By Doc. Klein's LabRat <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December 2001
Summary: Tomorrow doesn't always come as you expect it to. The painful lesson Lois learns in the episode "That Old Gang of Mine" makes her aware of just what her partner means to her. Will she find that seizing the day brings her the rewards she desires?
Notes: The fact that this particular story is being posted at all is really down to just one FoLC — Kaethel. I actually wrote the bulk of this one some four or five years ago. What made me start it? Well, I'd just watched TOGOM for the very first time and I a) felt cheated that I never saw Clark's reaction to Lois changing out of her cement- encrusted sweater and into his jacket ;) and b) thought since no one had really tackled the episode before it might be fun to explore it a little. <g> How times change, huh?
Anyway, it got lost among the melee that is my hd as other stories muscled their way to the front of the queue and by the time I rediscovered it I figured that the episode had been covered so many times there wasn't much point in finishing it. I resolved to let it rest in peace among the never-to-be-completed files. And then Helene came along and did that weird telepathy thing she does and made me send her the file.
Life lesson no. 8,054: Never — ever — send an unfinished story file to Helene that you are adamant is not going to be finished because no one will want to read it, just to prove the point — and expect to get away with it. She nagged. She got Wendy to nag. Then the entire #lanekent channel nagged. :D And…well, as you can see it worked.
So, now you know who to blame for the fact that you have to suffer yet another TOGOM rewrite. ;)
So, this one is dedicated to nagging cheerleader, brainstormer and beta- reader extraordinaire — Helene. Grateful thanks also go to Jo, whose comments and encouragement infused a flagging Muse with renewed enthusiasm and to Wendy and Ann who beta-read segments here and there and giggled and sighed and fixed typos in all the right places. Thank you all!
As he sped towards the Planet, Clark kept his hands firmly on the wheel of the Jeep, his mind fixed rigidly on the road ahead, and his eyes determinedly *off* the rear view mirror.
Though relying on side mirrors alone made night driving hazardous at best, it was safer than what was likely to meet him if he succumbed to the temptation to glance into the back seat…
…where his leggy, curvaceous partner was engaged in undressing.
He negotiated a tight bend at what for anyone without the benefit of super reflexes would have been reckless speed, ignored the outraged honk from a passing cabbie, and swung a hard left as he wove through the downtown traffic.
There was a squawk from behind him and a soft, but definite, thump as Lois was propelled from the rear seat and hit the back of his. He glanced back automatically. "Sorry! You okay?"
A low, indeterminate grumble answered him as Lois hauled herself back into her seat. "Give a girl some warning next time, Kent, will ya?!"
"Sorry," he said again, turning hastily back, eyes front and center, as he found himself fixed on the fact that she was wearing his jacket unbuttoned over nothing more than a flimsy bra and panties combination in a delicate rose blush pink. Or, what would have been pink, if they hadn't recently been immersed in several tons of wet cement. There had still been the odd traces of their original color in among the gray. Otherwise it would have been hard to tell. A flush rose in his cheeks and he found his gaze settled, unblinking, on the dashboard clock. He frowned.
"What time did you say Perry's party was due to start?" He flicked a glance upward into the mirror and was relieved to discover that she'd used his belt to tighten the jacket around her waist, cutting off any startling views. In among the relief, a sharp disappointment glimmered. He quashed it with an admonishing grimace.
"Eight. What time you got there?" She brought her wrist up to one ear and shook it gently, then grimaced. "My watch is on the fritz."
"Seven forty nine. We'll be cutting it close."
"I knew I should have driven — " Lois complained sourly.
Her voice came close up against his ear and he turned his head, startled. His eyes widened as he found his partner gamely attempting to clamber into the front passenger seat as she spoke and seemingly oblivious to the amount of bare, gray-dappled thigh she was displaying as a result. She straddled the back of the seat for an instant and then paused to fix him with a gimlet eye.
"You wanna keep your eyes on the road?"
"Oh, yeah, right."
With an effort, Clark tore his gaze reluctantly from the long expanse of smooth and silky leg that was draped across the front of the seat, toes delicately poised on its edge.
/Wow…/ he thought irreverently, followed a bare instant later by a blurted aloud, "Whoa!" as he found himself staring into the red and baleful twin eyes of the tail lights on the Chevy ahead.
He stomped on the brake. For a moment he was surprised that his foot didn't go all the way through the floor. He heard Lois squeak somewhere to his right and then curse as the Jeep slewed to a sharp, bouncing halt, coming to rest mere millimeters shy of the Chevy's fender. Clark screwed shut his eyes, hunching his shoulders against the inevitable thud as they were rear-ended by the car following.
It didn't come. But the driver of the car in question — who must have had super-reflexes to rival his own he thought sourly and with no small sense of relief — registered his disapproval of the maneuver with the incensed curse of an air horn.
In the cold moment of clarity that descends in the aftermath of disaster averted, Clark was sharply aware of the ticking of a stalled, cooling engine and the iced film of sweat that had sprung out on his skin. His mind's eye looped a fragment of movie film over and over: Lois thrown forward and through the front windshield. How easily that could have been the result of his momentary distraction froze his blood in his veins.
His moment of self-torture was interrupted by more soft cursing from the lady in question as she compared his driving skills with that of a baboon high on crack cocaine. Clark sighed gratefully. Disaster averted. Lois safe.
"Clark…ow…you're hurting my…arm!"
He opened his eyes with a start, surprised to find that his right hand was clamped around Lois' left arm just as she said. Hard enough that she might very well be sporting bruises later. Shaken, he let go in the same moment that she succeeded in wrenching herself free. She glared at him and rubbed at the offending patch on her arm.
"Sorry," he said helplessly. "For a moment there I thought — "
The honk of a horn came again from behind him.
He turned in his seat, shrugging an apology through the vista of the rear windshield at the irate driver behind him. The man flipped him the bird and mouthed a few casual obscenities back at him. Clark winced and, just for a moment, wished the other driver could spend some time with Mad Dog in *his* passenger seat. See how well *he* drove.
Lois had recovered her balance and had gone back to trying to swing her other leg into position so that she could drop into the seat. Her precarious state of undress was hampering her though. Clark sighed, knowing he'd never persuade her to stay in the rear. With a wary glance at the traffic ahead, he cupped a hand under his partner's elbow and helped her achieve her goal.
Lois glared at him, wriggled more firmly into position, and then pointedly snapped her seatbelt into place.
He reflected wryly on the twitch of interest below his belt that viewing that shapely, delicately formed limb had produced. He grimaced.
/Well, almost thirty years of celibacy will do that to you, Kent/ he told himself.
But he knew that wasn't strictly true. The truth was he wouldn't have got the same electric jolt of desire surging through him if he'd watched any other woman clamber over the passenger seat of the car he was driving. Nope, he had to admit that it seemed to be only Lois Lane who could affect him that strongly and in just that way. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He dragged his gaze — which had been lingering along the length of those gray-streaked, long and beautifully formed lures to destruction — back to the road, where he figured it was safer.
Ahead, the stoplight had turned green. As another flurry of honks from behind pointed out. Clark pulled in a small breath and set the Jeep moving again.
"You just don't understand city driving, Clark," Lois mumbled grumpily beside him. "I told you that when — hey!" Clark jumped as his partner leaned sharply across him and hit the center of the steering wheel hard, producing an angry admonishment. "Hey! Don't you cut in on us, you creep! Yeah? Well, *your* mother was a — "
Clark reached over her hastily and hit the button for the passenger window, closing it and cutting off his partner's insult in mid breath.
"Clark!" She gestured impatiently at him with a waved hand. "I was talking!"
"You were yelling. So was the ape in the truck."
"And your point would be — ?" Her expression added that talking and yelling were the same thing in the big city — as anyone with any sense at all knew.
"My point would be…right now, Lois, I'd rather not get into a fight with our fellow road-users. We don't have the time. How's that jacket holding up?" he added to distract her, as she harrumphed back in her seat and folded her arms, glowering at the windshield.
She straightened, perhaps aware that her position had inched up said jacket around her thighs with her motion. She tugged at its edge, and ducked her head slightly. "Fine," she muttered. "How much longer?"
"I don't — "
"No! Don't stop for that — Clark!"
"Lois, it's a stop light. It means stop."
"It means stop unless you have an emergency. You think a crowd of gangsters gunning down our friends isn't an emergency?"
"No, but I don't think the cops would agree that gives us the right to risk traffic chaos, death and mutilation by running a stop — "
"You could squeeze on to the sidewalk if you inched over just a little, get around that truck, and — "
Clark sighed and stomped on the gas as the lights changed. Didn't take long to get back down to business, did it, he thought dryly. Only a few moments before his partner had been all over him, her warm, supple body pressed tight to his and her eyes sparkling up at him, tearful and tremulous as she threw her arms around his neck and poured out her joy at seeing him alive again. Sure had lasted. One little mistake behind the wheel of her precious Jeep and suddenly he might never have been away, never have been dead, never have been missed at all and the soft and welcoming woman who had been in his arms had been a temporary glitch. Mad Dog was back on line and expecting results.
Business as usual…
A sloppy smile spread itself over his lips before he could prevent it. There had been a moment there when he'd thought he'd never get her back, never get back to her.
He sighed…and it wasn't entirely unhappy.
"Knew I should have driven," Lois affirmed. Clark rolled his eyes at the familiar litany. Lois, momentarily stymied in her objections, gave her wrist a baleful look, remembering a handy source of earlier irritation to vent on.
"You know I really ought to sue." She shook the wrist and glared at the offending timepiece it sported. "They swore this one would survive fifty fathoms down in all the ads and it can't even survive for a week. Do you know how much it costs me per year in watches? And this one cost at least three months' salary."
"Three months what? For a watch, Lois?"
"Well…maybe a little less. It was more expensive than a Timex, that's for sure!"
"You'd have been better *buying* the Timex," Clark commented.
"They told me this one would 'survive the rigors of a professional life'," Lois quoted the ad with a snarl in her voice that attested to what she currently thought of the suit who had coined the no doubt knowingly actionable prose.
Clark's lips twitched. He shook his head. "I don't think they imagined it would have to cope with having a few tons of wet cement poured over it, Lois," he admonished.
"Well, why the hell not?" Lois transferred the glare to his profile. "It was listed in the trade journal as a reporters' special. They ought to have known better."
Clark barked out a laugh.
He shook his head. "Lois, only you could think getting buried in cement is part of the daily routine of a reporter!"
"What does that mean? Are you saying I'm reckless? Because I am *not* reckless! Listen, buster, you want to talk about reckless, let's get back to stepping in front of a loaded gun and getting yourself killed all over the place! Let's just talk about tha — "
"It means," Clark said grimly, bouncing the Jeep to another bone- pulverizing halt and slamming on the handbrake, "we're here, get out, that party starts in under thirty seconds."
Lois didn't need a second telling. He found himself directing the last of his words at her retreating back as she scrambled from the vehicle and headed for the Planet's glass doors at a run, ignoring several interested glances from male passers-by at her unconventional attire and at least one wolf whistle as she did. He barely caught up to her before she pushed through and into the lobby.
Superman maintained his pose, arms folded across his chest, shoulders back, steely-eyed, as he watched Capone being escorted from the premises by a couple of Metropolis' Finest. They didn't seem to be much impressed by the blustering threats of the handcuffed mobster. The last thing Superman heard as the gangster was pushed firmly through the door was the sound of his voice becoming more wheedling than outraged:
"Okay, look, so how about we cut ourselves a deal here, fellas, huh? Flat tire on the way to the precinct…keys to the cuffs just happened to be left on the back seat…aw, come on, you ain't tellin' me you guys couldn't use a vacation to sunnier climes than this place? Maybe your wife could use that fur coat when Christmas…hey! Hey, are you guys listening? What happened to standards around here?"
The cops didn't seem any the more impressed by that either, Superman thought smugly. Capone was about to learn a harsh lesson. Things had changed since the twenties. The superhero doubted the gangster would find much sympathy among the officers of the MPD. Or in the judiciary. Or anyone willing to hold out their palm to be greased. They were good people. And they weren't afraid. And, besides, Superman had long since made it clear he didn't hold with bribery and corruption and that message had resonated deeply in the hearts of the few possible bad apples there might have been in law enforcement long since. No, Metropolis was a clean city and Capone was going to find that out the hard way.
Alone, he sighed wearily and let his superhero posture slump a little now that it was no longer required. He cocked his head, listening intently for a moment. Up above, on the Planet's upper levels, it appeared that the remainder of Capone's little gang were being rather efficiently mopped up by his colleagues. It was all over bar the shouting. Lois was doing most of that. He could hear her berating someone, but she sounded triumphantly angry rather than in trouble. Clark felt the tips of his ears turn a hot, deep red and he winced as he tried not to listen to some of the more colorful insults she was tossing around.
He tipped back his head and swept the ceiling with a brief burst of x-ray just to be sure she was okay. She was. He found himself grinning as he scanned the room above him and then, satisfied that no one needed his help — well, Capone's gangsters and Bonnie Parker aside and he wasn't that inclined to rush to the rescue there — spun out of the Suit gratefully.
He had never been so happy to shed his alter ego, to leave the superhero behind and settle back into himself. He smiled faintly as he pressed the elevator button, content to meander his way upstairs and in no hurry now to join the crowd. He leaned up against the wall as he waited for the elevator to answer his summons. He needed a moment, just one, to take stock. To breathe deep and square his shoulders, and let himself feel the familiar relief, tinged a little with a touch of fading fear, that once again it had turned out right. Lois was safe. Perry and Jimmy were safe. Everything was just fine. The bad guys had been defeated and a confident, uplifting score was building towards an ebullient 'The End'.
He sighed, a little amused at this fanciful analogy. /You're losing it, big guy,/ he told himself ruefully, straightening up with a shake of his head as the lights of the elevator glowed, signaling its arrival.
Losing it maybe, he considered more soberly, his amusement dying. But he hadn't lost what mattered: his life. Or what was important: Lois. And, in the grand scheme of things, he guessed that was enough for one night.
Stepping into the elevator he rode the few floors to the newsroom in thoughtful silence. One night…
So much had happened to him — to all of them — in just those twenty four hours that it seemed almost impossible to imagine it had only been yesterday when he'd believed that his world had been shattered and lost for good. That Lois had been taken from him so cruelly, becoming a stranger, someone who barely knew him instead of his best friend and partner. Someone he could only interact with on the most stiffly formal of levels. Who he would never share pizza with. Or snuggle on the sofa with watching the latest action flick — or chick flick if it was her night to choose and she was in the mood for sloppy. He would protest, as he was supposed to, about being forced to watch all that mushy stuff and her eyes would twinkle up into his because she knew he wasn't really serious and would enjoy the movie just as much as she would, even though he would tease her about her softer side showing and she would pretend to be offended…
He sighed. When he had thought that everything he cared about had almost ended with the sound of Barrow's pistol and a blast of light and heat…
A tremor ran through him as that fateful moment replayed itself in his head. He had thought that luck hadn't been with him last night when that bullet had struck him. He had thought that he had been the unluckiest of all. But a belated truth had come to him slowly and surely during the horror of the last few hours, a truth that made him aware of just how lucky he had been in the end:
Lois had been standing right beside him when Barrow had fired. If she had been hit instead of him… He squeezed his eyes tightly shut in denial of the flood of bloody images that burst into his skull in response to the thought. God, Lois… If she had been hurt, if she had…
He shook his head, hauling in a shuddering breath like a drowning man and opened his eyes to stare blankly at the metal door in front of him. He couldn't think about it any more. About how close he might have come to losing everything. What-ifs and buts, maybes and might-have- beens…they crowded into his head and became a confusing babble of memories and troubled speculation.
Enough. What was done was past and he would deal with the fallout later. For now, it was time to simply savor the victories — small though they might be — and he was becoming aware, all at once, now that the adrenaline rush that had kept him going through the night was dissolving, of just how weary he was besides.
Strange, he thought. No matter that he was invulnerable, no matter how strong he was, he still managed to feel assorted aches and muscle tension whenever he became exhausted. The human mind was a stubborn entity all of its own and it held no truck with theories that said he should feel nothing at all. He was so used to thinking of himself as human, he guessed. Trying to be human. Some of it was bound to…he became aware that he had a hand pressed to the back of his neck, massaging muscles which didn't hurt but which were nevertheless eased by the reflexive action he'd seen the people around him use so often when tired, after a long day of work, and had long since begun to copy in an attempt to fit in and seem like one of the crowd. His lips twisted wryly…rub off.
Whatever. All that he knew was that he was tired enough to sleep through the winter like a hibernating hare. He shook his head as the old saying of his father's popped into his head, followed by the echoes of his childhood self questioning the veracity of that one.
/Hares don't hibernate!/
/How do you know? You don't see them around in winter, do you?/
/Yes, I do. I seen white hares in winter./
/White hares are different hares./
/Yup. We're talking brown hares here. You seen any brown hares in winter?/
/Well…no. I guess not./
/Stands to reason then. Brown hares hibernate./
The elevator doors slid open abruptly, dissolving the warm memory and jerking him out of his amusement. His face broke into a wide grin as he saw the small crowd standing before him.
"If you'll just stay back, out of the way, sir. Thank you."
He stepped out nimbly and stood with his hands in his pockets to watch with a great deal of satisfaction as Capone's boys were manhandled into the elevator. As he squeezed out of the way of the crush, he brushed past John Dillinger. Their eyes met. The gangster's narrowed in puzzlement and then snapped wide.
Clark thought that it was almost worth the trauma and heartache of the last couple of days to watch the man's jaw follow suit. Dillinger's head swiveled to keep him in view as he was dragged into the elevator cabin.
"Hey. Hey! Isn't that the dumb palooka Clyde shot?"
The doors cut off Dillinger's astonished voice and Clark's grin spread like cream. Whistling softly he turned smoothly on his heel and wandered over to the railing to overlook the Bullpen. He stopped at the top of the stairs, content to let the moment wash over him and take a second or two to appreciate it.
He was home. Clark Kent was back.
His gaze tracked through the people milling around the Bullpen as they listlessly cleared up some of the mess with the desultory attention of those who didn't really care. Others were dabbing at their bumps and scratches — the war wounds of the vindicated.
Over in the far corner, Perry was gruffly consoling a distraught caterer, who was slumped in a chair, puffy-eyed, as he stared at the ruins of his creation with the shocked expression of the bereaved.
On the other side of the room, Jimmy was gleefully relating how he'd beat up Clyde Barrow. It seemed to involve a lot of jabbing and dancing around on the balls of his feet as his audience listened with suitable expressions of awe.
He was glad they were okay.
But they weren't whom he needed to see.
His searching eyes found her — right where he should have known she would be — and a smile twitched at the corner of his lips. She was sitting at her desk, tapping furiously at her keyboard with a scowl of fierce concentration furrowing her forehead, oblivious to all that was going on around her. As he watched, she growled beneath her breath and stabbed at a few keys, backing up, blanking out text, and then rushing onwards with her story. The action was over and she was in reporter mode. The events of the evening, and the heartache of the previous days, might never have happened to view her, sitting there cool and intense and focused solely on her scoop.
He blinked, aware that this impression of her was more familiar memory than actual reality. There was the fact that she was wearing nothing but his jacket for one thing…he felt himself grow a little hotter as his eyes rested on the way it molded itself to her curves. The fact that she'd used his belt to cinch in the waist and keep it decently tight around her body, accentuating the swell of her breasts above. A flash of desire sparked through him as his considering eyes brought up an instant snapshot in his head, the memory of a brief glimpse of half-naked skin as she'd pulled on the garment in the back of the Jeep… He groaned and then glanced around the room guiltily, sure that someone must have heard.
Fortunately, they seemed to be intent on their own little dramas. His gaze was drawn back to his partner…like someone had physically directed it there. The jacket had been tugged up higher on her thighs as she sat at her desk. Her ankles were crossed decorously beneath her chair, a position that tightened up the long muscles in those bare thighs and made them seem even more curvaceous than he remembered them being. And he remembered them being pretty curvaceous to start with. His hand moved absently to tug a little at the collar of his shirt, where it suddenly seemed to be constricting. His throat was too dry all at once.
And then there was the fact that she appeared to be covered in some kind of…his eyebrows rose as he caught the tang of sugared confectionery. He remembered the view he'd gotten when he'd checked on her from downstairs earlier and a grin tugged at his mouth. He'd heard of women leaping *out* of cakes at parties of a certain, dubious nature, but women being ground into them was something else again. He chuckled. Looked like his partner hadn't entirely come off unscathed. But then…the grin broadened…you should see the other guy.
His eyes traveled to Lois face again and everything — the lust in him and the amusement — dissolved and faded into a soft warmth that spread through his heart. She was entirely oblivious to all of it. To her appearance, to the frosting tangled in her hair like a bad application of mousse gone wrong —talk about your bad hair days — to the aftermath of chaos around her. For her none of it existed. There was only the reporter and the story — and right then they filled the entirety of her world. And until she hit send, he knew from experience, the rest of the universe would not exist for her at all.
Her ability to bounce back, to recover from the horrors she'd faced, amazed him. And he was glad to see it. Back on the evening when Barrow had…shot…him…what had been on her face then had been something he couldn't bear to look at. He had wanted so much to wipe it away, ease the pain.
His smile faded. Guilt still slithered like a thread of acid in his gut. Was his secret so important, protecting himself — his doppelganger persona — so necessary, that he had let his friend, the woman he loved, go through that heartache and said nothing?
Perhaps it was, he thought tiredly. Perhaps Superman — what he stood for, what he could do — was more important than any of them and protecting that, ensuring it continued, was worth any gamble, any loss…any grief or pain. He didn't know. He only knew that he never wanted to let her go through something like that again.
His face grew somber as he remembered how she'd been, last night, when Barrow had shot him…
He had been afraid for her. Playing the role of corpse, from his position slumped between Dillinger and Barrow in the back seat of Barrow's vintage Coupe, he had listened with growing unease and anger as Dillinger had bemoaned the loss of opportunity to bag himself a squeeze for the night, his attempts to persuade the others that they should go back.
Back for Lois.
It had taken all of Clark's willpower to lie still, to stop his body trembling with the strength of the fury raging within him at the thought of Dillinger.
To his relief, however, Capone had cut Dillinger's whining short, apparently in no mood to listen to him. Later, he'd said. Later we can get all the dames you like. For now, they put distance between themselves and the mess Barrow had left back in that club. Capone had not been a happy man and even Dillinger had finally recognized that and settled into sullen silence.
It had been a lucky break when they had pushed him from the back of the car to land in the alley. He had been afraid they would take more trouble with ridding themselves of the 'body' and although he had no qualms about being able to extract himself from whatever shallow grave they might choose to bury the evidence in, so to speak, he was concerned it might lead them to a closer examination of him than they had previously.
He had no idea what he would have done had they realized he was still alive. Improvise, he guessed. Wasn't that what he always did, wasn't that the recurring refrain of his entire life? Always having to think one step ahead, guard against the incautious slip of the tongue or the moment when he'd let down his guard and relax just a fraction too much. Say too much. Let his powers inadvertently show. He was tired of it. Yet the need to hide, to conceal himself, had been so deeply ingrained in him from childhood, had become so much a part of his makeup, that he couldn't think of any other way to live.
Then, he'd simply been glad it hadn't come to that.
Rolling to a heap in the alley's darkness, he had waited a moment, until he heard the car scream away. He had got to his feet and dusted himself down, hands trembling with rage. For a moment he had been torn — it would take no more than a moment to change into the Suit, fly after the car as it disappeared into the gloom, and put an end to Capone and his crime spree once and for all.
But Lois…Lois was still at that gambling club. And who knew what was happening to her there. The mobsters had left with Capone, but it was a rough place and an even rougher neighborhood, and there were other predators out there besides those resurrected by the insanity of Hamilton.
It had been no contest. He had spun into the Suit — and headed rapidly in the opposite direction Capone's car had taken.
Reaching the club, he'd been relieved to find the area outside it already swarming with blue uniforms. He'd landed softly beside the yellow perimeter tape and had nodded grimly to the young cop who'd looked up at him, startled. "Superman! Uh." The cop glanced nervously over his shoulder at the club entrance and was saved from expiring from terminal embarrassment at meeting his hero and actually having to converse with him in words of more than one syllable by a laconic voice from behind them.
"Not much you can do here, Superman. It went down about twenty minutes back."
He turned to face the grim figure as it approached them. "Manning," he greeted the homicide cop, whose patch this was. He took a quick glance at the direction of the club doors himself, then swallowing hard, almost afraid to ask said, "What happened here?"
Manning raised a brow. "Nothing out of the ordinary for this neighborhood. Surprised it caught your attention."
"I was…" He shook his head. "I heard the commotion."
Manning looked at him in silence for a long moment. Superman tried not to squirm and look guilty. He knew Manning wasn't really suspicious of him — it was just that when you'd pounded the beat the cop had for as many years as he had you pretty much got suspicious when you were told it had turned out nice again. Manning's face had settled habitually into that considering 'I know you're hiding something and I can wait for as long as it takes till you fess up to it' stare long since. He probably looked at his wife and kids that way when he got home in the evening. Superman strongly suspected the Manning household was probably one of the few in the state who had no problem with the culprit fessing up to having been at the cookie jar.
Manning gave up the interrogatory stare and shrugged. "Well, anyway, we've got things pretty much in hand. We got one man missing — probably dead — although the picture's a little confused in there. There's no blood around that they can find, but the witnesses insist the man was dead when he was dragged out of there. It looks like another incident connected to those phony gangsters who've been running around town lately. You know how reliable witnesses are though," he said darkly. "Especially the hysterical kind.
"Hysterical?" Clark darted another glance at the doors.
"Well, you know. Thing like this is tough on civilians. Wolffe's tidying up the loose ends and we're taking some of the witnesses down to the precinct to bag their statements," he added, referring to his partner. "But, truthfully, there isn't much we can do from this point. Now, we just wait for the body to turn up. If it ever does," he added with the cynicism of the long term cop. "Anyway, missing or dead, I guess you were too late this time. Not much you can do to save the poor sap now."
Too late? Not much he could do? Clark blinked, a little startled as he swung his head back to view the homicide cop from where he'd been trying to separate out Lois from the rest of the crowd in the club. There had been no censure in the policeman's tone, and yet…he couldn't help but feel the comment had carried something of disappointment in it.
He lifted his head, drawn to a commotion over by the door. A flash of red. Dark hair. Lois.
She was being gently led over to a police cruiser by Wolffe, its blue lights spinning soundless agitation into the darkness. The stark, unforgiving light washed over her face, accentuating the bone-white fragility and the dark dreaming in her too-wide eyes.
"Excuse me, Detective…do you mind if I…?"
Manning followed his glance and his gesture towards the car. "No, you go ahead. She can't tell you nothing she ain't already told us a dozen times over already. Hey," he added as Superman turned away and when the superhero turned back questioningly, "go easy with her though, huh? Doc says she's in shock, she's not been making too much sense back there. Lost her partner tonight. They were reporters, you know?"
Manning's voice had lost the hard edge his work had ingrained in him over the years and grown respectful. Superman guessed that a cop could understand that kind of loss all too well and know how it felt. Losing your partner was an occupational hazard.
He had never thought it would be for them. Not for him and Lois. At least…he had never thought he would be the partner being mourned and she the one left behind to grieve.
"Yeah, I know," he said softly before he nodded at the detective in farewell and then strode quickly for the car.
He reached out a tentative hand to her shoulder when she ignored him and then dropped it as she turned to face him. Her eyes fixed on his face, but he saw no real sign of recognition in them. Her gaze was dark and withdrawn, seeing something within herself that had marked her expression with horror and which was too bleak and too overwhelming to let in anything else beyond it.
Looking into the grief and shock etched on her face, he didn't know what to say. The words that formed themselves died unuttered; they seemed crass and cruel and useless. Useless. He couldn't ask her how she was doing, if she was okay — he could see those answers clearly in the pain harbored in her eyes. He couldn't ask what happened — she would tell him. And he couldn't listen to her bear witness to the horror of what had happened in the club, couldn't bear to hear it spill from her lips, lent a macabre vitality seen through her eyes.
His death through her eyes.
"Lois.." was all he managed: a soft apology.
Her gaze on him shifted imperceptibly and he saw recognition flicker in them, dull and leeched of emotion, but she knew who he was. She didn't care, but she knew. It was a small victory. Seeing that distance in her, the absence of that spark that usually marked her, made his heart split in two.
He wanted to reach out and draw her close. To put his arms around her and let her cry in his embrace. He wanted to comfort her, as Clark would have comforted her. To be with her at the station when she made her statement. To take her home afterwards. To be there for her, to help her, to ease her pain no matter how little. To take care of her. Like a partner and best friend was supposed to.
Clark could have done those things. All of those things. Clark could have been there.
He couldn't be there for her. In all the time he'd known her, one way or another, as superhero or best friend, he'd never not been there for her.
Yet he could only stand there, like some stiffly formal stranger, and watch the pain spill across her cheeks unchecked and the grief twist like a wound in her eyes. A wound that resonated a sharp, tearing echo in his own chest.
"Why don't I come with you to the station while you give them your statement?" he said lamely, not knowing what else to offer her. "I can take you home after and — "
He stopped as she shook her head slowly. "No. No, you can't help. Not now. You couldn't help — " She looked up at him then and he saw it. The anger…the confusion…the…he had never thought to see that accusation reflected in that dark gaze.
Not that. Never that. It caught in his chest.
/- you couldn't help *him*. Why would you think you can help *me* now?/
And then she blinked and it was gone, if it had ever truly been there at all, and she was turning away, letting the grim-looking policeman escorting her hand her into the back seat of the cruiser without protest. She looked up at him in the instant before the door was closed, sealing her apart from him, and then away.
He stood, frozen, watching the car nose its way out through the onlookers and disappear into the night, taking her away from him.
She blamed him. He knew she hadn't meant to. But she did. And, seen from her perspective, could he really blame her for it? Superman had always been there — rushing to the rescue at the last moment, getting there in the nick of time…saving the day.
Saving her. Saving — so far as she knew — his friends too. Clark was supposed to be his friend, one of his closest friends, and yet he hadn't been there when he needed him. He hadn't been there to stop the bullet. He hadn't been there to stop him…'dying'.
He had betrayed her. And the pain of that was too much for him to bear. Demoralized, heartsick, not knowing where to turn or what to do to put things right, he had headed for Smallville and the only people he could pour out his own grief and despair to…
A gruffly familiar voice broke into his thoughts, bringing him back to the present as it spoke his name.
"— but Clark is gone, honey."
Lois had finished up with her story it seemed and joined Perry and Jimmy. Clark's eyes softened as he saw them there, together. The people he loved. The people he'd missed so much and never thought he would get back.
But he had. He had got them back. And he could figure out the rest of it, deal with it, later.
He was alive! They were all alive. And that made the world good. For now.
He thought the grin that took over his face might split it in two as he jogged down the stairs to join them.
"I don't know about that, Chief…"
The silence that filled the Jeep was warm and comfortable — and so familiar, so welcome, and so much what she had longed to experience again and thought was lost to her for good that it almost resonated like a deep hurt in Lois' chest.
She risked a quick glance towards the man sitting at her side and then looked away again, fixing her attention firmly on the road. He seemed…different somehow. In small, indefinable ways that she couldn't put her finger on he had changed. Or maybe it was she that had changed. Maybe it was simply that she was aware now of what she'd been in danger of losing, of what she'd been taking for granted all this time. Maybe she simply realized just what it was she had.
Or could have…
What she'd been fortunate enough to be given a second chance at discovering.
She frowned, her fingers tightening on the wheel a little as she shunted that thought aside. A small, tentative voice within her told her that it needed examining, thoughtful consideration, but she ignored it gamely. She wasn't about to go down that path. It was overgrown and dark and there were things lurking in its depths ready to leap out on her if she traveled too far along it. No thanks. She'd been there before and had no desire to revisit.
It had been a long day and an even longer night…most of it she'd wandered through in a daze, a fog of grief and wounded hurt, and there had to be time for her to get used to Clark's return. To become used to the world coming apart on her and then miraculously, unbelievably, snapping back into focus and turning right again. These things needed time to think on. It wasn't like you could just say, 'Oh, hey, Clark, where you been all this time?' like he'd been on vacation or something. "Hey, Clark, nice tan! It goes well with that scar on your chest where the bullet went — "
She cut that thought off abruptly too: Another that was too dangerous to let herself dwell on. That might just bring back the memory of…of things she didn't want to think about now. Wasn't going to think about now. Wasn't going to think about ever again if she could manage it.
Clark lying there…face wax pale and still…
She jerked and the Jeep responded with a slight shimmy before correcting its line. "Yes?" she said breathlessly, looking at her partner wide eyed.
"I thought…you said something." Clark flushed a little, looking as though he was regretting mentioning it and she realized that he'd obviously become aware of what she was just figuring out. That what he'd heard had been the sob she hadn't been able to hold back, as the image of him lying there dead on the ground at her feet had flashed into her mind. He looked embarrassed now.
Like she'd caught him prying on her. Invading her privacy.
"I'm sorry, I just thought I heard — "
"No, I was just…thinking, that's all."
"Ah." He nodded. "Right. We have…" he hesitated. "A lot to think about."
The silence that settled on them this time had lost the cozy warmth of previously. It was an awkward thing now, a wall of thorns risen between them. Lois looked away, staring through the windshield into the night. It had been raining when they'd emerged into the cool night from the Planet, but she was surprised to note that somewhere along the way it had stopped. When had that happened? She reached out with an irritated frown and snapped off the soft swish of the wipers as they cleared away non-existent water in their monotonous, futile rotations. Like her thoughts…endlessly revolving and mindlessly producing no results.
"Did you see Superman at the Planet? Did you speak to him? " she asked finally and immediately regretted it. Superman was a sore subject and one she didn't really want to discuss. Her feelings for the superhero were still in flux, still a confused melee of hurt, and…guilt. She was aware that she had treated him badly and without cause when he'd approached her outside Georgie Hairdo's club. She could barely remember what they had said to each other, but she remembered the expression on his face, the hurt beneath the bland mask of the superhero and she knew she had been the cause. And, although she was smart enough to also understand that it had been the shock and the grief talking, it had still been unfair.
He had been grieving too. In his own way. Clark had been /was, *was* dammit, stop talking about him as though he were gone/ she reminded herself viciously, tired of slipping into the habit of past tense which had been dogging her all evening. Clark was Superman's friend. And she hadn't even tried to offer him sympathy or understanding for that. When she thought of how much extra pain she had heaped on him…
He had saved all of them. At the last. He had even flown the Jeep to the building site along with Clark, just so she could get home after her ordeal in the cement trap. Another fortuitous rescue, since without it she and Clark would never have made the Planet in time to save Perry and the others. And, in fact, even then they would have failed if it hadn't been for the Man of Steel arriving in the nick of time to stand in the way of the bullets aimed at her friends. In the nick of time. Just like he always did.
Except…for that one time. That time when it had been most important of all.
Her lips tightened, as she censured herself for the errant thought.
He had given her back Clark. She would forgive the Man of Steel anything right then for that.
/And if he hadn't?/ a small, troubling voice spoke up in her head.
If Clark had stayed dead…if Superman hadn't brought him back to her…would she have forgiven him then?
Lois frowned. That didn't matter. What mattered was that he had. Clark was safe and alive and that was all that counted.
Would she though? Would she have forgiven him?
"Lois? You okay?"
She looked around and offered her partner a smile that wasn't exactly the most dazzling she'd ever produced. She could feel how wan and pale it was herself. But it seemed to suffice. He smiled gently back at her. One of those smiles of his that kindled itself in the dark warmth of his eyes and made her think that maybe the world was doing okay after all. That it might just be all right.
"Sure. Sure, I'm fine." Everything was fine. Would be fine. Now it would be. "I'm glad you're back, Clark," she said softly. She felt the hot prickle of tears begin and blinked them back furiously. She wasn't going to crumble now.
He reached out a hand to rest it briefly against her shoulder, squeezing gently. "I am too."
She put up a hand to cover his briefly and then returned it to the wheel. Clark settled back in his seat and she glanced at him, a little concerned as she noted belatedly how drawn he looked, the skin around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth tight and strained.
"You look like you could sleep for a month."
He made a moue of wry agreement, leaning his head back against the rest of his seat. "Make that two months and you got a deal."
"Well, Perry won't be expecting you in tomorrow. You should take some time to…" Recover? Was that what she'd been about to say? For god's sake, the man hadn't just gone down with flu. She flushed at the caustic admonishment and then scowled. Well, what *was* the proper etiquette for dealing with someone who'd just gone and died on you and then been resurrected in direct defiance of all the laws of nature? How was she supposed to know the right thing to say?
"…rest," she concluded lamely. "Take it easy."
"I will. Believe me, Lois, I don't want to do anything else but sleep," Clark agreed, sounding heartfelt.
"You know…" she hesitated. "Maybe I could come over later…tomorrow I mean…come over and we could…hang out…if…you know, if you want…"
"Sure." He smiled at her and she felt the awkwardness that had made her trail off the offer loosen in her chest. That smile made everything all right between them somehow. She found herself smiling back. "I'd like that," he said. "I could make us dinner."
"Oh no!" She shook her head sharply. "You're not going to lift a finger for the next couple of days, partner. Let me deal with dinner."
"I'll bring takeout," she said, forestalling the doubt she watched creep up on his face at the thought that she might be intending to cook something.
"Oh. Great! Takeout. Good. I mean, takeout is good."
The relief that took over his expression could have been insulting — if she'd let it be. But she wasn't in the mood. She didn't think she'd ever be in the mood to be angry at him again.
Well…maybe not for a while at least, she amended thoughtfully. Depending on how annoying he got.
He could get very annoying. When he put his mind to it. Course he could be sweet too. Loyal. One of the few people she could bear to spend any time at all with outside of the office. One of fewer still she had let into her life, that she trusted beyond question, felt comfortable with and enjoyed being with. The only one who, when she felt troubled or lonely or in need of comfort and company seemed the natural choice to call…the best darned friend a girl could have…
She choked back another sob as the run of her thoughts brought more tears to her eyes and then cursed herself for a sentimental fool.
/Much more than that, Lois. More than a friend./
/Yes. And you know it. You've always known it. Stop lying to yourself./
/Okay…maybe more than a friend…/ she conceded reluctantly and, as her inner self quirked a knowing brow at her, /Okay, okay — so he's more than a friend. What do you want me to do about it?/
/Tell — ? Oh no, I couldn't — /
What was it she had said to Perry earlier that day? So long ago now it seemed — like another eternity. A time when there had been no Clark in her life to make it good, when she had been so alone she had wanted to die from the empty longing for him that bound up her heart. She had barely been aware of what she was saying — or doing — at all, grief a shroud that turned the world faint and dark.
/He died without ever knowing. I never told him./
But she had meant as a friend. Hadn't she? She had meant she'd never told him how much she valued him as…
Her inner self wasn't buying it. And neither was she, she realized, defeated. No, that hadn't been what she'd meant at all. She guessed she'd always known that. She'd always known what Clark was to her and how far from friendship things had gone between them.
It had just been that there had always been time. Time not to acknowledge that aspect of their relationship. Time to let herself get used to the ideas that formed in her head when she found herself idly watching her partner as he worked or spent time with him away from the Planet. Time before she would be forced to confront her feelings for him. Plenty of time. Always another day. Another tomorrow. There had been no need to push things. No need to hurry things along. Never any thought in her that perhaps time was something precious, something fragile. Something that could vanish on you in an instant, leaving you bereft and your days full of regrets for having wasted it.
And hadn't she sworn then that if by some miracle he found his way back to her, if the impossible could happen and she could be granted the chances she'd missed to tell him exactly what he meant to her, how she felt about him…that she would tell him? That she would let him know? And never again risk the misery of knowing she had lost a chance she could have taken? Never again waste the time that was gifted to them?
/Yes, but — /
But what? She hadn't really meant it? It had just been one of those promises you cried out in the dark, knowing it had no hope of being called on, that there was no hope you would ever have to follow it through? No chance of the wish ever being granted?
/No, but…well…yes, actually./ She guessed.
/But she had promised though. Hadn't she? She had *said* she would. If Clark came back…/
And didn't Lois Lane pride herself on never making the same mistake twice?
She flicked a nervous glance sideways. Then she drew in a small breath.
"Clark, when I thought you were gone…I did some thinking about my life. You know…what it would be like without you in it." /Great start, Lois,/ she thought irritably. A small, self-conscious laugh forced itself out of her. "I know what you're thinking, 'Gee, Lois, how self-centered can you be' but…" She sobered, flicking an uneasy look at him and then quickly away. "Just…hear me out. I know our relationship has always been…difficult…but when I thought about how much I missed you, how much I was going to miss you for the rest of my life…well I started to think…maybe…there's more to our relationship than just friendship…"
Saying it all out loud simply crystallized what she'd already come to understand. She felt awe stirring in her and wonder…wonder that she could in fact find love, could love someone, when she had almost given up hope. Wasn't that the most amazing thing? Wasn't that just — ?
Clark opened his eyes, drowsy and thickheaded, and looked around himself muzzily. Had he actually dozed off for a moment there? They were parked in front of Lois' apartment. He looked across at his partner as she turned off the ignition and put the Jeep firmly into park. "I'm sorry. Did you say something?" He seemed to hear the echo of her voice in his head.
She stared at him. And in her eyes he saw the glimmer of something elusive, yet so powerful he blinked as though he'd been struck in the chest by a bolt of lightning. Was she mad? He frowned. Why would she be mad? More importantly, why would she be mad at *him*?
That question was abruptly answered as Lois leaned forward in one sharp, angry motion and grabbed hold of his shirt in tight fists. Clark was so startled that he allowed her to yank him up close by that grip until their faces were almost nose to nose.
"Yes, I said *something*!" she growled. "I said a whole lot of things! And you…you…You. Fell. Asleep. On. Me." Her fists pushed hard against his chest before she abruptly loosed her hold on him and slumped back into her seat. "I was talking," she said in a voice that was steadier, but only because it was dulled and leeched of all emotion. "You fell asleep and I was talking."
"Oh." Clark ran a sheepish hand through his hair. "Sorry, " he offered, still a little bemused by the strength of her reaction. Jerked fully awake now, he looked across at her, concerned. In the dim light of the street lamps that illuminated the Jeep's cabin her face was pale and drawn…and glistening? Had she been crying? Suddenly he realized that what had seemed like anger had been more than that. Frustration, despair and…desperation?
"Lois, what's wrong?" He put out an impulsive hand, cupping her cheek, and was surprised when she jerked her head to one side, avoiding the touch.
"No!" she snapped.
"No?" he said, confused.
"You're not going to do that to me, Clark Kent."
"Do what?" He sat up straighter, feeling a small spark of annoyance now. He had no idea what it was she was accusing him of, but there definitely had *been* an accusation somewhere in there.
"Distracting me out of being annoyed with you. Not this time. Uh-uh," she flounced back in her seat, glaring at him as though he'd tried to…to…hog-tie and gag her, Clark thought, exasperated.
"Lois, I'm not trying to…" He sighed inwardly. "I'm just trying to understand why you're upset."
Lois gave him the look. Clark knew that look. What male didn't? It was the one that said he ought to *know* why she was upset and if he didn't he was a complete idiot and there was little point in *her* trying to explain it any. Clark's lips tightened. Okay, if that was how she wanted to play it…
He was aware that he was being just as pig-headed-stubborn and childish as she was, but he was tired — exhausted — both emotionally and physically, by the events of the past hours and he just couldn't work up the energy to be accommodating. He didn't understand what this was all about and he was simply too weary to track it down out of the minefield of illogic and inconsistency that was Lois in a snit. Not this time.
He looked away from her, refusing to give her the satisfaction of pleading for an explanation, and stared out of the window. "Why are we at your place?" he asked after a moment, as this fact belatedly registered. He turned his head to view her again. "Thought you were taking me home first?"
Lois' lips pursed, as though she was debating whether to enlighten him to the blatantly obvious or just let him stew. Finally she said through clenched teeth, "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Just fall asleep on me, ignore everything I just said, every single *thing* I just said, just get out of my car and go on home and…forget about every last bit of it! Well, tough, buster," she snapped, forestalling his bewildered denial as he opened his mouth to deliver it. "We're going to *talk*. Whether you like it or not. We're going to talk here and we're going to talk now."
"Okay…" Clark said slowly, watching her warily. "Does talk mean you yell, I listen? Or does it mean we engage in a sensible, civilized discussion? Hey, just trying to work out the ground rules in advance," he told her innocently as her eyes narrowed on him. "All right…" he invited as she refused to answer what had, after all, been a rhetorical question. "So go ahead. Talk."
His sudden capitulation and willingness to oblige seemed to stymie her. Suddenly, unheard of, she seemed lost for a way to begin. Clark didn't help her out any. He sat back in his seat and folded his arms, fixing her with a coolly inquiring stare and a half-lifted eyebrow that invited her to set the ball rolling.
Lois looked away. She seemed nervous all at once, fidgeting restlessly as she stared at the dashboard before her. She put out a hand and ran it down the side of the steering wheel, fiddled with the indicator lever, and sighed.
Clark frowned. He tilted his head, trying to better judge her expression, his earlier anger dissipating. Whatever was on her mind, it was hurting. That much was obvious. He dropped his arms, relaxing from his stiffly held, entrenched position of a moment earlier and hesitatingly reached out to lay a hand against her shoulder. "Lois?" he asked softly. "Why don't you just tell me what's wrong?"
He ignored the way she tensed up beneath his touch. She shook her head, not looking at him and then a soft, hitched breath escaped from her — something that could almost have been a disbelieving snort of laughter or a smothered sob. Or neither. She lifted her head to look at him and he almost flinched at what he saw in her eyes. Something difficult to put a name to. Shame? Guilt?
"I thought I wanted you to know, I really did," she whispered and there was no doubt now that she was crying. Tears made silver tracks across her cheeks in the dim light from outside. "I was so mad, but now…all of a sudden I'm beginning to wonder if I wasn't relieved you fell asleep on me and never heard." A harsh sound caught in her throat and she shrugged clear of his soft touch on her shoulder, huddling up against the door of the Jeep, pulling her gaze away from his again.
"How's that for the ultimate irony? If I'd just kept on driving, took you home, never said anything, watched you walk away…" She closed her eyes, breathing ragged.
"Know what?" She didn't answer, her only response a motion of her head that was so slight as to be almost easily missed. Clark's expression softened. "Lois, you can tell me anything. Anything at all. You ought to know that by now."
She shook her head again, the motion more violent this time. "No…you don't understand…"
He couldn't argue with that. He didn't understand any of it. "Then why?" He tried another angle. "Why can't you?"
"Because…" He saw her swallow hard. "Because…I'm afraid…"
That had been so low he'd had to strain to catch it. Surprise snagged in his chest. Afraid? Lois? His partner? Mad Dog?
"Afraid? Of what? Of…who? Lois, you can't be afraid of *me*…" That emerged on a hint of laughter; the notion was ridiculous to him, so ridiculous he was almost sure she'd laugh at him for voicing the thought, but it faded as she didn't respond. "Lois? You aren't — "
"No…" She turned to face him, perhaps hearing something fearful in his voice that stung her into reassurance. "No, not of you, Clark." Her hands caught at his, her fingers wrapping around his own and squeezing tight.
Clark held on to that grip cautiously. He wasn't even certain that she was fully aware she'd made the move and he didn't want to spook her into letting go. Her fingers were warm and soft in his, and they quivered within the enclosure of his hands, like terrified birds poised for flight.
"I…don't know. Of me, perhaps. Of…what I feel…of…dammit, I don't want to feel this way!" she blurted out suddenly, taking him by surprise with the storm of emotion beneath the words. "I don't!" She yanked her fingers clear and struck her fist against the steering wheel. "I don't want to feel like there's something more in you than I ever thought there was! Something beyond partners! Or friends!" She was sobbing wildly now and Clark reached for her, but she squirmed out of his tentative hands. "I don't want to feel like I could…like you…more than that…I don't! It's not fair! Why did this have to happen? Why now? I don't want to…f-feel…I don't want to…oh, god, I don't want to lose you, Clark! I don't want to lose you ever again!"
And then, in complete reversal of her earlier rejection of his attempt to comfort her, she threw herself against his chest. His arms went around her, instinct guiding him, as she huddled close, blindly seeking solace in his embrace, her sobs overwhelming her.
"I thought you were dead…" she whispered brokenly against the softness of his shirt. "I thought you were dead…"
And for that he had nothing to offer at all. His embrace tightened fractionally, his head lowering until his cheek rested against her hair.
"It's okay, Lois. Everything's going to be okay. I'm here…I'm not leaving you…I won't leave you ever again," he whispered, and he understood that it was a reassurance and a vow as much for himself as for her. How could he have done this to her? Reduced her to this? Guilt heated his heart as he soothed the weeping woman in his arms. There were many things he'd done in his life that were the cause of remorse and regret…too many…but for the rest of his life he would never forgive himself for this. He would never forgive himself for what he'd done to her. No matter how unwitting. For the pain he'd put her through, the hurt and anguish he'd seen buried deep among the tears in her eyes.
He shook his head and pulled her tighter into his arms, soothing her with a meaningless croon against her ear.
He hadn't expected it. Oh, he'd known she would be grieving, in pain, at the loss of a partner and friend, but he had never expected the wild storm of grief that he found in her now. The pain of a woman who'd lost half her soul, everything that mattered in the world to her.
Reflexively, he gathered her closer still, closing his eyes as he felt the warm softness of her body relax into his embrace. He sighed out a small breath, a susurration of regret and for a time there was nothing but the sound of her weeping against his shoulder as he offered what succor he could.
The change happened so suddenly it took him by complete surprise. He was unguarded against its unexpected intrusion. His intentions had been pure, his desire only to comfort when he'd taken her into his arms. But he was suddenly aware, with a flash of shock, that beneath the remorse, his guilt, he was also, almost painfully, aroused. She felt so good. Like this, in his arms. Where he'd so often imagined her in restless nights and passion-soaked dreams. Where he'd longed for her to be. The softness of her body burrowed tight against him as she clung to the solace he provided, the heat of her breath against his neck…beat in his blood and in his heart like a call to battle. And he was suddenly aware too that she was almost naked beneath that jacket she was wearing. The fact that it was several sizes larger than she needed it to be seemed simply to make her body seem more fragile than usual, more of a mystery he had become desperate to explore.
Lois appeared to have become aware of the changes in him too. Her tears had worn their course in her, the storm of weeping dying, and now she lifted her head, her eyes dark and wide and glowing like gems as she stared into his. Clark felt mortification tint his cheeks in rose and then Lois sighed out his name and her lips melded with his.
Time was lost, the world ended in a rush of fire and heat and there was nothing but her. Only her. Her body clasped tight to his as his hold on her tightened, the rough sound of her heart as it leapt to meet the charge of his, and the moist sweetness of wine that was her lips on his own…
"Yes…" he heard her breathe against his cheek. "…it's you. I'm afraid of you, Clark…of you…of what you do to me…how you make me feel…I'm so afraid…of this…" She kissed him again, deeply, more with anguish than desire, like a woman clinging to hope when hope is gone, and there was the taste of salt in among the sweet now. He pulled away, feeling feverish and dizzied, and took gentle hold of her throat in both hands, thumbs caressing the lines of her jaw as he set his eyes on hers. Her lips, swollen by passion, trembled. "I'm afraid of losing this…of losing you…I couldn't bear it…not again…"
She shifted, settling herself against him, her intent clear and holding nothing of the previous need to find solace that had prompted her to seek his embrace before. There was fire in her eyes, not tears. Her body trembled against his own as she kissed him fiercely, with heated abandon.
Clark surrendered to the desire that swept over him like a furious tide. But…it wasn't real. This wasn't real. Neither of them was being driven by true passion…or love…this was animal and primitive…the need to reach out and make contact with something that had been thought lost and gone for good…for someone who had…
He jerked back abruptly, tearing his lips from hers and refusing to yield to the temptation of the soft confusion and lingering heat he found in her eyes as they stuttered open to fix dazedly on his own.
"Clark…?" she whispered, tremulous, and he closed his eyes against the hurt he heard in her voice, the knowledge of his rejection…
He shook his head and opened them again as he pushed a trembling hand through the thick, soft mass of her hair and laid his palm against her cheek. His thumb caressed a gentle path across the line of one sharply defined cheekbone.
"Lois, you don't want this." He sighed heavily. His gaze dropped for a fraction of an instant to the full, inviting pout of her lips, reddened and moist from the passion of a moment before, then stuttered back to her bewildered eyes…safer ground. *I* don't want this."
Clark paused. "Okay, I lied. I do want this. But *you* don't, Lois. We both know you don't. You don't feel this way about me. You're just…vulnerable, confused. Upset. I can't take advantage of that, Lois. Not when I know that tomorrow…maybe sooner…you'll regret this."
"Yesterday…maybe later…I'd have regretted this. But not now. Not now, Clark. Seeing you…" Fresh tears clogged in her throat before she struggled on, "…seeing you die…right there in front of me…"
Clark made a small, inarticulate sound and tugged her back into the protective circle of his arms, shutting off the words. "Ssshhhh. It's okay now. I'm here. I'm here, Lois…"
They rocked together for a time as her weeping died to a few, faintly embarrassed snuffles. He eased up on his embrace, sensing her withdrawal from the comfort he offered, her need to reassert control.
"Lois," he said gently. "I'd rather we didn't do anything until we're both a little more clear-headed. It's been a rough couple of days. For both of us. We need time to think about — "
Lois sniffed and pulled herself straight, drawing the back of her fingers across her cheek as she smiled at him, a little tremulously. "Oh, phooey, Clark," she choked out. "Who in their right mind is clear-headed when they make love?" Her eyes darkened, her face growing solemn as that moment of false bravado was lost. "Making love isn't about being clear- headed," she added softly. "It's about sensation. Emotion. Feelings. It's not about thinking."
Clark stared at her helplessly. Now that the words were out, he couldn't pretend any more that they had simply been offering each other the comfort of friends, clinging together in the shared need of the aftermath of grief and attempting to express the relief of death thwarted in their embrace. It had always been more than that with them. It always would be. But hearing her say it aloud…hearing her whisper what he'd dreamt of so many times, so many nights, the fantasies of his daydreams and the silken promises of twilight sleep…overwhelmed him.
Had she meant it…had she meant more than this, more than just the physical release of solace, he could have believed it was right. But she didn't…she couldn't…perhaps she never would. She had made her feelings about him clear. They were friends. And never would be more than that for her.
He had said he'd lied. That he did want this. But that hadn't been the lie at all, he realized. The lie had been in pretending he did. He *didn't* want this. Not like this. Not this way. When she came to him, he wanted all of her. Heart and soul. The body, the physical coupling wasn't enough. It would never be enough. Not for him.
Not for her either. Despite her protestations, she would regret this. Sooner than she imagined.
No…he couldn't do this to her. He had to protect her from this. From herself. This wasn't real. What she was feeling wasn't real. It was just like…like that perfume that had infected the Planet. That had turned them all into lovesick, slack-jawed idiots. Except for him, of course. For a moment he felt a familiar pang of regret that had often afflicted him since that day. It might have been nice — just once — he thought, half-wistfully, to be as vulnerable to his emotions as anyone else was. To be drunk with it, surrender to it, to have it beat in his blood and claw at his heart and be unable to think for the red mist of it shrouding his mind. Temptation without consequences. At least to a guilty heart.
He hadn't given into temptation before, not even when Lois had thrown everything she had — and she'd had a lot — at him. A clear picture of her dancing wickedly in his living room snuck into his head. The way that soft, translucent chiffon had molded itself to a voluptuous, curvaceous body. The way the sway of her hips made those gold medallions shimmer and chime, drawing the eyes to the full, enticing breasts, sheathed in a neckline that plunged low enough to leave little to the imagination.
Clark frowned. This wasn't getting him anywhere. Or, at least, it wasn't getting him where he should be heading. He shook his head, dismissing the following wistful thought which commented that where he had been right then, with shimmering gold and blue whirling around pale-hued, silken limbs, was much better than anywhere else he intended to go.
"Lois, don't do this to yourself. You thought I was dead. You thought you'd lost me. Now, you just want to prove that I'm real. Here…" He reached out and took hold of her hand pulling it up to lay against his cheek, covering the chilled fingers with his own and letting the heat from his skin register through her touch. "I'm real, Lois. You don't have to prove it beyond this."
/She said she loved you…/
Clark winced at the small, tentative voice that spoke up in his head. Hadn't she almost said she did? Back there? Wasn't that what she'd been saying? If she loved him…?
He cut off the blossoming hope, crushing it viciously. No. If she had, if that had been what she meant, it was only another manifestation of her recent grief, of her need to show him she cared, to make him understand how much his 'death' had devastated her. Something more to prove. There hadn't been love in the fierce press of her lips against his, or in the way she'd clung to him, the way she'd pressed her body tight and provocative against his own. There had been anguish…desperation…nothing more. He hardened himself against believing otherwise. He knew it could destroy them utterly if he gave in to even the slightest hope that it might have been more. If he let his fantasies and his wishes convince him to ignore the truth.
Lois regarded him steadily in the faint illumination within the Jeep. Then she took back her hand and settled back on her heels on the seat beneath her.
Relieved that she'd listened, seen sense, Clark turned to open the door.
Lois swallowed over the rough pounding of her heart in her ears as she watched him turn away. "Clark…" she whispered.
He turned back.
"I think I should give you your jacket back."
Clark's mouth dropped open as he watched her pull at the belt wrapping the jacket tight around her. His hand darted out, settling on hers and forcing her fingers to a halt.
"Lois, no…" he said softly. "Please…don't. Don't do this." The words sounded as though they'd been dragged up out of him, cracking in his throat. He sounded like a man torn in two, the dark, husky timbre in his tone reflecting the conflict in him. She suspected that he was a man currently cursing the speed of his reflexes. A man inches away from succumbing to the desire racing within him like a heated primordial tide. The thought, which normally might have given her a spark of satisfaction, of primal triumph in her power over him, produced only a faint guilt and sadness.
His eyes were tormented, drowning pools in which that desire was reflected strongly enough to send an answering shiver of anticipation skittering down her spine like the touch of warm, questing fingers.
She looked up at him, feeling the touch of his heart upon hers, and that touch drove back the numb fear that had been running in her like a dismal storm for so long. Anything was better than that. Even the humiliation of knowing he was right, even knowing how wrong this was. She couldn't help but take it. "If you don't want me to take this off here, Clark, then maybe we need to go somewhere a little more…private."
His eyes reproached her for the blatant manipulation and she wavered, dissolved, hating the desperation that broke in her voice as her painful bravado crumbled and, stripped bare before him, she whispered, "Please…Please, Clark…I need you…I *need* this…"
His gaze shifted, dropping momentarily to where the jacket had begun to come apart and reveal her to him. Lois held her breath. He moved his hands from her fingers, saying nothing. They brushed against the edges of the jacket, taking hold of the lapels. Lois closed her eyes, trying to quell the sharp disappointment welling up in her. The perverse sense of disillusionment that he had given in so easily, that he was just like all the rest, content to slake his own needs over hers, willing to let his base desires override his doubts. Just like any other man.
She had expected more from him, she realized in that last second, when it was too late. Even if she had been the instigator here, even if she couldn't expect him to understand the conflicts of grief and pain and the need to form a connection with something she had feared lost, that had seemed gone forever, that were festering black and hurting in her soul…
And then she frowned as she felt him tug the jacket firmly to a close and drop his hands to pull the belt around her waist tight again, withdrawing abruptly when she was decent again. Her eyes stuttered open as she heard a distinctive click. Cool air caressed her neck and face. Clark was gone. He'd left the car, left her there — and he was…gone.
Tears welled up in her. Tinged immediately with shame. What had she been thinking? She lowered her head, putting a trembling hand over her face. She wouldn't have…she'd just intended to…show him what he was turning down, try to persuade him, of course she never would have taken the jacket off, but…even so…no wonder he'd left her there.
Lois ducked her head, feeling the hot tears overflow and scald her cheeks as humiliation burned her at his rejection. How could she have so misjudged the situation? She wasn't given to throwing herself so blatantly at men, but Clark…he had wanted her, she thought, forgetting her disappointment of a moment earlier as wounded pride fired in her. She knew he had! It had been in those eyes that had caressed her body, hot and dark as they'd roamed her. And in the heat of his lips on hers…
Well, of course he wanted her! What man wouldn't want something offered so shamelessly? That didn't mean that he cared about her, it was just plain, unadulterated…
She started as a frigid blast of air suddenly grazed her bare skin where the door beside her had been wrenched violently open. Rough hands grabbed at her arms, yanking her out to stand on the pavement and then she was being pushed up against the side of the Jeep and quite thoroughly kissed by her partner.
His lips forced hers apart, his tongue entering into the slick, hot cavern of her mouth and exploring there in a frenzy. His hands loosened their grip, slid up along her shoulders and up to frame her face in large, protective palms as he deepened the caress.
"Clark…" she blurted dizzily and he frowned, placing his fingers against her lips.
"I don't want to talk," he growled an admonishment and then he replaced his fingers with his mouth and swept away her voice, her thoughts, all self will she possessed. She molded her body pliantly against his strong, masculine curves as she moaned softly, the sound drawn up deeply from the back of her throat. She heard an answering groan from him.
"I think," he breathed against her cheek, his eyes holding hers intently, "we need to continue this…conversation…" His lips briefly took and plundered hers, making it abundantly clear just what kind of conversation was on his mind and she was giddy when he pulled clear again to finish, "…upstairs."
"Now," Clark said hoarsely.
Lois nodded mutely, eyes lost and wide.
Clark never did figure out how they made it to her apartment. The short journey was a blur of breathy sighs and frantic kisses… He had a vague memory of them stumbling, entwined, into the elevator, almost falling, of Lois frantically trying to reach the panel over his shoulder as he lost himself in exploring the length of her throat, soft and inviting, with hotly feverish lips. He guessed she must have hit the right button eventually, but he had the distant idea that it had taken her a lot of flailing around and three or four botched attempts before she'd got there.
Somehow, they had made it. He had heard the slam of the door faintly through the blood roaring in his ears, feeling bereft at her brief loss from his arms. It was only the familiar collection of scents that identified his location as her apartment, dimly in his head. Then she was pulling him back against her and her body was soft…so blissfully, wonderfully soft…against his own as he renewed his caresses of her ear and neck. Her skin was smooth and…unusually sweet. A distinct and strangely over- sweet taste but not entirely unpleasant…and it reminded him of something…of…? Frosting. Ah, yes…he remembered. Mentally he shrugged and intensified his attentions as she sighed against his ear in appreciation of his touch.
He pressed her up tight against the closed door. She giggled…a sound that send a thrill skittering down his spine…and then wrapped herself more tightly around him, her left thigh hitching up to cradle his hip as her foot glided in a sensuous, tantalizing, path, back and forth, across his shin. The motion brought their bodies together in ways that tantalized his senses and he groaned into the soft hollow of her throat, feeling that touch shiver through him. She felt it too, he could tell. She was trembling in his arms, her sighs of pleasure sharp and urgent in his ear as she twisted her fingers into his hair and forced his head from her shoulder and up to where she could savage his lips with her own…
Rational thought was gone. There was only sensation. And need. The need, burning hot as a roaring flame within him, to block out the pain of the last few hours, to lose everything in her. The simple need to touch…to feel…to connect…to reassure himself that nothing he cared about had been lost with his 'death'.
He only realized they had moved from the door and further into the apartment — on a route to who knew where — when the backs of his knees collided sharply and unexpectedly with something. The coffee table, his mind identified distantly, as he overbalanced, dragging his oblivious partner with him. He landed on his back, sprawled on the sofa an instant later, Lois' soft and supple and enticing weight atop him. She didn't even break her frantic explorations of his face and throat, apparently barely registering the change in venue, and the moment of clarity dissolved in him immediately in response, losing him in the moist heat of her breath against his skin and the intoxicating sensations she was building within him.
His hands found their way to resting on her waist and tightened their grip to tug her forward and up to where he could claim her mouth and she could straddle him more comfortably. Her hands cupped at the sides of his throat, thumbs playing restlessly and provocatively with the lobes of his ears, before she slid them further into his hair. There, they tightened into fists and her sharp, excited whimpers as she bit gently into his lower lip and tugged at it seductively thrilled him.
The flesh beneath his hands was warm. He moved them higher, exploring the taut muscles of her back and running soft, circular patterns against the length of her spine, beneath the jacket…and for a time the world was lost in the heat and the web of desire spun around them…
The shrill, intrusive shriek of the telephone broke into the heated murmurs and silken whispers of their bodies moving frantically.
"Lois…" he murmured a question as she didn't falter in her single-minded exploration of his body. Her fingers were sending white hot flashes through him as they stroked teasing, featherlight touches across his thigh. He heard himself moan and then he raised himself to where he could press his lips to the soft patch of skin in the hollow of her throat, his hand tightening on her, pulling her closer against his chest.
"Leave it…just…oh, Clark…Clark…leave it. They'll go…away…"
He didn't need encouragement to obey, her whimpers of pleasure stirring him to greater effort. He tried to ignore the insistent burring close by, dimly aware that his hands were tugging awkwardly at the belt around her waist, trying to free more of her to his touch. He sighed out in relief as the faint click of the answering machine cut in, abruptly stilling the irritating, distracting buzz in his ears.
"Lois? Lois, I know you're there! I called that nice Mr. White, he told me you'd left half an hour ago. Pick up! Oh, my baby! My poor baby! I only just heard — why didn't you *call* me? I'm your mother! I have to read this in the newspaper?"
Lois froze as that shrill voice knifed into the air of the room like an alarm bell. Clark felt her go still against him, dimly, as he took a moment to catch up, pulling himself back from the brink, free of the enchantment she'd woven around him, where he'd been lost in the heat of her scent and the warm comfort of her body. He lifted his head from where it was buried against her skin and found her face. It was pale and tight and still as a waxen mask.
"— and I know it's not right to speak ill of the dead, but, honestly, Lois, the man sounds like a walking menace! Ever since he started at that newspaper of yours it's been nothing but near death and disaster on a daily basis! You never used to get into trouble so easily. He was a bad influence. Now, I know you won't agree with me right now, but you mark my words, you'll be so much better off without him dragging you into danger all over the place — "
Lois twisted so abruptly out of his hands that Clark thought the anger blazing suddenly in her eyes was partly directed at him. Instinctively, he raised a hand in a warding gesture and then with a lithe movement that reminded him sharply and disappointingly of what they'd been doing a moment before and he could wish they were still engaged in, she squirmed off him and scrambled to her feet.
"— know why you ever gave him the time of day — "
Clark sighed and then pulled himself up to sit. He watched her charge over to the phone, cheeks showing red stripes of heat as she jerked it from its cradle.
"Mother, that's enough!"
Clark winced at the sharp, brittle tone in her voice. Embarrassed, he pushed a hand through his hair and then began to busy himself awkwardly with carefully tidying up the aftermath of their shared passion as he tried not to listen to Lois berate her mother in that frigid tone that he could never imagine using with his own Mom. He tucked his shirt back into his pants where it had come loose at the back and straightened his tie before running a smoothing hand through his disordered hair.
It was strange how much Ellen Lane had invaded the room. She was a tangible presence, disapproving and stifling, and he knew that inevitably the mood had been lost in the instant her voice had interrupted them…when they were…when Lois had been…
He sighed, disappointment twisting itself sharply into his belly. For a brief moment, he felt as much irritation for a woman he barely knew as Lois obviously did.
Lois was watching him as she dropped into a style of communication he'd heard more than once back at the Planet. It consisted of one-syllable words that barely indicated she was staying in touch with the conversation. Conversation? Try one-sided diatribe. He tried not to eavesdrop on the other end of the line but Ellen Lane's voice could etch metal at times, especially when she was riled, and boy was she riled now. He could almost catch one word out of three from the other side of the room without benefit of his enhanced hearing at all. Lois didn't seem to be listening, having switched onto automatic pilot long since.
He caught Lois' eyes and got to his feet with a vague, 'I'll let myself out' gesture towards the door. It was best he leave now. Before things took an even more embarrassing turn. Frustrated lust still roiled deep within his belly. He had no desire to indulge in a miserable 'what went wrong?' point by point analysis of how they had ended up here, on his partner's sofa, making out like two horny teens at the Prom.
He winced, knowing the analogy was unfair, aware he was being deliberately harsh on himself — on them both — in an attempt to make himself angry. Self-castigation had always been an effective method of dousing the sputtering flame of unwise desire. While he was hardly going to go home and flay himself raw with hawthorn branches like the monks of old for those impure thoughts — and more impure actions — a few hard words wouldn't go amiss in reminding himself how close he'd come to taking advantage of his partner in the basest of ways. When she was at her most vulnerable. When she had needed him to be stronger than this, strong for her, when she couldn't be. When she'd needed him most.
He had almost made the door when he heard Lois hastily bring the conversation to a close with a hurried, "I'll talk to you later, Mother — I have to go. Yes, now! 'bye! You're leaving?" she added breathlessly as she slammed the phone back into its cradle, her tone switching abruptly with the motion from impatient belligerence to an almost desperate plea.
Clark turned around, realizing that last had been directed at him. He shrugged. "I guess, maybe it's for the best, Lois, I mean — "
"No, you can't! I…" She shook her head and he could see it in her eyes — a stark mirror he was sure of his own thoughts. That shocked, disorientated 'My god, what was I thinking? Did I really…? How could I have…?' expression that would soon tip over into shame and guilt. He didn't want to be there to see it. To know that she regretted losing herself in an awkward moment with him was enough punishment. He didn't want to see that look in her eyes. Not when she was looking at him.
"Lois, I really think…"
"Clark, please." She flushed, perhaps hearing the echo of earlier pleas made in the heat of passion, as he did, and then stumbled onwards, "Please stay. Just a little longer? I don't mean…I mean just stay. Not…we won't do…anything…that is…" She gave up, at a loss, cheeks heated by twin spots of pink.
He hesitated, torn against commonsense by what was in her eyes. He never could resist her when she looked at him that way, never could deny her…despite the roaring in his ears that told him leaving now was the only option, that to stay would be to risk compounding their indiscretion, risk even more awkwardness between them. He sighed and ran a distracted hand through his hair. He began to shake his head. Staying was a very bad idea.
He met her eyes again and they both knew what his answer was going to be. Lois visibly relaxed and only then did Clark realize just how tensely she'd been holding herself, waiting for his decision. It meant that much to her? He saw that it did. She was still recovering from the shocks of the last twenty-four hours, her emotions fragile. His death, his return to life…almost dying herself in that cement trap…all of it had taken its toll on emotions that had been left raw and flayed open by her ordeal. She needed careful…well, no, not handling, handling wasn't the word he was looking for or one that felt safe to use right then. She needed a friend. Yes, that was it. A friend. Not a lover. Not some one night stand to temporarily take away the hurt and the lingering pain of what he'd put her through. Guilt speared through him again and he swallowed against the sudden tightness in his throat.
/Just be her friend./
He could do that. He could always do that.
He dredged up a smile for her. She didn't respond. He didn't blame her. He could feel for himself how false it was, how it stretched at the taut skin of his face like a wound. He cleared his throat. His gaze skittered briefly towards the sofa, taking hers with it, and then darted away.
"Talking of dangerous situations…" he said lamely. An attempt to lighten the tension in the air between them that failed miserably.
Guilt touched her eyes and he cursed himself mentally. Dumb. Really dumb. What did you say that for? Idiot!
"Clark, I'm sorry, I thought it was what I…I should never have — "
"Lois, it's okay." He gave her another small smile as additional reassurance that he meant it. It didn't emerge any more sincere than its predecessor. "We're both…a little strung out. It's natural. Look." He glanced over his shoulder. When in doubt — coddle. "Why don't you just sit down, relax, and I'll go make us some coffee. We can…talk. That…that would be okay, wouldn't it?"
Lois nodded. "Well, the coffee part at least. I can handle that," she said, but she grimaced as she moved to comply. "Actually, I think I need a shower," she said. There were bits of her sticking together which shouldn't and crumbs of cake frosting in places she didn't want to think about. Among other things, which didn't bear mentioning.
She saw his face tighten, hurt flaring in his eyes and dismay, and made a small sound of denial. "No! No, not because of what we…you…it's not that, Clark!" She shook her head hurriedly and rushed to explain, "I'm covered in…" she hesitated at a loss as she waved a hand aimlessly to indicate herself. "Gook," she concluded with a sigh. "Pink gook no less. With blue bits in it. And," she added darkly, squirming just a little now, "I'm pretty sure there's one of those little tiny candles digging into my…uh, well…I'm a mess."
"Oh," he said, abashed. She watched him blush and then glanced down. The sight that greeted her filled her with such distress that she forgot about the momentary interlude. "And…oh, Clark…your jacket," she said miserably.
His gaze dropped with hers to study the jacket, which was pretty much beyond repair, with frosting smeared across the front and sleeves. "Don't worry about it," he said dismissively.
"But…I will get it cleaned…try to get it cleaned…or you can get it cleaned and send me the bill…and, oh…your sweater too! That'll be ruined!" she blurted out, despairing as she remembered the sodden, cement- encrusted bundle she'd abandoned in a heap in the Jeep earlier.
"Sweater?" he said, looking confused as he looked her over; obviously wondering where she was hiding it.
Lois flushed. "I…took it out of your closet," she confessed and, as he looked surprised, "I mean I didn't steal it or anything. You can't steal from a dea…" Her eyes widened a touch and she changed track hastily, "Well, anyway, I needed to…find some connection, you know? I needed to be close to you when you were…gone. So, when I was finished at the precinct, after I've given the police my statement, I…went to your apartment. I couldn't bear to come back here…be alone…"
She halted, obviously embarrassed at her weakness in needing that comfort. And something more. A dark pain that spread itself across her eyes as memories too sharp and painful to bear, even now, were resurrected by her words.
"Lois…" Clark put a hand to her arm, seeing how difficult this was for her to relate. She started, emerging from where she'd been lost for a moment within that darkness, then shook her head.
"No…really…it's okay." She pulled in a small breath. "Anyway, I found the sweater in your closet and I needed to…I don't know why I put it on. I just did." That last came out sounding a little defiant. Clark smiled faintly.
"If it helped you, I don't mind," he said, feeling his throat close up around the tenderness that what she'd told him had produced within him. And then, tone changing to something a little less gentle and slightly more…worried, "My closet? You were in my closet? Uh…Lois? You didn't…find anything else in my apartment while you were — "
"Snooping around?" She smiled as he began to protest that automatically. "No. Just the sweater. I didn't stay there long. It got…way too intense after that. Why?" Her expression suddenly turned intent and professionally curious, losing its diffidence. "What have you got that you don't want me to find?"
"Nothing! Nothing," he reiterated in a slightly less strangled tone as she raised a brow at him. "Just…you know…things. Private things. Everyone has something they want kept from the world, Lois," he added the admonishment.
She grunted. Then, grudgingly, conceded, "Hmmmmm. I guess." She didn't look entirely convinced though and he almost smiled at her obvious disbelief and disapproval that he might be keeping secrets from her. This from one of the most secretive people he knew, who guarded their privacy with barbed wire fencing, steady and constant guard patrols, a roving spotlight, and a pack of rabid Dobermans. She was something else.
Of course, she was right though, he thought, the momentary amusement dying abruptly to be replaced with the familiar guilt that such talk usually provoked within him. Most especially when it was Lois who was blundering blindly into such talk, with no idea of how close to the mark she truly was. Blind because he kept her blind. And every time that he did a small piece of his soul shriveled. At first it had been a necessity. Later it had still seemed necessary — more, he told himself to avoid hurting her than to protect his secret. To avoid losing her, the more honest part of himself corrected, and he accepted the admonition with an inner sigh. He couldn't deny it. None of his motivations were pure when it came to Lois. All of it was selfish. He was afraid of losing her if he told her the truth. Afraid when she found out she would never forgive him.
His eyes rested on her, some of that fear, that had lived in him like a growling beast, imprisoned but ready to get loose at any moment, rattling its chains in the darkness of his heart, pounding like a drumbeat of terror in his heart. And living, he was sure, in his eyes, naked to be found there if she only looked.
She *wasn't* looking at him, he discovered with a confused mixture of disappointment and relief. She was intent for a moment on vainly trying to brush some of the worst of the frosting from the sleeve of his jacket. He wanted to reach out and put his hand over hers, to stop her in her tracks. He wanted to open his mouth and tell her what she needed to know. Tell her everything. Tell her…
He sighed softly.
Lois lifted her head, looking chagrined. "Sorry," she said, obviously misinterpreting the sigh for impatience. She left off her futile ministrations and shrugged. "Anyway, I…I left. But I was still wearing the sweater when Capone shoved me in that cement pit and, oh, Clark, I'm sorry…I…I ruined it. I ruined everything!" she wailed abruptly and he knew that suddenly the sweater wasn't what was on her mind.
"No, you didn't. Honestly, you didn't," he insisted as she looked up at him, dumb with misery. Their eyes locked and the moment stretched, hung between them for an instant — seeming to last much longer — full of traps and snares for the unwary and he knew that he couldn't handle discussing what had happened earlier with her. Not now. Later. Yes, later. Perhaps when they were in their eighties and this entire day was a very dim and very distant memory. Maybe — just maybe — then. But…not right now.
"Come on…" He took charge, realizing that she could quickly let herself dissolve into maudlin self-pity if she was allowed to. He turned her around with a hand on her shoulder and in the second before he did he saw relief in her eyes. He guessed he wasn't the only one who was keen to put off that particular little heart to heart. "Forget it. It doesn't matter," he said, aware as he spoke of the duality of meaning in the words and hoping she heard that message too.
In truth he blamed himself, not her. She had hardly been aware of what she was doing and he'd taken advantage of that vulnerability. He owed a debt of gratitude to Ellen Lane. If she hadn't interrupted them…what ruins might his friendship with Lois be in right now?
He shuddered with the thought. She would have hated him. Blamed him. And she would have been right. He would have deserved her scorn. What kind of man was it — what kind of a friend — who took a longing for comfort and let his own lust take control, twisting that simple, human need into something base and abhorrent?
Lois was watching him anxiously. He worked up a faint smile for her. "Go on…scoot."
He pushed her gently in the direction she was aiming for with a hand laid flat against the small of her back and she went without protest. She glanced over her shoulder at him as she paused by the door to the bathroom and then she slipped through and was gone, the door easing its way to a close with a soft snick behind her.
Lois let the steaming heat of the water pour over her as she laid her head against the coolness of the tiles and closed her eyes. She wanted to cry. She wanted to weep until there was nothing left in her, until all of it was used up and leeched away. Poured down the drain and washed clean of her, like the gunk from her body and the frosting from her hair. Where she could forget it as though it had never existed.
She sighed bitterly.
It was all too much to deal with. Clark's dying on her like that. Abandoning her. Being dumb enough to get in the way of that bullet…and the dream-like resurrection that had returned him to her.
She straightened up abruptly, fear beating a sudden rough tattoo in her breast. She put out a quick, trembling hand, covering the showerhead to quell the water. She strained to listen, her body tight as a violin as the fear shook within her, desperate to know…
She heard the sound of Clark whistling to himself as he pottered around her kitchen and she closed her eyes, sagging back against the tiles. Tears leaked weakly from the corners of her eyes. Not a dream. He was there. He was real. She hadn't imagined it.
Relief sagged at her knees. She sank to the floor, hugging herself tight and giving in for a time to the rough sobs that tore through her as the water drummed against her back. Finally, weakened by the storm of misplaced grief, overwhelmed, drained, she simply laid her forehead to the bridge of her knees and rocked slowly, trying to gain control of her chaotic thoughts.
She didn't understand. It was all too confusing. How were you expected to cope with losing your best friend…the man you loved…one moment and being told it had never happened at all the next? It had happened to *her*. It had been *real* to her. She felt as though her life had suddenly been torn into two diverging tracks. The world in which Clark Kent no longer existed, where she went on without him, grieving and alone. And the world in which he was still there, in which she'd never lost him at all, in which she'd finally admitted to herself that he was everything in the world she needed or wanted.
The two didn't gell. She was dimly aware that she was still feeling the emotions associated with loss and bereavement. And the fact that they were apparently no longer required didn't seem to have fazed them any or made them any the less strong and hurtful. She had wept for Clark, she had hated him for leaving her, she had been enraged at those who had taken him from her…
…she had been set on the path to experiencing all of the clinically recognizable stages of bereavement. Fear, anger, abandonment, guilt…
…and then that healing process had been roughly snapped off prematurely, ripped apart, cut off short and…
…and now…now all she felt was weary and bewildered and…
She wanted so much to just give up. To let it all go. To let herself be accepted into his arms and have him hold her. Just that and nothing more. She felt herself grow hot as she remembered the lustful fumbling she had initiated…how could she have…? What must he think of her?
She climbed wearily to her feet, a small, wavering spark of anger driving her suddenly with the thought.
Well, he hadn't exactly been Mr. Circumspect himself, she reminded herself defiantly. It took two to tango and Clark seemed to know all the dance moves, just as well as she did. He hadn't exactly objected, had he? Well…not by much, anyway. Not…entirely. And you could stick that nonsense about men being slaves to their hormones and unable to rein themselves in when they were tempted by some…floozy who threw themselves at them. How it wasn't their fault and they couldn't be blamed for giving in to it and they couldn't resist just like any normal, sensible —
Floozy? She shook her head irritably, that wasn't what she meant at all, and then pushed it under the water and tilted it back, letting the soft heat stream over her face. Hot as the water was it cooled the heat of her skin, soothing the fierce blush that had blossomed there. She smoothed her hands through her hair and reached for the shampoo. Lathering fiercely, almost as though she was punishing herself with her harsh treatment, she frowned as she returned to her broken train of thought.
She didn't think Clark thought she was a…one of those. Did he? She was sure he didn't. And anyway…if she was…one of those…then so was he! A small giggle escaped her at the unlikely image that mutinous thought conjured in her head and then she schooled herself to grimly rinsing her hair and lathering it a second time, not prepared to be that easy on herself. Boy, that gunk really ground itself in. She might never get rid of it all. She made a bleah face and scrubbed harder.
Clark had been easy on her. Much easier than she deserved, she thought bleakly. Leading him on that way, encouraging him, pleading with him…then dropping him cold in the next moment. Most men would have…well, most men would have been less than pleased. And, sure, she knew that every woman had the right to change her mind — no matter how late in the day — but that didn't stop her behavior being deplorable…or unfair on him. She had known men who would have pouted and left in a rage of thwarted lust if she had pulled that trick on them.
But Clark… With Clark there had been no tantrums, no accusations that she was being a tease, playing games…no wheedling blandishments that if she really loved him like she said she did, she'd go all the way. There had only been concern. Tender concern for her. For what *she* wanted, what she needed…
How could she have almost let this man slip through her fingers without ever telling him how much she appreciated his kindness, his comfort, his support and his…
Lois grew still, hands frozen among the suds of lather in her hair. She lowered them slowly, her eyes fixed sightlessly on the shower curtain. Did Clark love her? Of course he *did* love her — she knew that — but did he love her as more than a friend? More than his partner? He had told her once that he did…but that had been nothing more than a ruse…hadn't it? Wasn't that what he'd told her? He'd taken it back. He'd said it had all been nothing more than a trick to stop her marrying…
Lois' eyes widened a touch.
Had be been…lying?
Because if he had, if he had meant it, if he truly did love her as much as she loved him…then what she'd just done to him out there was even more unforgivable. If offering herself to him had meant more to him than a night of simple passion, an act of affirmation, a celebration of life and the need to prove beyond doubt that he was real and alive…if it had meant much more than that, then she had treated him abominably.
His actions hadn't been those of a man seeking oblivion with a warm body, just for a few hours. A man trying to lose himself and find solace in a primal coupling with someone whom he didn't love. She had told herself that those were *her* motivations, her reasons for offering herself to him so shamelessly. The need to connect with him again, to put the chill of the grave that still lay between them to rest once and for all, to bury it amid the warmth of their bodies pressed together and the entwined beating of two hearts that raced with life and couldn't be stilled. Hadn't been stilled. Proof. She had needed proof. And what greater proof of life could there have been in the act of making love?
But it hadn't been that — or not solely that anyway. She had lied to herself and she had lied to him. She had been making love with the man she loved. The man she wanted to be with. The man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. If only he'd let her.
Had Clark felt that too? Had he been lying too?
The water splattered onto the tiles at her feet unheeded as she lost herself in the dismal knowledge that she had perhaps hurt Clark more than he deserved. More then she had ever intended. More than she had a right to.
And how was she going to make amends for that?
Clark was still in the kitchen when she approached him, somewhat diffidently. Rich smells hung heavily in the air, like a balm to the soul, she thought. They set her stomach to a low growling.
He paused in what he was doing — was he actually chopping up bacon? And was that hissing from the pan on the stove beside him…mushrooms? Amazing, the things you could find in the depths of her refrigerator if you looked, it seemed. She herself hadn't been in there in weeks. Who knew what lurked in there? — and looked around at her. She saw him take in her attire and shifted uneasily on the balls of her feet as she caught a flicker of something…strained…catch in his eyes momentarily before he smiled a greeting at her.
It had seemed a good idea at the time. She had very carefully chosen the cream cotton, loose-fitting pjs she was wearing, with a toweling robe thrown unbelted over them. She had tossed aside a dozen other combinations before deciding that the cute little cartoon kitten yawning mightily as it snuggled up to an overlarge pillow that the pyjama top sported was about as far removed from anything that could possibly in any way, shape or form be considered seductive as she could get.
She avoided Clark's gaze, turning her attention to rubbing studiously at her hair with the towel in her hands. It was a task that suddenly seemed worthy of an awful lot of attention. All of her attention in fact. It was important, making sure you got the ends of your hair dry when you came out of the shower. Very important.
Maybe the pjs *had* been a little touch of overkill, she thought miserably. They fairly screamed 'hands off'. The message was hardly subtle.
Well, she didn't *feel* subtle, she thought irritably. She felt miserable and awkward and…
She straightened, dropping the soggy towel onto the counter. "Well…cleaner." She caught the disappointment in his face at her refusal to give him a dishonest but more comforting, 'Just fine, thanks' and hastily craned her neck to see over his shoulder. "What you doing? Thought you were making coffee?"
"Yeah, well, I thought you might be hungry too, so…"
Lois was suddenly reminded that she hadn't eaten since…she frowned. Well, actually she couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten. "Leftovers?"
"Omelet," he corrected blandly. "This was all I could find," he added, with a touch of censure in his voice as he added a pinch of pepper to the pan.
"I didn't even know I had *that*, " Lois told him, unabashed by his disapproval of her nutritional habits. "I don't even remember *buying* that."
"You didn't. It was left over from that casserole I made us last Thursday. You remember? When we were working on the Kelman notes? I left them in there for you to use." He glanced at her with a 'didn't expect them still to be there' hint in his eyes.
Lois shrugged. "Who can find time to cook these days?" she said and then, "Other than boy scout partners. Anyway," she scowled at him before he could defend himself on that, "I can dial takeout just as easily from here as from your apartment. I thought *you* were going to take it easy?"
He shrugged. "I kind of like cooking. It is taking it easy. It's…comforting. Somehow."
"I'll take your word for it," Lois said. Cooking, and particularly cooking for others, had never given *her* anything but stress and stomach acid. Then, realizing how ungrateful she was sounding, she added somewhat more tentatively, "Thanks. It…looks delicious."
He looked pleased at the approval. "Go sit down. It'll take another few minutes. Make yourself comfortable; I'll be right there."
Make yourself comfortable. Yeah, right, she thought, bitterly. Maybe they were never going to be comfortable together again. Despite the easiness of his manner with her, she could see how tense the line of his shoulders was, how tight and strained the flesh was around his eyes. Sprinkling bacon into the sizzling pan beside him seemed to be occupying an awful amount of his attention.
Her own stomach was fluttering, jittery, and not with hunger. The air between them was charged with something more than tension, something strange and unpalatable.
Silence. The kind of awkward, brooding silence that plays on the nerves.
Lois opened her mouth, not at all sure what she was about to say, but needing to say something. Anything to break what cast its pall, like a ghost, on the air. Clark turned quickly towards the utensils drawer, tugging it sharply open and rooting within it.
It wasn't like he'd deliberately ignored her. Like he'd turned his back on her rather than face what she might say. It was just that he hadn't noticed she'd been about to speak. Right?
Right. His hands had stilled momentarily on the edges of the drawer. As she watched they clenched into fists and then they loosened again and he was pulling free a fork. She felt her throat tighten. Hating the dull unease that was settling in her belly like poison, she sighed, forbore to point out the perfectly good fork already lying on the counter, and took his advice, heading for the living room.
She grimaced as she settled herself into the sofa, several bruises from her earlier ordeal and the events of the evening making themselves known. But still, it wasn't all that was causing her discomfort. She glanced into the kitchen.
They had shared moments like this before. Often. Late nights, a mug of something soothing and warm after an intense session of story research or planning or simply one of their hanging out nights at her apartment or his. Talk having wound down into a companionable silence. No pressure, no awkward pauses: Just the warmth of good friends, sharing some downtime. Savoring the silence for what it was. The comfort of knowing they had no need to fill every gap in conversation with trivialities.
That wasn't what was happening now and she knew she was to blame for it. What should have been the same old, habitual silence between them as Clark pottered around her kitchen as though it was his own and she waited for whatever culinary treat he served up left her feeling…disturbed. Unsettled. Their relationship had been turned back more than a little by the events of the day. By what had happened between them only a short time before. She hadn't felt this uncomfortable around him for longer than she could remember. It hurt. It hurt deep and black inside her.
Maybe it would have been better if he had left like he'd wanted.
No. No, she didn't want him to leave. She knew it was needy and she hated herself for it. But she needed him with her. She needed to know that he was real and safe and alive and that he'd never abandon her that way again. Just for a few hours. Tomorrow…tomorrow she could go back to being Mz. Undefeatable. Mz. Totally In Control. Tomorrow would do for that. For now…she just wanted to be with Clark. She just wanted to be comforted.
She flushed. She guessed she had made that abundantly clear, she flayed herself, her memory providing some all too vividly mortifying images of all that writhing around on the sofa before her mother had mercifully interrupted them.
"Comfortable doesn't seem to apply to these sofas," she blurted out, desperate for something — anything — to break that stifling silence, knowing she couldn't bear to be alone with those thoughts any longer. She wriggled a little and frowned as she considered the offending item more closely. "They're very small…"
"So why'd you buy them?" Clark's voice came from the depths of a cupboard.
"Honestly?" Lois paused. "Because I was hardly ever home. They looked good. I just didn't expect to use them much. Pretty dumb reason when you think about it. But, you know, Clark, before you joined the Planet I wasn't much of a stay-at-home-milk-and-cookies-snuggle-and-a-movie kind of gal. I — " She paused as she realized how literally true that was. Before he joined the Planet. She had meant it as a pure reference of time — then and now, before and after — but it was a truism she'd never considered until that moment. Before he came. To the Planet. Into her life. He had changed her. He had changed her in ways so small and infinitesimal that she'd barely noticed he was doing it.
"Huh?" Startled out of her musing, she twisted around to find him watching her quizzically from the kitchen doorway. "Oh. Oh," she shrugged, "things have changed. *I've* changed."
"Ah. Well, you know, maybe you should go buy something new. Celebrate the transformation." He grinned at her and ducked back to his task.
Lois stuck her tongue out at his retreating back. "Since you're newly returned from the dead I'll let that one slide, Kent. Try repeating it tomorrow and I'll rip out your lungs with a dessert spoon."
"Sounds like a fair deal," Clark commented sardonically. "How long is this 'get out of jail with your lungs intact' card good for?"
"Don't push it."
She heard him snort derisively and somehow, despite everything, couldn't help but smile. It faded in another moment though. To an observer their banter might have sounded familiar and companionable, but she knew it was nothing but a thin veneer, a defensive mechanism, holding an underlying edge to it of something dark and desperate. Desperate to avoid what they really needed to say.
And, despite knowing it, she knew that she wasn't going to be the one to call their bluff, to expose the fakery. She wasn't going to be the one to step up to the plate and prod them into laying bare their flayed nerves and shattered hearts.
It was all too painful. And call herself a coward as she might, she couldn't face it. Not right now. She could fake it with the best of them. She could keep up the pretence of normality just as well as he. She looked up as Clark came through from the kitchen, two steaming mugs in his hands. She reached to take the one he held out to her.
"Careful, it's hot."
She felt a small spark of warmth fill her at that admonition, so familiar to her, so intent on her wellbeing, and blew on the contents before taking an exploratory sip. Surprised, she looked up at him over the rim. "Chocolate?"
He shrugged as he settled on the sofa opposite her. "I thought you needed it."
That small sign of how well he understood her was almost her undoing. She felt her throat click dry over the flood of tears that lodged there, their suddenness almost taking her by surprise, and hastily took another incautious sip of the smooth, dark chocolate, fighting for control. She made it and sighed quietly in appreciation as she felt the soothing heat flow into her like molten lava. She lost herself in its comfort for a moment, closing her eyes and sinking back into the embrace of the sofa behind her as she took another warming taste.
And the silence spread its dark wings over them.
It stretched. That silence. Broken briefly by her partner clearing his throat faintly from where he sat opposite her, before it settled back again, like a heavy, smothering blanket. Lois shifted uneasily and opened her eyes.
"I filed the story on — "
"Did you hear Jimmy — "
"You first," Clark invited.
She shook her head. "No, go ahead. I wasn't going to say anything important."
"Well, me neither really. Jimmy beat up Clyde Barrow," he continued as she refused to pick up the slack.
"Oh. Really?" Inwardly, she winced at the desperately polite tone that emerged cloaked in. "Well. Good for him," she said brightly and buried her nose in her mug again as she struggled to find something else to use as comment.
Apparently, Clark was finding inspiration just as difficult. He was staring moodily into the depths of his cup as though it held all the secrets of the world and he might find it in there.
And, all at once, she could see the night spinning out ahead of her, awkward and cold. Clark would leave as soon as he possibly could, with nothing settled to bring down what lay bricked up between them, and then… Those unresolved silences spreading out in days and weeks and months before them, festering, turning higher and thicker with every hour that passed. She had lost him, she realized. She had only just got him back and now — thanks to her blundering stupidity…she had lost him for good.
/Didn't you say we should talk?/ she wanted to say, desperately. They needed to talk. /Please, Clark, let's talk…/
But, somehow, she couldn't seem to force the words out past what was blocking her throat, squeezing it tight around the pain.
It was all too much. More than she could bear. She couldn't just sit here and witness everything crumble around her.
The first of the sobs escaped her before she could swallow them back, almost unheard as she sank deep into despair. As though that first gave permission, others followed. She couldn't hold them back. She wanted to, she desperately wanted to, but she just couldn't…
She heard Clark make a soft, inarticulate sound and then the mug in her hands, which had begun a dangerous wobble, was plucked from her grip. Strong arms were wrapping her close and a warm heart was beating its soothing mantra against her ear as she burrowed tight into the broad chest that felt so solid…so…so…real…
Lois surrendered herself to it. To the tears and the hurt and the black, welling pain that poured out of her. All the pain of twenty-four hours. All the hurt of loss and grief. She thought she had cried it all out, that she had no tears left, and yet… It irritated her. She seemed to have done more crying in the past few hours than anyone could reasonably expect to have to cope with in a lifetime. And most of it on the shoulder of this man.
Yet, she couldn't fight it. Much as she wanted to, much as she hated herself for succumbing to it, she couldn't.
Limp and exhausted, beaten down by her tumbling emotions, she sank into the arms of her partner…her love…and wept.
Clark held her. That and nothing more. He said nothing, understanding her need to let all of the misery and grief out now. All she needed from him right then was to be held within the circle of a protective and secure embrace. He tightened his hold on her, putting a gentle hand against her hair and stroking it softly as her wild grief became the only sound in the room.
Guilt spread within him like a dark, cancerous growth. This was all his fault. All of it. He wrapped her closer, offering what small and belated comfort he could, giving her all of himself, everything he had denied her in those first, bleak hours of his 'death'. When he had been too selfish, too obsessed with protecting himself, too concerned that unbending from the superhero persona to offer that comfort might give her a chink of understanding as to who he really was.
As though any of that had mattered more than what she was going through. How could he have left her like that? Run back home to his parents? He closed his eyes as his mind supplied him with an all too vivid representation of just what exactly Lois had been dealing with as he had paced the floor of his parent's root cellar and concerned himself with how *his* life had been shattered, how what *he* wanted and needed was gone.
A soft flush heated his cheeks as he let himself consider just how selfish he'd been. Concerned with his own needs, his own loss…baseball games and a career. Important, yes, of course they were. To him. A normal life. Friends. Working at something he had a talent for and believed passionately in and knew could make a real difference in the world. As much of a difference as any super feat.
And yet…how important compared to the grief of losing…someone you cared for. Your best friend and partner. He closed his eyes as his hands stilled in the small, comforting circles they were stroking against her back, as he was overcome with the memory of a few hours earlier. How could he have stood there, feeling satisfaction in that grief? How could he have been so self- centered as to have found pleasure in the knowledge that Lois was hurting over his death? Even if it had only been for a moment.
The great Superhero.
If only people knew just how selfish and venal and weak their superhero was. What would they think of him then?
Lois dragged herself out of his arms abruptly, jerking him out of his dismayed, guilt-ridden thoughts and for one surreal moment he thought that she'd picked up some of what he'd been thinking, was responding to his censure of himself and agreeing with his assessment of just how cruel and thoughtless he'd been. Then he realized how ridiculous that was and reality reasserted itself.
Lois swiped a hand across her cheek, not looking at him. "I'm sorry…that was stupid…" she mumbled and started as he reached out to take firm hold of the hands twisting anxiously in her lap as though they had minds of their own.
"Not stupid, Lois. I'm sorry you had to go through all that. You don't know how sorry I am."
"You should be," she agreed. Her tone was belligerent, but it sounded more like an attempt at it rather than the genuine article. She looked up at him and he saw a very genuine and real spark of anger deep in her eyes that told him he was wrong. She meant it all right. "What the hell possessed you, Clark, getting in the way like that?"
"What?" He straightened. "You mean at the club?"
"Of course I mean at the club! Where else? What were you thinking?"
"Thinking…" Irritation snapped into place in his head. "I was *thinking*, 'Lois is going to get hurt, if I — '"
"If you didn't lose all commonsense sense in the middle of sheer macho stupidity and get in the way? Where you insane? Where did your brains go? Into your biceps?"
Clark blinked. Lois began to wave her hands around in counterpoint to her words; a bad sign.
"I mean, where do you guys get this garbage from? This 'let's protect the helpless little woman' stuff? Do they teach it to you in school while we girls are getting the hygiene lesson? I'm betting ten to a dollar you didn't get it from Martha! Do the words Tai Kwon Do mean anything to you, Clark? Has the fact that I leave the Planet each Wednesday evening and head directly to the gym *ever* sunk in with you? I can take care of myself!"
Clark sighed. "Lois, they had guns — "
"Exactly! They had guns. Big guns. And *you* stepped right up in front of one of them! You…" her voice wavered and then she went on gamely, "I could have *dealt* with Dillinger, Clark."
"But — "
"I could have dealt with him more than I could deal with losing you," she whispered, losing the angry edge to her tone. Her eyes were suddenly very bright. "I could deal with anything but that."
She moved suddenly and Clark instinctively shrank back before relaxing as she wrapped her arms around his throat and pressed her cheek to his. "Don't you ever do that to me again, you big dumb idiot. Do you hear me?" she said fiercely against his ear. Her embrace had tightened to the point of choking him, but Clark was in no mood to complain. He slipped his arms around her, pulling her closer.
"I promise," he said, the words sounding strange and tight in his throat as they forced themselves through the heart, full and taut with emotion, that was lodged there.
He heard Lois snuffle and then she withdrew. She wiped at her eyes again and then gave him a watery smile. "You'd better. You get yourself killed like that again and I'll personally make sure you get buried in a sewage plant," she warned him. "I'll come toss weeds on your grave every week. I'll make sure every stray mutt in the city visits you each day."
Clark lifted a brow. "Dogs?"
"Big dogs." She waved an arm in emphasis. "Huge."
Clark looked at her, a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. "I guess I'd better be careful then," he said solemnly.
"Yes," she nodded, with another snuffle. "You had."
The smile emerged. There were still things between them that hadn't been touched on, that still had to be talked through, but the tension between them had eased a little. His eyes grew tender as they searched her face.
"You're something else, Lois Lane," he said. "Do you know that?"
"Certainly do!" Lois responded with automatic enthusiasm and then she paused, looking at him more intently as the words resonated between them and became fraught with more meaning than they'd intended them to contain. Touching on things still too tender to be explored. She looked away, almost in the same moment he did.
The awkwardness was back. Clark wasn't prepared for it to get between them again. "C'mere," he said quietly, reaching out for her.
She moved into his arms with an ease that surprised him and he enfolded her close, sighing softly against her hair. He closed his eyes and let the warmth of her infuse him with its calm. He thought that Lois might be crying again. Not with the fierce grief of a moment previously, but softly. A healing balm.
The moment of shared companionship was broken all too soon for him.
Lois yawned, sharp and wide, against the side of his throat.
The yawn took Lois by surprise.
Fatigue and hurt, relief and the easing of sorrow that had cut her heart in two like a blade so very recently, made her sway drowsily against Clark's chest as her tears subsided.
Seeming to recognize that she was drifting, Clark pulled a little clear, looking down into her eyes and then smiled softly, reaching out to lay light fingers against her cheek. His thumb caressed a gentle path across her skin, smoothing away the last of the tears clinging to her lower lashes. He leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to her lips before withdrawing. His eyes held nothing of their previous fire, the heat she remembered from earlier. There was only understanding in them. And tenderness.
"Come on, Lois. Let's get you into bed." She glanced up at him uncertainly and he shook his head. "Just you. I'll sleep out here on the sofa."
"But — "
"You need rest, Lois. I don't think you've had much of it these past few days, have you? We've got time enough to talk later. In the morning. We'll talk. All you want. Okay?"
"All the time in the world?" She shook her head. Only a scant few hours previously she'd been unable to harbor the hope that they'd have that again. And now…now she was aware, as she'd never been before, how cruel time was, how fickle fate, how any moment the ground beneath you could be wrenched away, leaving you floundering on the edge of the abyss. How people could leave you. How people could die.
"I'll still be here. In the morning," Clark said quietly, seeming to hear her thoughts. "I promise."
"Clark…" She looked up at him forlornly. "If there's one thing I've learned these past few days it's that sometimes tomorrow never comes. And the one thing no one can guarantee is that they'll be around later to listen. I don't want to go to bed…"
A faint heat touched her cheeks.
"I don't…want to be alone."
She glanced up at him quickly and then away, a hint of shame for that weakness deepening the flush of warmth on her face as she saw sympathy bloom on his. "Not tonight. Please, Clark, I just…I just want to talk. Okay? Unless…" she looked contrite all at once, "…unless you're tired too? I mean you fell asleep on me in the Jeep and — "
"A little," Clark admitted. "Like I said, being dead for two days kind of takes it out of you." He smiled slightly as he watched her valiantly try to prevent her face from falling in disappointment — and fail miserably.
She placed a hand against his chest, fingers splayed out across the front of his shirt. Her face became pensive and he understood precisely where she'd gone and what she was remembering. He covered her fingers with his own, pressing them down gently, letting her feel the steady beat of a heart she'd been afraid was stilled forever, letting her know he was okay. She shivered and then looked up at him quickly. The sadness was still in her eyes and it tugged at his heart like a snare.
"Well, if you need to rest…then I guess — "
He stopped her from rising with a hand on her arm. "I can give you an hour or two." He glanced at the clock. "Perry isn't expecting me in tomorrow anyway. And I doubt he's expecting you either." He smiled at the sudden mutinous look that took over her face at the thought she might miss a day's reporting.
"Look, how about we compromise?" He chuckled at the immediately suspicious look she granted him for the hated word and held up a peaceable hand. "Why don't you get into bed and I'll come sit with you a time. We can talk and if you fall asleep, that's okay. I won't leave you. I promise," he added as she looked mulish. "No strings," he asserted.
She smiled wanly back at him and then nodded. It warmed him, that trust. That all it took was the promise from him and nothing more to persuade her.
"You're the only man I ever met that could tell me that and I'd believe him." The smile faded. She looked at the hand she had laid softly against his chest. "You know…" her voice broke a little and wavered before she brought it back under control and finished firmly, "you're the best friend a girl could have."
Clark reached to gather her hand in his. "I want to be your friend, Lois. I want…" More than that. He wanted oh so much more than that. He fought down the slightly bitter smile that threatened to twist on his lips. But that would do. For now.
She seemed to have sensed some of what was churning within him. Her fingers busied themselves against the fabric of his shirt for a moment, seeming to fascinate her. "This won't…I mean this doesn't change anything. Does it?" He knew which 'this' she meant and didn't ask her to clarify. "Between us I mean? We *can* still be friends? You're not just…saying that to make me feel better…"
"Of course I'm still your friend, Lois! I'll always be your friend." He tightened his grip a little on the fingers enclosed in his, his voice husky with the rawness of his own emotions. "What happened earlier…it wasn't your fault, Lois. It was mine." He ignored the look of surprise she gave him and blundered onwards, "I knew how mixed up you were — anyone would have been. I knew how vulnerable you were and I *still* let myself get caught up in the moment, still let myself…"
He could feel himself beginning to flush as the memories of just what he'd let himself almost do intruded, distracting him. Lois was shaking her head and he gave up, reducing an apology that could have stretched to China and never been long enough to a simple, "Lois, you have nothing to reproach yourself for. You'll always be my best friend. Always. *Nothing* you can do can change that."
Lois looked up at him, her eyes suspiciously bright. "Oh, I think that I could," she said and, as he shook his head, denying it, "But I don't want to. I don't want to do anything that would ever get in the way of us again." She caught his gaze for a moment and then she eased her fingers gently clear of his. "I'll just go…" she gestured vaguely in the direction of the bedroom.
He nodded. "Yeah. I'll…be right along."
He gathered up their cups and took them into the kitchen as she left the room. He gave the still softly sizzling pan on the stove a wry look and switched off the heat under it, before dumping the ruined food into the trash can and putting the pan in the sink.
As he filled the sink with warm, soapy water and began to wash up slowly, his mind mulled with its own degrees of fatigue over the events of the past hours. So much had happened. So much needed to be resolved. But he was just so…tired. Too tired to think any more.
The soft voice came hesitantly from the bedroom and he lifted his head. He put the last cup down on the drainer and dried his hands, emptying the sink as he went past. He turned out the lights and let the glow of the bedside lamp guide him to where she was waiting.
She was already under the covers, hands folded decorously on top the comforter and looking at him somewhat anxiously. He sat on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes and then eased himself back against the headrest, swinging his legs up to stretch out at her side. His arm seemed to find its way naturally around her shoulders and she leaned into his side with a small sigh. He rubbed his palm lightly across her cotton-clad arm in a soothing touch as she laid her head against his chest and wrapped her arms around his middle.
He looked down at her for a moment and then lifted his free hand to gently brush back a few strands of dark hair that had fallen across her cheek. "What do you want to talk about?" he murmured.
"Actually…I don't want to talk at all. I mean," she lifted her head, shifting to look up at him as though it was important he didn't get the wrong idea, "I want to. Later. Talk is for…later," she reiterated as she settled back to her previous embrace. "For now I just want to lie here…with you…"
He smiled. "I can do that," he said, moving the slight distance it took to brush his cheek lightly against her hair. He closed his eyes, letting himself relax fully for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Silence and calm. Peace and quiet and Lois settled into his arms like she belonged there. He could definitely use some of that right about now.
"You said Superman found you after…after they…did he say where?" Lois asked almost at once.
Clark opened his eyes. He guessed he ought to have known better. Lois couldn't switch off that analytical, question- filled mind of hers for long enough to settle into peace and calm, he thought, half-ruefully, half in amusement.
"After Capone dumped the…dumped me…you mean?" He felt her nod. "He said he found me in an alley — not too far from the club as it happens." He felt her tense beneath his fingers and tightened his embrace slightly in reassurance. "I guess…" he hesitated, uncomfortable with lying to her now, again, after so many lies between them, so much hurt because of them. Then, he went on awkwardly, "…Capone dumped me there just after they left."
"I hated him."
He ducked his head at the terse whisper, trying and failing to find her face, judge her expression. Her head was lowered, impossible to read, her hair a dark curtain of concealment around her eyes. "Dillinger?" he said. He stroked a path across her shoulder with light fingers, trying to ease the tension in bunched up muscles. "Well, I guess you had good — "
"Superman. I hated Superman."
Clark went cold. "What?" he said softly.
"He wasn't there. All those times he's been there to save me and he wasn't — " She squirmed around suddenly, straightening to face him. "Clark, you're supposed to be his friend. His best friend! Why wasn't he there?" She looked away. "I know it's wrong. I know it wasn't his fault and he can't always be there, but…for a moment I did hate him for it."
She sounded distraught. He reached out a hand to cup at her cheek, bringing her wounded gaze back to his. "I'm sure he'd understand, Lois."
"Would he? I don't understand at all," she whispered. "Any of it. I don't understand why he didn't get there in time. I don't understand why he didn't tell me he'd found you. Or that he had a way of bringing you back. Why didn't he tell me? Why did he let me think — "
"Maybe he didn't want to get your hopes up," he said desperately, knowing all too well that the reason had been more simple than that. He hadn't done any of those things because he hadn't thought to. He had been so wrapped up in his own problems, his own solutions to his dilemmas, he hadn't thought about anyone but himself. "The procedure was experimental and — "
"I could have helped him."
"He didn't want to hurt you, Lois. Neither of us ever did." And that was surely true.
She was silent. He knew what she was thinking.
But he had.
Unintentionally or not. He had.
The silence formed by that shared knowledge settled between them. After a moment, Clark changed the subject, not only because the subject they were on was coming dangerously close to making him feel deeply uncomfortable, but because something she had said earlier was setting off faint alarm bells inside him.
"Lois," he said, disturbed, "are you saying you take more risks than you did before…because you rely on Superman being there to save you if you need him to?"
"No! No, of course not." It was too quick and too vehement a denial. Her eyes slid away from his, unable to hold his increasingly skeptical gaze. "Well…not always. Not…really."
"Lois, I can't — " He caught himself abruptly. /I can't always be there for you,/ he'd almost said. " — believe you would do that," he said instead, appalled. "I can't believe — "
/ — you could be so dumb./
Except it wasn't dumb, he realized sadly. It was human. Just that and nothing more. It was all too human to get used to something always being there. To take it for granted it always would be. To rely on it beyond all reason and logic. To expect it.
Maybe the past hours hadn't been entirely without their positive effects, he mused. If they had taught Lois not to rely on being rescued by her superhero, to understand that there were times he might not arrive in the nick of time to save the day — and her neck — if it had brought home to her how deadly that complacency could be…then he ought to go down on his knees and thank Emil Hamilton and Clyde Barrow for that if nothing else.
If it had taught them both that nothing was for certain, nothing could be counted on, that no one could be relied upon to be there always…the Professor and his gang of vicious mobsters had done them both a favor.
Course he knew Lois wouldn't see it that way.
But Lois seemed to have her mind on other things. "I was so mean to him," she murmured sadly. "Do you think he'll ever forgive me? Back at the building site…he was…he didn't want to speak to me, I could tell. As soon as he'd hauled us up out of there…he was gone. You know, I think sometimes that 'I've got someone to rescue' is just an excuse to get away. I think…he did want to get away. I wish he'd stayed. So I could have told him I didn't mean it. Not any of it."
"You've…forgiven him?" Clark asked tentatively, not sure which way he wanted her answer to run. He felt the old jealously stir in him, the anger, the frustration, and beat it down savagely. Just like he always did.
She hesitated. "Yes."
Clark sighed. "Then, I'm sure he won't be holding any grudges, Lois."
She looked at him. "You think so?"
"He didn't…mention it did he? Mention me?"
"No. No, we didn't really…talk at all. There wasn't much time."
She settled back against him. He felt her nod against his chest and to his relief that seemed to be enough for her. She was quiet for a few moments more, then:
"Clark, when I saw you walking towards me, out of the dark like that…" She was crying again, silent tears spilling across her cheek like silken whispers.
He hugged her tight, brushing a kiss against her hair. "Ssshhhhh."
"It's all right," he murmured soft reassurance. "I came back, Lois. I came back to you. I'm not going anywhere."
"Yeah…" her voice sounded weak and distant now. "Molecular regeneration," she murmured. "Sure is…a strange name for crazy glue…"
Clark continued to hold her as she snuggled closer into his chest. His eyes were blind as he rested his cheek to her hair, barely aware of her as he became lost in his own musing. He found his thoughts returning to an impulse that had taken hold of him more than a few times in the past hours. The idea that he should tell her who he really was. She needed to know. Now more than ever. What if he really had died out there? What if — somehow — Dillinger or Barrow had got hold of kryptonite? Had known who he was? What if they had killed him with kryptonite? For real.
And that threat hadn't diminished just because Capone and his gangsters were safely behind bars. Sooner or later, inevitably, some villain would discover that deadly green secret and would use it against him. He was so used to thinking of himself as invulnerable. It made him as reckless, as arrogantly sure of himself and his invincibility as Lois' reliance on him to save her did he realized suddenly, struck by how much more alike they were than he sometimes gave credit for.
But he wasn't invulnerable. He had been for most of his childhood, for all of his teen years and he had become dangerously used to that. But that security had ended the moment Wayne Irig had found a strange glowing crystal in his backyard and an insane criminal had put two and two together and figured out it was the one thing that could hurt Superman.
Who had Trask told about that discovery before he had died?
The man was paranoid to the point of mania. Would he have shared his knowledge with anyone? Would he have trusted anyone to know? His allies? His superiors? The government?
Clark knew he couldn't count on it. He couldn't count on anything any more — except the sure and certain knowledge that one day — who knew when — someone else would follow Trask's path and…
…he could actually…
He could die without ever telling the woman he loved who he really was. Before he could tell her how much sharing that part of him with her would mean to him. How much he trusted her with that secret.
How much he wanted her to know. Know all of him. Everything.
Maybe it *was* time. Maybe it had been time for longer than he'd known.
"Lois," he started slowly. "I need to tell you something. I know you're gonna be mad…and that's okay," he added hastily. "That's…really okay. Really. But…I need to tell you anyway, because…well, because it's just right. It's right you should know. I want you to know." His heart was beating an insane rhythm against his ribs now, his mouth was dry, but he ploughed on, knowing that if he balked now he might never continue. "I trust you…and…I love you, Lois. No matter what, I want you to know that I love you. I always have. And I always will." He paused, then said simply, "Lois…I'm Superman."
He waited for the explosion. For her to jerk free of his arms. For what he'd just said to destroy every shred of warm companionship they'd just shared these past few hours.
He waited to lose her.
It was a pain that was sharp inside him. Sharper than he'd imagined it would be. He had no doubt that she would be mad and that he deserved it…but he could talk her around, he knew he could. Couldn't he? She couldn't stay mad forever. And when she'd cooled down some…they would talk. He would explain. And they'd get past it. Move on.
Together? He hoped so.
But, still, even knowing he'd lost her for even a small span of time hurt him like a spear in his chest.
He suddenly became aware that there had been no explosion. He frowned.
He glanced down.
She was asleep. Face finally peaceful and serene, her lashes dark against her cheeks as she breathed softly and gently against his chest.
Clark stared at her for a long moment. A quiet affection twisted within his chest as he studied her. Then he shook his head. "So much for truth and honesty," he said wryly. He sighed. He brushed his cheek against the softness of her hair and then closed his eyes as he pressed his lips in a fleeting caress against her forehead. "Tomorrow, Lois," he said as he eased her out of his embrace and into a more comfortable position on the bed.
She mumbled something unintelligible and snuggled closer against his warmth, wrapping her arms around him and nuzzling into his shoulder, before she subsided into sleep with a quiet sigh.
By long ingrained habit, Lois never expected too much of a morning.
Mostly, in fact, all that she did expect was to survive until sunset — a hope the odds on which were becoming longer by the day it often seemed — and get in a good story along the way.
Not necessarily in that order.
Certainly, what she didn't expect, when she woke on that particular morning, was to find herself snuggled up against a hard male body.
She opened her eyes, startled, and then as memory flooded back to her and sleep finally fled she relaxed. A smile curled at the corner of her lips as she laid her head back against the chest of her partner. The beat beneath her cheek was slow and somnambulant, soothing. Calming her.
He had stayed with her. Just like he'd promised. She sighed quietly, breathing in the warm, familiar and comforting scent of him, just for a moment. Just like he always promised.
She eased herself to rest on one elbow and studied the peacefully slumbering face for a moment, tracing all of its curves and hollows with her intent gaze. A face imprinted on her memory to the smallest detail and in all its forms.
After a moment, she reached out a tender hand to push back the lock of dark hair that had fallen over his temple as he slept. Good old dependable, Clark. The man you could…
She paused, drawing back her hand and looking at the sleeping face beside her own more critically as the revelation dawned. Why had she never noticed that before? Why had she been so blind to what he really was?
The man you could always rely on.
A man who cared about her and who showed that caring in every single thing he said or did. Oh, it wasn't the grand, sweeping declarations of desire and love that were to be found in the paperback romances she kept in her nightstand. It was deeper than that. Deeper and more profound. It was in the quiet things, the simple things, that love was found. In the way he pulled out a chair for her at the conference table, patting its back in invitation for her to sit and giving her that slow smile that set her heart to thudding dangerously below her ribs. The way she'd gotten used to reaching out in the middle of typing a hot story and finding coffee placed just where she'd expect it to be. Made just how she liked it. She couldn't ever recall him asking her how she took her coffee. Like everything else about her he'd figured it out by watching and studying, by paying attention.
That was it, she understood. The difference. He cared enough to take the time to pay attention. He cared enough to want to make her coffee just so and walk her to her door when they finished up late. He had an unthreatening, unobtrusive old world, country charm that cocooned her in that care without making her feel patronized or smothered. Many men had opened doors for her, but Clark was the only one who didn't make her feel irritated with the gesture when he did.
Her smile faded. How could she love this man in return? How could she give him back what he was willing to give to her? The thought scared her. No one had ever loved her as much as Clark Kent did. And she had nothing — absolutely nothing — to give him in return.
The face she was watching furrowed in a frown and Clark stirred, mumbling something that sounded like a denial under his breath.
Lois sat up, feeling cold suddenly. She reached over to pull her discarded robe from where it was draped over the chair beside the bed and pulled it on, wrapping it around herself and hugging herself tight in an attempt to dispel the chill that was leeching its way into her bones. But she knew it had nothing to do with the ambient temperature in the room, which was actually quite comfortable, and that no amount of extra clothing would warm her. It was deeper than that. It was a frost that wrapped ice around her heart.
A heart that had been frozen for far too long and one that she had begun to think might finally be able to thaw, ready at last to let in the possibility of love. She had had more than her share of disastrous relationships. But she had always known — no matter how her insecurities tried to tell her differently — that the fault in those had always been down to the men she had foolishly chosen to trust her heart to. None of them had wanted her for more than their own, brief physical pleasure. All of them had betrayed her in one way or another. What she had mistaken for love had been lust or ambition, nothing more.
But she had never before felt that she was the unworthy part of the relationship. Had never known that she was lacking in ways she couldn't even hope to make up for. The knowledge of that frightened her.
A murmur from the man lying beside her attracted her attention. His sleep had grown more restless. Instinctively, she forgot her own fears, reaching out a hand to sooth him, running it softly through the thick, dark hair she had so often longed to touch in just this way. Beneath the calming stroking of her fingers he subsided back into his dreams, gradually stilling.
Eyes full, feeling as though the well of tenderness that was growing within her might break her heart in two, Lois lay back down, curling up tight and putting her arms around the warm, muscular body. She rested her chin in the hollow of his shoulder, her eyes distant as she surrendered herself to the possibility that perhaps she had everything she needed to repay him for everything he'd given her.
Was it really that simple? Were they really so equal? Could it be that easy?
Lois wasn't sure. She didn't know. But she thought that maybe…just maybe…it would be wonderful to find out.
She smiled and shifted position, leaning back against the headboard. As she'd hoped, her movement made Clark instinctively roll over and burrow against her. His arm flopped heavily across her waist. She cradled him against her, his head resting on her breast. Her hand continued its soothing caress through his hair as she contented herself with studying the shadow-shrouded planes of his face awhile. Letting her thoughts wander as she reveled in the sheer pleasure of holding him this way and being held by him.
It seemed to be something she couldn't grow weary of. When he woke up, she would tell him, she decided. She would tell him everything. Nothing held back. What he meant to her. How much she loved him. The hopes she held, the dreams she had harbored. The wish that he was hoping and dreaming those things too.
They had — she had, she admitted in a rare moment of total honesty with herself — wasted too much time already. When she thought of how she might never have been able to tell him…her mind flashed back to the moment she had seen him — nothing more than a dark shadow — walking towards her out of the gloom and her heart contracted fiercely in remembered joy.
Molecular regeneration. Who would ever have thought… She shook her head. She had a lot to be thankful for. She had a lot to thank Superman for. And bridges to mend there too. But she would. The anger and hurt she had felt towards the superhero had faded like a bad dream. She couldn't carry it with her any more when Clark was back, just as though he'd never…
What was molecular regeneration anyway? the idle thought intruded suddenly. Oh, she knew that she had told Clark she didn't care what method Superman had used. But…well, that had been last night. He couldn't expect the famed Lois Lane curiosity to stay dormant forever, no matter what she'd said in the heat of the moment. He hadn't given her any more details, she realized with a frown. Course, she had fallen asleep on him. The frown deepened. Actually, now that she considered it, she had the vague impression he had been telling her something important just before she had, but whatever it had been was lost.
She would make him tell her later, she promised herself. Every little detail. She was no scientist, but…well here in the light of day…well, the near-light of dawn anyway she amended with a glance towards the bedroom window…now that she had had time to consider it more deeply…it sounded a little…hokey…to her. She was sure there must be more to it than he'd told her already. It sounded…almost too good to be true. She had always been suspicious of too good to be true. It usually wasn't.
/Well, he brought Clark back from the dead, Lois,/ she told herself with a small snort of irritated amusement. /It was too good to be true when it happened to Lazarus. Things haven't moved on too much since, now have they?/
Her eyes widened as she realized Clark's resurrection was probably one of the biggest stories of the century. If you could cheat death…bring someone back from the brink…Hamilton was going to be a very busy and beleaguered man in the next few days. The press would be on him like…
The frown came back as she became aware of the man sleeping trustingly in her arms. Almost without her being aware of it her embrace tightened protectively. Clark stirred a little, murmuring something unintelligable. His hand patted clumsily at her hip where it rested in an apparent, drowsy attempt at reassurance and then he subsided.
Or…maybe not. Maybe this was one miracle the world didn't need to know too much about.
The thought was so entirely alien to her it shocked her. It was a story. A *story*. The biggest story perhaps in the history of the world since the original Resurrection. And with almost as much significance. Burying stories — burying potential Pulitzer-award winning stories in particular — didn't just go against the grain. It was…sacrilege. An abomination for any reporter worth their press badge to be even faintly considering!
She glanced at the face of the man in her arms, this time with slightly less fondness than previously. Sometimes she thought Clark had changed her in ways she didn't much appreciate. This was all his fault! He'd given her a conscience for god's sake! He'd turned a world that had always been simple, black and white, no moral ambiguities, into one that was gray and confusing and fraught with a dozen dilemmas a day to think on.
Her scowl softened. But…there was no conflict when it came down to what was more important — Clark's privacy or the right of the world to know the facts. He would suffer for it if this story were printed. And she wasn't prepared to sacrifice him to that. She felt a fierceness take hold of her and whereas it amused her a little, deep inside, as she recognized it for the primal, protective instinct to defend her mate, it made her heart soar too.
Clark was safe with her. And she was safe with him. And the world could go hang and would have to look after itself.
He had suffered enough. She was suddenly taken by wondering what he had endured in those hours when he had been…what? Dead? Frozen somewhere in between death and living? Could he remember where he had been? How it had felt?
The intriguing concept occupied her for a few moments, then she decided probably not. Such an experience would be etched on his face, she thought, as her eyes studied every inch and plane of the features in question intently. And he looked so at peace. He looked so…
She stopped in her tracks.
He looked so…
Not…not *Clark* familiar. Familiar in ways she had never expected to…
She found that she was trembling.
The light in the room had brightened as she'd been lost in her thoughts and she could see his features more clearly now. She had smoothed his hair back from his forehead as she'd sought to relax him back into peaceful sleep, undisturbed by whatever dreams had made him restless. Sometime during the night he had apparently taken off his glasses…
No, that was…that was impossible.
That couldn't be.
Lois eased herself clear of the arms enfolding her, as carefully as though it were a sleeping tiger she sought to escape and not a man -
The shaky thought interrupted as she slipped over the side of the bed and rose to her feet. She backed up slowly. What…who…was it who lay there on her bed? Man? Or…
Clark stirred restlessly and opened his eyes, the voices in his head fading into silence, shredded into distant streamers that dissolved into the darkness along with his dreams. Drowsy with confusion, he blinked away the residual cobwebs of sleep and then sat up abruptly as he recognized his surroundings and remembered where he was. His gaze fell on the empty bed beside him and a brief panic took hold of him as he twisted to scan the bedroom…
She was huddled into the chair beside the bed, feet drawn up beneath her, arms wrapped around robe-clad legs. He relaxed with a quiet sigh.
"I thought you'd left me." He had a vague, unsettling remembrance of a nightmare in which she had and, just for an instant, reality and dreams merged, confusing him. "For a moment, I thought you were gone. That — " he stopped, becoming aware of the way she was staring at him, of her rigid posture. "Lois?" he asked uneasily.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and got to his feet, assuming that she had got upset again as he'd slept on unaware, intending to offer her comfort, and stopped short as she uncoiled from the chair in one swift, explosive motion, launching herself to her feet and past him.
His gaze tracked her in bewilderment as she stalked to the other end of the room. She put her back against the wall beside the window, her face a patchwork of murky shadows. She hugged herself tight, and something in her expression produced a tight knot of apprehension in his stomach.
"Lois, what's wrong? Are you — ?"
"— okay?" she finished for him, a chirpy note in her tone that was so sweetly false it made his skin crawl. "Sure, I'm fine. Just fine and dandy. I was just sitting there, thinking about the birthday party Daddy threw for me when I was four."
"What?" Birthday parties? What the heck did birthday parties have to do with — ?
"Birthday party. He was feeling guilty about forgetting to buy me a gift. He'd been too busy in a motel somewhere with his latest… conquest…at the time." She hitched her shoulders in a disdainful shrug. "Course I didn't know that then. Anyway, he was guilty about missing out on all that quality parenting time so he organized the party…three days too late, but what the hell, huh?"
Clark pulled a hand through his hair, confused. "Lois, what's this all — ?"
"You know what the dumbest thing about the whole, stupid party was?" she went on grimly, ignoring the interruption, and there was a savagery in her voice now, a stiff cast to her face, that made him think that not interrupting her again was probably going to be the wisest thing he'd done so far. "Daddy hired a magician. A pretty third-rate magician. He wasn't very good. All my little kid friends could see where the trick was coming from. The watch from the sleeve, the coin from behind some kid's ear…the rabbit from the hat…"
Her voice faded. She turned away from him abruptly to stare out of the window into the dim light beyond. "Except me. I was the only one who could never figure out where the mirrors where. Where the trick was. Where…the misdirection lay."
She turned her head to look at him, where he stood by the bed, and some inkling of where she was going with this began to seep through his bewilderment, leaving a slick deposit of foreboding in his gut.
"I hate magicians. I hate people who play tricks. People who try to fool you. And, you know…" she laughed a little, mockery bright in the air between them, "I never saw this one coming either. I go to sleep snuggled up to my partner, Clark Kent, and in the morning he's Superman. Hey, look…" her voice dropped to a bitter whisper, "…no mirrors."
Clark paled. Though he'd been expecting it, sensing it coming like a thunderhead rolling across a sweltering African plain, static of the truth filling the room in advance of the storm, it still hit him like a shock of electric charge.
He sank back to the bed. "I knew I shouldn't have taken off my glasses," he said bleakly.
"Oh, well, yes, maybe you should have kept them on!" Her eyes blazed fury at him, her voice matching the bitter tang in their depths. "That would have been so much easier, wouldn't it? Keep deceiving me, keep hoping I wouldn't find you out, keep on thinking of ways you can fool me, trick me — "
He lifted his head to look at her, pleadingly. "I wasn't trying to trick you, Lois! I — "
"A trick's a trick, no matter how big or how small. Once you figure it out it's not magic anymore." Her eyes, frosted like winter glass now, surveyed him, flaying his heart with the emotions captured within their darkness. "I think you should leave now," she suggested stonily.
"Lois, I never meant to hurt you like this, you have to believe that!"
"Clark," her voice held a tremor within it now and he didn't need to hear her words to sense that rich vein of molten rage that was boiling beneath its surface. "I'm holding on to a really *slim* thread right now. Do you understand that? One that's not going to hold out much longer. And I don't think you want to still be here when it snaps." She moved across the room to jerk open the door, the suppressed violence in the action doing more to let him see the fury in her than anything else. "So, I think it would be really a good thing right now if you just — "
"I didn't have any choice! I — "
"You didn't have any choice?!"
Fury thrummed beneath the high disbelief in those repeated words.
"Lois — " Clark sighed as she moved away, throwing a glare over her shoulder at him. "Lois, be reasonable, how could I just get up and walk away? Too many people saw me die and — "
"And after? You waited twenty-four hours, Clark! Twenty- four! Do you know what those hours did to me? To Perry? Jimmy? Your friends? And…" Her face paled and then suffused with sudden color an instant after, rage glowing in her eyes. "And Martha! Listening to me on that phone, telling her how sorry I was she'd lost her son! And all the time she knew…were you there? My God — " she barked out a humorless laugh, disbelieving, "were you there *listening*? Standing beside her? How could she? How could she do that to me? She *knew* what I was feeling, she knew how much — " She put a hand to her mouth, shutting off the flow of terrible realization of just how thoroughly she'd been duped and how badly betrayed by those she thought cared about her and who she'd cared for too.
"And you!" She dropped the hand abruptly, pointing a finger at him like an exclamation point of accusation. "You had the unmitigated gall to come back with that cock and bull story and expect me to *believe* it?! Molecular regeneration! Crazy glue!" she spat out the words, eyes enraged.
"You said you didn't care what brought me back, so long as I was!" he retorted and then colored deeply, not needing the darkly frigid look she tossed at him to know that one had been a cheap shot and unworthy of him.
"I thought I was getting my partner back," she spat at him viciously. "My best friend, back from the dead. How was I to know I was really hugging a man who can't be killed! Who can't be hurt at all!"
He lifted his head, eyes dark. "Oh, I can be, Lois," he demurred quietly.
"You know what I meant. Do you know," she added almost conversationally, "I was lying there thinking about how much you must have suffered. Wondering how much your ordeal must have affected you. Hurt you? Promising myself I'd help you get over it, do what I could to make it better…and all that time…"
"You think it didn't?" he threw at her desperately. "You think it didn't kill me knowing what you were — "
"Apparently not!" she snarled. "You weren't *dead* were you! How could it kill you if you weren't dead?!"
"That didn't stop me hurting over it all! You don't think I was suffering too? Do you know what it was like, knowing I'd never work with you again? Never talk to you, never spend time with you, just as a friend? Never brainstorm notes or write up a story together? Never — " he stopped, drawing in a hard breath and knew he was wasting it. There was no sympathy in her expression and he couldn't really blame her for that. No matter how he had suffered, no matter how hard it had been for him, she had suffered so much more than he ever would or could have.
He sighed heavily. "Lois, swapping stories trying to prove who got hurt the most here isn't going to resolve this. Or help us get past it. I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry I lied. I'm sorry I didn't tell you the truth about what happened at the club. I'm sorry I hurt you. But we need to talk this out. We need to — "
"Maybe I don't *want* to talk it out. Maybe I don't want to resolve it. Maybe I just want you to walk out of that door and stay the hell out of my life!" She threw up her hands as he shook his head, making no move to get up.
"Why won't you just leave? Get out of here? What is it you want from me now, Clark? You want to wait for me to break down again? Haven't seen enough crying from me yet? Want more? The past few hours weren't enough for you? You want another chance to tell me you're going to be there for me? To hold me and tell me how glad you are to be back from the dead?"
He surged to his feet, unable to bear any more of the bitterness in her. "I might as well have been dead!" he yelled back. "Don't you understand that? I *was* dead! I couldn't be me any more! I couldn't be a reporter, or work at the Planet, or watch movies with my best friend, or eat pizza, or just have my life like it had been. Friends, a career and just being normal! Clark Kent *was* dead!"
For a moment he thought that had found a target, a hint of a thaw showing on her face, but if it had been there it was quickly smothered.
He sank back to the bed, shoulders slumped as he ran tired hands across his face. "You said I didn't die," he murmured, all the fight leeched out of him now. "But that isn't true. Clark Kent died on the floor of the club just as surely as though that bullet *had* ripped through my chest. And I couldn't find my way back, Lois. I couldn't come home."
He heard a small sound escape her and he looked up at her again. She was pale and he regretted the harshness of the picture he'd painted for her. Tears leaked weakly from the corners of her eyes, as she said painfully, "That doesn't explain why you didn't tell me you were all right. It doesn't begin to put right what you did. I don't understand. Why did you let me think…? Why?"
Clark sighed wearily. "Lois, it wasn't like that. Any of it. No one wanted to hurt you. Not my Mom, not me. We weren't working to some plan here. I didn't *know* what to do! I didn't know how to make it right. We were just protecting…we thought it was the best way to protect Superman. You have to trust me, it — "
"*Trust* you?" Her face vividly declared just how sour those words tasted in her mouth. "Oh, you're a real piece of work, Clark Kent, do you know that? You lie, you cheat, you sit there like some sanctimonious *victim* in all this, like you had the *right* to lie to me, like it was for some…some…noble, greater good! And you have the gall to ask me to trust you? Where was the trust from you, Clark? When did you trust *me*?"
Anger bled away from her suddenly, replaced by a sudden, naked hurt that found an echo in Clark's heart. Her next words were a whisper, a plea more than accusation, the bewildered question of a child who didn't understand where things had gone wrong, "Couldn't you have trusted me?"
"Lois, I've always trusted you. Don't ever think I don't."
Her eyes hardened again. /Wrong answer,/ Clark thought with an inner wince.
"As a partner you've trusted me. As someone you need to trust to be able to work with as a team. Someone you need to trust your back to. But as a friend?" She shook her head. "You've never trusted me as a friend. You've never opened up to me at all."
A sudden flare of annoyance touched him. "Oh, well if we're talking about opening up, Lois…"
She flushed, turning away. "That's different."
"How? How is it different? Every moment of your life, every tidbit of your past, I've had to drag out of you kicking and screaming. The only time you ever opened up to me about anything voluntarily you thought you were going to die!"
She whirled on him, fists clenching spasmodically at her sides, her next words emerging as a wild scream. "I told you it ripped my heart in two when you left me alone! When you — !"
Clark closed his eyes against the pain laced in those words thrown at him; at the rough sob that choked them off.
/When you died./
"Isn't that enough?" she whispered. "Wasn't that enough to tell you? What more did you need to know? At least I never let you think I was dead! And I guess I was right besides. Trusting you was a bad mistake. It only got me hurt. Just like I knew it would."
There was no rebuttal he could give to that one, so he didn't try.
"I don't believe in magic," Lois said sadly. "I don't believe in horoscopes, psychic powers, ghosts, goblins or telepathy. Magic tricks or magicians. But I believed in you. I believed in *him*." Her voice trembled and tears had sprung into her eyes now. "You were the magic in my life. The magic I thought was real. I thought *you* were real."
"Of course I'm real. I'm me, Lois!"
"Who? Who are you? Someone I don't know at all! Someone I never really knew…"
"Lois, I never wanted you to feel that way. I never wanted anyone to. I just wanted to help. You know? What's the use of having all these…powers…all these things I can do…what use are they if I can't help?"
The chill in her eyes didn't warm with the heartfelt plea in his words. She had gone beyond that he saw, miserably. He had left it too late. And she was right. He had betrayed her trust in the worst of ways. He had let her mourn him, let her heart break, let her drown in grief and he could have stopped it all, spared her all of it, with just a few words, by honesty, by caring enough to do it. Caring enough to give up his insecurities and simply trust her to care enough for him in return.
"I tried to tell you," he said dismally, not knowing any more who he was trying to defend himself to. "About me being Superman. I did try. I think…I wanted you to know. That's why I took the glasses off. I wanted you to…and even if you didn't, I'd have told you when I woke up. I tried to tell you earlier, but you…" He met the skepticism in her face and sighed, defeated. "You fell asleep on me," he mumbled.
"I fell asleep." He flinched at the scorn in her voice. "You tried to tell me you were…Superman…and I fell asleep."
"Yes! I'm not lying to you, Lois. I wouldn't. Not about this. I wanted to tell you last night. I wanted to tell you all along."
"But you waited until I was exhausted and ready to fall asleep on you? What kind of idiot waits till someone's ready to fall asleep before telling them something that important!" she growled.
Clark opened his mouth, but a wiser soul within him informed him that pointing out the obvious counterpoint to that one wasn't going to gain him any ground. He closed it again. There was a moment's painful silence.
"I guess, I shouldn't really blame you," Lois said softly at last and he lifted his head, hope thundering in his chest. She was staring out of the window again, eyes fixed on who knew what. He had an idea it wasn't the view. "Just like any kid — one day you have to figure out the magic doesn't exist. Maybe you did me a favor. Maybe it was time I stopped pretending there could be just one decent, truthful guy out there you could trust. Time I stopped fooling myself."
"Lois…" Clark said helplessly. But he couldn't defend himself. He had no defense to use. Even if he had, she would never listen to it. She'd condemned him out of hand. He'd lost her. And this time, for him, there would be no resurrection to put back time and make things right.
"Maybe you're right," he said wearily. "I should just go." He paused as he rose to his feet but she didn't turn from the window. Her back was ramrod straight, shoulders stiff, a taut shield against him, and his heart sank further when she made no move to disagree with his suggestion. Hope tumbled after it, sinking into the dark morass of dismay and despair filling up his chest.
"I'll…see you back at the Planet," he said. "I…want you to know that I love you, Lois. I know you won't believe that but I do. I was stupid and selfish and…scared. I was scared I'd lose you if I told you. I was scared…about a lot of things. But I always trusted you — I do trust you — more than anyone else in the world, besides my parents. The only one besides them." He felt the misery well up in him and he knew he had to leave, before it overwhelmed him entirely. He couldn't bear another moment of the ice in her. The chill emanating from her was freezing up in his heart. "Anyway…I just wanted you to know that," he finished lamely.
She gave no indication that she had heard. Other than that there may have been a slight hardening of the line of her shoulders. Clark stared at her for a moment longer and then turned away.
He was through the door when he thought he heard her say his name. He turned back. She was standing in the doorway, watching him.
"What?" he asked.
"I said…wait." Her face was devoid of expression, her eyes hadn't softened. They still contained the hard glitter of ice deep within them. Her tone was hardly any warmer as she said softly, "Don't go."
He shook his head. "Lois, I can't argue with you about this any more. You're right. Okay? You're absolutely right. I behaved abominably. I should have come to you sooner, even if I had no hope of being Clark ever again, I should have come to you and let you know that I was alive. I hurt you and that was the last thing I ever wanted to do. You have to believe that if nothing else. You know I never wanted that. But…I know what I did was unforgivable and I don't expect you to — "
"I forgive you."
"— get over this soon, so — what?"
"I forgive you."
"You do?" Clark frowned, unable to assimilate this information for a moment. "Why?" His tone was almost suspicious, almost expecting another barb to be the punchline here.
She eyed him for a moment before she answered him. "Wouldn't you forgive me? If things were reversed?"
He nodded, not having to pause to think about his reply. "Of course."
"Why? Because I — "
"Because you love me?"
He met her eyes. "Yes," he breathed. "Yes, because I love you, Lois. I love you more than anything or anyone in the world."
He tilted his head, curious now, feeling just a little out of the loop. What was she after? What did she want him to say here? Her expression was taut and intent on him, her gaze direct as she met his. Her voice though, her voice contained the tremor that she was concealing so successfully otherwise. "And because…" she said, barely above a whisper, "…nothing I could ever do would stop you from being my friend. Or stop you loving me the way you do. *Nothing* I could do."
He remembered. It was what he had told her earlier. Did she doubt he'd meant those words? Was this some kind of test?
"Yes," he agreed.
She nodded. "Then," she took a deep breath, "how can I not forgive you?"
Clark took a moment for that to sink in. "Are you saying — ?" He fought down the flicker of hope that tried to surge up through him as he took a step towards her. "Do you mean — ?"
"I guess I do." Her eyes showed her unguarded soul as they locked with his, open and wanting and trusting. Needing to trust. Needing to be able to trust him.
And then, somehow, she was in his arms and he was kissing her with a passion that tore a breathy moan from her lips and had her clinging to him as though he was all that there was in the world to hold on to.
"I love you," she sighed against his cheek. "I love you, Clark." She found his mouth again and her last words melded into sweet heat between them as he pulled her close. "And nothing…you can do…can change that…either."
They stood for a moment. Held by him, Lois felt suddenly at peace, and wondered at it. She sighed quietly against his chest and felt him tighten his embrace a little in response.
She had wanted to hate him so much. She had wanted to make him hurt — to repay him for some of the pain he had given her. But, somehow, she hadn't been able to hold on to it in the face of what she had seen in his face and heard in his voice. She thought back to some of the things she'd thrown at him and winced. There had been more than enough pain to go around since the events in that gambling club. And she hadn't the heart to dish out more of it.
Oh, there were things that still needed resolving between them, and she was going to be asking some hard and frank questions before too long. She'd expect frank and detailed answers too. And the hurt hadn't gone away. She suspected it wouldn't. Not so easily. It would all take time. And talk. And caring. But for now…
For now it was enough that they were here. Enough to remind herself how much she would have given for this just one day before. How much she had believed she would never have this again.
She couldn't let it go now. She couldn't lose him now. Not because of this. He had lied to her, betrayed her, left her to grieve for him when there had been no need and all of that lay between them still. But it would heal. They would get past it and move on.
And she couldn't hurt him. Not any more. Because she loved him. And in hurting him she only succeeded in hurting herself. Besides, wasn't that what loving someone was all about? Forgiveness?
She could forgive him because she knew he hadn't intended to hurt her. Knew that that had been the last thing on his mind. It hadn't always been easy for her to tell when a man was being dishonest, spinning her a line. She had learned the hard way to trust. And the man holding her had been the one to teach her how. She *had* learned. To tell the difference, to know an honest man when she found one, to know when he was speaking the truth from his heart and his soul.
Clark had been telling her nothing but the truth when he'd said he loved her. When he said he'd never meant to cause her so much pain. When he put his arms around her and held her like this.
And in the weighing of it all, what was one lie in the face of such a searing truth as that?
He loved her. And love was about hurt and pain. But it was also about trusting and caring and forgiving. It might take her a little time…but she could do that. For him, she could always do that.
Clark nuzzled tenderly at her hair. But something had changed. In just that infinitesimal moment something in him had become quiet and still. Lois frowned. His grip on her had become more intense, as though he was clinging to something in desperation rather than for the pleasure it gave him. She became aware that he was trembling in her arms.
"Clark…" she started, concerned, but he held onto her as she tried to pull clear of him and his words, shuddering out of him, rolled over what she'd been about to say.
"It was unforgivable," he said. "What I did."
"Yes, it was," she agreed, laying her cheek to his chest. "Later, I'm going to make sure you make it up to me. We're going to talk and you're going to tell me everything. Why you hurt me that way. Why you didn't tell me. Why you let me think you were dead…" She closed her eyes, feeling the wounds begin to tear open again in her heart. This wasn't the way to forgiveness. "You're going to do a lot of talking," she advised him. "And then…I'm going to make you suffer. For a very, *very* long time."
Clark didn't respond as she'd hoped to her attempt to lighten the mood. He hesitated, then confessed, "I heard you. In the shower. Crying."
Lois lifted her head to look up at him. His eyes were dark and troubled, sick with guilt. She could feel his trembling increase. And if she had harbored any lingering doubts as to how much lying to her had wounded him, how much he regretted keeping his secret from her, how much it had hurt him to leave her grieving for him, she couldn't hold on to them in the face of what she saw twisting dark and miserable in that gaze.
"You don't have to tell me how much I hurt you," he whispered. "I heard it. All of it. I couldn't bear it. I couldn't bear to hear what I'd done to you. Lois…" He shook his head, the words choking in his throat. Moved by the pain in his voice, by the emotion she saw welling up in his eyes, she put up an instinctive hand to his cheek, but, uncharacteristically, he ignored her touch, his gaze fixed on hers.
Her Clark, she thought in both dismay and affection. Always obsessing, always fretting about her. He had always been a hero, she realized suddenly. Always fighting in his own way for those victims in the world who had no other defender than them and the stories they wrote. Fighting for the weak and the helpless, for her, for everything he held important in his heart with passion and commitment and courage. You didn't need a cape and tights to do that. You could do it just by being a kind, generous, decent and gentle man. Yes, he had always been her hero. It was only the name that had changed. And what was in a name when you got right down to it? It was what was in the man that mattered.
"It tore me apart listening to you hurt that way. I wanted to…"
"To what?" she encouraged him softly.
"To dump what I was doing and go to you…"
"Oh, did you?" Lois smiled a little. It was brittle, but it was a smile nonetheless. There would be a time for talking this one out. A time for easing the pain. But for now, it was time to lay it aside and start to heal their wounds with something deeper than words and stronger than pain. What they needed now was to take comfort in one another.
She eased her body closer against his, her motions teasing, and the smile widened as she saw surprise light in his eyes as they connected. Coupled with a slight disconcertion as her unexpected move derailed the course of his guilt trip. "And then what?"
"Then what?" she repeated. She reached up, hooking her arms around his neck as she stared up at him impishly. She could feel the effects her body against his was having on him and it warmed her soul. Not to mention producing a little imp of mischief in her heart besides. "Were you going to…?" she paused for effect, letting his mind fill in all the possible blanks of that 'what if?' and then finished innocently, "…take me in your arms and…"
"Yes, I was going to do that," Clark said. He looked just a little hesitant. "Lois, don't you want to talk about — "
"Later. Talk is for later." She pressed her lips to his in a brief caress. "You were saying…?"
"I was saying…um…oh, right…I was saying," he reiterated, beginning to lose his somber mood and catch up to the game as he gave in to her lead. He slipped his arms around her waist, linking them in the small of her back and gently pressing her closer. "I wanted to pick you up, bundle you up in towels and…carry you through here…to the bed…and hold you and — "
"Whoa, back up a little there, buster," Lois said, removing her arms from their comfortable resting place and planting a finger in the middle of his chest in counterpoint to the demand.
"Huh?" Clark's eyes, which had begun to grow just a little distant as his imagination roamed along with his words, flickered and focused on her again.
"You wanted to pick me up…" Lois said slowly, injecting invitation and expectancy into each word.
Clark looked confused. "Yes, I said that."
"So you did." Lois flattened her hand against his chest, watching it intently as it ran a light path across some very taut pectoral muscles. Her voice, when she resumed had taken on a huskiness that resonated in Clark like an electric surge. "You wanted to…pick…me…up…"
Clark found himself floundering. There was a message in her eyes and in her tone, but he was darned if he could decipher what it…oh.
"Oh!" he said aloud as revelation dawned. "Right. Yes! I wanted to…pick you up…" He matched action to words, giving her a slightly questioning glance as though to make sure he was reading her invitation correctly and then, reassured by the twinkle in her eyes, scooping her into his arms and straightening as she giggled.
"And then…?" Lois said playfully.
"Bundle you up in towels…you would have been wet…you're not wet…" he conceded as the fantasy diverged sharply with reality. "And you're dressed."
"Then you…" Lois said archly as she traced a long finger down his cheek and then leaned in close to suckle softly at the lobe of his ear before lifting her head momentarily to view his face, "have got a lot of work to do." She returned to her ministrations.
Clark chuckled. It turned abruptly into a soft groan of pleasure as she intensified her explorations of his ear and throat. "Where were we?" he breathed out, distracted.
"I think you were heading for the bed…" Lois said, somewhat indistinctly from the general direction of his collarbone.
"Sounds like a plan."
"Works for me."
As he started for the bed, however, Lois began to struggle. "No, wait…wait…"
Startled and just a little confused, he obeyed, setting her gently on her feet. "I'm sorry," he said ruefully. "I was going too fast, wasn't I? I just thought you wanted — "
Lois put a finger to his lips stopping him in mid-sentence. "Hold that thought," she said breathlessly, before darting away from him.
Clark, mouth open to ask where she was going, shut it again with a snap as she abruptly reversed course and bounced back towards him.
"Actually — ditch that thought," she told him, frowning. "And hold onto this one instead."
Before he could divine her intent, she reached up to cup his face in her hands and dragged him down to where her lips could plunder his for a fierce, brief and dizzying moment. Then she let him go as suddenly as she'd grabbed him and headed for the door again.
Clark, curious to see where she was going, scanned through the wall and watched with a certain amount of amusement as she savagely ripped the phone lead from its wall jack and wrapped the cable around the phone itself. Seemingly as an afterthought, she stuffed the whole package under a cushion on the sofa and then pummeled it for good measure, before straightening up and dusting off her hands with an expression of satisfaction.
Grinning now, Clark, just a little less violently, unplugged the phone by the bed and turned to find Lois' approving glance on him as she returned to the bedroom. She smiled broadly. "Okay…now, where were — "
The question turned into a gasp as he swept her up in his arms and rose into the air. A few tumbling, horizontal rolls with her clasped tight against him as he kissed her deeply and then they landed gently on the bed, entwined.
"Wow…" Lois whispered as she lay there sprawled beneath him, staring at the ceiling wide-eyed and out of breath, and then, turning her head to view him. "Showoff."
Clark grinned and kissed her again.
Lois giggled and then melted into his embrace with a quiet, contented sigh. "Oh, yeah…" she murmured answering her own question, "…that's right…there."
(c) LabRat. December 2001
No intentional infringement of any copyright held.