By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted March 2000
Summary: In this sequel to the author's "A Conscious Choice," Lois and Clark continue their relationship, but struggle over how go public with the news.
This story is a sequel to my earlier fic, 'A Conscious Choice,' which you really need to read first otherwise this will make no sense at all! Thanks, first, to Kathy Brown, who gave me the inspiration to write it in the first place when she told me she wanted more, <g> and to Yvonne Connell, who kept me writing and who also supplied some scenes for the nfic version. If you're over 18 and would like to read the nfic version, you'll find it at annesplace, http://move.to/nfic
Feedback welcome, as ever, at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Sequel to 'A Conscious Choice' by Wendy Richards
The morning light streaming through the large picture window woke Lois; she blinked as, momentarily, disorientation hit her. Then she remembered; she was in Clark's apartment — in his bed — and he was asleep beside her.
No, she realised in that instant, he wasn't; she was alone in the large bed. There was a Clark-shaped indentation beside her, but he no longer filled it. Probably had to go and rescue someone, she thought in amused resignation. She should be used to that by now; but of course, it had been *Kal-El's* disappearances she had become accustomed to. It had only been the previous evening that she had discovered that her lover, Kal-El, and her best friend, Clark, were one and the same man. And for the first time, they had slept together at his apartment, Lois now feeling fully part of her lover's life. No, not her lover, she reminded herself. Her fiance. He had asked her to marry him, and although the idea of marriage still scared her witless, she had accepted. She trusted this straightforward yet complex man with her future happiness.
The discovery that Superman was really Clark had certainly solved one major dilemma for her: the fact that she had seemed to be in love with two men simultaneously. It seemed almost incredible now that she could have been having an affair with Superman for several weeks, at the same time working side by side with Clark, and she had never once suspected the truth. It explained a number of things as well — the sense that she was being increasingly drawn to Clark, for one thing, but also Clark's moodiness over the past weeks. She found it hard to imagine just how he had been able to maintain the double act, kissing her goodbye as he slid out of her bed in the early hours of the morning, and then bidding her a casual good morning as her partner when he arrived at work. He was certainly a better actor than she had ever realised. But some of his frustration at the necessity of deceit had been slipping through the act, which must have caused his depressed state and his ultimate anger with her, she now knew.
It was still very hard to get her head around the idea that Superman was Clark, she admitted as she stepped under the shower in his bathroom. She was so used to thinking of Clark as the farmboy from Kansas, the naive, myopic country boy with a habit of disappearing when there was trouble. Of course, *that* was now explained; he was hurrying off to don the blue suit — Superman to the rescue. But there was no doubt about it; apart from the fact that Clark knew all the details which only Kal-El should have know, he had demonstrated his Super-abilities a few times since telling her the truth. He had even spun into his Suit later the previous evening and taken her flying.
So she was engaged — and to a man she would never, only twenty-four hours previously, have imagined as her future husband. Amused at her own reaction to that thought, she considered Clark in the role of romantic partner. He would be very protective of her, that was clear enough. He would want to ensure that she was cherished and looked after. That was nice; it could even be fun. But she might have to make sure that he realised she was also capable of looking after herself — there was no way that she was going to allow him to dictate what she could and could not do, just because he was Superman and she was his partner.
<I told Superman I felt like I was his mistress> she remembered at that moment. And it was true; she *had* felt that way. The nature of their relationship at that time had been exactly like that, reluctant though Superman — Clark — had been to admit it. She had only been privy to a very small part of his life, a fact which had been forcibly brought home to her once he'd let slip that he had another life, another identity, of which she knew nothing. That had hurt.
To be fair to him, she recognised as she towelled herself dry, he had wanted to tell her. He had even confessed to being afraid of her reaction, since he had been aware that he'd been deceiving her; and it had been that confession, among other things, which had made it easier for her to forgive him once he had told her the truth. That, and realising that her own behaviour had made it much harder for him. Remembering now all the times when she had practically thrown herself at Superman, while ignoring or even being contemptuous of Clark, made her feel ashamed of herself. Clark hadn't brought up that particular subject, which was far more than she deserved and was much to his credit. She felt very sure that her attitude had been one of the main reasons why he had been unable to tell her sooner.
It hadn't been until things had completely been blown out of control by their argument that he had finally found the courage to tell her. Clark's words to her the previous afternoon still hurt in a way, Lois was aware; particularly his suggestion that, however many awards she had won, she wasn't particularly good at figuring things out. Okay, his final remark that he didn't care any more had been more hurtful at the time, but that was now understandable in the light of the pressure he had been under. But she was *proud* of her skills as a reporter. And, if she was honest with herself, it was galling to realise that Superman, the biggest story in town, had been working beside her for more than six months and she'd never even suspected it.
A noise akin to rushing wind distracted her from her thoughts. Clark was back. She finished pulling on her clothes and went into the kitchen to find him, in his Superman suit, filling the coffee-maker.
He glanced around as she approached, and she was surprised to catch an uncertain expression on his face before he smiled and bade her good morning. She moved swiftly to stand beside him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"Good morning, Clark," she murmured softly. "I missed you when I woke up."
His obviously delighted reaction pleased her. His mouth curved into a joyful smile, and a boyishly eager expression appeared on his face. "You did? I'm sorry, there was a plane in difficulty over Texas, so I had to go." This was a new experience as well, Lois thought: Kal-El had never returned to her after going to help somewhere. Of course, this was Clark's home, but still, his return was a new and wonderful development in their relationship. The fact that he'd been comfortable enough not to change out of his Superman outfit before she'd seen him also told her something about Clark's trust in her. He was no longer concerned about whether she was more interested in the Super-hero than in the man.
She reached up to kiss him; he made it easier by lowering his head to hers. Their lips met in a warm, caressing fusion which blurred still further for Lois the distinction between the two men she'd thought she knew. Sure, she had told Clark confidently the night before that 'Clark' and Kal-El' were two very different personalities, and she still believed that; but on the other hand, she was now with the man who was both of them. Clark no longer had to put on an act with her; nor did Superman. It was only to be expected, she realised, that her lover would start to display aspects of the two people she had previously thought he was, and possibly also some characteristics she'd never seen before.
He wrapped his arms around her, holding her close in a warm hug, before stepping back to enquire whether she was ready for breakfast. As she concurred, he gestured to a paper bag which lay on the counter. She investigated, and found half a dozen croissants, still warm.
"You've been shopping? Where did you get these?" Lois asked him, surprised. The pastries looked excellent.
He grinned. "A little place I know. In Paris." The impish, even broader grin which followed told her that he had taken great delight in her astonishment.
"You never did anything like that before," she whispered, wondering why, in all the weeks of their relationship, Clark had never brought her little items from overseas.
He flushed. "I suppose I… didn't want to make it look like I was trying to impress you," he replied awkwardly. "And I guess I was hoping to get you to see me like an ordinary man, not someone with Super-powers."
She stared at him. "That'd be why you kept arriving through my window — flying," she told him dryly. "And, of course, the lovemaking on the ceiling would sure make me forget your abilities!"
"Okay, so I didn't have it all worked out," he conceded with a wry grimace. His expression altered, became serious. "Lois — you're on the late shift today too, aren't you?"
She nodded, intent on pouring the coffee. "Yeah — why?"
He accepted his cup with a murmur of thanks. "I think we need to talk some more. There were… things… I didn't say yesterday, and I should have."
Lois frowned at his serious tone. Surely he wasn't going to go all noble on her and suggest that their relationship should end for some reason of which she knew nothing? Last night he had asked her to marry him, for heaven's sake! But she accepted his suggestion that she should sit at the table; as she glanced up at him she was just in time to catch the tail-end of his spin into normal clothes. Now dressed in jeans and a black polo shirt but without his glasses, he joined her at the table, the croissants on a plate in his hand.
"You know, you're going to have to tell me how you do that," Lois remarked conversationally. "And where your Suit goes — you can't be wearing it underneath your clothes right now."
His grin was brief; whatever was on his mind, it was clearly bothering him. She sat back and waited for him to speak.
"Lois, I know we talked yesterday, but I really owe you an enormous apology for what I did to you," he said heavily. At her surprised expression, he explained, "It's the whole thing — not just that I deceived you into having an affair with me, but that I took away your freedom of choice."
"My what?" Lois exclaimed, wondering just what Clark was convincing himself he'd done. "Look, Clark, whatever about the way it continued, the way our relationship started was no-one's fault. We were both in a very emotional state after Nigel tried to kill you. We both… wanted what happened."
"Yeah, though I should never have made love to you as Superman," Clark replied softly. "Look, this whole double life thing has been really difficult to maintain at times — especially with my friends. I know I had to do it, and it does make things easier most of the time. I wouldn't have been able to have a normal life otherwise. But there've been times when I really had to watch what I did as Superman. And I should never have started that sort of intimate relationship with you." He stood and began to pace around the kitchen. "I did take away your choice, Lois. You might not have wanted a relationship with me — with Clark Kent. But you were having one, like it or not, and you didn't even know it."
"Clark, I understand what you're saying, and I know a lot of this is my fault too," Lois interrupted. "I know what I did — I fawned over Superman, and I ignored you a lot when we first knew each other. Even when we became friends I often compared you unfavourably to Superman. I'm not surprised you felt I wouldn't be interested if I knew who you really were." She paused, then added before he could speak, "I know you tried to tell me, that night when you admitted you had another identity. I know you'd have told me if you hadn't been called away."
His pacing stilled, and he nodded, confirming her statement. "Actually, there were a number of times even before that when I almost told you. I really intended to tell you when I arrived at your place the night after we made love for the first time," he confessed.
Lois's eyes widened. She remembered that night. When Superman had arrived his manner had been distant and he had made no effort to be affectionate towards her initially. Instead he had seemed awkward and had said he had something he needed to tell her. She stared at Clark. "You told me our relationship couldn't continue."
"Yes. But that wasn't what I'd been going to say. I'd been agonising over it all day, and I came to the conclusion that I had to tell you the truth. That I was Clark. But when it came to it… I just couldn't do it." His gaze dropped before her enquiring eyes.
"Because of my attitude to Clark." It was a statement, not a question. He didn't reply, but the expression on his face gave her the answer. She stood and went to him, taking his hands in hers. "Clark — I'm so sorry. I was truly horrible to you."
He shook his head, grasping her hands tightly. "No, you weren't, Lois. Okay, you said some things occasionally — but so did I. And you made up for them at other times. I was just scared. I really didn't know how you'd react if I told you the truth. I thought… you wouldn't want to know me."
"So you tried to end it instead," Lois remembered. "I don't blame you, Clark — after all I'd done in the past you must have really wondered if all I was interested in was your powers."
But he shook his head emphatically, to Lois's surprise. "No. Okay, maybe at one time I wondered that — but certainly not after you risked your life to save me that night when Nigel set his trap."
Lois fell silent, remembering that evening when both of them had come close to losing their lives. It had been a tremendous shock to her to see the powerful Man of Steel brought to his knees by Kryptonite; he had clearly been in excruciating pain and she was sure that longer exposure would have killed him. She glanced at Clark, seeing from his expression that he was also remembering the same events; his eyes were shadowed, and she guessed he was seeing again her apparently lifeless body when she had stopped breathing.
In an effort to lighten the mood, she tapped his chest. "Lucky for me you were a Boy Scout, Kent."
He raised a puzzled eyebrow.
"Isn't artificial respiration one of the things they teach Scouts?" she teased.
He grinned. "I really don't know why you persist in believing I was in the Scouts, Lois. Actually, I learnt first aid at an evening class years ago. I figured that if I was going to try to help people in trouble, I at least ought to know what I was doing."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, leading her into his living room and to a seat on the sofa. "But seriously," he added, "it was very unfair of me to sleep with you again that second night. Okay, like you said, the first time could be excused by emotions getting out of control. But I knew exactly what I was doing the second time."
"Why did you do it, then?" she asked, curious.
He frowned. "You're not annoyed, Lois? Yet I deliberately deceived you — I should have told you the truth. I completely misrepresented myself to you."
She raised an eyebrow at him. Regardless of whether he *had* ever been a member of that august organisation, Clark really was such a boy scout sometimes. "Clark, you've been misrepresenting yourself to me ever since we met! But, no, I'm not annoyed. I got over that yesterday, remember? I was upset about the deceit then, but after I thought about it I realised that it didn't matter. The main thing is that it got us together. And with the way I was either pretending that my feelings for you didn't exist, or projecting them onto Superman instead, we'd still be dancing around each other in a year's time if this hadn't happened."
He paused, taking in her words. Her feelings for him — as Clark? He filed that away to think about later, then returned to her earlier question. "Okay, you asked why I slept with you the second time. It's hard to explain without making you think I'm just ruled by my hormones or something, but the attraction hadn't gone away. It was really difficult to sit there beside you, wanting you, and remember all the reasons why I shouldn't make love with you, knowing you wanted it too. My lips were telling you that it had to end, but my body was screaming at me not to be so moral. And… I guess it was a combination of things. I was trying to persuade you that I was ending it because you really didn't know me — which was sort of the truth. But then you said some things about me as Superman which really made me think. I realised that you *did* know me — that part of me, anyway — better than I knew it myself. And for the first time, I believed you when you said you loved Superman. It was probably the first time I really accepted that Superman was more than a one-dimensional character."
He paused, reaching for Lois's hand; she placed it in his and threaded her fingers through his. Then, raising his gaze to hers again, he resumed. "So that was part of it. I accepted that your feelings for Superman were genuine — that it was more than just a crush. And I couldn't deny my feelings for you, not when I'd told you the night before that I loved you. I couldn't let you think that I'd say that one minute and then take it back the next… and, well, I didn't think you'd believe Superman lied, anyway. Or I wouldn't have wanted to try to persuade you that he did." He paused, shaking his head a little as he hoped his words were making sense. Ruefully, he added, "And — well, sexual attraction just took over again after that, didn't it?"
Lois blushed, remembering. She had been completely taken aback when he had reached for her and kissed her passionately. Meeting Clark's gaze, she told him without words that she remembered exactly what had happened.
He smiled wryly. "I just couldn't help it, Lois. One minute I was reminding myself of all the reasons why I should leave, and the next you were in my arms and I couldn't have let you go if there'd been an earthquake."
"I was about to tell you to go," she whispered. "I realised just what your principles meant to you — and to me."
Clark shook his head in apparent wonderment. "I knew it was wrong all along," he confessed. "But after that second time I just couldn't have stopped. I needed to be with you so badly… I just shoved all my principles aside. The guilt got pretty bad at times, but somehow I forgot all that whenever I was with you."
She reached for him and stroked his arm lightly. "I noticed you were pretty withdrawn at work, Clark. I wondered what was wrong. But I guess it must have been really difficult to spend most of the night in my bed, then see me in work and behave as if nothing had happened."
He nodded, and she could see the strain on his face as he remembered those weeks. "Yeah, it was tough. And I couldn't talk to anyone about it, not even my parents because I knew they wouldn't approve. I was ashamed to tell them — until yesterday, when I completely messed up and walked out on you."
Lois stared at him; she knew how close Clark was to his parents. She had seen it that time he'd brought her to Smallville to investigate the so-called EPA operation, and she knew that the elder Kents had visited their son in Metropolis several times since. "You didn't tell your parents?"
His expression was shame-faced. "Not only that, Lois — I barely spoke to them for weeks because I knew they'd realise something was going on." He sighed. "It was only after I lost my temper yesterday that I knew I had to tell someone or I'd go crazy."
She reached for him again. "I wish you could have talked to me, Clark," she said softly. "I knew you were unhappy. I wasn't so completely wrapped up in 'Kal-El' that I couldn't see it. But whenever I asked you what was wrong you changed the subject or denied there was a problem. And I missed my best friend."
"Lois, how could I have talked to you?" he asked with a bewildered shake of his head. "What could I have said? 'My life is in a mess right now… I'm having an affair with the woman I love, but she doesn't know who I really am'? What would you have thought if I'd said that? Unless I'd just told you the truth, you'd have thought I really was crazy."
"I wish you had told me the truth," Lois replied quietly. "Oh, don't worry," she added swiftly as his expression altered. "I don't mean that I'm still annoyed that you didn't. I said I'm over that, and I meant it. But you could have… as Clark, I mean… just come to me and told me that Superman was really you."
"I'm not sure I could," he disagreed. "I'm not sure why, you know, but for some reason whenever I did think about telling you the truth it was always as Superman. Never as Clark. I guess I thought your reaction might be less… explosive that way. I haven't a clue why, though," he added with typical honesty.
Lois laughed softly, his strange logic striking her as amusing. But the uncertainty in his eyes sobered her and she reached for him, taking him in her arms. "Clark, I love you. I think I've been in love with you for a long time, but I just didn't want to admit it. For a long time it was easier to think I was in love with Superman, and that was safe because he was never going to look at me, was he? So I never had to confront my emotions or experience the reality of a relationship."
"Until Superman did look at you," Clark added softly.
"Yes, and I began to understand what a real relationship could be like," she acknowledged. "Clark, I told you — Kal-El — about my federal disasters, remember?" He nodded, his expression making it clear he remembered. "I got hurt then, and those experiences — together with the way my father had treated me, you remember I told you about that too? — made me scared to trust men again. That's why Superman was easy. Even when that… crush became real, it still seemed safe — after all, Superman would never let me down. Until I realised that I was kidding myself, that what I had with him wasn't a real relationship."
"You said you felt like a mistress," Clark whispered. His tone, and the expression of pain on his face, told Lois that her accusation had hurt him. A second's further thought made her realise that it hadn't been the accusation, but rather the fact that he'd had to admit to himself that it was true.
"Yes, I did." She saw no point in hiding the truth. "I can understand it now — after all, you really were hiding a large part of your life from me. It was pretty much okay as long as I thought that you really were Superman the whole time, but as soon as I realised that you had a whole life I knew nothing about, I felt… used."
"I'm sorry, Lois," Clark whispered, obviously horrified at what his actions had done to her.
He raised his head, surprised at her tone. But she gave him a warm, reassuring smile.
"Clark, I'm not trying to make you feel even more guilty than you already do. I don't want you to feel guilty at all! You wanted to explain a few things, and so do I. That's all," Lois assured him. "Then we don't have to mention this again. And anyway, I can see that a lot of it was my fault as well, so I can't entirely blame you for what happened."
She was right, Clark realised. There had been fault on both sides, and endless recriminations or guilt-fests were simply pointless. The important thing was that they were together, and they loved each other. His confession had probably come in the nick of time, all the same, he recognised; he doubted that either of them could have continued for much longer the way things were. And she insisted that she loved him, and wanted to be with him. They had to move forward now, instead of looking back, which meant that he had to stop obsessing over the mistakes he'd made. He inhaled deeply, forcing himself to put the guilt behind him; she'd forgiven him, so he needed to forgive himself. The sooner the better, or their relationship would be dogged by his inability to forget his earlier actions. And anyway… even though what he'd done was wrong, it had ultimately resulted in the two of them ending up engaged. Good can come out of bad, he reflected, feeling more at ease with the situation.
She stood up then. "More coffee?"
He was in the kitchen ahead of her, and she hadn't even seen him move. As he handed her a fresh cup, she shook her head in amazement. "You know, Clark, it's probably just as well I never knew you could do this kind of thing before now. I'd have insisted that you use these abilities of yours to help us with our investigations." Lois looked up from her coffee just in time to see his mischievous grin. She gasped. "You did…? And I never knew!"
"Well, I've become pretty used to hiding what I do," he explained easily. "But do you remember the night we broke into your father's office?"
Lois nodded. "So *that's* how you knew there was a secret room behind that bookcase!"
"Well, yeah, but do you remember the 'earthquake' — and how surprised you were that no-one else knew about it?"
"Yes, I remember… Clark! What're you saying?" she demanded suspiciously.
He threw her a crooked smile. "There was no earthquake…"
No earthquake… and Superman had been in the outer room while she'd been hiding in among the robot arms. Lois's eyes widened, and she took a sharp intake of breath. "You know, I thought I'd taken it all in yesterday, Clark, but this is… pretty overwhelming."
He was by her side in an instant, his arm warmly around her shoulders. "Lois, I know it must be difficult, and I promise I'll give you as much time as you need to get used to the idea. I know you must have so many memories of me as Clark, and me as Superman — and even Kal-El — and you have to try to reconcile all those memories with the one person I really am. That… can't be easy. But I'll help you as much as I can. Ask me as many questions as you want, too." He paused then, frowning briefly. "Just… there's one thing I do need you to remember. You have to keep calling me Superman when I'm in the Suit, you know that? When we're in public, anyway."
Lois nodded. "Come on, Clark, I've been discreet over the last few weeks, haven't I?" He had to admit that, surely, she reasoned. She had run into Superman professionally a few times during their 'affair,' and on each occasion she had behaved in a perfectly businesslike manner, not giving any indication that their relationship had a personal dimension.
He smiled. "Yes, you have. Okay, I trust you. But then, you know that now, don't you? I hope you do…"
Her kiss seemed to reassure him on that point, but as they separated again he studied her thoughtfully. "Lois — you said you'd been in love with me for a long time. Really?" His voice was eager, but there was also a note of uncertainty. Lois was reminded of his expression when she'd first come into the kitchen, and she suddenly realised that, despite last night and her declaration that she loved him whatever his name was — even her acceptance of his proposal, her fiance was still unsure of his position in her affections.
"Yes, really. You were right when you accused me of being jealous of Toni Taylor," she admitted, regarding him from under lowered lashes. His shocked reaction was gratifying. "And when you had to leave Metropolis during the heatwave… I didn't know who I'd miss most, you or 'Superman'."
He stood very still for a long moment, then reached for her again and enfolded her in his arms. "Lois, I don't deserve you," he breathed huskily. "But I love you, so much."
She reached up and brushed his face. "Clark, the way I treated you sometimes I don't deserve you either! But I think we deserve each other."
Nothing more was said for a long while, as each was thoroughly occupied in a long, passionate and loving kiss. But as they drew apart again Lois had something else on her mind.
"Clark — I know you wanted to be sure that I cared for you as Clark, and not as Superman. I realised that yesterday before I came over here. But, you know, you'd have been just as guilty of deceit if you'd started a relationship with me as Clark without telling me you were Superman."
His puzzled expression prompted her to elaborate. "In the same way as Superman's not who you really are, Clark Kent isn't who you really are either."
"That's crazy!" Clark objected. "Of course that's who I am. I've always been Clark — okay, my birth parents called me Kal-El, but I never knew them."
"That's not what I meant," Lois explained. "I mean that Clark Kent isn't the person you really are. Clark Kent wears glasses. Clark Kent can't fly. He doesn't bend steel with his bare hand, and he doesn't move at Super-speed. I don't mean that the powers are all that's different — that's not what I'm saying. It's just that, in a way, Clark Kent is as much a disguise as Superman is. Isn't he?" she challenged.
Clark inhaled deeply, a sign to Lois that he was taking in her argument. He was concentrating on her words as the point hit home. She was right. Clark Kent — the Clark he showed to the world — was not who he was either.
"You behave differently when you're in public as Clark," Lois pointed out. "You pretend to be short-sighted, to be clumsy, forgetful… all the things which ensure that no-one would imagine you moonlight as a Super-hero. I'm sure I have all sorts of perceptions of you which aren't reality at all."
"So you're saying you don't really know me?" Clark asked cautiously.
"Well, I'm sure there is a side of you I don't really know," Lois acknowledged. "But what I'm getting at is that if you had started dating me as Clark you'd have been just as guilty of not letting me see who you really were."
"I wouldn't have been giving you the choice," Clark admitted. "Yes, I see what you mean." He did. Lois was very perspicacious; it had never occurred to him before, in his desire for her to see the worth in Clark Kent, that the man she saw at work, who had been her partner fro almost six months, was not who he really was either. Perhaps his continual yearning to be 'normal' had prevented him from recognising that fact, but he wouldn't make that mistake again with Lois.
But he noticed then that she was looking uncertain suddenly, and he touched her lightly. "Lois?"
She threw him a wary glance. "I was just wondering… I mean, with all this soul-searching… Clark, do you still want to marry me?"
He stilled, appalled that she had drawn that conclusion from his mood. All he'd wanted to do was to ensure that she knew he understood how wrong he'd been. "Lois… sweetheart, there's nothing I want more than to marry you." Wrapping her in his arms again, he proceeded to show her how much he wanted to be her husband.
Some time later, Lois sat up in bed wondering how she'd ended up there. The last thing she remembered coherently was being in Clark's arms in the kitchen. She had a sneaking suspicion that he had flown them into the bedroom at near Super-speed, and her clothes had vanished in the same way, from what she could tell. She had a vague memory of floating, which amused her. Clark had clearly decided that, if he was going to be his true self with her, occasional use of Super-powers was something she would simply have to get used to.
She turned to throw her fiance a mock-accusing glare. "Just what did you just do to me, Clark Kent?"
He sat up, unashamedly naked, his hair tousled. "Me?" His tone and expression represented the picture of innocence, but Lois wasn't fooled.
"Yes, you, Flyboy! I didn't get here under my own steam — and I distinctly remember dressing this morning!"
Clark laughed, the sound a husky rumble. "Okay, so I… um… took off a few things. But you fell asleep before things could get any more interesting."
"Yeah." He looked chagrined, and Lois couldn't help laughing. "So I held you with your head on my chest, that's all."
"Where did the floating come in?" she challenged.
He grinned. "I like floating. And it's fun when I can hold you next to me. Did you know that my aura keeps you up?"
Lois shook her head, bemused. "Your aura…?"
Clark leaned across and kissed her swiftly before drawing away. "I'll tell you about it some other time. Right now, I think you need some more convincing that I really want to marry you…"
His lips captured hers in a ravenous kiss, his mouth slanting over hers hungrily. She responded instantly with a passion equal to his, reaching up to pull him down to her, threading her fingers through his soft black hair. Everything else seemed to vanish in that instant as she felt the roughness of his tongue as it explored her mouth, circled her own tongue, encouraged her to explore his own mouth. She kneaded his back and shoulders, longing for him.
His mouth left hers and she emitted a sigh of pleasure as he trailed soft kisses along her forehead and cheekbones, her eyelids, down to her throat and neck. His lips traced a path over her shoulders, down to her breasts and into the dark valley between them. She clutched him more tightly still, loving the sensations he could make her experience, loving him for making her feel valuable and loved.
Clark was focusing his entire attention on Lois, determined to chase away the shadows he had seen in her eyes a short time earlier. He had been so wrapped up in his own guilt and self-criticism that he had failed to understand Lois's own fears. But he should have recognised her self-doubt before now. She had told him about her previous relationships, and at the time he had felt overwhelming sympathy for her; had even promised himself silently that he would never treat her like that, never give her cause to believe that he had been using her. And then, only a short time afterwards, she had let it slip that she felt like his mistress. And this morning, she had revealed that she had felt as if she was being used.
That, combined with his inability to tell her the truth, could easily have led her to suspect that he was no better than any of the other men she'd known; that once again she had allowed herself to love and trust someone who was untrustworthy. And suddenly, almost with the force of lightning, Clark realised that if Lois had decided that about the situation, it wouldn't have been *him* she would have blamed. Oh, she would probably have decided she hated him, and have treated him accordingly. But she would have blamed herself for yet more poor judgement, for her inability to make men care enough about her to treat her decently. And her own sense of self-worth would have slumped even further.
Yes, it should have come as no surprise that she had doubted the sincerity of his desire to marry her. And yet, how could he make her understand that he had always doubted his ability to attract her for himself? That he was so overwhelmed by his luck, his sheer good fortune to have her in his life, that he felt like scooping her into his arms and flying loop-the-loops over the Atlantic with her?
"Lois, I love you," he murmured huskily as her lips trailed a moist path along his chest. "You are the best thing that's ever happened to me… I never want to let you go."
He gasped as her lips encountered his nipple; she laughed softly as she took it into her mouth. "I love it when you do that, Lois," he murmured huskily.
She swirled her tongue around for a few moments before raising her head. "I love seeing your reaction," she confessed. "I mean, you're invulnerable and all that, but the way you react to the most delicate caress… it's as if you're incredibly sensitive."
"I am — to you," he whispered, reaching out to tug her head back to where he could kiss her. "I've always reacted to your touch. I just can't help it."
"I reacted to you too," she told him softly. "I never really understood it — I tried to pretend it wasn't happening, but it was always there."
"And I confused you by coming on to you sometimes as Superman," he admitted wryly.
"You did," she agreed. "Especially that first time you kissed me properly — I was completely dazed for at least half an hour after that kiss," she pointed out mock-accusingly.
Clark racked his brain to remember the incident she was referring to, until he remembered she'd meant as Superman. "Oh — you mean when I pretended to be affected by the pheromone?" he asked contritely.
"You mean you really weren't affected?" Lois demanded, in something like relief. "Why did you kiss me, then?"
"Why do you think?" Clark's voice was rueful. "It was a perfect opportunity to enjoy something I could never have experienced under normal circumstances."
"But…" Lois raised her head to stare at him. "The night before… I'd turned up at your apartment — you could have had me at any time that night!"
"No." Clark shook his head determinedly. "You weren't your normal self. You were drugged, to put it bluntly. If I'd taken advantage of you then, I'd have been no better than the bastards who slip Roofies in women's drinks and then rape them." He hesitated, then his honesty forced him to continue. "Okay, I did eventually let my hormones get the better of me… but I still think I wouldn't have let it go further than a few kisses. Not while you didn't know what you were doing."
Lois remembered, suddenly, a distracted and wild-eyed Clark striding into the bedroom and announcing, "I can't take it any more. Lois, if you really want me, I'm yours!" She had wondered whether he'd lost his mind, before she'd realised that it was she who'd lost hers. But she had been very lucky that it was Clark she'd come to that night; most other men she knew would have been only too happy to take advantage of what she was offering.
She bent and kissed him tenderly. "Thank you, Clark." He didn't reply, but his arms tightened around her momentarily. Struck by another thought, she stared at him. "So that's why you didn't fall for me then! It wasn't that you just weren't attracted to me after all!"
He laughed; he just couldn't help himself. "Lois, I was crazily in love with you! No, the pheromone didn't affect me, and although I probably should have pretended so that no-one would wonder why I was different, I just couldn't do it. It would have hurt too much to play those sort of games with you, when I knew my feelings were real and yours weren't."
"But mine *were* real, Clark," Lois pointed out. "We found out the pheromone could only accentuate feelings which were there to begin with, right? And… I told you I'd been hiding my feelings for you for a long time."
His hands suddenly buried themselves roughly in her hair as he tugged her down to him again, claiming her lips eagerly. She met him kiss for kiss, only pausing to draw breath after several moments. Her gaze, dazed with passion, met his, and she murmured, "Make love to me, Clark."
He was only too happy to oblige.
Some time later, Lois raised her head from Clark's broad and very comfortable chest to stare at her fiance. "Clark — shouldn't you talk to your parents?"
He sat up abruptly, drawing her with him. "Yeah, I should — I'm only surprised Mom hasn't called before now. I did kind of leave them thinking I'd made a real mess of things… not that I hadn't, of course, but things have moved on since then." He reached for the phone, then hesitated. "How'd you like a trip to Smallville tonight?"
Lois frowned. "Tonight? But… we're on the late shift, we don't finish until seven…"
Clark grinned, then made an upwards scoop with his hand. "And that's only six o'clock in Smallville, and I can have us there in minutes." Glancing at his bedroom clock then, he turned back to her. "Come on, you should get dressed while I call my folks, then I'd better get you home for a change of clothes. We need to be in work in an hour."
"I was already dressed," Lois muttered grumpily as she slid off the bed.
Clark raised an eyebrow. "You saying you didn't enjoy what we did?"
"No, I'm saying it's all right for you, Mr-I-can-shower-and-dress-in-five-seconds-flat! *You* undressed me — Hey!"
Suddenly Clark had caught her by the upper arms and a moment later Lois felt as if she was at the centre of a mini-whirlwind. A few seconds later the world stopped spinning and she looked down at herself. Fully dressed. Except…
"Hey, Clark, this top's back to front!"
He paused on his way into the bathroom. "It is? How the heck was I supposed to know that? It looks the same both ways."
"Yeah, and your cape looks the same worn on your front," she threw at him in mock-sarcasm, wriggling to turn the top around. Clark smiled; the fact that she was teasing *Clark* about Superman's apparel suggested that she was certainly becoming accustomed to thinking of them as one and the same. As for his cape, well… perhaps he could come up with some alternative uses for that later. She might have thought she knew all there was to know about making love with Superman, but he felt he might be able to surprise her yet.
"Come on, we need to get you over to your place, and then get to work," he reminded her.
To his surprise, she hesitated momentarily, then said quietly, "Clark? Do you… mind if I go home on my own?"
For an instant, the little pessimistic voice inside him took over, telling him that it had all been an illusion, that she'd changed her mind and he should have expected it. But he suppressed those thoughts; it was completely irrational, not to say mistrustful, of him to doubt her now. Not after she'd buried her pride and come after him the previous evening, forgiven him, told him she loved him; not after she'd made love to him so enthusiastically this morning. And especially not after he'd realised how *she* was just as insecure as he was. She probably just wanted some time on her own, he told himself, which was hardly surprising since this development had taken both of them by surprise.
So he smiled warmly at her. "Sure, if you want. Want me to fly over in a while and drive in with you?"
"I… I'm not sure, Clark," she said hesitantly. "This… well, I'm not sure I'm ready to go public about us yet."
Lois saw him wince at her words, almost as if he was in pain, and she realised that despite everything they'd said to each other, done with each other, he was still uncertain of her feelings. She reached for him, running her hands down his arms and gripping his large hands in her small ones. "Clark… I *do* love you, but… I'm scared. And I don't want to take the chance that what we have could be spoiled by what people might say."
"I'm scared too," he admitted softly. "And… yeah, I don't much like being talked about either."
Something in his tone alerted her to the possibility that there was more to this than he was saying. "Clark…? What do people say?" Suddenly realising that of course he'd be able to hear all kind of things thanks to his enhanced hearing, she bit her lip as it occurred to her that he could well have heard things *she'd* said about him behind his back over the past six months or so, not all of which would have been pleasant. "I'm sorry," she muttered guiltily.
"Hey." He squeezed her hands gently. "You've nothing to be sorry for."
"So what have other people been saying?" she asked again.
He grimaced. "Oh… well, let's say you weren't as good as you thought you were at hiding what was going on in your life. And… I knew I wasn't being very good at hiding how I felt about… things — and people noticed."
It wasn't too difficult to read between the lines. Their colleagues had realised that she was in a relationship of some kind, and had guessed that Clark was jealous. She bit her lip as she realised just what leading the double life must have been doing to Clark over those weeks; spending his nights with her, but never able to be truly himself, and then going to work with her and having to pretend to be a completely different person, never able to treat her as the woman he was in love with and having a relationship with.
Maybe… She would have to give this some thought.
For now, she reached up and planted a hard kiss on his lips. "I better go," she told him. "We'll talk about this later, okay?"
"Okay," he agreed. "So… I'll see you at the Planet, then?"
"Yeah. And… we're still going to your folks later?"
He nodded. "I'll need to call them, but I can do that before I leave for work." Releasing her hands, he led her out of the bedroom and through the living area towards the door. "So…" He stopped by the door, his hand reaching to open it for her, but then he hesitated, moving between her and the door so as to prevent her leaving immediately. "Oh, Lois, I'm so glad you came over last night!" he exclaimed quickly, his expression telling her exactly how happy he was that she'd come to him.
"Me too." She moved into his arms, accepting his hug, welcoming the warm embrace. "I love you, Clark. Whatever you call yourself."
That made him smile. "I'm glad," he told her huskily. "Go on now, I'll see you later."
Clark returned to his bedroom, intending to finish getting dressed for work, but instead stood for a long time staring unseeingly out of the large window. Why was she so reluctant for them to be seen as a couple at work? Why did she seem to want to keep their new relationship secret? They were *engaged*! They'd even talked, the night before, about not making it a very long engagement. Surely she wasn't going to keep their marriage secret as well, was she?
He grimaced. If she really loved him, surely she would want to let people know — or at least, she would find it difficult to avoid letting people find out on their own. After all, when you love someone, you can't avoid looking at them in a particular way, he told himself. And when that love is returned, you just want to touch them, exchange glances and smiles, just to make contact and share the pleasure and joy of being in love. At least, Clark thought, that was how he felt.
Okay, he reminded himself, he'd had plenty of practice over the past few weeks at hiding his feelings about his ongoing relationship with Lois while at work. But this was different — very different. Then, he'd had to suppress what he felt because *she* didn't know that she was in a relationship with Clark Kent. Now, when she did know, and when she professed to love him as deeply as he did her, she was asking him to pretend at work that their relationship was the same as ever: partners, and sort-of friends.
So why was she so reluctant to go public about their relationship — their engagement? He sighed. She did love him, she'd told him so, over and over. But… well, he knew she loved Kal-El. He'd accepted that her feelings for his alter ego were genuine, despite his belief that she should have been able to see beyond the disguise and realise that Kal-El was *Clark*. She had told him, assured him, that she really did love Clark. But… now that pessimistic little voice was back with a vengeance. What if she didn't, really? What if she was tolerating Clark because he was her route to being with Kal-El properly, as a genuine partner rather than the mistress he'd made her feel like?
He dashed those thoughts away angrily; Lois wouldn't do that, he insisted silently to that annoying, depressing, *taunting* voice inside him. She had far too much integrity to behave like that.
No, she just didn't like being gossiped about; she'd told him that, and he would have to respect it. The pretence probably wouldn't last long anyway, he thought, trying to be upbeat. After all, if they were engaged he'd be getting her a ring pretty soon… he wondered idly whether she'd like to fly to the Far East, perhaps Singapore or Hong Kong, to choose something.
He'd go along with what she wanted, he decided, and just carry on treating her as a friend and partner at work — for now, anyway.
Turning away from the window, he decided not to call his parents just yet after all.
Lois attracted a couple of curious glances as she walked through the newsroom on the way to her desk; it then occurred to her that she'd forgotten until that moment that she'd called in sick the previous afternoon. It had been after that blazing fight with Clark, she remembered then; after he'd told her that he had nothing more he wanted to say to her and had walked off and left her, she'd felt so sick and empty inside that she hadn't been able to face going back to the newsroom. Instead, she had driven straight home, tears streaming down her cheeks, and had shut herself up in her apartment to lick her wounds.
Now that she understood the double life Clark had been leading, she could also understand how his frustration must simply have built up to the point where he couldn't stand it any longer. In the light of what she now knew about him, the reason for his explosion was clear, and she had already forgiven him his behaviour. Even without knowing he was Superman, she had been able to forgive him for hurting her, since she'd realised how she had been guilty of shutting him out.
"Lois? Are you okay, honey?" Perry's concerned voice roused her from her abstraction, and she turned to smile at her editor.
"Yes, I'm fine, Perry," she assured him. "Sorry about yesterday." She declined to volunteer any explanation, knowing that he wouldn't demand one.
The editor simply grunted and reminded her that he was expecting the finished version of a series she and Clark had been working on over the past week on his desk by late afternoon. She crisply assured him that it would be there before then, and headed on to her desk, unable to resist a sidelong glance towards Clark's desk on her way.
He was there; but then, she'd known that from the instant she stepped out of the elevator. Despite her stated intention of behaving as if their relationship hadn't changed, she'd been unable to resist searching for him, needing somehow to make contact with him, or even just to see him, to reassure herself that he was there and that she hadn't dreamed everything. His head had shot up just as she'd looked across at him, almost as if he'd sensed her presence somehow… could he have done just that, she now thought in wonderment. After all, he was Superman, and she still felt she had very little appreciation of all the things of which Superman was capable. Perhaps he could hear and recognise her breathing; perhaps he was somehow attuned to her.
At any rate, he had looked in her direction, but as soon as their eyes had made contact he'd glanced away. That had hurt, until she'd remembered that it had been she who had insisted that their relationship should remain secret at work. He was just following her wishes.
She sat down at her desk and switched on her computer; bare moments later a mug of coffee was placed on her desk and Clark's voice came from just behind her, saying, "Hi, Lois." His tone was muted, friendly but distant. She swung around to face him and saw for an instant his love for her transparent on his face, before he composed himself and it was replaced with a bland expression.
He simply briefed her, in businesslike tones, about developments in one of their investigations, and then returned to his desk. She stared after him in surprise; why was he behaving so coolly? How could he possibly be so… so *distant* after everything they'd shared last night? His behaviour hurt her… until he glanced up, obviously feeling her gaze on him, and she saw the hurt in his own eyes.
Then it hit her again: he really was obeying her request that they carry on behaving as normal, and of course for the past couple of weeks 'normal' had been a sort of studied politeness and a certain distance. She hadn't liked it, and hadn't understood it until yesterday; now she could understand it, and she still didn't like it. But… she couldn't have it both ways, her conscience pointed out, as usual irritatingly correct.
Lois tore her gaze from her partner — her *fiance* — and tried to concentrate on work. But her thoughts kept returning to Clark and the way he'd just behaved towards her — and the expression of hurt she'd caught on his face. That, coupled with the way he'd reacted in his apartment when she'd asked him to keep their new relationship to themselves for the time being, told her clearly that he wasn't happy with the subterfuge. But *why,* she asked herself. What was the problem? *They* knew the way things really were between them — what did it matter whether or not they showed their true feelings at work? Their relationship was nobody else's business!
She glanced at Clark again, finding him now seemingly engrossed in work; a tiny muscle twitched in his jaw, and she tensed, remembering when she'd seen that before. The previous evening, when, as Kal-El, he had confessed his true identity. And later in his apartment, when he'd thought she was about to tell him to get out of her life altogether. He was clearly hurting. Lois grimaced, swallowing. What was his problem? Didn't he trust her, after everything they'd said and done last night and this morning? She'd told him, over and over, that she loved him. *Him.* Clark. Not just his alter ego, Superman. So why was he acting like the spurned lover?
<He *knows* I hate to be gossiped about> she told herself savagely. He knew surely, what had happened before in the past to give her a horror of being talked about, how awful it had been for her? No… she realised suddenly that Clark actually didn't. He knew about what had happened with Claude, because she'd told him. But unless he'd been told by someone else — which was unlikely, since although Clark was a very sociable individual, he wasn't a gossip — he would have no idea about what had happened in the newsroom afterwards. How all of her colleagues had expressed false sympathy while sniggering behind her back. How they'd enjoyed the schadenfreude of seeing an ambitious colleague brought down, taught a lesson. How they'd speculated on her performance in bed — and found her wanting.
No, she couldn't go through that again, subject herself to the appalling spectacle of overhearing gossip about herself and Clark, people like Ralph wondering what Clark saw in her, speculation as to how far their relationship had progressed and how long it would take before he dumped her or she dumped him. There would be certain to be an office pool as to which of them would be the one to end the relationship. Clark just didn't understand how humiliating all of that would be for her.
But… She caught her breath suddenly as she realised that she was wrong, remembered, in fact, Clark's admission an hour or so earlier. Clark *did* know, only too well, what it was like to be talked about. Thanks to his Super-hearing, over the past few weeks he must have overheard lots of cruel comments. She could imagine it all — poor stupid Kent mooning over Lane like that; he must have known he'd never have a chance with her, he was a fool to think she'd look twice at him. Since, as he'd admitted to her earlier, he *hadn't* done a good job of hiding his frustration over what was going on in their lives, it had been obvious to all their colleagues that Clark was deeply hurt by the fact that Lois was clearly in the middle of a torrid affair. He would have heard everything which was said about him; and, as he'd acknowledged earlier that morning, hearing other people talk about him made him very uncomfortable.
He wanted to be able to show his feelings for her publicly, she knew that. And he was no doubt completely fed up with having to hide them, as he'd had to do for the past month or so. She bit her lip; would it be so hard to 'come out' and be an acknowledged couple as far as their work colleagues were concerned? Clark wasn't Claude, she reminded herself swiftly. He wasn't going to use her and dump her. He wanted to *marry* her, and she'd accepted his proposal. So why was she making him miserable like this — making both of them miserable, in fact?
Her decision made, she pretended to study some papers on her desk. In a soft whisper, she murmured, "Clark… Clark, I know you can hear me. I was being silly earlier, and I want you to play along with me now, okay?"
She raised her head then and sneaked a glance in his direction. He didn't look her way, but his entire posture suggested that he was listening, that she had his attention. She got up and strode over to his desk.
"Clark — I want a word with you!"
He turned to face her, his expression surprised. "You do? What about?"
She glared at him. "I want to know what's going on. You've been practically ignoring me for the past couple of weeks — if you've got something on your mind I want to hear it. Now!"
He got to his feet slowly, smoothing his tie as he did so. Out of the corner of her eye, Lois could see that they had the full attention of almost the entire newsroom, but she refused to take her attention off Clark. He was gazing down at her now, his expression grim, but there was a light of pure admiration in his eyes. Very briefly, and so subtly she almost missed it, he winked.
"You want to know what's going on, do you?" he demanded, his voice low, controlled, but with a simmering passion underlying his apparent calmness. "Okay, I'll tell you what's going on. I'm fed up with you ignoring me and spending all your time mooning over whoever it is you've been seeing for the last few weeks. I've put up with it for too long, and I'm not going to take it any more. You're going to have to choose — him or me!"
A collective gasp swept the newsroom, but Lois still didn't take her eyes off Clark. He advanced on her as he spoke, and as he uttered his ultimatum his hand came up to slide around the back of her neck, tugging her closer to him and tipping her face up towards his. She waited, hugely enjoying this development.
Then his mouth came down on hers, blotting out the light; his tongue invaded her mouth and she clung to him, returning his passionate kiss with enthusiasm. The ambient noise faded to nothing as the only thing she was conscious of was Clark. His proximity; his tongue exploring her mouth, his lips crushing hers; his hand holding her head firmly in his grasp; her body brought firmly up against his by his free hand clasping her around her waist. She loved this man, wanted him, needed him… for about the hundredth time since finding out the truth, she wondered how she could have worked next to him for more than six months without realising just how necessary he was to her life.
Slowly, his lips left hers and his arm fell from about her waist; there seemed to be a pause, and then, almost as if someone had switched the volume back on, she heard cheering, wolf-whistles and shouts of amazement from their colleagues. Well, that had been even more successful than she'd imagined, she thought in dazed amusement as she gazed up at Clark. He was looking down at her, his eyes alight with laughter although his expression was carefully schooled to show only stern watchfulness. As far as anyone else would be able to see, he was clearly waiting for her answer.
"Oh, I have to choose, do I?" she repeated his challenge to her. Lois pretended to consider for a moment or two, then she tilted her jaw in her trademark confrontational manner. "You've told me what you want, Clark Kent. Now I'm going to tell you what I want!"
"You are, are you?" he replied, his voice a little less collected now; this time there was a challenge in his tone. "And what's that?"
"You're going to take me out. Tonight. On a date. And we'll see whether you've got what it takes to keep up with me," she informed him, before turning to stalk away back to her own desk.
He caught her arm, deftly swinging her back to face him in an unhurried gesture. "I think I can cope with that, Lois. In fact, you might be the one struggling to keep up — who knows?"
"Who knows, indeed?" she murmured, the light of amusement in her eyes matching his. "You can pick me up at seven-thirty, Kent."
"Be ready at seven-fifteen," he countered; his lips claimed hers again in a swift kiss which, she knew, sent a clear message about which of them was in control here. Not that she objected; she was quite happy to let Clark win this round. As he released her, though, he winked again before returning to his desk.
"You better tell me later what everyone's saying about us," she murmured as she re-took her own seat; she saw his quick grin and nod which confirmed that he'd heard her instruction.
A few minutes later, her email software beeped alerting her to an incoming message; she switched to her mail program and saw immediately that the message was from Clark. Double-clicking on it, she scanned its contents quickly.
Never let it be said that you back down from a challenge! I love what you just did. Thank you. And yes, I'll tell you what's being said on the 'grapevine' about us.
I love you. And I can't wait until I get you alone so I can kiss you senseless again <g> — or maybe it's your turn next.
He hovered above Lois's apartment building, enjoying the knowledge that *this* time when he flew through her window there would be no secrets, no need to hold back any part of himself. This time, she would call him 'Clark,' not 'Superman' or even 'Kal-El,' and when she told him she loved him he would know that her love encompassed all of him.
He had been crazy to doubt her this morning, he knew that now. It had just been so new, this development in their relationship, and his insecurities had begun to resurface with a vengeance. By the time he had arrived at the Planet, he'd been ready to believe that she regretted the steps they had taken in their relationship since the previous afternoon; that she either wanted to end it, or perhaps that she just wanted Superman and was prepared to take Clark in order to get him, so long as she didn't have to acknowledge Clark publicly as her boyfriend or fiance. But that had been unfair to Lois, as well as being completely wrong. She loved him, and she had proved her feelings for him in front of the entire newsroom.
He knew what it had cost her to do what she'd done. He'd seen her expression earlier when she'd told him she hated being gossiped about, and while it hadn't registered at the time, later he had remembered a story she'd told him, about another Planet reporter who had seduced her, stolen her story and then abandoned her. He could imagine this man boasting of his conquest, perhaps, which would have made Lois the butt of unkind and malicious gossip at the Planet. He could still remember the anger in her voice when she'd told him about her 'three rules' during the first week of her acquaintance, and the pain when she'd later told him how she'd come to break each one of them. At the time, he'd felt that if he ever came across this man, Claude, he would cheerfully push the man off the top of the tallest building in Metropolis. Of course, he would also catch him before he hit the ground, he acknowledged ruefully: Superman could do nothing else. But he thought the fright should teach Claude a lesson.
He'd known the instant Lois exited the elevator, and he'd seen her look at him too; but he'd still been brooding at that point, convinced that she'd changed her mind about him. Bringing her coffee had been an attempt on his part to get her to acknowledge him, however, but he'd bungled that one too, beginning a discussion about work before she'd even had a chance to thank him, let alone initiate conversation. But then she'd taken him completely by surprise by whispering to him, expecting him to use his Super-powers to hear her. Quite apart from the totally unexpected nature of this communication, he had been very surprised at Lois's taking advantage of his powers in that manner. It had occurred to him afterwards that her matter-of-fact acceptance — and exploitation — of what he could do might be extremely useful in future, when they were out on investigations for example.
He grinned suddenly as he remembered the way he'd taken over her carefully stage-managed scene. He hadn't been sure exactly what she expected him to do when she'd given him that opening by demanding to know what was bothering him, though he suspected that she hadn't remotely expected him to come over all masterful and kiss her passionately in front of the entire newsroom. He didn't regret it, though, not for one instant. Quite apart from the fact that he'd enjoyed the kiss immensely, he had received an enormous sense of satisfaction from having taken the wind completely out of their colleagues' sails. The rest of the newsroom staff had still been discussing Lane and Kent's outrageous and completely unexpected behaviour when he'd been preparing to go home.
He had passed by Lois's desk on his way out of the newsroom; pausing, he had laid his hand on her arm to attract her attention. As she'd raised her gaze to his, he'd simply said, with one eyebrow raised, "Seven-fifteen, Lois. Make sure you're ready."
She'd smiled back, a slow and very satisfied smile. "And if I'm not…?"
"Then I might just have to make sure you *are,*" he'd teased in return, his tone mock-threatening. He'd bent and claimed her lips in a hard but quick kiss before striding swiftly towards the stairs, smiling inwardly at the shocked gasps and comments his Super-hearing had picked up as he left.
Now it was seven-fifteen exactly, and so he drifted downwards. Lois's window was open and he quickly flew through it and stepped down into the living-room. She came out of her bedroom, looking beautiful in slacks and a knitted top, and smiled at him.
"I wasn't sure whether you'd come by the window or the door," she said, almost shyly.
Stepping forward to grasp her hands, he smiled wryly in return. "The door, normally, but since we're going to Smallville and we need to travel by Superman Express, I thought…" He left the remainder of the sentence unfinished, not needing to explain.
"So, you told your parents we're coming?" she enquired after she'd reached up to plant a kiss on his lips, a kiss he returned with enthusiasm. Releasing her then, he shook his head; he'd intended to phone them, but it wasn't a call he could have made from the Planet, and he'd been distracted on his way home from work by an oil spillage on the freeway. He'd only just had enough time after that to get home, shower and get ready to leave.
"Not yet — sorry," he answered her. "But you know my folks — they're very laid back, and it won't bother them to have extra people for dinner. And they'll love to see you."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Won't they be… surprised to see me with you? Especially after yesterday," she reminded him.
"Probably," he conceded ruefully. "I could call them now, but it'll be just as quick to fly there." He extended his arms to her. "Ready?"
She moved into his arms, but tilted her head up to look at him. "They're going to get one heck of a shock when you land in their back yard with me. You sure you want to do that to them?"
Clark shrugged, knowing that in reality he was avoiding the issue. It was silly, perhaps, but he wanted to bring Lois to Smallville with him so that his parents could see that he'd undone the harm he'd caused and that she had forgiven him. If he called them first, he knew, he'd be barraged with questions — his father, in particular, would want to be convinced that Clark really had made amends. This way, they would be able to see for themselves.
But… was he just being a coward again? Possibly… but they'd find out the truth very soon anyway. He smiled ruefully at Lois. "Yeah, I should have called them. But… well, let's just go, huh? We can explain it all when we get there."
Flying with Superman was so different now that she knew it was really *Clark* holding her in his arms, controlling their journey through the clouds, Lois mused as she snuggled close to her fiance. She had flown with Superman many times over the few weeks of their relationship, and it had been wonderful, but somehow it was so different, so much more intimate, now that she knew the real man under the Suit. Idly, she traced the 'S' motif on his chest, and he immediately lowered his head to smile at her.
"I was just thinking… this feels so different now that I know," she explained.
"I know," he murmured in her ear. "All those times I took you flying recently — I really wanted to be able to tell you everything, but…"
She reached up and planted a kiss on his jaw. "I know. And it's okay. But…" She paused suddenly and grinned at him, a memory suddenly having come back to her.
"Remember when we were on your balcony drinking tea? When we were investigating that invisible man case?"
"Yes, I remember," he answered slowly. "You asked whether I'd rather be invisible or fly."
"And you said you'd prefer to fly," she reminded him.
"And *you* told me we had something in common — you wanted to fly with Superman, and I wanted to fly like him," Clark finished. "Lois, can you imagine just how much I wanted to sweep you up in my arms right then and fly off with you?"
She stared at him: that hadn't occurred to her until he'd said it. But of course, he could have done just that… "Clark, you wouldn't have wanted to do that then, would you?" she asked doubtfully, unsure that he'd really meant it. "I mean, you'd have given your secret away."
"Yes, I wanted to," he assured her, his voice soft against her ear.
"But… I was so horrible to you then, and at the same time I was fawning over Superman — you couldn't have wanted me to know the truth!" she exclaimed, feeling guilty again over her treatment of Clark.
He freed one hand and brought it up to caress her cheek. "Lois, I always loved you. Right from the minute we met — it didn't matter what you thought of me, I fell in love with you then and that was it. And yeah, I wished you'd smile at me — Clark — just once the way you did at Superman, but I was prepared to wait… to hope that maybe you'd see beyond the outward appearances." He paused, bending to brush his lips against her hair. "And yeah, I wanted you to know. I'm not sure what stopped me then — okay, afterwards I was able to rationalise it in all sorts of ways, like wanting you to like me as Clark first, but at the time I think I was just too scared, and then before I knew it the moment had passed."
"I'm glad you didn't, though," Lois told him, knowing as she spoke that she meant every word. "I wasn't ready to know then. I wouldn't have appreciated you as *Clark* — I would have wanted you to be Superman for me. And that's not what you want." She *hadn't* wanted Superman to be revealed as the 'guy next door,' or more accurately, the man she worked next to. Superman had been her hero on a pedestal, and finding out that he was Clark Kent in disguise would have spoilt her image of him. She had been far too immature, too dismissive of Clark, to know the truth. By the time she had found out the truth, she had come to appreciate Clark for the special person and friend he was, and she was also learning that her Super-hero was in many ways an ordinary man, and not the perfect icon she had imagined him to be.
Something else occurred to her then, too. Clark had told her the previous evening that he'd been in love with her for a long time. But that hadn't quite sunk in; okay, she'd heard him say it, but she clearly hadn't assimilated its significance. Only that morning she had wanted to keep their relationship a secret from their work colleagues; ostensibly because she hated being gossiped about, but she was honest enough to admit that under the surface there had also been another reason. She had not wanted their relationship to become public knowledge because, despite Clark having asked her to marry him, she hadn't trusted him — or herself — enough to believe that it could last.
And yet he had just told her how much in love with her he'd been, right from the start; right from the days when she was horrible to him, when she'd completely ignored him and hero-worshipped Superman. Even before Superman's appearance she'd been mean to Clark. Yet he had loved her. And despite the way she'd treated him, he had loved her enough to want her to know his secret right back when she only just about tolerated him.
Though of course he *hadn't* told her when he became her lover as Superman… but she could understand that as well. The stakes had changed, become far higher. Before, he would have run the risk of having her attitude to Superman changing without, perhaps, gaining very much as Clark. Once Superman became her lover, he ran the risk of losing her friendship altogether, let alone any chance of more.
There was no way that she could doubt Clark's love for her. He had proved it in so many ways, as his words to her had just reminded her. She could trust him, in a way she had never been able to trust any other man in her life. With that thought, she remembered his hurt at her initial refusal to allow their relationship to become public knowledge; she was very glad that she'd changed her mind about that. But she needed to discuss it with Clark, to explain to him why she'd felt the way she had originally, and to reassure him that she was no longer concerned. He needed to be reassured that she loved him as much as she did her.
Later, she decided. They'd have an opportunity to talk, alone, later. That wasn't the kind of conversation they could have while Clark was concentrating on holding her and flying. Besides… she wanted to be free to *show* him how much she loved him, as well.
His arms tightened around her, then he spoke again, his tone different. "We're almost there — I'll be bringing us down in less than a minute."
The farmhouse looked very different from the air, Lois thought as Clark slowed their descent in deference to her presence. He lowered her to the ground once he'd landed, immediately taking her hand and leading her towards the back door, which stood open. As they entered, he called loudly for his parents.
"Clark?" Martha's answering voice came from further inside the house, and a moment later Clark's mother came into the kitchen. She paused at the sight of her son's companion, blinked, then said, "Lois? He's told you, then?"
"Everything," Lois answered with a smile. Then, awkwardly, she added, "Look, Martha, I'm sorry to drop in on you unannounced like this, but…"
"You're very welcome," Martha interrupted. "And since you're here with Clark, I'd guess it was his idea?" She turned to give her son a mock-glare. "You could have called and let us know you were coming, Clark!"
He gave an embarrassed shrug. "Knew you wouldn't mind."
"You didn't want to give your father and me another opportunity to chew your ear off, you mean!" Martha retorted, but Lois noticed that she was smiling and that her tone was light. Turning back to Lois, Martha invited her to sit and offered drinks, adding that supper would be ready very soon.
"Oh, but I don't want to put you to any trouble…" Lois began, but Clark's mother waved her to silence.
"It's no trouble. There's always plenty to eat here, and Clark knows that — he often flies down unannounced for supper."
As Clark joined Lois at the table, having spun into jeans and a T-shirt, he scooted his chair closer to hers and took her hand. Martha's eyebrow rose at that. "Does this mean you've forgiven him, Lois?"
She gave the older woman a grin. "Well, I made him wait a while… but yes, I did." Feeling the need to be honest, Lois added, "I can't help feeling that a lot of it was my fault anyway. If I hadn't been so horrible to Clark, if I'd recognised him for the really great guy he is right at the start, he'd never have felt that the only way he could get close to me was as Superman."
Clark squeezed her hand. "Lois, don't," he murmured. "That's all over and done with — and anyway, we became friends really quickly. Best friends — there've been lots of times over the past few months when you were really there for me when I needed you."
She leaned into him and stole a swift kiss, not missing Martha's expression of delight as she moved away again. The older woman turned to Clark and suggested that, since supper was almost ready, he go out and find his father.
"You know your father, Clark! He treats that tractor like a precious possession sometimes. There's nothing whatsoever wrong with it, but he'd tinker away at it all night sometimes if I didn't go and drag him in. You make sure you don't come back without him."
As Clark, visibly reluctant, got up and left the house, Martha winked at Lois. "He knows that's not strictly true as well as I do, honey, but it gives us a chance to talk without him here!" She grinned conspiratorially and took a seat opposite Lois. "So are the two of you together now?"
"Yeah, we are," Lois confirmed. "And it's wonderful — I thought I was happy when I was with Kal-El, but I can't believe how much happier I am now that Clark and I are together and in love with each other." She didn't mention their engagement, feeling that it wouldn't be fair to rob Clark of the opportunity to surprise his parents himself.
"Oh, I'm so pleased!" Martha exclaimed. "You should have seen Clark yesterday — he was so upset, really depressed because he thought he'd destroyed any chance of a relationship with you. He thought you wouldn't even want to be his friend any more."
Lois grimaced. "I saw him when he came back to Metropolis — he was pretty much the same then."
"You know, Jonathan and I were very angry when we found out what he'd done," Martha commented quietly.
Lois nodded. "I'm sure you were — and he told me about that, anyway. Martha, Clark and I have talked all this through. I understand why he did it, and I really do think that some of it was my fault anyway. If I hadn't been so starry-eyed over Superman in the beginning, if I'd paid more attention to Clark recently when it was obvious that he was upset about something…" She shrugged. "We both made mistakes. And we've both forgiven each other for them."
Martha reached across the table and squeezed Lois's hand. "I knew you were right for Clark the first time I met you. You've been so good for him. He's become so much more confident since he met you — and, of course, he'd never have created Superman in the first place if it hadn't been for you."
That made Lois sit up straight and stare at Martha in amazement. "Me? But… what did I do?"
She then listened in amazement as Clark's mother told her about her son's decision to create a secret identity for himself, to wear a disguise, and explained that it had all come about thanks to Lois's suggestion that Clark should bring a change of clothes to work. She was even more taken aback to be told that Clark had, not very long after, come very close to giving up his Superman role because of his frustration due to Lex Luthor's tests, and that again it had been her own words which had made him change his mind. She stared at Martha, wide-eyed. "I remember that conversation… Clark really looked depressed, and for once I wanted to be nice to him instead of being smart-assed… I never realised I was actually telling *Superman* that whatever he could do was enough!"
"But you did," Martha pointed out, "and it was what Clark needed to hear."
Something else occurred to Lois then. "*Lex Luthor* was testing him?"
"So Clark says," the older woman answered, her tone seeming wary to Lois's ears. "He's… a friend of yours, isn't he?"
Lois shrugged. "I'm not sure anyone could call Lex a friend. But yes, I know him. Not very well, by the sound of this… I think I'm going to have to talk to Clark about this."
"I think you might want to," Martha suggested. "You do know he's been… well, jealous of your interest in Lex Luthor?"
"I… well, yeah, I suppose I did, but I sort of ignored it," Lois confessed. "But there was never anything in it, you know. I wanted the first exclusive Luthor interview, and then I suppose I was a little flattered that this hugely successful billionaire businessman and former Man of the Year seemed to be interested in me. But I was always far more interested in Superman."
"Yes, and that bothered Clark as well, you know, Lois," Martha added. "I think one of the reasons Clark found it hard to tell you the truth over the past few weeks is that he was afraid of how it might change your relationship. He knew how you reacted to Superman, that you've always been attracted to him. He also knew how you felt about him as Clark, and he was so happy that the two of you had become best friends. Sure, he wanted more. But he was afraid that, once you knew that neither of them were what they seemed, you might not like the real Clark, the Clark who is a farmer's son from Kansas but who can also fly. He's always felt very awkward about being different, which is why he tries so hard to fit in."
Lois nodded. "I think I'd figured that out, between last night and this morning. But, Martha, I told him last night that I didn't want either Superman or Clark any more — I wanted the real person, the one only you and Jonathan see. I think he understands that — in fact," she added with a soft smile, remembering their lovemaking that morning, "I'm pretty sure of it."
"I'm glad," Martha answered, returning Lois's smile. She got up from the table and gestured towards the door. "We'll talk more some other time, honey. I can hear Jonathan and Clark coming now, and supper's almost ready."
Clark went straight to the barn where, he knew, he would find his father. His mother's manoeuvring had been very obvious, but he knew better than to try to deny her an opportunity to talk to Lois alone. He was almost surprised to see that his father was actually tinkering in the tractor's engine compartment; smiling, he coughed gently, not wanting to startle the man and cause him to hurt himself.
"Mar… Clark!" Jonathan exclaimed as he straightened and turned around. "I didn't hear you arrive!"
"We got here about ten minutes ago, Dad," Clark replied easily, moving to stand beside the older man.
"We… Who's with you?" Jonathan asked suspiciously.
"Who do you think?" Clark enquired, raising one eyebrow and grinning slightly.
"Lois? She's still speaking to you, then?" his father asked, his tone amused.
Clark didn't respond immediately; removing his glasses and hooking them into the neckline of his T-shirt, he stared down into the bowels of the tractor's engine. "Problem?"
"Yeah, there's a wire I'm trying to re-connect but I can't quite get to it…"
Clark gestured to his father to stand aside, then reached down, found the offending wire and stared at it; in less than a second a tiny spiral of smoke rose up and the job was done. Checking around for any other signs of damage, he answered his father's question at the same time. "Yeah — I told her everything, grovelled, and to my amazement she came over to my place later yesterday evening and said she still wanted to be with me." His expression indicated his incredulity and relief at the outcome. "Seems I under-estimated her, or at least her feelings for me as opposed to Superman."
Jonathan smiled slowly. "See, your mom was right — she does love you. You as Clark, I mean, not just the guy who wears the fancy dress." He paused, then winked at his son. "Not that I can imagine why, after what you did to her. Surprised she didn't tell you you were nuts and just throw you out."
"Yeah, I know," Clark agreed. "I had absolutely no right to expect that she'd ever want to be my friend again after that — after everything I did as Superman and then the way I spoke to her yesterday. But Lois… she is an incredible person. And she loves me too, and she said she didn't want to be without me. So… she's forgiven me and everything's just perfect." He stopped to gather breath, grinning in delight. "I could never have imagined being so happy — and you don't need to tell me I don't deserve it, I know that."
"I'm glad it worked out for you, son," his father assured him. "We were just disappointed that you hadn't told her the truth sooner. It just wasn't like you, and you know your mom and I weren't happy about it. But we guess you won't do anything like it again, and if she's forgiven you…"
"Well, you can ask her that yourself — in fact, you don't need to bother, I'm sure Mom's already done that," Clark informed his father. "Look, Dad, I know what I did was wrong. I know I treated her badly — *used* her. In fact, you know, she told me she felt like Superman's mistress."
"Yeah, you mentioned that yesterday," his father replied, shutting down the hood of the tractor. "And I know that made you feel worse about the situation."
"It did — but that was because I knew she was right. Because I only let her see a part of who I was, and because I let her know she wasn't getting the full picture, she felt like a mistress. And… I never wanted that."
"Well, I guess since she's forgiven you she understands that you never intended it," Jonathan remarked, snagging his bulky jacket from where it hung on a nail just inside the door. He paused before leading the way out to the yard; Clark moved to stand beside his father and, as he always did when in Kansas, tilted his head to look up at the wide, unbroken expanse of sky above him. It was twilight now, and the sky was clear: it would be a beautiful starry night later.
His father was speaking again; he turned his gaze back to the older man. "Clark, you have to forgive yourself," Jonathan Kent was saying. "Seems to me you've got Lois's forgiveness, but until you give yourself absolution your guilt's always going to be there between you two."
How did his father know… how could he understand…? As ever, Clark was struck by this man's perceptiveness. Yes, only that morning he'd told himself that he needed to forgive himself the wrong he'd done. But he hadn't thought he'd given away any hint of that in this exchange with his father. Although, he remembered suddenly, he'd shown his feelings of remorse and guilt clearly enough in his discussion with them the previous day. And his father did know him very well.
He reached out and patted his father's back. "You're right, Dad — and I'm trying. Knowing that Lois has forgiven me makes it easier." Smiling then, he added, "Come on — Mom's waiting to serve supper."
"You're getting *married*!"
Lois thought, as she watched the emotions criss-crossing Martha's face, that if Clark had wanted their news to have 'impact,' he'd certainly succeeded. Ever the effective journalist, knowing the value of a good story properly presented, he'd waited until everyone had finished dessert before casually taking Lois's hand, raising it to his lips, and then equally casually drawling, "By the way, Mom and Dad, we have some news for you."
His parents had both looked attentively in their direction; Clark had deliberately paused before continuing, and he'd smiled and gazed at Lois with an expression which made her want to melt at his feet. Only then had he turned back to his parents, and announced softly, "Lois and I are engaged."
She thought it was time she contributed, if only in an attempt to discover how his parents really felt; Martha's reaction was unclear as yet. Laying her head against Clark's shoulder, she turned her gaze to her future mother-in-law. "Yes — I love Clark, and to be honest I've had enough of having an affair with him, so…" She shrugged, smiling to assure Martha that she was teasing.
"Oh, I think it's wonderful news!" Martha exclaimed, so enthusiastically Lois couldn't doubt her sincerity. "It just seems very soon — are you both sure it's what you want?"
"I *know* it's what I want, Mom — and you know it's what I've wanted for a very long time," Clark interjected quietly, his tone deeply sincere. "Dad, you remember what I told you, when I first moved to Metropolis?"
"I remember, son," Jonathan confirmed. "And I know your mother and I are very happy for you both."
Feeling that perhaps Clark's parents needed convincing of her feelings, Lois spoke again. "I know this may seem very new to you, but really I've been in love with Clark a long time. It just… kind of distracted me having him flying around as Superman too. I… well, I fell for Superman first because he was just… well, like no-one I'd ever met before. But what made me love Superman is all the qualities Clark has: his honesty, his goodness, his decency, his *caring.* And once I knew Superman was Clark, it all made sense. I'd been trying to pretend I wasn't in love with two men — and then suddenly I knew I wasn't, that there was only one after all."
But Clark was frowning slightly, and he shifted a little away from her. "Honesty, Lois? I'm not sure…"
"Clark, that's the only thing you've ever been dishonest about with me," she insisted quickly, before his guilt could get the better of him again. "And I understand why you had to keep it a secret, and that's the end of it."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, drawing her back against him and dropping a kiss on the top of her head. "I love you, Lois," he murmured softly, clearly not remotely embarrassed about saying it in front of his parents.
But then, she reflected, Clark's parents were the type who would be fazed by very little. Okay, they would be *disappointed* if their son did something of which they didn't approve, but they would love him all the same; they wouldn't complain or criticise beyond one discussion to let him know they disapproved. Again, she considered how different were his parents from hers — how different was his relationship with his parents. She couldn't imagine telling either of her parents about the past few weeks — okay, she couldn't tell them that Clark was Superman anyway, but even the thought of discussing with them the fact that she'd had an intimate relationship with someone well-known was just impossible to contemplate. But then, Ellen Lane had never been the type of mother she could call twice a week and have a good gossip with.
And she could imagine the reaction she'd get when she told her parents about her impending marriage to Clark. Sam would probably be disappointed that his daughter was marrying at all: he'd assume that it meant she'd turn her back on her career and become a housewife and mother… which just showed how little he knew her, she mused with a touch of sadness. And Ellen… Ellen would feel let down because Lois wasn't marrying someone rich and successful like… Like Lex Luthor, she realised slowly. Her mother had certainly been very supportive of that friendship. It hadn't seemed to matter that Lois had told her she wasn't actually romantically interested in Lex, didn't find him attractive.
But her parents didn't matter. If they couldn't be happy for her and Clark, then she would just ignore their reactions — what mattered was the two of them. Herself and Clark; and his parents, who were opening a bottle of sparkling wine and setting four glasses on the table to drink a toast to the newly-engaged couple.
For a time, Lois simply allowed the conversation to flow over her as she turned in her seat so she could watch Clark; he had removed his arm from around her in order to hold his drink, so she was able to study him easily. He was so relaxed here, in his parents' home, in the environment in which he'd grown up and with the people who knew him best, loved him most. He had taken his glasses off while outside with his father and hadn't put them back on afterwards, and she reflected that he looked so different without them. Sure, he hadn't been wearing them in his apartment that morning, but the sight of his naked face was still new to her. Yet he still looked more like Clark than Superman, she thought, studying his features, the smooth planes of his face, that strong square jaw, his deep brown eyes and black hair, styled in a loose, ruffled manner with that one stubborn lock which insisted on falling over his forehead.
She'd seen him in this house — in this town — before, of course, and she remembered then being surprised at the new, more laid-back Clark she'd seen then. That had been the first time she'd really begun to see him as a man and a friend, she reflected. Before then, he'd been a colleague, someone she occasionally regarded as an irritant, most of the time thought of as just someone she had to work with. In Smallville, on his home territory, he'd been different. Attractive… downright sexy in those faded blue jeans which moulded themselves to him like a second skin, and that soft blue cotton shirt which looked terrific on him. She had actually been jealous of his old school-friend, she remembered with an inwardly wry smile. Not that that had been the first time she'd experienced jealousy over Clark: she'd never have admitted it at the time, but both Cat Grant and Toni Taylor had induced agonies of jealousy within her, and she'd never understood why.
<Wouldn't admit the reason why, more like> she pointed out to herself now, wondering why she hadn't done more than just dance with Clark at the Corn Festival. <Because I was dazzled by Superman; because I didn't want to admit that a mere man, let alone someone I worked with, was good enough for Lois Lane>
He was even more relaxed now than on that first occasion she'd been here, she considered now as she watched him laugh and joke with his parents. For a moment, she wondered why, but then the obvious explanation occurred to her. He didn't have to hide anything this time. She knew he was Superman; last time, she hadn't, and he'd had to go to great lengths to stop her finding out.
With that, she inhaled sharply as she realised that he *hadn't* been suffering from allergies. And that Trask really *had* wanted to kill him…
"Lois? Are you okay?" Clark's voice was concerned, his gaze worried.
"Did… did Trask know who you are?" she asked, her voice cracking as the horror of that afternoon came flooding back to her.
He nodded. "I had to tell him. He was threatening to kill everyone if I didn't get him Superman."
"And… he had Kryptonite… he could have killed you! When he shot at you…" She trailed off, simply staring at him. She felt a reassuring hand on her arm, and turned briefly to see Martha smiling warmly at her.
"Yes, I didn't have my powers then," Clark confirmed. "You saved my life then, Lois, you know that."
Her smile was crooked. "Just one tiny point on my side of the score-sheet then, Clark — you've been saving my life ever since we met!"
"Who's counting?" His voice was light and the remark was accompanied by one of Clark's rare stunning smiles; he smiled frequently, but this one had always had the power to make her heart stop.
"Just don't ever stop, huh?" she asked him, a little shakily.
"I'd have to stop breathing first," he assured her, his voice husky.
"Come for a walk," Clark invited some time later. It was close to ten o'clock, Smallville time, and his parents had just excused themselves to go to bed. As farmers, they had to get up much earlier than citydwellers did, they had reminded their visitors before departing. He knew that, since Metropolis time was an hour ahead of Smallville, he should really take Lois home; but he didn't want to leave just yet. It was a beautiful night outside, and he didn't want to waste it.
She got to her feet, smiling warmly at him. "I'd love to."
He held out his hand to her, then led the way outside and along the path which led to his favourite part of the farm. Down to the pond, and across from there to the small wooded area in which his tree-house — his Fortress of Solitude — was hidden. No-one outside his family had ever seen that tree-house, but somehow he thought that Lois might get to see it tonight. If she wanted to, of course.
"Warm enough?" he asked solicitously as he guided her along the moonlit path, releasing her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders. She moved closer, curling her own arm around his waist.
"Yeah, I'm okay," she assured him. "And if I get cold, I know you can always warm me up!"
He could, of course, and he'd done that on a couple of occasions when Kal-El had taken her for walks in remote areas. Again, he was pleased that she was being very matter-of-fact about his powers: her acceptance that *Clark* could do all of the amazing things which were taken for granted as part of Superman's repertoire.
"So… did you have a good time this evening?" he asked, a little anxiously. "I hope you didn't think my parents were being too interfering — we're just a very close-knit family."
"I know you are, Clark, and that's one of the things I envy you," she told him, her soft voice sounding a little wry. "I love your parents. They really *care* about you, and you're so lucky to have them."
"Oh, I know that, believe me," he assured her. "When I think of what might have happened, who might have found that spaceship… it makes me shudder sometimes. I could easily have ended up in a laboratory somewhere. Instead of which, I got raised by the best parents anyone could ask for."
<And you grew up to be the best, most decent, caring man I could ever meet> Lois reflected once again, and nudged him with her hip. Remembering something she'd meant to talk to him about, she changed the subject. "Clark… I'm sorry about this morning, about saying I didn't want to go public about… us."
His arm about her shoulders tightened. "It's okay, sweetheart. I figured out afterwards that you had to have heard people talking about you after… Claude. And I could see how that would make you want to avoid giving people cause for gossip."
"Yeah, that's true," she agreed. "But you're not Claude, and you could never be. So I was wrong to let what other people might think bother me. It's not as if you're going to sleep with me and then dump me — we're getting married!"
"Lois, I've always been far more worried about the possibility of you dumping me, once you found out the truth!" he answered her quickly, and to her surprise. Yes, she'd known for some time that Clark was less confident than his outward appearance usually suggested, but she wasn't used to men allowing her to see their vulnerabilities. He smiled then, and continued the conversation. "I was really impressed by what you did, though."
"Yeah? I thought you took control of that pretty quickly!" she threw back at him. "I'm not sure what I expected you to do, but you sure showed me a different side of Clark Kent!"
"And the rest of the newsroom," he added with a quick grin. "I heard some shocked gaps and mutters when I ordered you to choose between me and the mythical other man, but when I grabbed you and kissed you, I thought Ralph was going to fall over!"
"So what was the consensus about our little display?" she asked, highly curious.
He laughed, hugging her close. "It did wonders for my credibility, I'll tell you that!" As she turned to gaze up at him, he bent his head and stole a swift, hard kiss. "I don't think anyone thought I had it in me to stand up to Mad Dog Lane, much less issue orders like that. They expected you to slap my face and tell me where to get off, and they were pretty stunned when you asked me out. And no-one thought I'd survive after I countermanded your instruction about the time I could pick you up!"
"So… what bets were being laid about tonight, then?" she asked, something compelling her to ask the question, even though she hated the thought of her private life being the subject of the newsroom betting pool.
"Oh… the odds were pretty even as to whether I'd be sleeping alone tonight," Clark answered, his tone a little awkward even though he was trying to make light of it. "I tried to tune out at that point — I got the impression that Ralph had been knocked back pretty convincingly at some point…?" He glanced at her for confirmation.
"I told him that if he was the last man on Earth and I was the last woman, he would *stay* the last man on Earth," she gritted out, then laughed at the memory of their colleague's chagrined expression as she'd turned and stalked off. "Clark…" she returned to the earlier topic. "I've decided, I couldn't care less what they say about us. If they want to speculate on our sex life, let them. We'll be telling people we're engaged soon enough anyway."
"Yeah, once I get you a ring," he replied. "I thought maybe a trip down to Singapore or something like that at the weekend?"
Her lips curved in a beautiful smile, making him want to kiss her thoroughly. "I'd love that."
He caught her to him, slanting his lips over hers hungrily, his tongue invading her mouth as she responded eagerly to his kiss, her arms imprisoning him against her. Her body felt soft and warm and deliciously responsive in his arms, and he smoothed her hair with one hand while holding her against him with the other, deepening the kiss.
Breaking away to let her breathe at last, he stood and simply gazed at her, taking in every detail of her passion-flushed face, the way her chest heaved as her breathing returned to normal, the shining light in her eyes as she gazed back at him.
"Do I have some dirt stuck to my face or something?" she asked after a few moments, eyeing him curiously.
"Huh…? No, I'm just enjoying looking at you," he assured her, his voice husky again. "Lois, you wouldn't believe how good it is to be with you like this, on my home patch, as *me,* and be able to kiss you, hold you, without having to pretend. All those times when I had to put on the Suit to be with you, and remember to maintain my Superman persona… and all the time I had to watch what I was saying, remember what Superman's supposed to know as opposed to what Clark knows, and think about how Superman, or Kal-El, behaves so that I wouldn't suddenly act like Clark and have you guess…" He grimaced. "You don't have to remind me that it's all my own fault, that I got myself into that situation…"
"Hush." She laid her hand on his arm, reaching up to plant a soft kiss on his cheek. "We agreed that's all in the past. And you're right, it is great being with you like this."
"Oh, Lois, you have no idea…" he murmured passionately, sweeping her into a deep embrace. All those weeks when he'd been wracked by grief and tormented by doubt seemed little more than a dream now, now that he had Lois in his arms and in love with him. With *him* — Clark, not with his alter ego. Oh, he would never want to lose those wonderful nights spent in her arms, having her teach him how to love her, getting to know the caresses and touches which pleased her. But every morning as he'd left her bed and gone home to prepare for work the joy he'd experienced had faded as guilt had swept over him in the cold light of day.
Now, she was his, and he was hers, without hesitation or deceit on either part. Tilting her head up to his, he kissed her again.
Lois returned the kiss, her senses reeling at the feel, the taste of Clark. At this moment, she felt that she could never get enough of him, would never want to stop kissing him, stop loving him. It was hard to believe that a little over twenty-four hours ago she had been practically falling into despair, convinced that her Kryptonian lover was about to end their relationship and that she had lost Clark's friendship. And yet here she was now, the beloved of this man now holding her in his arms.
This man… this man who was so familiar to her, and yet now in many ways almost a stranger. Her companion — her lover — wasn't Clark, wasn't Superman; instead, the two men she'd felt closest to, *loved,* seemed to have coalesced into this chameleon-like man who had just been kissing her witless. Seeing him in Smallville had certainly shown her an entirely new dimension to Clark's personality. Flying there with him, he'd been mostly Superman, except for his softly-voiced confession about their long-ago conversation on his balcony; in his parents' kitchen, he'd been all Clark except that… when he'd smiled at one point, the pure, joyous grin had been entirely Superman. And the intense stare he'd given her when he'd told her he'd have to stop breathing before he could stop looking out for her safety… again, that had been Superman's — Kal's — way of looking at her.
His kisses were even subtly different. Kal had been deeply passionate and frequently playful, but now Clark kissed her as if the emotion came from deep within his soul.
He still seemed amazed that she'd been able to forgive him his deception, but, she mused as she allowed him to deepen the kiss further, he seemed to ignore one vital element. Up until he'd told her the truth, she had believed herself to be in love with two men. *Torn between two lovers* — that was the old song, and she'd never, before then, been able to get her head around the possibility. How was it possible to be in love with two men at the same time? She hadn't believed herself capable of such… well, such duplicity. And yet, when she'd finally acknowledged the truth of her feelings for Clark, she'd understood. *She* had been torn between two men, both of whom she loved dearly, was *in* love with.
Then she'd discovered there was only one man — and there had been no doubt in her mind. Her entire future, her life, lay with this man. Clark Kent, Kal-El, from Krypton by way of Kansas, was her destiny.
She was about to pull away from him, to suggest that they should return home and finish what they'd started, when she suddenly realised that her feet were no longer on the ground. Tearing her mouth away from Clark's, she gazed up at him, startled. "What's happening?"
He smiled, his white teeth a beacon in the darkness. "I want to show you something."
The branches of a nearby tree were getting closer as he floated them upwards, but Lois was surprised to realise that she wasn't remotely alarmed. She trusted Clark completely, knew that he wouldn't take her into any danger or run the risk that she might be hurt. Suddenly she realised that she could see some sort of construction in the tree — a tree-house! "Clark… did you build this?" she demanded.
Grinning, he explained. "Yeah, once I started floating I built this up here. It's far enough off the ground and hidden by leaves that it can't be seen from the ground, and no-one can get up here by any other means. It was where I came when I wanted to be alone — to think, usually."
The tree-house was sparsely furnished and decorated; there was a narrow mattress in one corner, with a brightly-patterned blanket thrown over it, and a couple of posters and newspaper cuttings were affixed to the walls. Once Clark set her on her feet, Lois went over to look at one of these: it turned out to be an article from a school newspaper on the effectiveness of the student representative committee… by Clark Kent. Like her, he had written for his school's paper, she realised with a smile.
Turning back to him to remark on the similarity, she noticed that he was holding something: a tiny chest, not much larger than the palm of his hand. "What's that?" she asked with interest.
He indicated the mattress. "Have a seat, and I'll show you." He sat down beside her, tugging her close to him so that their bodies were touching, and wrapping one arm around her shoulders. With his free hand, he placed the chest on the bare board floor and opened the lid to reveal an opaque globe. As she watched, he picked it up and let it rest in his palm; suddenly it began to emit a soft, luminous glow.
"What's… happening?" she breathed, staring at him in amazement.
"This was the navigation device from the spacecraft which brought me to Earth from Krypton," he explained. "Do you remember Bureau 39's UFO warehouse?"
"Sure! The place that was swept clean when we went back with Perry and the police? How could I forget!"
"Yeah — well, I found this there."
"You did what?! You never told me!" She threw him an accusing stare.
"Hey, hey!" His voice was soft, gentling. "We barely knew each other then, Lois. While we were both looking around, I X-rayed under one of the tarps and saw something with my symbol on — you know, the 'S' symbol from my Suit? I didn't even know what that was then, only that it had been on the blanket I was wrapped in when Mom and Dad found me. But when I realised that this… object had the same symbol, I knew it had to have something to do with me. This globe was beside it. I couldn't take the spaceship because you were with me, but I was able to slip the globe in my pocket." He paused and Lois gazed at him, amazed by this story. "That was the first time in my entire *life* that I'd had any clue about where I came from, other than what my folks were able to tell me."
"That… must have been one hell of a shock then," she murmured, knowing her words to be an understatement.
"Yeah. I wanted to search the entire place, to find out what else they had, but all I had time for was to X-ray a couple of file cabinets. One of them had a file labelled 'Smallville 1966,' and I knew that had to be me too, because my folks found me in May 1966."
"What was in the file?" she demanded impatiently when he didn't continue.
But Clark shook his head. "I have no idea. I didn't have time to look — and when we went back it was gone."
"Oh, Clark!" she exclaimed, feeling his sense of loss almost as if it was her own. "No wonder you looked devastated when we went back — and all I could think of was the story we'd lost!"
His arm tightened around her, and he dropped a swift kiss on the top of her head. "I did get to find out more — when Trask came to Smallville, for instance. I found out then that Bureau 39 had found my spaceship in 1966, and they thought the Kryptonite had travelled to Earth in its wake."
"So… Trask really did know some things about Superman? He wasn't just crazy?"
"No, he knew more than he realised," Clark answered slowly. "I think he'd half-guessed that Superman might be someone everyone thought of as a normal man, but he had some weird idea that Superman might have actually taken over someone's mind, rather than actually *being* an ordinary guy." He was quiet for a moment, remembering their awful encounters with the government agent, Lois assumed. Then he stirred slightly before resuming his narrative.
"But the other thing was this — the globe," he explained, jerking his head towards it. "When I held it for the first time, it glowed, like it's doing now. But then I saw an image — like a two-dimensional map of Earth. Then it changed, and showed me a red land-mass, and it was almost as if something spoke to me, put the name in my head — Krypton. In that second, I knew I was from Krypton. I wasn't an experiment, a clone, a mutant — I was actually an alien from another planet. And you know, Lois, however scary that realisation might have been, it wasn't half so scary as not knowing at all!"
She simply couldn't imagine how it must have been for him, growing up, having absolutely no idea where he came from or why, Lois thought as she reclined against him listening to his explanation. It made so much sense that Clark had always been able to empathise with the underdog, or those who were different in some way. He himself had always been different, set apart somehow.
He flashed her a quick grin. "It was after that I came to you at the Planet and gave you your first exclusive interview — remember?"
Oh, she remembered all right, she thought, flushing as the scene came back to her. "I don't know which of us was more tongue-tied!"
"Oh yeah, tell me about it," he murmured with a grin. "You'd think a reporter could come up with a better line than 'truth and justice,' wouldn't you?"
"Or 'damn the torpedoes'," she added, agreeing. Turning to look at the globe again, still resting on his palm, she jerked her head towards it. "So why's it glowing?"
"Watch," he whispered. Right on cue, as if it had been waiting for Clark to finish his narrative, the globe seemed to levitate above Clark's hand, and then there was a flash of brilliant light and suddenly an older version of Clark, clad in long, flowing robes, stood several feet away. She gasped in shock. "It's a hologram," he murmured in her ear.
Lois was glad that Clark's body was supporting her, for by the time the five separate messages had finished playing she felt she couldn't have held herself up any longer. It was… *incredible* that there existed — or had existed, she supposed — a civilisation which had access to the kind of technology which could create that kind of communication device. Or, she supposed, a spaceship capable of carrying a baby across space and galaxies to Earth, supplying him with the necessities of life along the way. "That was… your real father?"
"My Kryptonian father and mother," he confirmed. "Jor-El and Lara. That's how I found out about myself," he added. "That night when I came to you and told you that my name was Kal-El — that's how I found out."
"It's just unbelievable," she said again, barely able to find an intelligent phrase with which to respond. "You must have been stunned — I know I would have been."
Clark nodded. "It was… just awesome, Lois. I didn't get to see the messages one after the other like that, though — it happened over the space of a day or so. When I came to you that night I'd seen three of them, though I knew after the first one that my birth name was Kal-El."
Releasing her suddenly, he got to his feet, grasping the globe and shutting it away again in the chest. "I keep it here now — it's safe here and I can always find it if I need it."
"I'm so glad you showed it to me," she murmured, gazing at him with shining eyes. "I feel… really privileged."
"Hey — we're getting married! There're no secrets between us now, and not ever again. I promise you that."
"No secrets," she echoed. "Which reminds me — we need to talk about Lex Luthor." Not to her very great surprise, Clark's expression clouded over, but she rushed into speech again before he had a chance to comment. "Clark — he never meant anything to me! I just wanted the interview, and, yeah, I was a little bit flattered by his interest. But I wasn't attracted to him, not in the least." She bit her lip briefly, then continued. "Martha said Luthor was testing you?"
"Yeah, when I first started being Superman. He wanted to try to stop me, I think," Clark explained.
"You think he's capable of some pretty nasty stuff," Lois replied; it was a statement, not a question.
"I do," Clark answered quietly.
"Then that's good enough for me," Lois told him. "How about we make that Lane and Kent's next big investigation?"
"Fine by me," Clark agreed. In an unexpected movement, he was kneeling on the mattress beside her, his face close to hers, his body suddenly tantalisingly close to hers. "We can talk about that tomorrow, Lois. For now… come here." The final two words were growled softly but commandingly, and she obeyed almost as if compelled.
His hands gripped her shoulders, drawing her against him in a movement which was less gentle than she'd come to expect of Clark in the past twenty-four hours; it was more reminiscent of her Super lover in one of his more passionate moods. In this frame of mind, she would expect Kal-El to ravage her, to launch such an assault on her body and senses that she would be powerless to resist even had she wanted to. And he had done that once or twice, and their passion had been… unforgettable. Intense, consuming, rough, impatient and demanding, but also speaking of their desire to be completed each as a part of the other.
His mouth was fierce on hers, his tongue plundering the warm, wet depths of her mouth as his arms pinioned her against him; she wrapped her own arms around him in return, welcoming his passion. She was barely aware of movement until she felt the brush of something against her arm; opening her eyes, she realised that they were no longer in the tree-house, but were floating back down to the ground. That surprised her: she had expected that they would make love on the mattress in his own private domain.
His lips left hers briefly, trailing a moist fire across her face to her ear. "I want to make love with you under the stars, out in the open, with nothing above us except the sky," he whispered raggedly. "I want to be a part of you, to feel you as a part of me, out here where nothing, no-one, can come anywhere near us. Do you want that too?"
"Oh, God, yes!" she gasped, catching her breath as his teeth tugged gently on her earlobe. "Clark, yes!"
There was a rustling, some swift movement which, to Lois, was just a blur, and suddenly she was lying on the ground in a clearing surrounded by trees, her resting-place cushioned by… what? Groping beneath her, she realised that he'd spread the grass with the blanket from his tree-house. Staring upwards then, she could see the night sky, dramatically black except for the stars winking at her; a perfect night for lovers, she thought.
The perfect night for them, for her and Clark… she reached out her hand towards him, and he knelt down beside her.
Much later, once their passion had finally calmed and lassitude set in, they lay back together on the blanket. Anxious that she shouldn't get cold, Clark wrapped his arms about her, drawing her down onto his chest; Lois snuggled herself against him, laying her head in the hollow of his shoulder. "Nice," she murmured sleepily.
"Yeah," he sighed against her hair as he began to stroke her body with slow, caressing movements of his hand. He felt her relax, and within seconds her breathing had slowed; she was asleep. He smiled in amusement; it was hardly surprising she was tired. It had been a long day for both of them, following on from the night before when neither of them had got much sleep They'd made love for hours after she'd come to his apartment and convinced him that she really did love *him,* the real Clark Kent as opposed to the split personas he showed to the world. Then they'd talked, then kissed, and made love again, until finally falling asleep some time in the early hours of the morning. He might not need much sleep, Clark thought wryly, but Lois was only human. He'd have to see that she got sufficient sleep in future.
Which meant, he thought, that he should take her home.
Home… he paused at that thought, realising that this was another part of their future plans they hadn't yet had time to discuss. They were engaged, getting married some time later this year, he hoped — but they hadn't yet talked about living arrangements. Did Lois want to keep her apartment until they married? Did he want to live separately until then? Or were they going to move in together?
He smiled suddenly, gazing back up at the starry expanse of sky above them, as the thought of what *living* with Lois would mean struck home to him. Women's underwear in his bathroom, no closet space, having to ensure a supply of healthy food and decaffeinated coffee as well as the fattening snacks he preferred… and always having the woman he loved to come home to after a tough rescue, waking up beside her in the mornings, kissing her awake, making breakfast for her, making *love* with her… Yes, he decided there and then. He wanted Lois to move in with him.
His apartment made more sense than hers, he thought; he had his secret compartment and the balcony where his Super departures and arrivals attracted no attention. She wouldn't miss her place that much, he hoped: as far as he knew, Lois did like his apartment. And anyway, they could probably look for a house to buy, he thought. With their combined salaries, and he was due a raise anyway… Clark grinned from sheer joy as he allowed his imagination to plan out their future. He knew he'd have to discuss it with Lois before anything could be finalised, but a man could dream…
But he roused himself from his reverie a few moments later; Lois was sound asleep, it was late and getting cold — or at least, he assumed it was getting cold, not that he could feel anything, and it was time they headed back to Metropolis. He gently lowered Lois to the blanket, floating out from beneath her, and spun quickly into his Super-suit ready for the journey. There was still the minor problem that Lois was naked; he could dress her himself, he considered, but he really didn't want to risk awakening her. A solution quickly came to him, however, and a couple of seconds later she was warmly wrapped, cradled securely in his arms, with her clothes bundled up beside her. Dropping the blanket in his tree-house Fortress en route, he drifted upwards and began the flight back to Metropolis.
Lois stirred and stretched; she'd been having such a beautiful dream involving floating and making love up among the stars. As she came to slow wakefulness, though, she gradually realised that she ached a little in some rather strange places. Trying to turn over, she found her freedom of movement was constrained by the fact that something warm and silky was wrapped around her; it didn't feel like the quilt on her bed, or the sheet on Clark's… Blinking, she opened her eyes and realised exactly what was covering her; at the same time, she spotted Clark, dressed in T-shirt and sleep shorts, sitting on the window-seat of his bedroom.
"Hi there," she called softly. "You busy or something?"
He turned his gaze to meet hers, and smiled softly. "No, I was just enjoying watching you sleep… listening to your breathing…"
"I'll bet you were enjoying watching me!" she teased. "Was this some fantasy of yours, having me lying on your bed wrapped in your cape, almost as if you're branding me as your possession?"
He laughed at that, and she knew that she was probably partially right. Clark would never see her as his possession, but she could imagine that he'd enjoy the thought of her naked, covered in Superman's cape in the intimacy of his apartment. And she was naked… wasn't she? A quick check revealed that she was.
"You couldn't even let me dress again, could you?" she teased him as he approached the bed.
"Hey! You were fast asleep — I didn't want to wake you," he pointed out.
That was Clark all over; considerate. "Well, your alternative feels pretty good, I have to tell you," she admitted. She stretching out so that she could turn to face him, and found her muscles protesting again. "Oh — ouch!" she exclaimed involuntarily.
"What?" Clark was instantly concerned.
"Oh, nothing… well, I guess we were a little energetic earlier," she confessed with a rueful grin.
Clark looked puzzled for a moment until enlightenment dawned. "Oh… Lois, I'm sorry! I told you I was too rough!" he apologised awkwardly.
But she grabbed his hands, pulling him down beside her. "No, you weren't! I encouraged you, and I was just as rough in return, and I loved every second of it. You don't apologise, Clark!"
"Okay," he agreed, nodding. "If you're sure. And, if you want… I could probably do something about those aches and pains?"
"Yeah? Would that involve a hot bath, and lots of massage oil, and your hands all over me…?" She grinned up at him, and his eyebrows shot up.
"You, Ms Lane, are insatiable!" he exclaimed. "Actually, I was thinking some heat vision for now, since you're tired, and maybe a massage tomorrow before we get up… I have some cucumber oil…"
"Oh, sounds wonderful… better than sex," she murmured, grinning up at him.
"Really?" His expression was mock-offended.
"Right now… well, maybe not," she conceded. Tugging the cape away from her, she beckoned to him. "Come on, let me have some of that special therapy of yours, and then come to bed. This cape's big enough to cover both of us."
Clark obliged, sliding his large body onto the bed beside her and lifting her to lie cradled on his chest before draping the cape back over the two of them. It had been quite a day… not quite as dramatic or eventful as the one before it, but still very memorable for so many reasons. He felt he finally understood the love his parents had for each other, understood how it had endured for so many years and how it was that they were still very much in love with each other, *attracted* to each other after more than thirty years. The love he had for Lois was the same, he knew. She was his mate, his partner, the woman he was destined for. He didn't need any holograms or predictions, just to be with her to know they were meant to be together. Nothing would part him from her, now or ever.
She stirred slightly in his arms, and he automatically adjusted his hold on her; her breath caressed his face and he heard her murmur, "Love you, Clark…"
He pressed a kiss into the softness of her hair. "I love you too, Lois. Always."