By Erin Klingler <email@example.com>
Submitted January 1999
Summary: Lois and Clark's relationship is progressing well, until three things happen: Clark proposes, Lois is injured, and she finds out a secret. They have to learn to understand each other and rebuild their relationship after these shattering events.
This story has been on my hard drive unfinished for ages, and when I was doing some hard drive "housekeeping", I stumbled across it and read through what I had. From that moment on, it wouldn't let me sleep at night or work on anything else until I gave it the attention it demanded. So, unable to resist it calling to me any longer, <g> I finally sat down and gave it my full attention. (I even found myself calling my three-year-old son 'Clark' on more than one occasion, which should tell you how focused I was on writing this. If I'm not careful, I'm going to give him a complex! <bg>)
I need to send out a *huge* thank you to my good friend Kathy Brown, for spending many late nights on IRC brainstorming this story with me. I couldn't have done this without her, especially since we seem to share a brain. <bg> Without her ideas, enthusiasm and support, I would've been completely lost. Thanks, Kathy! :)
Just to let everyone know, chronologically this story takes place and branches off from the original LNC storyline somewhere near the end of second season, sometime after WWW but before ATAI. It has both WHAMs and WAFFs, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Comments, criticisms and/or sarcastic remarks <g> are always welcome.
"Lois!" Perry bellowed from his office. "Where's that story you and Clark have been working on?"
Lois leaned back in her desk chair so she could see Perry from where she was sitting. "On its way, Chief! I just sent it to you."
Perry grumbled something about getting stories at the last possible minute before deadline, and Lois couldn't help but smile. She was used to Perry's "nothing is ever good enough" attitude. But even though he grumbled and complained about things during the day, Lois knew that inwardly he loved the challenge of putting together a world-class newspaper, deadlines and all.
With a relieved sigh, Lois leaned forward and turned off her monitor. Now that the story had been delivered to Perry, she could finally call it a day. She and Clark had been at the Planet since very early that morning trying to wrap up their latest story on the crime ring that had infiltrated Metropolis about six months ago.
But thanks to some good old-fashioned hard work, they'd been able to track down some leads, had gotten information from their sources, and were finally able to uncover the inner workings of the crime ring. Several indictments had already been made, and there were surely more to come. The story was definitely page one material.
Perry was going to be pleased.
Lois leaned over in her chair and was reaching for her purse in the bottom desk drawer when a voice behind her made her jump.
Lois turned quickly in her chair and saw that Clark was smiling down at her. Unable to resist the charming smile that reached all the way into his chocolate-brown eyes, she smiled back. "Yes, but no thanks to you," she accused teasingly. "Where've you been?"
Clark's smile faded for an instant. "I, uh, I had a…source…to talk to," he explained, fiddling with his glasses. "I tried to hurry back to help you finish up, but I see I'm a bit late for that."
"Yup, you are." Lois finished retrieving her purse from the drawer and then gave Clark a sidelong glance. "If I didn't know you better," she went on, trying to sound serious. "I'd think you purposely ditched me so you wouldn't have to do the work."
Clark's eyes grew wide. "Lois, you know I'd never—"
Lois laughed and stood up next to him, their bodies inches apart. "Clark, I'm just kidding," she assured him with a mischievous smile. She placed her hand lightly on his chest, tracing a slow, torturous path up to the knot of his tie. She glanced up into his face, noting the muscle tensing in his jaw and the aroused look in his eyes.
Thoroughly enjoying the reaction she'd gotten from teasing him, she giggled, breaking the tension she'd just created. She tugged at the knot of his tie. "Clark, you always take me too seriously. You really need to loosen up."
The muscles in his face visually relaxed and he grinned at her. To prove she wasn't mad, Lois stood on tiptoe and kissed him invitingly. He moaned softly, both surprised and thrilled by her public show of affection. He slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him, returning her kiss hungrily.
"Hey, hey, hey! Enough of that!" A deep, throaty voice echoed in their ears, causing them to pull apart. They turned to see Perry coming toward them, several papers clenched in his hand.
"Oh, uh, hey Chief," Clark stuttered, stepping back slightly from Lois, but keeping a possessive arm around her slender waist. "I was just, uh…"
"Thanking Lois for finishing up the story by herself?" Perry said gravely, causing Clark to squirm guiltily under his scrutiny.
Perry cast a quick glance at Lois, and she saw the twinkle in his eyes that meant he was only teasing. She smiled to herself. Clark never *had* been able to tell when Perry was serious or when he was joking.
"Lois, you did a first rate job with this story," he told her gruffly, but the pride in his voice was clearly evident. He gave her a quick smile, then gestured with his head in Clark's direction. "Even if you *didn't* have the help of your partner, here."
"Chief," Clark began, shifting his feet anxiously. "I'm sorry, I—"
Perry guffawed and held his hands up to stop Clark. "Just funnin' with you, son. I'm sure there's a perfectly good excuse why you had to spend the afternoon doing…" He paused thoughtfully. "Say, what exactly *was* it you were doing, Clark?"
Clark looked from Perry to Lois and then back again, surprised to see that they were both staring at him, waiting for his explanation. He hated these awkward moments. "Uh, there was a source I had to meet with, to discuss something I've been looking into…"
As Clark continued to try to explain in what was obviously the vaguest way possible, Lois couldn't help smiling to herself. She always got a strange kick out of watching Clark stutter and stumble over his words whenever somebody asked him where he'd been.
For as long as she'd known Clark, he'd been like this. And the better she'd gotten to know him, the more predictable it was. As soon as somebody asked him where he'd gone, Clark would immediately start fidgeting with his tie or glasses, and then shoot off some explanation. And those excuses he came up with! Some of them were positively off the wall. His strange excuses were almost as predictable as his obvious anxiety when explaining himself.
She'd come to accept his strange behavior as just one of his odd little idiosyncrasies, but that still didn't erase her curiosity. Why *did* he act that way? It was almost as if he was nervous.
Or had something to hide.
But what was the big deal? It wasn't like he wasn't allowed to leave the Planet to run errands or anything. Why did he always act like a little kid who'd just been caught stealing cookies out of a cookie jar? So his strange behavior never made any sense to her since he'd always been a very straightforward kind of guy.
That straightforwardness was probably the thing she liked the most about Clark. As Maisie had said about Clark that afternoon when they were in Smallville, 'What you see is what you get'. And it was true. Clark was a genuinely nice person, who was careful about the feelings of those around him, and stuck by his old-world values. So his constant "disappearing act" and the uncomfortable explanations afterward seemed strangely out of character for him. If he really was what he seemed, what could he possibly have to hide?
But, even though it continued to baffle Lois, she really didn't see that it was worth attacking. She loved him, and something seemingly so insignificant was just as easily overlooked.
"Well, it sounds like you've both had a long day," Perry responded when Clark finished "explaining". He didn't really looked convinced that Clark was telling him the truth about where he'd been, but he seemed willing to let it drop. "Good work on this story, you two. Now get. You definitely deserve the night off."
"Thanks, Chief," Lois smiled, threading her arm through Clark's and steering him toward the elevators before Perry could change his mind. "See you in the morning."
When Lois and Clark were alone in the elevator, Lois let out a long, tired sigh. "Man, it's been a long day."
"I'm sorry I made you do so much without me," Clark apologized sincerely. He moved back a half step so he could put his hands on her shoulders and massage them gently. "I really didn't plan on being gone that long."
Lois leaned back into Clark's hands. "I know. It's okay, really." She turned to smile at Clark over her shoulder. "But you owe me one."
Clark stilled his hands on her shoulders and turned her around to face him. Lois could tell by his thoughtful expression that he was already thinking about how to repay her.
After a moment of deliberation, he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her close, his eyes meeting hers as he spoke. "How about we stop by the grocery store on the way to my apartment," he pulled her closer, moving his mouth so that it was only inches from hers. "I can pick up some things to make us an amazingly wonderful dinner." He touched his lips lightly to hers. "Then we'll go to my place, put on some soft music," his lips lingered on hers a bit longer, "and we can have a nice, quiet, romantic candlelight dinner." He finished with a deep, intoxicating kiss that made Lois tingle clear down to her toes.
"Mmmm," Lois mumbled dreamily when they finally pulled apart. "You really know how to talk a girl into something."
He laughed, giving her one last quick kiss as the elevator door opened. She felt heady and happy as Clark guided her out of the elevator, his arm still wrapped securely around her waist.
The drive to the grocery store and then to Clark's apartment was fun, with lots of kidding around and light-heartedness. Then when they'd reached his apartment, Clark had insisted that Lois sit back and relax while he cooked. As she watched him make dinner, she found herself reflecting on how much her life had changed since Clark had come into her life.
He was the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful person she'd ever known, and every minute she spent with him made her love him even more. He was always going out of his way to do something nice for her. Like just the other morning, he'd surprised her by picking her up some bagels and coffee since he'd known she had to be at the Planet early and couldn't meet him for breakfast. She loved that he was always thinking about her, about what she might need or how she was feeling. He was always there for her, and that sense of warmth and security she got whenever they were together made her feel like she was right where she was supposed to be. Being with a man like Clark was a gift she'd never thought she'd have.
She'd almost convinced herself over the years that finding that 'special man' was something that would never happen to her, that something as fairy tale as finding the man of her dreams and falling head over heels in love was only something that happened to other people, or to fictional characters in the movies.
But then Clark had come into her life. It hadn't taken her long before she found herself trusting him, then being best friends with him, and finally, falling head over heels in love with him. He'd turned out to be her proverbial knight in shining armor.
'Not that he's perfect,' she amended silently. 'He has his faults like any other person does.' But when she tried to make a mental list of them, her mind drew a blank. But when she started making a list of his qualities, the list seemed to go on and on.
The first thing anyone noticed about him was his boy-next-door, handsome good looks. And his build…she sighed, a smile crossing her face. Well, that was another story. But after you put his physical attributes aside and looked deeper, there were things about him that were even more attractive than his outward appearance. It was inner strengths that made her keep falling in love with him all over again.
He was kind and gentle, and, most impressive of all, he had an almost overabundance of patience. When others steered clear of her whenever she was in one of her infamous bad moods, he simply waited patiently for a tantrum to pass, occasionally even arguing back, proving that he wasn't in the least bit intimidated by her. If she didn't know any better, she'd think that Clark actually enjoyed the challenge of standing up to her. And when he did, it made her respect him even more. Most guys would—and had—run as far away as they could, thinking she was too much to handle or too dominant. But not Clark. And she loved him for it. He knew how to handle her, and he did it with precise, almost calculated care. They were perfect for each other. She was fiery and stubborn, he was patient and solid.
Lois sighed happily. Clark was really something.
"Ready to eat?"
Lois looked up to see that Clark was standing at the edge of the kitchen with a plate of steaming food in each hand. She smiled and stood up, walking quickly over to him.
"Clark, this looks and smells incredible!" she gushed, taking the plate he held out to her. She sat down at the table and pushed the saucy pasta around on her plate with her fork, allowing the steam to rise up from the bottom. The delicious smells of garlic, mushrooms and meaty sauce wafted up, filling her nostrils with its tantalizing smell. She shook a cautious bite, careful not to burn her tongue, and then closed her eyes in sheer ecstasy. When she opened her eyes, she was startled to see that Clark was watching her, his eyebrows raised and a smile of amusement on his face.
"What?" she demanded, feeling suddenly self-conscious.
Clark laughed. It was a deep, rich sound that she'd always loved. "Nothing," he answered quickly. "I'm just glad to see that you're enjoying it so much."
She relaxed. Spearing a meatball and then twisting her fork around several more strands of pasta, she shook her head at Clark. "You never cease to amaze me," she told him, putting the forkful in her mouth.
"Oh, yeah?" he asked, taking a bite. "Why's that?"
Lois finished chewing her mouthful and swirled her fork above the mound of pasta on her plate. "This!" she told him after she'd swallowed. "Who knew that spaghetti and meatballs could taste this good! I'm sure that if *I'd* tried to make this, it wouldn't even resemble pasta."
Clark laughed again, nearly choking on his food. He quickly took a sip of his water. "I'm sorry," he began, seeing the 'laugh and I'll kill you' look appear on her face. "But you're the one who said it, not me."
"That doesn't mean you have to laugh at it," she scolded him teasingly.
"I know, I know." Clark leaned over to give her a soft kiss.
Lois closed her eyes, savoring the sensations of Clark's lips on hers. When their lips parted, Lois giggled. "You taste like spaghetti."
"You do, too," Clark grinned. "I like it."
The easy atmosphere followed them clear through dinner and into the evening hours as they lounged on the couch talking. Lois was completely content as she leaned into Clark's side, her feet propped up along the length of the couch and his arm draped around her shoulders. She'd come to enjoy these laid- back evenings. It was nice to simply be with someone she loved, and not have to worry about doing or saying something wrong. She knew Clark loved her for who she was, and that was a great feeling.
Feeling a rush of love for this man who had captured her heart, she reached up to grasp Clark's hand as he tangled her fingers in the ends of her silky hair. Pulling his hand down to her lips, she kissed the back of his hand gently. Then she tipped her head back so she could look into his face.
"I love you, Clark," Lois said warmly. A few months ago, that would've been all but impossible for her to say. But now, it felt as natural as breathing.
Clark smiled softly and lifted his free hand to stroke her cheek with his fingertips. "I love you, too, Lois."
Thinking back, Clark remembered the first time they'd said 'I love you' to each other. It had been the night she'd come over to his apartment to tell him that she and Dan Scardino weren't going to be seeing each other any more. She'd obviously come over, set on putting her fears aside and getting things out in the open. The fact that she cared enough about him and was serious enough about their relationship to want to make things work was enough to warm his heart.
He'd listened carefully as she voiced her concerns about what had been going on between them, and she'd even suggested that they'd been hiding their feelings from each other because they were scared. Clark knew she was right. The idea of their relationship going bad scared him, and because of that, he'd held back. He'd been afraid of losing so many things: their friendship, their partnership, but most of all, he'd been afraid of losing *her*. Yet he knew that if things were going to progress, they needed to put their fears aside and commit to making their relationship work.
Then Lois had kissed him deeply, telling him without words how much she cared about him. But then she'd pulled back and looked seriously into his eyes. "Clark, if you're going to run away from this, tell me now," she'd said, the fear of the last few months of him dashing off still evident in her soft, vulnerable gaze.
Matching her intensity, he'd looked directly back into her eyes and assured her that he wasn't going to run, that he was ready to take the next step if she was. Then they'd kissed again. It was a kiss full of love, hope and promise, sealing the deal to take the next step towards a committed relationship.
Afterwards, they'd cuddled on the couch, talking about what they'd been feeling for each other, their frustrations, their hopes for their relationship, where they wanted to go, and what they expected from each other. It had been liberating to talk so freely and openly.
A short time later, Clark had gotten a phone call from his parents, who'd gone out for Chinese before Lois arrived. When they'd heard she was there, they told Clark they'd just go back to their hotel and see him tomorrow, leaving them alone for the night. So Clark returned to the couch, content to spend some quiet, uninterrupted time snuggling and talking on the couch with the woman he loved.
Sometime near dawn, when they'd finally talked themselves out, they just relaxed in each other's arms, content to simply hold each other. Clark remembered staring down at Lois as she laid across his lap and rested her head in the crook of his arm. Never had he felt such love and warmth for anybody, and he knew he couldn't keep it to himself.
Lifting a hand to tuck a dark strand of silky hair behind her ear, he smiled into her sleep-filled, yet content eyes. "I love you, Lois," he'd said quietly, hoping that his words wouldn't scare her off.
But Lois' eyes had grown misty with happy tears as she looked up at him, and she returned his soft smile and whispered, "I love you, too, Clark."
Their words had instantly seemed to open up a whole new world for them. Their relationship flourished as it moved to a whole new level, and their friendship became even stronger.
Since that night several weeks ago, they met often for breakfasts and lunches, and spent nearly every evening together. It was wonderful, Clark decided, to be in a committed relationship. He loved not having to wonder what she was thinking or feeling, or if she felt the same way about him as he felt about her. That night had changed his life. He'd known for a long time that he loved Lois, but to say it out loud to her, and to hear her say it back, it had really turned his life around.
Coming back to the present, Clark glanced down at his watch and realized it was nearly eleven. He squeezed Lois' shoulder. "It's getting late. I'd better get you home."
As he slid out from behind her, she moaned in protest. "Oh, and I was so comfortable!"
Clark grinned. "Sorry, but I'm sure Perry needs us at work first thing tomorrow to do the follow-ups on our story." He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. "Come on. I'll make sure you get home okay."
"Clark, I'll be fine," she told him, getting her coat. "I have my car, remember?"
"I know. But what kind of gentleman would I be if I didn't see that you got safely home?"
Lois smiled at him as he helped her on with her coat. "Well, far be it from me to turn down a chance to spend more time with you. But how will *you* get home?"
"I'll do what I always do. I'll walk," he said simply.
Because of the lateness of the hour, there was very little traffic to slow them down and they arrived at Lois' building in record time, much to Lois' disappointment. They took their time walking up the stairs, neither wanting the evening to end.
When they finally reached her door, Lois turned to Clark and smiled softly. "Well," she began.
"Well," he echoed. He closed the distance between them, taking her hands in his, and rubbing the backs of her hands with his thumbs. "Thanks for tonight." Lois laughed. "What, are you kidding? You can cook for me absolutely anytime you'd like." She brought her hands up to his chest and tilted her face up to his invitingly.
Never one to pass on a chance to kiss the love of his life, Clark lowered his head and kissed her softly.
Lois sighed happily. Kissing Clark was incredible. The touch of his lips always sent her reeling. When their lips parted, Lois was breathless. She opened her eyes to look at Clark, and their eyes met.
Leaning down to kiss her again, their lips met with slightly more intensity this time and Lois was immediately caught up in the passion of their kiss. Almost as if they had a mind of their own, her hands began to roam over the tautness of his chest. It always amazed her that she could feel his muscle definition even through the fabric of his shirt.
She fingered one of the buttons on his shirtfront, tracing its smooth, round surface. She'd always been tempted to give in to her desire to unbutton his shirt and enjoy the sensation of her hands on his bare skin. But she'd never actually been brave enough to take such a bold step. Although she felt ready to take the next step in their increasingly intimate relationship, Clark didn't seem to be ready, so she didn't want to push him.
Clark, his kisses becoming more intense, lifted his hands to tangle his fingers in her hair, then let his hands slide down to cup her face in his hands.
Lois leaned further into his kiss, causing Clark to lose his balance slightly and bump against the doorjamb. Lois giggled. "Sorry," she mumbled against his lips.
He laughed softly. "Mmm, that's okay." His mouth continuing to roam over hers as his hands slid down to caress her shoulders and then drifted lower, settling on either side of her tiny waist. He rubbed his thumbs in slow, torturous circles, making Lois' heart race crazily.
Clark, affected just as deeply as Lois by their kisses and caresses, knew that the time had come for him to take control of the situation. If he didn't, he seriously doubted his ability to stop things if they went any further. And he didn't want that to happen. Not yet.
While he still had the willpower to do so, Clark pulled back, making Lois groan in disappointment. She opened her eyes and looked at him questioningly. She noticed that he, too, was having a tough time catching his breath, and that his cheeks were flushed.
"I think I'd better say goodnight before things get out of hand," he told her with a sheepish grin. "Besides, we have an early day tomorrow. And *you*," he cupped her face in his hands. "need to get some sleep." He leaned in to kiss her again, though more casually this time.
"What about you?" she asked. "Don't *you* need to get some sleep, too?"
His face froze momentarily. "Oh, uh, yeah. That's what I meant." He cursed himself silently for making the slip. Then he rushed on, hoping to cover himself before Lois noticed his anxiety. "I meant that we *both* need to get some sleep."
Lois looked at him strangely for a minute. She was an investigative reporter. She prided herself on being able to tell when someone was trying to cover something up. And this time, it was obvious.
But before she could think about it any further, Clark's dazzling smile returned and he pulled her against him for one more long, earth-shattering kiss. It made her forget everything except the feel of his lips on hers, the lingering taste of spaghetti when their tongues entwined, and the floating feeling she always got when they kissed so deeply and passionately.
When the kiss finally ended, Clark gave her hand a gentle squeeze and took a step backwards. "Goodnight, Lois."
"'Night, Clark." She smiled wistfully at him as he stepped out into the hall. "See you tomorrow." After he was gone, she went about getting ready for bed, practically floating on air. Being in love was a wonderful feeling. As she was rummaging through her bottom dresser drawer looking for her favorite red satin nightie, she suddenly remembered Clark's reaction to her simple question about sleeping.
"Shoot! How could I have forgotten to ask him about that?" she groaned, mentally kicking herself for being so easily distracted. She found the short, red nightgown and pulled it roughly from the drawer. "One kiss, and all my investigative journalism instincts fly right out the window."
But then when she remembered his kiss, a broad smile spread across her face. Who *wouldn't* be distracted by a kiss like that? But as she climbed into bed, she couldn't stop wondering what it was he might've been hiding.
'Come on, Lois,' she scolded herself. 'What could he possibly have to hide? You know Clark better than anyone you've ever known.'
Still thinking, she climbed into bed and turned off her light. She stared up at the ceiling for a long time, unable to stop the scene from replaying itself in her mind. His reaction had been strange enough that she wasn't able to simply dismiss it as one of his nervous explanations. After all, it was one thing for him to act strangely when he disappeared out of the blue. But what did that have to do with sleeping?
After going over and over it in her mind and reaching no conclusions, she finally gave up and did her best to force it from her mind. She rolled over in bed and let her mind wander contentedly back to her perfect evening with Clark. She loved being with him, and the way he made her feel. Every minute they were apart, she found herself thinking about him, wondering what he was doing or where he was. When she really thought about it, it was actually pretty pathetic.
Suddenly, after doing all this thinking about Clark, she knew she had to hear his voice. 'He was just here an hour ago,' the little voice inside her argued.
'I know that,' she argued back. 'But I miss him already.' So, Ignoring the quarrelsome voice in her head, she reached over to turn on the bedside light and then picked up the phone, dialing the number she knew by heart.
As she did, she smiled and shook her head, muttering to herself, "You really *are* pathetic." But that didn't stop her from smiling in anticipation at the thought of hearing his voice again.
Clark landed on his apartment's balcony after flying around Metropolis for a solid hour. Usually, flying helped him to clear his head, but this time it hadn't worked. He hated lying to Lois.
He went into his apartment and flopped down on the couch with a weary sigh. 'I hate keeping this from her!' he thought angrily. 'It's not fair to her, and it's not fair to me. Besides, she deserves to know.'
He remembered how innocent it had seemed to lie to her about his other identity when they'd first met. It had been no big deal to rattle off some excuse about where he was going or where he'd been. But when they'd started growing closer, each lie that came out of his mouth ate at him. And now that they were practically engaged…well, lying to her filled his entire soul with guilt. What was worse, he realized, was that he'd gotten too good at rationalizing it.
At first, it had been necessary. She was a great reporter on a hot story: Superman. Telling her was simply out of the question. Then he found himself falling for her, but he didn't want to jeopardize the trust he was slowly earning by admitting that he'd been lying to her. And up until recently, he hadn't wanted to tell her before he was certain that she loved him for who he was, and not for what he could do. Now that he knew she did, the time had come. He had to tell her.
His frown quickly evolved into a smile, though, when he thought of their evening together. Just merely thinking about her made his heart swell. She was everything he'd ever wanted and more. The realization that he'd finally found his soulmate filled him with such joy that it was all he could do to keep from taking off and soaring into the sky.
On the other hand, knowing that he'd found the love of his life also brought new challenges. Once the barriers were down between them and they grew more comfortable with each other, it wasn't long before their interludes of kissing began to intensify. It took all of his strength and willpower to force himself to stop before things went too far. She was so beautiful, so perfect for him, that he wanted more than anything to take their relationship to the next level by being completely intimate with her. But he knew he couldn't do that until he'd told her everything about himself.
The phone rang suddenly and he jumped. Laughing at himself, he stood up and walked over to the phone. "Hello?"
"Lois!" he exclaimed, surprised. "Is everything okay? Is something wrong?"
"Oh, no, no, no, Clark, everything's fine," she quickly reassured him. "I know you were here just a little while ago, but…" Her voice trailed off as she suddenly felt foolish. "I guess I…just wanted to talk to you once more before I went to sleep. I didn't wake you up, did I?"
Clark's mouth curved into a pleased grin. It was nice to know he wasn't the only one who had separation anxieties. When he spoke, she could hear the smile in his voice. "No, I wasn't asleep. I'm glad to called."
Lois laid back on her pillow, content to hear Clark's voice. "So what are you doing?"
Clark tucked the cordless phone between his shoulder and ear and wandered into the kitchen. "Oh, nothing really. Just unwinding before I go to bed. How about you?"
"Well, after you left, I got dressed for bed and turned in. But I've been lying here in bed ever since. I just can't seem to go to sleep."
Clark froze. The thought of her in sleepwear and lying in bed was almost enough to send him bolting for a cold shower. "Oh," was all he could think of to say. There was a long, comfortable silence where neither of them felt pressed to say anything. Finally Lois spoke. "I really enjoyed tonight, Clark. Thanks for saving me from eating something I might've had to cook."
Clark laughed. "I never thought about it that way. I guess you could say, then, that my cooking dinner for you could be considered a mission of mercy."
Lois laughed, too. "I guess so." She paused. "Well, I should let you get some sleep."
"Yeah, it is getting pretty late. How do you feel about meeting me for breakfast tomorrow?"
Lois couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face. "I'd love that. Jenny's Caf‚?" she asked, bringing up the name of their favorite breakfast meeting place.
"Of course," he agreed. He knew he should say goodbye and hang up, but he just couldn't seem to bring himself to. Just then he heard her yawn. "I heard that," he said with a grin. "I'll let you go."
"Sorry," she mumbled through the last half of her yawn. "I guess I'm more tired than I thought. So I'll see you tomorrow morning?"
"You bet." He paused, leaning back against the kitchen counter. "And Lois…?"
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few moments. "Yes, Clark?" she prompted.
When he finally continued, his voice was low and husky. "I'm glad you called," he told her for the second time.
Lois felt the glow start at her heart and spread throughout the rest of her body. "Me, too. Goodnight, Clark."
Clark smiled softly. "Goodnight, Lois."
It wasn't until he heard the 'click' on the other end of the line that he set the phone down in its cradle. He shook his head and chuckled to himself. "What would I ever do without her?"
He shut off the lights in his apartment and went into his bedroom, crossing over to his dresser. Opening the top drawer, he moved aside several pairs of socks and carefully removed a tiny black, velvet-covered box. Slowly, almost reverently, he opened the lid.
The sparkle of the brilliant solitaire diamond ring nestled within caught the light from the room and reflected it back, sparkling and gleaming as Clark tilted the box slowly one way and then the other. He smiled. Lois was going to love it.
He'd had it for a while now, but so far he hadn't been brave enough to actually propose. He wanted everything to be perfect: the night, their surroundings, the circumstances under which he proposed. He wanted it to be the most incredible and memorable event in their lives. At least, of their lives so far.
He snapped the lid shut and tucked the ring box back into its hiding place, then closed the drawer and started getting undressed. 'I'd better hurry and figure out how to propose,' he thought as he finished stripping down to his boxers and climbing under his covers, 'because I don't want to keep this secret from her any longer.'
"Lois! Clark! I need to see you in my office, pronto!" Perry yelled as soon as they stepped off the elevator the next morning.
Lois glanced at Clark, who was walking behind her, and smiled at him. "After that big breakfast, I was kind of hoping to ease into the workday."
Clark laughed. "Yeah, me, too." He put his hand gently on the small of her back and guided her across the newsroom. As soon as they put their stuff at their desks, they headed for Perry's office.
Perry was sitting at his desk, a red pencil in one hand and a stack of papers in the other. He looked up at them the second they walked in, and Lois recognized the look. He always got that look when something big had happened.
"I've got something for you two," Perry said, gesturing at the couch across from his desk. "Have a seat."
They sat down, then looked at Perry curiously. "What's up, Chief?"
"I just got a call from one of my buddies who's a warden at Metropolis State Prison," he began. "Apparently, there was a riot last night, and when all was said and done, two prisoners were missing."
Lois leaned forward eagerly. "Did he say who they were?"
Perry nodded. "It was Everett Price and his cell mate."
"What?!" "You've got to be kidding me!" Lois and Clark blurted out simultaneously.
"No, I'm very serious," Perry told them. "The guards discovered they were missing last night when they did their bed checks. He called to let me know this morning, and I thought you two should know, since you were the ones who put Price away."
Lois caught Clark's eye. "Yeah, he wasn't very happy when Clark and I got that tip about his gun smuggling ring and started poking around. And then with some help from Superman, we were able to track down enough evidence on him to put him away." She paused. "Well, until now."
"Who was his cell mate, Perry?" Clark asked. "Do you know?"
Perry retrieved a piece of paper from underneath the larger stack. "Yeah, his name is Karl Hendricks. He was in for two counts of armed robbery."
Clark turned to Lois, but she shook her head and shrugged. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"To me, either," he admitted.
"Well, okay then! It sounds like you've got some digging to do," Perry said, handing them the piece of paper. "I want you two on this like flies on a T-bone. Don't come back in here until you've got something for me. Got it?"
They nodded in unison. "Got it, Chief."
Clark followed Lois over to her desk, where she sat down and pulled out a notepad. "I think the first thing we need to do is find out who this Hendricks is," she told him. "Maybe that'll get us started."
"Okay. Here's what I dug up," Lois announced a short time later when Clark came over to her desk. "Price was in prison a year before Hendricks became his cell mate. And from what I've been able to find out, I don't think they knew each other before then."
"Okay," Clark nodded. "What else did you find out?"
"Well, Hendricks was caught a week after he'd stolen some specialized equipment from Star Labs. Apparently, he was able to bypass their building security and tap into their computer system. They never did find out how he did it. As far as anyone can tell, he probably had some inside help."
"What did he want the equipment for?"
"He didn't. He'd been contracted to break in and steal the stuff for someone else." Lois shrugged. "It seems to me that he's basically just a contracted thief who knows how to get in and out of high-security buildings. Only this time he got caught."
"Hmmm. Well, that explains how they were able to break out of prison," Clark mused. "But the more important question is, what are they planning?"
Lois sat back in her chair and looked at him thoughtfully. "Do you think they're up to something?"
Clark shrugged. "Well, they *did* break out of prison. And I doubt it was only because they hated the food."
Lois smiled. "Right." She thought for a minute. "Well, this is just speculation," she began haltingly. "But do you think he could be planning on getting back at Superman? He was the one who found Price's secret vault, which contained all the paperwork needed to incriminate him. Because of that, Price blamed Superman for his arrest and was very public with his hatred of him. He even threatened that when he got out, he'd make him pay for putting him in prison. So do you think he could be plotting some kind of revenge against him?"
Clark let out a deep breath. "The thought had crossed my mind, yeah."
Lois stood up abruptly from her chair and reached for her coat. "We've got to warn Superman."
"Lois, where are you going?" he asked quickly.
"To warn him!"
Clark laughed. "Come on, Lois, think about it. Where, exactly, are you going to go to warn him?"
Lois paused in her attempt to put on her overcoat. "Oh. Yeah, I guess I didn't think about that."
"Lois Lane, again jumping into the pool without checking the water level first," he teased, a wicked gleam in his eye.
She glared at him. "Ha, ha," she responded dryly. "Excuse me for wanting to warn a friend that he may be in danger."
Clark smiled apologetically. "Lois, I'm not making fun of you. I'm just pointing out that we shouldn't be rushing into something we know nothing about yet. All we have is the news of two prisoners' escape and some speculation. Besides," he said, putting his hands on her arms and rubbing them lightly. "I'm sure Superman has nothing to worry about. Even if Price were to find him, what would he do to him? He's invulnerable, remember?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Lois admitted half-heartedly.
Clark sat down on the corner of her desk. "I think we also need to consider the possibility that Price might be planning on coming after us instead of Superman."
Lois looked at him curiously. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, like I said, Price can't do anything to Superman, and I'm sure he knows it. So where does that leave him?"
Lois saw where Clark was going with this. "He'll be looking for somebody else to take it out on, so who better than the two reporters who helped put him away?"
Clark nodded. "That's what I was thinking."
"Well, then we'll just have to figure out what he's planning, and find him before he does anything." Lois reached for her coat again.
"Now where are you going?"
"*We*," she emphasized. "Are going to go have a talk with Bobby Bigmouth. Maybe he can give us some information about Price and Hendricks."
Clark flashed her a grin. "Now you're thinking!" He watched her as she grabbed a notebook and pen from her desk and quickly stuffed them into her bag. Her eyes danced with excitement and her cheeks were flushed with enthusiasm.
Unable to help himself, he asked, "Have I told you how beautiful you are when you're excited about a story?"
Lois paused in mid-stuff and looked up at him in surprise. He was looking back at her tenderly, and she could tell from the look in his eyes that he meant what he'd said. Her lips curved into a smile. "You want something, don't you?"
Clark laughed loudly. "Lois, I was just paying you an nice, honest compliment. Leave it to you to turn it into something twisted."
She laughed, too. "I'm just kidding," she told him, standing on her tiptoes to give him a quick kiss. "I guess I'm just not used to getting compliments like that. You're really very sweet to say something so wonderful." Then she threaded her arm through his and started to lead him away from her desk. "Now let's get going!"
Shaking his head, Clark allowed himself to be pulled toward the elevators. He knew that he'd gladly follow her wherever she wanted to take him, even if it was to the ends of the earth.
"So, other than the little pieces of information we got from Bobby, we have absolutely nothing to go on," Lois complained as she slipped her key into the lock and pushed open the door to her apartment. She walked in and dropped her keys and folders onto the table. "I can't believe we spent the entire day on this and came up empty handed! What a waste."
"It wasn't a waste," Clark assured her. "We just learned that our regular sources don't know anything about what Price is planning. We'll just have to talk to other sources."
Unable to share Clark's enthusiasm, Lois flopped onto the couch in frustration. "Clark, you're an incurable optimist. I admire that, I really do. But the bottom line is, we have *nothing*."
Clark shook his head and smiled as he turned to get their Chinese take-out from the large paper bag on the table. He'd learned better than to argue with Lois when she was like this. She simply hated when things didn't go her way with a story, and no amount of consoling would make her feel better. He just had to let her frustration run its course.
"What would you rather have?" he asked Lois, holding up two containers. "The sweet and sour chicken or the chow mien?"
Lois lifted her head from the arm of the couch to look at the two boxes Clark was holding. "The chow mien, I guess." She stood up and walked over to the table, plunking herself down in a chair.
Clark couldn't help laughing. "Don't sound so enthused, Lois," he teased, placing a plate in front of her and spooning some of the chow mien onto it.
"I'm sorry," she told Clark as he sat in the chair next to her and spooned the rest of the container's contents onto his own plate. "Don't mind me. I'm just in a bad mood. I *hate* it when we run into dead ends!"
"Lois, Price and Hendricks just broke out of prison yesterday," Clark pointed out. "Give yourself some credit. If there's information to be found, you'll find it. It just may take a few days. Now, if you're done sulking, you can eat your dinner."
His tone was very much like that of a parent who was patiently putting up with the tantrum of a small child. It made Lois smile in spite of herself.
Looking at Clark, she realized how lucky she was to have somebody who understood her drive to be the best, and who willingly put up with her dramatic mood swings. "You're so good for me," she told him sincerely. "Nobody else would put up with me like you do."
"I know," he answered, giving her a disarming smile. He immediately laughed and ducked away as she slapped him lightly on his arm.
"Don't you dare act so high and mighty with me," she retaliated teasingly. "It's not just *you* who puts up with *me*, you know. You're not so easy to put up with, either, Mr. Goody Two Shoes!" Clark laughed at that, and she went on. "You'd rather miss a story than bend a few rules to get the scoop."
"You don't have to bend the rules to get a story, Lois," he insisted, enjoying their standing argument. "There's always a way to get what you want by following the rules, whether you believe that or not."
Lois' demeanor softened, and her lips curved into a warm smile. "That's what I think I love about you the most, Clark," she told him seriously. "You've proven to me that there are people out there who have morals and ethics, and will stick by them no matter what. I've learned that I can trust you, and I love the fact that we don't have to keep secrets from each other. It's what made me fall in love with you in the first place."
Clark winced. Her words made him feel like somebody had just driven a stake through his heart. He forced the smile to remain on his face, afraid that if he stopped smiling, Lois would know something was wrong. And that deceit in itself made him feel even worse.
The rest of dinner went by in a blur for Clark, and he hoped that the small talk he made was enough to mask his bottled up feelings of guilt. He'd been feeling guilty enough having to keep this from Lois. But then to hear that she looked up to him for his ethics and honesty, well, that hurt. He had to tell her before things got any further out of hand. And after the conversation they'd just had, he was afraid of what she might do or say. But he knew he had to do it.
And he had to do it tonight.
After they finished eating, Clark offered to help Lois with the dishes. He scolded himself for being so chicken, and for putting off telling her about himself right then and there. But he rationalized it by telling himself it would be easier if he could tell her after the dishes were put away so she wouldn't have anything to throw at him.
Lois started telling him about some ideas she had for follow- ups on their crime ring story, but Clark found himself only half-listening. He was too distracted to do more than add an 'uh-huh' or 'I like that idea' in what he hoped were the appropriate places.
When the last of the dishes had been dried and put away, Clark made himself take a deep breath. But before he could say anything, Lois slipped her arms around his waist and smiled up at him.
"You're not leaving yet, are you?" she asked, running her hands along the muscles of the small of his back.
He shook his head, forcing himself to return her smile. "No, I wasn't planning on it."
Her smile faded a bit. "Clark, are you okay? You seem…I don't know, distracted or something."
"Yeah, I'm okay, it's just…well," he turned to glance at her living room. "Can we sit for a while? I wanted to talk to you about something."
Lois looked at him strangely, but she nodded. "Sure."
Clark took a long, slow breath and then let it out again. It was now or never.
He sat on the couch beside her, and she immediately snuggled into his side, resting her head on his shoulder contentedly. Then she turned her head slightly so she could look up at him. "What did you want to talk about, Clark?"
Clark stared down at her, and instantly he felt his determination waver. She loved and trusted him in a way that she never had with anyone else in her life. It showed in her countenance, and in the way she looked at him. How could he possibly do what he was about to do? But then he gave himself a mental shake and forced himself to be strong.
But before he could speak, Lois suddenly leapt to her feet, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin.
"Clark!" she practically yelled. "We forgot to talk to Joe down at the mission! Since we started talking to him about six months ago when he got out of prison, he's always been able to tell us things that nobody else knows! And didn't he finish his time in Met State Prison?"
Clark blinked. She was right! Temporarily putting his admission aside, he nodded, caught up in her enthusiasm. "Yeah, he was!" he agreed, standing up beside her. "Maybe he knew—"
"Price and Hendricks!" Lois finished, nearly bursting with excitement. "Why didn't we think of that?!"
"Lois, you're amazing!" Clark exclaimed. He grabbed Lois in a big bear hug and twirled her around in a circle, causing Lois to squeal with delight.
When he finally set her down, her cheeks were flushed with pleasure and her smile lit up her face.
"See?" he told her, his eyes sparkling. "I told you you'd think of something!"
"Oh, Clark! I'm just so excited we're not at a dead end!" she gushed. Then she looked thoughtful as she continued. "I guess the first thing we need to do tomorrow morning is put in a call to Joe. We can ask him if he knew Price and Hendricks, and if they'd ever talked about escaping or if they were planning on getting revenge on anyone…"
Clark shook his head and smiled to himself as she rambled on. It never ceased to amaze him. Lois always found a way to get the leads that led to big stories. It's what made her the best. Lois' ramblings trailed off when she noticed that he was staring at her, a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. "What are you staring at?" she asked self consciously.
"What about me?"
Clark took a step closer. "I just love seeing you get so excited about things," he told her. "Your cheeks get flushed, your eyes light up, and you seem to glow all over. It makes me want to do this." He cupped her face in his hands and leaned down to give her a deep, passionate kiss that made her tingle all over.
When Clark pulled back and smiled at her tenderly, Lois noticed how incredibly sexy he looked just then, with his face slightly flushed from excitement and his eyes all lit up as he stared back at her.
Giving in to her sudden desire to kiss him, she launched herself at him unsuspectingly, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him intensely. The force of her weight caused him to stumble backwards and bump into the arm of the couch, and he made a grab for the end table in an attempt to steady himself, but he succeeded in knocking a couple of things off the table as he did.
His first thought was to pick the things back up, but instead he simply dismissed them with a wave of his hand and refocused his attention on kissing Lois. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her tightly against him, tangling his fingers in her hair as he cradled her head in his hands. Then his hands slid down to her shoulders and then continued on down her back, caressing the muscles in her back as they went. He doubted he could ever get enough of her, of touching her, of feeling her touching him.
He knew he should stop this and get on with saying what he had to say, but her kiss rendered him virtually powerless. The feel of her lips on his, and the way she stroked her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck made him forget about everything except the woman in his arms.
Lois' lips left his and kissed their way to the sensitive spot behind his ear. Clark closed his eyes, shivering at the sensations of her lips against his skin. Then she began kissing her way down his neck, and he titled his head in order to give her better access. "Mmmm," he murmured blissfully as her kisses continued to send jolts of sheer pleasure throughout his body.
Lois smiled against his skin, pleased that she could have such an effect on him. She felt his hands slide down to her lower back and then they proceeded to move lower.
Feeling completely caught up in the moment, Lois ran her hands up the front of his shirt, her fingers pausing at his buttons. Maybe it was the glass of wine she'd had with dinner, or maybe it was just the fact that she was feeling more and more comfortable with him, but for whatever the reason, she found herself fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. In the back of her mind, she wondered if Clark would stop her, or if he would object to what she was doing, but he gave her no indication that he wanted her to stop, so Lois persisted.
When she'd undone three of his buttons, she pushed aside the fabric of his shirt and slid her hands underneath the thin material. As soon as her hands found his chest, Clark moaned into her mouth, immensely enjoying the feel of her hands caressing his chest.
She continued to let her hands explore, enjoying the sensation of her hands against his warm skin. She slowly traced a finger down his sternum, sending a fiery trail of ecstasy burning through Clark.
He moaned again, capturing her hands for a moment, then releasing them in order to do a little exploration of his own. Kissing her again, his tongue entwined with hers, taking great care to explore every crevice of her mouth. Slowly, he moved his hands from her hips and edged them up her sides until they were resting on her ribcage.
Lois instantly felt as if her body temperature had shot up about twenty degrees at his touch, her skin suddenly feeling hot and clammy. She pulled back from their kiss to look deeply into Clark's eyes and saw that they were clouded with arousal, probably much the same as hers were.
Completely breathless, Clark stared back at Lois, taking in her tousled hair and kiss-reddened lips, and something deep inside told him that he wanted to be with her right now. Tonight. He didn't want to wait any longer to be with the woman he loved.
Moving forward to capture her mouth again, he crushed her against him, urged on by the little noises of pleasure she made at his aggressiveness. Lois encouraged him further by wrapping her arms around his waist and slipping her fingers under the waistband of his slacks at his lower back.
"Hey, Lois!" A loud voice and a sudden pounding on the door startled them, and they jumped apart from each other. Then the voice came again. "Lois? It's Jimmy! Are you in there?"
Lois rolled her eyes and groaned. "That boy has great timing."
Clark laughed, though it sounded forced to his own ears. "Yeah, he sure does."
Jimmy knocked again. "Lois?"
"Um, I'm coming, Jimmy!" she called out. "Just a minute." She hurried over to the mirror near her door and hastily checked her appearance. She quickly combed her fingers through her tousled hair, then proceeded to tuck in the front of her blouse.
She turned back to Clark. "Do I look okay?" she stage whispered.
He nodded, and she quickly made her way to the door. She had her hand on the doorknob when she noticed that his shirt was still unbuttoned. She did some quick miming, and when he realized what she meant, he mouth formed a silent, "Oh!" and then hurried to redo his buttons.
Watching his nervous movements, Lois couldn't help smiling. She loved it when he looked so anxious and vulnerable. Then, taking a deep breath and doing her best to make herself act casual, she opened the door.
"Hi, Jimmy," she greeted. "What's up?"
"Hey, Lois," he responded cheerfully. "I was beginning to think you weren't home. I've got some information for you on Price and Hendricks." He took a couple of steps into the apartment before he noticed Clark standing over by the couch, straightening the end table's lampshade. "Hi, Clark. I should've known you'd be here."
Clark grinned. "Well, I just can't seem to stay away."
Lois was amazing at how Clark could act so calm when she, herself, felt like she'd just been on a wild roller coaster ride, leaving her heart pounding and the adrenaline rushing through her veins.
"I was able to dig up some more information for you," Jimmy told them, completely oblivious to the fact that he'd interrupted something. "I was on my way home, so I thought I'd just drop it by. I tried to call you from my cell phone a few minutes ago, but your line was busy."
Lois gave Clark a confused look, but he just raised his eyebrows and shrugged imperceptibly. She glanced over at the end table and was surprised to see that the phone wasn't there. Following the cord with her eyes, she suddenly realized that Clark must've knocked it off the table when they'd been concentrating on each other, because it lay half-buried in a basket of folded laundry next to the end table.
She glanced up at Clark, who had just spotted the phone and was looking rather guilty. Lois had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.
Anyway, here's that information," Jimmy was saying, holding a file folder out to her. "I have to hurry and get home. I've got a date."
Lois grinned conspiratorially at him as she took the folder from him. "Well, good luck, Jimmy. I hope this girl of yours knows how lucky she is."
That brought a sheepish grin to Jimmy's face. "I'll tell you guys all about it in the morning," he promised.
After Jimmy was gone, Lois shut the door behind him and leaned up against it. "Whew! I thought he'd never leave." She grinned. But Clark's returned smile seemed less than enthusiastic.
She pushed off from the door and went over to sit beside Clark on the couch. "Well, it was nice of Jimmy to bring all this by," she commented, thumbing briefly through the papers in the folder before setting it down on the coffee table.
"Yeah, it was."
An uncomfortable silence filled the room, and Lois started to feel anxious. Finally, Clark broke the silence. "I think that's the closest we've ever come to…well, you know…" he said, still trying to come to terms with what had happened—or almost happened.
Lois studied him carefully, trying to read into the serious expression on his face. Reaching out, she put her hand on his knee and rubbed it gently. "It sounds like that bothers you."
"No, it doesn't *bother* me," Clark told her truthfully. "It's just that I wanted to talk about a few things before we got to that point."
She smiled supportively. "I think that's a good idea. What would you like to talk about?"
Clark opened his mouth to speak, but just then he heard that all too familiar cry for help.
"Umm," he stammered, standing up abruptly. He gestured with his hands toward the door feebly. "I just remembered that I, uh…" He searched his mind frantically for an excuse. Any excuse. But his mind was a total blank. "Well, I've got to go and get…something. Can we talk about this later?"
Then, without waiting for an answer, he hurried to the door, mumbling something that resembled an apology, and then he was gone, leaving Lois staring after him in bewilderment.
Clark was furious with himself as he spun into the suit in a dark alley near Lois' building and then rocketed into the sky. 'What on earth were you thinking?' he scolded himself angrily. 'You promised you weren't going to get intimate with Lois until you told her the truth, and yet you let things go as far as they did tonight. You know how she makes you feel. You should've been more prepared and not let yourself get distracted.'
Clark heard the cry for help again and he flew in that direction, trying to set aside his thoughts and self-directed anger. He could finish giving himself a stern talking to later. Right now, he had a job to do.
A few run-of-the-mill rescues and a couple of hours later, Clark soared up into the night sky. Once again, he was able to be alone with his thoughts. But now that he was, he realized he no longer wanted to be. He needed to talk.
He didn't want to go back to Lois', though. She was sure to be angry with him for running off just as they were about to have a serious talk. And an argument wasn't what he wanted right now. He needed to go someplace where he could talk to somebody without worrying about letting things slip. Suddenly, it occurred to him where he should go.
Changing directions, he headed for the one place where he could always be himself. Smallville.
"Clark, if I'd known you were coming by, I would've saved you some dinner."
Clark laughed as his Mom continued to fuss over him, pulling leftovers out of the fridge and piling things on a plate. "Mom, you really don't have to feed me. That's not why I came. Besides, I just ate a couple of hours ago." He turned to his dad. "Can't you do something to make her stop?"
His dad laughed heartily as he sat down at the table with him. "I wish I could. You know how she is, Clark. Once she gets her mind set on something, there's no stopping her."
Clark laughed, too. "That sounds like someone else I know."
Martha smiled as she pulled the plate out of the microwave and set it on the table in front of Clark. "Speaking of Lois, how *are* things between the two of you?"
"Great," he told them enthusiastically as he took a bite of his food. "Actually, things are going better than I ever could've hoped for."
His parents studied him closely as he took a drink of milk. "And?"
He smiled. Nothing ever got past his parents. "And," he continued. "Tomorrow night I'm planning on asking her to marry me."
His mom gave a shriek of delight, and his dad's face broke into a huge grin as he leaned over to clap Clark on the shoulder.
"Oh, Clark, I can't believe it!" Martha exclaimed excitedly, giving him a big hug. "That's just wonderful!"
"Congratulations, son," Jonathan told him as soon as Martha had released him.
"Well, she hasn't said 'yes' yet, Dad," he pointed out.
"Oh, but she will, Clark," his mom assured him, dropping into the chair next to him. "I know how much you two love each other. You belong together."
Clark smiled, though less enthusiastically this time. "Yeah, I know that. But I can't help worrying about a few things."
Jonathan's brow furrowed in confusion. "Like what, son?"
"Well, I've been thinking a lot about how and when to ask her, where I should take her…and how I should tell her that I'm Superman…" He let his voice trail off.
"Ahhh," his dad said understandingly. "You're afraid of what she's going to say when you tell her."
"Wait a minute," Martha began, clearly confused. "I thought you were going to tell her *weeks* ago."
Clark took a drink of his milk and shook his head. "I was. But every time I started to bring it up, I guess I just…kind of, well, chickened out."
"Clark, you can't keep Lois in the dark about this," his mom insisted, reaching out to cover his hand with hers. "She loves you. And she deserves to know the truth about you so that she can love you for all that you are, and not just for the parts of you that you choose to let her. That's not what love's all about."
Clark sighed. "I know, Mom."
"And Lois is a smart woman," his dad chimed in. "Sooner or later, she's going to figure it out. And then where will you be? You'll be worse off than if you'd told her yourself." "I know," Clark said again. "I keep telling myself that. But I keep thinking about how she's going to react when I *do* tell her." He shook his head. "I don't know for sure how she's going to react, but I *do* know one thing. She is *not* going to be happy."
"Probably not," Jonathan agreed. "But what choice do you have?"
Clark looked from his mom to his dad. "You're right," he nodded. "As usual, you're right." He gave them a quick smile, then looked down at his plate thoughtfully and slowly pushed his food around on it.
"Is something else bothering you, Clark?" his mom prompted, putting her hand on his arm.
Clark sighed as he set his fork down and looked up at his parents. "I guess it's just really been bothering me lately that I've spent so many years lying to Lois about this. I mean, at first, I had to. But then when we got to be partners, and then best friends, lying to her made me feel more and more guilty. And now that we're in a serious relationship…" He shook his head dejectedly. "I practically hate myself."
"Oh, Clark, you shouldn't hate yourself," his mom told him firmly. "You had a darn good reason for keeping things a secret. And when Lois gets over being mad," she smiled at Clark. "She'll realize that, and understand why you did what you did."
"I guess I know that," Clark admitted. "I think I just needed to hear you say it." He gave his mom and dad a grateful smile. "Thanks, Mom and Dad. I knew you'd make me feel better. I'm glad I came."
Martha laughed and hugged him tightly. "We're glad you came, too. You know that we're always here for you, right?" When he nodded, she went on. "Good! Now make sure you call and tell us how things go tomorrow night with Lois! But remember, we'll be at the Johnson's."
Clark's expression was blank. "The Johnsons?" Then it clicked. The Johnsons were some friends of his parents that used to live in Smallville, and they'd recently moved to a suburb of Metropolis. "Oh! That's right. You were planning on visiting them for a few days. I forgot about that."
She nodded. "Yes, and they're only forty-five minutes from you. So if you want us to come into the city to do something with you and Lois, just call us. We'd love it."
Clark smiled. "That'd be great. I definitely will."
It was late when Clark finally said goodbye to his parents and flew back to Metropolis. When he climbed into bed, he hoped that he would fall right asleep so the night would pass quickly since he was feeling both nervous and excited about tomorrow's big event. Whether he'd realized it at the time or not, he'd been waiting for this moment since the first day he'd met Lois, and finally it was here.
Unable to shut off his thoughts, though, he tossed and turned for what seemed like hours. Finally, he realized it was useless. With a frustrated sigh, he climbed out of bed, spun into the suit and flew out into the night sky. It was going to be a long night.
As Clark stepped off the elevator the next morning, he found himself feeling apprehensive about seeing Lois. He never knew how she was going to react after one of his bouts of running off as he did last night. In his hand, he clutched a white baker's bag that contained a couple of chocolate eclairs that he hoped would be viewed as a peace offering.
He scanned the newsroom and saw that Lois was already at her desk, engrossed in something she was typing on her computer. He went over to her desk and leaned down to give her cheek a quick kiss. "'Morning, Lois. What are you working on?"
She glanced up at him and gave him a brief smile, then sat back in her chair and pointed to something on her monitor. "A lot of the information that Jimmy dug up on Price and Hendricks is interesting. I've been adding it to what we have so far."
"Ah. Just diving right in, as usual, huh?" he grinned.
She smiled back. "You know me."
"I sure do." Then, suddenly remembering the bag, he set it down on her desk ceremoniously.
Lois stared at it in confusion, then looked back up at Clark. "What's this?"
"I figured you were going to be here early working, so I stopped by the bakery on my way here."
A smile spread slowly across her face. "Let me guess. Chocolate eclairs?"
Clark looked at her in surprise. "How did you know that? Can you smell chocolate from a mile away or something?" he asked with a teasing smile.
Lois shook her head. "No, but I do remember a certain somebody who ran off on me last night just when we were about to have an important discussion." She picked up the bag. "You always think you can smooth things over with chocolate."
Clark laughed. "Am I that predictable?"
Clark walked over to his desk to set his stuff down, shaking his head and chuckling to himself. "I guess I need to rethink my 'making amends' strategy, if it's that predictable." When he looked up, he saw that Lois was coming toward him.
She stopped next to him, her expression serious. "Clark, I think we need to talk about what happened last night."
"About my leaving?"
"Well, yeah, that, too," Lois told him. Then her voice dropped to a quiet whisper, making it apparent that what she was about to say was meant for his ears only. "But what I meant was, things were getting pretty serious last night between us, if you know what I mean."
Clark's cheeks reddened, and Lois could tell he *did* know what she meant.
She forged on, her voice still soft and her tone relaying her vulnerability. "Clark, it bothers me to think that at the first chance you got to get out of there, you bailed. Do you know how that makes me feel, considering my past history with men? I thought that maybe you were afraid of getting intimate…"
Clark quickly jumped in, cutting her off. "Lois, I didn't bail, and I'm not afraid of getting intimate with you." He reached up to stroke her cheek gently. "In fact, there's nothing I'd love more than to be *intimate* with you."
Lois grinned, a blush spreading across her cheeks.
"But there are a few things I think we should talk about before we take that step," Clark told her.
An uncertain look crossed Lois' face. "What things?"
"Well, one thing, actually," Clark admitted, squirming uncomfortably.
Lois stared at him for a long minute, confused. When she saw that he remained serious, she started to grow nervous. "Clark, you're worrying me."
"Oh, no, no, no…" Clark said quickly, trying to erase any fears she was having. "It's nothing to worry about," he assured her. "It's just…well, it's something I've been needing to tell you for a while, and I haven't exactly found the right way to tell you."
"Well, if it's nothing to worry about, just tell me now."
Clark glanced pointedly at the people around them. "Lois, this isn't exactly the place where I want to tell you something like this. Actually, I was thinking that maybe we could go someplace where we could be alone, and not be interrupted every two seconds."
"Lois, Clark!" Perry bellowed from his office doorway. "How's that story coming? I need to know what you've got!"
Clark laughed and gestured in Perry's direction. "See what I mean?"
Lois laughed, too. Looking toward Perry, she yelled out, "We'll be right there, Chief!" Then she turned back to Clark. "Okay, you've made your point. So where do you suggest we go?"
"Well, I was thinking that maybe we could talk about it after dinner." He smiled broadly. "I just happened to be able to get us reservations tonight at Chez Pierre."
"The new French place?" Lois asked, looking impressed. "How'd you manage that? I heard they were booked for two months solid."
Clark stood tall and straightened the knot of his tie, trying to look important. "It all comes down to who you know," he grinned. "So how about it?"
Lois grinned. "You've got yourself a date."
When Clark knocked on Lois' door that evening to pick her up, he couldn't help feeling nervous. So much was riding on this night and how things played out.
He heard her footsteps approaching, and then the door opened. What he saw took his breath away. She was wearing a beautiful wine-colored evening gown with a plunging neckline and a short hemline, which showed off her long, shapely legs.
His approval must've shown on his face because Lois flashed him a confident smile. "It looks like I chose the right dress."
"Lois, you look absolutely stunning," he told her, unable to take his eyes off of her.
A pleased smile crossed her face. "Thank you," she answered, at the same time taking in his appearance which included a light gray suit, white shirt, and a flashy yellow tie. "You look pretty incredible yourself."
Clark gave himself a mental shake, trying to force himself out of his daze. "Not nearly as terrific as you. Are you ready to go?"
She nodded. "Just let me grab my coat."
Dinner was even more perfect than Clark could have imagined. In fact, he didn't think there was any way it could have possibly turned out any better. Lois was beautiful and enchanting, and he found himself absolutely mesmerized by her. The combination of their beautiful surroundings and the beautiful woman across the table from him was enough to take his breath away. When they'd finally finished their dinners, they ordered dessert and ate slowly, savoring every minute of their perfect evening. They spent a great deal of time talking, or simply gazing into each other's eyes over the flickering candlelight.
Then afterward, Clark suggested they take a walk through the restaurant's beautifully landscaped grounds. Lois accepted eagerly. 'Anything to keep this night from ending,' she thought.
They wandered hand in hand down the flagstone path that led through an iron gate and into the gardens that were surrounded by four-feet-high well-manicured hedges that formed a solid wall of green. When they stepped inside, Lois was surprised at how secluded the gardens felt. Raised beds of colorful, fragrant flowers surrounded a beautiful gurgling fountain, and strategically placed up lights cast a mysterious glow throughout the branches of the nearby trees.
Caught up in the beauty of their surroundings, they strolled along for a short distance without speaking. Finally, Clark broke the silence. "It looks like you're enjoying yourself."
Lois smiled and nodded. "I can't ever remember enjoying an evening more."
Clark gave her hand a squeeze, feeling a rush of pleasure at her words. Then he gestured to a beautifully carved wooden swing just off the stone path. "Feel like sitting?"
Lois nodded, and they settled into the swing. Clark stretched his arm along the back of the seat, his arm brushing against the back of Lois' neck. Lois let her head fall onto his shoulder, and Clark pushed at the ground with the toe of his shoe, setting the swing into a gentle, rocking motion.
For several minutes they were quiet, enjoying their beautiful surroundings and the stillness of the evening. Finally, Clark broke the comfortable silence. "Are you cold?"
Lois smiled softly and shook her head. "No," she answered quietly, as if speaking above a whisper might disrupt the mood. "I'm perfect, the evening's perfect…I can't possibly imagine things being any better. You couldn't top this evening if you tried."
Clark knew he'd just been given the perfect opportunity. He slipped his arm from around her and moved back a little. "Well, that sounds like a dare, if I've heard one," he told her with a smile. "Let's see what I can do about that."
Lois watched him curiously as he slid from the swing and dropped down onto one knee in front of her. Then, in shock and disbelief, she watched him pull out a tiny velvet box from his coat pocket and lift the lid.
She gasped when she saw the sparkling diamond within, and immediately her eyes filled her tears. She put a shaking hand to her mouth and looked up into Clark's eyes.
"Lois," he began, his voice rich and deep. "I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?"
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she finally found her voice. "Yes!" she exclaimed, her voice breaking with emotion.
In a rush, Clark let out the breath he hadn't even known he was holding. Overjoyed, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her deeply, telling her without words how happy he was and how special she was to him. When he finally released her, they were both breathless and deliriously happy.
Tearing his eyes away from Lois', he glanced down at the ring box still clutched in his hand. Carefully, he removed the ring and dropped the now empty box back into his coat pocket. Then he looked back up at Lois, their eyes meeting for a moment before he reached for her hand. Her cheeks flushed with pleasure as he took her delicate fingers in his strong ones and slipped the ring onto her finger.
She stared down at the ring on her hand, admiring the way it glimmered in the subdued lighting of the gardens. "I can't believe you did this!" she exclaimed, looking back up into Clark's eyes. "How long have you been planning this?"
He returned her brilliant smile with one of his own. "For a few weeks now. I've had the ring for a while, but I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about asking you."
"Oh, Clark," she breathed, lifting her hand and placing it gently on his cheek. "You shouldn't have been nervous. There's no way I would've turned you down." She looked down at the ground and continued haltingly. "Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to meet the one special man who would take me by surprise and sweep me off my feet. But then I had all those disastrous relationships, and I ended up completely writing off men." She laughed a little. But then she looked back up at him, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "Then you came into my life and proved to me that such a man could really exist, one who could love me as much as I love him."
Clark felt a lump rise in his throat. "And he does," he insisted. "He…*I* love you more than you could ever know."
A single tear spilled down Lois' cheek. "I love you, too, Clark," she said, her voice filled with emotion.
Clark reached out to cup her cheek in his hand, tenderly wiping the tear away with his thumb. Then he leaned toward her, sharing a kiss that was tender, loving, and passionate, and held promises of wonderful things yet to come.
When they finally made their way out of the gardens and returned to the car, Clark helped Lois into the passenger side, then hurried around and climbed behind the steering wheel. He glanced over at Lois and noticed with a smile that she was holding her hand up to better see the ring adorning her finger.
She caught his eye and grinned. "I would never have pictured you as the romantic type. But I can tell there are still things about you that I need to learn." She leaned over to kiss him tenderly.
Clark kissed her back, but the earlier excitement he'd felt had somewhat dissipated. Yes, he'd proposed and she'd accepted. But the big test was yet to come. When they got her back to her apartment, he was going to tell her the truth.
Lois unlocked the door to her apartment, turning to smile at Clark as she pushed open the door and went through. Clark did his best to calm the butterflies in his stomach as the door closed behind him.
Lois slipped her coat off and draped it over the back of the sofa, then returned to Clark's side. "Are you going to stay for a while?" she asked, slipping her arms around his waist. She smiled playfully and took the lapels of his suit jacket in her hands. "I can make it worth your while."
To prove what she meant, she stood on tiptoes and pressed several light, flirtatious kisses against his jawline.
Clark closed his eyes, fighting the waves of pleasure that threatened to overcome him. *Be strong,* he told himself. *You can't let yourself get distracted.* But his determination was quickly waning with the mind-numbing kisses of his fiancee.
Clark's eyes flew open. The realization of what he'd done and what he had to do struck him. He couldn't let another day go by without telling her about himself, especially now that they were engaged and he knew she loved him for who he really was.
He moved his hands from Lois' waist and slid them to her shoulders, pushing her away gently. "Lois, we need to talk about something."
"Of course we need to talk!" she exclaimed. "We're getting married! There are a ton of things to talk about." She gave him another quick kiss before turning and going into the kitchen. "Do you want something to drink?"
"Yeah, sure," he sighed, coming the rest of the way into the living room and sinking down onto the sofa. This wasn't going to be easy. With all the excitement of the evening, Lois had obviously forgotten about their earlier conversation at the Planet when he'd said that he'd wanted to talk with her about the one thing that was keeping him from being intimate with her.
Lois returned a minute later with two sodas. "Sorry, but this is all I have," she apologized as she handed one of them to Clark. "I haven't gotten to my grocery shopping yet."
Clark grinned. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
Lois rolled her eyes as she dropped onto his lap. Then she held her can of soda up and asked, "Do you think we'd jinx things if we toast our engagement with cream soda?"
Clark's smile softened. "No way," he insisted. "Everything's going to be perfect."
"Then, here's to us," she toasted.
They clinked their soda cans together, laughing as they did. Lois noticed, though, that Clark's smile seemed a bit strained. But as quickly as the thought came, she pushed it away, writing it off as pre-wedding jitters.
Her eyes automatically wandered over to the answering machine on the table next to the sofa, and the blinking red light caught her eye. Carefully, she leaned across Clark and pressed the 'play' button. An unfamiliar, raspy male voice came through the speakers.
"Word's out on the street that you're looking for information about Everett Price. If you want to know what I know, come to the old warehouse on ninth and Oxford at eleven o'clock." There was a loud click, and then the answering machine was silent.
Lois sat in stunned silence for a moment, then she quickly glanced down at her watch. "Hey, that's still a half hour from now! We can make it if we hurry!"
Feeling the familiar rush of adrenaline, she hastily set her soda on the end table, sloshing some of the drink over the edge. Then she jumped up from Clark's lap and hurried towards her bedroom. "Let me just change my clothes and I'll be ready to go."
Clark stared at Lois' retreating figure, his mouth open in disbelief. "Lois, you're not seriously considering going, are you? It could be a trap!"
The sound of drawers opening and shutting came from the bedroom, and a minute later Lois came hobbling out of her bedroom in sweats and a T-shirt, trying unsuccessfully to put on a sneaker as she half-walked, half-ran into the front room.
The familiar unsettling feeling that he always got whenever Lois went rushing blindly into a story came over him. He wasn't sure if it was his intuition, or if it was just the realization that this was now his fianc‚ who was taking the risk, but he didn't like this one bit.
"Why don't *I* just go?" Clark suggested as Lois dropped into a nearby chair and fumbled with her shoelaces. "I can check out this tip while you stay here."
Lois looked up from her shoe and gave him an indignant look. "Excuse me? We're partners, remember? That means *we* do the investigating *together*." Then, with a smile, she held up her left hand for him to see the shiny ring adorning her finger. "Besides, we'll soon be partners in other areas, too, so you may as well get used to it."
He had to laugh in spite of himself. He stood up and walked over to her. Sitting on the arm of her chair, he lifted her hand to his lips, kissing the ring on her hand tenderly. "There's nothing I'd love more."
In spite of his better judgement, Clark agreed to let Lois accompany him to the old, deserted warehouse. When they pulled up in front of the crumbling building, Clark tried one more time to convince Lois to let him go in alone.
"Not on your life," she argued firmly, stepping out of the car. "I want to find out as badly as you do what Price is up to, and so far this is our only lead."
Clark sighed as he got out of the car and caught up to Lois halfway across the street. He reached out and grabbed her shoulder before she could enter the building. "At least let me go first," Clark whispered in frustration. "Let me see if there's anything suspicious inside."
Lois stepped back from the door, though her expression clearly told him she was not happy at being told what to do. "Fine," she shrugged. "You go first."
Clark gave her a stern look. "You wait here."
When she saw that he was waiting for her to respond, she raised her eyebrows and shrugged again. "Yes! Okay! I get it," she answered, obviously miffed.
Clark creaked open the door and stepped inside. With a quick glance back to make sure Lois wasn't watching, he lowered his glasses and hastily scanned the building. His face creased into a frown. Half of the building's inner walls were covered with peeling lead-paint, making it virtually impossible for him to check it out as thoroughly as he wanted to.
Suddenly, something bumped up against him, making him jump. Hastily pushing his glasses back up on his nose, he spun around and saw that Lois had come through the door and was now standing next to him. He rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Lois, you never listen!" he scolded in a stage whisper. "I told you to wait outside!"
"This is my story, too!" Lois shot back. "I'm not going to stand outside waiting all night while you…"
"Well, well, well, isn't this cozy," a voice leered, interrupting their argument.
Their heads jerked in the direction of the voice, and Lois gasped when she saw the large, burly man step out from the shadows with a revolver trained on them.
Recognizing the man from his mug shot, Clark automatically took a step in front of Lois, putting his body between hers and the man. "Karl Hendricks, I presume?"
The man nodded. "You presume right. Now, if you'll both please step over here, I believe we have some business to discuss."
Lois and Clark exchanged a nervous glance, then reluctantly moved in the direction Hendricks indicated. Clark made sure that he kept himself between Lois and Hendricks, not wanting to risk the possibility of her getting shot.
They were ushered toward the back of the warehouse and into a large, dimly lit room that was about the size of a basketball court and littered with old machinery. Then, with his gun still leveled at them, Hendricks picked up a couple of lengths of rope and roughly began tying them to separate support beams about ten feet apart.
Clark, unwilling to do something that would reveal himself as Superman to their captor, and knowing he could still get to Lois in a heartbeat if he needed to, went ahead and played helpless as his wrists were tied behind him and around the steel column.
"That should hold you," Hendricks muttered in satisfaction as he stepped away from them. "Now don't you two try anything funny before the boss gets here."
As he walked across the room and began to rummage through the contents of a large green duffel bag, Lois looked anxiously at Clark. "The boss?" she whispered.
Clark shrugged, feeling a bit anxious himself. "Any bet he means Price?"
Lois sighed, then began to work her hands against her restraints. "Maybe if I can slip out of these ropes…"
"Lois, what are you doing?" he whispered fiercely. He gestured with his head in Hendricks' direction. "He's got a gun!"
She glared at him. "So that means I should just stand here and wait for him to shoot us? I don't think so. Besides," she went on. "Superman will save us. He always does."
"Now *that's* something we need to talk about," Clark muttered sarcastically.
Lois leveled a hard stare at him. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"
Before Clark could respond, a new, yet familiar voice reached their ears. "Well, what have we here?"
Lois and Clark immediately stopped talking and turned to see Everett Price coming into the room. His smile showed that he was obviously very pleased with himself.
"Everett Price," Lois said in disdain, her lip curling in disgust. "What do you think you're doing? What do you want from us?"
He smiled smugly, making a clicking noise with his tongue. "So many questions, Lois Lane, star reporter." His smile turned into an angry frown. "Because of your annoying questions, you and this partner of yours sent me to prison, a place I vowed I would never go."
"You sent yourself to prison, Price," Clark snapped, successfully drawing the man's attention to him and stopping the man's advance toward Lois.
"Oh, is that the way you see it, Mr. Kent?" he glowered. "Well, the way I see it, if you and Ms. Lane hadn't stuck your nose in where it didn't belong, I'd still be a free man."
He turned to Hendricks, who had come to stand beside him. "Isn't that right, Karl?"
Karl nodded gruffly. "That's right."
Price turned his attention back to his captives. Directing a leering smile at Lois, he said, "But don't worry your pretty little head, Ms. Lane. It's not you or your partner I'm after. You're both just a convenient way to lure that stupid superhero to me. He was the one who saw to it that there was enough evidence to convict me, so he's the one I have the bone to pick with."
He turned to Hendricks. "Let me know when our boy has arrived." Then, with one last infuriating smirk at Lois and Clark, he left the room.
It was quiet for a long minute as the three stared at each other. With a quick surveying glance, Lois noticed that Hendricks had tucked his gun into the waistband of his jeans. As inconspicuously as possible, she twisted her hands in the ropes, trying to create enough slack for her to be able to work herself loose.
Lois decided a distraction was in order if she were to successfully distract the man while she fidgeted with her ropes. "So, when Superman *does* get here," she asked, her voice laced with sarcasm, "what are you going to do? Shoot him?"
"Lois," Clark cautioned quietly, giving her a stern warning glance that she knew meant 'don't provoke him'.
Choosing to ignore it, she looked back at Hendricks, who laughed cynically. "We don't *need* to shoot him, Ms. Lane," he scoffed, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small metallic box. "We have this."
He started to open the lid, and immediately Clark felt a wave of pain sweep over him. Not noticing Clark's discomfort, Hendricks continued, looking at its contents proudly. "It's our little ace in the hole for our plans to destroy Superman."
Lois eyes grew wide as she recognized the familiar green glow emanating from the rock inside the box. Instantly, a feeling of panic set in as she realized the gravity of their situation.
'If Superman *does* try to rescue us, he could be killed!' she thought anxiously.
A sudden movement to her left caused her to look over in Clark's direction, and what she saw made her heart leap into her throat. Clark's face was pinched with pain, and, as Lois watched helplessly, he doubled over in pain and dropped to his knees, somehow having managed to work himself free from his ropes.
"Clark!" she cried out, fighting unsuccessfully against her own restraints. "Clark, what's the matter?!" In a surge of panic, she turned to Hendricks, who was looking as confused as she was. "Can't you see that something's wrong?" she yelled, frightened tears gathering in her eyes. "Please help him!"
Unnerved at the prospect of being blamed for something happening to his partner's hostages while they were under his surveillance, he took a hasty step forward. Almost immediately, Clark cried out in agony and rolled over onto his side.
With her heart in her throat, she watched in shock and confusion as Clark writhed in pain on the hard cement floor, his agony only seeming to increase with each advancing step of their captor. Her mind worked furiously, trying to figure out what could possibly be wrong with Clark. Other than being tied up, nobody had done so much as to lay a hand on him since they'd arrived, so that couldn't be the problem. But it was apparent from his clenched teeth and agonizing cries that he was in serious pain.
Tears filled her eyes at the thought of losing her partner, best friend, and, as of tonight, her *fiance*. She struggled once again to get free from her ropes as the tears started to spill down her cheeks. "Hendricks, what are you doing?" she yelled at her captor. "Something's wrong! Go get some help!"
Hendricks stopped his advancement, looking nervous. Without taking his eyes from Clark's writhing body, he took a step backward, obviously trying to decide if he should go for help. When he did, Lois noticed that Clark's constricted muscles relaxed slightly.
Confused, she looked from Clark to the glowing rock in Hendricks' hand, then back again. Then her eyes grew wide with sudden realization and she gasped as things began to fall into place.
Clark was Superman!
The room started to spin crazily and the blood drained from her face. Instantly, everything began to make sense: all those times when Clark had made a hasty retreat whenever some crime or disaster was taking place, all those ridiculous excuses, and most of all, why she'd never seen the two men together.
But before she had time to sort out the flood of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her, a loud shout brought things around her back into focus. She saw that once again Hendricks was moving toward Clark, causing Clark's tormented cries to fill the air.
"Stop!" Lois shouted frantically, finally understanding what was happening. "Get away from him! You're killing him!"
Hendricks' face reflected his utter confusion, but at least Lois' shouts caused him to stop his advance towards Clark's crumpled form.
Lois knew that it wasn't going to be enough, though. From her past experiences dealing with Superman and Kryptonite, she knew she had to get the Kryptonite as far away from Clark as possible.
She twisted and turned her hands frantically within her ropes, and then with one last painful yank, she freed herself and bolted forward. Before Hendricks knew what was happening, she had lunged for the glowing rock in his hands, succeeding in knocking it to the ground.
Lois bent over to make a quick grab for it, but was immediately tackled and forced roughly to the ground. In the next instant, Hendricks was on top of her, pinning her against the cold cement floor.
Knowing that Clark's life depended on her ability to get rid of the Kryptonite, she fought her captor for all she was worth. She yanked and pulled as she struggled to free her hands from his grasp, but her struggles were no match for the brute strength of the large, burly man.
Then suddenly Lois' Tai Chi training took over and she brought one knee up swiftly, kneeing the man in the groin. With a strangled cry, Hendricks released her hands and rolled off of her and fell to the ground, moaning in anguish.
Lois leapt to her feet and grabbed the Kryptonite that now lay unnoticed on the floor a few feet away from her moaning and writhing captor. Once she had it in her hand, she quickly turned and scanned the room, trying to decide where and how to get rid of the lethal rock.
Just then Everett Price rushed in, clearly trying to determine what the commotion was all about. His eyes went from Lois, who was still standing in the middle of the room, to his partner, who was still lying on the floor gasping for breath.
"What's going on here?!" Price hollered.
Finally, Hendricks was able to pull himself up on one knee and gestured in Lois' direction. "She's got the Kryptonite!"
Price's eyes grew wide. "Well, don't just sit there! Do something!"
Lois glanced quickly at Clark, noticing that he'd recovered at least enough to push himself up off the ground slightly with his arms. He was watching her with a pained, yet extremely worried expression. Suddenly, his stare shifted over to Hendricks and his eyes grew wide with shock.
Lois followed his gaze, turning back just in time to see Hendricks reaching for his gun.
"Lois, run!" Clark shouted frantically, trying unsuccessfully to get to his feet.
Almost as if in slow motion, he watched Lois turn to run just as Hendricks lifted his gun and leveled it at her retreating figure. Clark watched in horrible realization as he saw the man's finger tighten on the trigger.
"Noooooo!" Clark yelled helplessly, knowing he was still far too weak from the Kryptonite exposure to prevent the inevitable from happening. Fear gripped his heart as he saw Hendricks pull the trigger, and the sound of the bullet being fired from the barrel of the gun made him physically sick to his stomach. Unable to do anything but watch in sickening terror, he saw the bullet rocket toward Lois.
Lois heard Clark's anguished cries at the same moment she heard the shot fired. Almost instantaneously she felt the bullet slam into her back, followed by a searing, burning pain in her right side. An overwhelming dizziness encompassed her, and her legs gave out, causing her to fall forward and collapse onto the hard cement floor.
"Lois!" Clark yelled in agony as he stared through tear-filled eyes at her motionless form. Once again he tried to get to his feet, but after only one awkward, lurching step, he fell back to the ground.
A shout from Price caused Clark to turn, and he saw that Price was starting to run toward Lois. With a quick glance in her direction, he saw what the man was after. The Kryptonite had been jarred from Lois' hand and had rolled a couple of feet away from her. And now Price was going after it.
By sheer willpower alone, Clark made a diving lunge for Price's feet, succeeding in sending the man sprawling. Price took a swing at Clark, but missed him as Clark barely managed to avoid the man's fist.
As the two men continued their scuffle, Lois' consciousness began to return. In a daze, she opened her eyes slowly and blinked a couple of times, trying to clear her blurred vision. The sound of the fired shot was still resonating in her ears, and, in a state of shock, she realized what had just happened.
An almost overwhelming feeling of panic begin to ebb up inside of her, and she closed her eyes again, trying to listen to her body…trying to decide how badly she'd been hurt. But the shock of what had just happened seemed to have taken over all her senses.
'I don't want to die!' she screamed silently. 'I can't die. Clark needs me as much as I need him. Come on, Lois, get up! You're probably imagining it worse than it is…'
Forcing herself to move, she started to lift her cheek off the hard, cold, cement floor, but the bullet's stabbing pain immediately made her rethink her efforts. She dropped her cheek back onto the cement, clenching her jaw and shutting her eyes tightly as she tried to stave off the darkness that was threatening to reclaim her. But she found that it was almost impossible to concentrate on anything except the excruciating pain radiating from her back where the bullet had ripped into her.
A moment later, she heard Clark yell from somewhere behind her. The sounds of a scuffle that he seemed to be involved in immediately brought everything rushing back. Her eyes flew open. 'The Kryptonite!' her mind screamed out. 'I've got to get rid of the Kryptonite.'
Forcing her eyes to focus, she noticed in a haze that the Kryptonite was lying a few feet in front of her, and that it was only inches away from a large, metal sewage grate. Knowing what she had to do, she forced herself to block out the pain and raise herself up off the ground. She did her best to ignore the screaming pains in her muscles as she lurched forward, bringing herself almost within arm's reach of the Kryptonite.
The sound of footsteps running toward her made her realize she didn't have much time. So, mustering every ounce of strength she had left, she made a final, desperate lunge for the glowing rock.
Her fingers touched the smooth surface of the rock, and she quickly grabbed it and inched it toward the large slatted openings in the grate. When the chunk of Kryptonite was sitting on top of the slats, she realized in a panic that the metal slats of the grate were closer together than she'd thought.
She shoved the rock down between the slats as best she could, working it back and forth in able to help it get through. Then, with one final effort, she pounded the rock with her fist, forcing it the rest of the way through the slats. The blow did the trick, and Lois heaved an inward sigh of relief as the rock slipped through the metal bars and dropped the dozen or so feet into the sewer system below.
Completely spent and in excruciating pain, Lois collapsed back onto the cement floor, only vaguely aware of the arrival of her captors.
They dropped to the ground next to the grate, ignoring her completely as they peered through the metal slats. "The Kryptonite! It's gone! I can't believe this!" Price shouted in anger and dismay.
Just then the sound of approaching sirens filled the building. "The police!" one of them exclaimed. "Let's go!"
Price made a dash for the back door of the warehouse, but Hendricks, not thinking clearly, ran out the front. His escape was immediately cut off by several police cars. Clark heard a series of shots fired, and suspected that Hendricks had panicked and decided to fight rather than surrender.
Turning his attention back to Lois, Clark weakly pushed himself up on unsteady legs and half-walked, half-stumbled his way over to where she lay. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he dropped to his knees beside her.
"Lois!" he managed to choke out. He reached out to touch her shoulder with a shaking hand, his heart in his throat. He quickly looked her over to determine how badly she was hurt, and almost immediately noticed the large, dark spot of blood forming on her T-shirt where the bullet had hit.
Clark, nearly overcome by waves of guilt, wished desperately that he could pick her up and fly her to the hospital, but he knew he was still too weak to do that. Instead, he silently willed the ambulance to hurry.
"Lois," he repeated, grabbing her hand in both of his and holding it to his chest. "Can you hear me?" A wave of relief flooded through him when he saw her eyelids flicker, and then open at the sound of his voice.
"Clark," she responded softly, her voice sounding tiny and strained. She opened her mouth to say more, but she grimaced with sudden pain.
"Sssh, Lois. Don't try to talk," he told her softly. "I'm here. I'm right here."
She shook her head slightly and swallowed noisily. Opening her mouth, she tried again. "Clark," she whispered hoarsely, a single tear escaping and sliding down her cheek. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Clark felt as if a hand was clutching at his throat, and he could barely get the words out. "I guess I was afraid, Lois," he admitted in a choked voice. "I was afraid I might lose you if I told you the truth."
But then the shock of his own words struck him. 'You might lose her now, anyway,' a small, scared voice inside of him pointed out.
Lois felt Clark's hand gripping hers, and she tried to focus on that instead of the overwhelming pain that threatened to drag her into the looming darkness. The sound of an approaching ambulance siren gave her hope, and she struggled to keep her eyes open. But she knew she wasn't going to be able to stay conscious for much longer.
Clark felt her grip on his hand weaken, and in desperation he scooted even closer to her, talking constantly to try to keep her awake. "Come on, Lois, stay with me. The paramedics are on their way. You've got to stay awake."
She heard him talking, but his voice sounding increasingly far away, as if it were coming from the end of a long, dark tunnel. Finally, unable to resist it any longer, she gave in to the darkness and let it overtake her.
A knot formed in Clark's stomach when he saw Lois' eyes start to glaze over, and her eyelids began to droop. "Lois!" he yelled desperately. "Lois, don't you leave me!"
He clung to her, hoping beyond hope that he could transfer some of his life force to her, anything that he could do to keep her alive. But even as he held her, her body went limp in his arms. "Lois, nooo!"
Seconds later, Clark felt his hands pushed roughly aside by the arriving paramedics and he was forced away from her as they moved in to go to work on her. Tears streamed unashamedly down his face as he sat outside the circle of the EMT's, feeling as if his world was crumbling down around him.
He barely noticed when a paramedic dropped to the ground beside him, asking him questions and trying to assess his condition. Too occupied with watching what was happening with Lois, Clark pushed him away, insisting that he was okay. A blanket was thrown around his shoulders, and he was allowed to stay where he was, sitting back and watching helplessly as the paramedics slipped an oxygen mask over Lois' nose and mouth and simultaneously applied pressure to her wounds to try to stop the bleeding. An I.V. was hooked up to her, and it seemed like an eternity before she was finally lifted onto a stretcher and wheeled quickly toward the waiting ambulance.
Clark was helped to his feet, and he stumbled along after the paramedics, waiting for them to load her stretcher into the ambulance before scrambling up into the vehicle after them. As they sped off toward the hospital, Clark felt lost and alone as he watched the paramedics continue to work on her, his face tired and drawn as he hunched over beneath the thin blanket, as if protecting himself from the cold.
Minutes later, the ambulance screeched to a halt in front of the hospital, and the back doors were thrown open. There was a scramble of people as they jumped out of the vehicle and brought Lois out on her stretcher, calling out instructions as they rushed her into the emergency room. It was all Clark could do in his weakened condition to keep up with them, and he found himself panting from exertion when they finally stopped inside. Almost immediately, a handful of doctors and nurses rushed over and begin to assess her condition.
Before Clark could completely catch his breath, they whisked Lois off down the hall and into one of the rooms for further evaluation. Clark tried to follow them in through the double doors of the room, but one of the doctors put a hand on his chest.
"Sir, you can't come in here," the doctor said quickly, preventing him from entering.
"But she's my fiancee!" Clark shouted, quickly losing his grip on his emotions. "I need to stay with her…"
The doctor hastily interrupted him. "Sir, we can't help her if you don't let us do our job. Please, if you'd just wait down the hall in the waiting room, we'll let you know how she is as soon as we can."
Then, before Clark could respond, the room's windowed doors swung shut in front of him, separating him from Lois. It made him feel as if a door had just been slammed shut on his life.
Through the windows, he watched helplessly as the medical crew worked quickly, almost frantically, on Lois for a few minutes. But then his emotions overtook him, and he knew he couldn't watch any longer.
'I can't do this,' he thought in desperation. 'I just can't. I need to get some help.'
Staggering away from the doors, he managed to reach the pay phone at the end of the hall. With shaking fingers, he thumbed through the pages in the attached phone book until he found the number he was looking for. Then he fumbled for some change in his pocket, inserted a few coins into the slot and dialed.
A sleepy voice answered on the third ring. "Hullo?"
Clark tried to speak, but only a choked sound emerged. He cleared his throat hoarsely and tried again. "Can I speak to Martha or Jonathan Kent, please?" he managed weakly. "It's an emergency."
Several moments passed before he heard his mother's anxious voice. "Hello?"
"Clark?" Martha asked, suddenly sounding wide-awake and very distraught. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Clark felt the tears come once again. "Mom, can you and Dad come down to Metropolis General Hospital right away?" he asked, his voice strained and barely above a whisper. "I need you to come…"
Martha's voice rose, and Clark could tell she was becoming frantic. "Clark, are you sick? What's the matter?"
"No, it's not me," he explained, trying to keep his voice from breaking. "It's Lois. She's been shot—"
He heard his mom gasp. "Clark, no! Is she okay?"
He swallowed, then went on, "Mom, I—I don't know…"
In the background, he heard his mom relay his words to his father, and then his dad's voice come over the line. "Clark, you just stay where you're at, son. We're on our way." Then his dad hung up.
Not trusting his legs for one more second, he replaced the phone and then slumped onto the cushioned bench next to it. His head fell back against the wall and he closed his eyes, wishing with all his heart that when he opened them, he would find out that this had all been just a horrible, terrible dream.
He stayed that way for several minutes, searching inwardly for strength to get him through this. But then a commotion down the hall made his head snap back up and he saw that the doctors were wheeling Lois out of the room and into the elevator across the hall.
He scrambled to his feet and hurried toward them, but the elevator doors had shut before he could reach them. He must've looked pretty panicked because the doctor he'd talked to a short time ago came over to him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Did you say you were her fiance?" the doctor asked him.
Clark nodded. "Where are they taking her? Is she okay?"
"We don't know yet," the doctor told him truthfully. "There was no exit wound, so we know the bullet's still inside. It's caused some internal bleeding, so she's heading to O.R. right now for surgery. There the surgeons will be able to remove the bullet and determine what kind of damage it did. Other than that, I don't have a lot of answers for you, I'm sorry to say. The best thing I can tell you to do is stay positive and wait until we have more information for you."
The doctor patted his shoulder sympathetically and then went back to work, leaving Clark alone with his fears. With a shuddering sigh, Clark decided to head up to the O.R. and wait there.
A half-hour later, a very harried Martha and Jonathan rushed off the elevator and over to the O.R. nurses' station. "Excuse me," Martha spoke anxiously to the nurse behind the desk. "I'm trying to find Clark Kent. We were told downstairs that his fiancee is in surgery…"
Jonathan interrupted her with a hand on her arm, and she looked up to see that he'd spotted Clark coming toward them. With a huge sigh and a quick 'thank you' to the nurse, she hurried over to her son and threw her arms around him in a supportive hug.
When she pulled back, she took a good look at her son, taking in his pale skin, drawn features, and lifeless, red-rimmed eyes and immediately began to fuss over him. "Oh, Clark, honey, let's get you to a chair. You look like you're about to fall over any second."
Jonathan helped her guide him to the nearest chair and lowered him into it. Then they sat on either side of him and put their arms around him comfortingly. "So how is she?" Martha asked finally.
Clark shrugged dismally. "I don't know. They rushed her into surgery soon after she got here. They said she had some internal bleeding and that they needed to remove the bullet, but other than that, nobody's told me anything."
There was a long pause as Clark tried to compose himself. But then the floodgates opened, and they watched as he visibly began to fall apart before their eyes. "Mom, Dad, I just…I can't go on living without Lois. I don't know how I'd go on…" He broke off, dissolving into uncontrollable sobs.
Martha drew him to her, tucking his head under her chin and holding him tightly as he sobbed. Jonathan put his arms around him, too, and together they did their best to comfort him and let him know that they were there for him. When his tears finally dissolved into shuddering sighs a while later, he sat up and wiped at his tear-soaked cheeks.
"Now, before any of us jump to conclusions," Martha stated, taking control of the situation. "We should go and find out how Lois is doing."
"I'll go," Jonathan spoke up. "I'll be back in a minute." He rose to his feet and hurried over to the nurses' station across the hall.
Barely noticing his dad get up, Clark leaned over and put his elbows on his knees, then buried his face in his hands. Martha reached over to rub his back gently. "Clark, can you tell me more about what happened?" she asked quietly. "Can you tell me how Lois got shot?"
Clark started to tell her the story haltingly, including how he'd been exposed to the Kryptonite, which led to Lois finding out about his other identity. Martha cringed at this, but remained silent as continued. When he got to the part about how Lois had been shot, his voice became hushed, and she had to strain to hear him.
"Mom, I keep seeing her there, lying so still on the cement floor. And then when I got to her, I saw the blood all over her…" Clark's voice trailed off and he choked back a sob. Then in a strangled whisper, he finished, "I just can't get it out of my head."
His mom reached out to place her hand on his cheek. "I know, Clark," she told him quietly. "It must've been horrible."
Clark was quiet for a long minute before he spoke again. When he did, he couldn't bring himself to look into his mom's eyes. "You know what's even worse? I keep going over and over it in my head, trying to think of what I could've done differently, how I could have prevented her from getting shot. I feel like this is all my fault."
"Clark, don't you dare think like that!" Martha responded immediately, forcing him to look at her. "This is *not* your fault, and I won't let you blame yourself for it! Yes, it's a horrible thing to have happen, but you can't keep blaming yourself every time somebody gets hurt. Do you understand me?"
Surprised at the forcefulness in her tone, Clark nodded.
"Good," Martha said, her voice softer this time. She reached out and squeezed his hand. "Have you tried to call Lois' parents?"
"I tried, but all I got was the answering machine," he explained. "And this wasn't exactly the kind of message I wanted to leave, so I'll just try them again later."
Just then Jonathan returned. "The nurse checked for us, and she said that Lois is still in surgery. But her surgeon said to tell us it looked as though she was going to be okay."
Clark nearly wilted with relief. Just knowing that Lois was going to pull through was enough to make the rest of the wait bearable. Some two hours later, a doctor, still wearing his scrubs, approached them. Clark stood up anxiously, immediately asking to know what Lois' condition was.
"Everything went well," the doctor told them. "Fortunately, the bullet went in cleanly and didn't do as much damage as it could have. As it is, it caused some internal bleeding, but it wasn't so bad that it caused any irreparable damage. So, other than some stitches and bruising, she should be back to normal before you know it."
Clark closed his eyes against the tears of relief and muttered a silent 'thank you' in the direction of the heavens to Whomever might be listening from above.
Jonathan spoke up. "Can we see her?"
The doctor hesitated. "Well, she's just been wheeled into recovery. I'd like to monitor her for a little while longer, and then we'll move her into a private room where you can see her. Okay?"
They all nodded, relieved to know that everything was going to be okay. They stayed in the waiting room for what seemed like forever before they were finally approached by one of the nurses. "Are you here for Ms. Lane?"
Clark nodded. "Yes. I'm her fiance, Clark Kent, and these are my parents. Is Lois okay? Can we see her?"
The nurse smiled patiently at him. "Her doctor has okayed some visiting time, but only for a brief duration. She's just coming out of the anesthetic, and she'll probably be tired and groggy, and will need to get some sleep very shortly." Promising to keep their visit short, the nurse told them what room number she was in and pointed them down a long hallway. When they reached Lois' room, Clark slowly opened the heavy door and they slipped inside.
Lois was lying motionlessly in the bed, her eyes closed and her breathing even. Clark took a couple of silent steps toward her.
"Is she awake?" his mom asked in a whisper.
Clark shook his head. "I don't know." He walked to her side and lowered himself into the chair beside her. Taking her hand in his, he called her name softly. "Lois?"
He felt her hand twitch, but her eyes remained shut, her breathing unchanged. He turned slightly to his parents, who remained a step behind him. "She's still asleep," Clark whispered.
Deciding not to wake her up, he sat by her quietly and held her hand. He looked down at the white tape on the back of her hand that held her IV needle in place and ran his thumb over it lightly. It was then that he also noticed the painful looking red marks around her wrists where her skin had been rubbed raw from her desperate attempt to pull her hands out of her ropes.
Seeing the ugly marks on her wrists and realizing that she was lying in a hospital bed after coming out of intensive surgery caused a fresh wave of guilt to sweep through him. The familiar, gut-wrenching feeling that filled him whenever he couldn't get to somebody when they were in trouble was now intensified almost to the point of being physically painful. This time, it had been *Lois* who had gotten hurt.
In his mind, he replayed the horrible scene over and over again until he'd exhausted himself mentally. He hated living with the "Maybe I could've…" or "What if I had…" thoughts that encompassed him. But the self-inflicted torment seemed so useless. The bottom line was, he couldn't go back and change things, even if he wanted to.
With a troubled sigh, he reached up and brushed a lock of dark hair from Lois' forehead, letting his fingertips trail gently down her cheek and finally come to a rest on the creamy skin of her throat. He could feel the warmth of her skin and the steady pulse under his hand, reassuring him that, no matter what had happened, she was alive. But suddenly his other concerns flooded to the forefront of his mind.
Lois knew that he was Superman.
Yes, he'd wanted her to know, but this hadn't been the way he'd wanted her to find out. He couldn't help feeling angry with himself that he'd allowed something like this to happen.
'If only I'd told her weeks ago when I was going to,' he berated himself. 'Things might have been easier.' It made him wonder how things were going to be between them now that she'd found out the hard way. Knowing Lois the way he did, he was sure he was in for a rocky couple of days.
The silence in the room was interrupted when the door swung open. Clark looked up to see a policeman standing in the doorway. "Is one of you Clark Kent?" he asked quietly.
Clark nodded at him. "I am."
The policeman gestured toward the hallway. "Can I ask you a few questions about what happened at the warehouse?"
Clark nodded again, rising to his feet. Carefully, he placed Lois' hand back on the bed and then turned to his parents.
His mom read his question before he even asked it. "You go ahead. We'll stay here with Lois. If she wakes up, we'll let you know."
Shapes and colors floating, weightlessly drifting past; dim lights shining somewhere in the distance; smatterings of colors; the low, distant rumblings of undetermined sounds; an awareness of her body that wasn't there before; the distant memory of an unpleasant situation.
The shapes, sights and sounds began to draw themselves together as if being pulled by a gravitational force, slowly forming a dim picture around her: someone yelling, luminescent greens, a loud rocket.
Desperate to grasp onto something to pull her from the blackness, she set the images in motion. The darkness formed a shadowy silhouette, writhing in pain. With each step that the robed beast of the darkness took, the shape on the floor faded until, finally, it was gone altogether. In a silent, victorious gesture, the robed figure stood triumphantly over the puddled blur, holding the glowing item above his head, shouting his conquering cries into the gusting wind.
The gusts became a rushing, roaring wind that drowned out the beast's words. Pieces of the vision began to rip away, and she suddenly felt herself being hurtled through the maze of darkness. Awareness began to come, and the beginnings of dawn lurked ahead. She fought her way toward the ever-increasing light, following the sounds that lie in wait. The low rumblings became clearer and more distinct as she drew closer. One by one, she found herself being able to pick them out: subdued beeping, faint murmurings, low voices…her name.
"Lois? Lois, can you hear me?"
Her eyelids fluttered open and she turned toward the sound of the voice. Confused and dazed, she saw two familiar figures hovering over her. "Martha? Jonathan?" she whispered questioningly, her voice sounding gravelly and unused. Her gaze moved to take in her surroundings. "What happened? Where am I?"
"You're in the hospital, Lois. How are you feeling?"
She closed her eyes and swallowed noisily. "Tired," she admitted groggily.
"It's probably the medication," Martha reassured her, rubbing her arm lightly. "You've been through a lot, but you're going to be fine."
Lois laid quietly for a while, waiting for her head to clear. When she finally began to feel stronger, her eyes begin to roam around the room, and questions began to form in her mind. Something had happened to her. She remembered that much. But what? She searched her mind, but she couldn't seem to get through the grogginess that encompassed her. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to remember. The darkness behind her eyelids brought the events of her dream rushing to the forefront of her mind. Suddenly the shapes and objects became recognizable. The luminescent object became a glowing chunk of Kryptonite, the shadowy silhouette morphed into Clark's writhing body, and the robed beast's face turned out to be that of Hendricks' as he advanced on Clark.
Lois' eyes flew open, and instantly fear gripped her heart. *Clark! The Kryptonite!*
She struggled to recall the outcome of the events affecting her dreams as well as her reality, but her muddled mind wouldn't produce any answers. In desperation, she turned to see that Clark's parents were still beside her, but when she scanned the rest of the room, she saw that Clark wasn't with them.
'If Clark's parents are here, but he's not, that must mean…' The thought sent her spiraling into a panic.
"Clark?!" she cried out frantically, struggling unsuccessfully to right herself in bed. "Where's Clark? What happened? Where is he?"
Martha laid a comforting hand on Lois' arm, trying her best to calm her. Lois' color had drained again, and Martha was worried that she was going to overexert herself. "It's okay, sweetie, just relax. Everything's going to be fine."
"No, you don't understand!" Lois insisted hoarsely, tears prickling at her eyes. "Clark was exposed to the Kryptonite! I tried to help him, but I must not have gotten rid of it in time…"
Martha glanced at Jonathan, feeling helpless to stop Lois' rising hysterics. Jonathan decided to try. He leaned forward, his hand joining Martha's on Lois' arm. "Lois, Clark is fine," he tried to explain. "He's here, he just stepped out for a second to talk to someone."
Lois shook her head disbelievingly and rushed on. "No, Clark's gone…I didn't help him in time…" Her voice trailed off and she started to sob weakly.
Just then the door opened, and Martha heaved a huge sigh of relief when Clark appeared in the doorway.
Lois' head jerked up, and her sobs turned into tears of relief when she saw Clark coming toward her. "Clark! Oh, Clark…you're okay…"
Unable to stand seeing her so incoherently desperate, he rushed over to her and, as gently as he could, leaned over her and slid his arms around her shoulders, gathering her into his embrace. He buried his face in her hair and closed his eyes, thankful that he'd been given another chance to hold her in his arms.
Lois did her best to wrap her weary arms around his neck and then pulled him tightly to her, wetting his neck with her tears. "Oh, Clark, I thought you were dead," she sobbed into his shoulder. "When I woke up and saw your parents here, but not you…"
"Sssh, sssh. Lois, I'm fine. I'm just fine," he soothed, stroking his hand through her hair. "I'm right here, and I'm not going anywhere."
Moments later, Lois went limp in his arms, completely spent and exhausted. Being careful not to hurt her, he lowered her gently back onto the bed. He took in her red, puffy eyes, her pale complexion, and the groggy look in her eyes still left over from the anesthesia, and again an enormous wave of guilt washed over him.
Forcing himself to push his guilt aside, he smiled gently and lifted a hand to smooth her hair back from her forehead. He watched as she visibly relaxed at his touch. "Everything's going to be okay, Lois," he soothed.
She struggled to keep her eyes open, fighting the urge to slip back into her drugged sleep. "What happened?"
Clark gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "You just came out of surgery."
A concerned look crossed Clark's face. "Lois, don't you remember? You were shot, and the ambulance brought you here. The doctors said you were bleeding internally, and they had to repair the damage. But everything went fine, and you're going to be as good as new."
"How about you, Clark?" she asked weakly. "Are you okay?"
Clark nodded, giving her a reassuring smile. "Yeah, I'm okay. I'm not one hundred percent yet, but I'll be fine in a day or so." He stroked her cheek lightly, noticing that her eyelids were starting to droop.
"Lois, don't fight it," he told her quietly, lifting a hand to run his fingertips lightly across her forehead. "You've been through a lot. Just close your eyes and get some sleep. We'll talk some more in the morning."
Lois nodded, then gave in to the drowsiness and drifted off to sleep.
Lois woke the next morning to sunshine spilling across her bed. Blinking in the brightness, she tried to make her eyes adjust. She felt disoriented and confused, but a quick look around at her surroundings brought everything rushing back.
Clark. Superman. Clark was Superman. Now that her mind had cleared, she remembered everything. She let out a troubled sigh.
'What now?' she asked herself, staring up at the colorless ceiling. What was she supposed to do, now that she knew? She hadn't the slightest idea. Should she just pretend the whole thing never happened? No, the thought was even ridiculous to think about. There was no way she could pretend that nothing had changed. A sick feeling filled her stomach. In one instant, her whole life had changed, and she suspected that things were going to *continue* to change dramatically.
Things started to come back to her, memories, events. Her mind was flooded with instances when Clark had zipped off, mumbling excuses, and quite often leaving her in the middle of important conversations.
And lying to her.
The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. Obviously, he'd been lying to her about this since they'd first met. She could understand him keeping this from her when he first started working at the Planet. After all, they really hadn't know each other. But when they'd gotten to be partners, then best friends…
'He even asked me to marry him without bothering to let me in on this!' she fumed silently, balling the edges of the sheets up in her hands angrily. 'He'd go so far as to propose, but he didn't feel like he could trust me with this? And if he's lied to me about this, what else has he lied to me about?'
Just the idea that he'd been lying to her and betraying her trust made her wonder if she really knew him at all. She'd fallen in love with him because she felt he was different. Moral. Trustworthy. But in that second in the warehouse when she'd finally discovered the truth about him, her perspective on things had changed. The way she viewed him had changed. Now she wasn't sure if he was really who she thought he was at all.
Images of that painful morning years ago came rushing back, and she remembered how hurt and betrayed she'd felt when she'd woken up and realized that Claude had used her and fled. That was nothing compared to the way she felt now.
Suddenly she wasn't sure that Clark was any better than Claude. It had taken her years to learn to trust anyone again, and when she finally let her defenses down and trusted Clark, even fell in love with him, she found out that she'd been lied to, tricked, and even used. She remembered all those times when Clark, as Superman, had flown through her window to talk, had taken her flying, or had treated her like she was someone special. Lois shook her head angrily. Clark must've gotten quite a laugh out of watching her swoon over him as Superman.
By the time the nurse came in to check on her, Lois was fuming. After a quick check of Lois' monitors, the nurse had her roll over slightly so she could change the bandages on her back. Then she took a needle from her tray.
"I need to give you your pain medication," she told her, moving Lois' hospital gown out of the way so she could inject the needle into her hip. Lois jumped slightly when she felt the sharp prick, but then it was over. The nurse dabbed some antiseptic on the area and then helped Lois get comfortable. "The dosage I gave you should make you sleepy," she told her. "I'll be back in a while to check on you." Then she was gone, leaving Lois alone again with her thoughts.
It wasn't long before Lois felt the medication start to take effect, and, unable to concentrate on being angry any longer, she let herself fall back to sleep.
When the medication started to wear off, Lois found herself slowly coming out of her sleep. The easy, drifting feeling was comforting, and she felt content to hang onto it for a while longer. But the noises she heard in the room caused her to open her eyes sleepily.
She looked up and saw that a tall, middle-aged man with a stethoscope around his neck was standing at the foot of her bed flipping through some notes in a folder. He gave her a friendly smile. "Hi, Lois. My name is Dr. Silverman. How are you feeling this morning?"
Lois smiled sleepily. "Okay, I think."
Dr. Silverman kept up a steady stream of small talk as he went about taking her blood pressure. Then, after asking her a couple of questions about how she was feeling, he sat down in the chair next to her bed. "Well, it looks like you're recovery nicely," he assured her. "Has anyone told you what we did during your surgery last night?"
"I was told that I had some internal bleeding," she answered. "But that's pretty much all I know."
"Then it sounds like you know the highlights," he told her with a light smile. "When you arrived yesterday, we discovered that the bullet had lodged itself near your shoulder. Luckily, it didn't cause as much damage as it could have. Once we were able to remove the bullet, it didn't take us long to stitch things up. We also had to stitch you up after surgery, so the back of your shoulder is heavily bandaged to keep your sutures protected."
Lois listened carefully. Hearing what her surgery had entailed, she was a little surprised that she hadn't felt any pain. She asked the doctor about it.
"You've been kept heavily medicated since the operation," he explained patiently. "That way we didn't have to worry about you becoming uncomfortable and moving around, causing you to possibly rip out your stitches. The best advice I can give you is just to relax and not do anything for the next day or two that might rip those stitches. Okay?"
Lois nodded. "So when can I go home?"
Dr. Silverman laughed. "I figured you'd say something like that. It's kind of how I pictured you would be." When Lois looked at him in confusion, he smiled. "Sure, I know who you are. Lois Lane…Daily Planet. I've enjoyed reading your articles."
Lois was both surprised and flattered that he knew who she was. "Thanks," she answered.
"Your welcome." He stood up and jotted down a few notes in her folder. "Yes, you do good work with that partner of yours, Clark Kent. But anyway, back to your question. I figure you'll be out of here within a week. And when you're ready to go home, we'll talk about how long it'll be before you can handle going back to work."
"A week!" Lois exclaimed. "Can't I get out of here earlier than that?"
"If you're already this anxious to get out of here, you *must* be feeling better!" Dr. Silverman laughed. "But, seriously, just think of this as a paid vacation from work. It's not going to kill you to spend a few days here. "
A new voice entered into the conversation. "I wouldn't be too sure about that."
Lois' head jerked up and she looked over to see that Clark was standing in the doorway, a dazzling smile lighting up his face. Lois' stomach did a little flip as it always did whenever she was on the receiving end of that smile. But then she forced herself to remember what he'd done. She wasn't about to let his boy-next-door charms extinguish her anger that easily.
Dr. Silverman tucked the folder under his arm and gave a smile that included them both. "Well, I've got to get on with my rounds. You take it easy, Lois."
As soon as the door closed behind Dr. Silverman, Clark turned to Lois. "So how are you feeling?"
"Fine," she answered, her tone cool and indifferent. She carefully started to push herself into a more upright position, but Clark hurried to her side.
"Wait, don't move," he told her, reaching for a button on the side of her bed. "I'll raise your bed up."
Lois lay still as the mechanical bed lifted her into a sitting position. When Clark released the button, he smiled at her. "There. Is that better?"
Confused by the coolness in her voice, Clark studied her carefully, watching for any signs that could tell him what she was feeling. As he watched, he saw a myriad of emotions playing across her features. Now that she was no longer under anesthesia, it was as if the floodgates had opened, and he knew that her anger lurked somewhere within. But as much as he wanted to talk things out, he decided to keep peace for as long as he could so she could regain her strength.
"It sounds like you're improving steadily," he began, figuring her recovery was a safe topic. "You'll be home before you know it."
When she didn't respond, he moved on to another topic. "I tried to call your parents last night, but all I got was their answering machine."
"They're in Jamaica," she told him simply.
Clark tried again. "Do you want me to try to get hold of them?"
Lois shook her head. "No, that's okay. Dr. Silverman says I'm going to be fine, so I don't want them to come rushing home in a panic, thinking I'm dying or something." She paused. "Did the police catch Price and Hendricks?"
Clark shook his head. "The police shot and killed Hendricks, but there's no sign of Price."
Another awkward silence filled the room. He reached for her hand, and she turned to look at him. He thought he saw a flicker of her old, fighting spirit in her eyes for a moment, but then it disappeared as she turned away.
"Lois?" he began cautiously. "What is it? What's wrong?"
She turned to him, anger burning in her eyes. "Why, Clark? Why didn't you tell me yourself, instead of letting me find out about you because of some stupid rock?!"
Clark heard the warning bells go off in his head. 'Alright, here we go,' he said to himself. "I was going to tell you, Lois," he began, his voice low and soft. "I was planning on telling you last night after I proposed…"
"Last night?!" she demanded, her voice gaining strength. "What ever happened to two years ago when I met you? Or a year ago when we started dating? Or even when I was making such a fool of myself by falling all over Superman! Why didn't you stop me from acting like that right from the beginning?"
Clark's voice rose a level as he argued back. "Well, you can't blame all of this on me, Lois! You were the one who wasn't able to see what was right in front of you! Besides, it's not like I run around telling everyone about this as soon as I meet them! There are just some things you need to understand about my being…well, you know…" Clark's voice trailed off. Lois felt her anger boil to the surface. "No, Clark. I *don't* know! One minute you're Clark Kent, my partner, my best friend, and not to mention, my *fiance*! And then the next minute I find out you're…you're…" She stopped, surprisingly at a loss for words.
"Superman?" Clark finished for her.
"I know what I was going to say!" Lois raged. "Don't finish my sentences for me, Clark! You know I hate that!"
Clark backed down. "Sorry, Lois. I—"
But Lois recovered quickly and went on. "I guess what hurts the most is that I thought you loved me, Clark," she told him. "I mean, *really* loved me."
Clark's eyes grew wide and he looked at her in shock. "Of course I love you, Lois! I love you more than anything in this world!"
"Oh, really?" she spouted, her voice laced with sarcasm. "Well, you sure have a horrible way of showing it! I've always thought that loving somebody meant sharing *everything* with them, trusting them with things you don't trust anyone else with, sharing bits of your life with them, knowing that they're there for you, no matter what. But you didn't even trust me enough to tell me this! What did you think, that I would spread it all over the world? That I would write a front page article about how Clark Kent was Superman?!"
Clark tried to speak again, but Lois rushed on. "You know, I pulled that Kryptonite bullet out of your shoulder when you were shot by Arianna Luther, and even though it was extremely newsworthy, I didn't tell a soul about it. You trusted me enough not to tell the world about it then, but you didn't think you could trust me with this now?"
Clark found his own anger boiling to the surface, and he found himself arguing back. "Lois, it wasn't that I didn't trust you! I trusted you then, and I always will. But you have to understand, I had my reasons for keeping this a secret! Not just from you, but from anyone who might want to use this information to get at me, to use it to hurt the people I love. Yes, I admit that I should've told you myself a long time ago, but that doesn't mean that I don't love you or trust you!" "Well, if you trusted me, then why *didn't* you tell me sooner?" Lois demanded.
Clark's anger began to dissipate, and he looked away. Finally, he admitted, "I guess I was…afraid."
That stopped Lois' tirade. "Afraid? Afraid of what?"
Clark took a deep breath before going on. "Afraid of losing you, I guess," he said haltingly. "I didn't want you to hate me because of this. I know I've lied to you, and I'm not saying that it wasn't a horrible thing to do. But I'm asking you to understand *why* I did it. And I want you to know how hard it's been for me to keep this from you for so long, even though I've wanted to share this with you more than anything. I was just afraid that you'd leave me when you found out about all of this."
When he finally stopped talking, his eyes searched Lois' face, trying to determine from her expression what she was thinking. "Lois, talk to me," he said in exasperation. "It's killing me to sit here and not know what you're thinking and feeling. I want to know. I *need* to know."
Lois looked at Clark for a long time, feeling as if she was being torn in two directions. Her heart was telling her to trust Clark, to forgive him, but her head was telling her something entirely different. All the times that she'd trusted somebody and then had gotten hurt because of it flashed through her mind. In the end, her head won the battle.
"Clark, I'm sorry," she said coolly. "But I don't know what to say. The fact that you kept this from me for as long as you did tells me that there's a whole other side to you that I don't know about. And what it boils down to is this. You lied to me, betrayed me, and made me think that you were somebody you're not. That's not the kind of relationship I want to have. I had enough of that when I was growing up."
"So, what exactly are you saying, Lois?" Clark asked, his breathing scared and shallow.
Lois felt tears stinging her eyes, but she forced them back and made herself go on in spite of her aching heart. "I'm guess what I'm saying is…maybe we should just rethink this whole engagement thing. I don't see how I could marry somebody who treats me like this."
Clark went pale. When he finally found his voice, he said in a shocked whisper, "Lois, you can't mean that."
The silence in the room was heavy as Clark waited for Lois to respond. But when she continued to stare down at her hands in stony silence, he leaned forward in his chair and grasped her hand with his shaking one.
"Lois, please…" he pleaded, his voice choked by the tears threatening to come. "Please tell me you didn't mean what you just said."
She sniffled and gave a little shrug. "I don't know, Clark. Maybe I do."
Clark continued to stare at her, utterly speechless. The door to the room opened, and the kindly nurse from earlier came in.
"I'm afraid Ms. Lane has had enough for one visit," she told Clark, her cheerfulness sounding completely out of place in the room considering what had just been said.
Clark heard her, but he was too shocked by Lois' words to move from his seat. It wasn't until the nurse repeated her words that Clark forced himself to move.
He stood up from his chair, almost in a state of shock, and cleared his throat. "Well, I guess if that's how you feel, Lois…" Then, before he totally lost control of his emotions, he hurried from the room, letting the door shut behind him just as the tears began to fall.
Lois continued to lie in bed long after Clark left, the tears streaming uncontrollably down her cheeks. 'Did I really tell him I wanted to call off our engagement?' she asked herself incredulously. 'How could I possibly do that to him? To *us*? Yes, he lied to me and led me to believe that he was two different people, but is that really something we can't work through? Don't I love him enough to think our relationship is worth fighting for?'
The questions continued to churn in her mind until she was so emotionally exhausted that she could no longer think clearly. She felt the medication that the nurse had given her a few minutes ago begin to kick in, and an almost overwhelming tiredness reached out for her. She fought it for as long as she could, wanting to stay awake in order to think things through, and decide what to do about the way she was feeling. But minutes later, she gave in and felt herself drifting off to sleep.
"Clark? Are you here?" Martha called out as she and Jonathan walked into Clark's apartment later that evening. They breathed a sigh of relief when they spotted him sitting on the couch with his face in his hands.
"Clark, we've been looking everywhere for you!" Martha told him as they walked down the steps to the front room. "We thought you'd be at the hospital with Lois, but we didn't see you there, so we've been looking everywhere."
"I've been flying around all day thinking," he told them quietly.
"Well, why aren't you with Lois? I know she'd feel better if…" She let her sentence trail off when she noticed her son's tear-streaked cheeks. "Clark, what on earth's the matter?" She and Jonathan hurried over and sat on either side of him.
Clark was silent for a long minute before responding. "It's over, Mom."
Martha waited for more of an explanation to come, but when it didn't, she leaned back slightly and cast a questioning glance at her husband from behind her distraught son's bowed head. Just as confused as she was, Jonathon shook his head and shrugged.
Martha turned her attention back to Clark and slipped an arm around his shoulders. "I'm afraid we don't understand, Clark. What's over?"
He straightened up and met their confused gazes. "Didn't you talk to Lois at the hospital?"
Martha shook her head. "She was asleep. Why?"
Clark turned back to stare at his hands desolately. "She wants to call off our engagement."
Martha and Jonathan simply stared at him in disbelief. "Clark, you're not serious," his mom said, voicing it more as a statement than a question.
"Yes, I am."
Martha was speechless. Thankfully, Jonathan recovered quickly. "Now son, surely you must've misunderstood. What exactly did she say?"
Clark fought back a fresh round of tears as he gave them a recap on what had happened in Lois' room. He finished with, "And when I asked her if she really meant it, she said, 'Maybe I do.'"
Martha and Jonathan sat, as stunned as Clark, for several moments. Finally his mom spoke. "Well, I have to admit that it doesn't sound great," she conceded. "But then she didn't come right out and tell you she wants to call it off, either."
Clark stood up, frustrated. "She may as well have, Mom. You weren't there. You didn't see the way she looked when she said it. You know, I've never loved anyone so much in my entire life, and to hear her say that…" He stopped as a couple more tears slid down his cheeks, and he shrugged helplessly.
Martha instinctively reached out for him, enveloping him in her embrace. Unable to stop himself, he let his head fall forward onto her shoulder and began to weep openly.
When Clark's tears finally subsided, he accepted the handkerchief his father handed him. "I just can't believe it's over," he stated, sounding completely devastated. "What am I going to do without her?"
Martha shook her head. "Clark, if there's anything I've learned in all the years your father and I have been married, it's that people say things they don't mean when they're angry," she told him. "I'm sure if you talk to her after she's cooled off, she'll be thinking more clearly."
"Maybe," Clark agreed, though he didn't sound convinced.
"Clark, the best thing for you to do is be there for her," his dad said, "and prove to her that you're determined to work things out."
"I agree," his mom chimed in. "So why don't we all just go to the hospital to see how she is? Your father and I haven't talked to her yet today, and we'd like to. Why don't you come with us?"
Clark shook his head. "I can't, Mom. I can't see her and know that things might be over between us. It would be too hard."
Martha stood her ground. "I know, Clark. But Lois has just been through a horrible ordeal. She needs all the love and support we can give her. So whether or not your relationship is rocky, she needs to know that you're there for her."
Knowing his parents were right, he reluctantly agreed. Just as they were walking out the door, though, Clark's superhearing picked up a cry for help.
"What is it, son?" his dad asked, recognizing the look on his face.
"Someone's in trouble." He listened for another second, then turned back to his parents. "I'm going to take care of this, and then I'll meet you at the hospital as soon as I'm done."
His parents nodded. Clark stepped back a bit, meanwhile glancing around to make sure no one was watching. When he was sure nobody was, he quickly spun into the suit and rocketed into the sky.
Watching their son take off, Martha and Jonathan smiled proudly at each other, then went to hail a cab. The cab ride was relatively short, and when they were dropped off in front of the hospital and stepped into the elevator, Martha turned to her husband.
"Jonathan, why don't you let me talk to Lois alone for a while?" she suggested. "Maybe what Lois needs is a mother figure to talk to."
Jonathan put his arm around his wife's shoulders as they walked down the hall. "That sounds like a good idea. I'll watch for Clark and let him know you're talking to her."
Martha smiled. That was another great thing that both she *and* Jonathan had learned from so many years of marriage. They had learned how to work together.
Giving her husband's hand a grateful squeeze, she went ahead into Lois' room alone.
Lois was flipping through the channels on the TV when she heard the door open. Looking up, she was surprised to see Martha coming into the room. "Hi, Martha," she greeted, sitting up straighter in bed.
Martha came over and sat in the chair next to her. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty out of it, actually," she admitted. She was sure that her light-headedness and the scratchiness in her throat was due to the crying she'd done. She wanted to say more, but she wasn't sure how much Clark had told his mom about what had happened between them.
Martha smiled understandingly. "I'm glad you're going to be okay. Jonathan and I were scared when we found out what happened. Have you talked to the doctor today?"
"Yeah, Dr. Silverman came by twice today to check on me. He says I'm recovering quickly."
"That's a relief. Have you been in any pain?"
Lois shook her head. "Not yet. They've been keeping me pretty drugged. But that also makes me worry about how I'll feel when they stop giving me the medication."
Martha gave her hand a squeeze. "Well, we'll be here for you if you need us, so don't worry about that."
Lois gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks, Martha."
It was quiet in the room for a minute as Martha tried to find the best way to talk to Lois about what had happened between her and her son. Finally, she said quietly, "Lois, Clark told me what happened."
Before she could say anything further, Lois felt the tears spring into her eyes. "Martha…" she began, but that was as far as she got. The tears started to spill down her face, and the brave front she'd put on started to crumble.
Without a word, Martha moved to the edge of the bed and took Lois into her arms the same way she'd done with Clark just a short time ago. She felt such love for this young woman who had captured her son's heart, and knew that she would do all she could to help them work through this seemingly insurmountable obstacle in their relationship.
Martha held Lois tightly for several minutes, resorting to the age-old comfort of rocking.
"Martha, I don't know what to do," Lois cried softly. "I just feel like things are spiraling out of control."
"I know, sweetie. I know." When Lois' tears were finally gone, she helped her lean back against her pillows. "So are you going to tell me your side of the story?" she asked with a gentle smile. "Or do I have to drag it out of you?"
Lois laughed through her tears, accepting the tissue that Martha held out to her. "I should've realized that you already knew."
Martha nodded. "Clark told me. He also told me about the fight you two had this morning. To be honest, I was stunned by what he had to say. Would you like to talk about it?"
Knowing she had a sympathetic ear, Lois poured out the whole story, including how she had found out about Clark's other identity, how she'd been shot, and then about their fight earlier that day.
"I don't know what to do," Lois finished, feeling more worn out than she had been in ages. "I don't want to lose Clark, but now I feel like everything has changed. He's not the person that I thought I knew…or loved."
"I can understand how hard this must be on you, and how betrayed you must feel," Martha sympathized. "But let me tell you something that might make you feel better. For a couple of years now, Clark has been worrying and fretting over the decision of how and when to tell you about himself. It's always been in the back of his mind that he might lose you over this, and that's what's been keeping him from telling you. I know that might not be much consolation to you, but I think it's important you know that."
"But if I mean so much to him, why would he just walk out of here the minute I talked about calling things off?" Lois asked dejectedly. "Maybe he doesn't think what we have is worth fighting for."
Martha shook her head vehemently. "Lois, that is absolutely not true, and I think you know that. Clark would never just walk out on something this important to him when the going gets tough. That's not how he is."
Lois sighed. "Yeah, I guess I *do* know that. Everything just seems so unclear to me right now. I don't know *what* to think or feel."
"Doing what we're doing—talking—is always a good place to start," Martha reminded her. "I'm sure you know as well as I do that the lack of communication in a relationship can be disastrous. It would really be a shame to see things end this way after all that you two have been through together and meant to each other. Don't you agree?"
Lois nodded tearfully. "Yeah, I do."
Martha gave her a motherly smile. "I'm glad to hear that. And I'm sure somebody else would be glad to hear that, too."
"You mean Clark?"
Martha nodded. "Jonathan and I found him at his apartment a little while ago crying his eyes out because you wanted to call off your engagement."
Lois' heart skipped a beat. "He was really crying?" she asked quietly, shocked that she would have such a profound effect on him.
"He was devastated at the thought of losing you. And just to let you know, he was a complete wreck while you were in surgery. It took both Jonathan and me to keep him from falling apart until the doctor came out of surgery and told us you were going to be okay."
Lois stared down at the blanket covering her for a long time as she digested that piece of information.
"Lois, for whatever it's worth," Martha continued when Lois remained silent. "Clark loves you. *Really* loves you. He cares about what you're feeling, and he wants to be here for you. But he can't do that if you won't let him. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Lois nodded. "I think so."
"Good." Martha smiled softly.
"Thanks, Martha," Lois said with a tired smile. "I really appreciate you talking to me."
"Anytime, sweetie." She rubbed Lois' arm gently. "Do you feel like talking to Clark? I could go get him," she offered, gesturing at the door.
But Lois shook her head wearily. "I'm just too tired right now, Martha. But maybe you could tell him…" Lois thought long and hard about what she wanted to tell Clark, but her mind was just a jumble of incoherent thoughts. She sighed deeply.
"I don't know what to have you tell him, Martha," she finally admitted. "Maybe you could just tell him that I want to talk to him, but I'm not feeling up to it right now. I don't know if it's the medication, or if it's just all that's happened in the last couple of days, but I just can't seem to think clearly right now. Maybe I'll see him tomorrow."
Martha smiled understandingly. "Sure, dear. He'll understand. Now you just get some rest." She gave Lois' hand one last pat before standing up and walking to the door. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay," Lois whispered. "Thanks again."
Martha smiled, then opened the door. As she stepped out into the hall, Lois suddenly caught a glimpse of Jonathan standing outside, peering in. Then her heart leapt into her throat when she saw Clark step out from behind his dad, his hands shoved deeply into his jeans pockets and his shoulders slumped. She could also tell from the bright light of the hallway that he had indeed been crying.
She saw him take a step toward the still partially open door, but Martha reached out a hand to stop him from going into the room. He turned to look at her questioningly, and Lois saw Martha whisper something to him and shake her head. Then, in the instant before the door closed, she saw Clark turn back, peering longingly and sadly into the room. Then the door shut with a quiet thump, and Lois was alone.
The sight of Clark looking so lost and forlorn was almost too much for her to bear. In spite of everything, she knew she still loved him. Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks for what felt like the hundredth time that day, and she wondered if Dr. Silverman had anything to treat a broken heart.
The door to Lois' room pushed open first thing the next morning, and a cheerful nurse came in. "How are you feeling today, Ms. Lane?"
Lois tried to wipe the sleep out of her eyes, clearly not happy about being woken up so abruptly. "All right, I think," she answered. "Still a little bit light-headed."
"That's a pretty normal reaction to the medication you've been given." The nurse bustled over to the window and threw open the curtains, letting the morning sunlight pour in.
Lois groaned. "Do you have to just throw those open like that?" she grumbled, shielding her eyes from the abrupt change in light.
"Now, now," the nurse said in a sickeningly sweet, patient voice. "Statistics have proven that sunlight makes people feel better, and the better you feel, the sooner you can go home."
Lois rolled her eyes in protest, but the nurse just smiled patiently and went about taking Lois' blood pressure and vital statistics, jotting down the information on her chart.
When she finished, she glanced at the bedside table and smiled. "Your flowers are beautiful. Are they from your boyfriend?"
Lois, confused, turned to see what she was talking about. Her eyes widened when she saw the large vase brimming with red roses and baby's breath. "I…I don't know who they're from," she admitted. "They weren't here last night when I went to sleep."
The nurse smiled. "They must've been delivered this morning then. Oh, here's a card. Maybe this will clue you in." She handed Lois the card and then left the room so Lois could read its contents alone.
Lois sat for a long time, just staring at the simple small, white envelope. Finally she opened it and slid the note out. She immediately recognized Clark's firm scrawl. The note was simple, but it brought tears to her eyes just the same.
*Lois*, it read. *I love you, and I always will. Please don't shut me out. Clark.*
Lois stared at the card for a long time, amazed at how much the few, simple words touched her. "Oh, Clark," she sighed. "What am I going to do?"
Shortly after breakfast, a soft knock on her door startled her. Before she could say 'come in', the door opened and Clark poked his head in hesitantly. Seeing she was awake, he pushed the door open the rest of the way, but remained standing in the doorway.
"Lois, can I come in?" he asked apprehensively.
Lois sighed. "Yeah, come on in."
He let the door shut behind him and came over to sit beside her. There was an awkward silence as they looked at each other nervously. "I see you got the flowers," Clark said, spotting the opened note on the bedside table.
The trace of a smile flitted across her face. "Yes, thanks. They're beautiful."
More silence. Finally Clark let out his breath in a rush. "Lois, we need to talk." When she didn't object, he rushed on. "I didn't sleep a wink last night. No matter what I try, I just can't stop thinking about our fight yesterday."
"Me, neither," Lois admitted sadly.
"I've been pacing around my apartment all night long, not knowing when to come see you today, or how I should act once I got here. I didn't know for sure where things had been left after yesterday, and it was driving me crazy. Finally, I decided that knowing was better than not knowing." He paused, his eyes meeting hers. Warily, he continued. "Lois, did you really mean what you said yesterday about wanting to break off our engagement?"
Lois' mouth drew into a hard line. "I don't know," she said finally. "I thought I did yesterday, but after I had time to think about it, I realized that I didn't."
Clark closed his eyes and heaved a sigh of relief. "You don't know how glad I am to hear you say that, Lois." When he opened his eyes, he noticed that her cool expression still remained. "But you're still angry."
Clark waited for her to explain, but when she didn't, he rolled his eyes impatiently. "Come on, Lois! We can't work this out if you don't talk to me!"
"If *I* don't talk to *you*?'" Lois spat out. "You hypocrite! Don't accuse me of not talking to you, when there as so many things you obviously didn't talk to *me* about!"
She started to sit up, but stopped immediately when a surge of pain shot through her. She closed her eyes against the pain, trying to stem it, then breathed easier a moment later when it went away. When she opened her eyes again, Clark was watching her with a worried expression.
"Look, Clark," she began, more quietly this time. "I hate the fact that you lied to me and chose not to trust me with this. I finally opened up and learned to trust you, and you repaid me by destroying that trust. I'd like to say that this doesn't change the way I feel about you, Clark, but it does. Suddenly I'm learning that there's a whole other side to you that I know nothing about."
She paused to catch her breath and then continued, her voice hushed. "But then when I start to think about life without you, I realize that I can't stand the thought of not being with you, not talking to you every day and sharing everything with you. So where does that leave us? Where am I supposed to go from here?"
Clark sighed as he looked down at his hands. "I don't know."
"You know, you honestly can't blame me for being angry," Lois told him. "Here I thought I knew you, but all that is different now. You're not the person I thought you were."
"Lois, I am still *exactly* who you thought I was," Clark insisted adamantly. "Yes, it's true that I'm that guy who flies around the world saving people from collapsing bridges and erupting volcanoes. But I am *still* Clark Kent, that guy you're partnered with to uncover the scandals and corruption in Metropolis. I'm also that guy you hang out with in your spare time, and who you turn to when you're feeling down and discouraged, or who you run to when something great happens to you." He paused, letting his words sink in. "But most of all, I'm that guy who loves you with all his heart, and wants to spend the rest of his life with you."
Lois was quiet for a long time, and Clark had to look away, for fear that if he looked into her eyes he'd see that she didn't feel the same way. But when he finally did look up at her, he was surprised to see tears streaming down her cheeks.
He sat up a little straighter, suddenly worried that something was wrong. "Lois, are you okay? Are you in pain?"
Lois shook her head and used the back of her hand to wipe at her cheeks. "No, I'm okay," she said between sniffles.
"Then what is it?" he prompted gently.
"Clark," she asked softly. "Is it true? Do you really mean that?"
Clark's face broke into a grin and he laughed a little. "Which part?"
"The part about loving me."
Clark nodded, raising his hand to brush back the stray hairs on her forehead tenderly. "Lois, you don't even need to ask that. You know I do. That hasn't changed. I love you more than anything in this world, and I always will."
For an instant, their eyes locked and Lois felt that everything was going to be okay. But then her head took over, sending warning signals to her brain and confusing her all over again. She was flooded by the memories of all the times Clark had talked to her as Superman, deceiving her so openly for so long. It made her angry all over again.
Clark, sensing that her mood had changed, studied her carefully. "Lois, what is it?"
Lois sighed heavily and looked up at the ceiling. "Oh, Clark. I'm just so confused about everything. My heart is telling me to forgive you and move on, but my head is saying something completely different."
Clark took her hand in his. "I know," he whispered. He studied their joined hands for several moments. Finally, he looked up and met her gaze. "So what can I do to help?"
"You can't help me with this, Clark," she told him truthfully. "I'm going to have to work through the issues that I have on my own." She looked down at her lap, unable to look into his eyes when spoke again. "Clark, I know you're not going to understand this, but I need some time to think. Maybe some time apart would help me to sort things out and see things more clearly."
Clark's heart leapt into his throat. "But Lois, I want to be here for you," he told her emphatically. "I want to be with you, to help you get better."
"I know, Clark. And I appreciate that. But everything's just happening too fast. There are so many things going around in my head right now that I can't figure out how to think or feel about all of this."
Clark started to say something, but Lois interrupted him. "Clark, please," she said in a quiet, defeated voice. "I'm too tired. I just can't deal with all this right now."
Hearing the weariness in her voice, he took a good look at her…a really good look. And what he saw made him feel even worse. He hadn't noticed until then how completely exhausted she looked. Her face was tired and drawn, and she looked as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. It made him feel extremely guilty. As if the surgery hadn't been tough enough, he was heaping all of this on her, too.
*What am I doing?* Clark asked, suddenly feeling very angry with himself. *She's just been through a horrible ordeal, and I'm only making things worse by upsetting her emotionally.*
He straightened in his chair guiltily. "You're right, Lois. You need your rest. But please," he said quietly. "Please don't ask me to stay away. Let me prove to you that you're the most important thing in my life, and that I'm committed to making our relationship work. We don't have to talk about these things if you don't want to, and I promise I won't pressure you into anything or make you commit to anything that you're not ready to commit to."
Lois thought about that for a long time. Finally, she nodded wearily. "Okay," she whispered, her voice barely audible, even to him.
Clark got up and walked slowly to the door. He turned and looked at her once more before leaving her room. She looked so tiny and pale lying in the hospital bed between the crisp, white sheets. It made his heart ache more than it ever had in his entire life. It was all he could do not to rush over to her side, gather her up in his arms, and fly her away to a place where nothing could hurt her ever again. The protectiveness he felt toward her was almost overwhelming.
"I'll see you in a while," he said at long length. When she nodded, he turned and left the room, shutting the door silently behind him.
As soon as he was gone, Lois felt more confused than ever. She knew that she was totally and completely in love with him. But was that enough? In her opinion, love was the most important factor in a relationship. But there were other factors involved, too. Like trust and honesty.
With a confused sigh, she settled back on her pillow. There was suddenly a whole new side to him that she didn't know or understand. Was he really the same old Clark Kent, her partner and best friend, that he always was? Or was that now going to change?
Thinking of all the possible changes really scared her. What if he started acting differently toward her now that she knew his secret? And would she find herself acting differently toward him, too?
Clark had said earlier that he was afraid. Well, she was afraid, too. Afraid that nothing in her life would ever be the same again.
For the next few hours, Lois laid in bed dozing, channel surfing and thinking. Nothing on the TV interested her, but she decided that was just as well. It gave an opportunity to let her mind work.
She kept thinking about her talk with Clark, and how he'd insisted that he was the same guy she'd always known. Was it possible? Could he really be the same person she'd come to know and love? She couldn't make up her mind. On the one hand, she could see that his Kryptonian heritage would've helped make him who he was. Superman's innate goodness and unshakable ethics had to be a part of Clark, since you couldn't have one man without the other. But when you put them together—the stern, uncompromising, otherworldly superhero and the boyish, straight-laced, Kansas-raised farmboy—who did they become?
Finally, she came to the conclusion that there was much, much more to learn about Clark than she'd originally thought. It was a lot like starting from scratch. But at least he'd agreed to give her the time and space she needed to adjust to the situation, and had promised not to pressure her. It would give her the chance to get to know him for the entire, complex man that he was. But he would also have to follow up on his promise to prove to her that he really *was* serious about wanting to make things work, as he'd said.
By the time lunch was brought in to her, she was feeling better about things. She knew she loved Clark, and that she still wanted him in her life. So her best course of action was to simply take things one step at a time, and see where that took her.
She was halfway through her jello salad when Martha and Jonathan walked in. "Martha, Jonathan," she exclaimed, happy to see them.
Jonathan dropped into the chair beside her and Martha perched on the edge of the bed. "You look like you're feeling much better today," Martha observed with a warm smile.
"Yeah, I do, actually," she responded. "The nurse was in here a while ago, and she said that the doctor was even going to be cutting back on the amount of pain medication I'm getting because I was recovering so quickly."
"That's great, Lois," Martha agreed. She peered at the food on the tray across Lois' lap and her brow furrowed. "What exactly is it that you're eating?"
Lois laughed. "To be honest, I'm not sure. I'm only eating the jello and mashed potatoes because I can tell that's what they are. I'm not even going to touch the rest of the stuff."
"I don't blame you," Jonathan chuckled.
Lois gestured to the familiar looking travel bag that Jonathan had carried in. "What's with the bag?"
"Oh, I almost forgot," Martha explained. "I thought you'd feel more comfortable if you had some of your things from home. I packed you your robe, some pajamas, a couple of T-shirts and some sweats, your toothbrush and makeup…things like that. Clark used his key to let me into your apartment." She looked at Lois uncertainly. "I hope that was okay."
Lois smiled reassuringly. "That's just fine. Thanks for going to all that trouble. I have to admit it'll be nice to wear something besides this drafty hospital gown."
Just then Clark walked in, and she found herself returning his warm smile. 'So much for staying angry with him,' she thought.
He walked over to them, and his mom scooted over on the bed to make room for him to sit down next to Lois. He automatically leaned over to kiss her, but then stopped himself, suddenly unsure of where they stood in their relationship, and how he should act toward her. Finally, he ended up kind of kissing the corner of her mouth. Martha and Jonathan exchanged a look.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, studying her closely. "Your color looks better."
She nodded. "I got some rest, and that really helped."
Clark didn't say anything for a minute, but when their eyes met, Lois saw the unasked questions about their relationship in his eyes. Knowing she didn't have any answers, she finally looked down at her food, away from his probing eyes. There was still too much she hadn't yet decided.
His gaze followed hers down to her mostly uneaten, coagulating food on her lunch tray. Picking up her spoon, he scooped up some of her uneaten mystery meat and stared at it as if it were some high school science experiment gone bad. "What is this you're eating?"
"*Not* eating, you mean?" Lois asked with a smile, noticing that she was warming up a lot faster to him than she would've liked. "I have no idea what it is. That's why I'm not eating it."
"Maybe it's the hospital's way of keeping patients around longer and charging them for their extra stay."
"You mean after they pump their stomachs? I can see that," she laughed. Then her expression became wistful. "I would kill for some good Chinese food right about now."
Martha and Jonathan laughed, too, and it wasn't long before Lois realized her mood was improving. Everyone was in good spirits as they continued to laugh and joke around. To Lois, it felt like old times.
The door opened a few minutes later, and they looked up to see Dr. Silverman coming in. "It sounds like you're all having way too much fun," he observed with a smile. He turned to Lois. "I can tell you're feeling better."
"I am," she agreed happily.
"Well, you know what they say," he said as he walked over to her. "Laughter is the best medicine. I need to check your blood pressure, Lois, and then I want to see how your incision looks."
He slipped the black velcro strap around her upper arm. Moments later, Dr. Silverman nodded his approval and undid the strap. "Your blood pressure is good." Then he reached over, pulled her blankets down a little and gently pressed on her ribcage and stomach. Lois winced despite his gentleness. "Is that still tender?" he asked.
She nodded, noticing that the pain still lingered even after he'd stopped probing. Instantly, Clark was on alert. "Is something wrong?"
Dr. Silverman shook his head. "No, the swelling and soreness is to be expected. She'll probably be tender for a few weeks." He turned back to Lois. "Do you think you could sit up so I can check your incision and sutures?"
"I think so," Lois answered, though she wasn't sure at all. His probing had started a slight steady pain in her abdomen, and she was afraid that using her stomach muscles to pull herself up would only make it worse.
Clark seemed to read her mind. "Here, Lois, let me help." He picked up her lunch tray and passed it over to his dad, then took her gently by the arm and carefully helped her into a sitting position.
She grimaced a bit. "Sitting up didn't used to feel this bad," she muttered, wondering if something might be wrong.
But Dr. Silverman hurried to reassure her. "It's nothing to worry about, Lois. You're feeling a bit more discomfort this afternoon because I've told the nurses to start cutting back on your pain medication. You were healing so quickly that I thought it would be best to start weaning you off your medication so we wouldn't have to risk the addictive effects of the drug."
That made her feel better. If that was the reason she was feeling things a bit more, than she could deal with that. She could handle some discomfort if it meant she could get out of the hospital sooner.
"Now let me just undo the back of your gown so I can check those stitches," he began.
"Should we leave?" Martha asked, not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable.
Dr. Silverman shook his head. "No, I don't want to chase everyone out. This will just take a second."
Clark watched as Dr. Silverman peeled off the adhesive tape and then removed the white cotton bandages, exposing her stitches. Clark was glad he couldn't see from where he was sitting, because he knew that seeing the damage that the bullet had done would only set his guilt in motion again.
Dr. Silverman studied her back carefully, then nodded. "This looks good. Everything appears to be healing nicely. Let me clean your incision a bit, and then I'll put a new bandage on."
Clark let his hands slip down Lois' arms until he reached her hands, clasping them gently. He watched her close her eyes for a brief moment as the doctor dabbed over her incision with the cold antiseptic. Obviously, she was still very tender. He squeezed her hands supportively, hoping to convey to her that he was there for her. A minute later, a new bandage was in place and Dr. Silverman stepped back.
"Well, Lois, everything looks good," he told her. "At the rate you're healing, you'll probably even be out of here sooner than we discussed. Oh, and I'm going to have the nurse come in and disconnect your I.V. in a minute. So if you feel like it, go ahead and get up and walk around a bit. Just don't overdo it." Then, with a smile at everyone, he said goodbye and left the room.
"He seems nice," Martha observed.
Lois nodded. "He really is." She turned to Clark. "As a matter of fact, he told me this morning that he was a fan of our work, Clark."
"That's a switch," Clark smiled wryly. "Usually the only people we hear from are the ones our articles expose, and they lean more toward the 'wanting to kill us' end of the spectrum."
Everyone laughed at that. A minute later, one of the afternoon nurses came in with several items on a tray. "Good news, Ms. Lane," she announced as she came over to her. "Dr. Silverman wants me to take you off your IV, so you're about to be a free woman."
Lois grinned at that. "You mean I'm not going to be chained to this thing anymore?" she asked, indicating the long tube running from her arm.
"Nope. And if you feel up to it, get up and walk around a little bit for the next couple of days. Some activity will help you to heal faster." She undid the tape across the back of Lois' hand and removed the needle, quickly applying pressure to her hand with a cotton ball to stop the bleeding. Then she secured the cotton in place with a band-aid and stepped back. "There. All done. Now just be sure not to overdo things if you do decide to get up."
"I won't," Lois assured her.
She gave everyone a smile, then left to attend to other patients. As soon as the door shut, Martha stood up. "Since everyone else is leaving, I think we will, too." She turned to Jonathan. "I'm starving. Should we go grab a late lunch?"
"Sounds good to me," he agreed. Then, with a promise to Lois that they'd be back to check on her later, they left, too.
"Wow, talk about everyone leaving at once," Lois joked when she and Clark were alone in the room. It surprised her, but she realized she suddenly felt shy to be alone with him. So much had happened between the two of them in the last couple of days that she wasn't really sure how to act around him when they were alone.
Clark sensed her uneasiness and sighed. 'I hate this,' he thought in frustration. 'I've got to hurry and make things right between us so we can go back to the way things were.'
Then, after a few more moments of awkward silence, he spoke up. "How about giving that new-found freedom a try?" he smiled, doing his best to put her at ease. "Do you feel like taking a walk?"
"Actually, it does sound nice to get out of this bed," she admitted. But suddenly she realized that the floor seemed like a long way away, and getting up didn't seem quite so easy.
"Umm," she began hesitantly, hating to ask for help doing all the little things she had taken for granted just a few days before. But she knew she wasn't going to be able to do it without Clark's help. Feeling embarrassed and frustrated, she admitted, "I think I'm going to need some help getting up."
He smiled at her supportively. "No problem. That's why I'm here."
As he worked at lowering the side of the bed, Lois groaned inwardly. She hated feeling helpless and dependent. It wasn't in her nature to ask for help, and it was frustrating now because she knew she couldn't do the simple, everyday things without his help.
Clark finally found the latch that enabled him to lower the bedside railing, and then he helped her swing her feet over the side of the bed. She sat there for a minute, letting her feet dangle over the edge. Clark watched her uncertainly, not sure whether or not to ask her if she needed help. He didn't want to make her feel helpless, but he didn't want her to hurt herself, either, by having her try to do something she wasn't able to do yet. After several moments of debate, he offered her his hand, breathing an inward sigh of relief when she took it without argument.
When their hands touched, Lois felt a jolt of electricity surge between them. 'At least the chemistry between us hasn't changed,' she thought.
When she was finally standing beside Clark, she made a grab for the back of her gown. "Um, Clark? Could you get the robe out of my bag for me, please? Things are suddenly feeling a bit drafty."
Clark laughed. "No problem." He rummaged around in her bag for a moment, then found it and pulled it out. "Do you need some help putting it on?"
She started to shake her head, but then realized that putting the robe on by herself presented her with a whole new problem. "Well, on second thought," she said. "Maybe you'd better help me. If I try to put it on myself, I'll have to let go of the back of this gown, and that might show you more than you were wanting to see." She grinned at him wryly.
He opened his mouth to say that that was okay with him, that he wouldn't mind seeing more of her, but he quickly stopped himself. 'That's not exactly something I should say, considering the fact that our relationship isn't where it was a few days ago,' he decided. So he just smiled at her instead and helped her on with her robe.
When she finished tying the belt around her waist, he held his arm out for her. After a moment's hesitation, she slipped her arm through his. Once they were out in the hall, Lois felt her mind beginning to clear. 'Maybe getting out for a few minutes is exactly what I needed,' she surmised hopefully.
The walk down the hall to the small, furnished waiting area at the end seemed to take forever, and Lois gratefully sank onto one of the couches when they finally reached it.
"Well, that wore me out," she said, attempting to keep her tone light since she knew Clark tended to worry about her way too much.
"Then let's just rest for a while," he suggested, sitting down beside her. He watched her adjust the robe around her a bit more snugly. He couldn't help noticing the pallor to her cheeks. "Are you sure you're okay, Lois?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little tired." She turned to him and smiled. "Thanks for taking a walk with me."
"You're welcome, Lois. But you don't have to thank me. I told you before, I want to be here for you." He paused, wondering if he should say what was on his mind. Finally, he decided to forge ahead. "I want to make sure I give you every opportunity to see that I'm still the same person that I was before you found out about me being…well, you know."
Lois immediately felt her defenses start to go back up and she gave him a disapproving look. "Clark, you agreed that you were going to give me my space on this. I don't want to get into this with you right now…"
Clark threw his hands up in the air innocently. "Lois, I'm not pressuring you," he insisted, quickly jumping to his own defense. "Have I asked you anything about what you were thinking or feeling about 'us'? No. I was just stating a fact."
"Is this what it's going to come down to? Technicalities?" she bristled.
Clark opened his mouth to argue back, but then thought better of it. She was tired enough without having to waste her energy arguing with him. "Okay, Lois, I'm sorry. I told you I wouldn't talk about this, and I won't. All right?"
Her expression softened. "All right. I'm sorry, Clark. I don't know why I attacked you like that." She looked down at her lap. "I guess I'm just scared that things are going to change between us, you know?"
Clark looked at her in surprise, suddenly realizing that inside that cool exterior she was keeping, there was a frightened young woman who was confused and looking for answers she didn't have. Answers that neither of them had.
He moved closer to her and reached for her hand. "I know, Lois," he said quietly. "I'm scared, too. But can I say one thing that I think might help? Without you yelling at me?"
Lois smiled a little. "Okay, I promise I won't yell at you."
He hesitated. "Lois, all these things you're thinking about, all the things you're feeling…well, I'm feeling them, too. I know there's suddenly a lot to work through, but I think that if we work through things together, we'll get through this. So, I want you to know…when you want to talk, I'll be here to listen. Okay?"
Lois felt her defenses start to soften. "Thanks, Clark. It helps to know that. And I appreciate you sticking by me."
He smiled tenderly. "Where else would I go? I'm here with the woman I love, at that's exactly where I want to be."
Touched at his words, she leaned toward him, giving him a light, tender kiss. Clark could tell from her kiss that she still loved him, and he knew that was all that mattered. Everything else could be worked out over time.
When they pulled apart, they smiled warmly into each other's eyes. Then, tiredly, Lois let her head fall onto Clark's shoulder, letting herself enjoy his closeness for the first time in days.
After several minutes, Clark gave her hand a gentle squeeze, arousing her from her contented state. "I think it's time we get you back to bed," he told her. "You need some rest."
Lois knew he was right. She *was* feeling pretty worn out. She lifted her head from his shoulder and started to get up, but she stopped suddenly when she felt another twinge similar to the one she'd had earlier when Dr. Silverman had had her sit up.
Clark noticed right away. "Are you okay?" he asked, his voice reflecting his concern.
Lois nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just think that my medication's starting to wear off."
Clark helped her to her feet. "Let's get you back to your room and we'll see if the nurse can give you some more. "Do you want me to carry you?"
"No, I'm okay," Lois insisted stubbornly, shaking her head. "As long as we take it slow, I'll be fine."
But a few steps later, he could tell she was really hurting. So, ignoring her protests, he scooped her up and started carrying her the rest of the way. "Lois, don't be so stubborn," he told her firmly. "I'm here to help, so let me help you."
When they reached her room, he carefully set her on her feet beside the bed and helped her out of her robe. Then he lifted her gently onto the bed and pulled the blankets up over her. He watched her close her eyes, obviously trying to stem the pain she was feeling.
Reaching over her, he pushed the nurse call button on the wall. "Just relax, Lois. The nurse will be here soon."
True to his word, the nurse came in a minute later. "Did somebody need me?"
Clark nodded. "Lois' pain medication is wearing off and she's starting to hurt."
The nurse picked up Lois' patient notes and scanned the information. Then she checked her watch. "It looks like Dr. Silverman's been cutting back on your medication, and there's still about a half hour until you're due for another shot. Do you think you can last until then?"
Lois thought about it for a moment, then nodded wordlessly.
The nurse gave her a supportive smile. "Just hang in there, and I'll be back in half an hour."
Lois closed her eyes, fighting to convince herself that she could make it a half-hour. 'A half hour is nothing,' she told herself. 'I can do this. Just keep remembering that it's one step closer to being able to go home.'
The feel of Clark's fingers on her cheek caused her to open her eyes and look up at him. He was leaning over the railing of the bed, stroking her face lightly. "Are you sure you're okay for a half hour?" he asked seriously, the concern for her apparent in his eyes. "If you don't think you can, no one's going to think any less of you. You've been through an awful lot."
She shook her head, but stopped quickly when she realized any movement seemed to make her hurt even more. "No, I can do it," she whispered, though inwardly she wasn't sure she could at all. She reached for his hand and held it tightly. "Will you stay here with me, though? Maybe if you talk to me, the time will go faster."
Clark gave her a gentle smile. "Of course I will. I'm not going anywhere."
For the next half-hour, Clark did his best to keep her occupied by telling her everything that was going on at the Planet. He'd been there for a short time that morning to check in with Perry, and he went into great detail about everything he'd heard while he was there. He knew that the little details probably didn't matter to her, but he figured anything he could tell her might help to keep her mind off her increasing pain.
True to her word, the nurse reappeared a half-hour later, and Clark saw Lois breathe a shaky sigh of relief. The nurse gave her the shot and then left them alone, and Clark went about making sure Lois was comfortable by adjusting her pillow and tucking her blankets more securely around her.
Almost immediately, Lois felt the medication start to work. She closed her eyes in relief, letting the drug's numbing effect take over. She opened her eyes a minute later to see Clark staring down at her. "What?" she asked softly.
Clark smiled, reaching out to tuck her dark hair behind her ear. "Nothing. I'm just glad you're feeling better."
"Thanks for staying and talking to me. It really helped."
He noticed that her lids were already getting heavy, so he decided it was a good time to leave. "Lois, I'm going to go so you can get some sleep. Besides, Perry wanted me to check in on a couple of things before he put the paper to bed tonight. I'll be back around dinnertime to check on you, though, okay?"
She nodded, struggling to keep her eyes open. He stood up and turned to leave, but she quickly grabbed his hand.
"Thanks for everything, Clark."
He smiled tenderly at her. "You're welcome, Lois."
She hesitated. "I…I love you."
Clark felt tears spring to his eyes. He knew how hard it must've been for her to say that after everything that had happened over the last couple of days.
Leaning over her, he touched his lips to hers lightly. "I love you, too, Lois," he whispered. He touched her cheek, then smiled warmly. "I'll see you tonight."
Then he slipped his hand out of Lois' and left the room. A few steps down the hall, he turned back and pulled his glasses down on his nose. A quick peek into Lois' room showed him that she was already fast asleep. He smiled.
As he went down the hall and stepped into the elevator, he breathed a relieved sigh. 'Finally, things are starting to look up between us.'
Dinnertime found Lois once again picking through her food. 'I can't believe they actually serve this stuff,' she complained silently. 'Clark and I should do a story on this, maybe try to uncover the reason behind their trying to save money by serving food this bad.'
Then it hit her. *Clark and I.* She smiled. The prospect of them being back together—or almost back together—was enough to make her mood lift in spite of the bland food on the plate in front of her. True, she'd had her doubts earlier about whether or not her knowing about his secret identity would make him act differently toward her. But, as his kindness had proven earlier that day, he was prepared to stay with her through thick and thin, and that made her feel great. She'd always been a huge believer in the saying 'actions speak louder than words'. Well, his actions earlier that day had proven as much.
As she sat there, contemplating whether or not she was really hungry enough to eat what was in front of her, Clark appeared from around the corner of her propped-open door, wearing a simple white T-shirt, faded jeans, and his Metropolis Lions football stadium jacket. He looked incredible.
"Hey, Clark!" she greeted him happily.
He grinned at her, but quickly raised a finger to his lips, silencing her. She watched in confusion as he turned back to glance secretively out into the hallway. Then, confident that nobody was watching, he reached out to pull her door shut. As he did, she could see that his arm was supporting a large bulge under his jacket.
Curiously, she tilted her head slightly, trying to see what he was hiding under his jacket. But after a moment decided there was no way to know. So she watched him as he took one last glance into the hallway just before the door shut, then he turned back to her and ceremoniously pulled out the large, brown paper sack he'd been concealing.
"Your knight in shining armor is saving you from certain death," he announced dramatically as he removed her dinner tray and placed the bag on her lap.
She was surprised to feel the warmth emanating from the bottom of the bag. "What is this?" she asked, her curiosity piqued. Opening the bag, she saw several cartons of Chinese food inside. And when she looked even closer, she noticed that the containers even had authentic Chinese writing on them.
She gasped in surprised delight and looked back up at Clark. "You didn't!"
He grinned proudly. "I did."
She lowered her voice. "You flew all the way to China to get this?" He nodded. "You're incredible!" she exclaimed, leaning over to show her appreciation by giving him a long kiss. Then she pulled away, eagerly grabbing the fork from her dinner tray and pulling out the first carton she could reach.
Clark laughed. "Don't you even want to know what's in that carton before you dig in?"
Lois shook her head, unable to wipe the smile off her face. "No way. It could be anything at all, and it would still be better than what I had." She opened the container and, seeing that it was fried rice, hungrily scooped a forkful of it into her mouth.
"Hey, save some for me!" Clark exclaimed, laughing. He picked up the unused spoon from her tray and leaned over her, scooping some of the rice from the container that was clutched fiercely in her hand. He shook his head and grinned. "You'd think you haven't eaten in days."
"I haven't," she mumbled through a mouthful of fried rice. "An IV doesn't really count since you can't swallow it, and the stuff I've been served can't honestly be called food." She peered into the bag. "What else did you get?"
He started to tell her, but suddenly stopped. "Wait…I think I hear someone coming."
She giggled, having entirely too much fun breaking the rules. Quickly, she elbowed him. "Well, check and see if the coast is clear!"
Clark turned to her, flashing her a conspiratorial grin. Then he turned back to the door and lowered his glasses. After a few seconds, he pushed his glasses back up on his nose and grinned at her. "Nope, nothing to worry about. It's just a nurse passing by with a dinner cart."
"Those poor patients," she said, shaking her head and giggling. She gestured to his eyes. "I can see that you're going to be handy to have around."
"Oh, that's nothing," Clark assured her with a broad smile. "You should see me make the bed."
Lois cracked up. "I'm not going to touch that one with a ten foot pole."
For the next hour or so, it felt like old times to Lois as they laughed and teased and joked around. She was quickly learning that Clark was the same as he always was.
'I can't believe I was worried about this,' she thought, as she reached into the bag for another egg roll. 'This is actually fun.'
When Lois knew she wasn't going to be able to eat another bite, she sat back in bed and groaned. "Oh, man. I'm so full I'll never be able to eat breakfast in the morning."
Clark scraped the last of the chow mien from its carton and grinned at her. "And that's a bad thing?"
Lois laughed, then grabbed her stomach. "Oooh, don't make me laugh! I just might throw up."
"And waste all of that perfectly good food? Don't you dare!" he threatened playfully.
It was several minutes before they were finally able to stop laughing. When they got themselves back under control, Lois reached up and grabbed at the sleeve of Clark's T-shirt, getting a fistful of fabric in her hand.
"Clark," she said seriously, though she found it nearly impossible to keep the smile off her face. "You can fly to China for food anytime. This was fun."
"Hey, you're going to wrinkle me," he protested jokingly, swatting her hand away. The fork was still in his hand, though, and some of the chow mein flipped onto the wall behind her, causing them to burst into a fresh bout of laughter.
"Sssh!" Clark threatened through his own laughter. "Someone's going to hear us!"
"I know! Then we'd really be in for it," Lois answered, regaining control and reaching up to wipe the tears from her cheeks. "Seriously, Clark, I haven't had this much fun in ages."
The laughter wrinkles around his eyes started to smooth out as he met her gaze. "I had fun, too." Then, without hesitation, he leaned over and kissed her tenderly and passionately. Moments later, Clark grudgingly pulled away. "As much as I hate to, I've got to go," he explained. "Superman is supposed to make a guest appearance at the Metropolis Charities organizational meeting tonight."
Lois felt the disappointment set in. "Oh, that's right. I guess that *is* you, isn't it?" she said sadly.
"Mmm-hmm," Clark answered.
Lois sighed and looked down at her lap. "I guess I didn't think about you having responsibilities like that."
Clark put his hand under her chin and titled her face up to his, forcing her to look at him. "I don't want to leave, either, Lois. But I promise I'll be back to see you in the morning. Okay?"
She nodded, forcing a smile. "Okay."
Just then the door to her room opened and a nurse walked in. "I'm here to collect your dinner tray," she announced brightly. But when she got closer, she saw all the empty food containers on the bed.
This time Lois' smile was genuine. "Oops. Busted," she mouthed at Clark, who was trying not to laugh as the nurse started to scold them.
Clark grinned at Lois, then quickly took matters into his own hands as he stood up and quickly put everything back into the bag. Then he bent over her to give her a quick kiss. "I'll see you later," he whispered. "And don't worry…I'll take care of your nurse."
Lois couldn't help grinning as she watched Clark slip his arm around the middle-aged nurse's shoulders and guide her out into the hall. "Gosh, all those dinner trays must be really heavy. Why don't you let me help you with them…" Then, before he disappeared down the hall, he turned and gave Lois a conspiring wink.
Lois shook her head and laughed. Obviously, even a crotchety nurse wasn't immune from Clark's old-world charms and dazzling smile. She doubted she'd have to worry anymore about the nurse ratting on them to Dr. Silverman.
She adjusted her bed so she could lie down a bit more, thankful for the chance to lie quietly for a few minutes. As much fun as she'd had with Clark, it had really worn her out. Luckily, she'd had her pain medication just before Clark had arrived or she might not have made it through their fun evening.
Pushing the buttons on her bed rail, she flipped on the TV and channel surfed mindlessly for a while, content to relax and do nothing. But suddenly a familiar red and blue suit caught her eye, and her finger paused on the remote. A smile spread across her face.
Apparently, part of the charity meeting was being broadcast. She watched for a while, listening to Clark—as Superman—speak into the microphone about how important it was to contribute to the various organizations in Metropolis, and how they funded so many worthwhile causes.
When his speech drew to a close a short time later, the audience responded with wide, thunderous applause. He smiled, and Lois immediately recognized it as the same smile he'd had earlier. He was enjoying himself.
As she continued to watch him, she found herself studying him intently. 'How could I have overlooked something so obvious?' she asked herself as she watched him accept the praise from the charity meeting's host. Now that she knew he was Superman, she wondered how she could have ever been fooled by the glasses to begin with. They did nothing to hide the features that were so obviously Superman's…so obviously Clark's.
Sitting there in bed, she realized that the pride she'd felt at watching him do his Superman thing slowly started to wear off when a whole new series of concerns began to surface.
Clark was a busy man, what with working at the Planet with her, and then also filling his role as Superman. In addition to the countless rescues he made and disasters he averted, there were all sorts of events and functions that Superman attended. She knew, because she'd followed his every appearance for the last couple of years.
All her questions and fears began to return to her mind. How do I know if Clark's going to be there when I need him? And what if he starts to think that his job is more important than me? She thought back to her childhood, when she'd had it proved to her time and again that this was the case with her dad. Or what if he fell out of love with her after they'd been married for years, as her dad had done to her mom?
Suddenly feeling scared about their future, Lois turned off the TV and lay back on her pillow in the dark. Unable to stop the questions from swarming around in her head, she sighed. She had the feeling she wouldn't be getting much sleep that night.
Lois was exhausted when she woke up the next morning. Not only had her thoughts kept her awake a large part of the night, but the amount of time between her medication dosages had kept getting longer and longer, and she'd woken up several times in pain. She'd watched entirely too many old reruns and late night infomercials as she tried to fight her way to the times when she could get her next pain killer. So, by the time Clark arrived soon after breakfast the next morning, she was tired and cranky.
He dropped into the chair next to her and smiled. "I was just at the Planet, and Jimmy and Perry were asking about you. They said to say hi."
She smiled tiredly. "That was sweet."
"So how are you today?" he asked, noticing the dark circles under her eyes. "You don't look like you slept very well last night."
She shook her head. "I didn't." She went on to explain about her pain medication dosages, and his brow furrowed.
"I wish you had called me," he told her. "I would've come and helped you through it."
She shook her head. "What good would that have done? Then two of us would've been tired."
"Lois, I don't need sleep like you do, remember?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot," Lois muttered. "Of course you don't need sleep. You're Superman. It's like you're a bat or something." She tried to make it sound like a joke, but she was afraid Clark could hear the touch of sarcasm in her voice. And judging by his expression, he had.
"Lois, what's wrong? It sounds like there's more to this than just a sleepless night."
She was quiet for a minute, then she began hesitantly. "Clark, remember when you said that if I needed to talk about what's been bothering me, you were willing to listen?"
Clark leaned forward eagerly. "Yes?"
"Well, it's just that I've been going over some things in my mind…some concerns, really. And I thought that, maybe…you know, if I could voice some of my concerns, maybe we could talk about them. So, I guess what I'm asking is…is your offer still open?"
Clark's heart leapt. "You bet," he told her, thrilled that she was finally wanting to open up. He took her hand in his. "Yeah, I think if we can talk about the things that are bothering you, we'll be a step closer to working them out."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too." Lois averted her gaze. It was hard for her to talk about these issues that had been bothering her for so long. She realized last night as she'd been awake thinking that these concerns had actually been in the back of her mind even before she'd met Clark, and that they'd just recently resurfaced when all this had happened. She doubted these were fears that could be dispelled with only a talk or two, but at least talking openly with Clark about them was a step in the right direction.
Before she went on, though, she made sure to think carefully about how she wanted to phrase things. She was afraid that if things came out wrong, it might sound to him like she didn't trust him, or that she didn't have any faith in him or in their love for each other. That's wasn't what she wanted him to think at all.
Finally, she took a deep breath and began. "Okay, here's what I've been thinking about lately," she began hesitantly, still unable to look Clark directly in the eye. "Last night I spent a long time thinking about us, and—"
A sudden movement from Clark caused her to look up at him. He had a strange look on his face. "What's wrong?"
He shifted anxiously in his seat. "Umm, nothing," he told her, looking back at her. "I'm sorry. 'Last night you were thinking…'" he prompted.
Lois looked at him strangely, but then continued. "Yeah, I saw you on TV last night at that charity meeting, and it got me thinking…"
Before she could say anything more, Clark leaped to his feet. "Uh, Lois, I'm really sorry. Can we talk about this in a little while?" He touched his ear to indicate that something had caught his super hearing. "It sounds like something big is going down."
Lois stared at him in shock. 'He's got to be kidding!' her mind screamed. 'I'm about to talk to him about what's been bothering me about our relationship, and he's more interested in what's going on in the city?'
Clark took an impatient step toward the door, but he was clearly waiting for her to give her permission before he went.
Lois' mouth stretched into a firm line. "Fine," she said at last, barely disguising her anger. "Go. Go be Superman and do whatever it is that you have to do."
"Lois," he began. "If you don't want me to go…"
But Lois shook her head. Without Clark even saying a word, the biggest of her questions had just been answered. "No," she told him, fuming inwardly. "Go ahead and go."
Seemingly oblivious as to how he'd just hurt her, Clark smiled his thanks and then turned and rushed out of the room.
Lois settled back on her bed. 'Well, that answered *that* question,' she thought angrily. 'I guess I no longer have to ask what's more important—me or his 'job.''
A single tear escaped and slid down her cheek. 'So is this the way our relationship was going to be?' she wondered dismally. 'Every time I had something important to say, he'd go rushing off?'
She knew it would be selfish to refuse to let him do what he was born to do. But in a sense, she realized, she'd essentially have to share him with the world. And she couldn't dispute the fact that his being Superman, and using his powers to help people was important. But did that mean that *she* wasn't important? That she had to sacrifice *her* feelings?
What it all boiled down to, in *her* opinion, anyway, was that it was a matter of priorities. Just like it was with her dad. Her dad had chosen his work. And so, apparently, had Clark.
Rolling over in bed, she let the tears come.
Clark swung by his apartment after the robbery and hostage situation he'd just averted, feeling pleased with himself that he'd been able to prevent a potentially deadly situation. There was a note stuck to his fridge from his parents saying that they were back visiting with their friends outside of Metropolis, and that they'd be back later that evening to see him and Lois.
Clark smiled. He appreciated them sacrificing their vacation to be there with him when he needed them, and to keep Lois' spirits up. Suddenly, his smile faded and his face went pale.
'Lois!' he gasped. 'Lois was about to talk to me about what was bothering her, and I just blew her off!' He hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. 'How could I be so stupid!'
Furious with himself, he quickly changed out of the suit and rushed to the hospital. Opening the door to Lois' room, he noticed that she was sleeping. But he didn't feel that his apology could wait, so he walked over and sat down lightly on the edge of her bed.
He put his hand on her shoulder and shook her lightly. "Lois? Wake up. I need to talk to you."
She stirred. When she opened her eyes, Clark saw that they were red-rimmed and bloodshot from crying. He also noticed that her expression was cold and distant. It reminded him exactly of how she'd looked two days ago when she'd threatened to break off their engagement.
"Lois, I am *so* sorry," he began, hoping to convince her of how badly he felt. "I know you were trying to tell me something important, and that I just rushed off. I honestly didn't realize I was doing that until after I stopped the robbery. Please, Lois, you have to believe me when I say that I know it was a stupid and thoughtless thing to do, and I really feel horrible about it. Really, I am so, *so* sorry."
Lois' voice was cool and aloof when she responded. "It's okay, Clark. I understand."
"No, Lois, I don't think you do…"
"Yes, Clark, I do understand. I understand that you, as Superman, have responsibilities that need to be taken care of that just can't wait. So it's fine. Really."
"But Lois, I have a responsibility to *you*, too," Clark insisted, feeling even worse when he saw that she obviously wasn't interested in hearing his apology. "*You're* the most important thing to me, and there's no excuse for what I did. Please believe me when I tell you that."
Lois sighed and shook her head. "I wish I could, Clark, but under the circumstances, I don't think I can."
He tried again. "Lois, please—"
"Clark, would you mind shutting the door on your way out?" she asked pointedly, cutting him off. "I need to get some sleep." And with that, she rolled over onto her side, promptly ending the conversation.
Clark opened his mouth to speak, but then shut it again. It was useless. He knew she wasn't going to listen to him when she was like this. 'Best to let her be for now,' he thought to himself as he stood up and left the room. 'I'll just have to try again when she's not so angry.'
But things didn't get any better. For the rest of that day and then all of the next, Lois succeeded in completely shutting him out, and he knew, sadly, that he wasn't going to be able to break through her defenses.
He didn't stop trying, though. He refused to be driven away by her cold shoulder treatment, and he did his best to get through to her. He brought her flowers and even tried to get her to look over some of the notes he'd started to assemble for the follow up stories on the crime ring. He'd been keeping a light schedule at work due to Perry's insistence, and thought that maybe he could break through the shield she'd put up around herself if he could get her excited about work. But nothing worked.
Clark's parents had heard about what happened and had seen how Lois was acting around Clark, but they decided it was best if they didn't interfere. As Jonathan had said, 'As much as we'd like to help, we've already interfered enough. This is their problem, and they're going to have to deal with it.' And Martha had agreed.
So, Lois continued to remain polite and aloof whenever she was around Clark. After two days of being given the cold shoulder, Clark found that his patience was wearing thin. He was sick of walking on eggshells around her, and he was sick to death of her false politeness. He missed her vibrancy, her spirit, her stubbornness.
By the evening of that second day, Clark decided he wasn't going to take it anymore. It was time to take drastic measures.
The doctor looked up from the stack of patient notes he was reviewing at his desk and spotted Clark in the doorway. "Oh, Mr. Kent! What can I do for you?"
Clark came the rest of the way into the room and sat down in the chair in front of Dr. Silverman's desk. "I have a question for you."
"When were you planning on releasing Lois?"
Dr. Silverman leaned back in his chair a bit. "Well, if she continues to recover as she has, I was thinking of sending her home on Sunday. Why? Is there a problem?"
Clark shook his head. "No, no problem," he answered. He tried to decide how to begin. After a minute, he asked, "Did you know that Lois and I are engaged?"
The doctor smiled. "Congratulations! I kind of figured as much. When I saw that beautiful ring on her finger and saw that you two were together all the time, it wasn't hard to put two and two together."
Clark laughed. "Well, what I was wondering was, if I agreed to take full charge of Lois' care at home, would it be possible for you to release her a couple of days early? I think she'd recover even more quickly if she was in familiar surroundings and had access to familiar things."
Dr. Silverman listened carefully, and thought for a minute after Clark finished.
Mentally crossing his fingers, Clark hoped that the doctor didn't pick up on the real reason he wanted to get Lois released in his charge. If he could convince Dr. Silverman to agree to it, he planned on moving Lois into his apartment with him for a few days while she finished recovering. And once there, they would be together practically 24-7, and she would be forced to deal with *him* on *his* turf. Maybe then he'd finally be able to get through to her.
Finally, Dr. Silverman nodded. "I think I could agree to that," he answered. "But I'd need to give you some information on what things she should or shouldn't be allowed to do, and what kind of medical care and supervision she might still need."
Clark nodded eagerly. "That would be great! And I can assure you that I'll take good care of her at home."
Dr. Silverman laughed at that. "I have no doubt. I'll let her know when I check on her in the morning."
"I'll be sure to be here then," Clark grinned. Then, to himself he thought, 'Believe me, I wouldn't want to miss this for the world.'
Leaving Dr. Silverman's office, he shut the door behind him just as a triumphant smile flashed across his face.
'Let's see you ignore me now, Lois,' he taunted silently as he walked toward the elevators. He'd never been one to give up without a fight, and he sure wasn't about to start now.
Lois sat on the edge of her bed, her blue and white hospital gown tied loosely in back as Dr. Silverman finished checking her incision and stitches. Then he gently probed her midsection, feeling for any signs that she wasn't healing properly.
Lois grimaced. Even though it had been days since her surgery, she was still tender.
"Well, everything looks good," Dr. Silverman announced, helping Lois settle back against the raised portion of her bed. "In a few more days, those stitches should be able to come out."
Just then the door opened and Clark poked his head in. Dr. Silverman smiled and waved him in.
"How's she doing?" Clark asked as he walked over to them. He couldn't help smiling smugly when he saw Lois purposely avoiding making eye contact with him.
"Well, her incision is healing nicely, and her 'engine work' seems to be holding," Dr. Silverman flashed a joking smile. "Her x-rays look good, too, so I'm going to go ahead and approve her early release as we discussed."
Lois looked up at Dr. Silverman in surprise. "Early release? What are you talking about?"
'Oh, here it comes,' Clark thought wickedly.
Dr. Silverman jotted down a couple notes in her patient folder, then looked up at her. "Well, your fiance has talked me into letting you go home a couple days early, since he's promised to keep you under his constant supervision and care. Personally, I think it's a great idea. You get to get out of this hospital you hate so much, and you can spend an uninterrupted week with your fiance." He stopped to grin at her. "It's a no-lose situation, if you ask me."
Lois felt the anger boiling up inside of her. "Oh, yeah, it's *great*," she said, trying to come across sounding positive.
And to Dr. Silverman, she probably did sound positive. But to Clark, her tone came across entirely differently. Because he knew her so well, he could tell from her tone and her body language, not to mention the Kryptonite glare that she flashed in his direction, that inwardly she was seething.
But he didn't care. He couldn't seem to stop himself from grinning. Never before had he enjoyed getting back at someone this much.
As Dr. Silverman finished including his notes in her folder, Lois continued to smolder inside. 'How dare Clark take charge of my life like this!' she screamed silently. 'I can't believe he would do something this low and underhanded! But what am I supposed to do? He knows how badly I want to get out of this place, so I'm pretty much stuck.'
"So how do you feel about getting out of here this afternoon, Lois?" Dr. Silverman asked, bringing her attention back to him. "Maybe about two o'clock?" He turned to Clark to verify that that would be okay.
Clark nodded. "Two o'clock is just fine. Isn't it, Lois?"
Lois shot him a look that would've killed any other man dead on the spot. She answered through gritted teeth, but forced a smile for Dr. Silverman's sake, "Yes, that'll be fine."
The doctor snapped the folder closed. "Great! Two o'clock it is. I'll be back before then to give you some last minute instructions on what she'll need, Clark. Okay?"
Clark grinned, obviously very pleased with himself. "I'll be here."
When Dr. Silverman turned to leave, Clark decided the wisest thing he could do was leave with him. He definitely didn't want to be alone with Lois right now. True, he'd been found to be invulnerable. But with Lois' anger reaching a boiling point, he certainly wasn't going to take any chances.
Yet he couldn't resist a parting shot, knowing that he'd won the battle. He went through the door with Dr. Silverman, but before the door closed all the way, he stuck his head back in and smiled at her sweetly.
"See you at two, Lois," he sang cheerfully, shutting the door only an instant before the hardback book she'd been reading sailed after him, thumping resoundingly against the closing door.
Clark laughed to himself when the door shut the rest of the way. Victory *definitely* tasted sweet.
When Clark let his mom know that Lois was being released early in his care and would be staying at his apartment, she looked at him doubtfully.
"Are you sure you're doing the right thing by bringing her here while she's still so angry?" his mom asked with concern. "It might be wiser to let her cool off a bit before you're together this much."
Jonathan jumped in. "Martha, Clark's a smart boy. I'm sure he knows what he's getting himself into."
Martha shook her head, but she followed her husband's lead and left it alone.
"What about you two?" Clark asked. "I don't want you to feel like I'm kicking you out of here because Lois is coming. I can get you a hotel room or something."
"Thanks, son, but we'd already planned to spend another day or two with the Johnsons," his dad explained.
"How are you guys getting home?"
"We were able to change the dates on our plane tickets, so we're going to stick with our original plans to fly home."
"I could fly you," Clark offered.
Martha smiled at him. "I know you could, Clark. But our tickets have already been bought and paid for months ago when we planned this trip to see you and the Johnsons. Besides, you need to stay with Lois and look after her."
"Well, if you're sure…"
His mom patted his cheek. "We're sure. Now, do you want me to go to Lois' apartment and gather up the stuff she's going to need while she's staying with you?"
"That'd be great, Mom," he agreed. "I think I would feel a little funny about going through her things. Besides, what *she* will need and what *I* would actually get would most likely be two totally different things."
Martha laughed, then went on her way with Clark's key to Lois' apartment.
At two o'clock, Lois was standing next to her hospital bed, throwing things haphazardly into her travel bag, too angry to worry about things getting wrinkled.
'I can't believe Clark concocted this whole absurd arrangement, and then convinced Dr. Silverman to go along with it!' she raged. Storming into the tiny bathroom adjoining her room, she grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste, along with her various other belongings, and then returned to her bed and threw them into her bag.
'And what was with Clark's snide comments and smug attitude?!' she continued to rant silently. 'It's almost as if he thinks he's won or something, but I've got news for him! Two can play at this game!'
She grabbed her robe and yanked it from the back of the chair next to her, nearly causing it to topple from the force.
A smug voice snapped her out of her silent tantrum. "Need some help, Lois?"
Immediately recognizing Clark's voice, she whirled around, ready to give him an earful. But then she remembered she wasn't speaking to him. She took a deep breath to try to remain polite. "No thank you, Clark. I'm doing fine on my own."
He grinned irritatingly. "Whatever you say, Lois." He walked into the room and sat down in the chair furthest away from her, not wanting to risk being in her line of fire.
Lois took one look at the smug expression on his face, and it was all she could do not to throw something at him. But she reminded herself to stay cool, and then turned back to her packing.
Dr. Silverman walked in just as she had finished and was shutting her travel bag. "Looks like you're all ready to go," he commented.
Lois nodded, then sat in the chair next to the bed as Dr. Silverman turned to talk to Clark, handing him a paper with some scribbled notes.
"Here's a few things I wrote down to remind you about Lois' medication dosages, bandage changings, things like that. Now, you have to remember, that bullet tore through a lot of muscle and tissue, so her back and midsection are going to be very tender and sore for a while. Keep her off her feet as much as possible, and make sure she gets lots of sleep. But most importantly, Lois," he turned to Lois to make sure she was listening. "You are to do absolutely *no* work. No Daily Planet, no housework…nothing."
He turned back to Clark. "Also, make sure her bandages get changed twice a day. They've already been changed this morning, so they'll need changing tonight. We'll need to see her at my office in about a week to see if those stitches are ready to come out."
"Got it." Clark nodded to show that he understood.
"The bottom line is, Lois is going to need someone to baby her through the next few days, and I'm sure that will undoubtedly be very tough on her." Dr. Silverman gave her a teasing smile.
Lois rolled her eyes at Dr. Silverman's back when he turned around to write something else down on the paper he'd handed Clark. 'Why do people always think that I can't relax for any period of time?' she thought angrily. 'It's not like I don't have a life and know when to quit or something.'
Finally, Dr. Silverman slid his pen into his shirt pocket and smiled at them. "Well, that about covers it. You two are free to go. Lois, I'll see you in about a week." Then he turned and went out of the room, leaving Lois and Clark alone.
Clark slapped his hands on his knees and stood up. "Well, should we go?"
Lois glared at him one more time to prove that she wasn't one bit happy about this arrangement, then stood up and reached for her bag.
Clark hurried over to her. "Here, Lois, let me get that."
She was about to object, but then decided not to. It was pretty heavy, and she *was* feeling pretty worn out from the simple task of packing. So she relinquished her grip on the bag's handle and shrugged indifferently. "Whatever."
Clark watched her turn and head for the door, not so much as giving him a backward glance. He smiled and shook her head. 'One thing's for sure,' he thought as he picked up her bag and followed her out of the room. 'She's definitely stubborn.'
The short drive to Clark's apartment was strained since Lois stared silently out the passenger window the entire ride, refusing to speak to Clark. When Clark finally pulled her Jeep over to the curb in front of his apartment, he got out and hurried around to Lois' side to help her out of the car.
Not unexpectedly, Lois refused his offered hand and slid out of the car on her own. Then, without even waiting for him, she walked up the stairs and into his unlocked apartment where Martha and Jonathan were waiting.
"Hi, Lois," Jonathan exclaimed, getting up from the recliner where he was sitting reading the newspaper. "Do you need help carrying anything in from the car?"
Martha heard them and came into the room. "Hey, sweetie." She hurried over to Lois and gave her a motherly hug. "You look tired. How are you feeling?"
When Lois felt Martha's arms around her, she nearly lost it. She'd been feeling so lost and alone for the last couple of days that the sympathy from Martha felt like a lifeline in the middle of a dark, stormy ocean. She struggled to stay in control of her emotions, though, and by the time Martha released her, she was able to smile a little without bursting into tears.
"I'm okay, Martha," she answered. "But you're right. I *am* tired."
Just then Clark came in with her travel bag and walked past her on the way to taking it into the bedroom. Overhearing her response, he told her, "If you're tired, Lois, you really should lie down and get some sleep."
Lois glared at him. "Don't tell me what to do, Clark."
Martha looked over at Jonathan, and they exchanged a meaningful look. "Um, Jonathan? Can you come out on the balcony for a minute?" she asked pointedly. "I need to talk to you about something."
Understanding her silent message, Jonathan nodded and followed her into the other room.
Clark continued on into the bedroom, telling himself not to let Lois' attitude get to him. But he had to admit, her act was getting pretty old. He set Lois' bag down on his bed, then returned to the living room. He noticed his parents had managed to conveniently disappear, so he strode over to Lois, who was still standing in the middle of the living room with her arms crossed in front of her defiantly.
"Lois, I'm getting a little tired of your attitude," he said brusquely, stopping a couple of feet from her. "You're going to be here for a few days, so you might as well get used to the idea."
"What if I don't *want* to get used to the idea?" she snapped back. "No one *asked* you to bring me here!"
That did it. Clark had had enough. "Well, you left me no choice!" he shouted angrily. "What else was I supposed to do? I was sick to death of getting the cold shoulder from you! This was the only way I could think of to get you to spend an extended period of time with me, to force you to talk to me!"
"So you just walked right up to Dr. Silverman and convinced him to release me in your care?! How dare you!" Lois raged, not even caring that Martha and Jonathan were most likely overhearing their fight. "How dare you try to take control of my life! What, suddenly you know what's best for me? Did you think you could just waltz into my life and start ordering me around, telling me where to go and what to do? Well, I've got news for you, Clark! You *can't*!"
"I'm not trying to run your life, Lois!"
"Oh, really?" Lois shot back, folding her arms in front of her petulantly. "Then what do *you* call it?"
"Lois, all I wanted to do was to get you to talk to me! I couldn't stand the thought that you were shutting me out, that you giving up on us! Don't you think our relationship is worth fighting for?"
"Of course I do! But there are a lot of things I'm trying to deal with right now, and I'm a little preoccupied by trying to come to terms with them in my mind!"
"Well, I offered to talk with you about them!" Clark pointed out resentfully.
"Yeah, and then you practically flew out of the room as soon as I started to!" she answered, her voice laced with sarcasm. "So much for wanting to listen!"
"Lois, I said I was sorry about that!" he snapped. "What else do you want me to say?"
Lois felt angry tears gathering in her eyes. "It doesn't matter that you apologized, Clark! I needed to talk to you about something that was really important, and what did you do? You practically flew out of the room to go and help somebody else! What I had to say may not have been important to you, but it was important to me!" She choked back a sob. "It proved to me exactly what was most important to you. And it wasn't me."
Clark stood, stunned, as he listened to how his one, completely thoughtless act had affected her. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Lois brushed at the tears spilling down her cheeks, angry at herself for letting it show how much what he'd done had hurt her. "Clark, the fact of the matter is, I'll never be able to compete with your "work", will I? How do I know that you're not going to be like my father, deciding that work is more important than me?"
"Your *father*?" Clark asked incredulously. "Is that what this is all about? You feel like I'm choosing my work over you like your father did? Lois, that's ridiculous! You know me better than that."
"Do I, Clark? Do I really?" Lois asked. "Suddenly, I'm not so sure. Up until a week ago, I thought I knew everything there was to know about you. But then I find out there's a whole other side to you that I never even knew about! And that really confuses me. I mean, are you that guy who flies around in tights saving people, or are you the man I've come to know over the years and have fallen in love with? Or are you someone in the middle? I just don't know what to think!"
Clark took a step closer, and his voice was softer when he spoke. "Lois, like I told you, I'm still the same person you thought I was, just with a few added…bonuses." He grinned a little.
But his attempt at a joke didn't sit well with Lois. "You think that's funny?" she scowled at him. "Sure, go ahead and joke about this. It may all seem very laughable to you. You've known about your abilities all your life. But I just barely found out, so excuse me if I don't feel like laughing."
"Come on, Lois, lighten up." He rolled his eyes. "You're making way too big a deal out of this. I'm the same person I always was, and if you'd just calm down and give things a chance, you'd see that."
"Calm down? You want me to calm down?" Lois ranted, infuriated by the way he was patronizing her and taking things so lightly. "You think that I'm overreacting? That I shouldn't be this angry? Well, let me spell things out for you, and you can decide if I have enough reasons to be angry."
She started ticking things off on her fingers, moving at light- speed into classic Lois babble mode. "First, you ask me to marry you, and then I find out that you didn't even bother to tell me there was a whole other side to you that I didn't know about! Then that leads me to deal with the fact that you blatantly lied to me about it for the past two years. But just when I'm finally getting over that and I need to open up and talk to you about what's bothering me, you make like my father and vanish 'faster than a speeding bullet'! So now I'm dealing with the fact that you lied to me, chose your work over me, and then decided to con my doctor into letting you take me home so you can continue to run my life!"
She stopped and put her hands on her hips, shooting him a seething stare. "So, tell me. What exactly is it that I'm making too big a deal out of?"
Clark could tell that her anger was bordering on hysteria, and he decided he'd better settle her down before she made herself sick. All this yelling couldn't be good for her.
"Lois," he told her, trying to sound calm and reasonable. "Why don't you just sit down, and we can talk about this calmly. You're going to make yourself sick with all this yelling."
"I don't want to sit down!" she yelled at Clark. "And I'll yell if I want to!" She turned and stalked to the kitchen, then turned and stalked back. "So, Clark, answer my question! What is it that I'm making too big a deal out of?"
"Lois, calm down," Clark pleaded. "You're getting yourself all worked up over nothing."
"*Over nothing*!" Lois hollered, finally losing whatever self- control she had left. "You call this *nothing*? I can't believe you! How would *you* feel if the tables were turned? I don't think you would be very happy, either!" Clark nodded. "You're right, Lois. I wouldn't be. But if you'd just let me explain…" he said desperately.
But Lois was too angry to listen. "You know what, Clark? I don't care what you have to say right now! I am just too mad about this whole thing!" Hot tears began to slide down her cheeks and she wiped angrily at them. "I just can't get past the fact that instead of bothering to ask me how I felt about it, you took charge of my life and made the decision to have me move in here with you all on your own. For some strange reason that escapes me, you seem to think you have to watch out for me constantly. But this time you're practically smothering me by being so overprotective!"
"Lois, I am *not* being overprotective!" Clark shouted, getting angry all over again. "And just because I wanted to take care of you here with me, and have some time to iron things out, it doesn't mean I'm taking charge of you life!"
"Then why didn't you just *ask* me if I wanted to stay with you for a few days while you took care of me?!" she asked, gesturing wildly with her arms. "Would that have been so impossible to do?"
"Yeah, Lois, it would have been! You weren't talking to me, remember?!" His voice rose another decibel. "Your giving me the silent treatment was what started this in the first place!"
"Clark, this isn't about who started what! This is about you trying to control my life! Well, I, for one, refuse to let you push me around. I am not a child. I can take care of myself!"
Clark had finally reached his boiling point. "Oh, really?" he yelled furiously. "You can take care of yourself, huh? Is that what you were doing a week ago when you were shot?"
The instant the words were out of his mouth, Clark wished he could take them back.
A sickening silence filled the room, and Lois' face paled. Tears stung at her eyes, and her face began to crumble. Quickly, she turned away.
Clark closed his eyes, silently cursing himself for even thinking, let alone *saying* something so horrible. He reached out for Lois' shaking shoulders and turned her around to face him.
"Lois, I am *so* sorry," he began, overcome with guilt at his words. "I swear to you, I didn't mean that. It was a *horrible* thing to say, and I have no idea why I said it."
He pulled her against him and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly against him. He felt her shoulders start to shake beneath his arms as her tears turned into shuddering sobs.
"Lois, I'm sorry…I'm *so* sorry," he murmured over and over again into her hair, hating himself for saying those hurtful words.
A minute later, Lois stiffened and pulled roughly out of his embrace. "Just leave me alone," she managed to choke out before whirling around and running for the door. Before Clark could move, she'd bounded up the stairs, flung the door open and ran out, slamming it loudly behind her.
He was about to go after her when her heard a door shut behind him. He turned to see that his mom and dad were coming in off the balcony. He could tell from their expressions that they'd heard everything.
Clark felt guilty tears stinging his eyes. "I can't believe I said something so horrible! How could I have done such a thing?" Shaking his head in disgust, he turned toward the door. "I've got to go after her."
But before he could move, his dad's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Best to let her be for now, son," he told Clark matter-of-factly. "She's understandably upset, and she's going to need to blow off some steam."
"I didn't mean to say that," Clark insisted, feeling very close to tears himself. "I have no idea what came over me…" His voice trailed off.
Martha spoke up, her tone reflecting her disappointment in him. "Yes, it was a thoughtless thing to say, Clark, and truthfully, I thought we'd raised you better than that."
Clark sighed heavily. "I know, Mom. I'm sorry."
She shook her head firmly. "It's not *me* you have to apologize to, Clark, it's Lois. As soon as she's had time to cool off, I expect you to go out there and tell her." Her voice softened. "Lois is having a tough time with everything right now, and she needs your help, not your anger. Be gentle with her. Show her that you love her."
Clark nodded slowly. "I know, Mom. I plan to. Things just got totally out of control."
In the meantime, Lois had stormed outside and had gone down a few steps before stopping to catch her breath. Even though she'd only gone a couple of dozen yards, she felt like she'd just run six miles.
Wearily, she leaned up against the wall and slid slowly to the ground. Once sitting, she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Then she buried her face in her knees and cried.
She must've cried for quite some time because when there were finally no more tears left to cry, she felt completely worn out and exhausted. Even then, she continued to sit on the hard, cement steps, not wanting to go back in to face Clark, but not wanting to stay where she was, either.
Then she heard a quiet voice call her name. "Lois."
She turned her head slightly to see that Clark was standing at the top of the steps just a few feet away. She noticed that he looked as miserable as she felt.
She looked away from Clark, focusing on a small hole in the concrete step in front of her as she wiped at her tear-streaked cheeks with the back of her hand. "What?" she asked irritably.
"Can we talk?"
Lois shrugged indifferently.
Clark took her not dismissing him immediately to be a good sign and slid down the wall until he was sitting on the ground next to her. "Lois, I need to tell you again how truly sorry I am about what I said. It was incredibly cruel and stupid, and I didn't mean it."
Lois continued to stare at the ground long after he'd finished speaking. She wrapped her arms back around her knees and rested her chin on them, not sure how to respond to Clark's apology.
When she continued to be silent, Clark reached out and started to rub her back lightly. "Lois, can't we talk about this? It's killing me to know that I've hurt you this badly. I'll do anything I can to make things right."
Lois started to cry again softly. "Clark, if you didn't mean it, why did you say it? Do you have any idea how much that hurt?" She reached out to take the tissue her handed her.
"I know, Lois. I can't tell you how sorry I am," he said yet again.
Lois started to fidget with the tissue. She crumpled it up tightly, then put it on her knee and began to smooth it back out. Clark could tell from her fidgeting that there was something else she wanted to say, so he sat quietly, rubbing her back gently and waiting for her to continue.
When she finally did, her voice was quiet and she spoke haltingly. "You know, I never told you how scared I was in that warehouse, knowing that there was the possibility that something could happen to me when I took off with that Kryptonite. Then I heard the sound of that bullet being fired…" Her voice trailed off.
Clark could tell she was struggling to stay composed. He moved his hand to the back of her neck and gently massaged the tense muscles there. "Lois, if this is too hard for you to talk about, you don't have to go on," he told her quietly.
But she shook her head and sniffled loudly as she looked up from the toe of her shoe. "No, it's okay," she assured him, trying to stay in control of her emotions. "It'll probably help to talk about it." She looked down at her tissue and crumpled it back up, avoiding Clark's eyes as she spoke.
"I remember hearing the shot, but I don't remember the bullet actually hitting me. All I can remember is feeling that searing, burning pain, and then feeling my legs give out. I must've lost consciousness for a minute because I can't remember what happened next. But I do remember waking up on that hard cement floor, and realizing I'd been shot. I remember how scared I felt, thinking I was going to die…" A sob caught in her throat, and she stopped, unable to continue.
Hearing her tell how terrifying the experience had been for her caused the lump in Clark's throat to grow and his guilt to come flooding back. He did his best to put his own feelings aside, though, as he wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.
He rested his chin on the top of her head and lifted his hand to stroke her hair soothingly. "Lois, I am *so* sorry that you had to go through everything you did. If I'd known that I wasn't going to be able to protect you at that warehouse, there would've been *no* way I would've let you be there," he told her quietly. "You don't know how many times since it happened that I've wished it could've been me who was hurt instead of you. "
"I know, Clark," Lois answered.
He continued to hold her for several more minutes before finally releasing her. "Are we okay, Lois?"
She sighed. "I guess so. But we still have a lot to work through, and I'm not sure how easy it's going to be."
Clark leaned over to bump his shoulder against hers gently. "Come on, Lois, it won't be so bad. It may be a little rough at first, but we'll get through it." He was quiet for a minute, but then a smile spread rapidly across his face, reaching all the way into his eyes. "Besides, just think of all the perks this brings. You can go flying anytime you want, and you have to admit, I'm going to be awfully handy around the house."
Lois had to laugh at that. She leaned into him, bumping her shoulder against his in return. "You've got a point there."
Clark continued. "I guess the bottom line is, we've gotten through everything else together, and we'll get through *this* together."
Lois nodded in agreement. "Together."
Clark pulled her into his arms again, and Lois automatically rested her hand on his chest, finding herself soothed by his enveloping hug and the steady beating of his heart underneath her hand. They sat that way for several minutes before Clark kissed the top of her head and leaned back a little so he could look down into her face.
"You look exhausted. What do you say we go back inside and let you get some sleep?"
Lois breathed out deeply. "You don't know how good that sounds."
Clark stood up and then put his hands out to help her up. She took them, but grimaced in pain as she stood up. Sitting on the ground for so long had stiffened up her muscles, and suddenly the door to Clark's apartment seemed miles away.
As if reading her thoughts, Clark scooped her up and started carrying her up the steps. She was about to protest, but decided she was too tired to do even that. So, as Clark carried her into the apartment, she let her head fall against Clark's shoulder wearily. They hadn't gone ten steps when Lois felt her eyelids weighing down heavily. She was pretty drowsy and nearly asleep by the time Clark carried her into the bedroom.
Very carefully, he set her down on his bed and reached for the folded quilt on the foot of the bed. He shook it open and covered her up. The motion brought her part way out of her sleepy state.
"Clark?" she whispered.
He finished tucking the quilt around her, then sat down beside her on the bed. "Yeah?" he answered softly.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you before. I didn't mean to fly off the handle like that."
Clark smiled. "I know you didn't. I've gotten pretty used to your ranting and raving. Your fiery temper is one of the things I love about you the most."
Lois could only mumble a sleepy, incoherent response, and Clark took that as his cue to leave.
Leaning over, he pressed a feather-light kiss against her forehead. "Sleep well, Lois."
While Lois slept, Clark and his parents lounged around the apartment, talking quietly and overall feeling more relaxed since it looked like the storm had blown over.
"I'm glad you and Lois are back on speaking terms," Martha told Clark a few hours later as the three of them worked in the kitchen to prepare dinner. "I have to admit, I was pretty worried about how things were going to turn out this time."
Clark nodded in agreement. "You and me both."
He was concentrating on the chicken he was frying on the stove when a sudden movement caught his eye. He looked up to see Lois coming into the kitchen.
His mom and dad looked up and spotted her, too. "Well, there she is," Jonathan exclaimed jovially. "We thought you were going to sleep all day."
Lois smiled sleepily at them as she walked the rest of the way into the kitchen. "Why?" she asked, her voice gravely. "How long was I asleep?
"Almost four hours," Clark told her as she walked over to him. "How are you feeling?"
"Better." She leaned against his arm and pressed her cheek against his shoulder. "Something smells good. What are you making?"
"My mom's best fried chicken recipe. You'll love it," he assured her.
It wasn't long before they had the chicken fried, the salad tossed, the rolls buttered, and were all sitting down at the table to eat. Now that the air had been cleared, Lois found herself enjoying the time they were all spending together.
But as soon as dinner was done and dishes had been washed and put away, Martha and Jonathan announced that it was getting late, and told them they were going to head out.
Lois immediately protested. "I don't want you guys to leave on account of me!"
Martha smiled sweetly and patted her arm. "Don't worry, Lois, we're not leaving because of you. We're going to visit some more with our friends before we fly back to Smallville the day after tomorrow. Besides, you guys need some time to be alone. You don't need two old fogies hanging around here."
So, within a half-hour, Martha and Jonathan had finished packing, and Clark helped them out to their rental car with their suitcases.
When he came back in, he locked the door and then bounded down the steps into the living room where Lois was relaxing on the couch. "Well, my parents are off. I guess that means we have the place to ourselves."
Lois smiled back. "I guess it does."
Clark lifted her legs, which were stretched out along the couch, and he slid underneath them. Then he placed her feet in his lap. "So what do you want to do tonight?"
"You've got to be kidding me," Lois said, shaking her head and smiling tiredly. "All I plan on doing is lying here doing nothing."
"More worn out than tired, I think," she admitted. "It's been a long day."
He smiled nodded. "Yes, it has."
There was a long, comfortable silence. Finally, Clark moved her feet off of his lap and stood up. "Don't move. I'll be right back."
He supersped out of the room, and Lois smiled and shook her head. 'It's going to take a while to get used to that,' she thought.
Clark returned moments later with the quilt and a pillow from the bed. He laid the blanket over her and tucked it snugly around her legs, then helped her to sit up a bit so he could sit on the couch. Finally, he put the pillow across his lap and guided her down on it.
"Mmm, much." She opened her eyes and stared up into his face above hers. "Thanks, Clark."
He smiled into her eyes. "Anytime." He reached for the remote. "Do you mind if we watch some TV?"
Lois shook her head. "It's fine with me."
For the next hour or so, Lois relaxed with her head on the pillow as they watched TV and talked. It seemed like ages ago since she'd last been in the comforting circle of his arms. She entwined her fingers with Clark's as he rested his hand lightly across her stomach and closed her eyes as he used his other hand to comb his fingers relaxingly through her hair. She always loved having her hair played with, and it wasn't long before the soothing motion began to put her to sleep.
She was drifting in and out when Clark touched her shoulder gently and gave her a gentle shake, arousing her from her drowsy state. "Lois, wake up," he whispered.
"Mmmm," Lois mumbled sleepily. "How come?"
"I've got to change your bandages," he told her. "I almost forgot. Are you awake enough to make it into the bedroom? I'll change them in there, and then you can sleep on my bed."
"I guess I can make it," she responded drowsily. She let him help her to her feet. "But if I sleep in your bed, where are you going to sleep?"
"Don't worry about me, Lois," he reassured her, taking her by the hand and leading her into the bedroom. "I'll just sleep on the couch."
Then he guided her onto the bed, and, before she could protest further, he hurried into the bathroom for the stuff he needed. He returned a moment later with a handful of stuff. When he saw that Lois had slumped over sideways onto the bed sleepily, he started to laugh. "Lois, wake up!"
She smiled sleepily at him. "I'm awake, I'm awake."
"Sure you are." He grinned as he helped her sit back up. Then he sat down on the bed behind her and reached for the bottom of her T-shirt. But suddenly he stopped. Awkwardly, he realized that he was going to have to lift the back of her shirt clear up her back to get at her shoulder, which would reveal a large expanse of her bare skin.
Noticing his hesitation, Lois turned and looked at him over her shoulder. "Clark, if this makes you uncomfortable, I can do it myself."
Clark chuckled as he shook his head. "Yeah, right, Lois. Think about this. How are you going to change your bandages all by yourself?"
"See?" He grinned smugly. "Now turn around so I can do this."
Forcing himself to sound casual despite the sudden rush of adrenaline and the pounding of his heart, he decided the best way to do this was to treat it as if there was nothing unusual about seeing large pieces of her unclothed.
So, with a deep breath to calm himself, he lifted up her shirt, asking her to hold the corner of it up over her right shoulder so he could get at her bandages. Then he carefully pulled back the white adhesive tape and removed the cotton bandage. When he did, he nearly gasped out loud.
As he stared at her shoulder, he realized that he'd been unprepared for what he was seeing in front of him. He'd seen bullet wounds and other severe injuries before, but seeing it on Lois…it was something entirely different.
The long, harsh-looking surgical incision was held together by a dozen or so purplish stitches, and the skin around it was almost the same purple color due to the large extent of bruising that had spread across her right shoulder blade.
Looking at it, Clark suddenly felt sick to his stomach. He closed his eyes a moment, stilling the onslaught of emotions and taking a deep, silent breath, willing himself to stay in control.
He then forced himself to go about the task of cleaning the area around her incision with peroxide, doing his best to say cheerful and positive things to Lois. When he finally finished applying the new dressing, he sat back, silently congratulating himself for not losing it.
"Voila! All done." He announced cheerfully. "See? It wasn't as bad as you thought it would be, was it?" He took the stuff back into the bathroom, then returned to help Lois climb between the sheets on his bed. Swallowing the lump that still remained in his throat, he told her, "If you need anything tonight, Lois, just let me know. I'll be right out in the living room."
She smiled at him through drooping lids. "I will, Clark. G'night."
"Night, Lois." He turned and switched off the light, then left the room.
The nauseous, unsettled feeling stayed with Clark even long after he, himself, went to bed. He tried to sleep, but instead found himself tossing and turning on the couch, unable to get the sight of Lois' incision, stitches and bruising out of his mind. The overwhelming feelings of guilt filled his soul, knowing that he'd been the cause of Lois' injury. That continued to eat at him, now more than ever since he'd just seen the damage it had caused to the woman he loved.
Finally, he gave up. Knowing he wasn't going to be able to sleep, he threw off his blankets and stood up. Maybe some fresh air would help him clear his head.
Careful not to wake Lois, he crossed the apartment and opened the door to the balcony, then stepped out into the cool night air. He wandered over to the edge of the balcony and rested his arms on the bordering wall, looking up into the velvety, star-filled night sky. He breathed deeply. There was always something calming to him about the night.
He was seriously contemplating taking a quick flight over the city when a noise behind him startled him. He quickly looked over his shoulder to see that Lois was standing in the doorway wearing a mid-thigh length T-shirt, her hair mussed and eyes still droopy.
"Clark?" she asked sleepily. "What are you doing out here?"
He sighed. "Everything's okay, Lois. I just couldn't sleep."
Lois walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him from behind, pressing her cheek against his back. She closed her eyes and relaxed against him. "So how come you couldn't sleep?"
The memory of her incision, stitches and bruising rushed to the forefront of his mind, and he unconsciously stiffened.
Lois immediately felt the muscles in his back tense up, and she lifted her cheek from his back. "Clark? What is it? What's wrong?" When she moved around to stand beside him, she saw that he had tears on his cheeks. She was both stunned and confused. "Clark?" she asked again.
Ashamed and embarrassed, he brushed roughly at the wetness on his cheeks. Then, without a word, he turned and walked over to the lounge chair in the corner and dropping into it dejectedly.
She followed him and lowered herself into his lap. Automatically, Clark's hands wrapped around her waist and he pulled her close. Lois responded by slipping her arms around his neck and snuggling into his warmth.
Clark was silent for a long time as the night's breeze ruffled his hair, making him looked rumpled and incredibly vulnerable. Whatever he was feeling, it was obviously eating him up inside. Lois decided to just wait patiently. He would tell her when he was ready.
It was several minutes later when he finally spoke, his voice quiet and filled with remorse. "Lois, do you have *any* idea how horrible I feel, knowing that you got hurt because of me? Because you were trying to help me? And that I wasn't able to protect you, or to keep you from getting hurt?"
Lois' heart went out to him. "Oh, Clark, this wasn't your fault," she insisted, lifting her head from his shoulder so she could look into his eyes. "You can't blame yourself every time someone gets hurt."
"*Someone* didn't get hurt," he told her firmly. "*You* got hurt. And I don't think I can ever forgive myself for that. All these powers that I have, all the things I can do…if I can't use them to keep the people I love from getting hurt, what good are they?"
"Clark, you can't save everybody," Lois told him matter-of- factly. "I know you didn't want me to get hurt, and that you would've helped me if you could. But sometimes we just have to accept the fact that things happen. We can't change things that have happened, no matter how badly we might want to. We just have to learn from them and deal with them the best we can. And most importantly, I will *not* let you blame yourself for this." She emphasized her words by tapping her finger gently against his chest.
"I know, Lois," he told her softly. "But I just keep seeing you lying there on that warehouse floor. And when I think about how close I came to losing you…" His voice broke.
"But I'm here, Clark," Lois reminded him softly but firmly. "So let's quit dwelling on the past and concentrate on the future, instead." Her eyes met his, and she smiled gently.
Fresh tears of love and gratitude shone in his eyes as he pulled her more tightly against him. "Lois, you are too good for me. I don't know what I ever did to deserve you. The best day of my life was the day I met you."
Lois felt tears in her eyes, as well. "Mine, too. I love you, Clark."
"I love *you*, Lois," he whispered fiercely.
Their lips met in a light, loving kiss, but it quickly became more deep and passionate. Tongues explored and hands began to roam. Clark's hands found their way beneath the hem of her nightshirt, and he moved his hands up her legs, kneading her thighs gently.
As the tension continued to grow between them, his hands worked their way up even further. Lois' sudden intake of breath caused him to stop quickly, and he pulled back from their kiss.
Staring into her face, he noticed the hot flush on her cheeks and the aroused look in her eyes. "Lois? What's the matter? Don't you like that?"
Lois struggled to control her breathing as she sat up a bit. Finally, she found her voice. "It isn't that I don't like it," she told him, trying to slow the rapid beating of her heart. "The problem is that I like it *too* much."
A pleased smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "And that's a problem because…?"
She shrugged. "Well, I just got the impression that you wanted to wait before we…you know."
Clark brushed her hair back from her face. "Lois, the main reason I wanted to wait was because I hadn't told you yet about my being Superman. I didn't want to take that next step in our relationship until you knew everything. But now that you know…" His voice trailed off and he studied her face intently. She seemed uncertain, even apprehensive. "But, Lois, if you don't feel like you're ready for this yet, I would completely understand. I don't want to rush you into something you're not ready for."
A sudden breeze ruffled her hair, blowing several strands across her face. She looked down, away from his gaze, and started absently picking at a loose string on the hem of his sleeve.
"Lois?" Clark asked, nudging her gently. "What are you thinking about?"
Lois sighed. "There's nothing I'd like more for us to get closer by being more intimate with each other. But I just feel there's so much about you that I still don't know."
He rubbed her arm lightly. "Like what?"
"Well, mostly I want to know how the parts of you—*both* of you—fit together," she told him. But at his confused expression, she realized that what she'd just said obviously hadn't made much sense. She decided she'd better explain. "I know about all the things you've done as Superman, but I don't know anything about that part of you. Like how it felt to grow up with superpowers, how you deal with *having* those powers, yet not being able to share them with people. I mean, how does all of that affect you?"
She stopped to catch her breath. "And then there are all those questions about your every day living," she continued. "For instance, do you float in your sleep? Do you even need to eat or shower? Do you use your super powers to do everything, or do you just use them when you're in the Superman costume?"
Clark couldn't help laughing. "Leave it to you, Lois Lane, the greatest investigative reporter of her time, to come up with all these questions."
She grinned good-naturedly at his teasing. "I know. But I just haven't been able to stop thinking about all these things since I found out about you. When I think about it, I'm not sure I really know you as well as I thought I did."
Clark nodded. Then he suddenly moved her off his lap decisively and helped her to stand up. "Come on," he said, gesturing to the balcony door. "I can tell you're not ready for this yet. Why don't we go into the kitchen and I'll make us some tea. Then we can talk."
Lois breathed a sigh of relief when she realized he wasn't mad. "Thanks for understanding, Clark," she said with a grateful smile.
He cupped her face in his hands, then leaned down to give her a long, sweet kiss. "You're welcome, Lois."
When Lois woke up the next morning, the sun was streaming in through the window and spilling across the bed. She squinted her eyes in its brightness. Wanting to savor the warm, content feeling that she'd woken up with for a few more minutes, she rolled over and pulled the blanket up over her head to shield her eyes from the sun. As she thought back to the night before, a warm smile spread across her face.
After they'd come in from the balcony, she and Clark had sat down at the table with tea and talked late into the night. Clark had been very patient with her as she asked question after question, and he did his best to answer all of them. When they'd finally called it a night, Lois went to bed feeling like she'd learned more about him—the real him—in those few hours than she had in the entire time they'd been dating.
Feeling better than she had in days, she threw back the covers and slid out of bed. Then she threw on her robe and padded out into the quiet living room. As silently as she could, she tiptoed over to the couch and peered over the back of it. Clark was still sound asleep.
A tender feeling came over her at the sight of him lying there, looking so boyish and innocent, with the blanket hanging halfway off of him and his dark hair tousled from sleep. She resisted the urge to reach out and run her fingers through it as she stood there staring at him. He was so beautiful, so perfect. And inside, she knew there was a beautiful soul to match.
Giving him one last lingering look, she turned and tiptoed toward the bathroom for a quick shower.
Lois had just climbed out of the shower when she heard a quiet knock on the door. She quickly grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her.
"Just a sec," she called out.
"No, Lois, don't hurry," Clark called back. "I just wanted to let you know I'm about to cook some breakfast. How do you feel about some eggs?"
Lois smiled. Clark was as thoughtful first thing in the morning as he was the rest of the day. "Eggs sound great, Clark. Thanks. I'll be right out."
She quickly grabbed her robe and slipped it on, fumbling with the belt to get it tied before she opened the door and went out. When she got to the kitchen, she saw that Clark was standing in front of the stove cooking the eggs.
He looked up when he saw her and greeted her cheerfully. "'Morning, Lois." He looked thoughtful for a minute, then a smile spread across his face, reaching all the way into his eyes. "Hmmm. I kind of like the way that sounds."
Lois laughed. "I do, too." When she reached him, she stood on tiptoe to give him a lingering kiss. "Good morning."
"So how'd you sleep?" he asked when their kiss ended and he turned back to the eggs.
"Great," she admitted. "How about you? Could you even get comfortable on the couch?" She reached up to get two plates from the cupboard.
Clark began spooning the eggs onto the plates she was holding out for him. "Lois, it doesn't matter how or where I sleep, remember?"
"Oh, yeah," Lois grinned sheepishly. "I forgot."
She carried the plates over to the table, then she went back to get utensils, napkins, and glasses for the orange juice. By the time Clark joined her at the table, everything was ready.
"It looks great," she commented. "I'm starving."
They were about to dig in when the phone rang. Clark pushed his chair back from the table and went to go answer it. "Hello?"
"Clark? It's Perry," the deep, gravelly voice on the other end of the line responded.
"Oh, hi, Chief," he said, noticing that Lois' head had suddenly jerked up, and she was staring at him intently. Her eggs were instantly forgotten. "What's up?"
"I know you're taking a few days off to be with Lois, but I thought you'd like to know there's been some developments with the arraignments that came about from yours and Lois' crime ring story."
Lois watched Clark intently as he reached for a pen and notepad on the counter and started writing down some information. 'Something must be up for Perry to call Clark on a day off,' she mused.
A minute later, Clark hung up the phone and turned to her hastily. "I'm sorry, Lois, but I've gotta go." He picked up his orange juice and took a quick drink, then supersped into the bedroom, reappearing a few seconds later completely dressed in a suit and tie.
Lois pushed her chair back from the table and stood up. "Clark, wait a minute! What's going on? What did Perry say?"
"He said there's been some new developments with the arraignments on our crime ring story. Apparently, some of the evidence that the police had uncovered is suddenly missing."
He nodded. "Some of the other reporters have caught wind of it, and there's going to be a press conference downtown at the courthouse in a half hour. Perry thought we might want to know about it since we were the ones to break the story."
Lois felt the familiar rush of adrenaline surge through her at the possibility of landing a story as big as a possible cover- up. She took a couple quick steps toward the bedroom. "Just let me change into something presentable, and then I'll be ready to go, too."
Startled and confused by the firmness in his voice, she turned back to see that he was standing in his 'Superman' stance, with arms crossed in front of him. She knew that convincing him to let her go wasn't going to be easy.
"No?" she asked, crossing her own arms and strolling back over to where he stood. "What do you mean 'no'?"
He shook his head firmly. "Lois, you can't go. You're supposed to be resting and healing, remember? I convinced your doctor to let you out of the hospital a few days early by insisting that I would make sure you followed his orders. He told you not to do *any* work, remember? Dr. Silverman would have my hide if he found out you were traipsing around the city working! "
"But I worked on this story as long and as hard as you did!" she argued vehemently. "If you were to go out and look into this, it would be like you were trying to steal my story!"
"It's *our* story, remember?" he corrected her gently but firmly. "And no, it wouldn't be like that. It would be Clark Kent covering for his partner who had just gotten out of the hospital yesterday."
Lois let her arms fall to her side and she stepped closer to him. "Clark, I feel fine! It's been almost a week since the incident, and I'm sick of sitting around doing nothing. I'm ready to get back in the game!"
But no amount of pleading on Lois' part was going to change Clark's mind. "Lois, I said no, and that's all there is to it." He reached for her hands and held them gently. "It's not that I don't want you to check this out with me. I do. But you were *shot*, Lois. A week ago. With a real bullet and everything." He smiled, trying to keep the situation light. "You need to give your body some time to heal."
"But Clark, we're partners!" Lois cried, giving it one last try. "That's supposed to mean we cover the stories *together*!"
"Not this time, it doesn't," he told her firmly. "But I promise I will tell you absolutely everything that happens, okay?" When all he got was a dejected pout, he shook his head and smiled. Somehow he'd known she was going to be stubborn about this. He leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss. "Now, Lois, *please* go lie down and get some rest. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Then, before waiting for a response from her, he bounded up the steps to the door and was gone.
Lois watched the front door shut, and she stood there for a long time, trying to control the anger she felt at being left behind. Then a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
"You bet I'll hear all about it," she said, grinning insolently. "But not from you, Clark. I'm going to go on my own, and you can't stop me."
Feeling rebellious, she hurried into the bedroom and pulled the only business suit she had there out of the closet. In a matter of minutes, she dressed, threw on some makeup, ran a brush through her hair, then grabbed a pen and notepad and was out the door.
On the short cab ride to the courthouse, Lois kept thinking about how furious Clark would be when he found out that she'd blatantly disobeyed him by attending the press conference. But she kept justifying her actions by telling herself that her going was really *his* fault.
'He should've known better than to tell me I couldn't do something!' she muttered to herself. 'Besides, he doesn't know everything about my condition and how I'm feeling. He thinks he knows what's best for me, but he's wrong. I feel fine. And doctors are always overly cautions. If Dr. Silverman didn't think it was safe for me to go home, he wouldn't have signed my release form.'
Another motivation behind her rebellion, though, was that she wanted to prove to him—as well as to herself—that she could do this.
By the time the cab dropped her off at the courthouse, the press conference was getting ready to start. Lois joined the masses of reporters filing into the courthouse for the briefing, all the while keeping an eye out for Clark. She didn't want him to spot her before things got started because she knew he'd personally see to it that she went straight back home.
When she reached the briefing room, she decided it would be best if she sat in the very back. That way, she figured, she would know that Clark was sitting ahead of her somewhere, where he couldn't see her. So, with the press conference about to start, she wearily dropped into the nearest chair in the back row. She cautiously sat back in the chair, careful not to lean up against the hard metal frame in fear that it would hurt her bandaged shoulder blade.
Though she didn't want to admit it, the cab ride over—not to mention having to fight the crowds into the courthouse—had really worn her out. She began to wonder if Clark had been right. Maybe she *should* have stayed home. Her shoulder and ribs were beginning to ache, and she was starting to feel a bit light-headed.
'I should've finished my breakfast this morning,' she scolded herself, shaking her head. But just then the Chief of Police stood up and started to address the issues, so Lois did her best to focus her attention on him. She tried to take some notes, but her hand kept shaking and little beads of perspiration dotted her forehead.
A few minutes later, the Chief of Police finished his statement and asked for questions. Lois was still concentrating on her notes when Clark's voice near the front of the room caused her to jerk her head up, which she immediately regretted. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to stop the room from spinning crazily.
The dizziness dissipated a few moments later, but before she could refocus on Clark's question, the person on her left leaned over to her and whispered, "Hey, Lois, are you okay?"
She turned to see that Jennifer Sadler, a reporter from the Metropolis Star and an acquaintance of hers, was sitting next to her. They'd shared information on occasion, and Lois had always liked her.
Jennifer went on before Lois could answer. "I heard about the shooting, and I was glad to hear you were okay," she whispered. "But you look as white as a sheet. Are you sure you're feeling well enough to be here and get back to work already?"
Lois took a deep breath and forced a smile. "Yes, I'm fine, thanks. I'm just a little tired, that's all."
Jennifer looked at her doubtfully, but she smiled back and nodded, then refocused her attention on the briefing.
Lois tried to do the same, but the increasing pain in her shoulders and ribs prevented her from concentrating completely on anything else. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, she reached into her purse and pulled out her bottle of pain medication. She was thankful now that she'd put the extra bottle into her purse when she and Clark had stopped by the hospital pharmacy for her prescriptions on their way home.
Quietly, she popped open the lid and shook out two of the capsules into her hand. Then, with another quick glance around, she put them into her mouth and swallowed them. It was a bit harder without having any water to wash them down, but after a few swallows, they were gone.
It wasn't long before the medication started to kick in, and Lois breathed a sigh of relief. Finally she could stop thinking about how tired and sore she felt, and concentrate on the questions that were being asked, and the answers that were given.
But just when she was feeling pretty proud of herself for proving that she could indeed do this, she suddenly started to feel hot and cold at the same time, and her stomach began to feel queasy. Trying to figure out what was making her feel so sick all of a sudden, she traced her actions back through the morning. Then it dawned on her. She hadn't eaten breakfast, and she'd been warned not to take the powerful painkillers on an empty stomach.
Feeling the waves of nausea start, she did her best to force them down. She struggled to get through the rest of the meeting, but when the Chief of Police continued to call on reporters to answer their questions, she doubted she could last much longer.
Finally, she decided there was no way she was going to make it even a minute longer. She had to get out of there now.
She stood up hastily just as the Chief of Police finished answering one of the questions and had called for another. He mistook her sudden movement for that of her wanting to ask a question, and he directed his attention to her.
"Yes, Ms. Lane?"
Startled, she looked up at him and realized, in a panic, that everyone's eyes were suddenly on her. Her mouth opened in surprised silence. She glanced over in Clark's direction and saw that he had half-risen from his seat, a stern and angry look on his face.
Quickly looking away, Lois glanced back up at the Chief of Police. "Umm, I don't have a question. I just, uh…need to get some fresh air." Then, with a tight-lipped, embarrassed smile, she turned and made a hasty retreat.
She rushed out into the hall, letting the heavy door swing shut behind her. Dizzy and already tired from her escape, she heaved a sigh of relief and leaned up against the door.
'Clark is going to be livid,' she thought. 'My best bet is to get out of here before he catches up to me.'
She pushed off from the door and was halfway down the hall when she heard the doors open behind her and people started to pour out of the conference room. Apparently, the press conference had just finished.
Walking quickly in order to stay ahead of the crowd, Lois made it out to the front of the building and sank wearily onto a stone bench in front of the courthouse. Breathing deeply, she closed her eyes, trying to stem the nauseous feeling that was now even worse since she'd practically just run out of the building.
Hating to admit that Clark was right, she stood up on trembling legs and walked over to a cab waiting at the curb, then hastily opened the door and climbed in. She was just pulling her door shut after her when she heard a familiar voice calling her.
She looked over to see that Clark had just come out of the courthouse and was walking angrily in her direction. Not wanting to face his anger, and also not wanting to potentially throw up in front of him and then hear the 'I told you so' speech, she quickly pulled the cab door shut and turned to the driver.
"344 Clinton Street. And step on it!"
As they sped away from the curb, Lois got a glimpse of Clark standing on the courthouse steps, his hands on his hips and a furious expression on his face. If she weren't feeling so sick to her stomach and light-headed, she would've been more afraid of what was in store for her when he got home.
The cab arrived at Clark's apartment in record time, and Lois had never been more glad to see anything in her life. Swallowing hard, she quickly pulled a bill from her purse and practically flung it into the front seat. Then, mumbling something that she hoped sounded like 'keep the change', she darted from the cab and ran up the apartment steps. She fumbled frantically with the key and finally flung the door open and made a mad dash for the bathroom.
She barely made it before her stomach lurched, and she dropped onto the cool tile in front of the toilet. As she heaved into the toilet bowl over and over again, she felt the perspiration start to pour off her, and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Her ribs ached from her stomach wrenching over and over again, and, although she hated to say it, she wished she'd listened to Clark. He'd been right. She'd overdone it, and now she was paying for it.
A few minutes later, she heard the front door to the apartment bang open loudly, then slam shut. Clark's loud, angry voice followed. "Lois, are you here?!"
Lois cringed. Boy, was she going to get it. Trying to keep her voice steady, she called out weakly, "Yeah."
Never feeling so angry as when Lois was threatened or had intentionally put herself in danger, Clark knew that this time she'd pushed him too far. He stormed into the apartment.
"Lois, I can't believe you blatantly ignored me and went to that press conference!" he raged as he crossed the living room. "We talked about this before I left, and I thought you understood why I told you you couldn't go!"
She heard his footsteps go into the bedroom and then stop. Then she heard him change directions and come toward the bathroom, still yelling. "I told you to stay home and rest, but as usual, you didn't listen!"
A moment later, he angrily pushed the half-closed bathroom door the rest of the way open. But the instant he saw her kneeling on the bathroom floor in front of the toilet, her hands clutching its rim tightly, his angry expression melted into one of concern.
He rushed in and was instantly beside her, putting a hand on her back. He noticed how damp the back of her shirt felt, and his heart flew into his throat. "Lois, are you okay? What's the matter?"
She couldn't stop the tears from streaming down her face. "Clark, I'm sorry," she told him, her voice sounding weak and strained. She moved away from the toilet and Clark helped her sit with her back against the wall for support. "I thought you were overreacting this morning when you said I wasn't well enough to go to the press conference, so I decided to go anyway. But then I was so worn out by the time I got there, and my ribs and shoulder started to hurt, so I took my pain medication. But I hadn't eaten any breakfast, so I started feeling so sick…"
"You took your pain medication on an empty stomach?" Clark practically hollered. "Lois, you know better than that! The doctor even warned you—"
"Okay, Clark, you were right!" she told him, feeling miserable as well as embarrassed. "You were right about everything! I should have listened to you when you told me not to go. Is that what you want to hear?"
Clark took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. "No, Lois, that's not what I want to hear," he began, his tone more gentle this time. "This isn't about who's right or who's wrong. It's about you taking care of yourself."
Lois felt the nausea return and she knew she was going to throw up again, and this time in front of Clark. On shaking legs, she lurched forward, pushing Clark out of the way and lunging for the toilet. Embarrassed, she continued to heave into the bowl until she felt like her ribs couldn't take it any more.
Clark remained beside her, rubbing her back soothingly as her stomach continued to rid itself of any last remnants of its contents. He couldn't help noticing that her skin felt cold and clammy beneath his hand, and that her body was shaking uncontrollably.
When there was finally nothing left to throw up, Lois leaned back against Clark's strong arm and began to cry, feeling completely embarrassed and miserable.
"Clark, I know you're mad, and you have every right to be," she told him between quiet sobs. "But can we save the lecture for later? I feel horrible."
"Sssh," Clark said soothingly as he gathered her into his arms. "Enough lecturing. I'm sorry that I yelled. Let's just get you feeling better." He stood up slowly. "Come on. We need to get you out of these clothes and into something dry."
Feeling completely drained, she let her head slump against his shoulder and held him loosely around his neck as he carried her into the bedroom and set her down gently on the bed. She closed her eyes wearily as she felt the softness of the mattress beneath her.
Clark went over to the dresser and opened the drawer he'd cleaned out for Lois to use while she was there. He fumbled around in it, finally finding and pulling out one of her nightshirts before returning to her side. "Here you go, Lois. Why don't you put this on and I'll go get some herbal tea going for you."
Lois mumbled something unintelligible, and he grinned. "Lois, I have no idea what you just said. Even *I* couldn't hear that."
She tried again. "I said I'm fine. I don't want any tea because it might make me throw up again. I just want to lie here for a while."
"Uh-uh," Clark answered definitively. "If we leave you in those damp clothes, you'll catch a cold." He helped her sit up. "Come on. I'll help you."
As Lois began to fumble tiredly with the buttons on her blouse, Clark watched her for a minute, feeling bad for her. It was obvious that even the simple task of undressing herself was far too difficult for her in the state she was in.
Unable to watch her struggle, he pushed her hands aside and took over. "At the rate you're going," he told her with a gentle smile. "You'll be asleep before you've managed to undo your buttons."
She smiled tiredly, gratefully allowing him to help. He quickly unbuttoned the first few buttons on her shirt, but then he realized something. He hadn't anticipated what would happen when he finally *did* get the rest of her shirt unbuttoned. He'd never seen Lois without her clothes. True, he'd seen large pieces of her bared skin just the night before when he'd had to change her bandages. But this…this was a whole different story.
"Come on, Clark! Grow up!" he scolded himself. "You're just helping your fiancee get changed. She's sick and she needs your help. After all, this is what you promised the doctor you would do for her."
Clark closed his eyes momentarily, commanding his faculties to listen and obey. Then, with renewed determination, he undid the last button and forced himself not to stare as he helped her pull her arms out of the sleeves. He gave himself a mental shake as he saw her sitting before him in her lacy bra, and he quickly looked away as he felt his hormones threaten to take over. Not bothering to undo the clasp on her bra for fear that he wouldn't be able to remain in control of himself, he made a hasty grab for the nightshirt lying beside him and helped her slip it over her head and push her arms into the sleeves.
"Okay. Now can you stand up?" he asked with forced objectivity. She held her arms up tiredly, and he helped her to her feet. She wobbled slightly, and he held onto her for a minute while she balanced. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, her lids half closed. Wondering if she was even still awake, or if she was just going through all these motions in her sleep, he gave her arms a squeeze. "Hold onto me while I get your skirt off, okay?"
Without waiting for an answer, he lifted the hem of her nightshirt and fumbled unseeingly with her belt and then the button, and then finally slipped the skirt down over her hips and to where it appeared below the hem of the nightshirt. He carefully helped her step out of it, congratulating himself for taking her skirt off without seeing too much. Then he reached over to pull back the covers on the bed and helped her to crawl between the sheets. Pulling the comforter up around her chin, he leaned down and gave her a soft kiss on her temple. "You get some sleep, now, Lois, and I'll be in to check on you in a while."
He chuckled when Lois once again mumbled something he couldn't understand. "Sweet dreams, Lois," he said, then left her alone.
Glancing back at her sleeping form, he smiled. No matter what disheveled condition or however sick she felt, she always looked beautiful to him. Then he remembered the brief glimpse he'd gotten of her unclothed form, and he headed for the bathroom to take a cold shower.
While Lois slept, Clark took advantage of the quiet time and pulled out his notes from that morning's press conference. He knew Perry was going to expect an article on the latest news on his and Lois' crime ring investigation, and he knew the information he'd gotten that morning would make the perfect follow up.
Two hours and a half dozen phone calls later, Clark finished typing up the story on his laptop and then emailed it to Perry. He sat back in his chair, glad to have the story done and on its way.
Just as he closed the lid of his laptop, Lois appeared from around the corner. "Hey," she said sleepily.
"Lois, what are you doing up already?" he asked as she padded over to him. "You should still be sleeping."
"I couldn't sleep any longer. Besides, I could hear you out here typing and talking on the phone, so I wanted to come see what you were doing."
When she stopped next to him, he reached out for her and pulled her down onto his lap. "So, are you feeling any better?" he asked.
Lois nodded, letting her head rest against the top of his. "A little bit. So, what are you working on?"
"I emailed Perry a short follow up article that included the information from the press conference this morning," he explained.
With her head pressed against his, he couldn't help noticing that she felt a bit warm. He felt her forehead, then touched her cheek with the back of his hand. "Lois, I think you're starting to run a fever," he told her, his voice filled with concern.
"Clark, you worry too much. I'm fine," Lois insisted.
But to Clark, her voice sounded small and weak, and he could tell from her flushed cheeks and dull eyes that she still hadn't recovered yet from her rough morning.
"Come on, Lois," he told her, nudging her off his lap so that he could stand up. "You need some more sleep."
"Clark, no," she protested. "Really, I'm fine. I'm tired of being by myself in the bedroom. Can't I stay out here with you?"
Clark debated for a moment, feeling swayed by the pleading eyes staring up into his. "Oh, all right," he caved. "But just as long as you promise to sack out on the couch. I don't want you doing anything for the rest of the day. Deal?"
She managed a little smile. "It's a deal."
He brought her pillow and blankets out from the bedroom and situated her on the couch. When he was finally satisfied that she was comfortable, he went back to the table to put his notes away.
Lois turned her head on her pillow so she could follow his movements. "So, any news on Everett Price?" she asked quietly.
Clark shook his head. "Not yet. I've put in calls to several of our sources, including Bobby Bigmouth, but I haven't heard anything yet."
It was quiet for a minute before Lois spoke again, and when she did, her voice was contemplative. "Clark, do you think he had any idea that you were Superman?"
Clark stopped what he was doing and looked up at her. He sighed, then went back to straightening his notes. "I don't think so, Lois. I doubt he ever made the connection. When he came in, I was already on the ground, and you and Hendricks were fighting over the Kryptonite. For all he knew, Hendricks could've hit me, and that's why I was down. I think if they honestly *had* known I was Superman, they wouldn't have bothered to go into that whole spiel about using us to lure Superman so they could kill him…er, me."
Lois laughed softly. "Confuses even you sometimes, huh?"
Clark laughed, too. "Never let it be said that I live a dull life. Anyway, I think my secret is safe."
After a minute, Lois asked hesitantly, "Clark, can I ask you a question?"
Clark looked up at the seriousness in her voice. "Sure, Lois. You can ask me anything."
As she tried to decide the best way to ask what was on her mind, Clark left his stuff on the table and walked over to her. She pulled her knees up a bit so Clark could sit down on the couch with her.
"We've been living under the same roof for about a day and a half," she began haltingly, "and I was wondering…how have you felt about that?"
"What do you mean?"
Lois tried again. "Well, what I guess I'm wondering is, have you gotten sick of having me around?"
Clark laughed at the ridiculousness of her question. But then he saw that she wasn't laughing. His smile faded. "Wait. Are you serious?"
His brows furrowed. "Lois, of course I'm not getting sick of having you around! What would make you think that?"
She sighed, then kind of shrugged. "I don't know. It's just that I keep having all these thoughts about our relationship…"
"Well, I can't help wondering if this," she gestured to the two of them. "is what marriage is going to be like. You know, the two of us hanging out and talking like we've been doing, maybe having the occasional fight…" She let her sentence trail off and she smiled a little.
Clark laughed. "Well, the occasional fight is to be expected, I think. We're both very stubborn people. But, yeah, I think this is what being married would be like. At least, that's how it is with my Mom and Dad." He looked at her curiously. "But what does that have to do with me being sick of you?"
Lois pulled the blanket around her more tightly before continuing. "We've just never spent entire days together before," she explained. "And since we're starting to, I thought it would be nice to know *now* if you were starting to get sick of me, so we could spare ourselves the 'falling out of love with you' marriage breakup."
Clark stared at her incredulously. "Lois, you've got to be kidding! I'm never going to fall out of love with you."
"My Mom and Dad fell out of love with each other," she pointed out. "It just scares me to think of that. I mean, suppose you realize years down the road that you didn't marry the person you thought you were going to? What if you expected to marry someone who would fawn all over you, and would be content to sit back and do nothing but raise your children and keep a house for you?"
"Lois, that's not want I want at all," he insisted earnestly. "I love you, and I want to marry you because of who you are…of what you've become. I love you for your inner strength, your independence, even for your stubbornness and your fiery temper." He laughed, and she joined in.
But then his smile faded and he grew serious again. "Lois, I've loved you from the moment I saw you. And I've only grown to love you more *every day* that I'm with you. And especially now that I came so close to losing you a week ago, I don't know if I could go on living *without* you. You've become part of my soul, and without you, I'd be completely lost. I need you, Lois, and I always will. Please believe me when I tell you that."
Clark reached out to cover her hand with his, then went on. "A love like ours doesn't just *go away*, Lois. I know that a marriage takes both work and the commitment of both people involved. But a love like I have for you isn't going to fade away with time."
Lois breathed an inward sigh of relief. "Clark, you have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that. It's really been on my mind a lot these past few days."
He gave her leg a gentle pat, the casualness about it changing the mood. "Well, you can stop worrying about it now because you know how I feel about that." He stood up and gestured for her to stretch her legs back out on the couch, then he tucked the blanket firmly around them and made sure she was comfortable. "Now, you get some rest. I'm going to go call Perry to make sure he got the story."
For the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening, Lois remained on the couch, dozing, reading or talking to Clark as he went about some of his daily chores. He even darted out a couple times for 'Superman duty', as Lois had started to call it. She discovered that she was getting used to the idea of him being Superman, maybe even more quickly than she thought she would. Of course, a day or two couldn't completely show her everything about this other side to him, but she decided it was a good start.
Perry phoned later that afternoon, asking Clark to add some last-minute quotes and facts they'd just received to his article. Clark had agreed, then jotted down the information Perry had for him. After he hung up, he turned to Lois.
"How do you feel about going through a few notes?"
Lois about fell off the couch. "Are you kidding? I'd love to!"
He laughed. "Somehow I figured you might." He gave her the stack of notes he'd been working on earlier that day, and then combined them with the information he'd just gotten from Perry. He explained to her what it was that Perry wanted, then helped her sit up so he could prop the pillow up behind her.
Then Clark went back into the kitchen to use his laptop at the table, leaving her to his notes. Lois pulled her knees up and propped the papers on them, pouring through the information and devouring every word. But, as she neared the end, her tired mind, as well as her gaze, began to wander.
She looked over the top of her notes at Clark as he sat at the table revamping his article. She stared at him for a long time, studying his features. She loved the way his eyebrows furrowed when he was thinking, and, even though she couldn't see it from where she was sitting, she knew that the tiny muscle in his jaw would be twitching occasionally as he concentrated. She loved his strong jaw and the tiny mole over the right side of his upper lip. And she especially loved the way his smile would light up his face and reach clear into his eyes whenever something amused him.
She started to realize as she was sitting there that the idea of marriage, of being with the person you loved on a daily basis, was something that was really growing on her. She liked having someone she knew well and felt comfortable with around all the time, and not having to worry about saying or doing something that might make her look foolish. It was a safe and secure feeling like none she'd ever felt before…except for when she was with Clark.
Suddenly, Clark looked up from his laptop and caught her eye. Lois looked quickly back down at her notes, blushing furiously at being caught staring. A minute later she heard Clark's chair scrape on the floor as he pushed back away from the table and stood up.
"Are you hungry, Lois?" he asked, crossing over to the cupboards. "I was thinking about making some dinner."
"Sure," she said, trying to sound nonchalant. "That sounds good."
"What are you in the mood for?"
She thought about that for a minute. "Nothing really hits me," she admitted. "So anything you decide on is fine with me."
He pulled several items from the cupboards and started throwing things together in a skillet. Curious as to what he was doing, she got up and went into the kitchen. She sat down in a chair- -at his insistence—to watch him cook. As they talked while he prepared dinner, Lois found herself enjoying the easy camaraderie they had together. It gave her hope for how comfortable their marriage would be.
Dinner was just as enjoyable, and, by the time things were cleaned up, Lois' earlier doubts and fears about whether or not they could make a marriage work had faded away into the recesses of her mind.
For the rest of the evening, she lounged on the couch with Clark, his arms wrapped securely around her as they watched TV and talked. Lois was so content that she soon found herself getting drowsy. Clark noticed.
"Come on, Lois, time for bed," he insisted, helping her stand up despite her protests that she was fine where she was. Then he followed her into the bedroom with her blanket and pillow, setting them on the bed before turning down the sheets.
Lois smiled at him. "Are you beginning to feel like a maid or something?"
He laughed, but shook his head. "Nope. Helping you makes me happy." He gave her a quick kiss. "Now, climb in bed."
He grinned. "You bet."
Clark got her all tucked in, turned off the table lamp and then leaned down to give her a perfect kiss for a perfect evening. When he pulled away, he grasped her fingers lightly. "Goodnight, Lois. I love you."
She squeezed his fingers back. "I love you, too."
But when he turned to leave, she kept ahold of his fingers, causing him to laugh and turn back. "Lois, you need your sleep," he told her patiently.
"I know, but I don't want you to leave. We had such a nice evening, and I don't want to be in here all by myself. Besides," she told him. "I hate to think of you having to sleep out there on the couch. As much as you insist that it doesn't bother you, I know it can't be as comfortable as sleeping in a real bed."
He lowered himself onto the bed. "Lois, if I stay, you'll never get to sleep. We'll end up talking until all hours of the night, and you'll be exhausted by morning." He paused, averting his gaze momentarily. Then he looked back up into her eyes. "Besides, have you thought about the possible consequences of us sharing a bed?"
Lois had to admit that the thought *had* crossed her mind. "Yes, I've thought about that, Clark," she told him seriously. "But we're both mature, responsible adults who can control themselves. And, believe me when I say, that's not why I asked you to stay. I…I just don't want you to leave."
When he still seemed hesitant, she resorted to begging. "Clark, please? I promise I won't talk, and I'll go right to sleep if you'll stay here with me." She flashed him a mischievous smile. "Or are you worried that I won't be able to keep my hands off you?"
Clark laughed, but inwardly, he found himself thinking, 'It's not *you* keeping your hands off *me* that I'm worried about. It's whether or not I'd be able to keep *my* hands off *you*.'
But, never having been able to resist her cajoling smile, he found himself going against his better judgment and agreeing to join her. "Okay, Lois," he said, shaking a finger at her teasingly. "But you'd just better keep your hands to yourself."
She beamed triumphantly. "I promise."
He pulled a couple articles of clothing from his dresser, then told her he'd be right back. Lois heard him going around the apartment turning off lights and straightening up a bit. When he came back a few minutes later, he had a pillow under his arm and was dressed in a plain white T-shirt and green plaid boxers.
Watching him walk over to the bed in the near darkness, Lois discovered she was having a difficult time keeping her thoughts pure.
Clark smiled at her as he pulled back the blankets and climbed into bed beside her. She rolled over to face him, deciding that she loved seeing his face on the pillow next to hers.
"Hi," he told her quietly, looking back into her eyes.
She hoped he wasn't listening to the sound of her heart, because its wild thumping was sure to give away how his nearness was really effecting her. She smiled and whispered back, "Hi yourself."
Then Clark turned to get more comfortable under the blankets, and his leg brushed up against hers, causing her heart to race uncontrollably.
"Hey, your feet are *freezing*!" he told her, laughing. "Are your feet always this cold?"
Lois giggled. "At nighttime? Yeah, pretty much."
"Well, come here," he said invitingly, wrapping his arm around her waist. "I'll warm them up."
Her heart just about leaped right out of her chest when Clark's arm tightened around her and he pulled her against him. His hand automatically found its way under the fabric of her nightshirt and he rested his hand comfortably on her stomach. Lois loved the way his hand felt against her bare skin, and it was all she could do not to renege on her promise to keep her hands to herself.
Reaching down, she laced her fingers through his and held his hand tightly against her stomach. Then, feeling both anxious and content at the same time, she spooned up against him and settled in.
They laid that way for a long time, thrilled by the feeling of being in each other's arms. Lois let out a long, contented sigh. "This is so nice."
She felt, rather than saw, Clark smile. "Yeah, it is." He moved one of his legs to cover hers, tucking her feet gently between his warm calves. "Are your feet warmer?"
Lois grinned. "Much, thanks." She wondered if he could tell if her whole body temperature had gone up about twenty degrees, or if it was just in her head. If he did notice, he didn't say anything about it.
It was quiet for a few minutes as Lois listened in complete contentment to Clark's slow, even breathing. "Clark?"
"I was just wondering if you were asleep."
His grip on her tightened. "Nope. But you should be, so go to sleep."
"Okay, okay," Lois smiled. "Man, you're bossy."
He laughed softly. "You'd better believe it. Goodnight, Lois."
"Goodnight, Clark." She nestled further into Clark's body, then closed her eyes, trying to get her heart rate back under control. Then she sighed. Sleep was going to be a long time in coming, indeed.
Lois woke up the next morning with the strangest sensation that she wasn't alone. She could also feel something weighing heavily across her stomach, and she felt warmer than she usually did first thing in the morning.
Forcing her heavy lids to open, she saw that Clark was lying on his side facing her, his sleeping body only inches from hers. In an instant, everything came rushing back.
Smiling contentedly, she shifted beneath the weight of his arm and cuddled into him, resting her head on his shoulder and nestling her face into his chest. She breathed in deeply, savoring the lingering smell of his cologne and the familiar scent of his skin.
Her movements caused his eyelids to flicker, and then open. When he saw her watching him, a warm smile reached his eyes.
"Hi," he said sleepily. He slid his arm around to the small of her back and drew her even closer. Then he pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "How'd you sleep?"
"Mmmm, wonderfully," she murmured blissfully. "How about you?"
"Better than ever."
Lois lifted her hand to his chest, enjoying the feel of the rhythmic beating of his heart beneath her hand. She sighed deeply. "Can we just stay like this all day long?"
He chuckled. "Sounds good to me."
Lois jumped suddenly when the phone rang, disturbing their peaceful silence. She groaned. "Who could be calling this early?"
Clark, just as unhappy at the interruption, rolled over toward the nightstand. He glanced momentarily at the clock. "Well, I guess it's not *that* early," he admitted. "It's almost eight o'clock."
Scooting closer to the edge of the bed, he reached out and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Clark, it's Jimmy."
"Oh, hi, Jimmy," he answered, turning back to glance at Lois. She smiled at him and scooted closer, pressing up against his back and wrapping her arm around his waist. He reached out to cover her hand with his, but she smiled against his shoulder and pulled her hand away. Then she started trailing her fingertips lightly up and down his sides, sending a trail of fire burning through him.
He closed his eyes momentarily, trying to remain in control himself and doing his best to ignore Lois' obvious attempts to distract him as he listened to what Jimmy was saying. He was feeling pretty good about his efforts until she slipped her hand underneath his T-shirt and started running her fingertips in feather-light circles over the taught muscles of his stomach. When she did that, all hopes of an intelligent conversation with Jimmy flew right out the window. It was all he could do to sound semi-attentive as Jimmy finished relaying the message he'd called to give him.
Clark had never been more glad to get off the phone in his life. As soon as Jimmy said goodbye, he fumbled to get the phone back in its cradle, then quickly put his hand on top of hers, stilling its movements.
She grinned. "Party pooper."
He rolled over to face her, propping his head up with his hand. "Any more of that and I would've had to drop the phone and begin ravishing you!"
"Oh, really?" Lois smiled wickedly. "Maybe I'll have to do that more often then."
Clark laughed. "Don't go there. Anyway," he told her, changing the subject before things heated up further between them. "You'll never guess who called this morning to leave a message for me."
"Bobby Bigmouth. He told Jimmy that he thinks he knows where Everett Price is hiding out."
Lois' jaw dropped. "You're kidding?!" She sat up quickly in bed. "So what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
Clark sat up beside her. "Uh-uh, Lois, no way." He shook his head adamantly. "We've been through this before. You're not supposed to be working, remember?"
"But, Clark!" she protested, her voice rising. "This has to do with the man who was responsible for kidnapping us…for getting me shot! I can't just let you handle this one alone!"
"I'm sorry, Lois, but you're going to have to," he told her unwaveringly. "Besides, even if you *were* feeling well enough to go, I still don't think I'd want you there. Do you have any idea how dangerous this could be? Price is still out there, and his very obvious hatred for Superman…for me…will only tempt him to try again, to lash out at the people I love. And since you're still not back to full strength yet, you'd be especially vulnerable."
"Clark, it sounds to me like you're trying to run my life again," she pointed out, beginning to sound angry.
"Lois, I promise you I'm not. I'm just looking out for you and trying to keep you safe."
"I know you are, Clark. But you know what? I don't need you to watch out for me every step I make." She laid back down on the bed, using her elbow to prop her up. "Okay, I understand where you're coming from right now, telling me I can't go with you because I'm still recovering. Don't worry, I learned my lesson after yesterday. But why do you always feel like you have to protect me? I'm not a little girl anymore."
"I know, Lois. And I guess the reason why I get so protective of you is because I love you so much. You have to admit, you have quite a nose for trouble." He grinned a little. "So, knowing that, I find myself worrying about you a lot. Plus, having to see you go through what you did last week only made it worse."
"I understand that, Clark. But so much of my identity—of who I am—stems from my work at the Planet. If you get overly protective and refuse to let me do the things that make me that person, my identity goes away."
Clark nodded. "I know that. I just think this whole protectiveness thing stems from my being Superman, and feeling responsible to use my powers to help those who need help. *Especially*," he emphasized, "the people I love. So I know I need to work on letting you do your own thing, and not being so protective. But it's not going to be something that I can change overnight. You just have to bear with me."
Lois nodded. "I will, Clark. I know you're trying, and I'm sorry that I yelled. When I get all riled up, I tend to do that. I don't know if you've noticed." She grinned wryly.
Clark laughed softly. "I have, and I love you for it. Now, in hopes of better working through this, I have a suggestion."
"I'm all ears."
"Okay, here's what I propose. I promise that I will do my best not to be so protective of you in the future, and you need to promise me that you won't take quite so many risks. Is it a deal?"
She smiled. It's a deal."
"Good!" he said, throwing back the covers and getting out of bed. "Now, let me hurry and change your bandages before I get out of here. I've got some work to do."
Lois groaned in disappointment. "Do you have to work *now*? Can't it wait for another hour or so, so that we can cuddle some more in bed?"
Clark turned back to her and smiled. "Don't tempt me." He walked over to his closet and pulled some clothes off a hanger. "But if you'll stay there for a couple of hours, I'll be back."
Lois grinned. "I can hardly wait."
Clark got dressed in the bathroom and then changed her bandages before leaving to follow his lead. After he did, the apartment seemed awfully quiet. Lois stayed in bed for a while, but boredom quickly set in.
Throwing back the covers, she got out of bed and put on a pair of sweats and a loose T-shirt, since that seemed to be easier to get in and out of with her sore shoulder. Then she went into the kitchen and poured herself a bowl of cereal. As she ate, she found her thoughts drifting back to the previous night.
Sleeping with Clark—even though nothing sexual had happened— had been wonderful. She kept remembering how incredible it felt to have his body pressed up against hers, feeling the soft hairs on his legs brushing against the bare skin of her own legs.
And then this morning, when she'd slipped her hand onto Clark's bare stomach…well, that simple action had created enough sexual tension between them that she was sure that if they'd stayed in bed any longer than they had, things would have quickly gone from casual to intimate.
Sexual tension aside, she was glad that Clark had planned this arrangement of having her stay at his place for a few days. Even though she was incredibly independent, she liked having someone take care of her and look out for her since she rarely found time to even do that for herself. She was having fun with Clark, knowing he was there when she woke up, and could talk to or turn to him for help whenever she needed.
But then she frowned a little as the little cautioning voice in the back of her head started in again. It was true that there were still several things that were holding her back from fully committing herself to the idea of marriage. She tried to force those concerns out of her mind for good, but they somehow managed to continue to surface time and again.
Clark had silenced her biggest concern about her fear of their love not lasting. After their wonderful talk the day before, she wasn't worried about that any more. But what about the other issues she was struggling with?
The biggest thing she kept worrying about whether or not she was really ready to commit to marrying Clark, since she felt like she was having to get to know him all over again. That continued to bother her. What if they *did* get married and then she later discovered something about his other identity that she just couldn't live with? Could she overlook it? Or would it be something that would drive a wedge between them?
Looking down at her now-soggy cereal, she sighed. Some answers just never came easily.
When Clark returned an hour and a half later, Lois rushed out of the bedroom where she'd been dozing after breakfast. Her stomach did a little flip when she saw him coming down the steps, and she realized how pathetically fickle she was. Just a short time ago she'd been having doubts about them, but now all her concerns flew right out the window when she saw him, and she got the strongest feeling that she was right where she was supposed to be.
"So?" she asked anxiously, hurrying to his side. "What happened? Did you find him?"
Clark smiled at her obvious excitement. "Somehow the police managed to get the same information that I'd gotten from Bobby, because when I got there the police already had Everett Price in custody. I was told that they're not only sending him back to prison, but now they're planning on charging him for kidnapping and accessory to murder. He'll be going away for a looong time. We won't have to worry about him anymore."
Lois breathed a sigh of relief. "We can be thankful for that. So what did Perry say?"
"He wants me to go in for a while to write the story. Can you manage here by yourself this afternoon?"
"I guess so," she said with obvious disappointment. "I just wish I could go with you."
He smiled at her and touched her cheek lightly. "I know you do. But your appointment with Dr. Silverman is tomorrow. Maybe he'll give you the okay to start doing part days at the Planet."
"Maybe." She stepped forward and slid her arms around his waist, tipping her face up to his invitingly. "Are you sure you want to go to work? I could make it worth your while for you to stay."
"I'm sure you could," Clark grinned. "But Perry's waiting, so I'm afraid I'll have to take a raincheck." Then, using every ounce of his willpower, he disentangled himself from her embrace and gave her a delicate kiss. "I'll be back before dinner."
After she walked him to the door and locked up behind him, Lois went over to the couch and dropped down onto it with a confused sigh. Every moment she spent with Clark was perfect. So what was there to worry about? With a final shake of her head, she decided she'd be much better off if she just stopped worrying. But she didn't know if she was going to be able to.
Shortly before six, Clark walked in the door with pizza and videos. Lois thoroughly enjoyed herself as they sat on the couch eating pizza directly from the box as they watched the movies and talked. When they'd finished off the entire pizza, Lois was content to sit back against Clark, resting her head on his shoulder as he draped his arm around her and ran his fingertips over the bare skin of her arm.
They sat through two movies before Lois finally sat up, though reluctantly. "I hate to, but I should probably go to bed," she told him. "I have my doctor appointment at nine o'clock tomorrow morning."
"Oh, that's right!" Clark exclaimed. "I told Perry I could go in and do some work in the morning, but maybe I should call him and tell him I'll be in a little later."
"No, Clark, I'll be fine, " she insisted. "I'm a big girl, remember? You don't have to be here to watch over every step I take. I'll just give you a call when I get back to tell you how things went."
Clark studied her intently. "Promise?"
She nodded. "I promise."
"Oh! That reminds me…" Clark said, patting her thigh and then standing up. "I need to change your bandages. Stay there. I'll be right back."
Changing Lois' bandages had become such a routine over the past few days that neither one of them felt uncomfortable with it anymore. Clark had even gotten used to seeing Lois' bare back, and her lacy bras didn't shock him as much as they had the first few times.
When Clark returned and sat next to her on the couch, Lois automatically turned her back to him and untucked her shirt from the waistband of her jeans, holding it up for him so he could undo her bandages.
When Clark removed the bandages this time, he was pleasantly surprised to see how good things looked. "Lois, this looks great!" he told her. "Your incision is almost healed and the bruising has gone down a lot. I don't know why I didn't notice this morning when I changed your bandages."
She turned to smile over her shoulder at him. "Well, I'm not surprised you didn't notice. You practically flew out of here this morning to follow up on that tip Bobby Bigmouth gave you."
He grinned back at her. "Sorry about that. But this really does look much better. Dr. Silverman will be pleased."
"Yeah, he'll be pleased to see I've had such a good nurse." Her eyes flashed mischievously.
Clark laughed. "Wait a minute. Are you implying that we've been playing doctor?"
"Well, I'm not a doctor, but I can probably make you feel better." He leaned forward and very gently kissed her shoulder. "There. Does that feel better?"
Lois' heart began to pound furiously and her skin grew hot. "Yeah, that *definitely* feels better."
Clark grinned. "Hmmm. Maybe it would feel even better if I did it again." He leaned down and kissed her shoulder again, but then continued to move on from there. His kissed his way lightly across her back, then up to the back of her neck. He pushed her hair away from her creamy skin, then placed several feather-light kisses along her neck. When he'd almost reached her ear, he heard her mumble something.
"What did you say?" he asked, stopping to hear her.
"I said I'd give you a million years to stop that," she repeated dreamily.
Clark grinned against her neck. "Good. Because it may take me that long to want to." His kisses once again began to roam over her sensitive skin.
Unable to sit passively while he succeeding in torturing her with his feather-light kisses, Lois turned around on the couch and slid her arms around his neck. Without hesitation, Clark took her mouth hungrily, tasting and nibbling her lips as his hands slipped beneath her untucked shirt and moved across the smooth skin of her back.
Lois moaned into his mouth, quickly succumbing to every touch of his hands and every movement of his lips. Completely caught up in the increasing passion of the moment, Lois leaned further into him, unconsciously pushing him backward onto the couch until she found herself on top of him. Their kisses were full of fire and intensity as they continued to explore each other.
Not stopping to think about what she was doing, Lois undid the buttons down the front of Clark's shirt and she eagerly pushed open his shirtfront, exposing his firm, muscled stomach. Her hands slid underneath the fabric and she let her fingers trace the perfectly defined pectoral muscles.
Clark felt a fiery trail burn through him where her fingers touched, and he knew he was quickly reaching the point of no return. He stiffened as he reached out to still her hands.
Lois pulled back to look at him, the hurt she felt from his words evident in her eyes. "What's the matter?"
He scooted up a little from underneath her and he took her face in his hands. Then he kissed her gently to reassure her that he wasn't rejecting her. "In case you didn't notice, things are getting pretty…intense between us right now. I know that if I don't stop now, I may not be able to later."
Lois' eyes reflected her disappointment. "You want to stop?"
Clark shook his head and hurried to clarify. "No, that's not it at all. I just thought you wanted to wait." Lois grew shy all of a sudden and averted her eyes. "I decided I don't want to wait anymore," she told him. "I've been doing a lot of thinking these last couple of days, and I feel like I'm ready to take this next step." She paused, suddenly sounding uncertain. "That is, unless *you've* changed your mind…"
Clark smiled tenderly, taking her face in his hands again and pulling her toward him so he could kiss her gently. "Lois, I love you, and I plan to love you for the rest of our lives. So, if you feel like you're ready to take this step, then I'm ready, too."
Lois smiled softly. "Yes, I'm ready," she told him, leaning forward and planning to pick up where she'd left off. But Clark stopped her.
"Wait, Lois. Let's do this right," he said, sliding out from underneath her and standing up. Then he leaned down and scooped her into his arms, smiling gently into her eyes as he carried her into the bedroom. He planned to make it a long and wonderful night.
The morning sun streamed in through the window, falling across Lois' face and waking her from her peaceful sleep. She opened her eyes, her gaze immediately falling on Clark's face next to hers on her pillow.
She sighed blissfully. After a totally and completely amazing night, Lois felt as if a door had opened onto their relationship and everything was glorious. Snuggling into Clark, she realized that she'd never felt more aglow in her life than she did at that moment.
For quite a while she laid beside him and watched him sleep. Then she lifted her hand to his face, caressing his cheek and murmuring his name.
At the sound of her voice, his eyes opened and a smile lit up his face. "Good morning," he said softly, his arm tightening around her waist.
He leaned toward her and their lips met in a long, passionate kiss that was reminiscent of their night together. When they pulled apart, Lois sighed in absolute contentment, letting her head fall back against his shoulder as he caressed her side with gentle, easy movements.
A few minutes later, she looked up to find Clark's eyes on her. She smiled at him and lifted her hand to his smooth, bare chest. "Last night was…amazing."
The brilliance of his smile rivaled hers. "'Amazing' hardly even *begins* to describe it."
They were quiet for several minutes as they lay encircled in each other's arms, content to simply revel in the afterglow of their magical night together.
"Mmm, what time is it?" Lois asked, lifting her head and squinting in the direction of Clark's alarm clock.
Clark turned beneath her, trying to see his clock without relinquishing his grip on Lois. He let out a surprised gasp. "It's a quarter after eight!"
Lois sat up abruptly. "Oh, no! I've got my doctor's appointment in forty-five minutes!"
"I know. And Perry was expecting me a while ago." He threw back the covers and climbed out of bed.
Lois laughed as she scrambled out of bed, too, and grabbed her robe. "What are *you* complaining about? All you have to do is do that quick spin thingy, and you're all dressed and ready for work!"
Clark laughed, too. "True. But that'd be no fun. I wouldn't get the chance to fight you for a turn in the bathroom."
Lois tied the belt on her robe and grinned wickedly at him. "I'll tell you right now, buster, that's one fight you *wouldn't* win."
They jokingly raced for the bathroom and then spent the next half-hour pretending to fight over everything from the toothpaste to sink time. Lois was actually sad when they were ready to go and were on their way out the door.
When they reached the bottom of the steps, they paused, reluctant to leave each other. Clark reached out for her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her snugly against him. "With this morning as hectic as it was, I never got to tell you how much last night meant to me."
She slipped her arms underneath his suit jacket and reached around him, tucking her fingers into the waistband of his slacks at the small of his back. She grinned up at him. "It meant a lot to me, too. I just wish we didn't have to rush off like this."
"Me, too." They stared into each other's eyes for several moments before their lips met in a tender kiss. When they pulled apart, Clark looked down at his watch and groaned. "We'd better go or we'll both be late. But you promise to call me when you're done at the doctor's office, right?"
She nodded. For a second, she thought he would pull back and go on his way. But then he pulled her against him again, giving her an earth-shattering kiss that was reflective of the passion they'd shared the night before.
Finally, he released her. With a satisfied grin on his face, her started to walk backwards away from her, reminding her quietly, "Call me."
Lois' check up with Dr. Silverman went even better than she'd hoped. He agreed with Clark's observation that her incision was all but healed, and that her stitches were ready to come out. It only took her a minute to clip them out as she sat on the paper-covered examination table.
Then things got even better when he told her she could start working part-days at the Planet as long as she promised to go home no later than two o'clock for the next couple of weeks so she could go back to her apartment to get some rest. She was so excited that she knew she'd practically agree to anything if it meant getting back to the Planet.
As soon as she was done, she was so excited that instead of going back to Clark's apartment to call him on the phone, she decided to drive straight over to the Planet to tell him in person.
When she stepped off the elevator and hurried down the ramp, she scanned the newsroom for Clark. He wasn't at his desk, so she headed for Perry's office, thinking he might be there. Peering through the large windows, she saw that Perry was sitting in his chair at his desk, and Clark was indeed sitting across from him.
Perry looked up suddenly and caught Lois' eye, his face breaking out into a smile. He said something to Clark, then gestured in her direction. Clark turned around quickly and spotted her, then turned back to say something to Perry before standing up and hurrying out to her.
Lois noticed that his brow was furrowed with concern as he approached. "Lois, are you okay? Why are you here instead of back at the apartment? What did the doctor have to say?"
She laughed happily. "And you say * I * ask too many questions." But she could tell he was too concerned about her to realize she was making a joke. "Clark, lighten up. I just came by to tell you that Dr. Silverman said I was doing great. He took my stitches out and even told me I could come back to work half days."
Clark's face lit up. "Lois, that's great! I'm glad things went so well! Why don't we celebrate by going out to lunch?"
She smiled. "That'd be perfect."
After okaying his early lunch with Perry, Clark escorted her to the little caf‚ down the street where they often ate lunch together during the week. They talked about the article Clark was working on that morning, and he kept telling her how excited he was at the thought of having her back at work with him.
"Yeah, that'll be great, won't it?" she agreed. But her tone sounded wistful.
He studied her intently. "Lois? What's the matter?"
She stirred some sugar into her coffee. "Well, it just occurred to me that now that I'm well enough to go back to work at least part time, I'm also well enough not to need constant supervision. So," she paused. "I guess that means I should probably move back into my apartment."
Clark grew quiet. "I hadn't thought about that."
Lois noticed that he sounded as sad as she felt. She wasn't thrilled at the idea of moving back into her place, of not being with Clark all day like she had been for the last few days. She'd come to enjoy living with him on a full-time basis.
And then there was last night.
Sleeping in separate apartments after the intimate night they'd just spent together didn't exactly thrill her. She realized how quickly spending every day and night with him had spoiled her. It made the thought of marrying him sound even more appealing.
As if reading her thoughts, Clark reached across the table to take her hand and then fingered her engagement ring lightly. "I guess one way to look at this is, it won't be long before we'll be married. And then we'll be able to spend every day and every *night*," he winked at her, "together under the same roof."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
Then, knowing they were both feeling a little sad about the whole thing, Clark changed the subject, hoping to lighten the mood. Luckily, it worked. By the time they'd finished lunch and got back to the Planet, they were both feeling more positive.
Lois went back to the office with Clark and told Perry about the doctor's decision to let her work a few hours a day for the next couple of weeks, before finally switching back to full days by the end of the month. Needless to say, Perry was thrilled. He told her he'd see her first thing the next morning, and to plan on him needling her about taking things easy for those first few days.
She grinned at him. "You? Telling me to take things easy? That'd be a first."
But he'd only smiled good-naturedly and waved her off. "I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning, Lois. In the meantime, get."
She and Clark left his office, then headed for the elevators. "Are you sure you don't want me to see you back to my apartment?" Clark asked, clasping her hand and swinging it lightly.
She shook her head. "No, I'll be fine. I'm just going to spend the afternoon packing up my things so I can get back to my apartment tonight." She sighed sadly.
Clark gave her hand a squeeze. "I know. I don't want you to go, either." He smiled at her wistfully. "Don't overexert yourself this afternoon, okay? I'll be home a little early so I can help you take your stuff back to your apartment."
She nodded. "Okay." She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him lightly. "I'll see you then."
"There. That's the last of it," Clark told her later that evening when he'd finished bringing her stuff up from the car. "Have we forgotten anything?"
Lois looked over the pile of stuff on her couch and shook her head, laughing. "I seriously doubt it. I didn't realize I had this much stuff at your place."
He grinned at her as he set the last bag down next to the couch. "Do you need some help unpacking?"
She shook her head. "No, but thanks. I'm just going to leave everything where it's at and unpack tomorrow." She pushed aside her pillow and flopped down on the only semi-vacant space available on the couch.
Clark went over to her and squatted down in front of her. He put his hand on her knee and rubbed it lightly with his thumb. "Are you sure you're feeling up to this?" he asked her seriously. "You look pretty tired."
"I am tired," she admitted. "But it's nothing a good night's sleep won't fix."
After several moments, he patted her knee and stood up. "Then instead of sticking around, I'm going to let you get some rest. After all, Perry's expecting you at work first thing in the morning. I'll be by to pick you up before work, okay? So don't leave without me."
She smiled wearily. "I won't. It'll be nice to see you after a long night of being alone."
Wistfully, he reached out and tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear. "I know. I'm going to miss you, too." He leaned down to give her a kiss. Finally, he stepped back and walked backward toward the door. "See you in the morning."
"Night, Clark. And thanks for your help."
He smiled. "Anytime. Now remember…if you need anything, just call me. Okay?"
She nodded. "I will."
He finally left, shutting the door quietly behind him. Lois could tell he was having just as tough a time saying goodbye as she was. It was funny that a week ago, saying goodnight was just something they did. But now everything had changed.
With a sigh, she realized it was going to be hard to revert back to the way they'd done things before everything had happened. But at least it would give her some time to do think more clearly and objectively about the concerns that still occasionally surfaced.
'But not tonight,' she thought, pushing herself up off the couch and turning off the lights in her apartment. She was tired, and it was going to be a busy day tomorrow. So, without giving her concerns another thought, she changed into her nightshirt, climbed into bed and promptly fell asleep.
"Lois, Clark! I need that article about Price's capture on my desk in ten minutes!" Perry hollered at them from his office doorway.
"We're almost done, Chief!" Clark called back, then turned to smile at Lois, who was sitting at her desk typing furiously on her keyboard. "Somehow I thought he'd go a little easier on you today since this is your first day back."
Lois shook her head and smiled without taking her eyes off her monitor. "You should know better than that. When was the last time Perry went easy on anybody?"
Lois typed for another couple of minutes, then hit the 'return' key with finality. "There! All done." She turned to beam proudly at Clark. "Not bad for my first day back, if I do say so myself."
Just then Perry hollered at them again from his office. "Lois, Clark! Breaking news! In my office, pronto."
Clark looked over at Lois and met her gaze. Then, with a confused look towards Perry's office, they got up and started toward it.
As soon as they walked in, Perry handed Clark a piece of paper. "I have a possible page one story for you two. Remember the missing evidence from your crime ring story?" They nodded, and Perry went on. "Well, there are some rumors flying around that somebody on the Mayor's staff might be involved with its disappearance. I want you two to get right on this."
"Uh, Chief…" Clark began, glancing down at his watch. "I can jump on this, but Lois needs to get out of her since it's already after four."
"Oh, that's right," Perry responded. "Lois, you're only supposed to be on half days, so you go on home and I'll partner Clark with somebody else on this one."
Lois immediately started to protest. "No, really, you guys, I feel fine! I can handle doing this with Clark."
But before Perry could respond, Clark shook his head adamantly. "Sorry, Lois, but those were the doctor's orders. He said half days, remember? Now, you go home and I'll take care of this."
Lois stared at Clark defiantly, an eyebrow lifted in a silent challenge. "Don't tell me what to do, Clark," she told him in an hostile stage-whisper. "We talked about this, remember? You told me that you were going to stop being so overprotective toward me."
"I'm not being overprotective," he argued back quietly. "I'm just making sure you take care of yourself by following the doctor's orders."
She crossed her arms angrily across her chest. "So all of a sudden you're my keeper? I *don't* think so, Clark," she finished, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Perry raised his eyebrows at their dispute, but remained silent. It had never been his policy to interfere, and he wasn't about to start now.
Clark glanced awkwardly at their silent editor, then turned back to Lois. "Um, Lois?" he began, his voice low but firm. "Do you think we could talk about this later? Maybe somewhere more private?"
Lois quit whispering. "Why, so you can continue to boss me around?" she yelled. "Forget it!" Then she turned on her heel and stormed out of the office.
The air in the office was thick with tension after Lois' departure. After several moments, Clark turned to Perry. "Sorry about that, Chief. She's been extremely temperamental and overly sensitive ever since our little run in with Price and Hendricks a week ago."
"Since a week ago? I'd say she's been like that since the first day she walked into my office." Perry grinned. Then he clapped a hand on Clark's shoulder in a fatherly gesture. "Just let her be for now, and when she's had time to cool off, she'll realize you're right. Someone needs to keep her from overdoing things around here for a while, and, I hate to say, you stand a better chance at that than I do."
Clark shook his head and laughed. "I'm not so sure about that, Chief, but we'll see."
Clark may have been able to laugh the whole thing off, but Lois didn't think it was one bit funny. After snatching her briefcase and overcoat from her desk, she stormed through the newsroom and got into the elevator. She slapped at the lobby button, muttering to herself about people who thought they could run her life, unknowingly scaring the Planet's newest errand boy who had the misfortune of being in the same confined space with her for the albeit brief trip down to the lobby. When the elevator doors opened, she stalked out through the lobby and headed for her car.
The drive to her apartment did nothing to soothe her temper, and she stormed up the stairs, fumbling with her keys as she unlocked the door. When the lock finally clicked, she threw the door open, went in, and then slammed the door shut behind her.
"Is this the way it's always going to be between us?" she raged, not caring if her neighbors thought she was crazy for yelling to herself. "Is he constantly going to be telling me what to do? Well, forget it! I'm am award winning investigative reporter, and I refuse to let myself get pushed aside because he's afraid I might be endangering myself for my job!"
She threw her keys and briefcase down on the table with a clunk and a thud, and then marched into the kitchen. Yanking her refrigerator's freezer door open, she reached in for a carton of double fudge ice cream, then slammed the door shut loudly.
It wasn't long before the carton was empty, but Lois realized the chocolate ice cream hadn't helped to soothe her anger as it usually did. She was still fuming.
She'd just stood up to go throw the container into the trash when there was a knock on her door. She altered her direction, going over to the door and raising herself up to look through the peephole.
With a muttered curse, she opened the door and glared at him.
He spotted the empty container in her hand almost immediately. "Uh-oh. An empty carton of chocolate ice cream," he teased gently. "Either you were out of groceries, or you're mad at me."
Lois scowled at him. "Clark, don't start with me." She let go of the doorknob and turned to walk into the kitchen.
Clark came in and shut the door behind him. "Okay, Lois, let's have it."
"Have what?" she asked, feigning ignorance as she threw the ice cream carton into the trash.
Clark rolled his eyes. "Come on, Lois, you know what I'm talking about. I want to know what caused that earlier 'scene' in Perry's office, which, by the way, I didn't appreciate."
Lois whirled around. "*You* didn't appreciate?! Well, excuse me, but *I* didn't appreciate being ordered around in front of Perry, being told that I'm not well enough to do my job! Because of you, he'll probably stick me with fluff pieces for a month! And while we're on the topic, I didn't like the idea that I could be so easily *replaced* by somebody because *you* didn't think I could handle the work! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? I've worked incredibly hard to get where I am in this man's world, and I at *least* deserve some professional respect from you because of that!"
"Lois, of course I respect you, and *no* you are *not* being replaced!" he told her in frustration. "Perry knows it's going to take some time before you're completely back in the game, and he's just trying to look out for you like I am." He rolled his eyes dramatically. "Man, Lois, I can't believe how touchy you're being over these things lately! Where did all these insecurities come from?"
She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "I am *not* being insecure!"
He snorted. "Oh, yes you are!"
"Ahhh!" Lois yelled. "What are you, *six*?! Why are you arguing with me like this?"
"Because this isn't like you to be this touchy about everything!" he yelled back. "So why don't we just get right down to the real issues here? If you'd just tell me what's really bothering you, we could actually have an adult conversation!"
"Fine!" she hollered. "But if you want an adult conversation, you'll just have to go somewhere else, because I'm not in the mood to talk about this with you right now!"
Clark walked over to the couch and dropped down onto it, folding his arms defiantly across his chest. "Lois, I'm not leaving until you talk to me, so you might as well drop the act and tell me what's eating you."
Lois forced herself to close her eyes and count to ten. When she reopened them, she saw that Clark was just sitting there watching her, waiting for her explanation.
She rolled her eyes, then leaned back against the table. "Okay, fine," she began, her voice still holding a hint of anger, but it was considerably softer. "You want to what's bothering me? There are a *lot* of things bothering me. And I'm *not* being insecure, really…" Not sure how to finish, she let her voice trail off.
"Not insecure?" Clark asked, sounding a bit more calm, as well. "Then what do *you* call it?"
"I guess I've just been having…doubts."
"Doubts?" Clark echoed, confused. "Doubts about us?"
She nodded silently.
Clark stood up and walked over to her. When he reached her, he put his fingers under her chin and tilted her face up to his, forcing her to meet his eyes. When she did, he saw that she had tears in her eyes.
"Lois, this must be something you've really been fighting with if it's affecting you like this," he told her, concerned. "It's obvious to me that we need to talk about this. Now tell me. What kind of doubts about us?"
Lois tried to get her tears under control. "Well, my doubts aren't really about *us*, I guess. They're more about the whole idea of marriage."
Clark nodded. "Come on," he told her, taking her by the hand and gently leading her over to the couch. "This sounds like something we need to sit down to talk about." When they were seated next to each other, Clark reached out to hold both of her hands in his. "Okay, now…you have doubts," he prompted.
She sniffled. "Not doubts about you and me," she repeated. "I know that I love you, and that you love me. That's not even an issue."
"Then what is it?" he asked quietly. "What's bothering you about the idea of us getting married?"
She was silent for a minute before answering. "I think that the main thing is, I just don't know exactly what it is that I'm expecting out of this relationship. I mean, I loved being with you all the time when I was at your apartment the last few days. And our night together two nights ago, well…it was just incredible." They traded meaningful smiles. "And I really loved the idea of not having to leave you at the end of the day. But is that enough to base a relationship on?"
Clark, sensing she wasn't finished saying what was on her mind, waited patiently for her to continue. Finally, she did. "And what about all the things I'm still learning about you? What if, after we get married, I find out something about you—about your other identity—that really throws a wrench in the works? Could I overlook that part of you, whatever it might be, and still love you like I do now?"
When she finished, Clark gathered her in his arms and held her tightly, not saying anything for a long time. Lois began to worry that she'd hurt his feelings, and she pulled back to look into his eyes.
"Clark, I need you to understand that this has nothing to do with you. It's just me trying to work through my demons and insecurities left over from seeing my parents' marriage fail so miserably." Her eyes pleaded with him to believe her. "I just don't want that to happen to *us*."
Clark's voice was low and serious when he responded. "Lois, I'd like to promise you that when we get married, we'll end up living happily ever after. But I can't do that. Not without lying to you. There's always going to be something we disagree on, or a problem that comes up that we'll need to work through. But we *will* work through those things when something comes up because we love each other, and *want* to work them out so that we can *keep* loving each other."
He paused to push her hair away from her eyes so he could see into them clearly. "But what it all boils down to, Lois, is this. You're going to have to decide once and for all what it is that you want. Do you want to take the risk and commit to this relationship? Or do you have enough doubts going through your mind right now that you want to back out? It's up to you, Lois. You know how *I* feel. Now you have to find out how *you* feel."
Lois nodded as she reached out to hold his hand, her eyes filling with tears. "I know I do."
Clark suddenly got that look, and Lois sighed, shaking her head in disbelief. 'Terrific,' she thought dismally. Then out loud, she asked, "What do you hear?"
He listened carefully for a minute "The radio next door. There's an apartment fire and people are trapped."
She released his hands and gestured to the window feebly. "Go."
But Clark shook his head. "Lois, I don't want to fly off without finishing talking this through with you…" he began.
"It's okay, Clark, just go," she assured him. "If you get done at a reasonable hour, come back and we'll talk some more."
He nodded. "I'll try to hurry." He leaned over and pressed a kiss to her temple, then stepped into the middle of the living room and quickly spun into the suit. He hurried to the window, but then turned back. "I love you, Lois," he told her sincerely.
Fresh tears sprang to her eyes. She'd just spent the last few minutes telling him that she wasn't sure if she was ready to marry him, but still he was sticking by her. His loyalty and devotion touched her deeply. But at the same time, it made her feel miserable for how badly she'd been treating him.
She looked up at him and gave him a teary smile as he stood in her open window. "I love you, too, Clark."
He gave her one last lingering look, then he turned and took off into the evening sky.
Unable to hold back her guilty and confused tears for a moment longer, Lois stood up and ran into her bedroom. Throwing herself down on her bed, she started to sob into her pillow.
'How could I possibly even consider not spending the rest of my life with a man as loving, as compassionate and as loyal as Clark? He's always there for me, even when I'm acting like an indecisive three-year-old, who can't make up her mind about anything!' That realization made her feel even worse, and she cried even harder.
The sound of Lois' sobbing reached Clark's sensitive ears even as he flew away from her apartment, making his heart wrench in agony. He hated to hear her cry. He struggled with the idea of turning around and flying right back into her arms. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and tell her over and over again how much he loved her, soothing her as he wiped the tears from her cheeks and held her tightly.
But he could hear the sound of the fire and the cries for help filling the night sky, so he reluctantly flew on. He'd just have to do his job as quickly as possible so he could get back to her and help her talk things out.
The apartment fire took much longer than Clark thought it would, with all the people that needed to be rescued from the higher floors where the fire department's ladders couldn't reach. Then he stayed and helped put out the fire, afterwards answering the questions the fireman had for him. Clark found himself growing more and more anxious to return to Lois as the night wore on, but things just kept coming up that required his attention.
Finally, hours after he'd left Lois, he helped the fireman secure their hoses and then took off into the night sky, heading in the direction of Lois' apartment. When he arrived, he floated down and landed silently on her balcony, peering through the sheer curtains into the darkened apartment.
He saw her lying motionless on her bed, and he tapped lightly on the window, not wanting to disturb her if she was sleeping. When she didn't stir, he realized she was asleep. Then, knowing he'd just have to wait and talk to her tomorrow, he headed for his own apartment.
When Clark got to work the next morning, he noticed Lois was already at her desk going over some notes. He made a beeline for her desk and stopped next to her.
"Hi, Lois." She jumped. When she looked up and saw that he was standing next to her, she smiled sheepishly. "Oh, Clark, you scared me."
He couldn't help noticing how tired and distracted she looked. He sat down on the corner of her desk. "Still thinking about things?"
Her smile faded, and she looked down at her notes. "Yeah. I didn't sleep much last night."
"I can tell." He reached out and smoothed her hair away from her face. "Listen, we didn't get to finish our conversation last night, but we really need to. Let's get out of her and go somewhere we can talk. What's your work load like today?"
"Clark!" Perry suddenly materialized beside them. "I need an update on your article about the Mayor's assistant and his link to the disappearing evidence, and I need it in a half-hour."
Clark nodded. "No problem, Chief."
Perry walked on past to his office, and Lois smiled at Clark. "That's exactly what *my* work load sounds like."
Clark smiled. "It figures. But let's *make* time today, okay?"
Lois nodded. "Okay. Thanks, Clark."
But no matter how hard they tried to get away, something seemed to come up. Perry kept heaping additional work on them, and their phones seemed to ringing off their hooks. When Clark darted out to follow up on yet another lead, Lois gave up hope. 'Forget it,' she thought dejectedly. 'It's not going to happen.'
But there were so many things going around in her head that she realized it was impossible to concentrate on her work any longer. What she needed to do was to get out of there and go someplace where she could think and not be interrupted every two minutes by somebody.
Pushing her chair back from her desk, she decided to ask Perry for the rest of day off. She went into his office where he was hunched over a pile of paperwork. "Perry, would it be okay if I took the rest of the afternoon off?"
Perry looked up at her as if she'd just lost her mind. "Lois, are you feeling okay? I think the last time you asked for time off was when…come to think of it, I don't think you've *ever* asked for time off."
She smiled wryly. "No, I'm okay. I'm just feeling a little tired, and I don't want to overdo it my first week back."
Perry nodded understandingly. "Sure, Lois, no problem. You go on home and get some rest. We'll hold down the fort."
Lois smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Chief." She turned and left his office, returning to her desk to gather up her things before heading for the elevators.
When Clark got back to the Planet, he was surprised to see that Lois' computer was turned off and her desk was unoccupied. Confused, he strode into Perry's office. "Perry, have you seen Lois?"
Without taking his eyes off the story he was reading through, Perry nodded. "Yeah, she came in here a couple of hours ago asking if she could have the rest of the day off. She said something about feeling tired, so I told her to go on home to get some rest."
Clark's expression reflected his concern. "Perry, is it okay if I go check on her? My follow up article is all done and ready for you."
"Sure, Clark. Go ahead," Perry assured him.
Clark thanked him and hurried out of his office. He went over to his desk and picked up his phone, quickly dialing Lois' number. When there was no answer, he decided to head on over there to make sure everything was okay.
But when he reached her apartment and knocked on her door, there was still no response. "Lois?" he called out. "Are you home?" After another minute of silence, he lowered his glasses and did a quick scan of her apartment. 'Nope,' he told himself. 'She's definitely not here.'
Not knowing where she was, he found himself beginning to worry a little. It wasn't like Lois to play hooky. But then it occurred to him that maybe she'd gone for a walk. So, hurrying out of her building and ducking into an unused alley, he whirled into the suit and took off. 'If she *is* taking a walk, this would be the best way to find her,' he told himself.
But after nearly an hour of flying over the city, there still wasn't any sign of her. Reluctantly, he decided he'd better call it quits and go back to the Planet. Perry was probably wondering where he was, and he definitely didn't want to be in the editor's doghouse.
As he landed in the alley behind the Planet and changed back into his work clothes, he kept telling himself, despite his natural tendency to worry, 'Lois is fine. Metropolis is a big city. Just because you couldn't find her doesn't mean that she's in any trouble. Besides, you told Lois you would work on not being so protective of every move she makes.'
So he forced himself to return to work, though he realized that *telling* Lois he wouldn't worry so much and actually *not* worrying so much was a lot more difficult than he'd thought it would be.
By quitting time, Clark still hadn't heard anything from Lois, and there was still no answer when he called her one last time before heading home. Unable to stop himself, he worried all the way back to his apartment.
When he rounded the corner of his building, his heart leapt when he saw Lois sitting on the steps of his apartment, waiting for him.
She smiled shyly. "Hi."
"Lois, where've you been?" he asked, his voice thick with worry and concern. "Perry said you went home early because you weren't feeling well, but I've been trying to call you all afternoon, and I even flew over the city looking for you." He went up the last couple of steps and sat down beside her. "I was worried about you."
She smiled and clapped her hand down lightly on his knee. "Clark, I can tell we're still going to have to work on this protectiveness problem you have."
He nodded guiltily. "Yeah, I know. I'm trying. But are you feeling okay?"
Lois' nodded. "Actually, I feel fine. Don't tell Perry, but I fudged a little about not feeling well. I only told him I was tired so I could get out of there. I needed to clear my head, and to think about what we talked about last night."
Clark put his hand over the top of hers and rubbed it gently. "So did you come to any conclusions?"
She nodded. "I walked for a long time today, thinking about everything that's happened since the night at the warehouse, and I kept thinking, 'Why are you struggling with this decision to marry Clark? What is it exactly that's holding you back?' Then, after a couple of hours of soul searching, I realized that the thing I was struggling with the most was that there are obviously still so many things about you that I don't know. And that fear of the unknown is what's been making me crazy. I kept thinking, 'What if I find out something about you, some little quirk that might just ruin everything? Could I overlook that part or you and still love you like I do?'"
She glanced down at their hands for a moment, then looked back up into Clark's eyes, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "But do know what? Suddenly everything became perfectly clear to me. It was as if I was finally able to think clearly for the first time since this all happened."
She reached up to wipe at the tear that slid down her cheek. "After all this time," she told him, sniffling, "I finally realized what it means to love you. It means that I need to love *all* of you, and not just those parts of you that I want to love. It means that I need to love Clark Kent, the man I fell in love with, as well as that guy who flies around in tights and a cape saving people, because both of those sides of you are what make you into the man that I love."
When she finished, Clark had tears in his eyes, as well. "Lois, you have no idea how it makes me feel to hear you say that," he told her earnestly. "I've hated watching you struggle with so many things, knowing that, no matter what I did or said, it all came down to *you* having to decide for yourself what it was that you wanted."
"And I have," she told him. "I know now without a doubt that you are the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. You taught me that love is something precious, something to be cherished above any earthly possession. And since the kind of love we have for each other doesn't just come along every day, we need to reach out and grab onto it while still we have the chance."
Clark smiled at her. "I'm glad to see I finally got through to you."
Lois laughed through her tears. "Okay, so maybe it takes me a little longer than others."
"I don't care *how* long it took you to realize it," he told her more seriously. "The important thing is, you did realize it, and now we can get on with living the rest of our lives together."
The tears started flowing more freely down her cheeks, but she didn't care. This time, instead of tears of confusion, they were tears of pure joy.
She smiled at Clark lovingly, then turned her hand in his so she could lace her fingers through his. "You know what else, Clark? I can hardly wait to spend the rest of my life with you."
Looking at her, Clark realized how lucky he was to be sitting next to this truly incredible woman to whom he'd lost his heart the moment they'd met. He'd almost lost her, not once, but several times over past few days. It made him realize that life and love was too precious to take for granted. From now on, he planned to make sure that he cherished every moment they spent together.
His love for her nearly bursting through his chest, Clark gave in to the overwhelming urge to touch her. He lifted his hand to her face and traced his fingertips lightly across her cheek, watching as she closed her eyes at his touch. Instinctively, she reached up to cover his hand with her own.
When she opened her eyes, he could see the love she had for him shining through from her soul. "I love you, Clark," she told him simply.
"I love you, too, Lois."
Their lips met in a tender, loving kiss that said more than words could ever say. It told of the promise of a long, wonderful life together that would be full of love, warmth and happiness. Afterward, Clark pulled Lois into his arms, reveling in the certainty that she would soon be his wife.
Clark pressed his face into her hair, and Lois felt, rather than saw, him smile. It was then, as she sat wrapped in the arms of the man she loved more than anything in the world, that Lois decided that life couldn't possibly be any more perfect. Whatever came in the future, whatever problems arose, whatever challenges faced them, she knew they would work through them. And they would work through them *together*.
And so, when a person meets the half that is his very own, then something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don't want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment. These are the people who finish out their lives together and still cannot say what it is they want from one another. Look at your love, and see if this is what you desire: wouldn't this be all the good fortune you could want?