed his hand. "Lois," he began, as he dried it off and opened the drain, "we have to *talk* about yesterday."
Lois nodded and stretched her arm out towards the living room in the "shall we?" mode. Clark smiled. She was so cute when she was trying to be resolute.
He draped an arm over her shoulder and kissed her temple. "Let's go," he whispered.
Lois relented and unfolded slightly. She wrapped an arm around his waist. "I made coffee," she said as they started walking slowly toward the living room.
"Good. I think for the first time in my life I need caffeine."
Lois smiled politely and flicked on the lights as they entered the room. The sun hadn't found her apartment yet. "Have a seat. I'll get the coffee."
Clark sat down with a groan, his body protesting the earliness of the hour and the uncomfortable sleeping position of the night before. He leaned back and watched Lois busying herself in the kitchen. A small, contented sigh escaped his lips. He *wanted* this. He wanted a life with her, and he would fight to keep it.
Lois returned and handed Clark a cup, and then made herself comfortable in the corner of the sofa. She positioned herself so that she could face him. Her expression was apprehensive. "Well?"
Clark turned slightly. "You want to know why I poured cold water all over what we started yesterday."
Lois stared into her coffee cup. "Clark, you have an uncanny grasp of the obvious."
Clark smiled. She was mad, but at least she was willing to listen. "Lois, we got pretty carried away yesterday, and then that emergency called you away."
Lois lifted her head sharply. "Is that what this is all about? I got called away as Ultra Woman, and you're holding that against me?"
"No!" Clark said, setting his cup down on the coffee table and moving closer to Lois. "That's not it at all. If *anyone* knows what it's like to have to put everything on hold to dash off—"
"Then *what*, Clark?" Lois asked, now totally confused. "I thought we had something special yesterday. I thought…I thought that we were going to make love," she said, her voice cracking momentarily. "Then *you* put on the brakes."
"Lois, I *love* you," Clark said, taking her cup and placing it next to his. "I'm *in* love with you. I've *always* been in love with you, and I guess I always will be."
Lois shook her head. She felt run over by conflicting information. "Then why did you *stop*, Clark? That doesn't make any sense."
He took her hands in his. "Because if you're not in love with me, Lois, then aside from a great physical feeling, there's nothing else there."
Angry tears stung her eyes. "Here's a news flash, Clark! I have never *once* in my life slept with a man that I wasn't in *love* with, or at least thought I was in love with!"
She rose from the sofa and began to pace away. "I may have made some really *really* bad choices in men, but I never hopped into bed because I got carried away by my hormones."
"I didn't mean—"
"That's why I never slept with Lex. I wasn't in love with him," she said, and raised a hand, still facing away from Clark. "And yes, it's true I was going to marry him, but it's also true I turned him down at the altar."
"I know that, Lois." Clark said as he left the sofa and approached her. "I wasn't asking you for a confession about Lex."
Lois spun on him angrily. "I would have made love to Superman. Is *that* the confession you're waiting for? I loved him so much it felt almost like I was losing my mind."
"I wasn't asking for *any* confessions from you, Lois," Clark said, wondering how things had gotten so turned around. "I would never have taken advantage of your feelings for Superman."
Lois sighed loudly. "The point is, you *did*, Clark. Not by getting me in bed, but by putting my life on hold," she said, and moved back a couple of steps to maintain the distance. "On the one hand, you never encouraged me to love you as Superman, but on the other, you never *discouraged* me either. What was I supposed to think?"
"I couldn't move forward *with* him, but I couldn't move on *without* him letting me go. Not to mention I made a first class fool of myself chasing after Superman," she said, and wiped a tear from her face. "Don't think I didn't hear the whispered jokes at the Planet, because I did, Clark, and they *hurt*."
"Lois, I'm sorry," Clark said tenderly. "But can't you see I was just as crazy in love with you? Office gossip goes both ways. Everyone knew I was hung up on you, Lois. If I heard "poor Clark" one more time, I was going to put my fist through the vending machine, give everyone a free Clark Bar, and just call it a day."
"Call it a day?" Lois stared at Clark through tear-glazed eyes. She wasn't sure if he was trying to be funny or if he was trying to be serious.
He met her gaze. His eyes were warm and apologetic. "I know it was selfish to give you false hope as Superman, Lois, but *you* were the only thing that kept him …*me* going sometimes."
Lois sniffed. "What?"
Clark stepped forward and placed his hands on her shoulders again, but this time she did not retreat. "I never knew what it felt like to be in love until I met you, Lois. I didn't know what to do, what to think, or what to say. Sometimes I lost my temper with you because I guess I thought it was supposed to be automatic. The person you love is supposed to love you back. I know that was wrong, but I was so confused half the time, and so scared the other half, that when things got really bad, Superman was my only safe haven with you."
Lois, to Clark's surprise, nodded. She understood his confusion better than he might think. "When I'd have deeper feelings for you, Clark, I tried to push them aside, because I was trying to be loyal to Superman," she said, and sniffed again. "So I guess I know what you were going through."
"Yeah." Clark smiled faintly and nodded. It was amazing what they had put each other through in the name of love, loyalty, and maybe even a touch of obsession. "I think you do."
"Is it true?" She asked after a long pause. "I'm the first woman you ever loved?"
Clark placed his forehead against hers. "The *only* woman I've ever loved."
Lois fell against him, emotionally exhausted. "Thank you," she whispered.
Clark held her tight. He wanted to inhale her. He kissed the top of her head. "You're welcome."
"It's kind of pathetic, though," Lois said offhandedly.
"Hm?" he asked against her hair.
"That the world's two superheroes are such a bundle of neurotic insecurities."
Clark laughed and swayed Lois in his arms. The crisis was passing, and the humor and closeness returning. "Maybe we can import someone from Mars or Jupiter."
"I guess we'll have to," she said, and laughed softly against his chest.
Clark pulled back, and held Lois out at arm's length. "Okay, say it," he coaxed, and waggled her shoulders playfully. "Come on."
Lois smiled crookedly. "I *love* you, Clark."
"Yes!" Clark said with a mixture of triumph and relief. "*Thank* you."
"You're welcome." Lois placed her hands on his chest. "So, can we *finally* finish what we started?"
"Mm, Ms. Lane," Clark cooed. "I'd love nothing better, but I want to put a *lot* of time into this. Unfortunately, as far as time goes, we have just enough to get dressed, and get to the Planet. Though," he added, "you're definitely worth getting fired over."
"Ah," Lois smiled. "Now for the good news. Perry wants us to stake out the tenderloin district, and that's *definitely* a night assignment. We have *lots* of time."
"You know," Clark said wistfully. "I usually hate TV sweeps months because the local news programs start broadcasting all kinds of sensationalized stories and so Perry feels compelled to compete with them, but all of a sudden—"
"You love sweeps month."
"Exactly," he laughed. "And I promise *not* to make any comments about the irony of an assignment in the red light district."
Lois moved her hands to the sides of Clark's face. "So who needs to talk right now, anyway?"
"Good point," he said, and sealed his mouth over hers.
Their kissing had not progressed far when Lois suddenly broke away, her expression urgent. "Red light!"
Clark blanked a moment. "Green light!" he said, and moved back in to continue the kiss.
"No, Clark! A red light! There was a red light coming from that rock at the laser show at the mineral exhibit. It hit you, and a second later—"
She nodded. "And woke up as … Ultra Woman."
"Could it be that simple?"
"It's got to be the answer, Clark."
Clark shrugged. "I agree, but why did it take us this long to come up with such a simple answer?"
Lois stepped back and folded her arms. "Maybe because I thought *Clark* was the one hit with the red light and therefore couldn't possibly have given me superpowers," she scolded.
Clark cleared his throat. "Maybe we ought to go there."
"My plan, too. Of course the exhibit is closed on Monday, so we'll have to break in."
"You sort of love that, don't you?"
"You bet," she smiled. "Just let me get my cape!"
Tuesday morning Lois sat at her desk and yawned. The stakeout had been tiring, but she felt they'd gotten some good information. She began typing in her notes.
Perry stopped at her desk. "Lois, you didn't have to come in this early. I know you were out late on the stakeout. You could have come in an hour later than usual."
"Perry," Lois said in mock surprise. "You'll make my head spin with such generosity."
Perry laughed. "Okay, okay. You and Clark can come in after lunch tomorrow."
Lois sighed. "I suppose that means you want me and Clark on stakeout again tonight."
"You bet it does. I want a whole series of articles on this, not just one."
"A series that lasts until say — the end of sweeps?"
"No one likes a mind reader, Lois," Perry warned. "Oh, and before I forget, there's also been reports of a mystery "superwoman" in Kansas. You and Clark can look into that after this assignment," he said, and headed for his office.
Just as the door to Perry's office closed, Superman flew in through the large double windows. Lois smiled, pretending not to see him, but knew the whole news room was following his every movement.
He stopped in front of her desk. She looked up. "Superman?"
"Lois," he said in a polite, but firm voice. "I've thought about this a long time, and I wanted to ask you something."
Lois rose from her chair and walked around to the front of her desk. It provided a better view for everyone, and the copy boy wouldn't fall over the library railing craning for a better look.
"What did you want to ask me, Superman?"
Lois, now knowing that Clark was the man in the costume, felt a lot of former self-constraints slip away and let her eyes drift appreciatively.
Clark found Lois' "drift" disconcerting, and not just a little distracting. "I want you … to go out with me."
"You mean like on a date — a *real date? The kind where I get out my best perfume? The one I bought after seeing 'Love Affair', the good one, not the remake, and put a dab behind my knee and don't even know why?"
Clark smiled inwardly. That sounded so … Lois. "Yes," he said, recouping his "Superman" tone. "I'd be honored if you'd go out with me."
Lois could see the gaping mouths in the news room with her peripheral vision. It looked like feeding time at a trout farm. "Oh, Superman, I'm so flattered," she said airily. "But, I started to get the feeling you weren't interested, so I moved on. There's … someone else."
Superman turned dejectedly. He was now facing the news room, and though everyone felt they should pretend to look busy, they just couldn't turn away. It was all Clark could do to keep a straight face. "I understand, Lois," he said, and sighed heavily.
Lois approached him. "I hope we can still be friends, Superman."
There was a visual "ouch" from the audience after Lois delivered that line. The "kiss of death" line. The "let's still be friends" aria that marked the ringing down of the romance curtain. The fabled "fat lady" had not only begun to warble for Superman, but did so while standing on his chest with six inch Kryptonite heels.
Superman took both her hands. "Always, Lois," he said softly.
Lois stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "Always."
He released her hands, and lifted into the air. Lois looked on admiringly at Clark's ability to fly forlornly. She sighed and walked back to her desk and began typing anew. The news room remained eerily quiet.
After a moment, the elevator dinged and Clark stepped out. He glanced at the faces that did not notice him. They were all still staring at Lois. He smiled, filled two coffee cups as he did every morning, and brought them to Lois' desk.
"Morning," he said cheerfully. "I thought you might need some caffeine after last night's stakeout."
Just as the "audience" was losing interest in what seemed the usual morning ritual, Lois rose from the chair again, and took both cups from Clark and set them on her desk. "I can think of something a *lot* more stimulating," she said, wrapping her arms around Clark's neck and kissing him passionately.
As Clark reciprocated the kiss, those who weren't already standing did so, and everyone began applauding and whistling. Jimmy could be heard shouting, "All right, CK!"
"Thanks for the Superman melodrama," Lois whispered against his lips, the words almost drowned out by the applause.
"I owed you that, Lois."
"Well," she said coquettishly, "I owed 'Clark Kent' that kiss in front of God and everybody."
"Clark Kent thanks you," he said as he cinched in his grip on her waist. "But you know what the best part was?"
Lois lovingly ran a hand through his hair. "What?"
"I heard at least six people whisper, "Poor *Superman*" when I flew out the window."
In his office, Perry smiled and closed the blinds as his best reporters began to kiss again. Though he could not hear what was being said, Perry knew "bliss" when he saw it, and while he acknowledged a faint alarm bell at the back of his mind, he chose to ignore it for the time being. After all, "true love" only came around … maybe once, not to mention the irony of Cupid's arrow uniting Lois "Mad Dog" Lane and Clark "The Boy Scout" Kent.
It was that very irony that prompted Perry to drop a carefully selected tape into his cassette player. He sat down and closed his eyes as "The King" began to croon something about a hard-headed woman and a soft-hearted man being the cause of trouble since the world began.
"Oh, Elvis," Perry chuckled. "If you only knew."