By Kathy Brown <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Demi <Demi22@aol.com>
Released June 2000
Summary: Lois and Clark's relationship changes forever after an emotional night spent together. Following directly from the second season episode, "That Old Gang of Mine," this story follows the couple through breathtaking highs and devastating lows as they deal with the highly-charged issues only their romance could produce.
This story begins where the second season Lois & Clark episode "That Old Gang Of Mine" leaves off. The first few pages of this story put the ending scenes of TOGOM into fanfic form — they'll look familiar, but stick with us … we'll get to our story very soon. :)
This story has been a long time in coming, as many of you already know. It all started with a simple private message exchange on IRC — back in January 1997! We started writing that spring, and continued in fits and starts over the next three years. We've each released several other fanfics in the meantime, but we could never forget this one.
Extra special thanks go out to Wendy Richards, who edited this monster in sections, and had to suffer for months at a time over cliffhangers whose resolutions hadn't been written yet. ;) Also, many thanks to Zoomway, who contributed some dialog for a couple of early scenes — her suggestions were invaluable in getting us over some early writer's block! And finally, to all the readers who have (subtly and not-so-subtly <g>) continued to ask how the story was going — it was wonderful knowing that people were still excited about it, even after 3 years of writing!
All standard disclaimers apply; the characters that appear on "Lois & Clark" do not belong to us, but the ideas in this story do. No infringement of anyone's copyright is intended. The story itself, however, is copyright (c) 2000 to the authors.
When Friends Become Lovers aka "That Old Gang of Mine 2" or "The Epic" ;)
Clark sighed. Well, they were gone. Perry, Jimmy, the others … each of them saying their good-byes and leaving through the same well-used revolving doorway of the Daily Planet building. And that was just fine with him — it left Clark alone with Lois. Well, Lois and the thirty or so police officers milling around the downstairs lobby.
Tonight, however, neither Lois nor Clark was paying attention to the many uniforms brushing past them. They were simply staring — at each other.
In a million years, Lois would have never imagined how incredible it could feel just to *look* at someone. But there he was. Her partner. Her best friend. Her …was he more than that? Oh, what did it matter? He was alive! He was back! And she would never have to feel that horrible emptiness again. She would only feel the way she felt right now, so completely, totally … happy.
Lois grinned suddenly and curled one end of her hair behind an ear, self consciously looking down. The way Clark was looking at her set her heart racing inside her and took her breath away … it was so …
'Beautiful. She's so beautiful.'
Clark thought he might be smiling, but he wasn't sure. Lois always had this effect on him. Making his heart turn somersaults inside his chest while at the same time making him giddy enough to laugh out loud. God, she took his breath away every time he saw her.
But tonight was different. Tonight, with his long and enveloping suit jacket wrapped stickily around her lithe form, still speckled with cement and streaked with fragments of the Planet's celebratory chocolate cake she had tossed the female half of Bonnie & Clyde into not very long ago … she looked as enchanting as ever.
Clark watched as Lois dipped her head. He noticed by the demure way she smiled that she was feeling shy about something. What that was exactly, though, he wasn't sure. Lois Lane was nothing if not unpredictable. It was a trait he knew thatshe loved about herself, and it was one of a million traits Clark secretly loved about her as well.
He watched as Lois pulled the now-sticky wool suit-jacket a little tighter around her. At least it wasn't nearly as saturated as her sweater had been after Capone and his gang had decided to drop a vat of fresh concrete over her and Dr. Hamilton. Lois and Clark had been able to wipe most of the cement away, cement she'd left on his coat when she'd thrown herself into his arms. Remarkably, the garment had cleaned up well … that is, until Lois had submerged it in butter-cream frosting. It would probably need to be tossed in the garbage tomorrow, despite their best efforts. Still, the jacket was a definite improvement over her beyond-help sweater and pants.
Clark swallowed as he remembered the slick concrete-covered garments which had clung damply to every curve of her body when he'd reunited with her — the same garments she had hastily begun to remove before getting into the passenger seat of her Jeep. He recalled how surprised he'd been when she had ducked behind the vehicle and began to disrobe. A little late, he'd turned to give Lois privacy, a task which had proven *very* difficult by the time she had worked the sticky sweater half way up her arms, the lower portion of her torso fully exposed to him and the still-white edge of her bra peeking out from underneath. He remembered how quickly he'd removed his jacket and handed it to her, allowing himself a brief glance. Even Lois had smiled at how suddenly the garment was thrust in her direction. But she had taken it, and thanked him, working her way out of a pair of equally sticky pants as soon as she was covered.
Lois had been less gracious, however, when Clark had turned and started to remove his belt. Though she hadn't said a word, her eyes had widened considerably and she gave him a quick look that carried with it surprise, questioning and — something else? Well, in his own defense, she'd needed something to keep the oversized garment from drooping open in front. Clark remembered moving towards her and tentatively sliding the long belt around and behind her, helping her into it. Lois had complied, stepping even closer to Clark so that he could pull the belt around her.
For a brief moment, they had simply stayed that way, inches apart — Clark holding both ends of the belt in his hands, Lois held close to him by the encumbrance around her waist. Clark knew it would have been so easy to have just pulled her into his arms … so easy to have lowered his mouth to hers … but they had each known they had to jump in the Jeep and rush to the newsroom to stop Capone and his gang from shooting up the party. It wasn't the first time that the need for Superman had kept Clark from spending time alone with Lois …
Back in the Daily Planet lobby, a slightly breathless Clark Kent slammed back to the present, suddenly noticing that Lois had once again looked up at him and was smiling shyly. He blinked in surprise, bringing himself out of his pleasant memories. She couldn't have known what he was thinking, could she? Clark straightened the cuff of his shirt sleeve self-consciously. It was still speckled with patches of the gray substance from where she had clung to him less than an hour before. He didn't think he'd ever forget the intensity of that hug. He couldn't stifle the grin that spread across his face at the memory.
Lois blushed a little as she glanced down at herself and then back up at her partner. Her partner. The words stuck in her head. Her best friend. She had been staring at Clark, but she just couldn't help it. Not after everything that had happened, not after she'd just gotten him back.
Did he feel as confused as she did right now? Probably not. If he was one thing, he was forever … *Clark*. And Clark didn't seem to get confused very often. Oh, he had his faults, running off at the first sign of deeper discussion being the most annoying of these as far as Lois was concerned. But he always managed to be there for her even so. Always when it mattered.
"So I guess I'll see you tomorrow?"
Clark's words jolted Lois out of her momentary lapse and she blinked, realizing that he'd caught her staring once again. She also realized that Clark hadn't made her feel uncomfortable for doing so. It felt so good to be with him; it was so good to have him back … and Lois felt like they had so much to talk about …
Maybe they could find time to talk tonight. Maybe she would tell him what she'd wished she'd told him before he died. She had to find time soon, that much was for sure. Lois didn't think she could survive it if something else happened and she still hadn't told him. If there was anything that this experience had taught her, it was that 'tomorrow' was a concept that couldn't be counted on.
Lois pushed down the slight shudder that threatened to overtake her at the thought. No, he *wouldn't* die, not tomorrow, not *ever*. Not if she could help it. He would live forever if she had anything to do with it. Still, he had to know. And, Lois thought while millions of tiny butterflies danced in her belly, she actually really did want to tell him. Wow.
She took a deep breath. "You want a lift home?"
Clark smiled his patented thousand-kilowatt smile, even though he was obviously fatigued. "Yeah, sure — being dead really takes it out of you."
"I'll bet." Lois slapped his shoulder playfully and immediately found herself in the familiar crook of her best friend's arm. A feeling of safety and of contentment washed over her as they walked through the lobby door and out into the night.
As Clark slipped into the enveloping leather seat of Lois's Jeep Grand Cherokee, he couldn't help but sigh in relief at the feeling of finally being able to relax. It was something he hadn't been able to do since the 'accident'. He'd spent the last two days and nights awake, constantly agonizing, racking his brain over how he could salvage his life as Clark Kent. His career, his friends … the more he'd struggled, the more he'd realized he was completely unwilling to give any of it up. Especially the parts that allowed him to be with Lois. She was everything to him.
Sometimes it would almost scare Clark when he thought about Lois and realized that, in many ways, she meant more to him than anyone else in the world. Was he betraying his mom and dad by feeling that way? Clark knew they would tell him no, that the feeling was different, natural … but he felt helpless and somewhat frustrated when, each time he pondered the issue, the same brick wall confronted him. He was so completely in love with Lois … yet she was so bent on friendship. Only friendship.
It wasn't that he couldn't understand that. Clark thought he knew Lois better than anyone else. She could be so scared and vulnerable when her guard went down. Those rare, precious occasions when he'd actually seen her shields drop had proved this much to him already. He knew she'd been hurt in the past, and Clark never wanted to be the cause of pain for her. And so he simply returned her friendship, and resigned himself to the fact that she would never feel about him, the way he felt about her. Still, their relationship, platonic as it was, remained one of the most important things in Clark's life. And as he'd explained recently to his parents, Superman simply didn't have that kind of closeness with Lois.
Thankfully, for the sake of his own sanity, he'd been able to 'save' Clark Kent. Or rather, Superman had saved Clark Kent. The irony in that fact seemed to grow, and with it, Clark's unease. Would this be another reason for Lois to idolize Superman? To ignore the "regular guy", in comparison to the hero? Clark thought he may have noticed a little less interest on Lois's part in his caped alter-ego lately, but …
Clark shook his head, trying to focus on the passing streetlights. His mind had been going around in circles so much this week, he didn't know what to think anymore. It was so confusing … and he was so very tired. So very, very tired.
Lois turned the corner and looked over at her partner. He was staring out the window, seemingly hypnotized by the blurry after-images of the passing streetlights. They sat in comfortable silence, but Lois knew there were things that needed to be said. Sitting there in the darkness, driving easily through the uncrowded late-evening streets, Lois gathered her courage.
"Clark, when I thought you were gone, I did some thinking about my life."
Still unsure of herself, she glanced at Clark out of the corner of her eye. But Clark nodded, and, satisfied he had heard her, Lois turned her gaze back to the road. Maybe it would be easier to say this if she *didn't* see his deep brown eyes staring into her soul …
"You know," she continued, "what it would be like without you in it." A sudden feeling of nervous unease washed over her and she swallowed. No, she wouldn't back out now. Especially since she had him here beside her, so close now. He couldn't go anywhere either. There would be no running away for either of them this time and she would *make* him understand.
"I know what you're thinking: 'Gee Lois, how self centered can you get?' but — just hear me out." Lois took a deep, shaky breath and continued. "I know our relationship has always been … difficult to define. But when I thought about how much I missed you, how much I was going to miss you for the rest of my life, I started to think that … maybe there was more to our relationship than just … friendship."
There. Lois sighed deeply. She had said it. It was out. She waited anxiously for his response.
Only Clark didn't answer.
Oh, God, she *had* ruined it! He didn't feel the same way. She had done it again, made a complete fool out of herself for a man, and this time she had probably lost her best friend in the bargain. Damn; she felt like such an idiot.
After a pause that seemed to last forever, Lois turned slowly. It wasn't like him to be this quiet, even if …
She swallowed and pressed her head back against her seat. He was asleep! One of the most intimate conversations she had ever allowed herself to have with him and he had just—
No, no, this was better. He hadn't heard her. That meant that she still had her best friend. Maybe another time would be better for this conversation anyway.
She shook her head ruefully and smiled.
"Or, maybe not."
Quiet enveloped the vehicle as they drove the next three blocks and Lois listened to the sound of Clark's breathing. Even and regular.
Well, at least he didn't snore … but she already knew that. One thing that being partners meant was that you were forced to spend a lot of time together. Lois didn't think she could still count on two hands the number of times they'd been on an all-nighter, staking out some bad guy's fortress or just making sure their story would be ready for the early morning edition.
She always hated those really early mornings, but Clark never seemed to mind. In fact, all the times she could remember waking up in a strange room or vehicle, knowing that it was well before any normal human should be awake, Clark would always be ready — smiling and usually bearing coffee. Lots of coffee.
Lois smiled to herself. That was why they put up with each other. They each had their own faults, but they made up for them in other ways … at least, Clark did. The soft smile left her face. 'I'm horrible to him sometimes. Why does he put up with me?'
Roused from her thoughts, Lois rounded the corner and pulled up in front of the building housing Clark's loft. She turned the key in the ignition and the Jeep's quiet motor shut down, plunging them into almost complete silence.
Clark was still asleep, so Lois took the opportunity to watch him. He looked almost vulnerable, sitting there with his hands folded across his lap, his face carrying an expression of extreme peacefulness. Unbidden, Lois suddenly found herself feeling very protective of him.
She didn't think she had ever actually watched him sleep before. And for a reason she couldn't fathom, she found now that she almost didn't want to stop watching. But they were sitting in front of Clark's building and it was obvious that he was exhausted. *She* was exhausted as well. What a nightmare the last two days had been.
Tenderly, Lois raised one hand and laid it against Clark's shoulder. "Clark?" she whispered, running her fingers half-way down to his elbow. "Clark, we're here — you're home."
Clark made a small sound and sank further into the seat next to her. 'He's so tired,' Lois empathized.
She brought her hand back up and was about to try the same tactic again, but suddenly she stopped, hand poised above his shoulder. She looked at him for a moment and then cupped the same hand against his cheek, very softly tracing her thumb along his jawline, fascinated by the contradiction of his seemingly never-ending strength, juxtaposed with a special kind of vulnerability. Somehow, it all fell together, forming the man she had come to trust so deeply in the past year. How had she been so lucky to have him come into her life?
"Clark?" she whispered again. Still no response.
Lois sighed. She would probably have to speak more loudly. She called his name a little louder, then again, a little louder still. Clark finally jumped to attention, and Lois quickly lowered her voice back to a soft whisper so as not to alarm him further. "I'm sorry; it's just that we're home. I— I mean, you're home. I was trying to wake you."
Clark blinked a few times, then smiled a tired smile and nodded. "Thank you, Lois. I'm sorry for—" He indicated himself vaguely and Lois understood right away.
"Oh, no, it's okay; you were really tired. I can relate." Unintentionally, she demonstrated by breaking into an expansive yawn, then gave a rueful shake of her head. "So … um, goodnight."
Clark looked at her, waking up more fully as he realized her hand was still on his arm. Still? She hadn't had it there before, had she? When had she …? Clark smiled softly. "Ok … goodnight, Lois." He turned in his seat towards the door and pulled the latch open.
Lois's soft voice was all that it took for him to swing back around in his seat. "Yes?"
Lois opened her mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out. After a moment, she simply looked back down at her hands on the steering wheel, before whispering, "Goodnight, Clark."
"Goodnight." The silence hung thickly in the air as Clark stared at Lois's profile and then at the way her hands were gripping the steering wheel. "Um, Lois?"
This time was Lois that turned eagerly in her seat. "Yes?"
"Um … would you like to … come in? I—I mean, just for a few minutes. We could talk." When Lois's expression turned a familiar shade of worry, Clark quickly reassured her. "It's just that we've had a pretty rough couple of days, you and I — well, especially you — and things are gonna be fairly intense at the Planet in the next little while, so I thought maybe tonight might be a good—"
"Okay." Lois smiled. "For a few minutes. I think we should … talk. About things."
Clark smiled and nodded as she spoke. They each exited the car, and he turned to lead the way towards his apartment when Lois suddenly stopped. "Wait." She had only said the one word, but Clark spun on his heel, askance plain on his face. "Before we actually start … talking. You're not going to need to be someplace or something are you? I mean, you've picked up your cheese of the month subscription, right?" Her voice was light; she tried to laugh, but Clark could tell that there was more to her question than humor.
"Don't worry, Lois," Clark said, placing his arm around her and walking her slowly up the pathway towards his building. "I have everything I need tonight right here."
A damp smell hung in the air as they approached Clark's front step. Lois sighed softly thinking about the coming rain. She looked upward into the darkness as she heard Clark rifling through his keys, searching for the one to his apartment. He seemed to be having some difficulty finding it.
Lois turned and patted Clark's arm. "Here," she said, taking the keys. She smiled up at Clark. His eyes looked so tired. "I need to get you into bed … I mean—"
"It's okay, Lois." Clark yawned as the door swung open. "I know what you meant."
"Well …" Lois said with exaggerated cheerfulness. "Here we are. Home Sweet Home." She held up the keys for him, but Clark did not seem to notice. He just stared into his apartment. "Earth to Clark? Are you okay?"
"Hmm? Yeah … it's just … I don't know—"
"Clark?" she said more softly, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. At that moment, however, she wasn't quite sure whether she was trying to reassure him or reassure herself that he was there — real, substantial … alive.
Clark reached up and placed his hand atop hers as if he needed the same reassurance. "I never thought I'd see this place again." And that was the truth. Had he been forced to continue merely as Superman, his apartment would eventually belong to someone else. He would have lost everything; his privacy, his dreams, his job, his future, his …"Lois?"
"I'm right here, Clark," she said, and though trying to sound comforting, she sounded worried instead. Maybe Clark hadn't been drowsy or fatigued at all. Maybe it was a bit of shock finally sinking in.
Hearing the concern in her voice finally pulled Clark out of his private thoughts. He patted her hand. "I'm okay, really. This is just a little overwhelming, I guess."
"Come on," she said as she tugged his arm. "Let's get you on the sofa."
"Lois," he sighed. "I'm *fine*. I'm just tired."
"Or maybe you're in shock."
Clark smiled and shook his head. "I promise you, Lois, I am *not* in shock."
Lois grabbed his hands. "Well, they're not cold," she said and then reached up and touched his face. "Your skin feels warm. You don't feel cold, do you?"
Lois's tenderness and touches so robbed Clark of breath that when he finally managed to repeat, "I'm fine, Lois," he actually sounded weak.
"You'd better sit down, Clark."
"Lois—" Clark started to protest, but seeing the concern in Lois's gaze, he complied and seated himself on the sofa. "Happy?"
Lois sat down next to Clark and then placed two fingers on his wrist. "Do you feel dizzy?"
Clark sighed. "No, I don't feel dizzy, I don't feel cold and my pulse is fine."
"I can't even find your pulse."
"You got me there, Lois," Clark shrugged. "I always played hooky on pulse day at school and it finally caught up to me."
Lois laughed and butted Clark's shoulder playfully with hers. He chuckled and gently butted her back. The laughter broke the tension in the air and they each finally relaxed back into the sofa.
"Ok, fine, you're not in shock," Lois conceded. "What about pain? You're not in any pain or anything, are you?" Lois asked, still unable to eliminate the concern from either her tone or her face.
Clark smiled reassuringly. "No, I told you, just a little tired. No pain."
"A *little* tired, huh?" Lois said skeptically. "You fell asleep in the car."
He looked embarrassed. "I did, didn't I? Well, maybe more than a little tired … it's been a rough few days," he added ruefully.
Lois nodded sympathetically. "You can say that again. I can't believe all that's happened … it's almost too good to believe, Superman saving you like that."
Clark dropped his eyes and shifted in his seat. He hoped it wasn't too good to believe. It took him a long time to come up with this story, but it was far from perfect … if she started looking at it too closely …
"Yeah, I was really lucky."
They sat in silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Lois looked at him again and swallowed hard.
"Was it scary?" she whispered. "Getting shot? Dying?"
Clark sighed. He didn't want to lie to her anymore, but he knew he had to expect some questions. The only thing he could do was answer her as honestly as he could without giving too much away.
"I think I was more stunned. It all happened so fast."
"Did your whole life flash before your eyes?" she asked with a touch of a smile.
"Actually," he said, smiling softly himself, "I was thinking of you."
"Yeah, I was thinking about how to keep those guys from hurting you … and how I couldn't do that if I was shot. That was honestly the scariest part. That I wanted to go to you and I couldn't." He met her gaze and held it.
Lois shook her head in amazement. "Clark, that's-, that's-." Her voice caught in her throat.
"It's Ok," he said soothingly. "We're both Ok, right?" When she hesitated, he gently cupped his hand around her forearm and rubbed it up and down affectionately. "Hey … right?" he prompted again.
Lois smiled softly at his caress. His hand felt so warm … his touch felt so … "Right." She smiled for real then. "You do look as good as new, almost as if he …" Lois stopped suddenly and looked away, obviously troubled again.
"What?" he asked. When she shook her head, still not looking at him, Clark pressed, concerned by how fast her emotions seemed to be bouncing around. "*Lois*, what?"
She turned back to him, her expression more guarded. "It's nothing, it's just … are you … are you …?"
"Am I what?"
"Are you a clone?" she blurted out. "Did Superman clone you?"
Clark blinked in surprise. He hadn't been expecting that question. He tried to keep his expression neutral as his mind raced for an explanation. Seeing the concern in her eyes, however, he was quick to offer comfort.
"No, Lois … I'm not. I'm me, just … healed. Superman didn't have to clone my whole body. He just had to use the techniques to repair the damage." He switched to a lighter tone, trying to get her to lose the seriousness that had clouded her expression. "He did a good job, too. I don't even have a scar," he added with a grin.
It worked. Lois smiled back at him, visibly relieved. She eyed his chest. "Well, that's good … wouldn't want anything to mess up that perfect physique. That would be a shame," she finished with a flirty wink.
Clark eyebrows shot up, and he felt his stomach do an excited flip. She thinks my physique is perfect? She's looked?
"You still have to tell me your secret, you know. I hardly ever hear you talk about the gym; when do you go?" she pressed, smiling.
He grinned back at her. "Who needs a gym? Keeping up with you is exercise enough."
"Uh huh," she shot back, rolling her eyes. But he could tell she liked the answer.
After a beat, Lois continued, a gleam in her eye. "Well, I should have known you weren't a clone. Remember that Superman clone last year? He wasn't anything like Superman. And you're still you."
"That I am," Clark concurred with a grin.
"You're still as crazy as always," she teased, punching his shoulder playfully.
"Crazy? How am *I* crazy??"
"You are! Jumping in front of me when those guys pulled out their guns at the club … and last year, when that fake Superman was in my apartment, you challenged him! You're nuts! I told you that back then. I still can't figure out what in the world you thought you were doing."
"Hey, it worked, didn't it? He left."
"Yeah, but still … I think I'm rubbing off on you. Taking all these risks … I want you to stop!"
Clark raised an eyebrow. "Oh, you do, do you? Fine, I will … if you'll stop, too."
"Uh huh, see?" he grinned.
They teased back and forth in this manner for a bit until Clark stood up and headed for the kitchen. They each seemed to have caught a second wind and he was enjoying this time together so much, he didn't want to push her out the door, no matter how much his body and mind craved sleep. The ten minute nap in the car was probably the deepest and longest he'd slept in the last forty-eight hours. At this point, however, having Lois in his living room once again was worth reaching further into his energy reserves. He'd missed this so much, and from the way she was acting, it was clear she had too. Neither of them seemed to want to call it a night.
"I'm just going to get a glass of water," Clark called over his shoulder. "Can I get you anything? I can make coffee or tea or —"
"No, water sounds fine to me." Lois glanced outside. "Was that thunder?"
Clark cocked his head slightly. "Yeah, I think it was. Storm's moving in. It's just starting to rain."
As if on cue, the window glowed briefly, illuminated by a flash of lightning. Lois started counting, "One … two … three … " The sound of thunder rumbled in the distance. "Three miles," she said with satisfaction. "Right?"
Clark nodded from the kitchen sink. "I think so. At least that's how we used to do it when I was growing up."
"I used to love thunderstorms when I was a kid … I would lie in bed at night with all the lights off and watch the lightning. Then I would count to see how far away the storm was." Lois smiled at the old memory.
Clark, meanwhile, was smiling at Lois. She looked happy. Relaxed. Comfortable. He loved that she felt that way around him. She certainly made him feel that way … well, most of the time. And right now was definitely one of those times.
She met his gaze and her smile brightened even more. Clark felt warm all over when she smiled at him like that. He felt like he never wanted to be without her. That feeling was nothing new to him; he'd felt it in various degrees since he'd met her. But what was new was that Lois seemed to be looking at him the same way. Not at Superman … at Clark.
Clark cleared his throat … and his head. He must be imagining things. "I still like thunderstorms. Unless I have to drive in them or whatever."
Lois concurred. "Yeah, or when there's a power outage in the middle of the night and your alarm clock doesn't go off in the morning and—"
The lights flickered, and Lois's eyes opened wide. "Uh-oh. Did I do that?"
Clark laughed out loud at her expression. "Boy, Lois … be careful what you say …"
The lights flickered once more, then went out completely. The sound of hard falling rain could be heard outside.
"Oh, darn it!" Lois exclaimed as they both laughed.
"Wow, Lois Lane has the power! She speaks and it shall be done!"
"Watch out or I'll put a hex on you!"
They were both still laughing as Clark emerged from the kitchen with a large flashlight, the powerful beam of light illuminating his path back to the living room. He handed her a glass of water, then moved to the various light switches and lamps that had been on.
"What are you doing?" Lois asked curiously. "They aren't going to come back on if you play with the switches."
"I'm not 'playing with the switches'; I'm turning everything off. No sense having them all set to come on at once — power could come back on in the middle of the night and then I'd have to get out of bed and shut them all off."
"Have I ever told you how compulsive you are, Clark?"
"Repeatedly," he responded with a grin. But before when she'd mentioned it, it sounded like an insult … now it sounded like she liked it. Imagine that.
His task completed, Clark detoured quickly into the kitchen, retrieved his own glass of water, and sat back down on the couch. He placed the flashlight upright on the coffee table in front of them so it shone onto the ceiling, bathing the room in a gentle light.
"You have a very impressive … flashlight there, Clark."
"Men measure their prowess by cars and flashlights, Lois. And since I don't have a car …"
"Oh, I get it — 'Hey baby … wanna come inside and see my flashlight'," Lois teased in what was supposed to pass for an exaggerated masculine voice, rubbing her hand suggestively over his knee.
Clark leaned into her. "It does its best work in the dark," he said in a husky voice.
They each dissolved into laughter.
"How many batteries does that take, Clark?" Lois managed to choke out.
"Two. Two really *big* ones. They're rechargeable." He winked on a held-back laugh, trying to keep a straight face.
"Oh, I really don't think we need to be discussing your preference for rechargable battery-powered … *appliances*." She was laughing again before she'd even completed her sentence.
Clark almost spit out the sip of water he had just taken as he burst out laughing with her. When they finally caught their breaths, several moments later, Clark choked out: "Ok, that settles it … we're so tired we're getting punchy … it wasn't *that* funny."
His declaration only set them off again into peals of laughter.
Several moments later, after finally composing herself, Lois slipped off her loafers and folded her feet up under her on the couch as they sat and talked and listened to the falling rain. She leaned towards the coffee table to replace her water, but when she turned back to Clark, she caught him glancing at her bare thigh.
The jacket was long enough to cover most of her upper body while she stood, but as she sat down, it was behaving just like a mini-skirt — hiking itself up the farther back she moved.
Lois blushed slightly as Clark quickly moved his eyes to her face. "Whoops," she grinned a little bashfully. "Guess that's a little short there, huh?" She shifted in her seat, putting her bare feet back on the floor and pulling the side of the jacket down with her hand.
Clark seemed unable to speak for moment as he watched her tug on the bottom hem of his jacket, but he finally found his voice. "Do you wanna change? I can get you a t-shirt or something … I can't believe I didn't offer the minute we got inside …"
"No, that's Ok." She looked up at him suddenly, unsure. "But … if you'd rather I did …?"
Clark blinked, eyebrows raised. "Lois, you look …" He fumbled for a moment, then gave her an obvious once over. "Great. I mean, really great … why in the world would I want you to change?" He grinned, his face in a teasing exaggerated leer.
She slapped his shoulder and laughed out loud. How did he do that? Take something that should have made her embarrassed and instead make her feel all warm inside. This day that had started out so horribly had turned out to be one of the best nights she'd ever had. It felt so good to be here with him. She was loving all the joking they were doing. She felt so happy; it felt so incredibly wonderful to have her best friend back again! Clark was happy, too; she was sure. He kept looking at her, smiling. He was paying her lots of attention, and she could swear he had this flirty look in his eye … and it made her want to flirt back! This was just … right.
"Well," she said with a wave of her hand, "this look is the newest fashion, you know."
"Yeah, it's all the rage. Women everywhere are raiding their boyfriends' closets, looking for that perfect jacket!"
"You need the right boyfriend … I mean, he has to wear the right size …"
"Well, there you go! That's why I'm lucky to have you." She gave his knee an affectionate squeeze. "You're the perfect size for me."
"A match made in heaven!"
Clark grinned happily at her, noticing with a thrill that she was giving him the same megawatt smile. He loved that smile. He always felt entranced by it … like being caught in her high beams, with neither the ability, nor the desire to escape them.
Then his mind took hold of their conversation, turning it around and around, and he had to swallow. Had Lois just implied that he was her boyfriend? Well, yes, she had implied it, but did she mean it?? Was she actually *flirting* with him? They bantered like this quite often … but something seemed different tonight. The way that she held his gaze a second longer than normal, the way her hand kept lingering on his arm or his leg … the way she dropped her head a bit and smiled at him from under her lashes … like she was doing right now.
Did she…? Could she…?
Lois's hand was still on his knee, a fact that his body was acutely aware of. She gave it another playful squeeze, pushing off it as she stood, and Clark felt his blood pressure rise. One place in particular felt increasingly warm.
Down boy … concentrate on what she's saying … she's talking to you …
"I'm sorry, what?" He looked up at her as she stood in front of him, trying to focus on her beautiful face and not the long bare legs that were showing from under his jacket.
"I'm just going to take my glass into the sink … are you done with yours? You want more?"
"Oh! No, I'm all set, thanks." He couldn't help but crane his head as a hint of the back of her thighs came into view as she leaned down to pick up his glass from the coffee table. Oh my, but she looked *good* wearing her "latest fashion". What was it about seeing her in his clothes, knowing she didn't have much on underneath…?
Clark's head snapped back into place as Lois turned around, and he tried to put on his best "innocent" smile as she walked into the kitchen.
He could hear her humming to herself as she dumped the water into the sink, and Clark smiled contentedly. He was so glad he had invited her in. This was the perfect way to celebrate being "alive" again. The stress and worry of the last couple of days had been pressing down on him like a weight on his back, but now he felt free. Free and happy. It made him almost giddy.
He had turned towards the kitchen to talk to Lois once more when a slight movement caught his eye. Looking down curiously, he saw what caused it — a fairly large black spider was crawling across his floor, headed straight for the couch.
"Hey, little fella," Clark murmured, "You can't be in here … Lois doesn't like spiders."
He stood up and reached absently for the spider, but it was too fast for his non-super speed, and scurried under the couch just beyond his reach.
With a look of casual annoyance, Clark leaned over from the waist to look under the dark couch. He didn't notice that Lois had joined him until he felt her hands on his hips. She stuck a thumb into a belt loop on either side of his waistband and lay lightly over his body, pressing her front into his back.
"Whatcha lookin' for, Clark?" she asked in his ear, using her playful little girl voice.
If the knee squeeze earlier had set off a smoke alarm in his body, this action prompted a four alarm blaze. It felt as if all the blood in Clark's upper body had just traveled downward. He gasped at the intensity of the feeling, then covered it up with a forced cough. "Oh, I was just, ah … there was a, ah … a spider under the couch."
The blood must have left his brain as well. It was the only thing that could explain how her quick motion could catch him so completely off guard that he wouldn't be able to stop it. No sooner that the words were out of his mouth than Lois jumped back with a squeak. Unfortunately, her thumbs were still caught in his belt loops.
Her quick motion pulled his hips right out from under him.
"Wha-? Ahh!!" Clark called out as he lost his balance. He twisted his body around to steady himself and tried to grab Lois's shoulders. In that instance, Lois's thumbs slipped from his belt loops, but it was too late. She grasped at his chest to catch herself, but she couldn't hold on.
They tumbled onto the floor; Clark's twisting motion putting him down on his back, pulling Lois down on top of him a half-second later. They landed with a grunt, then froze, stunned.
"Is it gone?" Lois asked tentatively. "Did you kill it?" She lifted her head and craned it around to look on the floor around them.
Clark swallowed hard and tried to clear his mind. Lois's movements weren't helping his situation. It was bad enough that his body had reacted so intensely to her nearness when she pressed her body against his back, but now she was lying against his front … and the edge of her thigh was rubbing softly against the increasing evidence of Clark's inability to conceal the effect she was having on him. And she seemed to be completely oblivious to his predicament.
"It's probably still under the couch," he managed to get out.
"You think?" Lois interrupted nervously. "Can you get it?" She shifted again and Clark had to rip into his own mind to keep himself from reaching up and kissing her. Her face was so close to his … her soft, feminine curves pressed tightly against him in all of the most agonizingly wonderful places.
"No, I can't reach it from here."
Lois shifted her eyes back to Clark as she realized where "here" was. Here was on the floor, under her. She blushed as she remembered pulling him down. "I'm sorry. Are you Ok?"
"I'm fine, Lois. Are you?"
"Yeah," she replied softly
Their eyes met and held as time stood still for a moment.
Lois blushed again under the heat of his gaze. She had initially clung to Clark for protection, but now that the threat was gone, she could feel him real and warm underneath her body. She found herself looking at his lips, only inches from hers. She wanted to kiss him … she really wanted to kiss him …
She jerked her eyes back up to his guiltily. "Huh? Oh, yeah … I'm sorry, I should get up … wait, hold on a sec …" Lois reached her hands down to pull at the bottom of the suit jacket she was wearing, making sure she wasn't exposing any more than she had to. Tugging it back into place, she tried to right herself, her movements awkward as she tried to keep the jacket around her.
It was only then, as she shimmied over him and Clark dropped his head back to the floor with a barely controlled groan, that she noticed exactly how Clark was feeling about all of this. A rush of heat swept through her body as her leg once more pressed against the hard edge of Clark's obvious interest. She suddenly felt warm … very, very warm.
Lois rolled off him quickly. She jumped up and walked a few steps away, keeping her back to him. She knew from the heat in her skin that her face was flushed, partly from embarrassment, partly from shock … and partly from the intense warmth making its way through her lower body.
Clark sat up quickly as well, anxious to readjust himself and hide the blush that was spreading across his own face. How incredibly embarrassing. Oh God, what if she had felt … "Um … I guess I should see if that spider is still under there, huh?" He tried to sound casual.
"What?" Lois almost squeaked. "Oh … yes, I guess you should." Geez, girl, get a grip. Her gaze followed Clark as he got on his hands and knees to look under the couch, and her eyes widened as she focused on the way his pants tightened over his rear end as he searched. Lois ripped her eyes away — no, that was *definitely* not helping.
"Ok, got it," came his muffled voice as he backed out from under the couch. He stood with his hand cupped around something. "Wanna see?"
"No!" Lois said, eyeing his hand warily. "They give me the creeps." She shivered as if to prove her point.
"Ok, Ok," he smiled. Clark walked to the window, and released the spider into the great outdoors. When he turned, Lois was back on the couch, her legs crossed once again … and the jacket once more riding up on her thigh. He closed his eyes as he felt his body react to the memory of how she had felt on top of him. If he ever needed super-will-power, it was now. He carefully sat on the couch next to her. "It's gone."
To his surprise and delight, Lois snuggled up slightly against him. "My hero," she teased.
Clark hesitated for a moment, then put his arm around her, in what he hoped could pass for a "friendly" gesture. "Yeah, who knows what would have happened if I hadn't been there to break your fall," he teased back.
Lois giggled, then nuzzled a bit deeper against his chest. Clark held his breath. In the year plus that it had taken him to get even this close to Lois Lane, he was never quite prepared for the impact such simple but direct contact had on him. Unable to resist, Clark rested his cheek against the top of her head and sighed happily. The intimacy was wonderful, yet at the same time, almost unbearable, and Clark felt his body betray his good intentions once again. He really had to distract his mind …
"Istanbul." Clark blushed. "Sorry."
Lois glanced up at Clark, though not breaking contact with his shoulder. "Excuse me?"
Oh, God, she was so incredibly beautiful. "I was thinking about places that … changed their … names."
"Perry move you to the 'Believe it or Not' page?" Lois teased, but she knew exactly what Clark had been doing and why. Depending on his choice of distraction, he could have blurted the name of a star quarterback or that of a state capital. After a self-satisfying glance downward, Lois happily noticed his mental redirection had failed rather miserably.
She hid a triumphant smile by turning her head towards the dimming light of the flashlight. Was it wrong to feel this way? To know that he was turned on, and feel good about it? The way she found out had been embarrassing, yes, but after that shock had worn off, Lois had found herself feeling incredibly pleased. It was fun knowing that she had that power over him … and it made her feel sexy and desirable … and responsive.
Clark, for his part, was trying to salvage the conversation. "Actually, I think I'd be more likely to end up on the page as the amazing reporter who rose from the dead." He waved his fingers in a 'spooky' fashion.
"Hey, it's a great story. Fascinating … if it hadn't been you!"
"Oh, yeah … you were probably glad I was gone," Clark teased.
Lois blanched. "No, I wasn't."
"I'm too much for you … you can't stand the competition for the best stories. Heck, you were probably encouraging people to rifle my desk for extra office supplies!" Clark grinned at her, and tightened his arm over her shoulder in a playful squeeze.
Unlike with their previous bantering, however, this time Lois stiffened further at his words. She knew he was joking, that he didn't think that about her, but the memory of all that had happened over the last few days suddenly came crashing through to the front of her mind. The emotions hit her hard, and she felt a warm wetness burning at the back of her eyes. It was all suddenly too much. The unexpected reminder of Clark's near death coming on the heels of newfound deeper feelings for him — and more disturbing still, a longing for him physically — overwhelmed what faint glimmer of logic and control she had left.
Lois smiled weakly. "Yeah, right," she said absently. "Well, I guess I should get going."
This time, Clark noticed the abrupt change in her demeanor. "Lois … what's wrong?"
She leaned forward a bit, causing his arm to drop off her shoulder. "Nothing … it's just late. I said I'd get you to bed, and here I've kept you up for over an hour." This was true; Lois did feel guilty about keeping Clark up when he was so obviously exhausted. But she also could tell that the tears that had been such a part of her life the last few days hadn't completely worked their way out of her system yet. This last hour with Clark, she'd been able to forget all that she'd gone through, but the emotions couldn't be suppressed any longer. She just needed to get home and be alone and sort things out — Clark didn't need to be burdened with that — and, to be honest, she wasn't sure she trusted herself to stop talking about how awful the last few days had been for her once she started.
"Lois, I was just kidding. I know you weren't happy I was gone. I'm sorry; it wasn't funny. I—"
"No, Clark, it's fine, really." She turned back towards him, and smiled reassuringly. "It's not you … I just need to get going … the rain seems to be letting up so this would be a good time."
The rain wasn't letting up; if anything, it was raining harder and they both knew it. But Clark wasn't sure that pointing that out wouldn't just make her more upset. "Well … are you sure?"
Lois hesitated at the disappointment in his voice, then quickly stood and moved awkwardly towards the door and up the landing, desperate to leave, yet equally desperate to stay. She forced herself to say something conversational. "Yeah, I should go. I mean … it is late. Maybe we can do something tomorrow? More … talking? Or we can go out and do something? Perry might not need us all day, we might be able to—"
"Wait, you forgot your shoes." Clark carefully picked up Lois's shoes from the floor.
Lois watched, mesmerized, as Clark moved towards her. She had made it up the landing and watched as he climbed the steps after her. Stopping on the second to last step, he placed the two low heeled shoes in front of her as carefully as he had picked them up, the motion forcing him to almost bow before her. But when he had righted himself, he was looking straight into her eyes, the difference in step height bringing them face to face.
"C—Clark?" Her voice was smaller, somewhat less assured than it usually was.
Clark felt the urge to hold onto her and protect her just then, just from the sound of her voice. But he didn't know from what.
"We're still … best friends, aren't we?" Lois finished, still not making any move towards her shoes.
"You know that you will always be my best friend, Lois," he answered sincerely.
Lois took a tiny step towards him, then another. They were already so close that she barely had to move, but still she felt the need to get closer to him.
"I really should go … for tonight," Lois whispered breathlessly. Clark nodded slowly and Lois felt her body lean forward, equally as slowly. Noting that Clark never took his eyes from hers, Lois felt as though she had lost herself inside of his deep brown gaze. "Goodnight, Clark," she murmured, barely a breath away from him.
Clark could feel her warm breath mingle with his; they were so close, so very close. He whispered, almost worshipful, "Goodnight, Lois." He shut his eyes, longing to feel the touch of her lips against his … anticipating what he had waited so long for … knowing it was finally going to happen …
A loud crack startled both partners and a brilliant flash of lightening illuminated the apartment through the windowpanes of the door. Clark opened his eyes and found himself gazing into Lois's. For a moment, there was nothing in the whole world except the sound of their erratic breathing and the nearness of their bodies. Suddenly, however, Lois's face took on an expression of complete shock and she turned away, leaving her shoes on the steps, and racing towards the doorway. She threw the door open and ran outside, barefoot, into the pouring rain.
"Lois!!" Clark called after her, hastily retrieving a jacket from next to the doorway and following her flight. It was very dark outside, but he could see her, several yards away, hurrying towards her car, her trembling fingers clutching something silver and shiny in their grasp.
"Lois, wait!" Clark's voice was nearly swallowed by the thunder and the pouring rain.
Lois thrust her keys towards the locked door of her Jeep, searching desperately for the small opening which would allow her to climb inside, safe from … what? Her body still ached in remembrance of what almost happened and she shut her eyes, banishing thoughts which she *knew* to be completely irrational. She wanted to be with him … almost desperately. He was her best friend, her partner … and now maybe more?
But the feelings were so overwhelming … the last few *days* had been so overwhelming; the intense pain, the breathtaking joy; it was all swirling in her head, not letting her think. She kept trying to push it aside, bury it deep enough so she wouldn't have to think about it … but it was getting impossible to ignore.
Lois finally fit the key in the lock and heard it click just as a strong pair of arms wrapped around her from behind, surrounding her with a long, warm coat and holding her tightly in their embrace. She hadn't realized she'd been shivering until she felt the warmth encircle her body and she finally began to cry, losing her tears to the torrent of rain which washed over her face and hair, soaking both herself and the man behind her.
"Lois …" Clark called softly, bending toward her ear so that she would hear him over the rain that continued to fall. He turned her around and pulled the long coat shut in front. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close. The rain began to fall harder, causing rivulets of water to run down from their hair and into their faces.
Lois pulled back and looked into his face. She could see how worried he was. Oh, God, she didn't want that. She didn't want to hurt him. She looked at him in desperation.
"Lois, I won't let you leave this way. You're so upset. What's wrong? Tell me, please; let me help you."
At his pleading, she started to cry harder. She let him hold her, but could only shake her head, knowing that once she started to talk, she wouldn't be able to stop.
"Come back inside. Please? Please?"
When she didn't argue, Clark gently turned them away from the car, his arm protectively over her shoulder, his coat wrapped around her body. He held her close to his side as he led them back up the walk to his still open door.
Lois leaned into him, noticing for the first time that he, too, had come out without shoes on, and that he had wrapped the only coat he had brought out over her body instead of his own. He was soaking wet, yet he seemed more concerned with her well-being than his.
Part of her wanted to protest, to run back to the car and just go home, where she could be alone and deal with all these feelings in private. But the larger part of her knew that was the problem — that being alone was the last thing she wanted. And she knew that it wouldn't be safe to drive, not in her condition and not in this weather. She could barely see the concrete under her feet between her tears and the hard falling rain.
As if to prove that point, Lois's bare foot came in contact with a tiny stone on the walk, and while trying to avoid stepping on it completely, she stumbled. Clark grabbed her and held her more closely to him, preventing her from falling.
As she let out a choked sob of frustration, Clark stopped short, pausing them just outside his door, ignoring the rain still pouring down on them in his growing panic. "Oh, God, Lois, are you Ok? Are you hurt?"
His near frantic concern and protectiveness only made the tears flow once more and she turned towards him, letting him hold her as she collapsed against his chest. "Oh, Clark. No … yes … oh, I don't know what's wrong with me," she wailed.
"Lois, please. Please talk to me. Tell me what's wrong. If I did or said something to upset you inside, I'm so sorry. Please, what did I do?"
"No … it's not you … you didn't … it's just …" She tried valiantly to catch her breath, to calm herself down, but it was a losing battle.
As the tears fell, all of the emotion that she'd been holding inside spilled out as well. All the pain of the last few days had finally taken their toll and her sobbing increased as she finally gave voice to that pain. Her words poured out as she wept in his arms.
"Oh, Clark, I missed you so much. It was so awful … I kept wanting to call you up or go see you, and then I'd remember that I couldn't … that I never could again because you were gone … you were dead and it was all my fault! I felt so alone … and I missed you so much."
Clark felt like his heart was being ripped out. She hurt so much and it was all because of him. He wanted so desperately to take her pain away, to make it stop. Yet, at the same time, all the guilt and pain and worry he himself had experienced over the last few days came to the surface, and he found himself clinging to Lois as tightly as she clung to him, trying in vain to offer solace, even as his own tears threatened to spill out.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he whispered emotionally, interjecting his responses into her monologue. "No, it wasn't your fault; it wasn't, I swear … I know I left you alone and I'm so sorry."
The words continued to flow out of Lois's mouth as if she couldn't hear him. "I kept seeing you lying there — every time I tried to sleep, all I could see was the way you fell, and then you stopped moving…"
Clark cupped her face with his hand, holding her close to him and brushing at her tears with his thumbs. He was trying so hard to keep his emotions in check, but the more she cried, the more he wanted to cry with her. "Please don't cry. I'm here, Lois … I'm right here. I know I was gone, but I'm back now. I'm fine, I promise. I should never have—"
"It hurts so much … I don't want to be without you, Clark." Lois's large, shimmering eyes met his and in that moment, though he'd been a part of her life for over a year and a half, Clark would have sworn that he had never truly known her until that very second — the briefest flicker of time when he'd seen into her soul and she had seen into his. "I need you in my life," she continued, still crying. "You're the best friend I've ever had … I don't want to be without you …"
Lost in a sea of emotion, Clark found her forehead with his lips and kissed her there, trying to soothe her. He wanted so desperately to stop her pain, to show her that he was here, alive, right in front of her — tell her that he would never leave again, not if it meant causing her this kind of hurt — that he would do anything just to be with her. Seeking to comfort and to be comforted, Clark held her face close to his and layered tiny kisses down to one tear covered cheek, whispering against her skin. "You have me … You'll always have me. Please, Lois, it's Ok. I need you, too … I need you … More than you'll ever know."
Their lips met unexpectedly. Somehow, some way, he was kissing her mouth, feeling her melt against him. She tasted like a magnificent mingling of teardrops, rain and Lois Lane.
Realizing suddenly what he had done, Clark pulled back, allowing Lois to escape his kiss, but instead she shivered almost uncontrollably, giving everything over to their moment. Thunder clapped close above them as she frantically reached up to wrap two wet hands around the back of his head, pulling his mouth back to hers, not letting him get away.
Clark couldn't get enough of the feel of her kiss or the way that she whimpered into his mouth, pulling passionately on his lips as she asked for more. He willingly complied, deepening the kiss until it became desperate, hungry, urgent.
He moved one hand up to cup the side of her head, feeling the power of the storm and the rain as it trickled across their faces and into their mouths at every gasp for breath. He pulled his fingers through her dark, wet hair. Soon, Lois's tongue extended out to taste him. She made a small sound in the back of her throat, begging him to take the kiss still deeper. As his tongue swept past her teeth, she gave it full access to the warm, moist cavity of her mouth, meeting him pull for pull.
Drawing her hands through his hair until they clasped the back of his neck, Lois pulled herself forward. Clark drew her in, following her lead, wrapping his arms around her back. He pressed his body against hers and felt her slight weight slacken in his arms once the contact was made.
It was maddening and passionate. Completely out of control. Lois finally broke away from their kiss and clung to his wet body, pressing her forehead against Clark's neck while she took in as much air as she could, breathing in with it the now-damp smell of his aftershave and the faint reminder of wet cement. Her hands fell against the sides of Clark's shirt, and she could distinguish the smooth, muscled hardness beneath her fingertips. His white shirt was almost transparent from the rain and, even in the darkness, she could make out the way it clung to his body.
God, this was so incredible; this couldn't be happening.
Lois lifted her head and found Clark watching her catch her breath, his own breathing coming fast and hard. She reached upward and kissed him again, unable to keep her mind in focus and unwilling to even try anymore. It felt as though she had been aching for this forever.
Clark moaned as Lois attached her lips to his once more and his hands wound their way under the coat so he could caress her. They held each other, heedless of the torrent of rain … eyes closed, mouths clasped, hands exploring one another's bodies intimately. No words were spoken or needed.
Lois had never felt so completely consumed with desire in her entire life. She had felt the urgency of passion before but it had never been like this … this felt like she might die if she didn't get to touch him, or to feel his touch on her. She drew in a breath to speak, but Clark had already turned his attention from her lips and was now trailing hungry, wet kisses along the sensitive skin just below her jaw and around towards her equally responsive ear.
"Oh, God …" Lois heard herself whisper fervently into the storm. "Oh, my God … I can't believe this is happen—" her breath caught in her throat as Clark suddenly attached his mouth to hers once more and swept her up into his arms. He continued his sweet caresses even as he carried her up the steps towards the still open door of his apartment, and the warmth that waited within.
Lois shut her eyes and clung to him, kissing him, unable to concentrate on anything but the way her body was feeling.
Lois awoke slowly, her mind gradually becoming aware of a odd heaviness in her legs. As her brain surfaced from the sleepy grogginess, her eyes still closed, she took stock of the sensations … she was in her bed, with the covers pulled up snugly around her, the noises of the city starting to reach her ears. The pillow beneath her head was soft, and she could hear the sound of her own breathing, quiet, deep and rhythmic.
Lois held her breath for a moment … and could still hear the breathing. What more, the weight on her lower body now felt warm and solid … like legs. Very masculine legs.
She tensed and opened her eyes slowly, frozen by the confusion and fear gripping her — she wasn't alone! There was someone in her bed! Lois's eyes darted around the room, panic quickly building as she realized she wasn't even in her own apartment. This room … it looked familiar, yet unfamiliar.
Finally, she recognized Clark's large windows and relaxed. It was Ok, she was in Clark's bedroom. Hmm, so this must be Clark's bed …
Her eyes opened wide. Then the man beside her must be …
Later that day, Lois would kick herself for her reaction. What she should have done was remain calm, to stay in control … that would have been the proper thing, the mature thing to do. Instead, she shouted the first thing that popped into her mind.
"Oh my God!!!!"
Clark opened his eyes drowsily at the loud yell near his ear. It sounded like Lois, but what was Lois doing in his …? Clark turned his head … and found himself staring right into the wide eyes of Lois Lane. "Lois?" he asked, confused. "What are you—?"
"Oh my God!" she exclaimed again.
Suddenly aware of his bare face, Clark quickly turned away to search for his glasses. He panicked for a second as he found the nightstand empty where he usually kept them, but he soon dropped his gaze to the floor as the memories of last night nudged at the edges of his brain. He quickly reached down to pick his glasses up from the floor and place them back on his face.
How in the world did his glasses get on the floor? He wasn't really sure … they were on his face when he came home last night, and when he and Lois were talking on his couch. Then there was the vague memory of Lois removing them in the darkness, only to replace the spectacles with her lips, layering sensuous kisses over his eyes and forehead …
This time it was Clark's voice that repeated the phrase. He looked at Lois, eyes wide. "Oh my God!!"
Lois sat upright, scrambling to pull the covers up around her chest. She didn't need to look under the blanket to know that they were both naked. She *knew* she was undressed … and from the memory of how Clark's legs felt partially intertwined with hers … she knew he was as well.
She closed her eyes; 'this isn't happening, this isn't happening', she mentally repeated over and over. Lois Lane did *not* just fall into bed with men, and *especially* not her co-workers.
Lois remembered everything about last night now; it was all crystal clear. How overjoyed she'd been at finding Clark was alive, how he'd invited her inside to talk after she drove him home, and how much fun they'd had joking and flirting and just being together. But then her rollercoasting emotions had taken another deep dive, and she had found herself in his arms, sobbing and confessing how terrible his death had been for her and how much she cared for him.
When their lips had met in the rain, it was all she could do not to devour him. The intensity of her feelings had been overwhelming, as overwhelming as the stress she'd been under since watching him get shot right before her eyes. She'd needed him desperately last night. She'd needed to feel his skin and hear his voice calling her name. And the moments that they'd spent making love had fulfilled all her needs, all her desires. It was like a dream come true.
But now that the sun was up, last night's dream was suddenly confronted with a brutal reality. And Lois knew that the reality was that men couldn't be trusted with her heart. Yet Clark wasn't just any man … was he? He was her best friend, her partner. She trusted him more than anyone. And the way he had looked at her last night, the way they talked … the way they made love. It couldn't be an act; he had to care about her. She trusted Clark, she believed in him.
The thought mocked her as Lois suddenly flashed on another such morning, several years earlier — the morning after she had willingly allowed herself to be seduced by a man that she worked with, a man that she was in love with, a man that she'd trusted. A man whom she believed when he said he would always be there for her, would always love her, would always respect her.
A man who was gone when she'd woken up in the morning, along with her prize-winning story.
The pain of that one stupid encounter hit her like a ton of bricks, still, years later. She'd be damned if she'd go through it again. It was too dangerous to open up like that; it hurt too much. No, this time it would be different.
This time … she'd be the one doing the leaving.
Lois pasted a smile on her face and turned to look at Clark, planning to make a quick exit.
She found Clark staring at her, almost in awe. "You're here. It … it wasn't a dream." His face broke into a genuine smile.
"Heh. Yeah …" she answered non-committally.
"Lois … I … I really …"
Did he have to look at her like that? So *happy*? So surprised and pleased that he could barely put two words together? Oh, God, he did look happy, didn't he? And he was looking at her like he really did care about her.
But that wouldn't last long, Lois was sure. It had all been a mistake. A big, fat mistake. It would sink in soon enough. He was probably still half asleep. Once he woke up, he would realize what a mess they were in, and then he wouldn't be so happy to see her.
Oh, he'd pretend, maybe even ask her out on a few token dates if he felt guilty enough — she'd been down this road before. But things would be so awkward and forced that they'd end up uncomfortable with each other, and would eventually start avoiding each other at work. Lois knew the pattern all too well.
In one moment of weakness, everything was ruined. She would lose her partner and her best friend. How could she have *done* this?? Well, one thing was for sure; she was going to get out of this with her dignity intact.
Lois knew Clark wasn't the 'one night stand' type; he'd try to do the right thing. Even now, she could see him trying to talk to her, pretending he was happy to see her. Maybe there was some infinitesimal, microscopic possibility that they could stay friends after this … but it wasn't going to happen with her lying naked in his bed.
No, if she was going to get asked out on a pity date — or worse yet, have to listen to him *apologize* for making such a huge mistake — it wasn't going to be while she was naked and vulnerable.
" … know it's getting late, but I could make you breakfast. What would you like?"
Lois blinked and swallowed, fixing him once again with the brightest smile (and phoniest looking, she was sure, but that couldn't be helped right now) she could manage. She had only been half listening to him as he'd happily rambled on (nervous energy, she was positive). Something about asking if she'd slept all right … then apologizing that he hadn't set the alarm clock … then offering breakfast …
Wait a minute. Alarm clock?
Lois swiveled her head to the windows, startled to see sunlight streaming in. This wasn't morning sun. This was … "What time is it?!?" she demanded, trying to crane around him to see his clock.
Clark's face fell a bit as she barked at him. "Uh … it's a little before eleven. You're probably hungry so why don't I—"
"Eleven??" she exclaimed, cutting him off. "Clark, we don't have time to eat! We have to get to work. Perry's going to kill me!"
"Lois, he knows we were there late last night …"
Lois wrapped the blanket around herself, and hopped off the bed, leaving Clark with the sheet. She looked around on the floor. "Where are my clothes?"
They both paused as they remembered that she didn't have any … her clothes had been ruined by cement and she'd been wearing Clark's suitcoat all evening. Lois looked up at Clark, a little sheepish. She wrapped the blanket around herself more tightly. "Um, Clark? Do you have anything I could—?"
He smiled at that, looking pleased and almost relieved as she met his eyes for the first time since her initial shock this morning. "Yeah, sure. You want to borrow some sweats? They'll be big but—"
Lois's eyes widened. Clark was talking to her, but even more importantly, he was starting to move the sheet out of the way as if he was about to get out of bed himself. Only he didn't look like he was going to wrap the sheet around …
"No!" she squeaked, stopping him in mid-lift.
He froze and looked at her warily. "What's wrong? You don't want sweats?"
Lois got even more flustered as she edged around the bed towards the dresser. "No … I mean … I'll get them … don't get up."
Clark followed her eyes to his bare torso, the one he was about to absent-mindedly expose to her, and suddenly understood. He blushed and covered himself back up, smiling self-consciously. "Oh … Ok."
"Uh … second from the bottom for sweats and one up for t-shirts."
Lois chuckled nervously as she opened the drawers. Success. And none too soon. Grabbing a pair of navy sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt, she quickly closed the dresser drawers. "This will be fine," she answered with a breeziness she didn't feel. "I'll just change and …"
Lois made the mistake of turning back around and catching Clark's eye. He was watching her, that much she had known already … but did he have to look so *good* doing it?
To her amazement — or was it her horror? — Clark had swung his legs off the bed and let them hang down to the floor. He kept the sheet around his mid-section, hiding the essentials, but it really didn't matter. The muscles in his thighs were chiseled below the sheet and the hardness of his stomach and chest above it were screaming for her attention.
Lois flushed as she tried not to stare. She heard her own voice in her head echoing words of praise for his body, words she had cooed and murmured and purred last night, her voice husky and sensuous and downright sexy …
"Lois, do you want this?"
She froze, her eyes huge. He didn't just read her mind … he couldn't, he— "What??" she gasped.
Clark ducked his head, embarrassed, and reached down to where he had been indicating. He came up with her bra in his hand. He held it out to her awkwardly. "Um … do you need …?"
Lois blushed profusely and snatched it out of his hand. "Yes, thanks," she mumbled, then to her even greater distress noticed her panties under the bed near his feet.
"Heh heh," she laughed nervously, trying to act nonchalant as she *casually* leaned over to pick them up, as if the naturalness of the act would prove it unworthy of his attention. Mission accomplished, she practically bolted for the bathroom, locking the door behind her with shaking hands.
Clark let out a heavy sigh as Lois shut the bathroom door, leaving him alone in the bedroom. He could feel his heart beating loudly inside his chest, and he tried to calm it. It was hard to identify all the feelings swirling inside him. He was excited and happy … and nervous and scared.
His head was spinning, that was for sure, and his emotions felt like they were still on the rollercoaster ride of the last few days. He thought he had solved his problems when he figured out a way to 'come back from the dead'. But now it seemed like he traded in one rollercoaster for another.
The events of last night were finally clear in his mind. He'd been confused when he found Lois in his bed. It had all been fuzzy when he'd awoken, like it had been a dream. A really, really *great* dream. But it hadn't taken long for him to clear the cobwebs from his mind and remember … everything.
Superman didn't need as much rest as other people did, but over forty-eight hours without sleep, combined with the emotional stresses that Clark had been under for those hours, had obviously taken their toll on him. Clark remembered feeling exhausted in the car when Lois had driven him home. She'd been talking to him about something — how she felt when he was dead, he was pretty sure — but he just couldn't keep his eyes open to finish the conversation. The murmur of her voice was so comforting, and the quiet hum and sway of the car was so lulling, that he just hadn't been able to fight his body's desire for sleep any longer.
He couldn't have napped long — the next thing he knew, they were in front of his apartment, and Lois was walking him to his door. Clark had woken up enough to know that neither of them really wanted to say goodnight yet, so he'd invited her in. And he was so glad that he did! It was so wonderful to talk and joke like that with her. He'd honestly thought that he would never get to do that again.
But when Lois had run into the rain — reacting to something he'd said, though he still wasn't sure what — he'd wanted nothing more than to protect her, to hold her and kiss her and comfort her. And the amazing thing was, she'd wanted him to do it. And she'd not only let him do it, she wanted more.
He'd felt completely swept away by the emotions that had come out of that encounter. All he could think of was how much he loved her, and how he thought he had lost her forever. Then suddenly, she seemed to return those feelings. The way she kissed him last night, the things they said to each other … Clark felt a shiver go down his spine as he remembered the sounds of their passion-filled moans filling his bedroom. Everything had happened so fast, like a tidal wave that he'd had no choice but to go along with …
Not that he'd wanted to fight it. For well over a year now, he'd been in love with Lois Lane. He dreamt of kissing her and cuddling with her … and yes, making love to her. Someday, when they were both ready, when she knew his secret and loved him for all of who he was … *someday* is what he would tell himself. Someday it would happen. He'd just had no idea that someday would come so soon.
Clark blinked his eyes rapidly to quell the rising emotions that he felt pushing their way into his heart. He loved her so much, and the delight he'd felt this morning when he realized that they really had made love was overpowering.
But from how Lois had reacted, Clark was afraid that her feelings were less clear … and that he might have made a horrible mistake in letting himself get carried away. He could tell Lois was upset and uncomfortable despite his attempts to show her how pleased he was she was there. But was it because she really didn't have the feelings for him that she had indicated last night? Or was it because she was just nervous around all men, enough so that she expected Clark to hurt her?
Clark sighed. He had heard enough about Lois's history with men to know that she was gun-shy. And rightfully so. Some of the stories that he'd heard had made him want to strangle the men that had been so mean to her. But Lois knew him well enough to trust him, didn't she? He would never treat her badly. They were best friends, and partners … and now more.
Clark squared his jaw. He couldn't let her think he was just after a one night stand. She needed to know that he wasn't like the others, that he cared more about her than he'd ever cared about any woman, and that he would do anything for her.
The only problem was that he wasn't quite sure how to convince her of that.
Clark thought he knew Lois well enough to know when she was just putting on a show to hide her true feelings. And it was clear that her bravado this morning meant her walls were going back up … the very walls that he had been so careful about breaking down.
It had taken him so long to get this far, to get this close to her, to become her friend. Lois had let Clark see a side of her that almost no one else had seen … and Clark couldn't bear the thought of those walls going up again because of something he'd said or done. Yet he had seen them go back up right before his eyes this morning, and it terrified him.
He wanted to tell her everything — how he'd been in love with her practically since the day he'd met her and how he couldn't imagine his life without her. But even with his lack of experience with women, Clark knew this would probably just scare her off completely. The disastrous results of his previous confession of love, when Lois was about to marry Lex Luthor, had taught him that. So all that was left was to be nice to her, to show her with words and deeds that he wasn't going anywhere, that he cared about her and wanted to be her friend … and hopefully more.
As Clark dressed and headed into the kitchen to find some food for them, he just wished he could get rid of the anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach. Because as worried as he was about not hurting Lois, Clark couldn't help but feel like his own heart could get broken very, very easily.
Lois emerged from the bathroom several minutes later, dressed in Clark's sweats and impatient to leave his apartment as quickly as she possibly could. She had barreled into the living room, found her loafers, and was now hopping around, trying to place them on her feet without slowing down, when she saw Clark watching her from the kitchen.
"Lois? I think we need to talk."
Having psyched herself up in the bathroom to make a quick get-away, it was easy to slip into full assault mode. "I'm sorry, Clark. I know we do, but it's past eleven! I still need to shower and get dressed — at least I missed rush hour — and then we gotta see if there is any new information since last night. I've really got to get moving!"
"Lois … I know that last night was … unexpected, and we might be feeling a bit weird around each other, but— but I really want to tell you —"
"Clark, last night was great, but we're both late for work and I really don't have time right now … another time, Ok?" She turned towards him, flashing him a brief, placating smile … and paused at the distressed look on his face. Oh, God, he actually looked … hurt? But that was impossible. He should be looking relieved that she was trying to leave quickly. It saved him the trouble of having to make up an excuse to shoo her out.
Unless last night had actually … meant something to him.
Looking past him, Lois was shocked to find eggs, toast and juice set out for two on Clark's kitchen table. He really had made her breakfast? But … guys only *say* they are going to do that. It's one of those things that they offer out of politeness and you're supposed to turn down. They never actually *do* it!
"Um, I made you something to eat … I know you said you didn't have time, but I don't want you to just run off."
She hesitated. "Well, maybe just a piece of toast … I'll eat it in the car …" She trailed off as she saw the pained look in his eyes. What was she doing? She was doing to him just what she didn't want to have happen to her. "Clark … I'm sorry. I'm — I'm not being very nice."
He smiled, more than a little sadly. "No, Lois … if you don't want to be here—"
"No! I mean … I don't know what I mean. This is just so awkward." She looked down, unable to meet his eyes.
Clark sighed. "I know … and I'm sorry … I don't want it to be. Lois, that's why we need to talk about it." When she didn't respond, he continued. "Look, I want you to know that I didn't plan for last night to happen … that wasn't why I invited you in."
"And I know that you didn't plan it either. It just … happened. And it shouldn't have happened, I know that, too."
Lois froze, feeling like all the blood just left her face. Well, here it was, the big kiss-off. She didn't need this, not now, not ever. "Goodbye, Clark." She turned towards the door, mentally kicking herself for not leaving earlier.
Before she had taken a step though, he was next to her, taking hold of her arm. "Lois, please, that's not what I meant. God, I'm not saying this right."
She stopped but refused to look at him, her anger starting to brew once more.
"What I mean is … oh, hell, Lois. What I'm trying to say … *badly* … is that while I didn't mean for last night to happen, I can't be very sorry that it did because … because … I care about you … a lot."
Lois blinked in surprise and looked up at him. "You do?" she whispered.
"Yeah," he nodded softly. "I do … and I was hoping that maybe … you cared about me, too?"
Lois sighed heavily. "Oh, Clark. I do care about you … you're my best friend, which is why this is so complicated! If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't be worried about how our friendship is going to survive this. I would be out the door and you'd be relieved and we'd never have to see each other again."
"But Lois, that's what I *don't* want. I don't want you to just run out the door and for us to never address this. What happened, happened. And I don't think we should ignore it."
"Clark …" she began apologetically.
"Lois," he interrupted, "I'm not very good at this … I don't know how I'm supposed to act in these situations. I've never *been* in a situation like this. I'm not interested in one night stands … and I'm afraid that's all you think this was for me."
That stopped her. "Well," she responded slowly, "I'm not sure what it was for you."
Clark raked a hand through his hair. "Well, why don't I tell you?" He took a deep breath, and looked into her eyes. "Lois, I have feelings for you. Strong feelings, romantic feelings. And I would really like for us to go out … not just as friends but on a real date."
Finally, he had said something that earned him a genuine smile.
He smiled back. "Really."
The relief that Lois felt was so overwhelming that she launched into a full babble. "Oh, Clark, I know I have a tendency to act first and think later, and I'm really sorry if I wasn't very nice to you this morning, especially since you were so sweet to make me breakfast and everything. It's just that I've been hurt before and when we woke up together this morning, I was just so shocked … and you seemed shocked, too, and I thought that maybe you were going to regret it, so I started to regret it, but now it seems clear that you don't …"
Lois took a deep breath and smiled shyly as she finally wound down. "So, I guess what I'm saying is that, yeah … a date would be nice."
Unfortunately, by this time, Clark was only half-listening. Instead, he was cursing his luck … and Superman. He had heard a call for back-up on a passing police scanner earlier this morning, when Lois was in the bathroom. But he'd ignored it, after a moment's hesitation, because the officers seemed to be in control of the situation … and truth be told, he was feeling too sorry for himself and too concerned over what he was going to say to Lois to be very interested in being Superman.
But that call had just escalated into a potential hostage and shoot-out situation. One police officer was already down. He *really* needed to go. Now.
"Um … actually, Lois. You know what? I think you're right; it is getting late. Perry is going to have our heads for coming in at noon." He spoke quickly, starting to move them towards the door. "Why don't you head home and take your shower, and I'll do the same. We'll meet at the Planet, and we can talk about this later, Ok?"
Lois blinked. Was he really trying to rush her out the door? Just when she'd taken him up on his offer to start dating? After his speech about caring about her … now he was giving her the cold shoulder??
Lois's face burned. She'd been had by a master. All that Kansas charm … and she'd walked right into it. She just stood there for a moment, in shock. Well, if he wanted her out, she certainly wasn't going to stick around. "Sure, Clark … whatever. See ya later." And with her head held high, she turned on her heel and walked out, not daring to look back.
If she had, she would have seen a very distressed Clark, visibly torn and feeling extremely helpless.
Lois made her way down the walk to her car, still parked on the street where she left it last night. Willing her hand to stop shaking, she opened the door. Slipping into the seat, she tossed her purse next to her. Only then did she look back at his apartment. Maybe he'd had a change of heart … maybe he was coming down after her to say good-bye … to kiss her…
But he wasn't even waving from the front step.
Lois's heart crept into her throat and she shut her eyes tight against the hot tears that threatened. No, she wouldn't cry. He wasn't worth it. She didn't need him … she got along just fine before Clark Kent walked into her life, and she would get along just fine without him.
But it would be a lot easier if her heart didn't ache every time she looked at him.
Lois entered the Daily Planet building at 12:40 p.m. It wasn't the first time she'd come in at lunch time, especially after staying late the night before on a story. But it was the first time in a long while that she'd had butterflies in her stomach at the prospect of whom she might see at work.
As the ding of the elevator announced her arrival in the newsroom, Lois strode purposefully towards her desk. She paused briefly as she passed Clark's desk, noticing that he had beaten her in, but was not in view at the moment. Her anger simmered again as she remembered their final conversation, how he had cajoled her into letting her defenses down, then rushed her out the door. Staying this angry was difficult, but Lois knew the alternative would be to feel sorry for herself, and she didn't have time for that right now.
Despite herself, she looked around the newsroom for Clark, covertly trying to see if anyone was staring at her and whispering. She didn't think Clark would have been gossiping at work about their night together, but at this point, she was having a hard time knowing what to believe about anyone.
As she swept her gaze past the windows of Perry's closed office, Lois found her partner. Clark was standing with his back to the door, in front of Perry's desk, talking to their editor. Lois hesitated for just a moment outside the window, until Perry glanced out and made eye contact with her. She flushed as she caught him looking at his watch, and she scurried to get to work.
Lois's eyes widened as she walked around to her desk. In the middle of her workspace sat a bouquet of red roses. Her heart started pounding nervously as she looked for a card. Surprisingly, she couldn't find one, but she assumed they were from Clark — after all, who else would send her roses today?
Lois sat down heavily in her chair and sighed. All of this back and forth, up and down … it was exhausting. She just didn't have the energy to deal with it anymore. She pushed the flowers to one side and turned on her computer. While it was booting up, she checked her voice mail, scribbling notes furiously as she tried to keep her mind off Clark and the events of the night before.
Lois had already made two phone calls to contacts at the police station and was typing up the beginnings of a follow-up story on the arrest of Capone and his gang when Clark exited Perry's office and walked over to her desk. Lois tensed as he approached, but pretended to be so engrossed in her story that she didn't even notice he was there. She hoped that he might get the hint and just leave her alone, but she wasn't that lucky.
Clark sat down in her guest chair and flashed her a warm smile. "Hi," he whispered.
"Hi, Clark," she replied absently, intent on ignoring him.
"Glad to see you got in Ok," he continued, his eagerness to talk all too apparent.
"Mmm," was all she said, keeping her eyes on her story.
"Uh … I just got in myself. I've been talking with Perry."
"That's nice … I take it he has a story for us and sent you over here to get me?"
Clark paused, confused by her "strictly business" tone. She hadn't talked to him this way since … well, not in a very long time. Clark looked around, trying to see if there was anyone within earshot, someone Lois wouldn't want overhearing a potentially private conversation, but he didn't see anyone. "No," Clark replied slowly, "he was just saying how glad he was to have me back, glad I was alive and everything."
That seemed to get through, causing Lois to falter in her typing. Clark took the opportunity to continue, a bit more animatedly. "Perry said we did a great job on the story last night. He said it showed 'real dedication' that we stayed so late to write everything up, especially after what we've gone through the last few days."
"Well, it is our job," Lois responded dismissively, as if they had no personal involvement in the story whatsoever.
They sat in silence for a long awkward moment, Lois going back to her typing and pretending that she didn't notice Clark staring at her with a confused expression on his face.
Suddenly, Clark perked up. "Oh, I have something for you," he said, reaching into his suit jacket pocket and pulling out a small white envelope. He handed it to her with a shy smile. "It was supposed to go with the flowers, but I thought maybe you wouldn't want the card to be just left on your desk … you know, in case anyone else saw it or whatever."
Lois took the paper reluctantly, still not daring to meet his eyes. "Oh, I was wondering who the flowers were from," she answered non-committally. She opened the envelope slowly and swallowed hard when she read the card. The words "Thank you for being you" had been penned in Clark's neat script.
Lois felt her heart begin to melt all over again, but forced herself to remain composed. Was this just another part of the game? Did he feel he had to let her down easy? But … he wasn't doing that. He was bringing her flowers and sitting next to her, not avoiding her and acting distant. This was so confusing. Clark acted like he was eager to be with her, yet Lois was still stinging from his mood swing this morning. No, best to choose her words carefully. "Thank you, Clark. They're beautiful … and it was very sweet of you," she responded slowly.
Clark smiled, relaxing a bit. "You're welcome. I know we didn't have much time to talk this morning, but I meant what I said about wanting us to go out, and I was thinking that if you had time later—"
Lois tensed once more. Here it was, the pity date. He'd made it clear when he rushed her out the door how little this date meant to him. Well, she was going to save them both the trouble. "Clark, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I *really* have to get going on this story. I have so much work to do and I really don't have time to talk about this. As a matter of fact, I have so much going on in my life right now that I don't know when I'll be free in the evening. I just don't think this … um … whatever it is … is going to work out."
Clark looked like she had just slapped him in the face. "But—"
"Clark, please … I really have to get back to work. We'll catch up later."
Stunned, hurt and uncomfortable, Clark stood up to leave. After a moment's hesitation, however, he turned back. "Lois?"
"Hmm?" she asked, still refusing to take her eyes off the computer screen.
"Lois, can you at least look at me? I know this isn't the place to talk about last night but … are you mad at me? 'Cause I'm feeling a bit … rejected here."
That got her attention. Rejected?? *He* was feeling rejected? Of all the …
Lois whirled around to face him, her eyes flashing. She had just opened her mouth to really let him have it when Perry's door flew open.
"Lois! Clark!" their editor barked. "In my office. Now!"
Lois closed her mouth, replacing the words that were about to flow with a glare that said almost as much. Clark stood, stunned, as she rose from her chair and brushed past him angrily on her way towards Perry's office.
Clark paused for a moment, gathering himself before following her through the open doorway. He had no idea why she was acting this way. A couple of hours ago, she had been opening up. She had seemed genuinely interested in going out with him. And now … this?
He knew she was unhappy about the way he had made his excuse this morning about needing to get ready for work. He knew from the way she'd turned and walked out that she was hurt by his suggestion that they talk more about their date later. But surely that wouldn't make her this upset?
Clark sighed miserably as he walked slowly towards Perry's office. It most certainly *did* make her this upset, that much was clear. And he had no idea how to apologize without giving away his secret.
Unfortunately, the prospect of confiding in Lois right now made Clark very uneasy. Her rejection this morning had shaken him deeply and had left him feeling very vulnerable. Even though his head knew that Lois's own fears had caused her reaction, his heart was telling him to protect himself. No, he simply couldn't risk telling Lois about Superman until he knew where they stood.
For the second time that day, Clark cursed his alter-ego. And as he took a seat in Perry's office, observing that Lois was once more refusing to even look at him, he despaired of ever being able to tell him that there was so much more to him than she knew.
"Lois, so good of you and Clark to join us this afternoon." Perry's tone was somber for a moment, but he quickly broke into a disarming smile. "I was just telling Clark here that you two did a hell of a job last night with Capone and his gang. Actually, I, uh, didn't expect either one of you to come in at all today. Once you LANed in your copy last night, I figured you'd both be so exhausted, you'd need a day to come down." Perry cocked an eyebrow at them in question.
Lois just shifted uncomfortably in her chair, unsure of what to say. When she caught the hint of concern in Perry's eyes, however, she knew she had to respond. "Oh, Perry, you know us. If we didn't come in to the Planet, what would we do?" She waved her hand dismissively and tried to give a casual laugh, but flashes of last night's encounter with Clark threatened to derail her train of thought. Despite herself, she glanced over at her partner, noticing that his expression betrayed that he, too, was experiencing a similar form of deja-vu. Lois narrowed her eyes and fixed him with a look that defied him to say a single word on the subject.
Clark swallowed as he saw the look Lois gave him. Ok, she was angry; she'd made that clear. But did she have to keep glaring at him like that? Didn't she know what she was doing to him? But still … a moment before she'd turned away, Clark was sure he'd seen a hint of fear in her expression. Clark frowned thoughtfully. He thought he understood why Lois might have been nervous this morning at his apartment, but why would she be afraid at work?
"Son? Are you all right?" Perry's fatherly tone broke Clark from his pondering and he glanced up, sporting a weak imitation of a smile.
"Yeah, Chief, I'm fine. I'm sorry, I guess I got a bit … preoccupied there for a second." He glanced quickly, almost imperceptibly, at Lois. She was looking away, but Clark could see her shoulders tense up.
"All right." Perry nodded as though he wasn't at all convinced, but was willing to allow the matter to pass. "Well, since you're both here and ready to work," Perry continued, switching effortlessly from 'father mode' into 'editor mode', "I have an assignment for you."
"I don't *believe* this," Lois muttered under her breath as she sat behind the wheel of her Jeep Grand Cherokee, her hands clenching the steering wheel as if she wanted to crush it.
Clark cleared his throat beside her. It was nearly dark, causing the city lights to flow surreally into one another as the vehicle sped along the highway towards its destination. "It's not *that* bad," Clark began.
Lois, however, obviously didn't agree, and she quickly rounded the corner into a residential neighborhood, squealing the tires. To her credit, however, she slowed as they neared their target, and even managed a quiet stop next to the curb. She shut down the headlights without comment.
They sat in silence for several long moments, the only interruption coming when Lois dug into a bag in her backseat, pulled out a pair of binoculars and practically shoved them at Clark. He waved them off just as silently, flicking his wrist to indicate his refusal to take them.
Clark sighed and looked out the window. This was how it had been all day between them. He kept trying to talk to her, but each effort earned him a response more stony than the last. He'd finally given up after purchasing sandwiches for the two of them from the deli across the street from the Planet. He'd assumed that they would eat their meal together in the car, the way they usually did when heading out for a stakeout. But Lois had simply delivered a curt 'thank you' and returned to her desk to eat alone.
In a way, Clark envied Lois her anger; it seemed to be a more productive emotion. His own feelings were alternating between depression and hurt, and he had found it almost impossible to concentrate on anything besides feeling sorry for himself. This was most certainly not the way Clark had pictured the after-effects of love making. As much as he tried to push it away, one thought kept forcing its way into his mind: that all these years, he had saved himself for a woman who would make him feel special, for a woman he could trust. But instead, he had thrown it all away on the woman whom he'd thought was the one … yet now she seemed to hate him. He had given his virginity … for this.
Suddenly, Clark became angry, too. Very angry. How *dare* she? She was angry at him for not wanting to talk more this morning, when he'd practically had to force her to talk in the first place! She was angry at him for admitting he was feeling rejected when all she had done since this morning was reject him! This time, when Lois shifted in her seat, muttering some complaint about Perry and his assignments, Clark responded bitterly. "You know, if you don't want to be here, I can handle this myself."
"Yeah, I'm sure you'd like to be rid of me," she retorted sarcastically.
That was the last straw. Clark turned towards her, his patience long since gone. "That's it! I'm done tiptoeing around you, Lois. What *is* it with you? Tell me, because I really need to know."
She whirled to face him. "With me? With *me*?"
"Yes, with *you*. Just tell me, so I don't have to keep guessing. Obviously something happened today between late this morning, when you agreed to go out with me, and lunch time, when you decided that you hated my guts!"
"Will you stop bringing up that stupid date?! I know what's going on here, and you don't have to keep pretending. We both know you weren't serious about it, so let's just drop it."
Clark's jaw dropped as he sputtered in response. "Not serious? Not serious?!? I've never been more serious about anything in my life. I meant what I said, Lois, and I don't appreciate you telling me that I didn't."
"Oh, yeah?? Then how come you panicked when I asked when we would be going out? Because you never expected me to say yes, that's why!"
"What are you talking about?? I didn't panic; I was happy!"
"Oh, give me a break. You were nervous and distracted … you practically shoved me out the door."
Clark took a deep breath. So that had been the reason. She thought … she thought that he… Oh, God, this was such a mess. "Look, Lois … I didn't mean — that wasn't what I was doing."
"Yeah," she said, turning back towards the window and away from him. "Right."
Clark felt his anger fade as he heard the pain in her voice. She was hurting, too … it wasn't just him. "Lois …" he said softly, "I'm sorry. Hey, come on … look at me."
When she didn't respond, he reached out and brushed his fingers over the side of her cheek. She flinched at his touch and his heart sank. Clark pulled his hand back. "Look, we need to talk this out."
"Why? Why do you care, Clark? Why do you keep going over and over this, when it's obvious that it didn't matter to you? Does it make you happy to see that I'm upset?" She fixed him with an intense stare that was part anger, part desperation. "Fine, I admit it; I'm upset and I'm … confused … and I'm … I'm sorry that I ever let myself believe that you cared." She let out a rueful half-laugh. "Why is it that I'm always the fool men find so easy to humiliate? It's like they take sport in it or something." Unable to hold back her tears any longer, Lois let them fall as she spoke. "So, congratulations, Clark Kent. You win. You get first prize." She turned away again, staring out of the driver's side window, heedless of the warm tear tracks which grew longer with each passing second.
Clark closed his eyes for a moment, willing her to understand. "Lois … it's not like that; I didn't mean for it to come across that way. Believe me, I meant every word I said this morning. I do care about you … and I never wanted to hurt you. Maybe it did seem like I was rushing you out the door, and I'm sorry for that. But it had nothing to do with my panicking, or hoping you were going to say no, or—"
Lois cut him off, her voice weary. "Save it, Clark. Honestly, it's fine. I know the game; I've been a player before, remember? You don't have to make something up. I've heard most of it already anyway, so do yourself a favor and don't bother." She tried to clear her throat but it came out as a quiet sob.
Clark sighed heavily and sat back in his seat, defeated. "Don't bother what, Lois? Don't bother caring about you?" he asked softly. "Don't bother wanting you in my life? Or don't bother thinking about you all the time?" Clark's voice grew husky with emotion. "Because I do … think about you all the time. Even when I tell myself not to … even when it's clear that you don't care about me the way I care about you."
Perhaps it was the way Clark spoke — quietly, yet with such intensity — or perhaps it was the unfamiliar sound of sorrow in his cadence; Lois wasn't sure. But somehow, at some point during his response, she had to turn around to meet his eyes.
"You know, just because I'm a man doesn't mean I can't feel rejected. You feel like I hurried you out the door, and I apologize for that. But you …" Clark's voice cracked as he continued. "You made it clear you wanted to leave from the minute you woke up this morning. You made it clear you regretted last night and didn't want to be there with me." He paused, trying desperately to get a tighter grip on his runaway emotions. "I guess I'm just saying that you're not the only one who's hurt, that's all."
Lois swallowed. She had been trying *not* to think of things from his point of view all day … but once she was honest with herself, she knew all the signs were there. He had been telling the truth all along, but her fears and defenses wouldn't let her see or believe it. "I'm … I'm sorry, Clark. For acting the way I did this morning. You're right; it wasn't very nice. I'm sorry I hurt you." She spoke slowly, as if testing out the words as she said them. But the honesty was there.
Clark looked up at her and smiled a little. He sniffled, a bit embarrassed that he'd gotten so emotional in the first place. Maybe Perry was right and he did need more than one day to recover from his ordeal. He certainly wasn't normally this raw emotionally; far from it. "Ok," he said with a nod, trying to convey to her that he was willing to forgive, if she was.
She was. "Ok," she said back, sniffling more loudly than he had. She wiped her hand over her face, trying to clear the tears away with a little laugh.
He laughed with her, then grew more serious as he faced her once more. "Lois … I'm not one of those players you talked about. If this is a game, I don't know the rules. I haven't been in very many relationships. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do."
Lois shook her head ruefully. "That's what makes this so complicated, Clark. We're not in a relationship."
"Maybe we should be." He fixed her with an sober stare.
Lois looked uncomfortable. "Clark …"
Clark sighed wearily and sat back. "Lois, I know what I'm feeling, but the more we talk, the more I realize I have no idea what you're feeling. Tell me, please," he pleaded. "How do you feel about this?"
Clark felt his emotions build inside him once more as long moments passed without any response. Lois's silence spoke volumes, even though he didn't want to hear what it was saying. He remembered back several months ago, to an earlier time when he'd revealed his feelings to her, only to have her explain that she didn't return them. Clark ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes. "I can't believe I did this again," he whispered. "I can't—
"I'm scared, Clark." Lois blurted out the words as though she'd been keeping them bottled up for centuries, cutting him off.
He opened his eyes in surprise, and looked at her hopefully. Scared was better than instant rejection … wasn't it?
"You asked me about my feelings," Lois continued. "The problem is, sometimes I think I'm too scared to know. My heart is telling me to just rush right in and let myself feel all the things I'm feeling, to enjoy being with you and to just let things happen. But my head … my head keeps reminding me of all the times that I've gotten hurt." She looked at him pleadingly. "Don't you see, Clark? At work, I'm rewarded for jumping in with both feet — I do that on a story and I'm a success. But, when I jump into a relationship with a man …" She dropped her head and whispered the rest so softly Clark might not have heard her if he hadn't engaged his enhanced hearing. " … well, it's always been a disaster."
Clark's heart ached as he watched her retreat into herself. He longed to take her in his arms and show her that, with him, there would be no regrets, that she would be cherished. But his own fears wouldn't let him do that. Not yet. He sighed softly. "Maybe you just haven't found the right man to jump with."
Lois looked up and shook her head ruefully. "Well, that's pretty much obvious, isn't it?"
Clark tried to smile, but all he managed was a sad nod. "But with the right guy …" He paused and met her eyes. Seeing her doubt, he continued, "Look, Lois, I'm scared, too. I really am. But I want this to work with us. I think we have something … something I can't even describe … something *real*. Being with you has touched something inside me."
"Sex has a way of doing that, Clark—"
He cut her off immediately, shaking his head vehemently. "No! Absolutely not." He looked into her eyes as he continued, imploring her to understand. "I'm talking about feelings here, not just what happened last night. Lois, last night was very special for me because of what I feel for you — what I have felt for you for a long time. Maybe it was 'just sex' for you, but it … it was a lot more to me."
Lois pulled back and cupped her face with her hands. "Oh, this is just so confusing!" she exclaimed in frustration.
Clark sighed and sat back. "I know … I know … and I don't mean to push. It's just … I don't want to lose this. I'm willing to slow down, Lois. I am. How about — How about we start dating and just see what happens?"
"I don't know …"
"One date, then," he offered. "One … that's all I ask. Give me a chance to wine and dine you, to show you I'm serious about this. Please?" At her hesitation, he continued, reaching for something that would hopefully convince her that he meant what he said. "No sex, I promise."
Lois first looked surprised, then doubtful. From the look she gave him, she obviously had heard that line before.
"Lois, I'm serious … let's agree. Nothing *happens*, even if the date is great and we both want to. Let's pretend that last night didn't even take place and I'm asking you out for the first time. No history, no strings."
"Uh-huh." Lois regarded him cynically, still unconvinced.
Clark took a deep breath then looked her straight in the eye. "Lois Lane, would you go out with me?" he asked sincerely.
"You're really serious about this?" Lois looked a little perplexed … and more than a little hopeful.
"I've never been more serious about anything in my entire life. Lois, go out with me. Please?" When she didn't respond, he smiled and added hopefully, "Pretty please?"
He held her gaze until Lois couldn't help but smile back, unable to keep the little girl giggle out of her voice as she finally answered. "Ok. One date."
His smile lit up the car. "Great."
Lois laughed, relieved the tension between them was finally broken, and they had gotten back on track.
Clark held out his hand. "No pressure, I promise," he reasserted.
"No pressure," she agreed as she shook his outstretched hand.
They each felt the sparks as their palms connected, and they stared into each other's eyes for a long moment. Lois nearly shivered at the energy she felt from him — there was definitely something there — something … wow. She could see in his eyes that he felt it, too. Slightly embarrassed, they slowly pulled their hands apart and dropped their eyes, chuckling nervously.
Lois broke the silence. "So, um, when?"
"Well, since we've already totally messed up this assignment," Clark began, grinning ruefully at her and following her inevitable gaze outside towards their intended target — the seemingly vacant house which remained to remind them they'd ignored it for nearly an hour. "We could skip out and get some dinner."
Lois frowned. "I'm not feeling very … festive tonight." After a pause, she continued, a little awkwardly, "You know, after all this."
Clark acquiesced. "Mmm, good point."
Lois pursed her lips in thought. "How about tomorrow?"
Clark sighed as he mentally reviewed his calendar. 'Clark' was free … but 'Superman' had a neighborhood watch meeting. "Um. Actually, I'm a little busy tomorrow … the night after that? Thursday?"
Lois deflated a bit more. "I have my Tai Kwon Do class on Thursday."
"Oh … well … hmm." Clark sat, thinking.
Lois shrugged as casually as she could manage. "You know, it's Ok. We'll figure something out. Maybe next week," she finished offhandedly.
Clark felt a surge of disappointment mixed with panic. They were so close … what if he let her go this time and never got another chance? "No!" he exclaimed, causing Lois to jump in surprise. He looked embarrassed and continued, more quietly. "I'm sorry … I mean, let's do it tomorrow. I'll cancel my plans."
"You don't have to." She looked up hopefully.
"I know; I want to." He returned her look with one of his own.
"Well, Ok. Tomorrow." Lois smiled shyly and Clark felt his heart leap in his chest.
"Tomorrow. Great; what if I—"
Lois cut him off suddenly with a softly hissed intonation. "Shhh. Clark, look! They're back."
Lois gestured towards the window and, sure enough, she was right. Through the glass, Clark could make out the figures of two men exiting a Lincoln Town Car down the block and proceeding towards the residence. If they were back, it meant that there might be a story here yet.
Picking up the binoculars she had placed between them, Lois adjusted the focus until she had a good view of the shady duo through her car window. A moment later, she turned to hand the instrument to Clark and caught him peering out the window over the tops of his glasses. Smiling, she tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. "These might help." She winked as she handed him the binoculars and Clark looked appropriately chagrined.
"Thanks." He took the offering, pretending to adjust them to suit his own vantage point.
"Do you see anything?" Lois asked while he worked.
"Not really. They're just standing there in front of the door talking."
"I wish we could make out what they're saying!" she muttered, leaning closer to her window and peering into the darkness.
"The shipment won't be in until Thursday," Clark mumbled as he recited what his super hearing had picked up.
Lois quickly turned around and raised her eyebrows. "You lip read that from here?!?" she exclaimed. "Boy, I thought I was good …"
Clark dropped the binoculars to his lap. "Uh, I, uh … yeah. A little, I mean, I could only catch what the one guy was saying because the other guy was turned away." He cleared his throat as Lois looked at him quizzically.
"You never cease to amaze me, Mr. Kent." After a moment, she simply shook her head and picked up his fallen binoculars, pressing them to her own eyes and continuing the watch.
Clark sighed. That had been too close. But perhaps not close enough? If things really were back on track between him and Lois, she deserved to know the truth, and, if so, he wanted nothing in the world more than to tell her.
It was just … timing. The wrong words at the wrong moment, and he could lose everything. He'd finally gotten her to go out with him — assuming there weren't any new misunderstandings to mess things up — and he could no longer deny that he loved her, intensely. Clark knew — *knew* — that he should tell her as soon as possible. But as guilty as the situation made him feel, part of him wanted to delay just a bit longer. He just wanted this date … this one date. Was that so wrong? And then, if things went well, he would just tell her when the time was right and she'd …
Oh, Lord, who was he kidding?! There is no right time to tell your best friend that you've been lying to her for a year and a half!
Lois's quiet voice jolted Clark from his thoughts. "What?" he managed, stifling a gasp. He hadn't been thinking out loud … Oh, no, please—
"Our date. You said tomorrow … what time?"
Before he could answer, Lois groaned in frustration as the two men entered the house and shut a large door behind them. Removing the binoculars from her eyes, she set them down in her lap and turned towards Clark instead. "They're probably going to be in there for a while. I didn't see them exchange any money either. I have a feeling this may not have been the most productive assignment."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that."
They both smiled as Lois caught both his eye and his meaning.
"Well …" she began softly, finally at a loss for words.
She dropped her head and Clark could tell she was blushing as she brushed her hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. "How about seven?" he asked, relieving both the tension and the question of when.
"Seven," she repeated. "Seven is good. Ok. Should I dress up or dress down? You know, that's a question people don't usually ask before a first date, and you never know where you're going to end up, and what you're wearing really *can* make a difference sometimes, right?"
She'd launched into full babble mode and Clark couldn't help but grin. He let out a short breath which was almost a laugh. "Lois—" he cut in softly.
She looked up at him with large, luminous eyes.
"Wear … anything you'd like. You look beautiful no matter what you wear." His eyes betrayed the sincerity of his admission, though the corners of his mouth had turned up into a teasing smile.
Lois shook her head in awe. Once again, she had practically been swept off her feet by an innocent remark from her partner. What in the world was happening to her? "Oh, Clark," Lois simply whispered, searching his eyes for any hint of trickery and thankfully finding none. It didn't seem possible that she could feel so much, all at once, for one person, yet she did. And it seemed even less likely that any man could return her feelings honestly. Yet Clark wasn't showing any of the tell-tale signs she'd come to know far too well; at least, not right now.
Was this too good to be true? Could she really trust him? Dare she let herself admit that she … that she could still smell his aftershave when she closed her eyes? That she remembered the way his warm skin felt against her lips? And the way his lips felt against her… "You know what, Clark? I think we'd better call it a night," Lois whispered, swallowing hard.
Clark sat up straighter. Had he said or done something wrong? Again? "But the assignment? Shouldn't we wait? You don't think they are going to come out soon?"
"Nope." She tossed him a quick smile, placed one hand on the steering wheel in front of her and started the car. "No, I think we'd better get ourselves back to our apartments and out of this car."
As the car moved slowly down the dark street and turned onto the main road, a worried Clark shifted over in his seat, watching her with no small amount of wariness. "But you're still going out with me, right?" he asked slowly.
Lois laughed, a loud, hearty laugh. "Yes, Clark. God help me but I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Clark quirked an eyebrow at her. "I don't want to know what you meant by that, do I? "
She flashed him a brilliant smile. "No. But it wouldn't matter, because I'm not going to tell you."
"Oh, geez, now I know I'm in trouble!"
Clark Kent had a hard time keeping the grin off his face as he walked to work Wednesday morning. Lois was actually going out with him — tonight! He'd been waiting, hoping for this day for so long, and now it was actually going to happen.
They had certainly taken a round-about way to get here. If someone had told Clark last week what would transpire in the next seven days, he would have told them they were crazy. The last several days had been the most frustrating, horrifying … and amazing days of his life. To think that after all he'd gone through to get his life back after being 'shot', he would discover that Lois had romantic feelings for him. It made him infinitely more grateful that he'd been able to come up with the story that allowed him to become himself again.
Clark furrowed his brow slightly as he reflected on the unusual events which had led he and Lois to declare their feelings for each other. They had made love; he had made love to Lois! And it had been amazing, incredible, wonderful … and unintentional. His emotions were still conflicted on that subject. It had been awe-inspiring, yes, but he couldn't shake the feeling that it hadn't been right.
He hadn't taken advantage of her, of that he was positive. She had been a completely willing participant — so willing that it was he who had followed her lead into the bedroom. Going over it again and again in his mind — a very pleasant distraction, to be sure — convinced Clark that he had done nothing to pressure Lois into her actions. That assurance was a huge relief, but it didn't completely absolve his guilt.
Neither of them had really been thinking too clearly that night. Lois had been tired and on an emotional rollercoaster, just as he had been. Even Clark's super body became taxed after forty-eight hours with no sleep. But Clark knew it wasn't just the physical exhaustion that had made him so vulnerable, so completely unable to stop himself from getting swept up in the tidal wave of feelings that had occurred when he and Lois had begun to kiss and touch each other. No, he'd dealt with extreme physical stress before and, with effort, had always been able to keep his mind relatively clear.
What had proved more difficult was the emotional stress Clark had been under this week. It had been a torrent of worry, fear and doubt. And when that stress was finally relieved … it acted like a euphoria-causing drug on his already physically run down body.
Of course, understanding why it had happened didn't completely assuage his guilt. Clark set high standards for himself and making love to Lois before they'd really become a couple, before she knew his secret … well, that just wasn't something he'd never even imaged he'd be confronted with.
Still, it had happened, and Clark was hard pressed to be able to regret it. It was not the way he had planned for the night to go, but if he hadn't invited Lois in, if they hadn't kissed in the rain … who knew how much longer it might have taken them to admit they had feelings for each other?
As he pushed through the revolving door of the Daily Planet building, Clark felt the grin on his face become more firmly entrenched. It felt good knowing that Lois did care about him, even if she was scared. He was scared, too, but it didn't stop him from being excited about tonight.
He wanted — no, needed — everything to be perfect. He had to show Lois that he was serious about this, that as good as they were together as friends, they'd be even better romantically. So much was riding on this date. And to think he'd almost blown it all yesterday morning by rushing her out the door to be Superman! One thing was for certain, he now had even more to prove to Lois tonight. He had to 'wine and dine' her as he had promised in the car, and show her he was committed to their blossoming relationship.
And one thing was for darn certain — unless a *major* disaster hit Metropolis, there was no way he would allow Superman to mess up his date tonight. If there was one thing Clark's experiences this week had taught him, it was that second chances were precious and that you couldn't always count on "later".
Lois sighed as she looked out the car window. She had finally gotten a little bit of sleep last night, though she knew she still had a lot of catching up to do. Still, after everything she'd been through this week, she craved the normalcy of going to work on time, and had fought her early morning desire to blast her alarm clock into outer space and go back to sleep.
After parking the car, however, Lois became less sure of that decision and hesitated before entering the building. Tonight was the night she and Clark were going to go out. Not just as friends — they'd been doing that for months now — but on a real date. That is, if they could keep from killing each other between now and seven o'clock.
What was it with them, Lois wondered, that made them seem to thwart every attempt to get themselves together? First it was Clark's confession of his love for her after Lex Luthor had proposed marriage. Lois had rejected him, albeit gently, only to be completely unable to stop thinking about him as her engagement progressed. Then, when Lois was finally ready to confess that maybe she'd been too hasty in her dismissal of his feelings … Clark told her that he hadn't been truthful in his declaration. It was enough to make her head swim — even now, six months later, she still had no idea what to make of that entire disaster!
Then two nights ago, her defenses completely broken down by her emotions, she and Clark had made love … wonderful, beautiful love. She'd fallen asleep thinking it was a dream come true. Yet by the time she'd woken up, Lois had convinced herself that it was nothing more than a horrible mistake. Clark had seemed equally conflicted, first pledging his deeper feelings, then panicking and backing off, then approaching her once again.
But however rocky the road to get them here, they were committed now. At least to tonight. One date, that was what he had asked, and what she had granted. To be sure, in her heart Lois hoped it would not end at just one date, but she couldn't allow herself to get excited, not yet. Things had been so very crazy this week, and she was worried that if she allowed herself to feel everything she was feeling … it might drive her insane.
These thoughts carried her up the elevator and into the newsroom — alone. Despite her best intentions, Lois hadn't been able to stop herself from looking hopefully around the lobby, wondering if Clark would be arriving at the same time. But there was no sign of him, neither in the elevator nor in the newsroom when she finally made her way to her desk.
What there was, however, was a large muffin. Lois did a double take, glancing around the newsroom to see if she was the victim of some odd joke. But there it was, sitting in the center of her desk, next to the roses that she had somehow managed to stop herself from throwing the trash can yesterday when she'd been so angry with Clark.
Eyebrow cocked, Lois sat down at her desk and shot another glance around the newsroom for Clark. Not seeing him, she resigned herself to opening the small card that was propped up against the large pastry.
As she read the card, the corners of Lois's mouth started to twitch. She fought it valiantly, but ultimately had to give up. Sitting back with a silly grin on her face, she broke off a part of the muffin and popped it into her mouth.
Ok … maybe she'd let herself get a little bit excited about tonight.
It was about a half an hour later that Clark Kent walked out of the stairway, fixing his tie and looking around to make sure no one had noticed anything suspicious. It wasn't his favorite way to start a morning, but he supposed that if he wanted to banish Superman this evening, he couldn't begrudge a rescue or two during the day.
Noticing that Lois was at her desk and seemingly engrossed in her computer screen, Clark made a quick detour to the vending machine. Smiling, he soon approached his partner with a mug of coffee in one hand and a bottle of orange juice in the other. "Good morning, Lois," he offered, smiling brightly. "You get your choice this morning. Nasty caffeine or healthy vitamin C."
Lois paused, then wrapped her hands around the coffee mug, imprisoning Clark's hand. He felt his heart rate increase. That electricity was always there when she touched him. She looked up at him with her eyes only, keeping her head bent toward the cup. "I'm notorious for choosing things that aren't good for me," she said, and then to his surprise, grabbed the bottle of orange juice with a grin. "But I think I'm due for a change."
Clark leaned against the corner of her desk. "I hope it's a change you like, Lois," he said softly.
"Me too," she whispered. She forced herself to stop staring into his eyes. "Thanks for breakfast," she added suddenly, indicating the empty muffin wrapper sitting on the opposite corner of her desk. "It was a very … original gift." The corners of her mouth twitched once again.
Clark grinned. "Well, as I said in the card, I couldn't really top the romance of the roses from yesterday, so I thought I'd go for practical. Show you how multi-faceted I am."
Lois found herself smiling back at him. "Do you do windows, too?"
Clark took the bait. "Oh, like a pro!" he enthused. "I keep telling you, I'm the kind of guy you want to have around."
Lois laughed. "I'm beginning to see that." She met his eyes once more, lowering her voice slightly. "And thank you for the flowers … I didn't say it properly yesterday, but they really are beautiful."
"Really?" His eyes twinkled. "It's hard to tell when you're sitting right next to them."
Lois blushed despite her best efforts. "You're pretty good at that flattery stuff. How long have you been practicing?"
Clark shrugged. "When did we meet?"
Now it was Lois's turn to feel an acceleration in heart rate. How had she overlooked this man for nearly a year and a half? She pulled herself together quickly, though, glancing back towards Perry's office. "That's *where* we met. And if we don't start earning our pay, Perry may regret having hired either of us."
"You're right," Clark nodded, his high undiminished. "So what's on the schedule today?"
Lois suddenly laughed. "I have absolutely no idea."
"Oh?" Clark said in mock concern. "Lois Lane, ace reporter, having 'absolutely no idea' what the assignment is. That's got to be a first." He placed his hand on her forehead, as if checking her for a fever. "Are you feeling Ok?"
Lois pulled his hand away, but held onto it. "Lois Lane has been experiencing a *lot* of 'firsts' lately."
Clark felt himself melt. "So has Clark Kent," he finally responded, his voice low and gravelly.
Lois caressed his hand. "It's been quite a week," she whispered.
It was perhaps fortuitous that Perry chose that moment to come thundering out of his office barking orders, or Clark would have found it impossible to stop himself from leaning down to kiss her. "Lois! Clark!"
"Here, Chief," Clark said, raising his coffee cup. He and Lois released their hands reluctantly.
Perry, always quick to size up a situation, glanced from the suddenly tight Lois and Clark, to the roses resting on her desktop. "Uh … Lois … Clark," he said in a slow, measured manner. "Due to the Washington scandal waging right now, sexual … improprieties are a hot topic. I want you two to dig up political slap and tickle from the last sixty years, and set it as a sidebar to run the whole week in conjunction with the wire updates."
Lois and Clark glanced at each other, a white-hot arc sparking between them. They then turned their attention back to their boss.
Perry swallowed. The first thing that flashed through his mind was thoughts of those children from 'Village of the Damned' sending messages via mental telepathy to each other — much to the everlasting woe of the others in the village, who were locked out of the children's private thoughts. Perry cleared his throat as he walked away. "I leave this project in your capable hands."
Lois frowned as he left. "Did Perry seem Ok to you?"
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Was Perry here?"
Lois slapped him on the shoulder. "You hit the disks; I'll hit the morgue."
"Deal," he laughed as she stood and headed upstairs.
As Lois walked away, Clark decided that he could surf the network for the necessary information from her computer as well as his own, so he dropped into her seat. He breathed in deeply, enjoying the sweet scent of the roses and the even sweeter, though fainter, scene of Lois's perfume. Clark began pulling up lists of recent relevant stories and noting where the text could be found, and sighed happily. He had no idea how he was going to make it until seven o'clock.
Up in the morgue, Lois pulled a couple of folders from the cabinet and caught herself humming. "Oh, great, this is the kind of thing I was afraid of," she admonished herself. "Get a grip. You're not a couple of fifteen year olds." An unbidden image of Clark in bed the other night — *that* night — crossed her mind. "Definitely not fifteen," she smiled ruefully, and went right on humming.
Back at Lois's desk, Clark quickly closed the window he'd been scrolling through. "What do you know?" Clark grinned. "The very disks I need are up in the morgue." He pushed away from Lois's desk, and took the steps up to the morgue two at a time. Only his hearing could pick up Lois's soft humming. He took a deep breath, and sporting an off-key false baritone voice, he sang, "Some enchanted evening," as he entered the door.
The joke was on Clark, however, as he underestimated Lois's quick reflexes. Taken by complete surprise by Clark's entrance, she hurled a box of old typewriter ribbons at him. Clark, the ribbons unspooling from around his shoulders and at his feet, just stood there. "If you're not a South Pacific fan, Lois, you shouldn't be humming the score," he said, and started picking the ribbons from his suit.
"I'm sorry, Clark!" Lois exclaimed, her laughter betraying the sincerity of her words. She held out the box as Clark slowly dropped the ribbons in, not bothering to respool them. "It's your own fault. You're supposed to be working the disks. Remember?"
"One small problem," he said, reaching above her head to grab a plastic box. "They're in here."
"Oh," she smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
"It's Ok," he said, that soft tone returning to his voice. "I guess I'll just get these back down to—"
"Wait, your hands and your neck are all smudged. Got a handkerchief?"
"Yes, but unfortunately it's in my pocket."
Before Clark could protest — not that he would — Lois reached into his pocket. His breath caught and his eyes rolled back. This was torture, exquisite torture. After Lois had roamed his pocket for a few moments, he managed to croak out, "It's in the other pocket."
Lois, not missing a beat, retrieved the handkerchief from his other pocket. "I know," she smiled, and began dabbing at his neck. She felt his pulse. "Your heart's racing, I must have really scared you."
He grabbed her wrist. "That's not why it's racing, Lois."
"I know." She hesitated, her eyes searching his. "Clark, this thing, you and me," she whispered. "I'm … it's scary to think—"
He pressed his forehead against hers. "Shh," he soothed. "I've never wanted anything to work so badly in my whole life, Lois."
"And what if it doesn't, Clark?" she asked, pulling back. "I'm not trying to be the voice of doom, really. I want this to work, too, and I'm not even sure why. I can't help myself."
"Like humming a love song and not being able to stop?" Clark added. "Buying roses and muffins … just because?"
Lois nodded. "Something like that. I guess I'm looking for a Sears and Roebuck guarantee," she said, and then laughed. "There isn't even a Sears and Roebuck anymore."
"It'll work, Lois. I know it will."
"That's easy for you to say, Clark," she sighed. "You're the optimist. I want to be as confident about this as you are. Why are you so positive this will work?"
"Because it *has* to."
Lois's expression blanked. "The power of positive thinking," she said. She spoke the words with no inflection, no assertion. She said them as a triggered response.
"Oh, God," she whispered and looked directly into Clark's eyes. "Superman."
Clark tried to swallow, but found he couldn't. "I … I don't understand."
"What you just said, 'because it has to'. That's what Superman said to me when I asked why he was sure his plan to stop the Nightfall asteroid would work."
Clark let out a long, slow breath. "Oh."
Lois, misinterpreting his sigh of relief, put her hands on his chest. "Clark, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up Superman. It's just that you said the exact—"
Clark placed his hands over Lois's and rubbed his thumbs down her fingers. "For a second … maybe just a split second, I got a pleasant …twinge …when you looked in my eyes and said 'Superman'."
In an instant, Lois's apologetic expression turned sensual. She drew her hands up his chest and around his neck. "Su … per … man," she whispered, looking deeply into his eyes, her mouth only inches from his and getting closer by the second.
Clark was thoroughly seduced. He locked his wrists behind her waist forcing her into his body, bending her lithe form slightly backward. He met her lips halfway with a moan, his eyes closing as his mind gave everything over to his senses.
As suddenly as it had begun, however, Clark broke the kiss breathlessly. "A promise … is a promise," he panted. "And Lois … when we kiss like that … I can hardly think."
Lois smiled against his mouth. "We still have to survive that date tonight."
Clark nodded, his eyelids heavy. "'Survive' is the perfect word," he said, picking up the box of disks. Backing away reluctantly, still trying to catch his breath, he opened the door. "We can be thankful it's in a public place."
Lois grinned, suddenly wondering why the heck she'd been so worried about everything.
Jimmy watched Clark slowly descend the stairs. He looked disoriented, momentarily uncertain what he was supposed to do or where he was supposed to go. Shaking his head, Clark moved toward his desk. Jimmy followed. "You okay, CK?"
"Huh? Oh, I'm fine, Jimmy," he said, shaking his head again, and opening the box.
Jimmy looked more closely. "What's that all over your hands?"
"Hands?" Clark asked, almost as if the word itself had no meaning.
Jimmy raised his hands and wiggled his fingers. "Your *hands*."
Clark half-smiled. "I lost a fight with some old typewriter ribbons."
Jimmy was about to ask what he was doing with typewriter ribbons when he saw Lois descending the same stairs Clark had descended just moments ago. Lois, by contrast, seemed to literally glow with life. She smiled as she approached. "Hi, Jimmy."
"Hi, Lois," he said, but noticed she wasn't looking at him.
Clark looked up at her, his expression, Jimmy felt, was akin to worship. "Hi," he said softly.
Lois maintained the eye contact another moment or two, and then turned and walked to her desk. Jimmy's eyebrows crawled up his forehead as he noted Lois's lower back was stained with black smudges. His face split into a wide grin and he shook his head. He turned back towards Clark and tapped the side of the monitor. When Clark glanced up, Jimmy merely gave the 'thumbs up' sign and walked away.
Clark looked puzzled as the young man left. He shrugged, and then began to look through the disks. He placed one in the drive and accessed the first of many files of political misconduct. He finally looked away from his screen when he heard Lois sigh loudly. "Problem?"
"A lot of what I need is referenced back to articles I'll have to call up at the library." She grabbed her purse. "It seems we lost a lot of stored information when the Daily Planet blew up."
Clark sat up straighter. "I can do that for you, Lois, if you want to take over the disks."
She smiled. "I think a little walk in the fresh air will clear my head. It does mean I probably won't see you until tonight though."
Clark rested his chin on his palm. "If we ever intend to get any work done today, it's probably for the best."
Lois looked at him thoughtfully. "Will this get worse if we continue dating?"
"Probably," Clark said wistfully.
"Then you'd better be worth it, partner," she said and moved up the landing to the elevators. She knew Clark was watching. She stood in the elevator and winked at him as the doors closed.
Clark smiled, staring at the elevator doors long after they'd closed. He'd be ready. He'd be worth it. But now he *knew* he wouldn't be able to wait patiently until seven o'clock.
Clark arrived five minutes early and paced nervously outside Lois's door. He could hear her moving around inside and didn't want to interrupt while she was getting ready. It had been a difficult afternoon, even without Lois around to distract him. The memory of her kiss and the anticipation of tonight had sorely tested his work ethic. By lunchtime, he had actually found himself swimming laps in the Pacific Ocean, just to burn off some of his extra energy. By five, he had given up completely, sending his stories to Perry and heading for home. It was all he could do to not to call her up and ask her if she wanted to make it any earlier. His one exception was a message he'd left on her answering machine mid-morning, letting her know that he had made dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant in her neighborhood.
At 6:59, Clark finally knocked, unable to contain himself any longer. To his surprise, she opened the door almost immediately.
"Hi …" he started, but the words that were to follow caught in his throat. She looked … stunning.
The dress hugged her body like it had been designed especially for her. The color was a purple so rich and deep that it almost looked black. Two thin straps lay across her nearly bare shoulders. His eyes followed the material down as it showed off her curves, the hem ending just above her knee. The dress wasn't tight, but the effect was stunning nonetheless.
"Hi," she said, stepping back from the door. "Come on in."
"Lois, you look … breathtaking."
"Thank you." Lois blushed, dipping her head slightly and granting him a smile that made his heart turn inside out. "You look pretty great yourself."
"No, I mean it."
Watching Clark regard her in something akin to awe, Lois realized that she had never felt more beautiful. She let her eyes twinkle at him. "So do I."
They stared at each other, grinning, until Clark cleared his throat. "Uh … is that a new dress?"
Lois looked down at herself. "Oh, this? Actually … yes, it is. Do you like it? I must have tried on ten outfits before deciding on this one." She rolled her eyes with a grin. "But I know men don't worry about those things. My dad used to get so mad—"
"I changed my suit three times tonight." Clark looked sheepish.
Lois just stared, amazed. This man was incredible. This couldn't be happening. She hadn't felt this way about anyone since … well, Superman! "What time are our reservations?" she asked.
Clark looked at his watch. "In about twenty minutes. Are you ready? We should probably get going." At her nod, Clark opened the door and motioned for Lois to exit ahead of him. But as she passed, he stopped her with a gentle touch on the arm. Lois looked up at him expectantly, standing close in the doorway. Their eyes met and locked.
"Lois, before we go … may I … kiss you again?" His words were barely more than a whisper.
Her heart pounded in her chest. "Yes," she whispered back, hardly able to breathe.
Clark reached a hand up to caress her cheek and brought his mouth down for a kiss … gentle, sweet and entirely mutual. It was completely different from the heated encounter they'd shared in the file room, but no less pleasurable. His heart soared.
They'd been lucky enough to find a cab right outside Lois's apartment building, and had taken it the several blocks to the restaurant. Clark had been true to his word, making reservations at an Italian restaurant in her neighborhood that had received its share of awards and write-ups. It was known not only for its food, but for its romantic setting. Fortunately, the middle of the week wasn't nearly as popular as the weekend, and Clark was able to get a table for two for that very night.
The food and the atmosphere lived up to its name, and Lois and Clark enjoyed a wonderful dinner, accompanied by a generous carafe of red wine. Lois had let Clark pick the wine, and was amazed that he actually was able to describe several of them to her. She would never have picked this guy — this T-shirts and jeans guy, who nonetheless looked drop-dead gorgeous all dressed up — for being a wine connoisseur.
The evening flew by, even though they dawdled over ordering, eating and drinking. After a somewhat awkward start, neither of them knowing quite what to say, the conversation picked up quickly once they finally relaxed and started talking.
It was amazing how the topics seemed to flow from one to another. Many of the stories they told each other were familiar, albeit with a lot more detail thrown in. But quite a number of the things they shared were new, and Lois found herself telling Clark things she had never shared with anyone in the past.
They talked about their families, their early work experiences from before they joined the Daily Planet, and their travels. Lois had traveled through Europe, hitting most of the big cities at one time or another and doing "the museum tour", but she sat, fascinated, as Clark talked about some of the out-of-the-way places he had been; some he'd visited as a freelance writer and others "just for fun".
A few hours passed like minutes until finally Lois sat across the table from Clark, swirling the remainder of her wine in its glass. The wine had been delicious, as had the food, especially the chocolate dessert they had shared. Lois couldn't remember having such a nice time on a date, and as she sipped her wine, she knew that she was staring at Clark almost adoringly. She could hear herself giggling at his jokes, could feel herself holding eye contact for just a second longer than she probably should have.
And she could see that he was equally entranced, the look in his eyes communicating volumes … the way his eyes fixed on her lips and glazed slightly as she licked them, the way he leaned forward attentively as she spoke. She felt like she was being swept along despite herself, and for one of the first times in her life, she didn't care.
Maybe it was the fact that she was sharing these things with her best friend, or maybe it was the wine, but Lois couldn't remember ever having been this comfortable about feeling so … entranced.
Clark watched as Lois sipped her wine, then licked her lips. He'd had some nice dates in the past, or so he had always thought … but everything else in his memory paled in comparison to this night. He had never felt this way before. Lois seemed so at ease with him, so open. He wished that he was so at ease.
Watching her like this set him on fire … the way she savored their dessert; the look in her eyes as she fed him the last little bit on the end of her own fork. And the way she kept laughing at his jokes — not the fawning laughter that he'd experienced with some women, or the exaggerated laughter he'd heard from woman who looked at him like they wanted to eat him for dinner — but the clear, free, uninhibited laughter of a woman who felt alive and happy … happy to be there with him.
Did she have any idea what she was doing to him? What it did to him when she giggled and put her hand to her mouth? When that little girl voice crept into her conversation every so often? When she looked down at her lap, then up at him through her lashes?
Clark let out a shaky breath … he was on fire. Not just his body, but his mind and his soul as well. He felt like he was starting to drown in this experience, and it both scared him and beckoned him deeper. He needed to get up and move around. Sitting so close to her and not being able to touch her was making him restless. Clark looked across the room towards the small dance floor. Jazz music was playing softly and a small handful of couples were swaying to the rhythm.
"Lois, would you like to dance?"
Lois cocked her head and smiled at him. She'd seen him cast a few furtive glances towards the dance floor over the course of the evening, and she had wondered if he was going to ask her to dance. She'd thought about asking him, but then they'd start a new topic and the engaging conversation would distract her. "Sure; I'd like that." Lois stood, taking Clark's elbow and letting him lead her around the handful of tables that stood between them and the tile floor. Once on the dance floor, they quickly found an empty corner and turned into each other's arms.
They started out with a modest amount of space between them, close but not too close — but it wasn't long before Lois found herself melting into Clark's arms as they moved slowly to the music. They'd danced before, just recently as a matter of fact, at the Churches' fund-raiser ball. Of course, then Mayson had cut in and …
Lois chastised herself and pushed that memory back in the closet, locking the door securely. She was having too much fun to remember anything but happy times. She laughed in surprise as Clark suddenly backed away, twirled her around, then brought her back securely in his arms. "Wow, you really know how to get a girl's attention!"
Clark laughed with her. "You looked like you were daydreaming there; I just wanted to wake you up."
"I'm awake; I'm awake!" she exclaimed.
When their eyes locked, his smile softened. "Are you having fun?" he asked.
Lois took a deep breath and sighed happily. "Yes, I am. Are you?" As if she couldn't see it in his eyes.
Clark gazed into her eyes and murmured, "Incredible …" He caught himself. "… time. I'm having an incredible time. Tonight has been really special for me." He gave her a warm smile.
They swayed that way, looking into each other's eyes for a moment, until Lois lifted her hand from his shoulder and cupped the back of his head. She ran her fingers through his thick hair affectionately, and didn't fail to notice the way his eyes closed for a second, as if the sensation was too pleasurable to fight. When he met her eyes once more, his gaze was a little more intense. She smiled. "So, a Nigerian princess, huh?" she asked playfully.
Clark cocked his head with a surprised smile. "You remember that?"
Lois laughed softly. "You told me that the first time we danced together, your first week at the Planet."
Clark chuckled. "The way you stormed off, I thought maybe it didn't make an impression."
"Oh— I—" She dipped her head with a small blush. "I make it a point to remember everything I can about people who fascinate me." Their eyes locked once more. "So, the princess … is it true or were you just trying to impress me?"
Clark cleared his throat almost shyly, then nodded. "Ahh … well, it is true …" He laughed as Lois's eyes widened a bit in exaggerated surprise. "But I was also trying to impress you," he acknowledged with a grin.
She couldn't help but laugh out loud at his admission. "Well … I'm impressed. So … she's still in Nigeria? This isn't some ex-girlfriend that's going to come back into your life and try to steal you away from me?" Her tone was light, but Lois Lane wasn't above digging for information, even on the best date of her life.
Clark smiled. "No … that was a long time ago. Gosh, about six years ago now. Last I heard, she'd gotten married and was having a baby."
Even as he spoke, Clark felt his heart began to beat a little faster. Steal me away from her? Oh, please let her mean that …
Lois's voice brought him back. "As long as it isn't your baby," she teased again.
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Oh, that's a given … definitely not mine." He laughed as if Lois had just reminded him of some private joke. "That's one thing you definitely don't have to worry about."
Just then the song ended, and they noticed they were alone on the dance floor. A quick scan of the restaurant told them that the few remaining diners had left, and the staff was starting to clean up.
"I think we closed the place down," Clark murmured.
Lois looked around, still locked in his arms. "Yeah … I guess we should go."
He didn't move either. "Yeah …"
When Clark looked into her eyes, Lois almost forgot to breathe. His face was slowly moving closer to hers, and she knew that he was going to kiss her. She leaned into him invitingly, stilling her hand where it had been playing with his hair, her eyes closing as she waited for his kiss.
Their lips met softly and the world seemed to melt away.
Clark tightened his hand on the small of her back and gently pressed her into him. God, she felt so good … the feel of her body against his was burned into his memory, and he never wanted to forget this night.
They kissed that way, softly, gently … again and again. When their lips finally parted, Clark pressed his forehead to Lois's. "Wow," he whispered.
Lois murmured her agreement against his warm skin, "I think I could get used to that."
Clark smiled. "I hope you give me the chance to let you."
Before Lois could respond, Clark pulled back a little awkwardly. "Mmm, I think we better get going." At Lois's questioning look, he nodded towards the kitchen.
Lois giggled as she saw several pairs of eyes watching them, the restaurant owner and his staff, waiting patiently for their last guests to finish up.
"Oh … how embarrassing," she laughed, pressing her face into Clark's neck.
He stifled a groan at how good an innocent bit of skin contact could feel. "Let's get out of here."
They wrapped up the rest of their business quickly. Clark paid the check directly to the owner at the front of the restaurant, not knowing whether to feel embarrassed or proud when the man complimented his beautiful date, and wished him a wonderful night with a knowing smile. Clark chose the middle ground, smiling politely and assuring the man they would.
When Clark turned around, however, Lois was nowhere to be seen. Concerned, he took the few steps to the front door, and looked through the glass.
He relaxed as he saw Lois standing in the vestibule of the restaurant, between the inner and outer doors. She had her back to him, but he could tell by the way her shoulders were tight that she wasn't feeling as relaxed as she had been earlier this evening.
Clark's heart sank a bit. He'd had a wonderful time, one of the best times he could remember. And he thought she had, too. But maybe something was bothering her.
With a small sigh, he opened the inner door and joined her in the privacy of the vestibule. "Hey," he said quietly, coming up behind her and placing a hand on one bare arm. "You Ok?"
Lois looked over her shoulder at him and gave him a little smile. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just … thinking."
"Want to tell me about it?"
"Um … no, actually, I don't think I should," Lois replied quietly.
She wasn't upset, but Clark caught the hint of doubt and nervousness in her tone. "Did I … ah … do something wrong in there?"
That got her attention. She turned to face him. "No! Clark, no, it's nothing like that."
"You sure?" he asked, still looking for reassurance. When she cocked her head and grinned up at him, Clark smiled, a bit embarrassed. "Ok, I'm sorry … I'm not normally so insecure. It's just … with everything that's been going on with us lately …"
Clark gestured vaguely to indicate the whole situation as he trailed off. Still uncertain, though, he then launched into a little babble of his own. "I guess I just know that I'm not very good at this. I don't want to mess things up and I know I don't always know what to say, or do. I mean, you'd think that after traveling the world, I'd have a handle on everything, but I guess I—"
Clark was cut off mid-sentence as Lois stepped quickly into his arms, wrapped her arms securely around his neck, and attached her lips to his. Through a haze of surprise mixed with absolute joy, Clark struggled to recover his sanity. It was a task he soon gave up in order to fold his arms around her body and hold her, letting his hands roam across her back and bare shoulders.
Clark felt a shudder travel though his entire body as he felt the tip of her tongue brush against his. He had been so careful when he'd kissed her on the dance floor, wanting to show his enthusiasm, but still keeping his passion in tight check. The last thing he'd wanted to do tonight was to scare her off … to apply pressure and have her retreat again. And so he'd been careful not to let his kisses reach this level, to get this passionate. But once Lois had taken that initiative, it was like the floodgates had opened. With a groan rumbling deep in his throat, Clark pulled her even closer to him, one hand on the small of her back, the other reaching up to cup the back of her head. He deepened the kiss while Lois tangled her fingers in his own thick dark hair.
The kiss continued, but for a ravenous Clark Kent, there never would be enough time to taste her fully. Lois must have agreed because, as their lips parted, even before they had managed to take in a breath, she fell back into his arms and let him capture her mouth again in much shorter, though no less passion-filled version of the first encounter.
As the final kiss slowly disengaged, Lois gasped to catch her breath. Clark did as well, but for several different reasons. Her face was only a whisper away from his, her lips flushed and moist and so inviting. Clark knew he could kiss her repeatedly for hours and never tire of the way she felt in his arms. If he had needed a reminder, he was now more sure than ever that Lois Lane was the only person he would ever love this way, and the only woman he could consider sharing his life with.
Lois ran her tongue across her lips and swallowed, letting her eyes follow the contours of his face. He was so close … and so beautiful. As their eyes met, she marveled at the awe she saw within them, the pure joy; the heated desire. How could she have ever worried that she might scare him off? The time spent alone while Clark had paid the bill had given her doubts the opportunity to nibble at the edges of her mind, but she knew now that her fears were unfounded. Lois's eyes twinkled. "See, I told you you hadn't done anything wrong."
At his stunned expression, Lois started to laugh. Soon enough, he was chuckling with her. Shaking his head in amazement, Clark took her hand and led them through the large wooden door onto the sidewalk. "What you do to me, Lois Lane."
Lois pulled backwards on his hand as the door closed, still laughing, and he went to her willingly. They kissed once more under the street lights — less passionately, but no less pleasurably than before.
And then they stood, silently staring into each other's eyes for a most incredible eternity, until a cab racing down the road snapped them out of their trance.
"Uh … Do you want to get a cab, or should we walk for a bit?" Clark asked, never taking his gaze from hers.
"Why don't we walk a little bit?" Lois suggested. "We can always catch one on the way if we need to." The light in her eyes seemed to dance. "It's a nice night and besides, I think I could use some air."
Clark laughed. He knew *exactly* what she meant. "Excellent idea."
They turned and began a slow saunter down the city street, in the general direction of Lois's apartment. It was a calm night, balmy for fall, and the late hour meant there was relatively little activity in this area. Other parts of the city were no doubt still teeming with people, but this area was more residential and small business oriented … relatively upscale and safer than most.
A street lamp flickered once above their heads and, as Clark looked up in mild curiosity, he felt Lois's hand slip into one of his. Her fingers sought the spaces between his own and their hands intertwined.
Clark felt a tiny shiver go through him as he felt the contact. It felt so good, and even better was the fact that she had initiated it. His smile was warm and genuine as he glanced down to find her smiling back up at him. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
It had only been moments since they'd started walking, yet Clark found himself stealing glances at her and searching for something to say. Not just anything … not mindless small talk to break the comfortable silence. No, he had feelings that he wanted to express. He reached for some way to tell Lois how incredible he felt, how incredible it was being with her, and yet, no words came. He smiled to himself. A writer without words. What this woman could do to him.
As they reached an intersection, Lois interrupted his thoughts. "Which way do you want to go?" she asked.
"Well, the water is just that way, isn't it? I think everything else is pretty much closed down for the night, but I know the lights along the Bay will still be on. Isn't there a little lookout platform right around here somewhere?"
Lois looked up at the street sign to get her bearings, then turned them to her left, heading toward the water. "Yeah, the next block down. That sounds nice."
They reached the waterfront area quickly enough. By day, the sidewalk that ran along the water might be dotted with joggers or mothers with strollers. But by night, especially now that summer was over, this part of town emptied when the sun went down. It was one reason Lois liked this neighborhood so much. She could reach the hustle and bustle of the city easily enough, but she knew she had a safe and quiet neighborhood to come home to. A refuge in her hectic life. In fact, this little waterfront area was one of the reasons she had been so drawn to this neighborhood in the first place. Odd then, she found herself wondering, given how much she had enjoyed the area, that … "You know, I've lived here for four years, but I've never taken a walk along the water here at night before."
It was true. Lois had been on plenty of Metropolis's docks in the middle of the night, all in the seedier places of town. Meeting with sources, spying on suspects, getting attacked by criminals … that was a part of her normal, everyday life. But never once had she taken the time to just stroll along this charming part of the bay, in an area safe and quiet and beautiful. Previously, she would have thought it boring, not worth her time. But now …
"To be honest, neither have I," Clark admitted. He'd flown over this section of Hobbs Bay many times as Superman, and even prevented the rare street crime in this area, but never before had he simply been content to take a walk by moonlight here, until now. Until Lois.
As they reached the platform, Lois felt Clark's fingers tighten over hers once more, then release her hand to gently circle her waist. She let his arm guide her, allowing him to help her up the step at the water's edge.
Moonlight shimmered like glassy shards across the surface of the bay, dancing on each tiny ripple. In the silence, Lois could hear the quiet lap of the water against the land. She stood still, taking it all in, and felt Clark come up behind her. She let herself lean against Clark's strong body, her back to his front. Sighing, she allowed her head to rest back against his shoulder, and smiled softly when she felt him sigh happily in return.
"It's beautiful here, isn't it?" she whispered, taking each of his hands in hers as he slipped his arms around her waist.
"Beautiful," he echoed softly, even as he nuzzled her hair, breathing in deeply as if her scent was intoxicating to him.
Releasing his hands, Lois turned in Clark's arms until they stood face to face, a breath away. She could feel one arm tighten around her waist, and she sighed happily as Clark brought his other hand up to caress the side of her face as softly.
Clark looked into her eyes as he ran his thumb gently along her cheek. Once more, he felt overcome by the need to find words, words that would tell her what he was feeling. But when he opened his mouth to speak, he found her fingers pressed lightly over his lips, silencing him. Clark's breath caught in his throat as Lois gently traced the edge of his lip line. Her eyes glistened with each reflected shard of moonlight that fell across them, and Clark was certain he saw the shimmer of unshed teardrops behind them. "Oh, Lois," Clark whispered huskily, tipping his head forward and lightly placing it against her own. They held that way, breath mingling, as he slid both arms around her once more.
Lois did the same, arms inside his jacket, clasping her fingers together at the back of his waist. She saw the kiss coming first in his eyes, the tenderness and longing shining through. It communicated to her as surely as his words ever could, and she tipped her face up to meet him. Their lips met once more, so slowly this time that neither was sure exactly when it had happened. Clark felt Lois's hands travel up along his back until she pulled them from his jacket completely, only to replace them around his neck. He pulled her more tightly against him and deepened the kiss.
This time it was his tongue that reached out for hers, tentatively at first, then with greater confidence as she eagerly responded. Time and again, he caressed her from within, making gentle love to the inside of her mouth. Lois felt herself shiver with every loving caress. She melted into his arms and nearly forgot to breathe as wave after wave of intense need swept through her.
Clark lost track of the sounds they made, of the way Lois whimpered and moaned encouragingly, and how he responded to her in a language only they could understand. He concentrated on the way she felt instead … and the way joining with her in this way was making *him* feel.
When they finally disengaged their lips, Lois found herself panting, her heart racing. Almost beyond thought, she closed her eyes and let her head tip back as Clark continued to kiss her face, the edge of her lips, her eyelids … everywhere he could reach. She gasped in pleasure as he moved to one side, gently pulling on the shell of her ear with his mouth and whispering incoherent encouragement against her.
Standing here on a public lookout, fully clothed, Lois knew that she was being made love to … loved with more warmth, more emotion, than she'd ever experienced with any man before in her life.
Several long moments later, Clark Kent was purring happily as Lois kissed her way up to his ear. His eyes closed on an encouraging moan as she lapped her tongue along his jawbone, then sucked his earlobe into her mouth. As she continued to tease him, he felt as if he might explode with the desire that coursed through him. Thus, it was with only a moderate amount of disappointment — and a healthy dose of relief — that he found himself holding her close in a hug, each of them allowing their passion to cool to a simmer. Breathing deeply, Clark placed the side of his head against the side of Lois's, and they held that way for long moments, each tingling with desire, but willing to enjoy the feeling without taking it any farther.
It seemed an eternity later when Clark heard Lois swallow and speak the words they both knew were coming, but hoped to stave off as long as possible. "It's really late," she said quietly.
"I know," he agreed with a sigh, pulling back slightly and looking into her bright eyes with a loving smile. As they disengaged, Clark let his hands travel slowly along her arms. Her bare arms. "Lois, I'm so sorry! I should have offered you my jacket the second we got out here. Are you cold?" His newly acquired rational sense awoke a stinging sense of self-reproach, and he frowned as he stepped back quickly and took off his suitcoat.
"Cold? Clark!" She giggled. "If I were cold after … after *that*, I really would be the Ice Queen Cat Grant always made me out to be."
Clark wasn't convinced. Opening the suitcoat behind her, he slid it over her shoulders. "Put your arms in, there you go," he coaxed as she worked her way into the garment. His hands lingered over her arms as he smoothed the material down. Their eyes met and held once again. Clark took the lapels of the coat and pulled her towards him affectionately. "Now, don't go getting any cement on this one," he ordered, his eyes dancing. "My dry cleaner is ready to disown me."
Lois laughed. "Hey, I can't make any promises. I never look for trouble; it just finds me."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Oh, geez," he exclaimed. "I can't believe you even tried to say that with a straight face!"
"So, you gonna walk me home … just to make sure the jacket stays clean?" She was flirting again.
"Absolutely … just for the jacket, of course." Clark jumped off the platform they'd been standing on and reached his hands out for her. As she leaned into his arms, he lifted her over the small step, then pulled her close and swung her around playfully. Only then did he set her down, sliding her down his body as he did so. Impulsively, he stole a quick kiss. "Silly," he whispered, showing he knew they were just teasing.
Lois grasped his hand once more, and began to walk down the street, pulling him affectionately. When he fell into step next to her, she giggled.
"What?" Clark's curious question made Lois bump him playfully with her hip in answer.
"Oh … it's nothing really, I guess." She laughed out loud as if amazed by the thought. "I've just never had a better time in my entire life, that's all." She chuckled a little self-consciously at the admission, and glanced up at him. She caught her breath as he broke into a brilliant smile.
Lois had never felt this way before. Her heart danced nervously inside her while a portion of her stomach — a portion it seemed she had forgotten existed — pulsed with energy. She felt a tingle as Clark disengaged his hand from hers, and instead wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her to him affectionately. Her own arm reached out and automatically encircled his back at the waist.
Several weeks ago, if someone had told Lois she would instinctively reach for Clark this way, that such simple contact would send a rush running through her entire body, she wouldn't have believed it. But, as if showing who was in charge, her life had surprised her once again. Things were so different now … amazingly, wonderfully different. She was experiencing feelings that she hadn't let herself experience in so long. And it felt so incredibly good.
They happily walked the several blocks inland to her apartment building, treating each flashing "Don't Walk" sign as an excuse to steal more kisses. They laughed and flirted and teased the whole way, talking about everything … and nothing. By the time they reached her street, Lois wondered if the smile would ever leave her face. Yet as they made their way up the old stone steps that led into the building, Lois could feel a slowly rising column of anticipation travel up through her stomach into her chest. Very soon, it would be the moment of truth. The her door was in front of them, and suddenly Lois didn't feel as relaxed and comfortable anymore.
Lois glanced up at Clark and smiled shyly. He returned her smile along with an expression that told her he was a little nervous as well. Extricating herself slowly from his warm closeness, she gingerly took off his jacket and handed it to him. "Here, see, all clean."
He just chuckled and held the jacket in his hand.
Lois reached into her purse and pulled out the key to her apartment. Clark hung back slightly as Lois unlocked the door and turned the knob. Leaving the door ajar, she turned to face him. "Well …" Lois felt her heart racing and could hear the unsteadiness in her voice. The way she was feeling did more than amaze her; it left her nearly breathless.
"Yeah," Clark agreed, though to what he wasn't quite sure.
"Ok … Um …" Lois let her gaze meet his and nearly lost the rest of her sentence. The way he was looking at her sent a thrill along every nerve in her body. "Clark, I had an incredible time tonight," she managed to finish, watching his expression become even more intense before her. Had his eyes always been that beautiful?
Yes, a small voice whispered insistently inside her.
"So did I," he affirmed.
Clark took a step towards her, then stopped, still safely distant, yet close enough for her to smell his cologne and nurture an irrational desire to run her fingers over the well defined muscles of his chest. Was that her own perfume she smelled on him as well? God, the whole experience was enough to make her consider doing and saying things which were *definitely* out of the question.
"So, I guess … I guess, this is goodnight. Right?" Her voice was significantly smaller and less assured than it had been before as she added the final question to the sentence.
There was nothing in the world Clark wanted more than to negate their agreement, to sweep her up into his arms and make exquisite love to her until morning. But Clark Kent was a man of his word, and despite the love and desire racing through him — despite the hesitation in her voice that told him that with only a little coaxing from him, she might invite him into her apartment — he knew he couldn't take her up on it. He wanted to … oh, how he wanted to. But they had agreed, and he had to show her he could be trusted. Clark swallowed hard. "Right. I'm gonna go."
He saw her nod slowly and relax, and he was sure he had made the right decision … well, pretty sure. They stood that way for a long moment, staring into each other's eyes, until Lois finally broke the silence, just the way she had in his apartment during that stormy evening only two nights before. "Goodnight, Clark," she whispered. The same voice, the same words, the same woman, and yet so much was different.
"Goodnight, Lois," Clark managed, as he watched her glance backwards towards her open apartment door. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Lois took hold of the door and nodded. "The Planet." She was watching him … waiting.
"Lois…" Clark whispered her name intensely, taking a half step towards her despite his intention to behave.
Almost immediately, Lois released the door and launched herself into his ready embrace. He held her tightly, meeting her lips full on with his own and cupping the back of her head with his hand. In kind, Lois tangled her fingers in his hair the way she was rapidly coming to realize she loved doing.
The kiss disengaged slowly, reluctantly, each hearing the other one's fast breathing, and feeling the pounding of their own hearts. Lois swallowed. "Tomorrow," she said, trying to sound convincing … though she wasn't sure for whose benefit.
"Goodnight." Clark took a step back, letting her move slowly out of his embrace, but following every movement of her body while she backed into the darkened apartment.
This time she smiled and called after him as he turned to go. "You better have something better planned for lunch tomorrow than turkey sandwiches, mister."
Clark cocked his head in confusion for a second, then smiled as he mentally jumped back in time to the lonely dinner they'd managed to have last night, before the stakeout, when they were fighting. "I promise." He grinned back. "Nothing but chicken from now on."
She laughed. "You surely know by now that I can make your life a living hell, Kent."
Clark waved his hands in front of him in mock defense. "I surrender … anything you want. You pick."
"You," she whispered, and then, realizing she'd said the word aloud, nearly choked before adding, "—better be on your best behavior then."
Clark cleared his throat. For a moment, he had thought she might have said— "I will. Goodnight, Lois."
"Goodnight, Clark." She swung the door forward until it was almost closed before adding, "Thank you."
"Thank *you*." He smiled back at her, eyes twinkling.
The door clicked shut.
Clark let out a deep breath, and let his eyes fall closed for a moment.
On the inside of the door, Lois rested her head backwards against the wood and smiled, shutting her own eyes. "Wow," she whispered.
Clark Kent turned his head back momentarily towards her doorway when she spoke … then swung his jacket over his shoulder, and headed for home. All the way back, he tried to remember the last time he'd had so much trouble keeping a grin off his face.
Clark got into work early the next morning, gathering information on a story that he suspected would keep him out of the newsroom most of the day. Usually he loved being out in the field, but this was one day he would have preferred to stay at his desk, waiting for Lois to come in. The message waiting for him on his answering machine, however, had changed his plans.
And so he had come in early — before most of the night shift had even left, in fact —compiling his notes and organizing questions. He'd had this story simmering for weeks now, but had been unable to nail down an interview with the man who could verify his information. Unable, that is, until Perry White had cornered the man's boss at a charity function and convinced him that meeting with Clark ensured their company would get a fair shake if the allegations of money laundering turned out to be false.
Now an interview originally deemed unattainable was scheduled for eight o'clock this morning, in the man's office uptown. Amazingly, the vice president of the firm and the controller were also going to let him get a look at their books, to prove to him that they were innocent pawns in the deception of their parent company.
This was all an amazing coup, and Clark was excited to get it. All his hard work into the background of this situation was finally about to pay off, and he could smell the story here. Unfortunately, it also meant he was now sitting at his desk a good hour before he — or Lois — was normally due to get in. And most likely, he was going to be gone well before she got there.
Clark waited as long as he could, on the off chance Lois would show up early herself, but when the clock on his desk reached 7:45, he knew he couldn't wait any longer. He quickly composed an e-mail to his partner, letting her know what had happened. His fingers flew over the keyboard, typing up everything he needed to say easily enough … until he reached one word that gave him pause. Clark hesitated and stared at the computer screen, lost in pleasant memories of the previous night. Finally, he reached a decision. With a nod, he added the word that took him longer to choose than all the others combined, smiled as he studied the way it looked on the screen, then clicked the send button.
Done, Clark turned off his computer, picked up his stack of notes and files, and left via the elevator. He paused in the front lobby, scanning, still hopeful, but knew that when a taxi pulled up in front of the Planet building to drop off a few commuters, he couldn't temp fate any longer. Jumping in as the previous occupants jumped out, Clark gave the cabbie the address, shut the door, and went to work.
Lois entered the newsroom at 8:52 am. Normally, she would have felt a tad guilty strolling in so late, but today she found she just couldn't get upset about anything.
She had slept in this morning, knowing full well that Perry owed them time — recovery time she and Clark should have taken earlier in the week, but didn't. She'd tried sleeping in other mornings this past week, but she just couldn't. Even deliberately not setting the alarm clock hadn't worked, as she would too often automatically awaken at the first morning's light and have too many thoughts churning their way around in her mind to let her go back to sleep.
But last night she'd slept better than she had in weeks, maybe months. It wasn't the number of hours that mattered so much, it was the quality of the rest. And last night she had fallen asleep with a smile on her face and had the most wonderful dreams all night long.
Lois had awoken rested and eager to greet the day, a feeling she normally only encountered when she was excited about a big story breaking. But today, there was no big story awaiting her. There was only Clark. And despite her admonition to herself to keep things light and not to appear too eager … she couldn't wait to see him.
And so it was, at 9:01, when her partner's desk was still disappointingly empty, that Lois logged onto her computer and absently checked her mail. To her surprise, there was an email from Clark.
Subject: Hi Lois :)
I just wanted to let you know where I was this morning. There was a message on my answering machine when I got home last night. Perry was able to get me that interview with Ken Hammond! Can you believe it?
I came in early to gather my notes, but I had to leave before you got here. My appointment is at 8, and after that, I have to head over to the courthouse to pick up some papers. I honestly don't know how long it will take, but I probably won't be back until later this afternoon.
I think I'm going to have to take a rain check on lunch today. I was really looking forward to it, too. I promise I'll buy you a chicken sandwich tomorrow. ;)
If I'm not back by noon, please go ahead and eat without me.
Hope to talk to you this afternoon.
P. S. I had a *great* time last night. Actually, that's a big understatement. :)
Lois just stared at the message, a smile creeping onto her face. It was thoughtful of him to write, yes, but it was the way he had signed off on the message that caught her eye. For as long as they had worked together, for the last year and a half plus … he had never once signed an email to her with anything other than his name.
Lois sighed happily, saved the message, and got to work. She was quite productive when happy … even allowing for the fifty or more times she allowed herself to savor "Love, Clark."
Clark finally made it back to the Daily Planet a little before three o'clock that afternoon. His morning meeting had gone even better than he'd hoped, and after examining the company books (and listening in on the respiration and heart-rates of his hosts), he was convinced that the company vice-president and controller were indeed being honest with him. Everything pointed to a parent company trying to save itself by implicating its local supplier.
Clark still had a lot of investigating to do, but he now had the local company's promise to work with him, and he felt confident there was evidence out there somewhere just waiting for him to dig it up. Unfortunately, he couldn't print anything yet, but he was pretty sure that he had enough to convince Perry to allow him to continue this particular investigation.
He'd stayed at the firm until almost 11:30, and had entertained a fleeting moment of hope that he might make it back in time to surprise Lois with a chicken sandwich (after which, of course, he'd take her out somewhere special), but the city's criminal element had other plans. Clark had been in a cab back to the Planet when he'd heard the first call for help. Others followed shortly thereafter, until he ended up spending upwards of three hours in the red and blue suit.
After a quick stop at the courthouse to pick up some information a source had prepared for him, Clark's lunch consisted of a hot-dog purchased from the cart downstairs — and eaten in the elevator on his way up to the newsroom.
It wasn't at all how he had pictured his day, but such was the life of a top-notch reporter. A few days ago, he had wondered if he'd ever be able to practice journalism again. He wasn't about to complain about having to work overtime on a fantastic story.
Clark settled into his desk, took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Perry wasn't in his office, and most of the reporters on the floor were nowhere in sight. Lowering his glasses slightly, Clark looked through the wall of the conference room and paused. He had found everyone … but was it a meeting he needed to attend? A quick expansion of his super-hearing told him that it was an impromptu circulation meeting.
Clark hesitated. Technically, he should be in there; reporters were expected to attend if possible. But one look at the notes he needed to transcribe from this morning, and the number of files on his computer tagged "working", told him that his time this afternoon would be better spent at his desk.
It was bad enough that all of his stories had been put on hold while he was "dead", but then he hadn't been at all productive when he'd started back to work a couple of days later. His first day back, he'd been too depressed and concerned about Lois's behavior after their night together to be of much use to anyone. And then the next day, he'd been too excited about their upcoming date to concentrate.
Clark shook his head in amusement. He normally wasn't so distractible. He had always been able to buckle down and force himself to write, even if he wasn't in the mood. The resulting piece may not have been his best work, but it was usually quite passable, and could always be improved by a little reworking and editing.
The last few days, however, had thrown even his super-concentration for a loop. And now he had to pay for it. Fortunately, Perry had been fairly forgiving, allowing Clark to extend the deadlines for some stories he was working on until later in the week. But now it *was* later in the week, and Perry would be expecting several stories from him in the next two days. Those had to be his first priority.
Opening up the first file, Clark set to work.
It was a little after 3:30 when Lois and the rest of the staff exited the conference room. Making her way to her desk, Lois felt her heart jump when she saw that Clark had returned.
She studied him for a moment. He was obviously deep in concentration, his brow furrowed as he stared intently at his computer screen. His fingers looked like they were practically flying over his keyboard, and even the sound of co-workers engaged in idle conversation as they shuffled past his desk didn't draw his attention.
Lois smiled slightly. She liked watching him work. It was the thing that had first made her notice him; how, despite her attempts to dismiss him as a "hack", he consistently turned out top quality stories. It took more than a pretty face to attract Lois Lane, and Clark Kent had proved himself worthy of notice.
Sitting down at her desk across the aisle from him, she turned her gaze to the roses on her desk for the hundredth time today. The deep red buds were starting to open after a couple of days on her desk, and the fragrance continuously drew her attention. After a moment, however, she felt a pair of eyes on her and realized that the clicking of a nearby keyboard had come to a halt. Smiling, she turned her gaze to her partner's desk, and found that indeed, he was looking back at her. "Hi," she said warmly. "Just get back?"
His smile broadened. "Yeah, while you were in the meeting. Did I miss anything important in there?"
"No, not really," she said dismissively. Meetings never held much appeal for her. "You look busy."
Clark sighed, looking more than a bit frazzled as he glanced back at his screen. "Yeah, I'm swamped. I got a little behind this week—"
"Is there anything I can help you with?" Lois started to push herself out of her chair. Hey, if her partner needed some help, it was only right for her to offer. Of course, having an excuse to get close enough to talk to him without half the newsroom overhearing held a certain allure as well …
She was halfway out of her seat when her phone rang. Lois sat back down. "Hold on," she called to him as she picked up the receiver. "Lois Lane. Oh! Dr. Laurence! Yes, thank you for calling me back. I'm doing some research for a story on …"
Lois shot Clark an apologetic look as she talked, all the while grabbing frantically for a pen and trying to locate a fresh pad of paper for notes. She looked at her partner gratefully as he smiled in understanding and waved her off.
When Lois finally hung up the phone, Clark was no longer in his seat. She sighed as she located him in Perry's office, studying some papers over Perry's desk with their editor. They looked like they might be there awhile. Darn, missed again.
"Hey, Jimmy?" She flagged down her favorite researcher as he passed by.
"Did you ever get a chance to pull those articles by a Dr. Edward Laurence?"
"Oh, yeah, I did, Lois, but I have to go deliver this for Perry right now. The printouts should be still sitting in the printer in the computer room. Can you go grab them yourself?"
With a nod, Lois stood up and headed to the far end of the newsroom. Taking a walk sounded like just what she needed.
Twenty minutes later, Lois was headed back to her desk, deciding that she'd be more comfortable reading in her own chair than at Jimmy's database computer. When she spotted Clark alone at the coffee machine, however, she quickly detoured. Tucking the printouts under one arm, she grabbed a clean coffee cup as she reached the table. "Finally taking a break, huh?" she said as she stood next to Clark.
He looked pleased to see her appear at his side. "Hey! Yeah .. 'finally' is about it. Got a lot done, though."
"That's great … your interview went well?" she asked, keeping her tone as professional as possible as she scanned around for outside ears that might be tuned to their conversation.
"Yeah, it really did. I'll have to fill you in on it later."
Lois glanced at Clark only to find him 'casually' looking around as well. She smiled as she realized they had been doing the same thing. Confident they were alone, at least for the moment, Lois decided to say what she'd been wanting to say all day. Her tone changed from mostly professional to something much softer. "Thank you for last night. I had a wonderful time." She felt herself start to melt as he turned a very warm smile her way.
"Lois, I did too. I really —"
"I know, me too," she cut in excitedly, touching his arm, all her intentions to keep things quiet at work quickly flying out the window. Hearing the eager sound of her own voice, Lois knew she had to get a grip. She was starting to gush again.
Fortunately, Clark was sounding the same way. "It really was great …"
He seemed as though he had a lot more to say, but suddenly, he stopped, a look of disappointment clouding his face. Sure enough, over her shoulder, Lois heard the laughter of Perry and Jimmy approaching.
Each taking a quick half step apart, Lois and Clark managed to put their warm, longing looks in check just in time.
Lois packed up her desk slowly, watching out of the corner of her eye as Clark talked to Jimmy and Perry at his desk. She was drawing it out as long as possible, hoping to catch him alone to say good-bye, but there was no way to talk privately with him unless his guests left.
Perry and Jimmy had followed Clark back to his desk from the coffee area — and stayed. At first, Perry had wanted Clark to re-explain some of his discoveries from this morning in Jimmy's presence, to map out the direction for additional research. But after that task was completed, the two men stuck around. Perry was in one of his rare lulls and seemed to be intent on enjoying it by talking sports with Clark and Jimmy.
Lois took that as her excuse to exit the conversation, but it didn't stop her from casting glances at Clark from her desk. She noticed him looking at her frequently as well, and as their eyes met, he sent her a look of apology … and frustration. That made her smile. It was pretty clear he wanted to get her alone, too.
Finally, she just couldn't wait any longer. It was already 7:15. Another five minutes and she wasn't going to have time to stop for a bite to eat before class. Lois stood up and picked up her briefcase. She walked past Clark's desk on her way out. "Well, goodnight, everyone. I'm heading out now. I'll see you in the morning."
Jimmy and Perry looked at her brightly and said their good-byes. "See ya tomorrow." "G'night, Lois."
"Good-bye, Lois." Clark echoed them, but quirked his eyebrows to show her how much he wished they were alone.
She smiled, letting him know it was all right. "Have a great night." And with a wave, she was gone.
The three men watched as Lois strode out of the newsroom and hopped into a waiting elevator. Jimmy and Perry immediately went back to their conversation, but Clark stared after her, fidgeting in his seat. This was agony! He'd barely had two minutes alone with her the entire day. Now to have to wait until tomorrow without even getting to say good-bye …
Clark stood up suddenly, unable to take it anymore.
Jimmy and Perry stopped in mid-conversation, startled by his quick upward motion. "Son? Is something wrong?" Perry asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Clark just stared at their expectant faces for a moment, his mind racing. "Oh … I … uh," he fumbled. "I just remembered … I have to tell Lois something …" As the two men each raised an eyebrow in surprise, Clark continued quickly. "Something about one of the stories we were working on … about …" Clark's eyes desperately scanned the top of his desk, looking for salvation. "This!" Clark exclaimed, grabbing up the closest stack of file folders. "I need to go talk to her about this. I'll be right back." And with that, he turned and bolted up the ramp, bypassing the elevators and heading straight for the stairs, folders in hand.
Perry and Jimmy stared back and forth between Clark's quickly retreating form and each other, their expressions somewhere between shock and amusement.
"Jimmy, do you get the idea that there's something we're missing here?" Perry finally said, a speculative look creeping onto his face.
Jimmy just stared at Clark's desk for a moment, then burst out laughing. "I think that's a good bet, Chief."
"Why? What's so funny?"
"Those file folders Clark just grabbed? They were mine."
Clark moved through the hallway at only slightly faster than normal speed, but as he hit the staircase, he sped up. Keeping his eyes and ears open for anyone that might spot him, he bypassed the lobby door and continued down to the ground floor, to the parking garage. He slowed as he reached the bottom, and shoved the door open with a flourish.
Stopping momentarily to scan the garage, he saw her. She had already tossed her briefcase onto the passenger seat, and was about to get into the car herself. "Lois!!" he called out loudly from across the garage.
Lois paused when she heard her name and turned to find Clark jogging towards her. She broke into a pleased smile. "Hey," she said warmly when he came to a halt in front of her. "Did you run all the way down here?" As he stopped in front of her, she playfully ran her hand down the front of his tie, straightening it against his shirt.
Clark smiled back. "Yeah, I did."
"What are those?" Lois asked, indicating the file folders he still clutched in his hand.
Clark studied at them blankly, looking at them closely for the first time. "Honestly, I have no idea." He stared at them quizzically for a moment, then shrugged and placed them onto the hood of her Jeep. Then he met her eyes and grinned. "I just wanted to say good-bye. I feel like I haven't talked to you all day."
"I know, we got really busy there."
"Yeah …" he trailed off. He knew they were just making small talk, neither saying what they really wanted to. But that was Ok. This wasn't the place for any type of intimate conversation, and it really did feel good just to reconnect with her.
"So, what are *you* doing tonight?" Lois asked, moving a step closer to him. They still weren't touching, but stood closely enough together in the cradle of her open Jeep door to communicate they were more than 'just friends'.
"Oh …" Clark started absently, too distracted by her closeness to care much about his plans for later on. "I think I'll just get caught up on some stuff that I've been putting off this week, stuff I didn't get to yesterday."
Lois smiled shyly. "Those plans you canceled last night?"
Clark smiled back at her. "Yeah."
"Hope I didn't mess you up too badly," she said, looking up at him.
"It was worth it," he responded, getting lost in her eyes. After a moment, he blinked, trying to bring himself back to reality … and coherent conversation. "What time does your class get out tonight?"
"It usually goes a couple of hours. Depends on what we have to cover and how the class goes. I'm usually home by 10:30, but I have to stop at the market on the way home so it might be later than that tonight." She paused, a little hesitant. "I would love to do something tonight, but I think it'll be too late when I get home."
Clark just stared at her, a warm smile creeping onto his face. She'd just assumed they would try to get together tonight if they could and expressed disappointment that it wasn't going to work out. They were sounding like a couple … a real couple. Oh, how he liked the way that sounded.
Clark stepped closer to Lois and put his arms around her waist. He delighted in her smile and the easy way she immediately wrapped her arms around his neck. Yes, definitely a couple.
Their lips met softly and they exchanged several sweet kisses as time seemed to stand still for them. "I've been wanting to do that all day," Clark whispered as he finally released her lips.
"Mmm, me too," she concurred, a satisfied smile on her face. Unfortunately, however, time hadn't stood still, and Lois seemed to suddenly realize it. She pulled back reluctantly. "Oh, shoot, I really have to go. I'm going to be late."
Clark stepped back. "I know … I'm sorry … I just had to see you."
Lois smiled. "Don't apologize. I'm glad you did." She gave him one last quick peck, and got into her car, shutting the door securely as he stepped out of the way. She rolled down the window as she started the car. "See you tomorrow?" she asked.
Clark quickly grabbed the file folders off the front of the Jeep and nodded. "You bet."
"Oh, and Clark?"
"I really liked your email."
And with that, Lois rolled up her window, flashed him a brilliant smile, and drove away.
It was a long moment before Clark bothered to move. He was content to simply stand there, watch her tail lights disappear, and sigh happily.
By the time Clark made it back upstairs to his desk, the newsroom had cleared out considerably. Those who hadn't already left for the day were working quietly at their desks, taking advantage of the lull between the day shift and the night shift to catch up on some work in the relative quiet of the newsroom. Perry was back in his office, working on tomorrow's morning edition.
Clark stopped by Jimmy's desk on his way back to his own, grinning sheepishly as he returned the file folders he had taken downstairs. ("Sorry, I grabbed the wrong folders …") but despite Jimmy's transparent attempts for information ("So, CK … did you and Lois have any trouble recovering after last weekend?"), he was able to escape without giving away any details.
He knew it was probably obvious that something was going on with him and Lois. For some reason that he couldn't fathom, everyone seemed to be very interested in their business, especially in their 'relationship'. But he and Lois hadn't really talked yet about letting people at work know about them, and Clark really wasn't sure how to go about doing that anyway. So he figured the best thing to do was to just keep quiet.
Now that his primary distraction was gone (as near as he could figure, she was currently driving like a maniac to get across town to her class), Clark was able to finish up the remainder of his work fairly quickly. He always seemed to be able to get a lot done by staying late in the newsroom, partly because of the quiet, and partly because he let himself type a little faster (Ok, sometimes a lot faster) when he knew was unlikely to get caught.
Within an hour and a half, he had gotten as far along in his story as he cared to for one day, packed up his desk, said good-bye to Perry, ducked into a back alley, and flew home to grab a quick dinner.
Now it was time to catch up as Superman. And Clark really did have some catching up to do. After being Superman exclusively for two days last week, Clark had mostly concentrated on being 'just Clark' for the rest of the week, even passing on the neighborhood watch meeting he'd been asked to attend as Superman last night in favor of his date with Lois. He felt only mildly guilty about that. After all, people didn't seem to get angry when Superman couldn't attend a function; they just assumed that he was off saving someone from something.
However, even given that, Clark did want to show his face (and cape) around that particular neighborhood tonight, if only to show he hadn't forgotten about them, as well as show up in a few other neighborhoods he hadn't been to lately. He'd discovered early on that a few random appearances in the "safe" parts of town — not just the crime-ridden ones — seemed to reduce crime there as well.
Clark managed to visit four different neighborhoods between 9:00 and 11:00 that night before returning home. It had been a very quiet night. Once home, he should have been in bed, taking the rare opportunity to catch up on his sleep. Instead, he was pacing around his living room, unable to concentrate on anything but the way he was feeling.
He had flown by Lois's apartment building on the way home, scanning from the sky as he passed, making sure her Jeep was in her parking space and that she had made it home all right.
But flying by wasn't enough any more. He wanted to be with her, wanted to talk to her. Just the thought of her put a smile on his face, and his longing to see her was getting harder to fight.
On the one hand, Clark had never felt happier or more complete in his entire life. He wanted nothing more to immerse himself in that feeling, to embrace it and let it consume him. And yet there was still that *other* part of him. The part that was acutely aware of a weight on his shoulders so heavy that even Superman was ready to crumble. Why was that?
The longer he pondered the issue, the more painfully clear the answer became. He and Lois had been up and down a tremendous rollercoaster this week, but had survived it — together. They had fought and made up and kissed … repeatedly. They had even made love and oh, that was …
Clark shook his head. That wasn't the issue. No matter how incredible they were together, there was still a much deeper truth which needed to be revealed. He still hadn't told her he was Superman.
Clark was used to dealing with guilt. The kind of guilt that woke him in the middle of the night when he couldn't stop thinking about all the people he couldn't save, all the emergencies that he hadn't reached in time. In the beginning, it would keep him up for long hours, making him fly tensely around the city, trying to be everywhere at once, and mentally beating himself up when he failed.
In time, he'd realized, with no small amount of cajoling from both his parents *and* Lois, that he had to distance himself. He'd been making himself crazy thinking about what he *couldn't* do, instead of concentrating on what he *could* do instead. He had to accept that whatever he could do would have to be enough. But that didn't stop the negative thoughts from working their way into his mind more often than he cared to admit.
For Superman's sake, Clark Kent had become accustomed to pushing guilt aside. He did it every time he had to make a life-or-death decision. What he wasn't used to doing was having to push it aside when it came to his personal life.
From the very moment he'd met her, Clark had dreamt of being in a romantic relationship with Lois Lane. He fell in love with her intelligence, her passion for work and life, the fiery rallies she led against injustice … and the tender, vulnerable side that she showed him more and more often the closer they became. She was his best friend, the best friend he'd ever had. He loved spending time with her and he had held out hope, long after most men would have given up, that they would be together romantically someday. He stuck with her because he knew Lois better than anyone else, and he knew that what she needed more than anything else in the world was time, trust, and unselfish friendship.
That was why he had made two personal vows. The first was that before Clark would even allow himself to think about a permanent future with Lois, she must come to care for him as Clark and not Superman, all on her own. The second was that, once Clark was certain that Lois wasn't just bowled over by the super-hero, he would then tell Lois the truth about his alternate identity. The truth before intimacy; she deserved no less than that. Now, finally, incredibly, by some miracle of fate, Clark had been granted the first. Yet there was no way for him to reconcile the fact that he had violated the second to get it.
Clark sighed as he continued to pace. He could rationalize that things had moved very quickly, that he had never intended to make love with Lois that first night … that he had been swept away by the intense emotions which had overwhelmed them both.
He could explain to himself that there really had been no good time to tell her since then — her reaction in the morning had all but terrified him, and until their date last night, he couldn't be sure that she wanted to date him at all. Then today at work, he'd barely seen her all day, and tonight … well, she'd had plans. Yes, it was easy to rationalize, to tell himself he hadn't done anything wrong. He could rationalize it all and yet …
Clark shook his head. Excuses — solid, *logical* excuses — but excuses nonetheless. No matter how he framed it, there was no denying the truth. He was continuing to deceive Lois long after the point at which he'd sworn he would stop. And the knowledge of that made him sick with guilt.
Clark's jaw tightened with a new resolve. He couldn't put this off any longer. He loved Lois, loved her with every fiber of his being, but that didn't give him the right to steal breathless kisses and loving whispers under false pretenses. He wouldn't allow himself to do it as Superman … and he shouldn't have allowed himself to do it as Clark. There was no excuse.
But when to tell her?
One look at the clock told him he couldn't do it tonight. Even if he wasn't stalling (and Clark knew that he was), it was getting late and they both had to work the next day … and he wasn't exactly expecting things to go smoothly. Clark cringed. No, even if Lois took the news in stride, they would need time to talk about everything. Then he almost laughed at himself — who was he kidding? Lois? Take the news in stride? Take the fact that he'd been far less than honest with her for over a year and a half without going ballistic? No, things were definitely not going to go 'well'. And if that were the case, neither of them would be any use at work the next day.
Clark sighed again. Ok, so he wouldn't tell her tonight … but he did have to tell her soon. Very, very soon.
Lois suddenly looked up from her book. She couldn't for the life of her figure out what it was, but *something* was out of place. Her hand slid over the coverlet lying across her bed, smoothing it down over her legs while she stared off into the semi-darkened room, a furrow of contemplation creasing her brow. It wasn't sixth sense exactly, it was just that somehow, she felt …
The phone jangled loudly, startling her. Lois quickly reached over to her night stand to pick up the receiver and press it to her ear. "Hello?"
"Hi … it's me." His voice sounded hesitant, but also warm and very … Clark. A familiar feeling of contentment washed over her, a feeling she'd only recently realized was connected to her partner.
"Clark!" Lois couldn't help but smile. If she'd had any intention of hiding her feelings, her enthusiasm had just betrayed her. It was amazing how happy she felt just hearing his voice. Heck, she may have even been swooning. "How are you?"
"I'm fine … did I call too late?"
Lois barely glanced the clock on her night stand. 11:22. "No, it's Ok. I just got into bed." There was no response. "Clark?"
"What? Oh, sorry … just getting a picture, that's all." She could hear him grinning all the way through the phone lines.
Lois laughed a little shyly, but no less warmly. "So, what's up?"
"Nothing … really. I just wanted to say goodnight. How was your class?"
"Oh, Clark, it was great! You know, at first, it was just the usual stuff; we went through all 48 basic movements, breathing, locus of control, nothing new, but then … *then* … there was this new guy in class—"
Lois giggled as she heard a hint of possessiveness enter his voice, but continued without skipping a beat, " … a real muscle-head, you know? Anyway, he was acting all macho, saying he didn't want to work with any of the 'girls' because he didn't want to hurt us—"
"And you took him down " Ah, her Clark was back; the smile was clear in his voice.
"Within five seconds!" Lois laughed out loud.
"That's great," Clark said, laughing with her. "I wish I could have seen it."
"Well, you'll have to come to class with me sometime. I'll show you how it's done." Her voice was playful and sibilant at the same time.
"You mean you'll take me down too?"
Lois laughed, imagining the coup. "Absolutely!"
"Why do I know that I wouldn't stand a chance?"
"You wouldn't … better start begging for mercy right now, Kent," she teased.
"Oh, I'll be begging all right," Clark answered huskily, then trailed off, apparently rethinking what he was about to say.
Lois heard him chuckle self-consciously, and felt the tiniest bit of color invade her cheeks. She had a feeling they had just gotten the same mental image. After a moment, they spoke again, simultaneously.
Lois giggled again. "What?" she asked, snuggling down into her covers.
"That's Ok … you first." Clark's voice washed over like silk. Had he always sounded so good?
"I was just going to ask how your evening was," Lois said softly.
Clark paused. "It was fine … though I—" His voice halted, obviously uncertain. When he continued, Lois could hear a new seriousness in his voice. "Are you free tomorrow night? For dinner?"
Lois smiled. She didn't have to consult her calendar. She knew she was free and had been hoping he'd ask. "Yeah … I think I am. You want to go out somewhere? Actually, you should let me take you out to dinner. It's my turn."
"Well, actually … I was hoping you could come over here. I was going to cook."
"You were going to cook? Dinner?"
Clark laughed. "Don't sound so surprised. I've cooked for you before."
Lois laughed with him. "I know; that's not what I meant. That sounds really nice. You want me to bring anything?"
"Yeah," Clark murmured. "You."
Lois caught her breath and shut her eyes. How did he *do* that? Make her feel as though she was the only person in the entire universe … force her mind to carry his voice directly into her heart? And only two words had escaped his lips. She sighed happily. "Ok … what time? Right after work? Or later?"
"Why don't we say 7:30? That will give me time to stop at the market on the way home if I need to, and you can go home and change if you want. We'll just be casual. "
"All right. I'm really looking forward to it."
"Me too," Clark sighed.
Lois could almost feel his breath against her skin . "Well … I guess I should get to sleep. Goodnight, Clark."
"Goodnight, Lois." There was a brief moment of silence, neither moving to hang up. Clark broke it. "Lois?"
"I just wanted to tell you that … that … I'm really happy about this. About us."
Lois swallowed and felt her eyes fill with moisture — not just at what he said, but at the sincere emotion in his voice. She let out a sigh of contentment. "I am, too," she whispered back.
"I'm glad. G'night, Lois."
As she set the phone back into the cradle and turned off the light, Lois felt very warm inside. She happily took hold of the feeling. For the first time in a long time, Lois Lane felt complete.
Clark sighed happily as he hung up the phone, and flopped backwards on to his bed. His heart was warm and his head wouldn't leave the clouds.
Now that he had decided to tell Lois his secret tomorrow after dinner, the weight on his shoulders didn't seem quite so heavy anymore, and he allowed himself to indulge in the wonderful feelings that talking to her like this always brought.
Clark started to float. A grin on his face, he released his cares to the current of air which suspended him. He was so happy; he wanted to shout to the entire world! Or at least, to anyone who would listen to the loud and heartfelt proclamation of a man crazy in love with a woman.
The way he felt was exhilarating and terrifying all at once, yet he had known he loved her from the moment their eyes met a year and a half ago. He knew even then, staring into twin pools of defiance, that here was someone so beautiful and so brilliant … yet so lost underneath it all; someone who needed to find her way as desperately as he needed to find his own. She was a kindred spirit, a partner, and a best friend. Lois was all of these things to him and so much, much more.
"I love you, Lois Lane." Clark spoke the words aloud and jumped to his feet in the bedroom. "I love you!" His utterance echoed through his apartment and Clark sighed happily once more. If he had thought the phone call would satisfy his longing to be with Lois, he had sorely miscalculated. Now, more than ever, he wanted to see her … even if only briefly. He knew it was impossible, given the late hour, but still, there was nothing preventing him from taking off into the night sky, from rocketing through the clouds and dreaming of tomorrow. Just a short late-night fly … just to take the edge off of his excitement. Enough to burn off some energy, just so he might possibly be able to get some sleep later on. Clark spun into the suit and launched himself out of the window, heading straight north. Maybe someone in Canada needed help…
Clark wasn't particularly surprised when he found himself hovering outside Lois's apartment building later that night. If he had been willing to analyze his motives, he would have had to admit it was probably his subconscious mind's goal all along.
He told himself that he was just checking to make sure her neighborhood was safe, and that she had gotten to sleep all right, but he knew full well that wasn't the only reason. Her good-bye kisses from earlier that evening had stayed with him all night, making him feel warm and happy inside. And their phone call had only intensified those feelings. Clark couldn't deny it — he just wanted to see her again, if only for a moment. He knew Lois was probably sleeping. It was after midnight and she'd told him she was in bed during their conversation. Still … he couldn't help but wonder …
Against his better judgment, Clark found himself floating towards Lois's window. Would it still be unlocked for him? Open for Superman even though Lois and Clark had begun dating? Or would she have locked it in order to send a message to the superhero that she wasn't interested in his company anymore? Clark's curiosity was piqued. He would just try the window … maybe float outside and tap quietly and see her reaction …
All at once, the impact of what he was planning hit him. He froze in mid-air, a shocked look on his face. What the *hell* did he think he was doing? Had her kisses really clouded his mind so much that he couldn't see that he was about to compromise everything he had been working for? There was absolutely no way he could show up to see Lois as Superman now. Before Lois had shown an interest in Clark, Superman had been his only way to get close to her, to see another side of her and to play out his own fantasies about romancing her. But now, everything had changed. Now Lois was with Clark and seemed incredibly happy with that decision. Granted, they'd only had one date … but, oh, what a date it had been. And the way Lois had looked at him today, the way she had kissed him in the garage… They were becoming so much more than partners. Dare he even hope, maybe she was falling in love.
Clark had serious doubts that he could hide his feelings for Lois anymore while dressed in the suit. And if he couldn't hide his feelings — if Lois thought Superman still cared for her — it could make things very uncomfortable between them. Or worse … she would decide that she liked Superman more than—
'Stop it!' Clark chastised himself angrily. This was going to be much harder than he had thought. And musing over worst case scenarios wasn't helping. Lois wasn't that fickle. She cared for him; he knew that. Even so … No, he wouldn't test her. He didn't need to, and he didn't *want* to. He would leave … and chew himself out all the way home for indulging his fantasy this far.
With a whoosh, Clark rocketed straight up into the clouds. Unfortunately, his quick exit apparently made enough noise to draw her attention. "Superman?" The voice was tentative, soft, yet no less compelling. He'd know it anywhere. She was calling out to him.
Clark froze, hovering high above her building. He could just fly away … take off into the night sky and pretend he had never heard her speak, that he hadn't really been there. He could …
He *should* … yes … he had to go. He tried … But then he heard her voice again. Quieter this time, like she was talking more to herself than to get his attention. "Oh, Superman … I really needed to talk to you."
This wasn't at all what he'd expected.
Still hesitating, Clark found himself floating slowly downward towards her window. He couldn't balance the conflicting voices inside him, one begging him to go to her, the other ordering him just as strongly to stay away. But she needed him … what if something was wrong? What if …
Clark quietly floated down the rest of the way, stopping several feet outside her living room window. Maybe she had gone back to bed. Maybe she wouldn't even see him there. But as he hovered, a silhouette appeared in the now open window and took his breath away. The inner voice that told him to leave was pushed solidly aside, and Clark knew only that he had to suppress the insistent, demanding desire to take her in his arms and crush her against him, to kiss her passionately and tell her … tell her how much he loved her … Tell her … that he'd been lying to her.
The image of their passion shattered and, like fine shards of glass, split into a million unrecoverable pieces.
"Superman?" Lois repeated, parting the gauzy curtains and smiling when she found him. "Oh, you are there. I thought I heard you earlier but I wasn't sure." Lois was wrapped in a silk robe and was tucking a lock of hair nervously behind one ear. It was an immediate indication that she had something on her mind.
As he slid within her field of view, Superman sighed. He was agonizingly aware that his presencehere, so late at night and in the suit, may have altered 'Clark's' relationship with her irrevocably. He couldn't let that happen … he just couldn't. "Lois," he nodded in greeting, forcing his voice to hold its 'Super' cadence. If ever there was a moment when he needed to separate the man in the suit from the man in the … tie, it was now. "I was …" He cleared his throat. "In the area. I thought I'd check and make sure you were Ok. There were some minor incidents tonight and—" Clark trailed off when Lois's smile brightened. Oh no; no, no, no. This was not what he'd intended at all! Time for an exit… But she was so perfect, so beautiful … it was completely unfair!
"Thank you. For caring." Lois swallowed and met his eyes.
Clark turned in the sky, about to issue his customarily polite, yet unusually impersonal good-bye, when Lois spoke once more. "Superman, wait!" she called to him mid-motion. "I really wanted to talk to you. I need to— would you come inside?"
Clark's eyes widened. This was definitely not good. She couldn't mean that she wanted … him.
"Just for a few minutes," Lois added, letting out a breath. "I've been wanting to talk to you for a few days now, but I haven't seen you since Clark … came back. I—I know that you're busy … but this is important."
"Lois, I really do need to …" Clark began apologetically. At her look of disappointment, however, he hesitated. He'd always had trouble refusing her anything.
"*Please*." She swallowed. "I promise I won't take a lot of your time." Lois hesitated, uncertain. "I'm sorry, I guess I shouldn't have asked."
"No, Lois, it's all right." Clark smiled as warmly as he could under the circumstances. "I always have a few minutes … for a friend."
"Thank you." Lois's eyes lit up and she stepped backwards, indicating that he could achieve entry in the usual way. They soon stood face to face in her living room.
What am I doing?! a tiny, yet insistent voice inside Clark's head yelped. "Lois, is everything all right?" he asked instead, trying to keep his voice level.
Lois looked up into his eyes and began to speak. "Oh yes … I—I mean, there's nothing wrong with me, um, physically. Really." At his somewhat skeptical look, Lois tried to smile. "I guess it's a little complicated. Actually, Superman, I wanted to talk to you about Clark."
He froze. Clark? What could she possibly want to—-? Oh no … God, no. What if she was going to ask the same question again? The one she'd asked several months ago when Lex Luthor had proposed to her. What if she still held onto the hope that she and Superman could … Oh, Lois. Clark felt his chest begin to ache. Please don't throw us away…
Superman was having trouble breathing, but there was no way he could allow her to see that, no way she could find out like this. It just wasn't right. "What about Clark?" He tried to make his voice to sound casual, but he heard the anguish start to creep in.
Lois stared up at him intensely. "I never got to thank you for bringing him back to me. Superman, you have no idea what Clark means to me, and how awful I felt when he was gone. I missed him so much. And because of you, I got a second chance."
Clark blinked as Lois begin to mist up. Is that what this was about? That 'Superman' had saved … Oh, boy. He relaxed in relief. "Lois, you don't have to thank me—"
"No, I do. Clark told me what you did, how you used Dr. Hamilton's cloning techniques to heal his wounds. You did a wonderful job … he doesn't even have a scar!" Lois looked down, blushing slightly as she heard her own words.
Clark flushed as well, remembering when he had told her that story … and how she later had gotten "hands on" proof that the wound left no mark. "Well, I … " he stammered.
Lois looked up quickly. "Have you talked to Clark recently? In the last few days?"
Clark had no idea what to say to that. He knew that he didn't want to lie to her anymore, but at the same time, he wasn't sure this was the best time to come clean. "Clark and I … are always in touch," he finally answered carefully.
Lois swallowed. "Has he told you about us?" Clark must have looked as pole-axed as he felt because Lois blushed again. "I guess not," she answered for him, giggling a little self-consciously. "Well, that was another reason I needed to talk to you. A lot of things have happened over the last few days, since you saved Clark, and I wanted to tell you about them myself. Or have Clark tell you, I guess. I just didn't want you to hear it from anyone else."
"Tell me what?" Clark heard a little voice inside him chastising him for letting this continue. This was wrong; he shouldn't be here. He was just going to dig himself deeper. But he was held spellbound by her next words.
"Superman … Clark and I have started seeing each other … romantically. A few days ago, actually. I care about him. I mean … I *really* care about him."
Clark couldn't stop the smile that spread across his face. "I know you do, Lois. And he really cares about you."
Lois's whole face brightened. "You really think so? Did he tell you that?"
Clark hesitated, trying to clear his head. Lois just told Superman that she cared about Clark! Earlier this evening, he wouldn't have believed he could be any happier, but now … this was even better. "Let's just say it's pretty clear to anyone who knows Clark how much he feels for you." From the way Lois's face softened into a tender smile, Clark knew he had chosen the right words.
"Superman, I want you to know that I still care about you. I always will. You are very special to me — and to Clark," Lois began gently. She swallowed and continued more hesitantly, however. "It's— It's a little awkward for me to talk to you about Clark because of some of the things I've said to you in the past … things about how I felt about you …" Lois trailed off, suddenly uncomfortable, and the words hung in the air.
Clark sighed shakily and looked down. He knew exactly what she was remembering — that night, not more than six months ago, when Lois had confessed to Superman that she was completely in love with him. Clark's head swam and the knot in his chest tightened again. This was wrong. It had gone too far and it had to stop now. He couldn't keep doing this, talking to her as two different people. She had to know. When his head finally lifted, the determination was clear on his face. "Lois, I need to tell you something."
Lois looked up into his eyes, blinking over the tears that were pooling there. "No … don't. Please," she begged, taking his hands. This was obviously harder for her to say than she was letting on. "I'm sorry if it wasn't right for me to bring this up with you, if you would've rather not known, or if it's too uncomfortable. But I needed to tell you. I wanted you to know that … you'll always be my friend, and if you ever need me, I'll always be there for you, the way you are for me." Her voice was so earnest, so emotional.
Clark squeezed her hands gently, his jaw trembling slightly as he fought his own building emotions. He watched as a single teardrop escaped and trickled down Lois's cheek. "Lois … please." He had completely dropped his Superman facade, letting … no, *willing* every bit of Clarkness into his voice that he could summon. "There's something that I have to tell you … Lois, I'm—" Clark stopped short as the call of a siren pierced his consciousness. He nearly roared in frustration. Not now!!
"What? What is it?" Lois asked, immediately recognizing the way Superman tilted his head when he heard something far away.
Clark just stared at her, his eyes wide, almost in a panic. He couldn't stop now … he just couldn't! Yet he had to. The insistent blare of the siren had forced him to open his senses to the radio signals of the city, and he soon discovered that a family was trapped in a house which was burning to the ground. "I— have to go. There's a fire — a family is trapped." Now if he could only remember how to let go of her hands.
Lois did it for him. She nodded and stepped back, gently extricating her hands from his. "I understand." To his amazement, there was barely a hint of regret in her voice.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I—"
"There's no need to apologize; go … and be careful." Lois wiped the tear from her cheeks and smiled, regaining an air of almost professional composure so unlike the vulnerable, passionate individual he'd been speaking to only moments ago.
"We'll talk again … soon," Clark promised, obviously torn as she held the curtain aside for him. He climbed onto her window ledge and stepped out into thin air, hovering there.
"Lois …" Clark turned as he was about to soar off into the sky, and caught her gaze. "Trust your heart," he said, his own strong emotions still evident.
Lois sniffled, but smiled happily up at him. "Thank you, Superman."
With a nod, he was gone.
For the next hour, Lois tried to go back to bed, but somehow she couldn't get past the door of her bedroom. Restlessly, she wandered around her living room, replaying the conversation she'd had with Superman. Her thoughts strayed to the trapped family, but she knew that he had probably gotten them all to safety within minutes of his departure from her apartment window.
He was such a incredible man. It was no wonder that she had fallen in love with him. Fallen in love … with …
Lois sighed. This had been one of the hardest conversations she'd ever had with anyone in her whole life. She'd been wanting to talk to Superman for the last few days, ever since he had saved Clark. She wanted so desperately to show him how much that act meant to her, how grateful she was. Lois had pondered gifts, a card … even a letter. But they all seemed so superficial. Nothing could express how much she valued what Superman had done for her.
But as difficult as it was to find the words to thank him, that was nothing in comparison to finding the words to let him know that she and Clark were dating. It wasn't as if Lois believed that Superman would fight for her. He and Clark were good friends, and if Superman had been willing to compete for her attention, he'd had months to take that opportunity. No, Lois knew that Superman would bow out gracefully, wishing her and Clark all the best, even if it hurt him.
But she also knew that Superman had feelings for her. She could tell by the way he looked at her, by the way he touched her and smiled at her and checked up on her at night. The problem seemed to be that, for whatever reason, he was unwilling to move beyond those tender looks, even when Lois had made it obvious she was interested in more.
Lois had made her feelings for Superman as clear as possible while deciding whether to accept Lex's proposal. She had been so hopeful and sincere that night. Yet he had been obviously disturbed by her claim, though not in the way that she would have expected if it was simply that he didn't return her feelings.
No, he had almost looked … hurt. Rejected even. For the life of her, Lois couldn't imagine why that might be.
But whatever his reasons, Superman made it clear — that night and in the months that followed — that he wasn't going to say "I love you" in return. In fact, other than the occasional late night visit — like when he had treated her to an air-dance a few weeks ago following the Churches' fund-raiser — he had seemed to distance himself from her since then.
Oh, he was still there for her when she called for help … and often when she didn't. And Lois could see there was a lot of affection in Superman's eyes when he looked at her. But still … something was different.
They'd never mentioned the events of that night, of her declaration of love and his response, just as she and Clark never mentioned their uncomfortable conversation from earlier that afternoon. It was simply too painful and embarrassing, and everyone involved seemed to just want to put it behind them.
In any case, things had changed over the ensuing months. Emotions had been laid to rest and Lois knew that while she had once been completely in love with the 'man of steel', right now there were so many other feelings and thoughts tumbling through her consciousness. The desperate, absolute adoration she'd once felt had been replaced by something far more stable. A deep sense of caring. She had been granted clarity, and the only thing she could think of to explain her gradual ability to distance herself, beyond Superman's obvious initial rejection, were her growing feelings for Clark.
Her feelings for her partner had begun to make themselves apparent on the day of her near wedding to Lex, and hadn't stopped growing since. Superman didn't seem too astonished by her confession tonight, which probably shouldn't have surprised her. After all, Superman and Clark were good friends; maybe they'd even discussed their feelings for her.
Superman did seem a little emotional about *something* tonight, however. At first Lois thought he was going to tell her that he had feelings for her, but then he'd acted so pleased that she and Clark were together. Two contradictory messages … and contradictions were not what she expected from Superman.
It was all very confusing.
Fortunately, however, what wasn't confusing was Clark. Clark, who made her heart sing and her whole body ache for his presence. She had never felt this way before, never *allowed* herself to feel this way before. Even her love for Superman had never been as deep or profound a feeling as this. Was that because Clark returned her feelings? *Did* Clark return her feelings? Superman seemed to think so, though he stopped short of admitting that Clark had confessed his desire for Lois in his presence. And if Clark did care for her the way Lois had come to realize she cared for him …would it make a difference?
Ohh … yes. Lois smiled. Yes, it would make all the difference in the world. Because somehow … some way … Lois Lane had fallen in love.
She wasn't sure exactly when it had happened. Six months ago, when Clark sat with her on a park bench and told her loved her, she hadn't had these feelings. At least, she couldn't admit to them then. But after she'd rejected Clark that afternoon, things had begun to change. As the wedge in their friendship drove them further apart, Lois realized how big a part of her life Clark had become. The scariest part of all was that she could imagine her life without Lex Luthor — the man she was engaged to marry — but the thought of never seeing Clark again left her with an ache in her heart that she couldn't shake. She'd started to see Clark in a very different light. She began to think about him in ways she hadn't let herself before.
Even walking towards the altar during the wedding ceremony, she couldn't stop thinking about Clark. And one thing kept shouting out at her: if marrying Lex Luthor meant losing Clark, it wasn't worth it. She still hadn't believed everything Clark said about Lex (though in hindsight, that blind spot made her cringe), but it was just not *right* to be that miserable on your wedding day. And miserable she was.
Over the weeks and months that followed her canceled wedding, she and Clark had worked to rebuild their friendship. It was awkward at first. Lois had been all ready to tell Clark that her feelings may have been turning romantic towards him when he'd backpedaled and told her he just wanted to be friends. His quick reversal further confused her during what had already been a very upsetting time, and she had retreated back into herself, afraid of getting hurt anymore.
That summer had been a time of rebuilding for both her and Clark. Their friendship, which had been so strained for weeks, ended up even deeper than it had been before. And as the months went by, Lois found herself looking forward to the time they spent together. Anticipating it even, and realizing that being with Clark almost always meant … being happy.
Still, she wouldn't let herself believe that it was anything more than a crush. He was her best friend … her partner. And besides all of that, their friendship was far too valuable to her to risk jeopardizing it with a romance.
Then came the night Clark was shot.
That terrible, devastating night. It was hard to believe it was only five days ago. Lois felt like she had lived a lifetime in those five days. After spending over an hour in the police station giving her statement, she had been driven home in a squad car. In a haze of anguish and shock, she had somehow managed to get herself into her apartment, into her pajamas and into bed.
And then she had sobbed.
Lois had sobbed that night until she ran out of tears. She cried for Clark, and the pain and fear he must have experienced. She cried for his parents, losing their only son, whom they adored. She cried for the city, losing one of the most talented reporters it had ever known. But mostly, she cried for herself. She cried for all the times they wouldn't be having pizza together, for all the movies that they wouldn't see, for all the stories they wouldn't write. And she cried over the incredible emptiness that now echoed inside her heart.
When she'd finally fallen asleep that night, sick with exhaustion, Lois had a dream. It was a dream about her and Clark, one where Clark was alive and happy. It was obviously her mind's way of coping with a loss so devastating that her heart couldn't comprehend it.
In her dream, she and Clark were together. But they weren't sharing pizza or watching movies or working. They were making love. Sweet, tender love that wiped away all of the tears, all of the pain. He held her close and told her that everything was going to be all right. He kissed her over and over again, and ran his fingers through her hair. Lois could feel the touch of his skin and hear him whispering her name. She could feel the warmth of his hands in hers and see the brilliant smile on his face as he looked into her eyes.
The next morning, as she'd felt herself surfacing from her dream, Lois tried valiantly to hang on to those sensations. She didn't want to wake up. She didn't want to let him go, not again. But, in the end, she had to, just as she'd had to watch him be dragged from the club that terrible night.
Lois had lain still in her bed for hours that morning after she'd awoken, remembering the Clark of her lifetime and the Clark of her dream. New tears slowly and silently ran down her face. She thought about her future and she thought about her past. And she wept still more.
By the time Lois had finally risen from her bed and forced herself to shower and dress that day, she knew one thing for certain. Something she'd suspected for some time, but hadn't allowed herself to believe. It had happened slowly over the last several months, but somehow, some way … without her even realizing it until it was too late … she had fallen in love with Clark Kent.
It wasn't something she could readily analyze, and it wasn't something she'd even wanted to. Knowing now that the feelings were real and vivid, Lois clung to them as fiercely as she clung to her memories of the partner she had only just begun to know more intimately.
So when Lois had seen Clark that next night, walking towards her out of the darkness, she'd wept with joy. It was just like in her dream … he was alive and smiling at her like she was the most precious thing in the world to him. He was *real*, and she would never allow herself to lose him again. Lois had hugged Clark as tightly as she could, unwilling to let him go lest he disappear once more. And he had hugged her back, holding her close to him as though he'd shared every emotion she had experienced.
Later, after Clark had fallen asleep in the car without hearing her heartfelt confession, it would have been easy to just let it go. And yet it was anything but that. Instead, Lois Lane found herself gladly accepting his invitation to come inside for a little while. Her emotions were swirling and dipping inside her, but there was one feeling that she couldn't shake — that if she didn't tell Clark how she felt that night, they might never get another chance.
And so they had talked … and laughed … and flirted. Her eyes shone and her hands reached out to touch him, time and again while they spoke. Lois may not have repeated the words she said in the car, but she had tried to make it clear something had changed between them.
What she hadn't planned — at all — was falling into bed with him that night. Maybe it was her dream that allowed it to happen. Or maybe it was the incredible emotional exhaustion that caused her to lose her inhibitions and actively reach for Clark's affection. She would never know for sure. All she did know was that while making love with Clark, Lois felt connected in a way she had never experienced before. She felt whole.
And then the next morning, in typical Lois Lane fashion, she had nearly thrown it all away.
Lois still cringed when she remembered her reaction upon waking. She had been so sure he was going to hurt her that she'd decided to strike out first. But all she had succeeded in doing was causing them both a lot of pain.
True, Clark hadn't reacted perfectly either — and he still hadn't explained exactly why his attitude had changed so abruptly that morning — but Lois knew in her heart what Clark would never say. That her fear, her mistrust, her cynicism … had almost ruined what might end up being the best relationship she'd had in her entire life.
Luckily, they had worked things out. Clark had forced them to work things out. And now Lois couldn't remember a time when she'd been happier. The fact that things were going so well right now was, quite frankly, almost scary in itself. But for once in her life, Lois didn't want to dwell on that. Instead, she wanted to think about Clark.
"I love him," she said softly, testing it out. "Oh, my God, I really do love him!" The thought made her laugh with a combination of glee and amazement. Lois Lane, in love … with a decent, straight-up guy. It almost baffled the mind.
The only thing that remained was to see if Clark felt the same way. Lois felt pretty sure that he did. Clark had practically admitted as much, that he'd had feelings for her for a long time. In fact, Lois had suspected for months now that he had been telling the truth all along when he'd confessed his love last spring. Boy, if she could turn back time, there would be one conversation on a park bench that would go very differently…
Bursting with nervous energy, Lois pulled open her refrigerator door and stared at the contents. Or rather, the lack of contents. Shutting the door with a sigh, she pulled open the freezer only to push it closed almost immediately. Not an ounce of chocolate in the place. Darn!
She had completely forgotten to stop at the grocery store on her way home from class. And she was pretty sure all the convenience stores in the neighborhood had closed for the night.
After a moment, Lois turned and walked purposefully into her bedroom. Stripping off her robe and nightgown, she pulled on a pair of leggings, a t-shirt, and a sweater, followed quickly by her socks and boots.
The only alternative to chocolate when she had to think was a walk. And suddenly, she knew exactly where she wanted to go.
At a quarter past one in the morning, Clark landed on the surface of a deserted quay along Hobbs Bay. After a quick look around for signs of life, he spun out of his Superman suit and replaced his glasses carefully.
Having rescued a woman, her two children and their guinea pig from a blaze less than an hour ago, Clark felt a great deal of satisfaction in their well-being. But he knew that there was more to his good mood than simply that. It was his visit with Lois.
It was almost more than he could have hoped for — Lois had broken up with Superman, for Clark! Unsolicited … unpressured … she had just felt the need to come clean, and tell Superman how much Clark meant to her.
The revelation had stunned him, to say the least. Not stunned that she had strong feelings for Clark — despite all of his worrying, he had been reading her signs for the last two days and at least hoped as much — but stunned that she would feel strongly enough to break things off with Superman. Wow. Talk about burning your bridges.
It made his heart sing to know that she was committed enough to their budding relationship to tell Superman how she felt. And now it was his turn to return that commitment, that trust.
Clark sat down on the platform and leaned back against the railing, stretching his legs out in front of him. It was so beautiful here, so peaceful, just looking out over the water. It was just the right place to think. And thinking was what Clark Kent needed to do.
He had tried to tell Lois his secret tonight. He wanted to tell her — he *would* have told her — if not for the fire that had commanded his complete attention.
Clark shook his head ruefully. Twice in the same week, he had heard a call for help at the most inopportune time. The first occurrence had nearly ended his relationship with Lois before it had begun, forcing him to usher her out the door before setting a time for their first date — a misjudgment that had caused her to doubt and mistrust him. And tonight, just as he had been saying the words that would determine whether or not there would be a second date, or even a second glance in his direction, it had happened again.
It would almost be laughable … if it weren't so depressing.
However, it did reemphasize to him — as if he needed any additional proof — that he had to tell her the truth as soon as possible. Dinner — tomorrow. Clark was glad he had set it up before seeing Lois tonight. It was the only thing that stopped him from knocking on Lois's door right now, from waking her up and telling her everything. But given the late hour, it was better to stick to the plan. He'd waited this long; he could wait another day. He was planning to cook for her, to share a nice romantic dinner for two, then break the news … somehow. He could only hope that it wasn't going to be the last evening they would ever share.
Clark looked up into the sky and found the brightest star he could see through the glow of the city. Like a child, he wished on it … wishing with all his heart that Lois would understand, that they would be able to work through this together. His wish made, Clark leaned his head back against a post and closed his eyes. Listening to the water lapping against the shore, feeling the light caress of the night breeze against his face … it made him think of the previous night, when he and Lois had come here after their date.
Clark smiled and breathed deeply, slowly, just letting his mind wander. With his eyes closed, he replayed the way she'd held his hand, the way she'd kissed him … the way she'd whispered his name as he kissed her neck. He could almost feel her lips on his, and hear her voice … "Clark?"
Wow, he *could* practically hear her voice. Wait a minute … practically had nothing to do with it. Clark opened his eyes and found himself staring at the most beautiful woman in the world. "Lois??"
She stood less than six feet away from him on the sidewalk, her hands in the pockets of a short car coat, and a smile on her face. His breath caught in his throat. "What are—"
"What are you—" They started speaking simultaneously, then froze, grinning.
"You first," Lois announced, not even trying to hide her amusement.
"How come you're up so late?" Clark rephrased his question, still unable to believe she was really here.
"I couldn't sleep. You?"
Clark stared into her eyes. They were so beautiful … "Oh … me neither. I guess it's just too beautiful a night to waste," he answered vaguely.
"Yeah … it is beautiful tonight." Lois sighed as she surveyed the area, then returned her gaze to Clark's. "Mind some company?" she asked, stepping up onto the platform and dropping down to sit next to him without waiting for an answer.
"Mind?" Clark responded. "Are you kidding?" He put his arm around her shoulders. Turning to face Lois, Clark found her looking deeply into his eyes. "I thought I was dreaming for a second there," he murmured. "I was thinking about you … and there you were."
"Must have been nice thoughts," she responded softly. "You were smiling."
Clark closed the slight distance between them, pulling her gently towards him with the arm that held her and capturing her mouth in a loving kiss. "Lois, I've been thinking about you all night," he whispered when they pulled back.
His admission, or rather the force of the emotion in his voice during his admission, surprised them both, but Lois recovered quickly. She turned to him more completely and raised one hand up to his face, gently brushing her fingers along his cheek. As his eyes closed and he let out a tiny sigh of pleasure, Lois pressed her lips to his once again.
Her kiss was exquisite, and Clark found himself forgetting everything else as he deepened it. His arms circled around her and enfolded her into his embrace while he lovingly explored her mouth.
"Oh, Clark," Lois whispered as the kiss broke off. She nuzzled her face into his neck, kissing him softly, seductively, and Clark thought he might go mad from the sheer bliss.
Lois must have heard the soft groan that rumbled low in his throat, because she pulled back and grinned at him, her eyes twinkling. Oh, yeah, she knew just what she was doing to him. He could see it in her eyes. And she wasn't done with him yet, from the looks of things.
"So," she asked playfully. "I have an excuse for being here — this is my neighborhood. What brings *you* out this way? Hmmm?" She extended the last syllable, the corners of her mouth twitching as she tried to keep in a laugh.
Clark gave her a lazy smile. Uh huh, she was playing with him … had him right where she wanted him, too. "Oh, is this your neighborhood?" he said in mock surprise. "I was just out walking, and came across this nice lookout by the water and thought it might be a good place to rest."
Lois snickered. "Just happened by it, huh? A mile from your apartment and six blocks from mine? You must like long walks."
"Mmm, love them. I get thinking about my girl and the time just flies." He winked at her.
"You have an answer for everything, Kent," she murmured, before giving him another quick kiss. "So, were you planning on visiting me? Since you were 'in the neighborhood'?"
Clark studied her carefully for a moment. This was dangerous, being here with her like this. As much as he had been wanting to see her just moments ago, having her here made him want to do all sorts of crazy things … the least of which was confessing a secret that was best left for the privacy of tomorrow evening. "No," he said slowly. "Actually, I wasn't … but now that you're here, I should walk you home. It's late, and we have to work in the morning." Clark stood up, and reached down his hand for Lois, helping her up. "Though you do seem remarkably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for one o'clock in the morning," he added, another little smile working its way across his face.
"Ah, well, that's because I was on a mission," she responded. "I was hoping to find a store open, but I didn't have any luck. I forgot to go the market after class tonight and I'm completely out of ice cream. So, this was my 'I'm out of chocolate so I'll take a walk' walk."
Clark laughed as they stepped off the dock. Hand in hand, they started walking back to her apartment building. "Wow, you'll do anything for chocolate, won't you? If I'd known you wanted it, I would have brought some from home."
Lois's face lit up. "You have some at home?"
Clark stopped walking. "Yeah … why?"
Lois rolled her eyes at him. "Don't look so surprised, Clark. You should know me better by now." She grinned. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go." When he didn't answer immediately, her playful tone faltered slightly. "Um, I mean, if it's Ok. I don't want to impose …"
"No, no," he cut in, shaking his head and beginning to walk again. "Lois, I love it when you come over … you're sure it's not too late? You won't be tired tomorrow?"
Lois grinned as they rounded the corner to her street and approached her car. "It's Friday. I'll be sleepy one day, then I'll sleep in on the weekend."
Despite himself, Clark laughed. He was certifiably crazy; he knew this now. There was no more denying it. He knew being alone with Lois right now was undeniably dangerous, yet he found himself almost giddy with the prospect of it.
To Clark's surprise, Lois didn't even bother making herself a dish of ice cream once inside his kitchen — she took a spoon from his drawer and ate a few bites directly from his container. At his amused look, she smiled sweetly and fed him a spoonful.
"You said 'make myself at home'," she said, grinning.
When Clark passed on a second bite, Lois put the lid back on the container, the container in the freezer, and the spoon in the sink. "That's all you want?" he asked, amazed.
"I just wanted a little bit, and you weren't eating with me."
"Well, gee, I can—"
She cut him off. "Clark, I'm kidding … that's all I wanted," she said with a sincere smile. Soon, though, her smile grew more seductive. "Hmm, except for one last taste," she murmured.
To Clark's surprise, Lois stepped closely to him and initiated a kiss, licking his lips with a combination of passion and playfulness. The bold move aroused him, and Clark immediately matched it with one of his own, recapturing Lois's mouth possessively when she started to pull back. A masculine moan rumbled low in this throat as she eagerly reciprocated, pressing her body against his. Their kiss was long and passionate and satisfying … yet left him wanting more, much more. He pulled back and looked into her eyes, his breathing accelerated and his voice husky. "Stay …" he whispered intensely. "Stay with me."
As quickly as he had lost control, however, Clark blinked himself back to reality. He immediately backed off. "I'm sorry … I mean … for a little while," he stammered. "You don't have to go right away, do you? I could," he looked around his kitchen, "make us some tea?" The last part was said more as a question than a statement, and Clark hoped he didn't look as pathetic as he sounded.
Lois cocked her head, studying him. "Tea sounds great," she answered slowly. "I'll meet you on the couch." She ran her hand down his arm in silent communication, then turned and left him to his water and tea bags.
Lois sat down on the couch and watched Clark as he busied himself in the kitchen. What in the world had just happened? She was more sure than ever that Clark had deep feelings for her. The look on his face when he'd seen her at the dock, and the way he had greeted her told her volumes. The fact that he was even *at* the dock was very telling. He was more than a little smitten. And now Lois knew that she felt the same way. So, what was the problem?
She knew that Clark had been aroused by their kisses … the look she saw in his eyes left no doubt. She also knew full well that he hadn't been talking about tea when he'd asked her to stay, no matter how fast he'd backpedaled in the kitchen. But obviously there was something holding him back. Could he still be honoring their agreement not to make love after last night's date?
Maybe he was afraid that if they kissed, she would assume that he was pressuring her for more. Certainly, Lois had never known a man to stop like that, stop when things were clearly progressing. Then again, Clark Kent wasn't like any other man she'd ever known. He kept proving that to her over and over again.
In fact, his reaction after their one night together told her that he wasn't a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy. What had he told her earlier this week? That he was afraid of messing up? That he hadn't been in many relationships? (Though frankly she wasn't sure how that last one could be true.) Maybe it was just caution … or inexperience. Maybe he just didn't want to scare her off, and wasn't sure what his next move should be.
Lois sighed. There was still one thing that neither of them had done. Neither she nor Clark had voiced their feelings. Lois twisted her hands in her lap. Maybe it was because they were both afraid? Or maybe it was because they were both waiting for the other to make the first move? Unfortunately, it looked like Clark would probably *not* be making that move. The more Lois reflected on their argument in the car the other day, the more obvious it became that she had really spooked him that first morning in his apartment, when she'd tried to make a quick exit.
No, Lois thought, if they were going to clear the air, to move things along … it was time she took a chance.
"Tea's ready," Clark said brightly as he walked into the living room and set the tray on the coffee table.
"Great," Lois responded, smiling up at him.
"Here," he said, handing her a cup. "Herbal tea — no sugar, no caffeine. Just the right thing for the middle of the night."
Lois accepted it with a nod and curled up against the corner of the couch to sip it. Neither of them said a word, but Clark was aware that Lois was watching him out of the corner of her eye.
Though at first glad for the silence — who knew what he might say if they started talking — Clark soon realized, however, that keeping quiet had been a mistake. It simply gave him too much time to think. As long as he and Lois were talking, he could distract himself with conversation. But now he just sat there, leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees, gazing blankly at his untouched tea cup. All Clark could think of was how much he wanted to get everything out into the open. Right now. The more time he spent with her, the harder it became to wait until tomorrow.
He was glad for the time the tea preparation had given him. He had needed to clear his head. Her presence was simply too intoxicating … and her kisses nearly made him lose all his resolve. He'd simply wanted to forget he even had a secret, to get carried away by the urges inside of him that told him that his confession could wait … indefinitely. He wanted to just sweep her up and lay her on his bed and make sweet love to her until morning. But he wouldn't allow himself to do that, not again. Not until she knew everything. Yet when to tell her? Tonight? Or tomorrow?
"Clark, what's wrong?" When he didn't answer, too lost in his thoughts to even hear her, Lois set her tea cup down and moved closer to him on the couch. She slid her hands along the contours of his back and began massaging gently.
That reached him, at least slightly. Letting out a deep breath, Clark automatically relaxed his shoulders under her touch. He'd let them tense up … he always did when he had a lot on his mind. Oh, but her hands felt so good.
Silently, as if giving Clark time to think, Lois worked her way down his back, kneading and caressing his firm muscles, until she reached his waist. When he still didn't speak, Lois wrapped her hands around his waist from behind and rested her cheek against his back.
Clark smiled as she hugged him. This was just what he needed, some quiet time with her. His mood lifted dramatically. He took her hands where they rested against his stomach, and intertwined his fingers with hers. "Thank you," he said. "This is really nice."
"Mmm, position fourteen," Lois murmured against his shirt.
Clark blinked. "Excuse me?" He didn't turn, but he could feel Lois shake with soft laughter behind him.
"Tae Kwon Do, this is … well, a kind of stylized version of the fourteenth basic position."
"Really?" Clark frowned slowly, his previous ponderings all but forgotten as new images flooded his mind. "You do this to everyone in your class?"
"No!" Lois laughed even harder which made it impossible for Clark not to do the same. "Actually, this is a *lot* stylized, not just a little." She released him slowly, letting her hands trace his waist as she did so. "Want me to show you?"
Clark turned and regarded her for a moment. She was keeping a straight face, but her eyes were dancing. She was up to something. "Ah, that demonstration you promised me," he chuckled, finally understanding.
"That's right, farmboy." Her eyes lit up and she took one of his hands. Lois stood, leading Clark away from the coffee table and into the open area of his living room.
Well, two could play this game. He wasn't above teasing her. "I don't know, Lois; you said I'd be begging for mercy." He shrugged. "I don't hear anything like that comin' out of my mouth." He gave her a cocky grin and had to suppress a laugh when her eyebrows lifted. Gotcha.
She recovered quickly. "You can start anytime," she said confidently.
Her voice betrayed that she was feeling more than just … camaraderie. Suddenly Clark felt a little warm. "Lois, I don't think this—"
"You know, the last guy that said that to me ended up flat on his back," she shot back with a saucy look.
Clark hesitated, getting an instant picture. Now he was getting a lot warm.
Sensing his hesitation, Lois worked the situation to her advantage. She suddenly turned and pulled Clark's arm towards her, twisting her body and finding the leverage she needed. In a heartbeat, she had flipped a very surprised Clark Kent and pinned him to the ground, flat on his back, as promised. Dropping securely on top of him, Lois straddled his waist and took hold of his wrists, raising them above his head.
Clark didn't fight her; he was too stunned by what had happened and the position it put them in. He had been too distracted to see the move coming until it was too late, and now … he could barely remember to breathe as she brought her face oh so close to his.
"I don't hear begging," she whispered.
Clark swallowed, his eyes fixed on the lips that hovered right above his. "Mercy," he managed breathlessly, shifting his gaze to her dark, luminous eyes.
"Mercy," Lois repeated softly.
Eyes never leaving his, she lowered her hips, still straddling him, and settled herself against his groin.
Desire shot through Clark like a rocket, fueled by the obviously arousal in Lois's eyes. Freeing his hands from her grasp, Clark cupped the sides of her face and lifted his head up, straining for her kiss. She immediately obliged, kissing him passionately.
Clark forgot everything but the feel of her body as she began to rub against him. He wrapped his arms around her back and turned them over. Moaning, he pressed against her in kind, seeking her out in the rhythm she had set. The fact that she wrapped one leg around his hip only fed his desire. Following his pleasure, Clark reached one hand to her waist and found the bottom of her sweater. He reached inside and brushed his hand across her warm skin. Encouraged by her moan of pleasure, he kept going. To his surprise and delight, his hand touched bare skin where he'd been expecting a bra.
Despite Lois's encouraging moan, Clark hesitated as he remembered what had happened the last time he'd let himself get carried away, and how upset he'd been with himself earlier this evening because of it. Slowly, guiltily, he removed his hand from her shirt. His mind and body warred with each other, fighting for control. He knew how much he wanted her … more than he could imagine. But he also knew that things couldn't keep going the way they were. It just wasn't fair.
In the end, there was no choice; he knew what he had to do. He pulled his mouth from hers. As they caught their breaths, Clark looked down on Lois, trying to convey all the love he was feeling in that one look, and desperately trying to memorize the look of love he saw in her face. God only knew if he'd ever see it again. "Wait," he panted, running his fingertips over her face as if trying to commit it to memory. He took a deep breath. "Lois … there's something I have to tell you … something that I've wanted to tell you for a long time."
In direct contrast to his own nervous expression, Lois instead looked exceedingly pleased. She ran her hands through the hair at the back of his head and smiled. "Ok," she whispered encouragingly, her eyes shining.
Clark quirked his eyebrows for a second, but didn't have time to ponder her reaction. He needed to tell her the truth. Now. Before this went any further. But how? He'dpracticed in his mind so many different ways, both this week and in the recent months. Yet he could never figure out just what the right words might be … if there even were any right words. "Not like this." Clark swallowed, painfully aware of the way their bodies were intimately pressed together. "Can we … sit on the couch?"
It was Lois's turn to look surprised. "Oh … sure," she said. "Ok." Reluctantly, she released her hands from the back of his head, and they both sat up. After taking a moment to collect themselves, they stood and walked over to the couch. Lois sat down first and looked up at Clark expectantly.
After taking a deep breath to gather his resolve, Clark sat down next to her on the couch, and took her hands in his. He looked into her eyes, knowing that it was now or never. "Lois, there's something I have to tell you."
"Clark, wait. I know what you're going to say, and I think I'd like to say it first." Lois was smiling excitedly.
Clark just stared at her, amazed. She knows? How could she possibly? And she's not upset at all? "You— you know?"
Lois looked at him, eyes shining. "Yes, and I really want to go first. Last time we had this conversation, you talked first and I responded … well, *wrong*." She squeezed his hands, as if willing him to see what she was trying to tell him. "And, Clark, I've been regretting that for weeks now, if not months."
"What?" he gasped. Then, realization hit. "No, Lois … I don't think you—"
"I love you, Clark," she interrupted. She looked up at him, her eyes bright and hopeful.
Clark just stared for a moment, stunned. True, she didn't know what he thought she might, hoped she might, but this may have been … even better. "Lois, you don't know how happy —" Clark pulled her to him, hugging her tightly. If only this was all they needed to know about each other.
After a moment, Lois giggled. "Aren't you glad you let me go first?"
"Yes. No! I mean … Lois …"
Clark pulled back nervously. This was wonderful … incredible. And he'd give anything to be able to stop talking right now and never open this door. But he knew he had to keep going.
Lois was looking at him a little warily now. "What's wrong?" Suddenly her eyes got big and she blushed. "Oh, no … you mean you weren't going to say—? That wasn't what was making you so distracted and nervous? Oh, now I feel really … No, wait, I don't … I still mean what I said, Clark. I just —"
"Lois … stop, it's Ok. No, that wasn't what I was about to tell you, but you have to believe me when I say that I love you, too." Clark rubbed his fingers over Lois's hands as he looked into her eyes. "I've loved you for so long." They shared a brief moment of bliss, just looking into each other's eyes. But Clark knew he couldn't be dissuaded this time. "And that's why I still need … why I *have* to tell you something."
Lois swallowed. "All right … go ahead."
Clark took and released a deep breath, gathering up all of his nerve. "Ok, here goes. Lois, for most of the time you've known me … most of the time I've lived in Metropolis … I've led a double life."
Lois looked confused, then nervous. "You're not a criminal, are you?" she squeaked.
Clark almost laughed. "No, nothing like that."
Lois's eyes narrowed. "Damn it, you're married!! I *knew* you were too good to be true!"
Clark rolled his eyes. "No! Lois, I'm not married. And I'm not gay, either," he hurried to add, seeing her mouth open once more. He called it right — she closed her mouth quickly, looking a little embarrassed.
"Ok, Clark, then what is it?"
"Lois, I think the only way to tell you this is just to come out and say it." He hesitated for a moment. "I'm … Superman."
A full range of emotions played out on Lois's face right before Clark's eyes. First, she looked at him like he was crazy, then, realizing he was serious, she blinked rapidly as she let herself consider the possibility. Finally, she simply stared, amazed, studying his face.
Clark took off his glasses. "Does this help?" he asked.
It did. "Oh … my … God," Lois whispered slowly. She was obviously working hard to wrap her mind around this fact, but it was a losing battle. She looked at him, stunned. "But you can't be. Superman is from—"
"Krypton," Clark stated quietly. "I was born on Krypton."
"But your parents," she responded, sounding distraught. "I've met them … they—"
Clark shook his head. "I was raised in Kansas, Lois. The Kents … found me, when I was just a tiny baby."
"But who brought you here? How did you get here?"
Clark looked at her steadily. The fact that she wasn't screaming at him amazed him, yet also gave him hope. "I don't know everything, but from what I've been able to figure out, my biological parents knew that the planet Krypton was going to explode. They built a little spaceship, just big enough for a baby — me. They launched it just as the planet exploded." Clark hesitated, distracted somewhat by his own thoughts. "They must have put me in some type of suspended animation or something, because when the Kents found me, I wasn't more than a couple of months old. They took me in. God knows what would have happened if they hadn't."
"They just took you in? A baby drops from the sky in a spaceship and they don't tell anyone? They aren't afraid at all?" Her voice was doubting, bordering on sarcastic.
"Lois … you have to remember when this was. In 1966, we were in the middle of the Cold War, and the space program was really heating up. My parents, they thought that someone — the Russians, or even our own government — had put a baby into space, to— to see if it would live."
"Like that dog …" Lois interjected absently, starting to think back.
Clark nodded, glad that she understood. "Yes, like that dog — after its air ran out, the Russians just left the dog up there to suffocate. My parents thought that's what I was — a Russian experiment, left to die. They vowed that they would never let me fall into the hands of the kinds of monsters that would do such a thing to a baby. So they said I was theirs … they got papers; I even have a birth certificate."
"But you weren't from Russia … I mean, they must have realized you were different."
"Yes, eventually. But not until much later. I was just a normal kid, Lois, at least when I was little. My powers didn't develop until I'd been on Earth for several years, and then they came on slowly. We didn't know what to think." Clark hesitated. "For a long time, we thought that the government had done something to me, to make me the way I am. The fact that I might be from another planet … well, until my powers really started to develop, it wasn't even real high up on the 'possibilities' list," he finished with a self-deprecating sigh. "I didn't even find out I was from Krypton until last year, when we broke into Bureau 39's warehouse. I found that globe — the one you thought I had taken from Superman, remember? — and that's how I learned about who I was."
Lois just nodded, dumbstruck.
Clark started to say more, but her continued silence unnerved him. He'd imagined a lot of reactions on her part, but calm acceptance was not one of them. "Lois? Are you Ok?" he asked, concerned.
Clark slipped his glasses back on and tentatively took her hands in his. "Lois?"
Her eyes narrowed a bit and she seemed to regain her composure. She pulled her hands out of his. "Why?" she finally demanded.
"Why what?" he asked, uncertain. He could think of a million questions that she might have meant by that word.
Lois had fully recovered by now, and had moved into reporter mode. "Why the secrets? Why work as a reporter? Why … live *here*?" she asked, looking around his apartment. "You could have anything you wanted. You're Superman!"
Clark blinked at her barrage of questions, then struggled to explain.
"Lois, the biggest thing here is … I *am* Clark Kent. Superman …" Clark shook his head, unsure how to phrase things. "Superman is just a disguise that I invented, a way for me to use my powers to help people, without ruining my chances to live a normal life as Clark."
Lois scoffed. "You're anything but normal, Clark. Hate to break that to you."
Clark ignored the bite in her voice. "I couldn't just stand by and watch people get hurt without doing something to help. When I was traveling, I could just pull up roots and move on if anyone got suspicious of me. But when I got to Metropolis … I didn't want to run anymore. I was tired of not being able to settle down, of always looking over my shoulder. I had a great job …" Clark paused and lifted a hand to Lois's face, brushing his fingers across her cheek affectionately. "And a woman I really liked …"
Lois fixed him with a scowl that said 'don't push it, Kent', and Clark dropped his hand awkwardly. "Sorry." He continued hesitantly, trying to get back on track. "Anyway … I came up with the idea of a costume. When I took off my glasses and changed my hair, and well, *flew*, people had no idea it was me."
Lois just sat there, trying to absorb everything. Clark could see the wheels turning, as every so often her eyes would flash and she seemed poised to say something. But she didn't.
"I have to say, Lois," Clark finally offered after a long silence. "You're taking this really well. I pretty much expected you to yell at me."
She shot him a look. "Well, give me a minute, Clark," Lois said sarcastically. "I don't think it's quite sunk in yet."
Clark attempted a little laugh. "No … I mean, I'm glad you're not, but—" He shook it off, unwilling to complete the thought. "Look, I know you're upset—"
Lois stood up and began pacing. "You bet I'm upset! I'm mad. At you … and at *me*. I can't believe I didn't even see it."
Clark smiled a humorless smile. "Well, that was kind of the idea. I didn't want anyone to know … that was the whole reason I came up with Superman in the first place."
"Well, you should have told me! I *thought* I was your best friend."
"You *are*, Lois," Clark implored, standing and walking towards her. "And you're so much more to me than that. You're the only person I've ever told this to. And since the minute I met you, I've been hoping that someday we would become close enough for me to share this with you."
"And you waited this long?! After all I've done for you … and for Superman?" She turned to him, her eyes flashing with anger and hurt. "And let's talk about Superman … I trusted him. I never thought he'd lie to me. And all this time you've been playing me for a fool!"
"No, never! Your trust and friendship are so important to me. And I always tried to respect that. It's just … do you know how ingrained it is in me to keep this secret? My whole life, I've lived with the fact that if *anyone* found out, my life would be ruined. The way I used my powers changed when I invented Superman, but my fears and concerns didn't." Clark paused, then continued. "When I was a little kid, I overheard my parents talking. My dad was saying how dangerous it would be if anyone found out about my powers. He said …" Clark stopped, his jaw clenching a bit. "… that if they knew who I was, they'd take me away and … dissect me like a frog." He met her eyes. "Lois, that phrase has been ingrained in me since I was eight years old. My dad still uses it."
"They can't dissect you … you're invulnerable," Lois grumbled.
Clark looked down, disappointed that she didn't understand. "That doesn't matter when you're eight, Lois," he said quietly. "You still believe it. It … terrifies you."
"Oh, so you're trying to say this is all your parents' fault?" she retorted sarcastically.
"No! " Clark threw up his hands. "God, Lois, that's not what I meant at all. I'm just trying to explain … trying to tell you what my life has been like all these years."
Lois closed her eyes and began to rub her temples. "I can't believe this is happening. I feel like I'm in some weird dream that I'm going to wake up from soon. Except by the time I wake up from this one, it will be time for work!"
"Lois, I'm sorry. I know it's late, and I really didn't mean to drop this on you like this. I had decided to tell you tomorrow night … I was going to make you a nice dinner—"
"Buttering me up?" she mocked.
"Well, maybe a little," he admitted with a grimace. "But then I was going to tell you everything. When we'd have time to talk. I wasn't expecting to do this tonight … but then when—"
Lois's jaw dropped and her head jerked up in memory. "You came over as Superman tonight! What the hell was that about??"
Clark shook his head. "I was out flying and I was just checking to see if you had gotten home all right. I checked for your Jeep and that was going to be it, but you heard me and called me back. I wasn't going to come in; I thought you were asleep already."
"And then you let me give you that nice little speech about how Clark and I were dating … oh, you must have just loved that!" The accusation in her voice was clear.
Clark sighed heavily. "Lois, I can honestly say I don't know what I was thinking when I went over to your apartment tonight. I had decided to tell you tomorrow, and I wasn't ready to let you know at your apartment. It was important to me that I tell you as *Clark* not as Superman. But you have to believe me — when you started to tell me how much you cared for me, for Clark, I couldn't wait anymore. I started to tell you right then, but then I heard that—" Clark stopped, biting back the curse that was about to come out of his mouth in description. "—siren. And I had to go."
Lois paused, mentally replaying his behavior from earlier. "Ok …" she said grudgingly. "I guess you did look like you were trying to tell me something. But that's not what I thought—" she stopped, unwilling to tell him what she had been thinking Superman was trying to say. She frowned and continued. "So, why tell me now? Why not just keep the secret, since you obviously had me completely fooled?"
"Because of this week — because of everything that's happened between us. Lois, I have had the most wonderful time with you these last few days. And when you told me you loved me tonight … oh, God, Lois … you made me so happy. I love you, too. And I didn't want any more secrets between us."
And in one horrible moment, the last puzzle piece fell into place.
Lois staggered suddenly, visibly pale. "You— you—"
She stared at him in horror. "You weren't really dead!" she finally sputtered. "Oh my God!"
"How could you do something like that to me?? To all of us? I can't believe you— I can't believe *anyone* would do that to another person."
Clark shook his head, his eyes begging her to understand. "You have to believe me, I never wanted to hurt you. Or Perry or Jimmy or anyone. It was a nightmare."
"A nightmare? For *you*?? I can't believe you can even say that! I watched you get shot, right in front of me, Clark. Can you imagine what that was like for me?? Thinking that you died protecting me? How would you have felt if it was turned around, if you had watched me get shot instead?"
The idea was too upsetting. How could he tell her that that scenario formed the basis of some of his worst nightmares? "I try not to think about that, Lois," he said tightly. "There have been a lot of close calls — you know that — when I've been terrified I wouldn't be in time to save you. I don't ever want—"
"Yes! Believe me, you don't *ever* want to go through that," she interrupted bitterly. Her voice caught, emotions piling up.
Clark threw up his hands. "I didn't want to, Lois. But what *choice* did I have?! A hundred people watched Clark Kent get shot at point blank range. If I hadn't gone down, everyone would have known! I didn't know what else to do."
"You could have come to me! Later that night, you could have … *flown* over, and told me everything. After everything we've gone through together, you should have trusted me!"
"Honestly, Lois, I wanted to. I sat at my parents' house for hours trying to figure out a way out of this. And if it had happened this week, after we were together, I probably would have come over and told you everything. But we *weren't* together yet, Lois."
She whirled on him. "Yes," she snapped, "and we wouldn't have *gotten* together if you hadn't— if you hadn't—" Suddenly she stopped, anger and utter disbelief mixed on her face. "You used that. You used that to get me into bed."
Clark shook his head slowly, stunned that she would think such a thing. "Lois! No!"
"How could you?!? You let me think you were *dead*, Clark. DEAD! And then, when I was so full of grief I could hardly function, you show up with some made-up story about how you were healed." Her voice became quieter as her anger focused into rage. "You took advantage of me. Was that the plan? Confuse me just to get me into bed?"
"Lois, my God! I would never … I *swear* to you—"
Lois turned away, in shock. "I have to go," she said, moving towards the door. "I can't believe I stayed this long."
"Lois, please," he begged, advancing on her, "don't go. Listen to me; let me explain."
She just looked at him, amazed that he would have the nerve to ask anything of her after what he'd just told her. "I— I can't believe this is happening. I trusted you. I thought you were the one person I could always count on. And you betrayed me."
He stopped in his tracks. "I've *never* betrayed you—"
"Don't say anything else … just *stop*," she demanded. "I don't— I can't talk to you anymore, not now."
Clark swallowed hard, a sense of panic building. "You mean not tonight? Or not … ever?"
Lois picked up her jacket and started up the landing. "I don't know, Clark," she said, her voice shaking. "I just know I can't be here."
Clark started towards her once more, his voice taking on a tinge of desperation. "Lois … wait … I know this is a lot to handle but we can—" He cut off as he realized she had already opened the door. He tried once more, the only thing he could think of. "Lois," he gasped. "Please … I love you!"
That got her attention, but not in the way he had hoped. She turned back to him, a look of fury mixed with amazement clear on her face. "How dare you??" she asked angrily. "You have no right to say that to me. You have NO RIGHT!!" Fixing him with a final glare, Lois was out the door, slamming it as hard as she could behind her. The windows shook in their frames.
Clark could actually feel his heart breaking, the pain starting in his chest and radiating out to the rest of his body. It was almost immobilizing. Lois finally knew who he was and still she rejected him, this time probably forever. Stunned, Clark slowly sank to his knees.
Oh, God, what had he done?
With trembling fingers, Lois carefully fit the keys to her apartment into the various locks on her door. Somehow, through a tearful haze, she had managed to drive herself home. She tried to make her mind go blank, unwilling to face what had just happened. But try as she might, she couldn't quiet the uninvited voices that forced their way into her conscience.
"… knew it was too good to be true …"
"… never should have trusted him …"
"… they're all the same …"
"… when will you ever learn …"
A few clicks and turns later, Lois walked into the dim apartment and shut the door behind her. She carefully relocked the door and let her coat and purse fall onto the floor in the entryway. Leaning against the door, she felt the hot burn of her tears pressing against her eyes. Her anger and shock had allowed her to get home without breaking down, but it was no longer possible to prolong the inevitable.
Taking deep gulping breaths of air, she made her way into the bathroom, pausing only briefly to kick off her boots as she went. Looking in the bathroom mirror at her reflection, Lois felt the bile rise in her throat. She felt sick … awfully, horribly sick. Her image dissolved into a blur as the tears began to fall.
She forced herself to splash cold water on her face, much as she had forced herself to pay attention to the road on the way home. She had made every turn with exaggerated caution, lest she lose what little control she had left. And now she used this same force of will to dry her face and walk into the bedroom.
Lois stripped off her sweater and t-shirt in one movement, and pushed her leggings and socks off in much the same way. Not even bothering to turn on a light, she reached into her dresser for a nightshirt — not the gown she had been wearing earlier this evening, but an oversized t-shirt that she had used in college.
Looking every bit the despondent little girl that she felt like inside, Lois crawled into bed and curled up into the fetal position. As she replayed the night in her head and the recriminations began once more, a tortured moan built in her chest. Now that she was alone, there was nothing to stop the tears.
Shaking violently, Lois finally released the deep, soul wrenching sob that she had been fighting. And, as she knew would happen once she started, she couldn't stop. For the second time in a week, Lois Lane cried until she had no more tears.
Clark Kent lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so paralyzed by his emotions, so completely out of options. Even last weekend, when he thought he had lost his life as Clark, he hadn't felt this hopeless. He'd felt trapped, frustrated, angry, yes … but not hopeless. He hadn't allowed the desperation to take over then — the worry had simply made him work harder to find a solution. But now … now he felt almost despondent.
How could he have hurt Lois like this? The words she had spoken, the things she had accused him of doing tonight had cut him to the quick. Yet he could see why things would look that way from her point of view. It was all his fault. Even though her accusations weren't true, he deserved her wrath. It had been his weakness — his exhaustion and overwhelming need for her — that had gotten them into this situation. He had vowed that he would never allow himself to be intimate with Lois until she knew his secret. But now, only a year later, he had violated her trust.
What was more, there was one accusation from Lois that Clark couldn't deny — that it had been unimaginably cruel to let her think he had died protecting her when he hadn't. It was an awful thing to do, but the sad fact was, it just hadn't entered his mind, at least not enough to realize how Lois would feel were she to ever learn the truth. He had simply been too wrapped up in his own panic to think there was anything he could do about it.
The only option, as Lois had said, would have been for Clark to reveal his secret to her later that night, but he just hadn't been ready to do that. As he'd told Lois this evening, if they'd already been dating, there was a good chance he would have done just that. But the way things were between them at the time, Clark just hadn't considered it as a serious option. Maybe he would have gone to her once he'd exhausted all other possibilities, once he'd had to face the fact that he might never see Lois again … maybe…
Maybe? What good were maybes now?! Lois had been devastated by his death, that much he knew. Perry had told Clark's parents as much when he'd called them in Smallville, and even a few members of the Daily Planet staff had mentioned Lois's strong reaction when they'd welcomed Clark back to work. But even if he could dismiss all of that as hearsay, Clark knew what Lois had told him, and he had seen how emotional she had become when she had done so — Lois herself had confessed how every time she'd close her eyes after that awful night, all she could see was Clark getting shot in front of her.
Clark knew how upsetting having that vision could be — he'd had similar nightmares several times since he'd come to Metropolis and met Lois — but in Lois's case, it would have been far worse. Clark had always woken up from his nightmares, but as far as Lois had known, this had been her reality. A reality where her best friend and partner had been killed right before her eyes. And it was all Clark's fault that she'd had to go through that.
Clark took a gasping breath. What kind of monster was he? And what would he do now that she was gone?
Alone in his bedroom, consumed with a noxious combination of self-loathing and self-pity, Clark tried to remember if there'd ever been a time in his life when he'd felt this awful. He could vaguely remember a few times he'd locked himself in his room as a young teenager, mainly when his developing powers had terrified and angered him. But as an adult, he usually kept a pretty good handle on his emotions. He had encountered some pretty tough set-backs, both socially and professionally, in his life, but he'd always been able to carry on, to work through them.
Even his early exposures to disasters so massive that only a superhero could be expected to help hadn't ripped open his heart like this. As Superman, he struggled to distance himself from the pain around him. Oh, he still felt it and anguished over it. But if he allowed it to take a deep enough foothold in his heart, he would never be able to live with the choices he had to make.
So how was it that one woman had entrenched herself so fully in his heart that losing her seemed akin to a painful death? Death by heartbreak. Clark would have laughed bitterly if he thought the sound wouldn't just turn into a sob.
In a masochistic mood, Clark thought back to the pain he had felt watching Lex Luthor put an engagement ring on Lois's finger … and the burning sensation as he watched them kiss through the penthouse window. He had been in shock that night — he never thought she would actually do it, actually accept that monster's proposal. And he'd felt deeper emotional pain than he ever had up to that point in his life.
But after a few hours of intense anguish, spent alternately pummeling huge glaciers with his fists and lying in the snow in tears, he'd been able to squelch it with self-righteous anger — with the hurt ego born from being rejected romantically as Clark, only to be courted as Superman. More over, he'd been able to tell himself that he had options. He *did* have options back then. Unlike now.
Clark squeezed his eyes shut as he felt the hot burn of threatening tears. He hadn't cried last week when he thought he had lost his job and his life as Clark. He hadn't cried last month when he'd helplessly realized that no matter how fast he was or how hard he worked, he couldn't save the dozens who had been killed by a terrible mud-slide that had wiped out a village in Mexico. And he hadn't cried six months ago when Lex Luthor had trapped him in a cage infused with Kryptonite. The incredible physical pain he had suffered in that cage paled in comparison to the emotional pain he'd felt knowing that Lois was about to unknowingly marry a monster … but still he hadn't cried.
But back then, he hadn't held Lois in his arms and listened to her coo sweet nothings into his ear. He hadn't kissed her with all the emotion he had in him, and had her return that emotion immediately and eagerly. He hadn't spent the night lying naked with her, their bodies intertwined with spent passion.
Back then, he didn't know what it was like to be with her and have her with him. The knowledge, the memories of their night together as lovers — and their week together as romantic partners — only made things worse. Because now Clark knew exactly what it was he was missing.
Clark fought back his tears for the millionth time as he rolled over in bed. He pulled the extra pillow to him and rested his cheek on it. As he inhaled a shaky breath, he thought he caught the faintest smell of Lois. It smelled like her perfume, her shampoo … but mostly, simply her own personal scent. It didn't take Clark long to realize that he wasn't imagining anything — her scent was still on the pillow from when they had made love, only a few nights before.
The idea was suddenly more than he could handle. Clutching her pillow to him, Clark buried his face in its softness and sobbed himself to sleep.
Lois Lane took a deep breath as she waited for the elevator to take her up three floors to the newsroom. She was on time, more or less. It was all she could do to get out of bed this morning and come in at all, but she wasn't about to show up at noon and invite questions from curious co-workers. No matter how upset she was with Clark, she knew that she couldn't tell anyone what had happened last night.
Not that Lois was ever one to confide to friends about her problems. Usually she just kept everything inside until it all worked out — or blew up in her face, whichever came first. Ironically, Clark was the first person in a long time who made her feel comfortable enough to share personal things with him.
Lois let out a disgusted sigh. Clark. This was all his fault. Ever since he'd shown up in Metropolis, her life had continuously been turned upside down. And now he'd done it again.
Lois hadn't arrived home last night until nearly 3 am, and it had been a good hour after that before she had fallen asleep. There had been many mornings in her career that Lois had easily popped out of bed after only a few hours of sleep, but today wasn't one of them. Her head was thick from the lack of sleep, her throat ached, and her eyes were puffy and swollen from the crying. She'd almost called in sick. It was tempting, incredibly tempting. She didn't want to face Clark, not after last night. She wasn't ready. But she'd still forced herself out of bed. She didn't want to give Clark Kent the satisfaction of having kept her home.
Getting out the door was easier said than done, however. Lois had repeatedly splashed cold water on her face from the sink, trying to get rid of the puffiness and redness, but it was a losing battle. Everything had seemed to take three times as long this morning, from her shower to drying her hair to picking out her clothes. Her make-up had taken especially long as she'd tried to cover up her blotchy, tear-stained cheeks, her red nose and puffy eyes. In the end, and after several attempts that just seemed to make things worse, Lois had just washed it all off and reapplied her "normal" amount.
By the time she'd reached the Daily Planet, any anger Lois had left over from last night had all but dissipated. She now felt exhausted and depressed more than anything else. The car ride over had been the worst. The knot in her stomach tightened with each passing block, and her heart pounded in her chest as she'd stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the building. She'd forced herself not to look around. If Clark was outside by some strange coincidence — or worse yet, if he had been waiting for her — she would have done her best to simply ignore him.
But she need not have worried. He hadn't been anywhere in sight.
As Lois exited the elevator and crossed the newsroom to her desk, she couldn't help but sneak a look at Clark's desk. She sighed with relief as she noticed it was empty and dark. Maybe she would be really lucky and he wouldn't show up at all today. He had seemed pretty upset last night. Maybe he really was being sincere when he had told her— Lois scowled and shook her head, forcing the thoughts away. She was not about to feel sorry for Clark, not after what he had done to her!
Lois had just enough time to get her desk organized before the Friday morning circulation meeting. She was grateful for the number and content of her voice mail messages — there were several but nothing that required a lot of concentration. Thus, she could look busy even though her heart was not in any of it. She was having a hard time getting excited about any of her stories today. Try as she did to fight it, her thoughts kept returning to last night. Her eyes glazed as she stared off into space.
Just then, Jimmy bounded by her desk, changing course as he noticed her sitting there. "Hi, Lois! All ready for the meeting?" When he received no response, he smiled and waved a hand in front of her face. "Hel-lo, anyone home?"
Lois blinked herself back to reality and attempted a smile in the younger man's direction. "Oh, hi, Jimmy," she said thinly.
Jimmy laughed. "Wow, you were somewhere else entirely. Hope it was somewhere nice. Maybe with CK, somewhere?" The last part was said with a teasing grin.
Looking down so Jimmy didn't see her mouth twist, Lois pretended to busy herself with some files on her desk. "Was there something you wanted?" she asked curtly.
Jimmy cocked his head, really looking at her for the first time. His brow furrowed as he studied her face. "Hey, Lois, are you all right? You look upset."
"I'm fine, Jimmy. Just have a lot to do before the meeting, that's all."
Jimmy hesitated, unconvinced. "If you're sure …"
"I'm sure," she said, a bit more sharply than she'd intended.
Jimmy got the message. "Sorry, Lois," he mumbled, backing away quickly. "I'll see you later."
Lois sighed. She hadn't meant to bite Jimmy's head off, but she couldn't take any more questions. A horrible start to a horrible day. Lois could see the writing on the wall, but she still refused to acknowledge it. She just had to make it through the morning, then she'd tackle the afternoon.
Taking a deep breath, Lois gathered up her notepad and pencil and headed into the conference room to join the rest of the staff. If she was lucky, maybe the meeting would go long, and it would reduce the amount of time she had to spend at her desk.
Perry White looked out of his office window and studied his newsroom. This had been one of the strangest weeks he could remember, and it seemed to be getting stranger by the hour. Normally, he didn't mind strangeness — more often than not, strange things meant investigations, and investigations meant news, and news meant sales.
Unfortunately, right now two of his best 'investigators' looked like they'd been on the losing end of a cock fight. Clark looked cowed and despondent, while Lois looked downright pitiful. The two of them not talking for brief periods wasn't anything new, not really. There had been many times over the last year and a half that they'd managed to get themselves into some type of argument. There was even a set pattern to these disagreements: Lois would give Clark the cold shoulder, he would put up with it for a while, then eventually insert himself somewhere where she'd *have* to talk to him, and that would break the ice. They might fight, but they couldn't seem to stay silent for long.
But this morning, things were different, very different — something was seriously wrong. There were no loud arguments; there was no loud anything. They each seemed to be avoiding the other, hardly able to make eye contact. Clark tried, at least sometimes. Several times Perry caught him looking like he wanted to approach Lois, to say something, but instead he either sadly watched her from a distance, or just stared off into space, seemingly miles away. And Lois was keeping to herself even more than usual, too, moving through the day more quietly than Perry had ever seen. No, something was definitely wrong.
What was worse, however, was they obviously weren't getting a lick of work done. Clark had slipped into the conference room more than halfway through the circulation meeting, over an hour late, mumbling his apologies and looking exhausted. Lois had cast a quick glance in her partner's direction, but had dropped her eyes as soon as he'd raised his to meet them. She'd pretended to be engrossed in her meeting notes, but everyone knew better.
That was when the murmurs had begun. Lois and Clark might be keeping completely to themselves — but the same couldn't be said about the rest of the staff. It had started in the conference room — where the tension was so thick it could have been cut with a knife — then had moved into the bullpen. With hushed whispers and curious looks, the rest of the newsroom seemed to be just as distracted as Lane and Kent.
Perry frowned. This wasn't good … not good at all. It was bad enough that Lois and Clark were obviously distracted by something personal, but the grapevine was buzzing with supposition, and no one was getting any work done.
Perry set his jaw. This had to stop. "Lois, Clark. Get in here."
He watched as they each blinked themselves out of their thoughts and, by force of habit, glanced at the other one. Perry was used to the partners looking to each other for support. Yes, they bickered and argued like few other pairs he'd ever seen, but they'd also put themselves on the line for each other many, many times. There was nothing they wouldn't do for one another — that was what made them such great partners.
This time, however, Perry once again saw Lois look away as quickly as she had met Clark's eye. In response, Clark gave a defeated sigh and slumped his shoulders even further as he walked slowly towards his editor's office.
"Shut the door please, and have a seat." As they complied, each sitting gingerly on the office couch, as close to their respective edges as they could, Perry knew what he had to say. "All right," he began quietly, "I don't know what's going on with you two — and frankly, I don't really want to know." As the uncomfortable pair looked down at their hands, he continued. "But unfortunately, whatever it is has brought my newsroom to a stand-still. Not only are my star reporters spending more time staring off into space than typing up stories, but I've got half the editorial staff placing bets on when World War III is going to break out."
As Lois and Clark started to protest, Perry held up his hand to silence them. "I don't want to hear it. The thing is, it's not my business what's going on between you two, any more than it's the secretarial pool's business. But when the two of you come in here looking and acting the way you are, you're going to draw attention.
"You kids know that I want the best for you. And I even take some responsibility for this. I should have insisted that you take time off last week. No one can go through what you two did and not suffer some residual stress … and I should have seen that coming, despite what you said.
"So, I'm ordering you to go home, both of you. Get some sleep, take stock of your lives, whatever. I don't want to see either of you around this newsroom until Monday morning; that's an order."
Perry deepened his voice, the firm change in tone assuring their continued undivided attention. "But let me make one thing perfectly clear. When you do come in Monday morning, you will have either worked out whatever this is between you, or you will leave it at the lobby door. Don't bring it into my newsroom. Understood?"
Clark glanced at Lois, then looked down at his lap. "Yes, sir," he whispered.
"Lois?" Perry shifted his gaze to the other end of the couch.
Lois sighed heavily. "Understood."
"All right then. Have a nice, *sleep-filled* weekend."
Jimmy stood with Perry in his office and watched the reporters quietly pack up their desks and leave the newsroom — Lois via the elevator, Clark via the stairs.
"What do you think happened, Chief?" Jimmy asked. "Everything was fine last night."
"I wish I knew, son. I wish I knew. I just hope they can work it out before our all-star team becomes a couple of free agents."
Jimmy looked up at his boss, horrified. "You think one of them will quit?"
Perry shook his head. "I don't know, Jimmy; I just don't know. Partnerships are very complicated things."
It was nearly one o'clock Saturday afternoon before Lois bothered to check her answering machine for messages. She had turned off both the ringer on the phone and the sound on the machine as soon as she'd walked in the door on Friday. Being sent home by Perry was humiliating, to say the least, but she knew he was right — she was no use to anyone at work, and being at home was probably the best place for her. The fact that she hadn't argued at all made it clear just how emotionally exhausted she really was.
She'd spent most of Friday afternoon sleeping. After waking that evening, she'd ordered her dinner delivery from a local restaurant, half-heartedly flipped through a fashion magazine, then just went back to bed. She had crieda bit each time she lay down, but it wasn't long before she had no more tears left.
After she'd awoken this morning, finally fully rested, the anger had taken hold, and she had stomped around her apartment for hours, cursing the day she'd ever met Clark Kent. Attempting to channel her fury, she'd scrubbed her entire kitchen and bathroom and even cleaned out her closets. She'd attempted to reorganize her dishes, but when the temptation to pretend they were Clark's head and smash them against the counter became too strong, she realized it wasn't the best idea to be around breakables.
By lunch-time, however, Lois had worked the strongest of emotions out of her system, and managed to calm down. She fixed herself a box of macaroni and cheese (comfort food), then stared into space for long moments in between bites, thinking. When her plate grew cold from disinterest, she pushed it aside in disgust and began pacing around her living room.
The blinking light of the machine beckoned her, and Lois sighed. Five messages. She turned the volume up on the answering machine and pushed 'play'. A few clicks later, the messages began playing.
"Friday, 6:05 pm," the computerized voice of her machine announced. The next voice was just as familiar. "Hi, Lois, it's me." Clark's voice was tentative. "Please call me back … we need to talk."
Lois snorted. Fat chance.
"Friday, 9:30 pm." "Lois, please. I know you're upset, and you have every right to be. But we can get through this, I know we can," he pleaded. "If you'd just talk to me and let me explain."
"Sure, now you want to explain," Lois huffed in response to the tape. "You're a little late, buddy."
"Saturday, 9:15 am." This time, she heard a sigh before he began speaking. "Lois, I know you're there … pick up the phone." After a pause, he continued. "Fine. Look, I know you're mad, but you—" He paused as his voice cracked with emotion, then tried again. "Lois, you have to know that I never meant to hurt you. And I am *so* sorry for everything that I did. I know I lied, and that hurt you, but you have to believe me … I *never* used you, or manipulated you. What happened Monday, it was wrong of me. But I swear, I didn't do it intentionally. I was exhausted and we both got emotional. But that's no excuse; I know that." Another sigh, then he finished sadly. "Please call me."
Lois exhaled a shaky breath. He did sound upset … and sincere. Still … Lois furrowed her brow and looked towards the window. But what did he mean, 'I know you're there'? Her anger flared. Was he spying on her?
"Saturday, 12 Noon." "All right, since you won't talk to me, I'll just plead with your answering machine some more. But I'm not going away, Lois. I can't do that, not until we talk this out." A pause. "I don't know what else to say. If— If I could go back and live this week over again, I would. Hurting you … was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to do." He exhaled, sounding completely miserable. His voice was soft and terribly sad as he signed off. "I miss you."
Lois sniffled loudly as she heard the emotion in his voice. He was hurting, that was obvious. But so was she … and she just couldn't face him, not yet. There was just too much to sort through. "Oh, Clark," she sighed. She waited for the last message, wondering what else he'd have to say.
"Saturday, 12:22 pm." "Lois? It's your mother calling … I haven't heard from you in so long, I thought maybe you'd dropped off the face of the Earth! Honestly, what can be so hard about picking up a phone—"
"Ugh!" Lois groaned in disgust as she roughly hit the 'Stop' button. A guilt trip from her mother was the last thing she needed. She hesitated for a moment, then tentatively rewound the tape. She replayed Clark's messages once more, feeling sorry for herself. Finally, with another sniffle, she set the tape to record over her mother's voice and turned the volume back down.
With a heavy sigh, she flopped down onto her couch. How did things get so messed up?
Clark landed on his balcony well after dark and walked into his apartment. His suit was filthy, and his face was covered in greasy soot. Removing his boots on the kitchen floor, he padded into the bathroom in his red socks, bunching up his cape carefully so as not to brush against anything. With a sigh, he took off the suit, rolled it into a ball, and put it in his hamper. He'd deal with it later. Right now, all he wanted was a long, hot shower.
Clark closed his eyes as he let the water wash over him. He wondered how long he could stay in here, away from everything … where he didn't have to listen to shouts for help or work his way through hellish smoke and fire. He let the sound of the rushing water fill his ears, and forced his mind to go blank.
It was some time before he emerged, the last of the hot water long since gone. Running a comb through his now clean hair, he pulled on a pair of sweats and went into the kitchen. Staring blankly into his refrigerator for a long moment, Clark finally pulled out a container of left-over Chinese food that he'd ordered for dinner last night.
Clark picked at the food, not really hungry but eating out of habit. He barely tasted it as it went down, so distracted was he by his thoughts. Finally he gave up and washed the plate out in the sink. With a sigh, he wandered into his living room, turning on a few lights as he went.
A blinking light caught his attention from the desk and his heart skipped a beat. It was his answering machine. He had a message; Lois had finally called him back! Relieved but nervous, Clark went to the machine.
The machine clicked as he pushed the 'play' button. A woman's cheerful voice rang out.
"Hi honey. We're just calling to see how you were. We haven't heard from you all week, and were wondering how things were going. We saw your by-line in the paper on Tuesday, so we know you're back to work. Hope everything is going well, and you're enjoying being back home. Talk to you soon, honey. We love you."
Clark closed his eyes, his heart sinking almost as fast as it had jumped. He loved his mom, he really did. But right now, she wasn't the woman he wanted to hear from.
With a heavy sigh, he dropped onto his couch and rested his head back against the cushions. He hadn't called his parents all week, that was true. There just hadn't been time. Monday, he'd just figured out a way to "come back from the dead", then Tuesday, he was trying to get his bearings after being with Lois the night before. Wednesday, he'd been anticipating their date. Then Thursday … well, he'd just been too darn happy to think of anything but Lois. And yesterday …
Clark laughed bitterly. Yesterday, he'd been sent home from work, a pathetic, depressed heap who couldn't get his girlfriend to talk to him.
He covered his face with his hands. How had everything gotten so messed up?
By ten o'clock Saturday evening, Clark had decided to call it a night. Clad in his boxers, he had just finished brushing his teeth when the phone rang. Clark stared at it for a moment, wondering if it could be Lois. He really didn't feel like talking to anyone else … and in his heart, he knew it wasn't her. Still, he sat down on the edge of his bed and answered it tentatively. "Hello?"
His suspicions were correct. "Hi, honey."
Clark smiled a little. "Hi Mom. Sorry I didn't call you back earlier."
"Oh, that's all right. We saw that you were busy. LNN has been running footage of your rescue in France all night! Are you sure you're Ok?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. It was touch and go there for awhile, but I finally got it under control. I hate those tanker fires though; they're so difficult to get under control."
"Well, you did a fine job, son." His dad's baritone came through from the other extension.
"So, Clark," Martha asked, "we're dying to hear how have things been going at work! We saw the article in the Planet, how Superman helped repair your tissue damage. Very creative! Everyone seemed to buy it?"
"Yeah, they seemed to. No one has questioned it. I guess that's one thing about Superman, people don't seem to question his abilities. They just accept that he can do things no one else can do. And Dr. Hamilton destroyed all his notes, so no one will be able to go back and disprove it."
"Very good thinking, son."
When Martha spoke again, her voice was teasing. "And Lois? I'll bet she was happy to see you!"
Clark didn't — couldn't — answer. The lump in his throat was too big.
"Clark?" his mother followed up, concerned by his silence. "Is everything all right with Lois?"
He sighed heavily. "Actually, Mom, Dad … no, it's not. There're a few things I need to tell you."
He spent the next few minutes filling his parents in, explaining how Lois had admitted she had feelings for him after he returned, and that they'd begun dating. He left out the part about he and Lois making love on Sunday night — there was very little Clark kept from his parents, but this just seemed too personal. And if truth be told, he also felt a bit ashamed about it, especially given Lois's reaction Thursday night. He just didn't want to get into explaining that part of his actions to anyone but Lois. She was the only one there with him that night, and he couldn't help but feel she was the only one who could understand, the only one he wanted to have understand. Still, he needed to alert his parents to one major thing… "And so, two days ago, on Thursday night, I told Lois about … Superman."
His parents were understandably surprised, but not unhappy about it. "That's quite a big step, Clark. We always hoped you and Lois would realize how you felt about each other. How did she take the news?"
Clark laughed ruefully. "Not well. She's not speaking to me."
His parents tried to be encouraging. "Well, she'll come around once she gets used to the idea."
"Thanks, Dad, but I'm not so sure. The thing is, she was really good about the whole identity thing. She was mad I'd kept it a secret from her, yes, but she wasn't yelling or anything. She had a million questions, but was coping really well. Better than I ever imagined, actually."
"Then what's the problem?"
"The problem is," Clark answered softly, "I let her believe I was dead when I wasn't. She said that was the—" Clark's voice caught in his throat. "The cruelest thing anyone could do, letting her think I'd died. And the fact that I was shot right in front of her, while trying to protect her … well, I think you can imagine the rest."
Martha and Jonathan didn't answer for a long moment, and Clark imagined them sitting in stunned silence. "Pretty bad, huh?" he finally prompted softly.
"Um … yeah, Clark. That is pretty bad."
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. When we were brainstorming about this here at home, it never occurred to me how it would seem to Lois."
"Yeah, me neither," he whispered. "It should have, but it didn't. I was just so intent on finding some way out of this mess, that—" He cut himself off. "Well, it doesn't matter." Clark sighed miserably. "All that matters is she hates me now, and there's nothing I can do about it."
Lois sat curled up on her couch in her sweats, flipping channels with the remote. "Eighty-four channels and nothing's on," she grumbled, running through the numbers half-heartedly. She finally settled on LNN. "I guess I better see what's been going on in the world while I'm grounded by my editor."
She absently listened as the anchors ran through the top stories of the day — the current debates in Congress, the thunderstorms that were threatening to produce floods in the Ohio Valley, the narrowing of the baseball pennant race. Lois rolled her eyes. She hadn't missed much.
Soon the topic turned to international news, however, and suddenly Lois found herself sitting up straighter. "And in international news," the announcer read, "Superman conducted a daring rescue of a tanker crew off the coast of France this evening."
Lois watched as the only hours-old footage played and replayed on her screen while the reporter covering the story gave theinformation. " … there were 27 crew members on board, but only one death has been reported. Thanks to Superman, the remaining 26 people were transported to waiting rescue boats only moments before the ship was engulfed in flames. Superman worked valiantly to prevent the spread of the fire, but the sheer volume and rapid rate of fuel spillage made the complete destruction of the ship inevitable."
With a furrowed brow, Lois watched as Superman zipped in and out of the ship, carrying men to waiting life boats — emergency personnel were there waiting to assist the injured men, but they needed to stay far enough away to stay out of danger themselves. Superman closed this gap, transporting the men to safety. Once the ship was emptied of its crew, the film showed Superman fly back inside, presumably in an attempt to contain the fire.
Lois gasped as the next bit of footage appeared on the screen. Superman was floating just above the surface of the deck when the ship finally burst into flames. A huge ball of fire rose to meet him, completely engulfing the ship and his body. Lois propelled herself forward off the couch to get a closer look. Her heart pounded as she — along with the onlookers captured on the tape — waited for Superman to emerge from the hellish conditions.
As Superman finally rose safely out of the flames on the tape, Lois sat back against the couch, trying to catch her breath. The announcers continued to describe the scene, but she was no longer listening. Lois had lost count of the number of rescues she'd seen Superman make, but few had affected her like this. Oh, occasionally she worried about him, but normally the slightly agitated feeling was easily calmed by her confidence in his invulnerability. Nothing could hurt him — he was Superman!
The last thing Lois expected to feel this weekend was concern and fear for Clark's safety. Anger, hurt, yes. But not fear, and especially not for him. Thus, her intense feelings shocked her — why was watching this Superman rescue any different from the countless others she had watched? The answer was clear — it wasn't just Superman out there anymore, putting his life on the line. It was also Clark.
As this realization hit Lois, she found herself overwhelmed once more by everything that had happened to her this week. She'd been so angry at him for lying, for misleading and manipulating her, that she hadn't actually thought about what it all meant. All this time, it had been Clark doing all these amazing things. Clark performing countless rescues, Clark receiving numerous awards. Clark saving her life time and time again.
The world retreated as Lois tried to process this information. Which person was real? The super-hero she had idolized? Or the man she'd come to consider her best friend? Trying to merge them in her mind seemed impossible. Yet, at the same time, she couldn't believe she hadn't seen it before.
The sound of Superman's voice woke Lois from her deep thoughts; he was talking to the news cameras. Lois forced herself to concentrate. She stared at him, amazed. He looked tired and dirty, but his voice and body language was strong. He was … Superman. It was almost enough to make her believe she'd dreamed the last few days.
Lois noticed a video tape sitting near the TV and made a lunge for it. Shoving it into her VCR, she fumbled with the remote control, searching for the record button. The machine whirred to life as she pressed the button. His interview wasn't long, but it was long enough. As the story finished and the news-anchors moved to other subjects, Lois stopped the tape and rewound it. She replayed the thirty second interview, trying to see what she'd missed all these months. How could she not have known?
Over and over, the tape played, and each time Lois tried to concentrate on a different area. She listened to his voice, watched his eyes, focused on his body carriage, then the set of his jaw. Each time, she came to the same conclusion — it was Clark, but it wasn't. He acted — even sounded — different as Superman.
This made Lois feel a little better. Recalling the things Clark had said Thursday night, explanations he'd given her for why he had done what he'd done, she did recall him saying the alternate identity worked because of the differences he cultivated. No one expected Clark Kent to fly, and therefore, no one would suspect that he could. No one expected a laid-back, friendly reporter to risk his life … to look death in the face, and not blink. So no one suspected that he would.
Lois sat back heavily. It almost made him more amazing — all this time, it hadn't been a god doing these things, just a man. Her superhero was just a man. Wasn't that what Clark had said the other night? That he was Clark Kent; that he'd just created Superman to use his powers without being discovered?
Like a ton of bricks, it hit Lois how many times Clark must have been confronted with death, with being unable to save someone … and how deeply that must have affected him. Superman did his job without complaining, without letting things get to him. Clark, however, felt things deeply — he led rallies against injustice in his writing, and got upset when things didn't go as he planned. Superman's emotions always seemed subdued — he was always in control. Clark, on the other hand, had fought bitterly with her over her engagement to Lex Luthor. He argued with Lois over story ideas, and blushed when his mom told embarrassing baby stories, and got annoyed with rude cab drivers.
But if Clark was Superman … then Superman was Clark.
That meant Superman wasn't perfect … and he wasn't always right. If Superman was Clark, then he lied and eavesdropped and stole. When Clark did those things in the pursuit of a story, Lois loved it. She encouraged it. But Superman … he didn't do those things.
Lois swallowed hard and pulled her knees to her chest, feeling very vulnerable. The sense of loss was almost overwhelming — the loss of the superhero that she'd idolized. The person she'd built her hopes around had let her down.
Sunday morning dawned cool and crisp. The warm front that had brought unseasonably pleasant temperatures to the northeastern US for the last week had moved on, replaced by more typical autumn weather.
The sunshine and falling leaves energized Lois somehow, and she felt worlds better after walking down to the corner bakery for some fresh-baked breakfast pastries. The fresh air did her so much good that she decided some exercise might help her think things through.
The day before, when cleaning out her closet, Lois had come across the running shoes she had purchased last New Year's Eve. The resolution to start exercising regularly had lasted nearly as long as her attempt to give up caffeine, but today, it was just what the doctor (or reporter, as the case may be) had ordered.
Lois slipped a jacket over her t-shirt and leggings, clipped her portable radio onto her waist band and put the earphones over her ears. After securing her door key and a few dollars in a zippered jacket pocket, Lois set out, ready to sweat.
She jogged slowly at first, carefully avoiding the waterfront area where she and Clark had spent two recent evenings, and turned uptown, towards Centennial Park. She tuned her radio to WMET, "Metropolis's Hottest Hits", and let the music fill her mind. The changing beat set her pace as she jogged easily to the ballads, pushed herself to keep up with the fast beat of the dance tunes, and occasionally walked during the commercials. An hour later, after keeping up with several energetic songs in a row, Lois slowed to a walk and let herself cool down. She was dripping with sweat, and her thighs and calves ached from the long run, but she didn't care. The pull in her muscles was a welcome distraction to the thoughts that kept trying to force their way into her mind.
Exiting the running path at the north end of the park, Lois dug a couple of dollars out of her jacket pocket and purchased a bottle of water from a street-side vendor. She was still a number of blocks from home,so she wandered back in that general direction through the city streets, avoiding the retail shopping areas (and crowded sidewalks) in favor of the more residential areas.
Turning the corner south onto Fourth Avenue, Lois was surprised to see that the street had been cordoned off with police tape, and a crowd had gathered along the edges. Spotting several reporters in the crowd, Lois's interest was piqued and she pushed the earphones away from her ears and let them dangle around her neck. Weaving through the throng, even ducking under a section of police tape to cut a corner, she quickly made her way towards Susanna Foster, a reporter from the Daily Planet, who was standing with notepad in hand.
"Susanna, what's going on?" Lois asked, ignoring the dirty looks from a few competing reporters she'd elbowed out of the way.
"Lois? What are you doing here?" her colleague asked in surprise.
"I was out for a run—"
"So I see," Susanna interrupted, eyeing Lois's sweaty form.
A bit self-consciously, Lois wiped some lingering moisture from her brow and pushed her hair away from her face. "Yeah, well, I was, and I saw this … what's going on?"
The pair gazed out into the middle of the block where several police cars were idling, their lights flashing silently. A few police officers clad in bullet proof vests stood talking behind the vehicles. A man who appeared to be the captain was talking on a cell phone. "Hostage situation," Susanna explained. "Neighbors called the cops … apparently started out as a domestic argument, but now the guy is holed up in the there with his kid. The woman got out; that's her over there." Susanna pointed to a woman sobbing in a police car, her face sporting fresh bruises. "The wife said he's got a few shotguns in there, and he's threatening to kill himself and their son."
"Oh boy," Lois murmured. "Are they going in?"
Susanna gave her head a small shake. "Not sure … from what I could gather, the cops are worried about the six year old, and they're trying to talk to the husband on the phone. They've already evacuated the other tenants from the building and they're making sure we all stay back behind the tape … they're worried he's going to start shooting out the windows, I think."
Lois blew out a breath and automatically cast her gaze to the sky. This looked like a job for ..
"Hey, Superman!" Several members of the crowd excitedly began calling and pointing towards the center of the street. Sure enough, the man in the blue suit and red cape alighted next to the police captain.
On reflex, Lois took a quick, eager step forward. It was an automatic reaction, getting excited when she saw him, but it only took a moment before memories of the other night reminded Lois of the secret she now knew. 'Clark?' her mind questioned, still unable to quite believe all she had learned could be true.
He wasn't paying any attention to her, however, nor to any of the other reporters or by-standers congregating a few hundred yards away behind the police tape. Superman engaged in intense discussion with the police captain for a long moment, then cast his eyes towards the building. A moment later, Lois could hear the low murmuring of his voice as he spoke to the captain once again. She couldn't make out the words, but it seemed to Lois that Superman was x-raying the building and describing the lay-out of the apartment — and presumably, the condition of the occupants — to the officer in charge.
Suddenly, however, Lois saw Superman's head jerk up. He barked something to the captain and was off like a shot, rocketing towards the apartment building. A moment later, a shot could be heard clearly on the street. Everyone in the crowd gasped and took a step backwards in protective reflex. An ambulance siren could be heard wailing in the distance, getting louder as the seconds ticked by.
Lois felt her heard pounding. What was going on in there? What had Superman — Clark — heard? Her questions were answered in a moment, as the dark-haired super-hero flew out the front door of the building, a small boy in his arms. Everyone in the crowd held their breaths for a moment, offering silent prayers for the boy's safely, then relaxed in relief as Superman handed the terrified boy to his sobbing mother in the middle of the street.
Superman wasn't celebrating, however. The ambulance approached from the opposite end of the street, and Superman walked purposefully to meet it, even as the EMTs rushed out of the vehicle to examine the young boy. After speaking with Superman for a moment, two of the three members of the medical team quickly pulled a stretcher from the back of the ambulance, and rushed to follow the man of steel back through the front door. A handful of police officers followed, anxious to secure the scene.
The on-duty reporters in the crowd began scribbling furiously in their notebooks as the EMTs emerged with the father on a stretcher. A few pulled out their cell phones, obviously calling in their preliminary stories directly instead of waiting until they returned to their buildings. The police officers continued to mill around, even after the ambulance left the scene. Some time later, a single police car left the scene with the mother and child in the back seat. Through it all, numerous reporters waited impatiently for the police captain to offer a statement. Finally, it was Superman who took pity on the waiting throng of journalists and, after a quick word of explanation to the busy captain, approached the crowd.
Lois felt her heart begin to pound again as she realized that he was about to give an impromptu press conference. Though normally she'd be pushing her way to the front, waving to get his attention, Lois quickly melted into the rear of the crowd. Susanna was more than capable of handling the story for the Planet, and Lois was suddenly very nervous at the thought of Superman — *Clark* she told herself with a scowl — seeing her there. Lois dropped her head, carefully studying the ground, as Clark began giving a summary of the events to the reporters. Like it had on the television last night, his voice sounded decisive, yet weary, as he began answering questions. Lois fought the urge to look directly at him, lest she meet his eyes, but she did study him from beneath her lashes.
"I have time to take a few questions … Susanna?"
'Good for you, Clark!' Lois thought despite herself. 'Give the Daily Planet first priority.'
"Superman, what is the condition of the boy?"
"He had no immediate physical injuries, though according to the police and the mother, there has been history of physical abuse in the family. Before the police talk any further to the boy, they want to have him evaluated by doctors to be sure he is fine."
"What about the father?" another man called out.
Superman acknowledged the question. "The father suffered a single self-inflicted gunshot to the head from what looked to be a 34-caliber handgun. He was alive when the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance, but I hesitate to assess his chances of survival, since I'm not a doctor myself."
"I thought the mother said he had a shotgun?"
"I noticed two shotguns on the couch, but he also had a hand gun, which was found next to the body. The police will be able to tell you more after they secure the scene. Kevin?"
The reporter from the New Troy Herald spoke up quickly. "Why did you leave the father inside the building if he was still alive? Wouldn't he have a better chance of survival if you had flown him to the hospital yourself? You flew the boy out first, even though you say he wasn't hurt at all."
Superman set his jaw. "The head wound was quite serious. I decided the man would be in more danger if I moved him. I knew the ambulance would be arriving shortly and I thought it would be safer to let them treat him on the scene." Superman paused, looking the Herald reporter right in the eye. "I also decided the boy had suffered enough, and I didn't feel he needed to see his father lying in a pool of blood on the floor."
Superman was about to call on another reporter, when a different male voice rang out. "So if the man dies, it could be your fault for not treating him fast enough?"
Lois gasped in shock and anger, and fixed a tabloid reporter who had been hovering near the back of the crowd with a look of disgust. She was pleased to see that several other reporters did the same.
Superman showed less outward emotion, but he didn't let the comment slide. "No, it would be his fault for shooting himself in the head in the first place," he retorted, his voice laced with sarcasm. Several reporters chuckled.
Lois looked up in surprise, forgetting her intent to hide. It wasn't like Superman to lose his cool; Lois had witnessed him making other such comments from time to time, but it was definitely the exception rather than the rule. Her mind tried once more to wrap itself around the fact that this was, in fact, Clark standing up there. Lois looked directly at him for the first time in three days. As she had surmised from listening to his voice earlier, he looked very tired. His face was more drawn than usual, and his eyes were weary. Lois thought back to the LNN news footage she'd watched last night, and found herself wondering how much Clark had slept this weekend. She nearly missed the next question.
"Superman, Mitch Hanson from WHMT … can you talk a bit about your tanker rescue in France yesterday? Any word on what caused the explosion?"
Superman nodded. "The tanker suffered a massive rupture in its fuel tanks. As of last night, the French authorities hadn't yet determined what started the fire, but—" Superman cut off suddenly, blinking in surprise.
Lois swallowed, going pale even as her heart began to pound. She was suddenly staring directly into his eyes.
Superman tried to continue, his voice much less assured. "And uh … I, uh …"
Lois could hear the crowd begin to murmur around her … "What's wrong? Why'd he stop?" "What's he looking at?" … and she averted her eyes quickly, trying to look disinterested. She had obviously distracted him so completely that he had lost his train of thought, and she didn't want anyone else to catch on as to who it was that had done so. The shock on Superman's face and the questioning in his eyes as he looked at her were all too clear.
Superman looked away quickly as well. "I … I'm sorry … I have to leave," he said abruptly. And without even a good-bye, he lifted off into the sky.
Lois walked home slowly, trying to absorb what had just happened. The pain and sadness she'd seen in Clark's eyes had shaken her. It wasn't the first time she'd seen such emotions in Clark's eyes, but it was rare that she'd seen it in Superman's. Still, it was clear from his reaction this afternoon that he was hurting too. The look in his face hadn't been one of embarrassment over seeing a woman he'd treated poorly, but rather, that of a man afraid of being rejected. The realization made her feel a little better, yet at the same time, made her more angry. He had no right to be upset! He had no right to make her feel guilty for not falling into his arms! He had lied to her, hurt her, used her …
Lois shook her head, her anger fading as quickly as it has flared. No, that wasn't true. She finally had to admit it. Clark had made some stupid choices — some *really* stupid choices! — but that was different from intentionally trying to hurt her. He should have come to her, he shouldn't have let her believe he was dead. It had been a horrible mistake on his part. But he hadn't done it on purpose, and he certainly hadn't used it to get her into bed. His answering machine messages and the look in his eyes this afternoon had finally convinced her.
The more she thought about it, the more Lois knew that neither Clark nor Superman would do anything to intentionally use or hurt her. But that only solved part of the problem. What she continued to bump up against was that there wasn't a Clark *and* a Superman. There was just one man.
For the thousandth time, Lois clenched her fists and let out an annoyed sigh. This was hard, too hard! Trying to join them together in her head was like adding two and two … and still getting two. He was *one* man … yet she'd come to know him as two distinct personalities. And even though Lois now knew the truth, she was finding it impossible to reconcile it in her mind. Clark and Superman, the two men in her life who she'd thought would never hurt her, turned out to be one man who had.
Sighing, Lois turned up the steps to her apartment building. So where could they go from here?
Clark drifted in the clouds high above the Atlantic Ocean. Seeing Lois like that had been a shock, and if he'd ever entertained the notion that he could hide his feelings about her while in the suit, he now knew it to be just that — a notion. Granted, he hadn't been expecting to see her, but still, the situation had completely thrown him. Maybe with time he'd learn not to react …
Clark closed his eyes. Had he really just thought that, "maybe with time"? Would he really have to learn such a thing, to ignore Lois?
He didn't want to have to learn not to react, not to care … the very idea was horrifying. He wanted Lois; he'd always wanted Lois, but it was hard to remain hopeful that they could have a future together when she wouldn't even talk to him. Clark had held out hope that they'd be able to work things through this weekend. They'd had two full days — three if he counted Friday — to talk about what had happened. But Lois had refused all contact. He'd left several messages on her machine this weekend, but she hadn't returned any of them. Clark had been tempted to leave another one this morning, but what shred of self-esteem he had left prevented it.
No, if she wanted to talk with him, she knew where to find him … and that he was desperate to talk with her. He'd made that very clear on her machine.
The ironic thing was that Clark had also held out hope that if they were to meet face to face, Lois would be willing to talk with him. Even if she wanted to fight with him, that would be fine. Just so long as she stopped ignoring him — they'd never work things out if they didn't talk. But seeing Lois today on the street had shattered his illusion. Not only hadn't she wanted to talk with him, she couldn't even look at him. The moment he'd met her eyes, shocked that she was even there, she'd averted her gaze. Her look had been one of disinterest, as if she couldn't care less if he were there.
Clark held back a mournful sigh. He was kidding himself with any thoughts of time; he knew he'd never get over her. So where would they go from here?
Clark dressed slowly Monday morning, considering his options. He'd been out most of the night as Superman, returning in the early morning hours only to catch a couple of hours of fitful sleep. There hadn't been any serious calls for Superman last night, but he'd chosen to be out flying anyway. Rescues took his mind off his troubles, if only for a short time. Being able to use his powers openly these last eighteen months, after so many years of hiding, was wonderful, even though Clark had never imagined just how big Superman would become. Sometimes it was frustrating, having to make excuses to leave as Clark, only to reappear as Superman. But he knew the frustration was minimal compared to how he'd feel if he had to sit by and do nothing. All in all, despite his occasional ambivalence, he was very happy he'd created Superman.
It was with no small amount of irony, then, that Clark realized something else about Superman — that the identity Clark Kent had created so he would be able to stay in Metropolis was now the very identity that prevented Clark Kent from leaving.
Clark sighed as he adjusted his tie in the mirror. This was a good thing, he told himself, really. Leaving shouldn't be easy; it had become a too much of a pattern for him anyway. As soon as things got difficult, as soon as anyone showed signs of suspicion or distrust, Clark Kent would simply … leave. He would just pack his bags, finish whatever freelance assignment he was working on, and vanish, appearing several weeks later in another city, another country.
Only when Clark moved to Metropolis, did things change. For the first time in his life, Clark hadn't wanted to leave. He'd wanted to put down roots, to settle somewhere. Even as he'd arrived in Metropolis on that May day nearly eighteen months ago, Clark had felt that this was the city that would become his home. Of all the big cities in the world, this was one of the few that he'd never been to. Yet it was the one that had always beckoned him. Being in Metropolis made Clark feel at home as much as returning to Smallville for a visit did.
Of course, it was certainly possible that Lois Lane had played a significant role, even in those early days, in making him want to settle down. Clark had been drawn to her from the beginning, much as he'd been drawn to Metropolis and to big city life. He'd always felt there was something about Lois, something that made him want to stay forever, just to be near her. And when they'd begun dating last week, he thought his dreams were finally coming true. But now, everything had changed. Now … Lois knew his secret, knew everything about him. And she had rejected him.
Clark knew that he had hurt her and lied to her. And in his head, he understood why she was angry and didn't trust him anymore. But in his heart, the fact that she wouldn't even talk to him was tormenting him. And so now, as had been his habit for so many years, Clark found himself wondering if he should just move on. The little voice inside his head was back, telling him to leave Metropolis, to start over somewhere else, the same way he had done so many times before.
This wasn't the first time he'd heard the voice since coming to Metropolis. It had been there within a few weeks of creating Superman, when Lex Luthor had been running Clark through a series of tests designed to see what Superman could do. Innocent people were getting hurt, and Luthor had made it clear he was trying to drive Superman out of the city. Clark had given up then, defeated in both mind and spirit, until Lois had brought him out of it with her words of wisdom and encouragement.
A few months later, however, the voice had returned, this time as Superman was actively being driven from the city — the "heat wave" that had swept Metropolis was thought to be caused by Clark's super-activities, and the entire city was calling for Superman's ouster. Since Clark couldn't take the risk of being around other people, he'd had to leave in both identities. But once again, it had been Lois — with Jimmy's help — who had pulled him back by finding the true cause of the weather disturbance. Each time, Lois had been responsible for making him stay in Metropolis; each time, Lois had wanted him to stay. But this time, things were different. Now Lois wouldn't even talk to him.
What would he do if she never wanted anything to do with him again? This was the question that kept pushing its way into his mind, aided by the little voice that suggested maybe it was time for a fresh start. Clark shook his head. He didn't *want* to leave. He wanted to work things out with Lois. But he couldn't seem to banish the voice completely. It kept asking him … what if?
This was where the irony about Superman almost made Clark smile. The realization had really come to him while Clark Kent had been "dead" last weekend, trying to figure out what he kind of new life he could create for himself. Becoming Superman full-time had been the obvious choice, and the option that allowed him to stay in Metropolis. Yet, it hadn't been an encouraging choice — being the super-hero for long stretches of time was difficult for Clark. Superman never got to relax, never got to let his guard down. Being Clark Kent was what gave him the mental strength to *be* Superman.
At this point last weekend, Clark had considered creating another identity for himself in a new city. He would just reinvent himself, perhaps overseas. The logistics were daunting, however. What kind of career could he have, if he couldn't be a journalist? Clark couldn't imagine not writing anymore. And how could he see his parents without arousing suspicion? He would always be looking over his shoulder, afraid someone would find out his secret … and then he'd be right back to where he'd started from before coming to Metropolis and inventing Superman — only he'd have two secrets. The scenario had not been appealing, to be sure.
Now that Clark Kent was alive again, however, if Clark chose to move on, he could do so as himself. He could simply pull up his stakes and get a job at another paper. With his experience and credentials, not to mention the Kerth award he'd won several weeks ago, he could surely find a position anywhere he wanted.
But then there was Superman. Yes, Clark Kent could move anywhere in the world, but what about the super-hero? Would Superman move also? How could he do so without drawing attention to Clark Kent?
Indeed, while it was Clark who had originally brought Superman to Metropolis, it was now Superman who was keeping Clark here, at least for now. At least until he could resolve things with Lois, one way or the other …
Clark set his jaw. If he truly wanted to leave, the logistics could be worked out. But the simple fact was, Superman or not, Clark *didn't* want to leave. Period. What he wanted was a life with Lois. Banishing the little voice of doubt once and for all, Clark forced himself to think positive thoughts as he headed out the door. He and Lois would work things out. They had to. They just had to.
Clark walked into the newsroom a little before nine that morning. He'd planned to arrive much earlier, but one call for Superman had led to another, until he'd finally made himself late. Still, morning rescues were usually easy to explain, especially when he arrived at work with a handful of Superman stories to write up. He'd also managed to compose an "interview" with himself about the tanker fire that he needed to enter into the computer. When Clark had returned from France on Saturday, he'd been surprised to see that LNN had been repeatedly playing the fire footage, and the wire services seemed to be equally as curious. Coupling that with the questions he'd been asked by various reporters over the weekend, he anticipated that Perry would be equally curious.
Walking past Lois's desk, Clark noted that although she had clearly arrived before him, she was nowhere in sight. He fought the urge to look around to find her. Perry's words from Friday still echoed in his ears, and Clark didn't want to take the chance of getting distracted again before he could write up his stories. He knew himself well enough to know that he wouldn't be able to concentrate well today, with Lois so near and things still so uncertain between them. But he had vowed to cover his dismay better — he was a professional, and being sent home like a disruptive child still smarted.
Thirty minutes later, Clark had finished short articles on the three Superman rescues from that morning, and was a little more than half-way done with his tanker fire interview. He had just reached a good stopping point when the reporters in the newsroom began assembling in the conference room for Perry's weekly Monday assignment meeting. Clark cast a quick glance at Lois's still empty desk and furrowed his brow. He hadn't seen her since he'd arrived, and he hoped everything was all right.
Clark was debating whether to pull down his glasses and scan the rest of the office when he finally caught sight of Lois coming down the stairs from the morgue. She had an armful of file folders, and it was clear she had been doing some research — well, either that or she was pretending to be busy to avoid Clark, but he certainly hoped that wasn't the case.
Just then, Lois looked up and caught Clark's eye as she walked down the ramp towards her desk. Despite himself, Clark felt his cheeks warm as they each averted their gaze. He'd been caught staring, and it embarrassed him. It was clear from her similar reaction thatshe was still avoiding him. Still, he knew he'd never be able to stop himself from being aware of her presence, from worrying about her when she wasn't near. Even if they never spoke again, his feelings for her would never disappear. He didn't know whether to be comforted or depressed by that thought.
Letting his cheeks puff out as he exhaled a deep breath, Clark stood and followed the other reporters into the conference room. He'd made the decision that morning to hide his dismay at their situation while in the newsroom, and that was what he intended to do. And step one of that process was not waiting for Lois or wondering if they would sit together in the meeting. No, he would go in first and find a seat, preferably one with people on either side, so there would be no question as to whether Lois would join him.
It was better this way … really. He hoped if he repeated enough times, he might start to believe it.
Lois stood at her desk, waiting as the last of the staff reporters filed into the conference room. She'd been at work for a little over an hour, but she'd spent most of that time doing research in the morgue. When she'd arrived that morning and checked her voice mail, there'd been a message from Dr. Laurence, giving her some additional information for her story on funding proposals at Metropolis University. The information pointed her in a new direction, and she had eagerly begun pulling research herself, not bothering to wait until she could track down Jimmy to do it for her.
Her purpose in disappearing into the paper's morgue for over an hour was not to avoid seeing Clark, but Lois had to admit, it was a side-benefit of the task. By the time she'd emerged, the staff meeting was getting underway, and she didn't have to worry about making awkward chit-chat with him, or with anyone else for that matter.
The time spent thinking this weekend had been helpful for Lois, and although she was still distressed over what Clark had done, she was ready to not let that show in the newsroom. Let people talk … she just wasn't going to help fuel the gossip fires by giving them a show.
Scooting into the conference room just ahead of Perry, Lois took the first open seat near the door. She noted with some interest that Clark was sitting across the room, between Maggie Lopez-Jernikowski, a recent addition to the city beat, and Chuck Baker, the Financial section editor. Forcing herself not to stare at him, Lois instead looked directly to the head of the table, where Perry was starting the meeting.
"Good morning, everyone," Perry began. He gave them a quick run-down of the weekend circulation numbers, then gradually began working his way around the room of reporters to determine the status of their various stories.
When it was her turn, Lois gave Perry a run-down of her MU funding story and summarized a few other pieces that were still in the working stages. After asking a few questions, Perry accepted her report with a satisfied nod, and moved on to the next person. A few moments later, Clark gave a summary of his own working stories, including a mention of his visit last week to the company accused of money laundering, and his plans to begin digging into the parent company.
As Perry moved around the table, Lois noted that Susanna Foster had an update to Sunday's story about the shooter's attempted suicide — the man was still in a coma, but if he survived, the police would be filing numerous charges against him. Despite herself, Lois glanced at Clark to see his reaction to the news, and found him staring unseeingly at the notepad in front of him. To anyone else in the room, Lois thought, it would simply look like Clark hadn't heard the update, or that he just didn't have any interest in it. But Lois knew what first hand experience Clark had with the man, and she found herself wondering what Clark was thinking. Was he asking himself if he could have prevented the tragedy if he'd arrived a few minutes sooner? Or was he relieved that the man would not be able to abuse his family any longer?
For the first time since they'd fought, Lois found herself concerned about Clark, not for his physical safety, but about his emotional state. Just as she was over the weekend, Lois was once again struck by the realization that Superman was not an all-powerful being, a being that lived above the rest of society. Instead, he was a man who chose to make his own life within that society. Suddenly, she remembered a conversation she and Clark had had, several months ago, not long after Superman had arrived. Superman hadn't been seen in days, and Clark had seemed bitter about it. His words echoed in Lois's memory — "If he can't do everything, then what good is he?"
Lois remembered how shocked she'd been by Clark's words, and how she'd launched into a speech about how it didn't matter what Superman could do, or not do — what mattered was that he tried, that he gave people hope. Sitting in the conference room today, it suddenly occurred to Lois that the doubt she'd heard in Clark's voice so long ago were actually doubts of *Superman*.
The realization was almost overwhelming — what kind of burden must Clark carry? Did he agonize every single time he was unable to save someone, even someone who most people would feel didn't deserve to be saved? Did he ever second-guess himself, wondering if could have done something differently? She'd always imagined Superman as being supremely confident in his abilities, yet as she merged the two men together in her mind, the difficulties of being Superman were becoming all too clear.
Swallowing, Lois found herself wondering if she'd been too hard on Clark. After all, he had apologized, swearing he never meant to hurt her. Did she believe him? Could she ever trust him again?
Perry's voice shook Lois out of her thoughts. The Editor-in-Chief regarded his notes and began to wrap up the meeting. "Ok, last thing; does anyone have anything new on the tanker fire in France? We've got the story off the wire, but this is capturing a lot of attention and I'd like to see if we can get some quotes from Superman himself. Anyone have anything to add?"
Clark lifted his hand slightly to get Perry's attention. "I interviewed Superman this morning about the fire," he offered. "I'm almost done writing it up … should be on your desk by lunch."
Perry nodded, pleased. "Good, good," he acknowledged. "That's just what I was hoping to hear! Ok, anyone have any questions? All right, then you all have your assignments. Let's get back to work."
Lois walked straight to her desk, her jaw clenched as she exited the conference room. To believe she'd actually started to feel guilty for being too hard on Clark … the cheat! Now she knew how he managed to get so many Superman stories — and he passed them off as investigative journalism! Fuming, she sat down roughly in her chair and began going through the files she had pulled this morning.
Susanna Foster paused as she passed Lois's desk on her way across the newsroom. "Hi, Lois. Have a good run on Sunday?"
Lois looked up sharply. "What?" Seeing the suddenly wary look on her co-worker's face, Lois eased up. "Oh, yes … it was fine, Susanna. I haven't done that in a long time, so I was overdue. How'd your story come out?"
"Fine … I had to rush back here afterwards to meet deadline, but I got it in just under the wire."
Lois fixed a half-smile on her face and waited for Susanna to leave. Small talk really wasn't Lois's thing, even though she bore no resentment towards this woman. Still, Lois was in even less of a chatty mood than usual. Luckily, Susanna bowed out before the silence between them became too uncomfortable. "Ok, well, you have a good day."
"Yeah, you too," Lois added as an after-thought, her attention already fixed back on the file she'd begun leafing through.
Susanna continued on, passing Clark's desk on the way to her own. "Hey, Clark, how are you?" Lois tried to close her ears, but with the conversation only a few feet away and her already being distracted, she found it impossible.
"Hi, Susanna," Clark smiled. "Nice job on the shooter story yesterday."
"Thanks," the woman said brightly. "I appreciate the compliment. And right back at you about the tanker fire. I saw Superman at the shooting yesterday but he took off before anyone could get anything about France. How do you always get so lucky?"
Before Clark could answer, Jimmy wandered out of Perry's office and interjected himself into the conversation. "Yeah, CK, you made Perry's morning. No one else in town has been able to get anything out of Superman about the fire."
Clark smiled and shrugged. "Just in the right place at the right time, I guess … saw Superman on my way to work this morning. He had a couple of minutes in between rescues and I was able to get him to answer some questions."
The conversation continued, but Lois couldn't listen anymore. Working hard to swallow a sound of disgust, she launched herself from her chair and stalked to the coffee machine. What a bunch of baloney! There was no 'interview' with Superman; Clark was lying through his teeth!
Listening to Clark's story only served to remind Lois how gullible she'd been for the last year and a half. Though logically she knew that Clark couldn't announce his secret to the world, listening to his explanations still made her burn. And to think she'd just been wondering if she could trust him again! What was she thinking? The man lied constantly! And she'd been taken in by it every time.
Lois took her time pouring a cup of coffee as she waited for Clark to finish yakking and get back to work. When Susanna and Jimmy finally left, Lois tried to return to her desk, only to be collared by Perry before she could sit down.
"Lois, Clark, can I see you in my office for a minute? … I have something I need you two to work on."
With a heavy sigh, Lois dutifully followed Perry to his office, her mood darkening even more. The two of them to work on? Oh, wonderful. The last thing she needed was to work with Clark right now.
Clark joined Lois in Perry's office a moment later. He looked at Lois questioningly, wondering if she knew what this was about, but she just shrugged and looked away.
Perry looked at them speculatively for a moment, but decided not to comment. He'd hoped they would have taken his suggestion to heart, and had worked out their problems over the weekend, but it didn't look as though that was the case. Perry inhaled and exhaled slowly. Well, he couldn't make them sort things out — that had to come from them — but he could expect them to work together, and that's exactly what he intended to do. "That information you two brought in from the stake-out last week turned out to be good. The police arrested three people last night on suspicion of drug running, including one Mark Cooper. They made the bust at the house you were staking out."
Lois looked up, quickly interested. "Mark Cooper? The detective out of the 8th Squad in Kingston? He wasn't even there that night we staked it out. Just Andre Pauli and some other guy we never identified."
Clark interjected. "My sources in Kingston have been implying for months that Cooper was crooked, but I never had anything specific to go on before. This is huge! Is Cooper claiming he was there undercover?"
Perry shrugged. "That's for you to find out. I want you both to high-tail it over to Kingston and try to find out what's going on. The Kingston PD hasn't even released the names of the men who were there with Cooper when the arrest was made. Now we already know about Pauli so I think we're a step ahead of the competition. See if we can keep it that way — find out all you can."
Lois glanced at Clark. There was obviously a story here, but she still wasn't thrilled about going anywhere with Clark this morning. Besides, she was busy with her MU story. "Perry, there's no need for both of us to go on this. Clark's already heard about it; let him do it."
Clark looked down at the ground and stayed silent, but Perry didn't hide his displeasure. "Lois, this wouldn't have anything to do with thoseissues we all agreed you two weren't going to be bringing into the newsroom this week, would it?"
Lois let out a sound of disgust. "No! Of course not. I'm just saying this isn't necessarily a two person job—"
"And I think it *is* a two person job—" Perry countered.
Suddenly Clark's head lifted and he got a far-away look in his eye. "Um, Chief? I'm really sorry to interrupt, but I *just* remembered I was supposed to meet a source this morning." He half-glanced at his watch as if to back up his words. "And I'm going to be late if I don't hurry." Clark was already backing his way through the office door.
Perry couldn't believe his ears. "Clark! I've given you your assignment. I want you in Kingston."
"I know, Perry … but this is really important, too … I'll— I'll be *right* back." As Clark turned to leave, he caught Lois's eye. His expression was apologetic at first, automatically including her in the same look he was giving Perry. But as he noticed Lois's arrested expression, Clark hesitated, the sudden memory of her knowledge obviously making itself known. He seized the opportunity. "Actually, Lois … why don't you head down to Kingston and get started, and I'll meet you there in a little while." He stared at her, his eyes speaking volumes about his urgent need to leave.
Lois blinked. "Uh … Ok," she stammered, caught off guard.
"Thank you." With those relieved words, Clark was gone.
Lois stared after him for a moment, stunned. The look on his face just then, she had seen it there many times before. It was often there right before Clark made one of his lame excuses. But she had never made the connection to Superman …
Perry's exasperated voice brought her back to the present. "Lois, I swear, that boy is going to give me an ulcer! What was that all about?! Who's he meeting with, anyway?"
Perry's questions turned Lois's fascination into frustration as she realized she had no idea where Clark had gone. Almost immediately, her brain began adding up just how many times Clark had made similar excuses in her presence. Stupid, stupid, Lois chastised herself; how could she not have seen it before?
Her frustration at Clark's dishonesty and with her own blindness annoyed Lois, and she snapped her response to Perry's question. "How should I know where he's going? I'm not his keeper; take it up with Clark!" At the narrow look her editor gave her, however, Lois quickly backed off her snippy tone. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she acquiesced with a sigh. "I just have an assignment to get to … are we done?"
Perry regarded her seriously for a moment, then waved her off. "Go … but if Clark doesn't meet you there, I'm gonna have his head."
Lois just sighed heavily as she headed for her desk.
Three hours later, Lois entered the door of her jeep, currently parked in front of the Kingston Police Department, and waited while her partner buckled himself into the seat next to her. Perry had been both wrong and right. A single reporter would have still been able to get the story, but even Lois had to admit that having the two of them there had made things a lot easier.
Clark had been waiting for her outside the squad when she'd arrived. She hadn't asked what had required Superman's attention; even though she'd been extremely curious. Lois simply didn't want to give him the satisfaction. Instead, she'd tossed off a flippant "so good of you to make time for the Planet", as she walked through the door he was holding open.
Later in the morning, during a rare lull, Clark had almost broken through her tough facade by mentioning that Superman had prevented the kidnapping of a pair of young children who were being grabbed on their way to school. Stifling her desire to ask a million questions almost killed Lois, but she managed to offer only a careful, "Good for him."
After that, Clark had limited his exchanges with her to the story at-hand, and they had been able to complete the assignment without any major blow-ups. The only time things had gotten tense was when they were having some difficulty discovering the name of the third suspect. When the police officer doing the interrogations had walked by with some paperwork in his hands, Lois had silently made it clear to Clark — with a cock of her head and some extremely obvious eye movements — that she wanted him to do whatever he could to find out the third name. After first acting surprised at her suggestion, Clark ultimately complied, lowering his glasses to take a quick peek at the paperwork. He'd given her the name, but then proceeded to sulk for the next several minutes, in Lois's opinion, because she hadn't heaped praise on him for doing so.
Lois thought that she had heard Clark mutter something about her being willing to accept him "only when it suits her", but she'd decided to ignore it. She grudgingly had to admit to herself that Clark's powers could come in handy during investigations, but she wasn't ready to tell him that. Indeed, she'd begun to wonder how many other times he'd used his powers without her ever knowing.
Lois pushed the thoughts out of her mind. It was all she could do to limit herself to conversations about the story, and she wanted to get back to the newsroom as soon as possible — and out of the privacy a closed car provided.
Settling into the passenger seat as Lois pulled away from the curb, Clark was pleased with the way the morning has progressed so far, at least in regards to his professional life. Although there were several other reporters milling around downstairs at the station, Lois and Clark had managed to slip up a staircase into the detective's area, and see three officers from Internal Affairs exiting the police captain's office. Over the course of the morning, Lois had rebuffed all of Clark's attempt to draw her into conversation, but he had been able to get her attention at the police station by briefly x-raying the police file on the third suspect. He'd had to push up his glasses quickly when the police captain himself showed up and escorted the two reporters back down the stairs, but Clark had succeeded in getting the suspect's name.
Instead of being pleased with the information Clark had obtained, however, Lois had just derided him for not getting more! Feeling hurt and betrayed, it was all Clark could do not to tell Lois off right in the middle of the station house. Fortunately, Lois had chosen that moment to call Jimmy from her cell phone, quietly asking him to find out all he could on Hans Goetter, the third suspect.
Clark was more than ready to leave when the time came. He was tired of walking on eggshells with Lois, and he just wished he could break through her icy exterior and get her talking. But she was obviously limiting herself only to whatever conversations were necessary to get the story. It was clear she was uncomfortable being alone with him.
After traveling several minutes in silence, however, Clark felt as if he were going crazy. Even meaningless small talk would be better than the silent treatment. "Susanna did a good job on that shooter story," he finally offered lamely, trying to get them talking.
Lois kept her eyes on the road. "Mm hmm."
Clark looked out the window. She wasn't making this easy. But this was the first chance he'd had to be alone with her since last week, and he couldn't stand to let the opportunity pass. They were quickly approaching the Daily Planet, and he just had to get them talking.
"So, how was your weekend?" He tried to keep his voice casual, but knew full well that Lois would take the question as anything but small talk.
Indeed, Lois narrowed her eyes as she threw him a sharp glance, and didn't answer.
Clark exhaled, frustrated. Why was she doing this? Could she really hate him that much? Wouldn't she ever let him explain? It was the not knowing that was so excruciating for him. He just couldn't take it anymore! "Is this how it's going to be from now on? Us barely talking; you hating me?" He had to know.
This time, he finally got a response. "I don't hate you, Clark," Lois answered tightly as she maneuvered her jeep down the entrance ramp of the Daily Planet underground parking garage. "I just … have a lot of things to work through."
As relieved as he was that Lois had answered, Clark just couldn't leave it at that. His own emotions had been rubbed raw for far too long, and now that he had Lois talking, he couldn't let it go. "I thought maybe that's what you were doing this weekend. I'm assuming you *were* thinking about things. You certainly weren't returning phone calls," he added, a bit more sarcastically than he'd intended. He honestly hadn't meant to start a fight, but it seemed his mouth had other ideas.
Lois shot him another narrow look, letting him know he was on thin ice. "You weren't exactly sitting by the phone. I saw the news … Germany, France, New Zealand … and you even managed to work Metropolis into your busy schedule." The sarcasm in her own voice was biting.
Despite his admonitions to himself not to do it, Clark took the bait. "I remember a time when you used to appreciate what Superman did," he shot back. "Now you won't even look at me."
"What are you talking about?"
"After the shooting Sunday," Clark said pointedly. "You could barely stand to look at me."
Lois stared, wide-eyed. "Excuse me! I was just trying to help you … you weren't exactly being subtle about staring at me. But obviously you think just because you're Superman, I'm supposed to just run into your arms!"
"I never said that," Clark defended, appalled. "Lois, that is so far from what I think!"
"Good, 'cause it's a lot more complicated than that!"
"Fine, it's complicated." He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "You think I don't know that? But we had a whole weekend with nothing but time to sort things out — and you wouldn't even talk to me." The hurt in his voice was clear.
Lois scowled. What did he expect?? "You can't solve a year and a half's worth of problems in one weekend, Clark."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Oh, give me a break! We don't have that many problems."
"Fine, just one *really* big one!"
He turned towards her, imploring her with his eyes and voice. "My God, Lois, what more can I do to convince you that I didn't mean for Monday night to happen? I swear I never meant to hurt you. Did you even listen to my messages? I was practically groveling." The last part was said with part desperation, part disgust.
Lois acquiesced. "No, I listened to them. And … I— I believe you. We were both pretty wiped out that night and I decided that you weren't faking that. And believe it or not, I can almost understand why you let me believe you were dead. I still think it was a rotten thing to do, but I at least believe you weren't intentionally trying to hurt me."
Clark blinked, gathering some hope from the accepting tone in her voice. "Well … it's true; I wasn't. Thank you for believing me," he added sincerely. After pausing briefly, he continued. "Do you … believe that I told you the truth about my feelings for you?" When Lois refused to respond, instead being extra attentive about pulling into a vacant parking space, Clark sighed. "Can't you see, Lois? Everything I said this week was true, everything about us, and how I felt about you. Can't you see that?" he implored.
Lois turned off the engine and sat quietly in her seat for a long moment. "I don't know; I just don't know," she finally said, trying to close the conversation.
Clark just stared at her. "What happened to us, Lois?" he asked. "I thought we were friends — *partners*. I know that you need to sort things out, but why can't we deal with it together?"
"Because … because …" Lois floundered. She took a deep breath and felt the last of her control slip away. She turned to glare at him. "Ok, fine, you want to know why? The thing is, Clark — the one thing that I'm *really* having trouble letting go of — is the lying. I mean, you just did it upstairs! It just *rolls* off your tongue. 'Perry, I have to meet a source'. 'Oh, Jimmy, I happened to see Superman on my way to work'. 'I got a great Superman interview .' I mean, sure, there were plenty of excuses that made me suspect you were up to something, but there were many more that I now realize I bought without question! And that terrifies me, Clark, that you can lie so often and so easily. It makes me wonder whether I can ever trust you again."
Clark sighed, guilt and frustration mixing. "Do you think I liked lying, Lois? I hated every minute of it."
Lois let out a sound of disgust. "But you still did it. I knew a habitual liar in college, Clark. This guy lied about everything — his job, his friends, his parents. Gee, sound familiar?" she finished, taunting him.
Clark's eyes narrowed. "That's not fair!" he spat. "First of all, you've lied to me plenty of times—"
"That's not the point! Besides that was a long time ago!"
"If you're bringing up old stuff, then so can I! And anyway, *second* of all," he continued loudly, cutting off her attempt at another retort, "there is a big difference between lying for no reason, and lying to protect yourself." When Lois didn't respond, scowling angrily at the steering wheel instead, Clark continued. "Lois, I hated lying to you. I'm not good at it, and I just don't like it. It's not who I am, and I would think you of all people should know that."
"But you still did it," she restated. After a moment, she sat back in her seat, at a loss. "I feel like I don't know anything anymore, Clark. Everything I thought I knew, I find out is a lie. It's like I don't even know you."
"Fine, I admit it," he consented, still upset. "I have purposely misled you and everyone else about my powers. But I've never lied about what sort of person I am, or what I believe in. If you know Clark, and you know Superman, then you know *me*." Clark turned in his seat to face her once again as he continued. "Lois, unless I plan to tell the entire world who I am, I have to keep on misleading people. When I say things that … aren't completely true … it's only to protect myself and the people I love. If people were to know about me, everyone I love would be in danger. My parents, my friends … *you*. So would I lie to the world to protect you? Yes, I would. And I won't apologize for that."
Lois glanced at his determined expression, but didn't say a word. She wasn't sure whether to scream or cry, but in the end, she decided to do neither. "Fine," she said.
"Fine," he repeated, exasperated, sitting back in his seat.
And with that familiar parry, they exited the car and rode the elevator back up to the newsroom in dead silence.
The afternoon passed slowly for Clark. As predicted, he had a hard time concentrating on his stories, even those he'd previously been excited about. The fight with Lois in the car relieved some of the tension he'd been feeling, yet at the same time, it added more. At least Lois seemed to have taken Perry's orders to heart, and she was no longer giving him the silent treatment in the newsroom. Granted, they were only talking when they had to, and only about work-related matters. But Lois's anger in the car hadn't carried over into the newsroom, and neither had his own.
Now Clark was just tired — he was tired of fighting, and most of all, he was tired of being upset. Knowing Lois they way he did, he thought that she was feeling the same way. But he also knew her well enough to know that she wouldn't give in first. Even now, as afternoon moved into evening, they seemed to be having a silent contest to see who would be the first to pack up and go home.
Clark sighed. As angry as he'd been in the car, he could see that there was a lot of truth to what Lois had said. He truly did understand why she was upset; it was just frustrating not to be able to do or say anything that would make it better. Fortunately, she seemed to have forgiven him for letting her believe he'd been killed. Hearing her admit that much in the car was a weight off his shoulders. He only hoped that her partial forgiveness would give him the strength to go on when he missed her so much.
With a resigned sigh, Clark packed up his desk. He had no anger left. It was so hard, not knowing what to do, how to act. Lois was still his best friend, even if he was no longer hers. He only wished he knew what would make things right again; he would give her anything she wanted, if only she could tell him what that might be.
Clark turned to where Lois was working at her desk. He watched her for a moment, noticing how hard she was trying to look busy. This wasn't right, this tension between them. Clark shook his head, gathering a new resolve — he wouldn't give up on her, on them. Besides the fact that it would break his heart, he desperately hoped Lois really did just need time to sort things through. He only wished she could see that it was possible for them to work through this together, instead of apart.
Squaring his shoulders, Clark walked to Lois's desk. He stood behind her and leaned over, pretending to be looking at her computer screen, the way he had so many other times before. Anyone in the newsroom looking at them would just assume they were discussing a story … or so he hoped. He didn't want their problems to become office fodder anymore than Perry did. Still, he knew what he had to say. No matter what else happened between them — or didn't happen — she needed to know. "Lois?"
Lois tensed, though Clark knew she'd been hyper-aware of his presence from the moment he'd begun walking towards her desk. "What?" she said quietly. Thankfully, her voice wasn't cold, just guarded.
"I'm sorry — that we fought in the car, for everything." Clark hesitated, then plowed on, his voice sincere. "And I'm glad you believe me about last week. That's really important to me, that you know I would never use you or intentionally hurt you." Clark paused again, hoping Lois would turn and look at him. She didn't, however, so with a sigh, he continued. "I know you have a lot to think about, and that you have a lot of questions. And I'm really going to try not to pressure you, to give you the time you need. It'll be hard for me, but I'll try." Although Lois stayed silent, she did relax noticeably from her earlier defensive posture. Clark found this encouraging, a sign that she was actually listening to him again. He put his hand on her back gently. "I miss you, Lois." He closed his eyes for a moment and swallowed the lump in his throat. "I miss us," he whispered.
Unable to trust himself to say more, Clark stood up quickly. Without a look back, he strode across the newsroom and walked into a waiting elevator.
Lois waited until the door closed on the elevator before wiping the tears from her eyes. She'd misted up when he'd whispered "I miss you", then had almost lost it completely when he'd added "I miss us." The truth was, she missed him, too. But as she'd told Clark in the car, things were more complicated than that.
Lois reached for a tissue and blew her nose. The worst part of it all was that she was starting to realize Clark was right. Talking with him in the car today, even though they'd been fighting, really had made her feel a little better. And no matter what else happened, Lois was glad Clark knew she accepted his explanations for why he had done what he did.
Unfortunately, there was still the larger issue, and knowing that Clark didn't mean to hurt her was part of the problem — if he could hurt her so deeply without meaning to, how could she ever trust him again? And how could she ever again believe that she really knew him?
With a sniffle, Lois began packing up her desk to go home. Things were just so complicated.
Lois wandered around her apartment, that evening, moving absently from room to room. She just couldn't seem to settle down. Bored with her usual diet of take-out food, she had stopped by the market on the way home and picked up a few "healthy" varieties of frozen dinners. It wasn't exactly home cooking, but for Lois, it was better than she could have prepared herself. Still, it had been hard to get enthused about eating. Even the chocolate ice cream she'd tried to tempt herself with for dessert hadn't tasted right — proof positive that something was wrong.
The argument she and Clark'd had in the car kept playing over and over in Lois's mind, yet she was no closer to a solution. Clark had lied, yet he'd had a reason. Superman was no longer her spotless hero, yet he was giving far more of himself than she had ever realized.
It was enough to make her crazy. Every time Lois thought she had a handle on a single truth, a new memory would surface — Clark disappearing when danger was present only to reappear moments later as Superman, Superman mysteriously knowing something which she had told only to Clark, Clark's claims of "Superman told me". Contradictory memories — which were real? No matter how much time she spent agonizing and wondering, there were still some situations Lois found inexplicable.
Lois found herself wondering what Clark was doing. She considered turning on LNN to see if there were any major Superman happenings, but she quickly decided against it. The television wouldn't have the answers she needed … as much as she hated to admit it, there was only one person who could provide the information she was finally realizing she needed. Lois looked at the phone. Should she?
As if on cue, the phone jangled, causing her to jump. By habit, Lois reached for the receiver, but hesitated before picking it up. She felt her heartbeat speed up. It must be Clark; who else could it be? But was she ready to talk with him, after spending days screening her calls?
Lois finally picked up the phone on the fourth ring. "Hello?" she answered tentatively.
"Hi Sis," came the chipper — and decidedly female — voice on the other end.
"Yeah! How've you been?"
Lois sighed, trying not to sound disappointed. She'd gotten herself all worked up over wondering what she'd say to Clark, and it wasn't even him. There was no longer any doubt — she was definitely going crazy. "To tell the truth, Luce, I've been better."
"What's wrong?" came her sister's concerned voice.
Lois waved her free hand. "I'm fine, really … what's going on with you?"
"I'm just calling to let you know I'm going to be moving. I'm not sure where yet, but until I find a new place, I'm going to be staying with Jeff."
Lois furrowed her brow. "Jeff? Lucy, you hardly know him!"
Lucy groaned. "Oh, not you, too. You sound like mom."
"Insults will get you nowhere," Lois retorted dryly.
"You worry too much, and besides, what was I supposed to do? Cindy and her boyfriend just got engaged, so he's moving in. I have to move out by the end of the month, but I haven't been able to find a good apartment yet."
Lois knew that Lucy had been having trouble making ends meet ever since she'd moved to California a year ago. Moving across the country to Los Angeles had been a spur of the moment decision for Lucy after two of her high school girlfriends, Cindy and Denise, had invited her to be the third in a three-bedroom apartment. Unfortunately, Denise had only lasted in California a matter of months before returning home to Metropolis, which left Lucy and Cindy struggling to meet the rent. Lucy had assured her sister that she'd return to college in California just as soon as she could establish residency and qualify for the discounted tuition — but in the meantime, Lucy had been waiting tables full time, and trying to live in an expensive city on too little money. "A good apartment or a cheap apartment?" Lois asked pointedly.
"Both," her sister admitted. "It's hard to find something safe and clean in my price range. Which is why I decided to stay with Jeff for awhile. I can save up for a deposit on a nicer place … oh, and I have an interview with a temporary agency next week!"
Lois tried to work up some enthusiasm for her sister's accomplishments. She respected her sister's desire to make it on her own, without financial help from either of their parents — Lucy claimed the damage to her mental health made the cost of taking the money too high — but Lois couldn't help but think her sister was making life harder than it needed to be. "Good luck with the job, Luce … but I don't want you rushing into a relationship with this guy just because you need a place to stay."
"I'm not," Lucy assured her.
Lois didn't buy it. "But you just broke up with that other guy — what was his name? Steve? How can you just jump into another relationship so fast?"
"What do you expect me to do, Lois? Sit home by myself every night? You have to get out there if you want to meet anyone. The guys I meet might not be your idea of Prince Charming, but for the most part, they've been decent guys. I mean, sure, we've both dated some real losers, but I can't let that make me stop dating."
Lois sighed heavily. "I never said stop dating … just … oh, I don't know. Maybe I'm jealous — you get into relationships so easily, and when you break up, it doesn't seem to get to you for very long. Me, on the rare occasions I let myself fall for someone, it takes me forever to recover when we break up." Lois felt her eyes start to tear, and she wiped at the corners with her fingertips. She hadn't intended to bring up her situation with Clark — she hadn't told anyone in her family that she and Clark had started dating. Still, she didn't seem to be able to stop thinking about him …
Lucy was already disagreeing, however. "No, it does get to me … but I just tell myself that they weren't worth getting upset over."
Lois sniffled, thinking back to the men she had dated in the last few years. Lucy had always accused her of dating only "safe" men, men she could boss around or whom she had little real interest in. Though Lois had hotly denied it at the time, she could see now that Lucy was right — by dating men she knew she'd have no future with, Lois had been protecting herself from getting hurt.
As Lois felt a few tears finally escape and make their way down her cheeks, she wished there was some way she could protect herself now. "What would do you do if you thought he was worth it?" Her voice was tight as Lois tried to hold back a sob.
"Well—" Lucy started to answer, but something in her older sister's voice made her suddenly stop and read between the lines. Lucy's voice was somewhere between surprise and cautious optimism when she finally asked, "Lois, did you just break up with someone?"
Lois flopped down on her couch, the tears flowing freely now. "Oh, Lucy, I don't know why I keep crying," she choked out. "Every time I think I'm done, I find more tears. I'll be fine for most of the day, then suddenly something will set me off again."
"That's normal," her younger sister said sympathetically. "It will get better, you'll see. That's what you always tell me when I break up with someone, remember?"
"I'm not so sure this time."
"Well, what happened? Who's the guy?"
Lois closed her eyes. She hadn't meant to go into this with anyone, not even Lucy, but she'd been keeping it inside for so long. The need to talk about it was intense, but she knew she had to be careful about what she said. "Clark," she finally whispered.
"Clark Kent?!" Lucy exclaimed. "But Lois, that's great. Clark's your best friend!"
"That's what I thought, too," Lois answered. "But then he turned out to be like all the others. Oh, Lucy …" Lois's voice cracked, and she dropped it to a whisper. "I thought he might finally be the one."
"Oh, Lois, I'm so sorry … and to think he seemed like such a great guy. What did he do? Cheat on you?"
"No, I don't think he'd ever cheat on me." Lois took a deep breath, trying to compose herself. "But I caught him in a big lie, and even though I kind of know why he did it, I still don't know if I can ever trust him again."
"How'd you catch him?"
Lois stood up and began pacing again, getting back under control. "Well, I didn't exactly catch him … I mean, he told me about it … I didn't have any idea—"
"But you were about to catch him, right? So he came clean to save himself?"
Lois pursed her lips in disgust over her own blindness. "No, I had no idea! Which really makes me feel stupid, you know? That I didn't even figure it out."
"Oh." Lucy tried again. "Then he's acting like it's all your fault? Like you have no right to be mad? Is that it? What a jerk!"
Lois shook her head. "No, no, nothing like that … he's really upset. He left me four messages on my machine this weekend telling me how sorry he was. He wants to try to work things out, but like I said, how can I ever trust him again?!"
Lucy paused, confused. "Wait … he told you he had lied about something, even though you had no idea he had done it … and he's apologized up and down and swears he'll never do it again …" She spoke slowly, making sure she understood.
"Well … yeah …"
"And you think you can never trust him again?"
Lucy's voice was incredulous. "But he *told* you he had lied. I mean, isn't that proving you can trust him?"
"But he lied to begin with! And the lie hurt me! Sure, he didn't mean to hurt me, but it did."
Lucy almost laughed. "Well, he is human … and he's apologized. Actually, I think this might be a point in Clark's favor. I mean, I've always thought you and Clark would be great together, but I was worried because based on everything you've said about Clark, he seemed a little too perfect. So this actually might be a good thing."
Lois was indignant. "How can someone be too perfect? That's crazy!"
"No, it's not," Lucy argued. "I wouldn't want to date anyone perfect — that would be pretty insufferable. I mean, look at Superman!"
Lois froze, suddenly wary. "What about Superman?"
"I know you've had this thing for Superman and all, Lois, and I'm sure he's a really great guy, but I could never understand why you wanted to date him. Like I said, he's perfect! How boring."
"Perfect; not hardly," Lois grumbled under her breath. Still, the underlying point Lucy seemed to be making shocked Lois and she felt her temper flare. "But even if he was, you're saying it would be better to go after men that treat women like garbage? Nice guys are boring and 'bad boys' get the girls??"
"No, but I've always thought someone like Clark Kent has a lot more depth to him than someone like Superman," Lucy defended. "Superman is wonderful, but Clark has so many more facets to him. He makes mistakes, but at least he's man enough to admit them." When Lois didn't respond immediately, Lucy's voice became more sympathetic. "Look, Sis, I know you're upset, and I don't mean to minimize that. He's obviously hurt you a lot. It sounds like he wants to work it out, though, and if I know you, you're probably giving him the cold shoulder. But you're not going to get any of this resolved if you don't talk to him."
Lois sat down on the couch once more, and pulled her knees up to her chest. "I wish it were that simple, Lucy," she replied sadly. "I wish it were that simple."
Clark flopped down on the couch, sighing heavily. Nothing was holding his attention tonight … not the book he'd tried to read, not paying the bills, not even the football game on television. All he could think about was Lois.
He was glad he had apologized in the newsroom, even if she hadn't responded. It was a sincere apology, and he could only hope she would take it in the spirit it was offered. He was tired of fighting; he was tired period. He could almost count on one hand the number of hours of sleep he had gotten this week. Perry had been right when he said that Clark surely needed some recovery time after his 'ordeal', but Perry didn't know about Superman … or about the problems Clark and Lois had been having. It all added up to stress and worry … and nights spent flying instead of sleeping.
Maybe tonight he'd have a chance to catch up. He certainly needed the sleep. But he just couldn't seem to settle down, to shut his mind off long enough for sleep to overtake him.
Clark sighed again, and took off his glasses. Maybe the bed was the problem … maybe if he just tried to rest on the couch …
A quiet knock on the front door interrupted his musing. Standing up, Clark took the three steps up the stairs quickly, slipping on his glasses as he went. His face lit up when he opened the door to find Lois on the other side.
"Lois!" His face fell a bit, however, when he saw the determined look on her face. She didn't look like she was here to make up. "How— how are you?" he asked, trying to keep his voice steady as he stepped aside and watched her walk past him into the living room. It was horrible and wonderful at the same time, having her in his apartment. He wanted so much to be near her, but it was obvious she hadn't yet resolved her anger at him. He looked at her face and his heart wrenched. She'd been crying. Not on the way over here, maybe, but certainly earlier in the evening.
"I have some questions," Lois stated, her jaw firm.
Clark swallowed and nodded. "Ok … uh, would you like to sit down?" he asked, a bit nervously. Not nervous about her questions … now that the truth was out, he'd answer anything for her. But he couldn't help the butterflies in his stomach from having her here and not knowing where they stood or whether they'd ever get things resolved.
Lois nodded and they sat on either end of his couch in awkward silence, a seat cushion in between them. Clark turned to face her, but no sooner had he done so than Lois was up and pacing.
He watched silently, awash in conflicting emotions. Fear, worry, guilt … and relief. But she was here, and wanted to talk. That was good … wasn't it?
Finally Lois stopped pacing and turned to him, accusatory. "Six months ago you told me you loved me, but later you said that you'd made it up. Why?"
Clark met her gaze. "Why did I tell you I loved you or why did I lie about it later?"
Lois swallowed. "So, the second part was the lie?" she demanded. Or at least it would have sounded demanding, had her voice not caught in her throat.
"Yes," he admitted. "The second time, outside the Planet after the wedding, was the lie. I meant everything I said in the park, Lois. I thought maybe if you knew how I felt, you wouldn't marry Luthor. I thought …" His voice grew quiet, pained. "I thought maybe you had feelings for me. But you didn't."
Lois blinked back angry tears. "But I did! I *told* you that. I saw you that same night and I told you that I was in love with you! So, if you loved me and I loved you … then *why* have we gone through the last six months?!?"
Clark shook his head vigorously. "No. No, you told Superman you loved him. That's not the same thing."
"But you're Superman!!" she said angrily. "Either you are or you're not, Clark. You can't have it both ways."
"Yes … I am … but …" Clark took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts. "Lois, do you remember what you told Superman? You said that you loved him and would love him *even if he was just an ordinary man*. But that 'ordinary man' had just told you he had feelings for you, and you rejected him!"
"So, you decided to reject me to get even," she stated flatly.
Clark stood up, agitated. "No! I— I don't know. It wasn't like I planned it that way. I was upset, really upset. You hurt me, too, Lois. And I just couldn't … couldn't let you in right then. Even as Superman … *especially* as Superman. And when you said what you said that night … it just made it worse."
They stood in silence for a long moment. Finally, Lois sighed sadly. "I understand that you were hurting, too, Clark. I feel terrible about that. But I'm having a hard time getting past the fact that because you were angry and hurt, you were going to let me marry Lex. A—" Her voice shook. "A criminal."
Clark rubbed his forehead with one hand, visibly upset. He sat back down on the couch, defeated.
"Lois," he whispered. "I've gone over that night a million times. I know I made a mistake … I should have tried harder. I don't know if you would have believed me as Superman or not, if I had told you not to marry him. You didn't believe Clark … and I didn't have any proof, as you kept saying. But I should have done more." Clark looked up at her then, his eyes imploring her to believe him. "But I swear to you, Lois, I would have stopped the wedding … I was still trying to get proof, but even if I didn't find any, I was going to go to the church that day."
Lois started pacing again. "But you didn't … you weren't even there! I walked all the way down the aisle! Thank God I said no — not that anyone heard me besides Lex — but still, you didn't stop me. I even left a message on your machine the night before the wedding and you never called me back."
Clark's jaw tightened as he remembered what he was doing instead. "I wasn't home … Luthor—" Clark eyes narrowed angrily as he spat out the name. "It was a trap. Luthor set a trap for me and I walked right into it. He had a cage … made of Kryptonite. I was there all night; I could barely move."
Lois paused, stunned. "He did *what*? What happened?"
"I managed to escape … during the ceremony. I wanted to find you, but I was too weak to climb the stairs. By the time I could walk, the police were already there."
"And you changed back into your own clothes and met me downstairs as Clark," she murmured, a pained, faraway look in her eye. "You were there with me when Lex jumped." The memory was obviously a difficult one.
Clark stood and approached her. He reached out his hands to touch her, but stopped short, unsure, and let his arms drop back to his sides. "I'm sorry. I— I tried to save him. As much as I hated him, I didn't want him to die. I jumped up, but I was still too weak. I couldn't fly. The Kryptonite … you know what it does to me."
Lois looked at his shoulder, her eyes focusing as she suddenly remembered something else. "Yes," she whispered. "The bullet … I took a bullet out of your shoulder." She lifted one hand and ran her fingers over where the wound used to be, causing Clark to shut his eyes momentarily at her tender touch. "That was you," she finished, almost in awe.
"Yes, it was," he admitted. "You were great that day, Lois. I couldn't have made it without your help." He reached up to touch her arm lovingly. "You've helped me so many times."
Lois looked up into his eyes with a pained expression. "But that's just it, Clark!" she wailed. "Don't you see? This is what keeps happening. I have all these memories. I think of a time when I've been with Superman … but it turns out it was *you* all along. God, this is so confusing!" She stepped back, angry once more. "And you're not helping! All this talk about my feelings for Superman not being good enough."
"It's not that they aren't good enough, Lois … it's just …" Clark trailed off, looking away.
"It's just what?" Lois demanded. "What were you going to say?"
Clark sighed. "I guess I have trouble seeing them as … real," he said carefully.
Lois scowled. "Seeing what as real? My feelings? You don't see my feelings for Superman as real??"
Clark floundered. "No … yes … it's not that I doubt that you have them … it's just, I guess I don't see *him* as real. There's more to me than just Superman. And seeing you look at Superman like you do — did — and treating Clark as just a friend … it was … difficult for me."
Lois threw up her hands. "This is even worse, the way you're talking. How am I supposed to combine Clark and Superman in my mind when you can't?? I mean, I've known two men for the last year and a half, so I have an excuse. But how can *you* think of yourself as two people? I just don't get it."
Clark smiled ruefully. "You and my mom will have a lot to talk about. It drives her crazy when I talk about myself in the third person."
Lois laughed, in spite of herself, imagining Martha's reaction.
Clark relaxed a bit as some of Lois's tension left. "Please, can we sit back down?"
She sighed. "Ok."
They sat down on the couch, facing each other this time but still not touching.
Buoyed by the fact that they were talking again and not fighting, Clark continued, trying to be as open as he could with her. "I guess … I guess … in the beginning, I had a lot of trouble dealing with all the attention he got. That *I* got, when I was Superman. I mean, when I started this whole Superman thing, I just thought of him as a role I played. Like I was a actor and he was a character. But then the character started taking on a life of his own. Sometimes I felt like I was losing myself to him. I had to learn to deal with that."
Lois looked thoughtful. "Last year, you used to put Superman down a lot. You'd focus on what he couldn't do, roll your eyes when people would talk about him. I used to think you were just jealous." She shook her head, smiling a bit in understanding. "I guess it was true, just not in the way I thought. You were just working some things out in your own head."
"Maybe I *was* jealous. Of all the attention, of the nice things people said. But honestly, Lois, I wasn't in it for the attention. I just wanted to help people. But never expected things to turn out the way they did. It was pretty … overwhelming in the beginning. Not only was I dealing with a new job and a new city and new friends … but I was dealing with Superman's new job, too, and everything that went with that. I was thrilled to finally be able to use my powers openly, but sometimes I felt … ambivalent."
"But lately … lately your attitude towards him has changed," Lois interjected. "You talk about him like he's your friend. It's funny; I thought that something had happened between you two several months ago … like you had a big fight and cleared the air or something. Because now I think of him as one of your best friends; you two seem so comfortable together." Lois frowned, reflecting on what she just said. "I mean … that's what I thought before last week … before … Argh!! I hate this! I feel like such an idiot! Like if someone had asked me last week if I'd ever seen you two together, I probably would have said yes. I couldn't have thought of a specific time, but I just *knew* that I must have seen you. You must think people are so dumb."
"No, I don't think any such thing! Lois, I put a lot of effort into making everyone believe I was two people. How could I think badly of you for thinking it? Heck, as you've seen, sometimes *I* even think it."
Lois just looked at her lap, frustrated, but more with herself than him for once.
Clark, for his part, still looked thoughtful. "It's interesting that you noticed my attitude towards Superman changing, though, because I was just going to say that I have changed a bit. I think I've accepted that part of myself, that I've dealt with it. Maybe I've matured a bit because of him. Maybe … I've stopped comparing the Clark part of myself to the Superman part and coming up short."
Lois looked shocked. "Clark! Don't ever say that. Superman is wonderful, and he gives so much to the world. But it's Clark that's really special to me. You're my best friend. You're the one that writes the stories that touch people, the one that listens to me when I'm upset, and brings me chicken soup when I'm sick, or videos when I'm depressed. I call for Superman when I'm in danger, but I go to you the rest of the time. I need you, too, Clark, more than I need Superman."
They held eye contact for a long moment, and Clark felt his heart skip a beat. "That— that means a lot to me, Lois," he said quietly, earnestly. "Because Superman is just a small part of who I am. And … I need someone who cares about *all* of me, not just the powers."
"The way I need someone to care about all of me … not just the awards or the way I look," Lois whispered, almost to herself.
Clark reached out and gently traced her cheekbone with his thumb. "I guess we're not so different, then," he whispered back just as quietly.
Lois's mouth twisted as she blinked back the tears that threatened. She pulled back. "I have to go."
Clark's stomach lurched. They'd been so close, yet she was pulling away again. "Lois, please …" he pleaded. "Please don't leave."
But she was already standing up. "No, Clark … I have to." She sniffled, trying to keep her emotions under control until she reached the car. "But … thank you for answering my questions. It really did help me understand some things I didn't before."
"Ok," he whispered sadly, standing but not following her. He kept telling himself he would give her time, but it was so hard.
She was halfway to the door when she turned back. "Clark? There was … one more thing …" she started hesitantly.
"Anything," he answered earnestly. Anything to delay her leaving.
"When— when we all got sprayed with the pheromone spray last year … you weren't affected but Superman was."
Clark looked uncomfortable. "Ah … actually neither of us was affected. I just wanted to kiss you, so Superman pretended … but I know it was wrong. I'm—"
"So when you said you weren't attracted to me…?" she interrupted, looking very vulnerable.
Clark eyes opened wide as he understood what she was asking. He was instantly in front of her, pulling her into a hug, burying his face in her hair.
Lois clenched her jaw to stop the sob that was building, her arms at her sides. "Clark … please … don't," she whispered.
"Lois," he whispered, completely unable to grant her quiet pleas, "I am so attracted to you."
Lois closed her eyes as Clark began kissing the tears that were trickling slowly down her cheeks. She soon felt his mouth on hers, soft at first, then slightly harder. Despite herself, she kissed back. She couldn't not kiss him. Her heart welled up. It felt so good; she wanted to be with him so much, but …
"No." She turned from him on a sob. "No, Clark."
He let her pull away, but Clark kept a gentle hand on her arm, refusing to break the tender contact that he'd been longing for. "Lois—"
"I'm sorry … I can't. There's still so much that I have to think about. I do care for you … but you hurt me. And even though I understand a lot more about why you did what you did — and I know that I've hurt you, too — it still hurts."
"Lois … please," he begged, his own voice choking back a sob. "Don't shut me out. I'm dying without you. I've been so miserable. When I think that I may have ruined everything …"
The incredible pain in his voice left no doubt as to the truth in his words. Lois wanted so much just to hold him, to comfort him, but… "I'm not shutting you out … I just— I'm sorry, Clark. I have to go." Unable to trust herself anymore, Lois pulled out of his grasp and quickly headed for the steps.
As she shut the door behind her, she couldn't help but look back at him through the window. She wished she hadn't. Because every time she closed her eyes that night, she saw him sitting on the couch, his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking.
At 10 o'clock the next morning, Lois practically bounded down the ramp into the newsroom. By all accounts, she should have been sleepy and distracted after staying up late with Clark the night before, but she hadn't counted on having a scoop fall into her lap not two hours before.
She had gotten into the newsroom a little early that Tuesday morning, if only because she wasn't able to fall back to sleep after waking up at six o'clock to use the bathroom. Talking with Clark last night had been very helpful, even if Lois had cried herself to sleep yet again last night. Still, she felt like she understood a lot more about him now, and seemed to be having a slightly easier time putting Clark and Superman together in her mind. But thoughts of him seemed to continuously swirl in her head, and the moment that she'd roused this morning, they had taken over again.
So after getting up and out the door early, Lois had resigned herself to another difficult day at work, another day of trying to hide her emotions and of trying not to be distracted by Clark and their troubles. But to her delight, she'd found herself firing on all cylinders by 8:30.
Late last night, a message had been left on her voice mail at work by one of her newer sources, claiming to have information about the Kingston Police Department scandal. Lois had returned the call this morning, then rushed over to the flop-house where the informant was staying in order to prevent him from just going back to sleep. Within the hour, she'd provided breakfast and gotten her information. He'd even thanked her for the meal … albeit after spending the first ten minutes grousing about the early hour, and the next ten grumbling that he never should have called her in the first place.
Now Lois had an angle on the Kingston corruption investigation that — if it proved to be true — would scoop everyone, including Clark!
Lois hesitated briefly as she passed by Perry's office. Should she tell him now or should she wait until after she'd done her research? Seeing Clark in the editor's office, and hearing the words, "interview with Superman", made up her mind in a flash. Let Clark have his 'interview' with Superman … she would prove she didn't need super-powers to write a Kerth-winning story!
Lois was typing up her notes when Clark exited Perry's office. She paused, her hands hovering over the keyboard, and watched him as he quietly returned to his desk. After last night, she no longer felt the need to ignore Clark in the newsroom, but she neither was she entirely at ease. They'd each been emotional last night, and though it had felt so good to talk to him again, she hadn't exactly left on a good note. She knew that he was hurting, and she didn't blame him for not wanting to approach her.
Whether it was guilt over hurting him so much last night, or the excited energy brought on by a good story, Lois decided that she would be the one to break the ice this morning. She stood up, taking her now-empty mug with her, and went to the coffee pot for a refill. On the way, however, she passed by Clark's desk and wordlessly picked up his mug as well.
As she filled both the cups, she could feel Clark's surprised gaze upon her, but she didn't acknowledge it. When both mugs were full, she added the appropriate amount of cream and sugar to each, and returned to his desk, a mug in each hand.
Clark didn't say a word as Lois set his mug down in front of him, but he did look at her hopefully when she leaned against the edge of his desk.
"Go on, try it," she instructed. Then, more gently, "I didn't poison it or anything, if that's what you're worried about."
For the first time that morning, Clark smiled. He took a sip of the streaming brew and nodded. "Extra cream and sugar, hold the strychnine, just the way I like it."
Lois gave a short laugh. "So, what kind of Superman interview did you get this morning?" she asked, carefully keeping her tone neutral. At Clark's surprised look, she explained. "I heard you say something about interviewing Superman to Perry when I walked by his office earlier."
"Ah," Clark nodded. He took another drink of coffee. "Nothing major, just some things I came across during my patrol this morning." He kept his voice low so that only she could hear.
"Do you patrol every morning?" she whispered, leaning forward with curiosity.
Clark shook his head. "Usually I try to patrol at night, but I wasn't up for it after you left, so I went this morning."
Lois sat back as she caught his meaning. "Oh," she said guiltily. She knew exactly why he wasn't interested in patrolling last night.
Clark cringed. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that—"
"No, no, you're fine … I wouldn't have been up for anything like that either."
Clark looked up at her, concerned. "So you got home all right last night? You were so upset when you left …
Lois knew that Clark had probably been even more upset that she'd been, but she didn't mention it. "No, I was fine. No problems."
A long moment of silence hung in the air as they each sat, lost in the memory of last night's discussion. Finally, Clark cleared his throat and motioned to his cup. "So does this mean we have a truce?"
"I hope so." She sighed and met his eyes. "Clark, I don't want to fight anymore at work. I mean, I don't want to fight anymore *period*, but I especially hate having to walk on eggshellshere all the time. So are we Ok? Work-wise, I mean?"
"Lois, I never wanted to fight with you, here or anywhere else—"
"Well, don't be saying this is all my fault," she interjected, "because—"
Clark held up his hands, "No, wait … I just meant … *yes*, we're Ok work-wise. I wasn't trying to start anything, I swear."
Sheepish, Lois calmed down as quickly as she had become defensive. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed you were," she said quietly.
They both sipped their coffee in silence for another moment until Clark ventured, "So where were you this morning? Jimmy said something about going to meet a source?"
Lois was suddenly uncomfortable. Earlier this morning, she'd been feeling righteously indignant about Clark's Superman interviews and had decided to keep her latest scoop to herself. But now that they'd gotten talking again, she was starting to feel more than a little guilty for branching off on her own with a story that the two of them had started. "Well," she started slowly, "actually—
Before she could decide what to say, however, she realized that she no longer had Clark's attention. In fact, his brow was knitted tightly in concern. "Hey, Roy, turn that up," Clark called, looking over Lois's shoulder to the large television screen that was always on in the newsroom.
"Sure thing, Clark." The Planet's newest reporter reached up and increased the volume. LNN was showing footage of mass destruction.
" … hundreds already dead and thousands still missing as Turkey suffers one of its worst earthquakes in decades. The quake measured 7.9 on the Ritcher scale and hit Istanbul at 3:36 pm, local time. Buildings full of workers collapsed, trapping those inside …"
Lois stared in horror as the film footage showed body after body being pulled from the rubble. After a moment, she turned back towards Clark to see his reaction, but found the chair in which he had just been sitting completely empty. A short while later, the correspondent in Turkey began reporting that Superman had arrived on the scene.
Perry burst out his office with all guns blazing, barking directions to his staff. He'd been on the phone and had learned about the tragedy just before the rest of the newsroom had. The international offices of the Daily Planet had already sprung into action but there was a lot of work to be done locally as well.
"Ok, people, listen up! We'll get our specific earthquake information over the wire, but that doesn't mean we can sit around eating bon-bons! Roy, tag along with Maggie to the Turkish-American Community Center and get some local interest stories. Susanna, call Washington and find out the status of the American Consulate in Istanbul." Perry turned the reporter closest to him. "Lois, I want you to contact Metropolis University and find out how likely it would be to have an earthquake of that magnitude hit in Metropolis. Clark—" The Editor-in-Chief looked around. "Where the hell is Clark?"
Lois hesitated, not allowing her eyes to stray to the television screen. "He's, uh … not here."
Perry fixed Lois with an exasperated look. "I can *see* that … where is he??"
Lois opened her mouth and closed it again, uncertain. What sort of excuse should she give? Should she give any at all? Or just play dumb as she had before? "He—" Lois shrugged innocently. "He went to go meet a source. I don't know when he'll be back."
The older man threw up his hands. "All right, all right … but when he does get back, tell him I want to see him. We need everyone present and accounted for." Perry turned and stalked off towards the Research area. "Jimmy!" he roared. "Now I know that boy isn't meeting a source …"
Several hours later, the newsroom staff had proven once again why the Daily Planet was the most respected newspaper in the world. The evening edition contained several articles about the earthquake, and several more were in their final stages, nearly ready to be included in tomorrow's morning edition. The earthquake was still the leading international feature on the television news, but the groundwork had been laid sufficiently so that most of the city reporters could go back to their local investigations.
Lois ran a hand through her hair and sighed. Despite her early burst of energy, it had been a long day. After completing her earthquake-related sidebar, she had done some pointed research into Mark Cooper's background, following the lead she'd been given. To Lois's great satisfaction, her source had proven completely reliable — Mark Cooper, in addition to being a detective, owned a small business with none other than Hans Goetter, one of the men arrested for selling drugs in the home Lois and Clark had staked out. In fact, it looked more and more likely that the business was simply a way for the two men to launder money. If Mark Cooper wasn't involved as a drug supplier, then he was, at the very least, turning a blind eye to how his outside business was operated. What was more, Lois had turned up another familiar name as third part owner in the business — the name of Cooper's captain in the police department. Lois was excited, very excited, about the turn in the investigation — this tip could be the link needed to prove Cooper was as corrupt as the rumors had indicated.
Normally, Lois would have been like a dog with a juicy bone when it came to pursuing the story, but after this afternoon's earthquake coverage, she was having a hard time staying focused. Lois glanced up at the television, still broadcasting in the darkened newsroom, for the millionth time. Most of the day staff had gone home hours ago, but Lois kept finding things to do. At first, she'd tried to deny it, telling herself that this was just the perfect opportunity to play catch up on her various stories. But by evening, even she had to admit the truth — she was sticking around to see if Clark would return to work.
The LNN anchors had moved onto other stories, and at the moment, 'Barry Ring Live' was conducting an interview of the newly re-elected Senator Tate. Normally, Lois might have watched, but tonight, she was too distracted. Was Clark still in Turkey?
Just then, the ding of the elevator brought her out of her trance. She looked up expectantly, then let her shoulders slump as Perry stepped out of the compartment and walked down the ramp.
"Lois? What are you still doing here? It's almost nine o'clock."
Lois smiled tiredly. "Just finishing up a few things, Perry. It's been a busy day."
"I'll say … as if the earthquake and getting the evening edition out weren't enough, I just had to sit through a supper meeting with the publisher and the boys upstairs." Perry rolled his eyes. "You'd think with all the money they make, they could order in a decent deli tray." Perry looked around the newsroom, his gaze stopping at Clark's desk. "Did Clark ever get back?"
Lois hesitated. Once again, she was forced to choose between covering for Clark and playing dumb. It wasn't that she minded covering when she knew what was going on. But tonight, she *didn't* know anything about where he was or when he'd be back.
Fortunately, LNN soon broke into their nine o'clock news update.
" … And in international news, Turkey continues to be ravaged by earthquakes. A strong aftershock, measuring 4.9 on the Ritcher Scale, hit just an hour ago, causing widespread panic among the Turkish people. Several buildings that had been left standing by the first quake earlier today, toppled during the aftershock." The camera shot of the news anchor was replaced by video from Turkey as the anchor continued to talk. "Superman has been pulling bodies out of the wreckage for hours and delivering survivors to the medical stations that have been set up. Facilities are crude at the moment but …"
Lois furrowed her brow. Well, at least that answered her question. Not only was Clark still in Turkey, but obviously he had his hands full. And with everything that Superman was doing, how could Lois *not* cover for him? Sighing, Lois looked Perry right in the eye … and lied. "Clark came back while you were upstairs, Perry. He was out meeting one of his sources in Kingston about the corruption case we've been working on." Lois casually put her notes in a folder so that Perry wouldn't see the handwriting. "He gave me his notes and I've been writing them up for him to get myself up to speed." Lois took a deep breath. "I think it's going to crack the story wide open," she added, mentally saying good-bye to her private by-line and Kerth nomination.
Perry nodded, pleased. "Well, good for him. Glad to see the investigation is still moving. I'll meet with you both tomorrow to see where you want to go with it next."
Lois smiled thinly. "Sure, Perry … no problem."
Lois flipped on the television as she was getting ready for work the next morning, and immediately turned it to LNN. She'd had a fitful night, plagued by dreams. In the most vivid, Superman was flying all over the world, performing heroic rescues, while Lois worked frantically at the Daily Planet trying to write them all up for Perry.
Lois sighed and rubbed her tired eyes. Was that really one of her concerns? That she would be stuck at work while Clark lived a glamorous super-hero's life? She hadn't really thought about it before, but her dream had been unsettling. When Lois had been in the throes of her crush on Superman, her fantasies had mainly revolved around the exciting benefits of being Superman's girlfriend … romantic late night trips to Paris, exotic foods fresh from the source, warmth from his heat vision during a winter walk.
But now that Lois knew the truth, she realized that the reality of Superman was not nearly as glamorous as she had envisioned. Oh, certainly he could perform all of the little 'tricks' that she had dreamed about. But it was becoming extremely clear to Lois that there was so much more to deal with. Like dealing with him running out on her while they were talking because he'd heard a cry for help, or never knowing if he'd be home on time for dinner.
Or watching him on the television, a half a world away, covered with dirt and blood … and knowing there wasn't a damn thing you could do to help him. Lois watched as the image on the screen blur and she wiped the tears from her eyes. Clark was still overseas, going on twenty-four hours now, and from the LNN footage, it looked like he hadn't taken a break in the entire time. It was clear to her, even through the grainy film footage, that Clark was exhausted. Yet still, according to LNN, he kept on working, refusing to stop to rest, or even eat. Locals being interviewed called him a godsend even as they mourned for their homes and held out hope that lost family members would be found.
But tragically, finding survivors in the wreckage was becoming more and more rare. The news footage showed — and the on-site reporters confirmed — that Superman was pulling out far more dead bodies than live ones as the crisis entered its second full day.
Lois exhaled shakily as she turned off the television and headed for work. Never again would she envy Superman his glamorous life.
The entire way to work, Lois wondered what she would say to Perry about Clark's absence. Of course, it was entirely possible — though unlikely, Lois had to admit — that Clark had taken a quick break to phone Perry and give his own excuse. After all, Clark had been dealing with being Superman for a year and a half before she had learned about it. What had he done before Lois was around to cover for him?
Lois smiled ruefully. Usually he made up some terribly lame excuse about needing to return a video or having forgotten a dentist appointment. Lois rolled her eyes — and how dumb was *she* not to have questioned them?!
Looking back, though, Clark had rarely disappeared for this long before. Lois recalled several times when it'd seemed he was constantly getting in and out of his chair, but that was different from spending over twenty-four hours on one rescue, without a word to anyone about it.
Of course, there was that time that Superman had disappeared after his failed attempt to destroy the Nightfall Asteroid… Lois sighed as the realization hit her that Superman hadn't disappeared at all — *Clark* had been there all along, only suffering from amnesia from the blast. But how had Superman developed amnesia? Was it all an act? Lois filed the question away — this was definitely something she wanted to quiz Clark about later.
With a shake of her head, Lois wondered if she would ever put all of the memories together. It seemed that every time she thought she had a handle on Clark's dual identity, another 'mystery solved' would jump up and smack her in the face. Still, the more she considered it, it was nice to be able to put all the pieces together, to understand some of the things that had always nagged at her in the past. Like how Clark often seemed to see or hear things that he shouldn't have been able to, or why he hadn't been affected by the pheromone spray.
Riding up alone in the elevator, Lois flushed as she thought of the kiss that Superman had given her that afternoon so long ago, and how his declaration of love had thrilled her. She had known at the time that he was not himself, and that he hadn't *really* meant that he loved her. But she'd still been more than happy to accept his passionate kiss. Looking back, Lois laughed out loud as she put that incident together with Clark's confession from the other night — that he hadn't been affected by the spray at all, but had just wanted an excuse to kiss her. And to think, all this time, Lois had always felt a bit guilty that she'd taken advantage of Superman that day. When here they had really been taking advantage of each other!
Lois was still chuckling as she walked to her desk. All in all, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to be able to put all these things together …
As Lois sat down and checked her voice mail, however, the sight of Clark's dark, empty desk brought her back to the dilemma of the present. She didn't want to make up an excuse for Clark on the slim chance that he had already had called in, yet how long could she hold out? Surely someone would be asking about him, sooner or later, and she would have to think fast.
Soon satisfied that Clark hadn't left *her* any voice mail or email, Lois glanced at Perry's office. Taking a deep breath, she stood and marched towards the open door. Here went nothing.
Her editor was already inside, talking on the phone, so she hovered in the doorway until he hung up. "Hi, Chief, how ya doin'?"
Perry looked up and smiled at his star reporter. "Just fine, Lois, how are you?"
"Just fine, Perry, but, uh …" Lois forced her voice to stay casual. "Have you heard from Clark?"
The Editor-in-Chief raised an eyebrow. "Should I have?"
Lois hesitated. She was well aware of Perry's ability to tease out information without giving away any of his own, but she couldn't risk letting him best her today. "So he didn't call you this morning? Or last night?"
Perry sat back in his chair. "No, Lois, I haven't seen or talked to him since yesterday morning. What's going on?"
Lois forced her voice to take on a breezy tone. "Oh, nothing, really … it's just that he won't be in today." At Perry's curious expression, she continued quickly. "He, uh … he has food poisoning!"
Perry blinked. "He does?"
"Yeah, I talked to him last night. He's pretty sick." Lois glanced over her shoulder at the television to confirm that LNN was once again was showing footage of Superman in Turkey. "As a matter of fact, he said he might not be in tomorrow either."
"You talked to him last night?"
Lois smiled sweetly. "Sure did."
Perry regarded Lois for a long moment, then nodded. "Well, if you talk to him again, tell him I hope he feels better. Food poisoning is nothing to mess around with."
"Thanks, Perry, I will." Satisfied that Perry had bought her story, Lois blew out a long breath as she returned to her desk. On the way, however, she sent up a silent message to Clark. Now that she had committed to the story, she could only hope he *didn't* decide to callin later today and contradict her!
Lois continued to develop the Kingston story in Clark's absence, though her work was hampered by the steady stream of people asking her about Clark. On one hand, it was nice to know that Clark had a lot of friends in the newsroom, but on the other, Lois was amazed at how fast the news had spread. She was forced to tell her story over and over, being extra careful not to add any embellishments since, as a star investigative journalist, she knew that the easiest cover stories were the simplest. And so she just repeated that yes, Clark had food poisoning, but no, she didn't know what he had eaten … and yes, she had talked with him last night, but no, she didn't think anyone else needed to call him.
As yet another person stopped by her desk asking after Clark, Lois found herself grumbling that Clark better not make a habit of these long rescues. Then she looked up at the television screen and immediately felt guilty. Her bitter accusations from a few days ago echoed in her head, mocking her … "You lie so easily; it just rolls off your tongue!" She had been so mean to him, so angry with him.
And now here she was in the same situation … and was doing the same thing, lying with an easy casualness. It was all so obvious now; what else could she do? She had to protect Clark, protect his job. He did so much as Superman. How could she let him be punished for that by getting in trouble with Perry? And ironically, Lois didn't feel the least bit guilty about lying to protect him — the same way Clark said he wouldn't feel guilty about trying to protect her or his parents.
"Well, shoot," Lois laughed ruefully, shaking her head. Clark was right … darn it, he was right.
By five minutes to eight in the evening, Lois was at home, leafing half-heartedly through a sales catalog and waiting for the international news to be covered on LNN. Now that the initial earthquake was approaching thirty-six hours old, the story no longer was leading off the top of the hour reports. National stories had taken precedence, and Lois found she had to wait longer between each update.
From the reports that Lois had seen, she knew it'd been foolish to worry that Clark would call into work. Instead, she was becoming increasingly alarmed because it was clear he *hadn't* taken any breaks, or at least none of any significance. All day, the TV had been on in the newsroom, and with each passing hour, the death toll mounted. There were very few survivors being discovered anymore, even with Superman's special abilities. There remained, however, the grisly task of freeing the dead from their rubble-filled graves. This was the duty Superman had been performing most of the day.
The Red Crescent — the Muslim arm of the Red Cross — had now arrived, and international relief efforts were mounting. The death count had topped a thousand, the injured, ten times that many. Medical personnel credited Superman with single-handedly saving hundreds of lives, and the Turkish government had deemed him a national hero.
Superman, for his part, had stopped giving interviews some time ago, but several reporters had commented on how drained he seemed. The images were disturbing, to say the least. One photograph that had proved popular with the news media, including the Daily Planet, showed Superman, his cape in tatters, his face filthy, lifting a small boy from the rubble. The child was dead, the caption informed everyone, but Superman had been able to save the child's parents and sister. Somehow Lois knew this fact would be little consolation to Clark.
Of more immediate concern to Lois, however, was the knowledge that Clark had been awake for the last thirty-six hours straight. Even Superman couldn't stay awake forever, especially not when confronted with the nearly constant physical activity that he was facing in Turkey.
As the eight o'clock news began, Lois found herself chewing nervously on her thumbnail, anxiously waiting for any glimpse of Clark. To her surprise, she didn't have to wait as long as she had expected.
"In Turkey tonight, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have begun organizing relief efforts for victim's of yesterday's earthquake. The quake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, caused widespread damage. Over eleven hundred deaths have been reported …"
Lois groaned in frustration. "Yeah, yeah, yeah … you said all that last time. What about Superman?!"
"With the arrival of the Red Crescent, Superman met with local leaders to discuss further rescue efforts. The meeting ended thirty minutes ago, and Superman left the country soon thereafter, after nearly thirty-six hours of non-stop rescue work."
Lois sat back, stunned. "He left." She turned off the television and stood up, scarcely able to believe that it was over. "He left … he's done. He can come home." Lois checked the clock. "He's probably already home."
On auto-pilot, Lois picked up the phone and dialed Clark's number. She'd left a message earlier in the evening, but she didn't want to take the chance of missing him. As the phone continued to ring, however, her uneasiness grew. She knew he should have been home by now. Why wasn't he answering? Could he already be asleep? No … the news report said that he'd just left a little while ago …
When she heard the click of the answering machine, Lois didn't hesitate. "Clark? If you're there, Clark, pick up." When no one came on the line, Lois sighed. "Ok … I guess you aren't home yet. Call me tonight, Ok? I know you must be tired, but I just want to know you got home."
But even as she hung up the phone, however, Lois knew that she wasn't going to wait for him to call back. Grabbing her keys from the kitchen table, Lois pulled a jacket from her closet and headed out the front door. Somehow … some way … she knew that Clark needed her. And she wasn't going to help him by standing in her apartment waiting for him to call.
Lois sat on the stoop outside Clark's apartment, leaving his door open a crack behind her. The sky was clear, but it was chilly, and she pulled her jacket around her more securely. "Come on, Clark, where are you?" she whispered, her breath making puffs of steam in the cold night air.
She'd been at his apartment for nearly an hour already, and was starting to get frantic. When Clark hadn't answered her knock, she'd decided she had no other choice but to break in. Of course, Clark might not see it that way, but she figured this was no time for quibbling. What she'd found inside, however, had both reassured her and confused her. Clark had definitely been there tonight. The lights were on in the bedroom, and there was a wet towel on the bathroom floor from where he'd obviously just recently showered. And she'd discovered a torn and tattered cape in the bathroom trash can. But Clark wasn't anywhere to be found.
Since she had no idea where to look for him, the only thing Lois could do was wait. She'd paced around his apartment for what seemed like forever, but ultimately, she'd decided to get some air, and moved to the front steps. She only hoped Clark would return before she froze to death.
Several long moments later, Lois caught her breath as she heard the approaching crunch of footsteps on the sidewalk. Her heart began pounding louder as the person turned the corner and began to walk towards her. His head was down and his hands were in his pockets, but as he came closer, Lois jumped up, relieved. "Clark, thank God! Where have you been?"
Clark slowly lifted his head at her voice. "Lois?" he asked, confused. "What are you doing here?"
"You didn't return my calls and I got worried, so I came over. But then I didn't know where you were, so I decided to wait for you."
Clark looked past her to his open front door. "Did I leave that unlocked?"
Lois blinked. "Ah … that's not important right now. Clark, I've been so worried!"
Clark sighed. "I'm sorry … I didn't even look to see if anyone had called."
"Were you going to walk all night? You look like you're ready to collapse."
"That's the idea," he admitted quietly. "I don't want to dream … not tonight."
Lois took his arm. "Come on, Clark, we need to get you inside."
Clark resisted, however. "Lois, what are you doing here?" He closed his eyes and sighed. "Look, if this is about our fight, it's *really* not a good time …"
Lois gave him an exasperated look. "Do you really think I've been hanging around outside your apartment for the last hour, worrying myself sick, because I wanted to continue our fight?!
Clark blinked. "Uh …"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Come on, Clark … let's get you in before you pass out. I can't carry you."
"I can take care of myself," he grumbled quietly, but he didn't argue as she led him into the apartment and closed the door.
Lois turned to offer a retort, but upon seeing the haunted look in his eyes, any anger she had in her immediately disappeared. "I know you can," she agreed gently. "But wouldn't it be nicer to let me take care of you?"
Clark looked into her eyes for a brief moment, but quickly lowered his gaze. "You don't want to be with me when I'm like this. I'm not very good company at the moment."
"Listen to me, Clark," Lois implored. "My best friend in the whole world has just been to hell and back, and I came over here because I didn't want him to be alone!" She grabbed onto his shoulders and stood in front of him, making him look her in the face. "You have done so much for me; why can't you let me be here for you? Talk to me, Clark."
Clark stared at her for a moment. "What do you want me to say, Lois? That it was awful? That it was horrible? Because it was." He took several deep breaths, trying to compose himself.
Lois sighed. "I know … I mean, I watched it on LNN and it looked pretty rough. I was worried about you."
"You were?" Clark stilled for a moment, considering that.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Lois prompted gently. "Come and sit down. I can't believe you're even still standing."
Wordlessly, Clark let Lois lead him to the couch. He sighed heavily as he sat down. "I don't know if I want to talk about it or not," he finally said quietly.
Lois rubbed a hand encouragingly over his back. "Ok."
"I mean, if you saw the news, you saw what it was like …"
"It was pretty bad …"
Clark shifted his weight and took a deep breath. "I mean, when I first got there, things were pretty disorganized. It hadn't been that long since the first quake."
"You left the newsroom as soon as you saw the report."
He nodded. "Yeah, I knew I had to get there fast—"
"But don't worry, I've been covering for you at work."
Clark nodded vaguely, but Lois could tell he was already lost in the memories of the last two days. "The city was hit pretty hard; there were a lot of buildings down …"
Lois listened intently as Clark described the events of the last two days. Sometimes, Lois was able to fill in details from what she remembered from the LNN newscasts, but more often, she just encouraged him as he talked about the horrors he had seen. Several minutes later, he began to wind down. "So by tonight, I had pretty much done all I could do. I was so tired, I could barely see straight, and I figured I'd better let the Red Cross and the Turkish government do their jobs."
"But why were you out walking, Clark?" Lois asked in concern. "Why didn't you go right to bed?"
"I couldn't … every time I closed my eyes … I saw … bodies." Clark looked away. "Though if I had known what I was going to find when I got home—" As quickly as he'd started, however, Clark stopped abruptly.
Clark just shook his head, refusing to answer. "Nothing, never mind."
"Is this about me being here?" Lois asked in a small voice. She hadn't believed that he could be angry at her presence, but suddenly she was worried. He had found *her* when he'd returned home …
That got his attention. "What? No …" He shook his head again. "No, it has nothing to do with you. I don't … I could never mind you being here," he assured her. Clark took a deep breath, but when hespoke again, his voice was angry. "It's just … this city. Sometimes I think I should—" Yet again, he stopped.
Lois leaned forward. "Clark, *what*? You think you should what?"
Clark took off his glasses and tossed them onto the coffee table. "Did you know Superman gets offers from other cities?"
Lois blinked at the seemingly abrupt change of subject. "He does? … er, you do?"
Clark nodded, an odd expression on his face. "Yeah, cities send offers all the time. They offer money, housing, a personal staff… I could go anywhere." He snorted cynically. "Superman for sale; get him while he's hot."
Lois's first impulse was to argue that Superman *couldn't* just move somewhere else — Metropolis needed him! — but she quickly squashed the urge. Something else was going on here, there was more to the story. Still, she had to ask … "Have you been thinking about leaving?"
Clark didn't say anything for a long moment, and Lois felt her heart sink. But finally he responded. "I like Metropolis … usually. But sometimes—" His jaw clenched. "Sometimes … I hate it."
The intense bitterness in his voice had her instantly concerned; it was so unlike him to be this angry. "Something else happened tonight, something you're not telling me. What is it?" Lois put her hand on his shoulder, but he just turned his head away from her and stared into space.
After a long moment, Clark finally answered. "The shooter died," he said flatly.
Lois blinked, confused. "What shooter?"
Clark gave a harsh laugh. "At least someone has forgotten." Then, "from last weekend, the guy who shot himself in the head."
She remembered now. "The one who took his little boy hostage."
"No," he replied caustically. "The one who took his little boy hostage, then shot himself in the head while the police and Superman uselessly stood around trying to figure out how best to negotiate with him."
"That's not fair, Clark," Lois protested. "You said it yourself, he's the one who pulled the trigger! This is not on you!"
Clark whirled on her, his eyes mocking. "Ah! But see, that's where you're wrong! I'm the one who didn't see it coming despite my 20-20 x-ray vision, and I'm the one who chose to remove the child from the scene before letting the doctors go up to treat the father." He smiled bitterly, his eyes flashing. "So says the gospel according to today's Metropolis Daily News. Case closed, amen, and read all about it."
Lois went pale as he ranted. "That tabloid reporter at the scene."
Clark pointed a finger at her. "Give the woman a prize."
"But that's just one—" she sputtered. "That paper isn't fit to line a bird cage!"
"It isn't the first one, Lois," he retorted sharply. "And we both know it won't be the last." He shook his head in disgust. "Before I created Superman, I was so worried whenever a paper ran a story about a mystery man who performed rescues. But once I starting using the suit, I thought I didn't have to worry anymore." His jaw clenched again. "Stupid," he spat. "So naive! Why do I even bother? Why do I care?! Just a bunch of ungrateful—" His chest heaving, Clark bit off the rest of what he was going to say. He looked away from her again, his eyes red.
"Oh, Clark," Lois whispered.
"I can go halfway around the world and people call me a hero, but here at home—" He took a shuddering breath. "Damn it, Lois." He hung his head and his voice dropped to a whisper. "Damn it all."
Sniffling, Lois moved closer to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. She gently pulled his head to her chest. "It's going to be Ok, Clark," she whispered. "You'll see. It's going to be Ok."
He shook his head and took a gasping breath. "I don't know if … I can do this anymore."
Lois began to rock with him against her. "You can," she soothed. "I believe in you."
"It's too hard … it hurts too much."
"I know, Clark. I know…"
Clark lay on the couch, his head resting on a small decorative pillow, his knees pulled partway up to his chest. Lois sat on the floor next to him, running herhand soothingly over his hair. She had never seen him like this before, never even imagined he could be like this. He was nearly asleep now; the flood of words that seemed to go on forever had finally slowed. Now he simply lay, physically exhausted and emotionally wrung out.
Clark's breathing slowly became deeper as he let go of the emotion that had been keeping him awake. From time to time, he'd take an especially deep breath and let it out on a whimper, his body shuddering as he exhaled. Lois swallowed hard each time he did that, and would sometimes rest her head against his shoulder in an attempt to further comfort him. Each bit of extra contact seemed to relax him further, and Lois concentrated on conveying with her soft touches and soothing whispers that he was safe and cared for.
Finally Clark quieted into a light sleep, and Lois was able to let her mind wander a bit. The torrent of words and emotions that had tumbled out of Clark tonight had been overwhelming, for both of them.
" … I can't do it anymore … it's too hard…"
" … when it's a child, it's always so awful … having to watch the parents …"
" … they try to buy and sell me …"
" … I feel so empty inside. You wanted Superman, but I can't be him all the time … I just wanted you to love me…"
The echo of the last sentiment caused Lois to take a shuddering breath of her own and rest her cheek against Clark's shoulder once again. It had only been later, after he'd worked out his anxiety about Superman, that he'd mentioned their break-up at all. He'd been almost asleep then, at times even incoherent, but whether conscious or not, the plea was anguished. It had almost broken her heart, and it was just as well that he hadn't expected an answer, because she had been in no shape to give one.
Lois wiped a tear from her cheek. They really weren't different at all, just as Clark had observed the other night. Lois had always tried to keep men at arms' length, sure that once they saw the 'real her', they'd find her wanting. Never had she been comfortable enough, felt safe enough, to open herself up completely. Until Clark.
And Clark, too, just wanted to be loved, completely, for who he was. Yet his fears had pushed them apart. He couldn't let Lois love him as Superman, for fear that she'd reject him when she found out he was 'only' Clark. Yet keeping the secret had caused Clark to deceive her, which had pushed her away regardless. Still, Lois knew that her own fears were also contributing to their separation. Her fears of being lied to and used by yet another man were so strong … she just couldn't seem to get past them, to let herself trust again.
She sighed deeply. Two peas in a pod, they were … two sides to the same coin. If only they could see their way out of this situation …
Lois awoke with a start, jerking her head up from the couch. Disoriented for a moment, she looked around the apartment in confusion. Seeing Clark on the couch, however, quickly jogged her memory. She must have fallen asleep while sitting with him. Lois sighed in relief as she saw that Clark was still sleeping soundly, his breathing slow and easy. The tension that had consumed his body earlier had finally been released. The crisis had passed.
Rotating her head against the crick that had developed in her neck, Lois stood up slowly and stretched her tired muscles. She was stiff from the odd position she had slept in, sitting on the floor, her head resting along side Clark's on the couch. But how long had she been like that? Quietly, she walked into Clark's bedroom to check the clock on the night stand. Lois stared at the time for a moment, amazed. 5:59 am. She had slept the entire night here.
For a moment, Lois looked longingly at Clark's bed and considered crawling under the covers so she could get some more sleep. After spending the night on the floor, a soft matress looked incredibly inviting. But her more rational side knew that it wasn't a good option. She didn't want to take any chances of waking Clark— and if he did wake up and tried to move to the bed, she didn't want to be there. Besides, she needed to get to work, if for no other reason than to make up another excuse as to why Clark wasn't in yet.
With a sigh, Lois resigned herself to leaving. Before she left the bedroom, however, she reached over to pull the blanket from the bed. Carrying it back into the living room, she carefully covered Clark with it, tucking it in around him and pulling it up comfortably to his shoulders. Logically she knew that he didn't feel the cold, but she barely acknowledged the thought. Super-powers or not, he was still Clark. And Lois knew that Clark would take comfort in the covering.
Turning out all the lights in the apartment except for one small one over the kitchen sink, Lois yawned as she pulled on her jacket and gathered her car keys. Then, kneeling down one final time before the couch, she tenderly smoothed Clark's hair away from his face and gently pressed a kiss onto his cheek.
As Lois exited the apartment, locking the door securely behind her, she took comfort in having finally answered the question she'd been struggling over for days. No matter what else might happen, no matter what else she might learn …
He was still, always … Clark.
Clark rocked back and forth on his heels as the elevator carried him to the third floor of the Daily Planet building Thursday afternoon. He'd scarcely believed his eyes when he'd awoken, the time on the clock showing that he'd slept most of the day away. The fact that he could probably still sleep more finally made it clear to him how run down he'd let himself get these last few weeks. Still, last night had helped tremendously and Clark felt better than he had in days.
It seemed like ages since he'd been in the Daily Planet building, though it had only been two and a half days. He vaguely remembered Lois saying last night that she'd been covering for him, but he was still a little worried about the reaction he might get. Not that Clark didn't have several sick days built up, but it was never good practice to just leave the newsroom in the middle of the morning. He just hoped Perry wasn't out for his head.
"Clark? How are you feeling, son?"
Clark startled as the elevator door slid open at the newsroom, and Perry White stepped in the door. "H- Hi Chief," he stammered, "I, uh, was just coming to see you."
"Lois said something about food poisoning?" Clark held his breath as his editor studied him. "You still look a little peaked."
Clark propped the door open as he exited the compartment. "Yeah … I'm, ah, feeling a lot better; thanks. I just wanted to stop by to see if there was anything pressing that needed my attention." For the dozenth time that day, he offered up a silent prayer of gratitude for Lois. Food poisoning; she was brilliant.
Perry nodded. "That's fine; Lois has been keeping me up to date on your stories. This has been a crazy week."
"Tell me about it," Clark murmured ruefully.
Perry glanced at his watch. "I have to make a quick stop in the press room, but I'll be back soon. Stick around; I'll fill you in on what's been going on."
"Sure thing, Perry … I'll be at my desk."
As the elevator door slid closed, Clark sighed in relief. He wasn't in trouble for disappearing for a few days, thanks to Lois. She'd probably saved his job by running interference for him at work. As if her help last night hadn't been enough.
Clark honestly didn't know what would have happened if Lois hadn't been there waiting for him when he'd returned home last night. Oh, he would have eventually gotten into the apartment and would have somehow found the bed. But the fitful sleep that he'd been expecting would have done nothing to ease the horrors he'd witnessed and the anger he'd felt. Instead, however, Lois had been there to listen as he struggled with his frustration and she'd held him as he'd poured out his emotions to her. Her being there had allowed Clark to eventually reach the peace that would have otherwise eluded him.
But now, in the light of day, Clark had to admit he was feeling a little worried. Last night, Lois had been more supportive than he ever could have imagined, but would she think differently today? There were things he had told her, confessions about his doubts and his feelings of failure … he'd told her things he'd never told anyone before, not even his parents.
Clark cringed when he replayed some of his comments in his mind. He'd over-reacted to the tabloid article; he knew that. He wasn't sure why it had affected him so profoundly, why he had let it upset him so much. Most likely, it was the stress of the last two weeks finally catching up with him. Yet Lois had seemed to understand. She hadn't acted shocked, even when Clark had expressed his anger and frustration. Instead of shying away from him, she'd reached out for him.
But still … Clark knew how much Lois had put Superman up on a pedestal. Would she be disillusioned to know that even Superman had bad days? Would she decide, once and for all, that being Superman's girlfriend, or even his friend, wasn't worth the effort? Clark sighed as he made his way down the ramp into the newsroom. He had let Lois see a side of him that no one else had ever seen before. The question was, how would she react now that she had seen it?
Lois watched from her desk as Clark walked into the newsroom. She'd been wondering all morning if he would come into work today, and she had found herself looking up every time the elevator chime sounded. But by the time morning had eased into afternoon, Lois had pretty much given up hope of seeing her partner in the newsroom until tomorrow.
Last night had been an eye opener for Lois. For the year and a half that they'd known each other, Clark had frequently been there for her when she'd needed a shoulder to cry on. Whether she was being stalked by a psychopath or crying over her humiliation at having not seen Lex Luthor for who he really was, Clark had proven that Lois could rely on him for support. But rarely had he ever asked for any of that support in return. Oh, there had been little things here and there, favors that he'd asked, like giving his parents a ride to the airport or picking up his dry cleaning when he'd had to dash off to a press conference. But there had never been anything major, certainly not of the magnitude that Lois frequently asked of him. At times, in fact, Lois had even begun to wonder if perhaps Clark didn't consider her as close a friend as he claimed to, if he didn't need her as much as she needed him.
But all of that changed last night. Lois had somehow just known that Clark would need her, and she hadn't been able to rest until she'd talked to him. Lois couldn't describe the feeling, but it was real to her. Whatever it was, it had kept her at his apartment, unable to stop worrying until he'd returned. And when Clark did return, she had known instantly that she'd been right to wait for him. The haunted look in his eyes … she had never seen anything like it before. It had nearly broken her heart.
Seeing him now should have made all her concerns go away. But Lois couldn't help but be worried. She was glad he felt up to coming into work, but was he pushing himself too fast? After all he'd been through, how could he really recover fully after only one night?
As Clark as he made his way over to his desk, Lois studied him carefully. He was more casual than usual in his tan pants and open collared shirt, but since it was late afternoon, she didn't blame him for not bothering to put on a suit and tie. What she really needed to do was talk to him, to see was the expression on his face … that would tell her more than anything.
As if reading her mind, Clark gave Lois a tentative smile and bypassed his own desk to come first to hers. "Hi," he greeted softly.
"Hi," she replied, searching his face. "Are you Ok?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah … thanks to you."
Lois blushed slightly at the grateful expression on his face. Suddenly feeling a bit shy, she started to straighten her desk, breaking eye contact. "I'm just glad I could help," she murmured.
Clark wouldn't be dismissed, though. Sitting down in her guest chair, he leaned towards her and touched her forearm softly. Lois felt a little shiver go through her. "Lois, I'm serious," he whispered. "*Thank you* for last night … really." He paused, his entire face conveying his emotion. "I was … I was in a pretty bad place yesterday, and I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there."
Lois stared into his brown eyes for a brief moment, noting the intense appreciation in them. It meant a lot to her, knowing that she had helped him. He had been there for her so many times, comforting her when she was scared or alone. And now, for the first time, she realized that he truly needed her as much as she needed him. She released a shaky breath. "You're welcome," she finally whispered.
As they looked into each other's eyes, an uncertain silence hung in the air. After last night, neither of them would have guessed that they'd be shy around each other again. But the middle of the newsroom wasn't the place to continue the discussion that they each wanted to have.
Lois was the first to blink herself out of her trance. "Oh, now that you're here, I almost forgot!" She rifled through some folders on her desk, finally selecting the correct one. Her eyes lit up as she handed it to Clark. "Read this before you meet with Perry. I got a great new lead on the Kingston corruption scandal, and it's close to panning out. But I told Perry that it was your tip, so you'd better be up on it."
Curious, Clark opened the folder, and read the contents over. Lois tried to keep her face neutral, but she was clearly excited to get his reaction. Until that moment, she hadn't realized just how much she'd missed having her partner this week …
"Lois, this is amazing!"
The smile threatened to split her cheeks. "Oh, thank you!" she gushed. "I've been dying to show someone what I found!"
Clark flipped through the notes again. "And you've actually linked Captain Lewis to the business?"
"I've even got proof that he's been paying for that fancy sports car of his out of business 'revenue'."
Clark shook his head in amazement, admiration clear in his eyes. "Once again, it's clear why you're the best reporter in Metropolis."
"But why are you giving this to me?" Clark pressed, trying to hand the folder back to her. "You're almost ready to present to Perry … you might even get it in the weekend edition. Don't slow it down on my account."
Lois waved him off. "I already told him it was your source, so there's no sense arguing." At his confused expression, Lois explained further. "You went to meet with this source on Tuesday morning … when you left the newsroom suddenly …" She looked at him pointedly.
"Oh … Oh!" Clark finally got it. "Are you sure? Lois, I mean, that's really … wow, thanks. I owe you."
"So what time did you get up this morning?" she asked quickly, wanting to change the subject. The more she looked in his eyes, the more she wished they were somewhere they could talk alone.
Clark looked a little sheepish. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Three in the afternoon."
Lois was incredulous. "You slept from midnight last night until three o'clock this afternoon??"
Clark shrugged helplessly. "I know … I couldn't believe it when I looked at the clock. Like a rock, too … I didn't wake up once that whole time."
"Well, you obviously needed it … do you really feel better now?" The concern in her voice was sincere, and it made Clark feel good to hear it.
"Yeah, a lot better … thank you … again. I honestly don't know—" He stopped, ultimately refusing to voice the thought in any more detail. "Anyway … I'm glad you were there," he finally finished. "I mean that."
Lois met his eyes. "I'm glad I was there, too," she said softly.
Clark stared into her eyes for a moment, obviously having so much more to say. But just as quickly, he looked down at his hands, putting some emotional distance between them once more. "I'm still tired, believe it or not … I feel a lot better, but it's been a really rough couple of weeks. Hour for hour, I think I slept more last night than I have in the entire last week. In fact, I know I did."
Lois nodded, sitting up straighter in response to his body language. "You should do the same tonight, then," she said matter-of-factly. "You need to take better care of yourself." At Clark's slightly amused look, Lois defended her sincerity. "I'm serious, Clark … everyone needs some down time." She smiled. "Who do you think you are? Superman?"
Clark's eyebrows shot up at her comment, and he couldn't help but laugh. She looked so pleased with herself. "So what are you doing tonight?" he asked, happily sliding back into comfortable banter. He knew there was still the outstanding issue of their romantic relationship, but right now, he was so thrilled to have her back as his best friend, he was all too happy to push that issue out of his mind for awhile. "If I didn't know you better, I'd say you look like you're actually packing up your desk early for a change."
Lois nodded, and went back to straightening her desk. "As a matter of fact, I'm heading out right now. I have to get ready for the victory party … you know, Senator Tate's shindig?"
Clark froze, staring at her. "No … tell me that's not tonight." At Lois's nod, he groaned. "I forgot all about it!" He checked his watch. "I never even picked up my tux … and now it's after five … I can't believe I did this!"
Lois stared at him, incredulous. "Clark! You've been a *little* preoccupied. Don't worry about it!"
He shook his head, still visibly upset. "No … you've been covering for me for days, Lois; I can't let you down on this, too. I'll … I'll figure something out." He dropped his voice to a murmur, speaking more to himself. "Where can I find a tux this late …"
Lois put her hand on his arm. "Clark, listen to yourself!" As they made eye contact, she continued, her tone more gentle. "You've been over-extended for days now, if not weeks. You need to take some time off. I can handle the Tate function myself … Perry will be there, as will some other reporters. As far as everyone is concerned, you've been out sick." She nodded encouragingly. "Let's stick with that."
Clark slumped his shoulders. "I don't get sick, Lois," he sighed, obviously still beating himself up.
"And I want to keep it that way." Lois cocked an eyebrow and gave him a little nudge. "I don't want to have to put you back together for at least another month."
The gentle humor in her voice made him smile, and Clark reluctantly acquiesced. "I guess."
When Clark looked back up, however, his face was somber once again. "Lois … I want you to know … I don't usually fall apart like that." His eyes were troubled. "It— I just—"
Forgetting for a moment about their earlier troubles, intent on nothing but their current conversation, Lois slid her hand down his arm and took his hand, giving it a supportive squeeze. "It's Ok, Clark … I know."
Clark met her gaze, centering himself on it. "No one's ever known before …" he murmured.
The words came out so quietly that Lois wasn't sure if she was meant to hear them. He looked so vulnerable suddenly … and then, once more, it was gone. Clark had blinked it away as if it had never been there and quickly removed his hand from hers. Lois took a deep breath and awkwardly pulled her hands into her body as she tried to process their last exchange. He'd been so open just then … but then he'd gotten scared — or embarrassed — and had closed back up. Like last night, when at first he wasn't able to let her in, Clark didn't seem to be able to believe that Lois wanted to listen, to understand.
Until this week, Lois had never realized that she and Clark shared many of the same fears. He'd always seemed so carefree and open — as he'd told her in Smallville, "what you see is what you get." Yet now that Lois knew his secret, she realized that in many ways, Clark's unworried attitude was an act. She now realized that there was so much more to him than the facade of control that he presented to the world. There was so much emotion beneath the surface, so much weight on his shoulders, so many layers to unfold. And suddenly Lois wanted nothing more in that moment than to dig deeper, to see inside him again … to make Clark feel safe enough to let her see that look in his eyes once again…
Swallowing quickly, Lois straightened a stack of papers that was already straight on her desk and tried to force the thoughts from her mind. "Ok, so we're agreed; I'll cover the party, you'll catch up on things at home." Her voice sounded stilted, even to her, and she faked a cough to cover it up.
Clark stood up. "All right."
"All right." Lois stood as well, pushing in her chair and gathering her coat. "So I'll see you tomorrow?"
Clark nodded and waved the folder. "Thanks again for this. I'll make it up to you, I promise."
"I'll hold you to that. Good night, partner."
As she reached the elevator, Lois couldn't help but cast a last glance in Clark's direction. He was back at his desk, looking once more through the folder she had handed him. As she watched, though, he looked up and met her eye. She smiled as she read his lips.
"Good night, Lois."
The party was a hit. Or at least it seemed to be. Lois had made her compulsory tour of the meet-greet circle, managing to attend to the most influential people at least long enough to satisfy an energetic attempt at a story for Perry and the Planet. But there was a time when Lois Lane would have gone for a lot more than an energetic attempt. There was a time when she would have attacked a room full of political giants with enough moxie to intimidate even the most stalwart of politicians.
Tonight was different, however. Though appointed with the finest jewelry and perfume she possessed, and wearing a dress that had earned her many admiring glances over the course of the evening, Lois Lane was alone.
Looking around the room, she sighed. Lois had been looking forward to this evening before she and Clark had made their disastrous foray into romance. Things had seemed so simple then … she was planning to attend the evening with her best friend, her partner. They had even made plans to drive together instead of just meeting there. Then, last week, after things had turned from a dream to a nightmare, all Lois could think about was how to ditch Clark and come alone. But now she and Clark were back to being friends and partners … yet Lois was still attending alone.
It wasn't that she hadn't meant it when she told Clark to go home and take care of himself. It'd been obvious that he still needed to rest, and with the built-in excuse of already being out sick, there seemed no reason not to take the opportunity. Work-wise, Lois certainly *could* handle the event herself. She had done so many times before she'd even heard the name Clark Kent, and just because she now worked with a partner didn't mean that she could no longer work solo. Her latest digging into the Kingston corruption scandal proved that.
But despite all of this, Lois had to admit that she missed having her partner around. As hard as she had fought it when Perry had first assigned them to work together, as difficult as she'd tried to make it for Clark in his early days at the Planet … Lois had come to appreciate — and even enjoy — having someone else to work with. Even when they were working on separate assignments, she liked having someone else to bounce ideas around with, and someone else to give her feedback.
She had missed working with Clark these last several days. They had been either fighting or avoiding each other earlier in the week, and then, just as they had reached an uneasy truce, Superman was needed in Turkey. Lois furrowed her brow as she counted the days. Could it be? … Yes, it was exactly one week ago tonight that Clark had told her his secret, and slightly less than two weeks since Clark had been shot. Lois felt like she had experienced a lifetime of emotions in these last eleven days …
As lonely and out of sorts as she was feeling, however, no one could ever say that Lois Lane didn't take her opportunities as she found them. Out of the corner of her eye, Lois noticed that the Secretary of State had just finished up his conversation, and was at this moment making his way across the room, towards the exit. Like a fox on the scent of a rabbit, Lois sensed that she was about to lose the one interview of the night that had eluded her. Forcing the thoughts of Clark aside, she turned quickly, hoping to distract herself from the memories by throwing herself into yet another interview.
Unfortunately, in her haste to leave, she hadn't noticed that someone had walked up right beside her. As she turned, Lois bumped directly into a tuxedo-shirt clad chest. "Oh!" she exclaimed in surprised, grasping onto the man's arm for balance. "I'm so sorry—" Lois looked up to finish her statement, but the words caught in her throat as she realized who she was holding onto. "Clark??"
At her gasp, her partner reached for her elbow to steady her. "I'm sorry, Lois, I didn't mean to startle you. I was just coming to let you know I was here."
"Clark! You came!" Lois's whole face lit up, and despite herself, she placed her hands on his chest in her usual affectionate gesture. "I thought you were going to stay home and rest!"
Clark smiled warmly. "And let my partner down? Never." They stared at each other for a moment, but soon Clark cleared his throat a bit nervously and glanced around the room. "Quite a turn out; huh?" he ventured.
"Yeah," Lois agreed, still a little breathless from the surprise of seeing him here. Realizing their position, she stepped back slightly. "Did you just get here?"
Clark became more animated. "I actually came in a little while ago, but you were interviewing the Mayor, so I didn't interrupt. How did it go?"
Lois started to answer, but then she looked past him, and her smile faded. "Well, it was going fine, but I just lost the Secretary of State. He's been avoiding me all evening, and now I think he's going home."
Clark glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Lois's target disappear out of the room. Noticing Lois's glum expression, he reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a notepad. He presented it to her with a grin. "Well, then, it's a good thing I cornered him in the men's room a little while ago."
Lois's expression turned to shock as she grabbed the notebook. "You didn't!"
"Did you ask him about the insurance scandal?"
"And the rumors that he'd been fired from his last position instead of quitting as he'd claimed?"
"It's all in there." Clark chuckled. "Actually, I think I might be why he's leaving so early … he had a few choice words for me when I followed him into the restroom. He's just lucky I didn't have a tape recorder. He can be quite colorful when he's cursing out the press, you know."
Lois laughed gleefully. "Well, I got some good quotes from Congressman Sinclair about why he changed his vote on the latest gun control bill at the last moment after making promises to his constituents to the contrary. His face turned three shades of red before he excused himself!"
"Why do I have a feeling that certain people are going to ask if we're on the guest list the next time one of these functions arises?"
Lois grinned as she slipped her arm into Clark's elbow. "Because we're the hottest team in town. Come on, partner, I'll buy you a drink."
"So what would you like, Lois?"
Lois tilted her head to look at the selection of bottles. "White wine would be fine … what about you?"
Clark was about to answer when the bartender came over holding a bottle. "Would you folks like some champagne?" the man suggested helpfully. "We're getting ready to start the toast." Sure enough, at the other end of the bar, servers were picking up trays filled with champagne glasses and beginning to circulate among the crowd.
Clark looked at Lois and shrugged. "Sounds good to me."
Lois nodded at the bartender. "Yes, please. We'll have two."
Sure enough, almost as soon as they had picked up their glasses, the voice of Senator John Tate came through the room's speakers. "I wanted to thank you all for coming tonight …"
Clark whispered to Lois as they slowly made their way to the rear of the crowded dance floor. "Do you think we should be up there?"
Lois looked at all of the television camera that were aimed towards the stage, and noticed several print reporters standing behind them. She motioned with her glass. "Roy Reynolds is up there; he's new to the Planet but I think he can handle it." As if on cue, their young colleague turned and whispered a few words to Perry White, who was standing next to him near the stage. At the older man's nod, Roy began writing excitedly in his notebook.
Clark gave a little laugh. "Remember when you were that young and eager?"
Lois chuckled. "Seems like forever ago."
"You were born ready, Lois."
"You better believe it."
As the crowd listened to Senator Tate's speech, his supporters expressed their enthusiasm frequently and loudly. Having already served three terms as a popular New Troy State Congressman, the Senator was now beginning his second term as a U.S. Senator. Several times, chants of "Tate for President!" broke out in the crowd, causing everyone to laugh and cheer.
After several minutes, the charismatic Senator finished the political portion of his comments, and began to wind his speech down. "Before, I finish, ladies and gentlemen, I have one more person to thank. Gwen, would you come up here, please?" The crowd applauded as Mrs. Gwendolyn Tate, the Senator's wife, joined him. The Senator took his beaming wife's hand and continued. "My wife has always been my strongest supporter. It is by no exaggeration to say that she is as much responsible for my success as I am. For 33 years, she has stood by my side, helping me, pushing me, taking care of me. She has campaigned for me, and has been there to listen as I work through the issues that face this great country. She is truly the great love of my life, and I am proud to call her my wife!"
The crowd went wild as the Senator and Mrs. Tate shared a brief kiss on the stage. Lois raised her champagne glass with the rest of the crowd and gave a little cheer, getting caught in the enthusiasm. "Boy, he really knows how to work a room, doesn't he, Clark?" she asked, laughing. "Clark?"
Clark, however, wasn't joining in with the rest of the crowd. His gaze was on the happy couple on the stage, but his expression was wistful, his eyes sad. At Lois's "what's wrong?", he gave a forced smile, took a sip from his champagne and looked away.
Lois stood lamely next to him, suddenly unsure of herself. What had happened? Things had been going so well , but now suddenly, the atmosphere was uneasy again. They stood together for a few more minutes, watching the Senator make a final toast to the supporters that made his re-election possible. But as the crowd began to disperse and the band began playing again, they found themselves looking at the dance floor, uncertain.
"The, uh, band is good," Lois finally ventured, trying to get them back to the easy-going conversation they'd been having before.
Clark barely glanced at her, keeping his eyes on his drink. "Yeah …" he agreed quietly. They stood there awkwardly for several more seconds, until Clark finally cleared his throat. "Um … I'm going to, uh, get another drink. I'll catch up with you later, Ok?"
Lois wanted desperately to stop him, to find out what was wrong, but the words caught in her throat. "Yeah, sure," she mumbled to his retreating form.
As her partner left her standing alone, Lois sighed deeply as she watched the dancers waltz by, smiles on their faces. A few weeks ago, she would have already asked Clark to dance — or more likely, he would have beaten her to it — and they would have been out there, too. She loved dancing with Clark; they always had so much fun twirling and talking and laughing. But now, things weren't so simple, and it was clear that Clark knew it, too. They were in an awful kind of limbo … back to friendship, but no longer lovers, no longer certain of anything.
Lois sighed again, and turned from the floor. She now understood why Clark couldn't bear to watch other happy couples kissing and dancing. It only served to remind her of how much they'd lost.
"Lois Lane, will you give me the honor of this dance?"
The chipper invitation startled her, but she recovered quickly as she realized who it was who had delivered it. "Hello, Senator," she said, affording him a genuine smile. She extended her hand to grasp his warmly. "I would have thought you'd be dancing with your wife after that wonderful speech you gave."
The guest of honor laughed. "Alas, she left me for the privacy of the powder room. Shall we?" He offered her his elbow.
Lois accept the offer and smiled as he led her to the middle of the crowd. She had known John Tate for several years, having first met him when he was an aspiring state congressman and she was a college intern on his campaign staff. As a reporter, she had followed his career as he had climbed the political ladder. And while Lois didn't agree with every political stand the man took, she knew that he made his voting decisions based on honesty and intelligence. As Lois turned into the Senator's arms, she echoed the sentiments of so many others that night. "Congratulations on your re-election."
"Thank you, my dear. The endorsement of the Daily Planet surely helped in that regard."
"Well, you earned our support," Lois replied. "Perry takes his endorsement responsibility seriously. And he's always been very impressed with your integrity."
Senator Tate nodded in thanks. "And how about you, Lois?" He spun her around on the floor. "Have you been impressed enough to finally give up the paper and come to work for me again? I'm always looking for talent such as yours on my staff."
Lois laughed. "And give up beating the streets for a comfortable desk job? Never." She smiled warmly. "As much as I loved working as an intern in your office in college, John, I could never give up journalism. It's in my blood."
The handsome Senator let his eyes twinkle at her. "Yes, and that's something I've never forgiven Perry for, the way he stole you away from me like that. Oh, well, I suppose I have to settle for reading your stories in the Daily Planet. Which reminds me …" The Senator looked around for a moment. "Don't you have a partner lurking around here somewhere?"
Lois glanced around, too, her face falling a bit as she thought of Clark and the way he had looked just before he'd walked off. "Yes, he's around … somewhere. Why?"
"Oh, just something I overheard the Secretary of State saying … " John Tate gave a short laugh. "But I've read a number of your joint efforts; I must say that you write well together. Kent, isn't it?"
"Yes, Clark Kent. He's very talented. You'd like him, John. I'm surprised you haven't crossed paths before." Lois looked around once more, suddenly keenly missing her partner. "I'd introduce you, but unfortunately, I can't find him at the moment. I wonder where he went?"
"Tall, dark-haired fellow? With glasses, right?"
"Actually, I believe I saw him heading towards the side door not too long ago."
Lois's brow furrowed in concern. "Really?"
"Is everything all right, Lois?" The Senator looked at her questioningly.
Lois forced the smile back on her face. "Yes, fine … everything's fine."
Despite her assurances to the contrary, however, Lois found herself increasingly distracted as they continued to dance and make small talk. She had known that Clark was uncomfortable earlier, but she hadn't expected him to just leave without even saying good-bye. Lois felt a lump build in her throat. Unless he didn't want to face her again …
Lois silently chastised herself, trying to find the indignant anger that had kept her going this last week. Why did she care if Clark left the event early? He had no obligation to tell her what was happening in his life. She had made sure of that, when she'd broken up with him last week. They weren't a couple, not any longer. It was her choice … she wasn't ready to forgive him for what he had done.
So why couldn't she stop thinking about him?
And then, instantly, it all became clear. Her anger, her sense of outrage at what Clark had done to her … was gone. In its place were only feelings of intense longing and the knowledge that this was not the way things were supposed to be. Being apart like this was only making them both miserable.
Suddenly, Lois was desperate to find Clark. The only problem was … she had no idea where to find him.
Clark sat on a stone bench, overlooking the lights of the city. The balcony was empty, leaving him to his thoughts. He could hear the pulse of the music coming from inside the ballroom, even through the closed door to the side hall, but he refused to open his senses up any further. It had been harder than he'd thought, attending this function. The joy on Lois's face and the way she'd touched him when he'd arrived had made it all seem worthwhile, but now he wished that he'd just stayed home.
At least their partnership seemed to be back on solid ground. He had so enjoyed seeing the delighted look on Lois's face this evening when she'd discovered he had obtained the interview she had missed. He was used to anticipating her next move at work, and was pleased that he had picked up the ball at just the right time tonight. Clark was also grateful that, as friends, they finally seemed to be able to have pleasant conversations again. But, sadly, it just wasn't enough for him anymore. Laughing together, having Lois touch his chest or hold his hand, or do all of the other things they used to do when they were just friends … now only served to remind him of everything that he'd lost.
Listening to the Senator's admiring words about his wife had been Clark's downfall tonight. Up until then, he'd been able to tell himself that he just had to be patient. The last thing he needed to do right now was to pressure Lois, to come off as sounding needy or desperate, and scare her off. And true enough, as long as the subject was work or mindless small talk, he could keep things light and relaxed.
But when Senator and Mrs. Tate had been on the stage, and Clark witnessed the love and admiration between them, it was suddenly just too much to bear. He'd seen that look in Lois's eyes, once upon a time. Last week, when she'd told him she loved him, he felt as if his heart was soaring. But now, all of that was over. They were back to being partners … and friends … and that was all.
Clark dropped his head into his hands. He missed her so much it hurt. All he'd wanted to do during the toast was sweep her up into his arms and make her see how wrong it was for them to be apart. Yet he also knew, just as completely, that doing so was impossible.
And so, as the speech had ended and couples returned the dance floor, Clark had known he had to get out of there. He couldn't stand there next to Lois, watching the smiling couples as they floated across the dance floor, all the while knowing that he would never have that feeling again.
He loved dancing with Lois. Holding her close, talking and laughing over some private joke, it made him so happy. But now there was no way he could ever ask Lois to dance again, no way he could hold her in his arms. Though they had danced before as friends, before they had become lovers, Clark knew they could never get that carefree feeling back again. He could never again hold her without feeling the loss of her love; and reminders of that loss were too much to bear.
That realization had forced him to walk away from Lois so abruptly tonight. Clark just couldn't stand to be so close to her, knowing that he would never be able to hold her again. And he could no longer pretend that it didn't matter.
The quiet sound of the door to the ballroom, followed by the click of high heels on the balcony's concrete, alerted Clark to the fact that he was no longer alone. With a heavy sigh, he slowly stood, resigned to returning to the ballroom. Maybe he would just go home … he could slip out the side hall, and no one would even miss him …
As he turned, however, Clark realized that the woman was blocking his path to the door. "Excuse me," he murmured in the dim light, not bothering to make eye contact.
The sound of his name coming from his guest caused him to blink in surprise. He knew that voice … "Mayson?"
"Clark! Oh my god, it is you! When I saw all the reporters here, I was hoping I might see you, but you weren't inside." Before Clark knew what had happened, Mayson Drake had flung herself into his arms. She hugged him tightly and released a flood of words. "Oh, Clark, I'm so glad you're here! I've been out of town for the last two weeks and I just got back into town this morning. I've been trying to call you for hours."
Clark faltered, rendered almost speechless by this unexpected turn of events. "I've been … uh … I guess the answering machine was turned off …" he fumbled lamely. Of all the people he could have met tonight, this was one encounter he was completely unprepared for.
But Mayson continued, barely pausing. "I couldn't believe it when my assistant showed me the newspapers from last week." She pulled back to look at him, her expression joyful. "You're really alive!"
As her words registered, Clark finally understood what had caused this outpouring of emotion. He'd almost forgotten that his "death" had been in all the papers. "Yes, Mayson, I'm fine. Really," he assured her.
With that, she was back in his arms, hugging him tightly. "Oh, I wish I could have been there for you. I can't imagine how scared you must have been … if only I'd been here to help you through it."
Clark tried to keep a polite smile on his face, but as Mayson continued to tell him how scared she'd been when she'd seen the papers, he found the smile more and more difficult to maintain. Though touched by her relief, Clark was starting to get a very uneasy feeling.
Mayson Drake had been the furthest thing from Clark's mind these last two weeks. Yes, they'd gone out a few times: a lunch here, a coffee break there, and once he'd agreed to see a movie with her while Lois was out of town. But even as Clark had tried to keep things casual between them, he'd suspected that Mayson's feelings ran much deeper than his own. Yet knowing that she had feelings for him, he still hadn't even thought to let her know that he was all right. Contacting Mayson had never even crossed his mind.
A fresh wave of guilt washed over Clark. Couldn't he do anything right anymore? All he seemed to be doing these days was hurting people. Mayson didn't deserve that from him. Clark pulled back, gently extracting himself from Mayson's arms, his brow furrowed apologetically. It was his fault that she'd been allowed to harbor these feelings of hope, his fault that she'd come this far in her attempts to seduce him. He admitted to being flattered by Mayson's obvious interest in the beginning; it had been such a contrast to his partner's seeming indifference. And he couldn't deny that, early on at least, he did have some mild romantic interest in her.
But ultimately, he had just used her, inadvertent as it was. He'd pretended that he wasn't sure of what he wanted … pretended that he wasn't in love with another woman, that his heart was free. It was a lie that he'd told to himself, if only to ease the pain for a little while. He was desperately in love with his partner, yet he'd pretended that he could lead a life without her in it. It was a harmless white lie … until Mayson had been caught in the middle. She'd made it clear from the very first moment they'd met that all Clark needed to do was let her in and he would never be alone again. But Mayson simply wasn't the one he wanted, and she never would be. She would never be Lois.
Clark took another step back and motioned to the bench, inviting her to sit. He couldn't pretend anymore. "Please … sit … we need to talk."
Mayson complied, but apparently oblivious to his discomfort, she snuggled up to him as he joined her on the bench. "That sounds wonderful."
Clark faltered again. What was it about this woman that made it so difficult for him to be direct with her? He'd had chances in the past to be straight with her, but he'd always taken the easy way out. But he couldn't let this go on. "Well, maybe not wonderful … I've been meaning to talk to you about this for awhile now." Clark took hold of Mayson's shoulders and gently scooted her over so she wasn't leaning against him. This was going to be hard enough without her trying to up the ante by being affectionate. He gathered his resolve and continued. "I've learned a lesson lately about putting things off, and how it can hurt other people … and I just don't want to do that to you."
This time, Mayson couldn't miss the message Clark was sending with his body language. "Ok …" she said slowly, sitting up straighter. "What's going on?"
Resigned, Clark sighed. "Mayson, you are a wonderful person and a good friend. I've enjoyed the time we've spent together … and I respect you. The last thing I want to do is hurt you."
Mayson stiffened at the apologetic tone in his voice. "But? I hear a 'but' coming …" She forced a small laugh, the smile no longer reaching her eyes.
Clark dropped his eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I'm not very good at this … I never have been. But I don't want to be dishonest with you; I don't want to lead you on. You deserve better than that. Mayson, I do care for you … but as a friend. I— I don't have romantic feelings towards you."
Clark sighed as the words came out of his mouth. Had he been too blunt? Maybe he was being foolish for assuming that she wanted more than friendship. But no, he reminded himself, he hadn't said anything about Mayson's feelings for him … only about his feelings — or lack thereof — for her. He was only being honest …
Yet, in the back of his mind, the apologetic tone of his partner's voice echoed quietly, speaking similar words to him. Six months ago, Lois had broken his heart by telling him "I just don't feel that way about you … romantically." Clark closed his eyes at the memory of how keenly those words had hurt. Still, he and Mayson hadn't known each other for very long, and they'd certainly never spent as much time together as he and Lois had over their first year of acquaintance. Perhaps this was different… Clark shook his head. The excuse seemed flat, even to him. Lois hadn't meant to hurt him, but it had hurt. And now he was hurting someone else in the same way. Yet he had no choice. Even now, while talking to Mayson, all he could think about was … Lois.
"I see," Mayson finally responded. After a moment, she continued. "Is there someone else?"
Clark sighed. He really just wanted to keep this about the two of them. "Mayson—" he started apologetically.
She frowned and cut him off. "Cards on the table, Clark. I have my sources, just like you have yours. When I got back to the office today, I heard some news about your latest … 'relationship'." She paused briefly, as if weighing her words. "Though from what I heard, it was over before it even started."
Clark looked up in amazement. Had the news really spread that fast? Clark had known all along that Lois was concerned about letting the details of their relationship get out in the newsroom, but he had never even imagined that their love life would be gossip fodder in the district attorney's office. Still, even if Mayson already had the basic facts, the details of the break-up was not something he was going to get into — with Mayson or anyone else. "Mayson, let's leave Lois out of this. My feelings for you—"
Mayson gasped. "Then it *is* true? You and Lois? I— I couldn't believe— I mean, I wasn't sure that the rumors were right …" She looked at Clark in bewilderment. "But you *are* broken up, right? Or was that part wrong?"
Clark would have laughed ruefully if he'd thought that Mayson wouldn't misinterpret it. He had known that it would be hard to tell Mayson of his lack of feelings for her, but he hadn't expected her to know about his problems with Lois. "Mayson … Lois and I, we're— it's … complicated. And to be honest, I'm not really sure what's going to happen with us." He sighed. "But the fact that she and I aren't together right now, it doesn't affect how I feel about you. Or her," he added sadly.
Mayson gave Clark a plaintive look, her voice taking on a tinge of desperation. "Clark, I haven't asked you for any kind of commitment. We've had fun together, and I don't see any reason why we can't continue to just wait and see what develops—" Suddenly, however, realization dawned, and Mayson continued, almost afraid to hear the answer. "Unless …"
Clark hung back, almost afraid himself to hear what she had to say. "What?"
Mayson rubbed her temples. "Oh, I should have seen this right away. How could I have not seen it?" She fixed him with a stare. "You're in love with her, aren't you?" She formed it as a question, but it was clear she already knew the answer. When he didn't respond, she continued. "Just tell me the truth, Clark. I think I deserve that much." She gave a humorless laugh. "Why else would you be waiting around for her when she won't even give you the time of day?"
Clark broke eye contact and stared at the ground for a long moment, smiling sadly. He ran his hand through his hair as he began to speak. "The truth, Mayson? The truth is that I have been head over heels in love with Lois Lane since the day I met her. And the longer I've known her, the stronger that feeling has grown." He swallowed the lump that was growing in his throat. "She's everything to me. She … completes me. And the fact that I may have lost her forever …" Clark's voice cracked, "is killing me."
After a moment, Mayson stood, wiping the corner of her eye to gather her composure. "Well, then … I guess there's nothing left to say." She looked away, unable to meet his eyes. "I hope Lois knows what she's giving up."
Clark rose with her, feeling drained. "Thank you," he whispered.
"Good-bye, Clark." As they turned towards the door, however, it suddenly became clear that they were no longer alone. For a long moment, three people stood self-consciously staring at each other.
Finally, Mayson broke the silence. "How much did you hear?"
Looking guilty, Lois glanced at a Clark, then back at Mayson. "Just the end," she replied quietly.
Mayson, too, glanced at Clark, and found him frozen to the spot, his eyes never leaving his partner. She squared her shoulders and lifted her head a bit higher. "Then I'll leave you two alone." And with that, she brushed past Lois, shutting the door behind her.
Barely registering that Mayson had left, Clark continued to face his partner, yearning but uncertain. How much had she heard? His confession of love was as sincere and truthful as he'd ever been, but if Lois didn't feel the same way, it wouldn't matter in the least. He longed to take her into his arms, to beg her once more to forgive him, but his fears held him back. If she rejected him yet again … it would break his heart, once and for all.
"I didn't mean to interrupt," Lois apologized. "I was just wondering where you were. You disappeared and I thought maybe you'd left."
"I just … came out for some air." Clark swallowed as Lois walked towards him, but he never took his eyes from hers. "Do you need my help in there?"
Lois shook her head. "No, it's winding down. I think we have some good stuff, though. It's nice to report on some positive stories once in awhile." She smiled slightly. "I guess it can't all be hard core investigative journalism."
Clark smiled a little in return, but his expression was still sad. "Yeah," he echoed quietly. Lois was now so close, he could hear her breathing. And when he inhaled, he could smell her perfume. His words to Mayson came floating back … this truly was killing him.
"Oh, Clark." Lois gave a little laugh, but when Clark looked more closely, he could see that she had fresh tears in her eyes. "This is so dumb."
Clark stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at the ground, feeling completely miserable. Once again, he had made Lois cry. He didn't know exactly what he had done this time, but it no longer even mattered. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. "Lois, I am so, so sorry, for everything I've done to hurt you. If I could live these two weeks over again, and undo all the pain I've caused you, I'd do it in a heartbeat." Clark closed his eyes, his emotions threatening to spill over.
Lois sniffled. "I'm sorry, too, Clark. I don't know why it's been so hard for me just to say what I needed to say … just to admit …"
Clark took a shaky breath and squeezed his eyes more tightly shut. He didn't want to hear the words … didn't want to hear …
"… that I love you. I love you so much, I can't imagine being without you."
Clark's head lifted, hardly able to let himself hope. "What?"
Lois laughed out loud even as the tears fell down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Clark … I'm so sorry that I couldn't admit it sooner." Lois fell into his chest and put her arms around his neck. "You're everything to me, too."
Shuddering with emotion, Clark wrapped his arms around her small waist and pulled her tightly to him. "Oh, Lois." His words were muffled as he buried his face in her hair. "I thought I had lost you … I thought I had ruined everything."
"Shhh." She silenced him tenderly, smoothing a hand over his hair. "We both made mistakes … and I'm sure we both will again. But we can make it work, Clark, I know we can." Her confident tone faltered slightly. "That is, if you're willing to try again …"
Clark pulled back, incredulous. "If I'm … *If*?" He started to laugh through the unshed tears in his eyes.
"Well, I didn't want to presume," Lois giggled with him.
His trembling fingers, Clark cupped her face with his hands. "Presume this," he whispered as he lowered his mouth to hers. The kiss was sweet and tender and passionate, and in that moment, all of the problems of the last two weeks faded away.
"I love you, Clark," Lois whispered as they finally separated.
"I love you, too, Lois." He brushed his thumb over her cheek, wiping away some of the wetness left by her tears. "More than I ever thought it was possible to love someone."
They stood there, lost in each other's arms, for what seemed like forever, until Clark heard the bandleader announce that they were beginning their final set of songs. He pulled back and kissed Lois's hand, then led her through the door of the balcony, into the hallway. "Come on."
"Yes, let's get out of here, Clark," Lois agreed. "Let's go where we can really talk. I have so much to say to you."
Clark smiled as he opened the door to the ballroom. "I do, too, but right now, there's something else I've been wanting to do all night, and if we don't do it now, we're going to lose our chance." He pulled her more closely to him. "Dance with me, Lois. I need to hold you again."
Lois shivered at his words, and willingly followed him across the room to the dance floor. The crowd had thinned considerably, but there was still a decent sized group. They found a spot on the floor and turned into each other's arms. This time, unlike on their date, there was no hesitation as they held each other. Gazes locked and smiles tender, they melted into the dance.
As the bandleader motioned to his players, the music began to play …
*"I can feel you thinking of me;
I see your face and wear your smile
Like a picture in a locket on a string around my heart …*
*"One with you, I feel complete; I'm twice the man when you're with me.
Your love takes me to heights that I've never dreamed,
(That's when I feel) that who is closer to heaven than I?*
*"Who is closer to heaven than I?
I can dance with angels and fly so high;
Who is closer to heaven than I?
Who is closer than I?*
Lois rested her head against Clark's cheek as they continued to dance. "I've never heard this song before," she murmured. "It's beautiful."
Clark closed his eyes as he held Lois. He wanted to memorize this feeling, to keep it with him always. "It's like it was written especially for us," he whispered back.
Lois held him closer. "It was. I can feel it."
*"I can hear your whispers to me in my dreams.
They fall like rain and cool my thoughts
And soothe my spirit like a thirsty Kansas plain.*
*"One with you I feel complete; I'm Superman when you're with me.
I could take you to heights that you've never dreamed,
For who is closer to heaven than I?*
*"Who is closer to heaven than I?
I can dance with angels and fly so high;
Who is closer to heaven than I?
Who is closer than I?*
As the last refrain of the song ended, Clark looked deeply into Lois's eyes. "I want to kiss you so much," he whispered, his dark eyes tender with emotion.
Lois smiled softly and ran a hand through his hair. "What's stopping you?"
Clark glanced around, uncertainty in his eyes. "You seemed to want to keep us quiet … there are so many work people here … I wasn't sure …" He looked at her, searching.
Lois sensed the worry in the words he left unsaid. She looked up at him, her eyes bright. "I love you, Clark. I don't care if the whole world knows it." She smiled. "I *want* the whole world to know it."
His lips touched hers as the final word was out of her mouth. It was a tender kiss, carefully restrained, but the passion lurking under the surface came off of him in waves. Clutching the back of his head a little more tightly, Lois returned the kiss until they were both breathless.
As their lips parted, and their foreheads touched, each sighed happily and swayed slowly to the music of the next song. Other couples danced around them, but for the moment, neither was aware of anything else in the world but each other.
FADE TO BLACK
"Who Is Closer To Heaven Than I" was written by Mara Fox and Robert Alpert, copyright 1997 New Metropolis Music-BMI. It was written just for "Lois & Clark", and would have been included in the fifth season of the show. When Demi and I learned of the song, we just knew that Lois and Clark had to dance to it in this story. :) — Kathy
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