By IRC Round Robin writers
Submitted: May 2001
Summary: Lois and Clark get ready to celebrate the New Year, when suddenly the appearance of a certain little imp ruins things, setting Clark back a few years, and giving him a new challenge. Can he succeed, or will the evil imp take something very precious away from him?
Authors: Zoomway <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Wendymr <email@example.com>; ChrisM <firstname.lastname@example.org>; PhiltMP <email@example.com>; joy <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Eraygun <email@example.com>; CrystalW <JCWimmer@aol.com>; ChiefPam <Jernigan@bellsouth.net>;
Lois and Clark snuggled on the sofa as the ball in Times Square began to descend.
"This is nice," Clark whispered. "The babies made it here for the new century, we don't have to work tomorrow…"
"Ralph is in his bunker with hoarded toilet paper," Lois added, and sighed contentedly.
Clark laughed. "Okay, get ready to kiss, we have ten seconds."
"Sex … six."
The ball descended and opened. "Mxy New Year?"
"Oh, God," Lois whispered. The TV screen blanked.
"How cozy," Mxy said as the TV morphed into his unwelcome shape.
Clark rose from the sofa and instinctively stood protectively in front of Lois. "Get out," he said, his jaw muscles tensing.
Mxy blinked innocently. "Is that how they ring in the New Year in this dimension? We don't have time in the 5th dimension, so I wanted to come here and see what all the hubbub is about."
"Okay," Lois said, "you've seen it. Now get lost, gnome."
"Imp! There's a difference. You won't find an imp made out of cement sitting in a garden next to a bird bath!"
"Look," Clark sighed, trying to calm himself, remembering the imp's immense power. "We'd just like to enjoy the New Year and not have anything crazy happen."
"You don't wear your suit at home?" Mxy asked, ignoring Clark's comment.
"My suit? The Superman costume?"
"Costume? Is that all it is? Just some pajamas with a cape that you throw on to look big, rescue people and get the ladies hot?"
"He does not get the ladies hot," Lois interrupted.
"Oh, please! Look who's talking," Mxy said and began to float. "Ms. Lois ('the outfit actually comes off') Lane?"
Lois blushed. "I was… I…"
"What? Thought it was a red and blue tattoo?"
"Okay, so I was attracted to Superman," Lois acknowledged. "He was larger than life … a fantasy, a …"
"Dreamboat that launched a thousand lonely dreams," Mxy said, a feigned starry-eyed expression on his face. "But now the big guy is forgotten. Tsk tsk."
"Now wait a minute—" Lois said as she began to rise from the sofa, but then suddenly, she vanished.
Clark woke up slowly, his head feeling strangely heavy. Glancing around him, he realised that his surroundings were strange… and yet strangely familiar. He couldn't believe it — he was in his old apartment on 344 Clinton!
And all the furnishings were the same, and his personal items, his high school yearbook and football, the fertility statue, the photograph of him and Lois at the Kerths, were all in their old places around the living room. What was he *doing* there?
He scanned through to his old bedroom and received a huge shock. Shopping bags and boxes lay around the room, the logos of well-known clothing shops on them. *Not* shops, he knew from his experience, where Lois tended to buy her clothes … but he remembered someone else who had supplemented her wardrobe from the likes of 'Teen Temptation.'
The clone. Clois. But… that had been *years* ago.
But the clone's existence had also coincided with part of the last few months he'd lived in this apartment. And since the apartment looked exactly as it had when he *had* been living there, he had to have…
No. He shook his head fiercely, refusing to accept the possibility.
He sank onto the sofa, his head in his hands. What did he remember? His recollection was blurry… the last thing he remembered was that he and Lois had been celebrating the New Year together, in their house. They had been snuggled on their couch, ready to kiss, Matt and Jo were upstairs sleeping, Superman was having a night off, if that was at all possible.
No. No. But… it had happened. That imp from the fifth dimension. Mxyzptlk. He had just appeared and… And what?
Straining himself to remember, all Clark could visualise was the imp teasing Lois about the way in which she had abandoned Superman for Clark. But why would he bother? After all, Mxyzptlk knew that Clark *was* Superman.
Lois. Clark jumped to his feet, cursing himself for having taken so long to notice. She wasn't with him. She wasn't… in the apartment.
Where *WAS SHE*?
If he'd done anything… well, let's just say that imp would be fortunate if he made it back to the fifth dimension this time, Clark thought, growing steadily more frantic as he concentrated on trying to hear Lois's heartbeat.
She had to be here, in this timeline — but, he realised slowly, it might not be the Lois of *his* timeline. Perhaps the only Lois here was the Lois he'd known three years earlier… the Lois who had been snatched from his wedding and replaced with the clone.
In which case, she was either still in Luthor's clutches, or — assuming this was a little later — in Max Deter's clutches. Either way, he had to find her. Fast.
Less than a second later, Superman left the apartment.
As he flew, Clark tried to decide where he should check first … Lex's underground lair, or Deter's above-ground one. The decision was about to be taken out of his hands, however, for the air beside him shimmered briefly and then Mxy was flying with him.
The imp was dressed in purple, with a gold cape on which was emblazoned a large "M" made of purple velvet. As Clark watched, Mxy rolled over onto his back and floated along with his hands behind his back.
It was too ridiculous, so Clark stopped and stood with his arms across his chest in his usual Superman stance. Mxy copied him, but the effect could hardly have been said to be the same.
Clark visibly ground his teeth. "Look, you … you little creep. Haven't you done enough for one day?"
"Hardly, Supie. In fact, I'm just warming to my theme." He smiled beatifically in Clark's direction, but the superhero had no trouble resisting the urge to smile back. "All right, all right. I can see that you're in no mood to be conciliatory," Mxy said, "but just to show that I can be magnanimous, I'm going to fill you in on the rules."
"What rules?" Clark snapped back.
"The rules for my game," he replied in a "duh" tone of voice.
He began to pace back and forth in front of Clark, ticking off the rules on his fingertips.
"First of all, you can't tell Lois that you're Supes." And Clark looked down to see that he was once again dressed in his street clothes.
"Second of all, you have to get her to fall in love with you all over again, even though she's in love with someone else."
"What—?" Clark began, but was cut off by one impishly raised hand.
"Third of all, you have to do it one week. Or less, if you're man enough."
Clark took a warning step towards the imp.
"And fourth of all, each time you let slip anything about your super self, you lose a little bit of your Clark self. If you lose enough, Clark will cease to exist, and Lois will be stuck with Super-guy … forever."
Clark began to look hopeful. After all, Lois had come to love him for Clark once before, she could do it again.
"No problem," Clark replied, more confident than before. "I shouldn't have any trouble getting Lois away from Deter."
"BZZTT!" Mxy shouted, positively jumping up and down with glee. "I haven't told you the best part, muscle boy. She's not in love with Deter this time. She's in love with Superman!"
With that, the imp disappeared, leaving a decidedly confused Clark behind him.
How could Lois be in love with Superman? By this time, she knew Clark *was* Superman! Unless…
He banked and flew towards Metro General Hospital. X-ray vision quickly showed that Lois was an in-patient, just as before, but there was no sign of "Doctor" Deter.
He searched until he found the man, all the while repressing an urge to barbecue the guy as soon as he located him. "Dear Max" was at the hospital, as it happened, but instead of hanging around Lois like a bad smell, his attention (and attentions) were directed towards another patient — a statuesque, and probably surgically-enhanced, blonde.
Good idea, *Max!* Clark thought, not quite grinding his teeth. You just look after that young… er, lady, and after Lois and I get back to work together, we'll save *her* from your slimy clutches!
Clark quickly walked into the hospital. He didn't know what to do or expect, but he knew he had to see Lois.
"Good morning, Lois."
"Good morning. Do I know you? Wait, the guy from last night. Clark, wasn't it?"
A look of hope shone in his eyes. "Yes, Lois. It's Clark."
"This is really nice, you visiting me and all, but shouldn't you be at work?"
"Lois, we work together, so my job today is to make you smile."
"Where do we work? I seem to remember vats of acid, falling from roofs, and bombs. Are we cops? I seem to remember always wanting clues."
Clark could not suppress a grin. "Not quite."
"We work for the Daily Planet."
"Reporters, and partners, and best friends."
Lois thought there was something about that smile. For some reason, she felt all warm and fuzzy inside. Those eyes, they reminded her of… chocolate.
"Clark, do I like chocolate?"
"Lois, when you took a bet that you could go a week without, the Double Fudge Crunch Bar Company noticed significant quarterly decreases in revenue."
"So, that's a yes?"
Clark pulled a candy bar out of his pocket. "Yes, Hon—" He broke off and coughed. "Lois, that's a yes."
Clark's super-hearing picked up something. Oh, no, not now.
"Lois, I just remembered, I have to do something. I'll be back later to see you. Remember, you have a lot of friends that care for you." With that he left.
Hmmm. Something about that expression seemed so familiar, yet why couldn't she remember? It was as if someone or something was keeping that memory at bay.
Lois reached out and grabbed the remote control from the table. Maybe there's something good on TV, she thought.
"Wow! Look at that. That must be the most amazing sight in the world," she said aloud to no one in particular. "I wonder if his suit comes off. Huh, I wonder where that thought came from?"
She started to get a familiar warm and fuzzy feeling, but…
Just as suddenly as the feeling surfaced, it disappeared. Lois shrugged and began flipping through the channels.
She paused on A&E just in time to hear the program host say, "Welcome back, as we continue our special biography on the life of Superman."
Lois smiled. "Well, this should be interesting at least."
Unfortunately, the hostage taking incident that had called him away from Lois was followed by an earthquake in Peru, and by the time Clark was able to return to the hospital Lois was fast asleep.
Hovering outside her window, Clark lovingly looked at Lois as she slept. God, how he loved her and missed her. Not being able to hold her in his arms earlier had been torture. All the more reason to finish this game of Mxy's as quickly as possible.
And it shouldn't be too hard. If Lois was in love with Superman, all he had to do was to make sure that "you know who" wasn't around her. No shooting himself in the foot, like he did the first two years they knew each other. It would be a piece of cake.
"That's what you think, Super-duper."
"What!? You're back again?"
"I never left."
"You can read my mind?" Clark asked, and floated away from the window.
"Like a roadmap, Atlas, and I saw your plan for keeping I-look- so-good-in-spandex out of the picture."
Clark narrowed his eyes. "So, you're saying I can't handle this my own way?"
"Of course you can." Mxy shrugged. "But you're Superman. If Lois fell off a skateboard, you'd be there in a blur of might," he ranted, his index finger pointing heavenward. "You can't stop being Superman." A leather-upholstered couch appeared and Clark found himself strapped to it. "It's all a subconscious need to be loved," Mxy said, now dressed as Sigmund Freud.
Clark struggled against the straps to no avail. "The only subconscious need I have right now is to get my hands on you!"
"Tut tut, Mr. El. This obviously goes back to your childhood. That bicycle you didn't get for Christmas."
"I *got* a bicycle for Christmas."
"Did it have a bell?"
"Ah, there you are. You've been chasing that bell your whole life."
"Let me up!"
"Very well," Mxy shrugged. "My office will bill you." Clark was again floating free, but was dressed as Superman.
He made a grab for Mxyzptlk, but the imp turned into a rooster and opened the window to Lois' room. He ran to Lois' pillow, cleared his throat. "Cockadoodle doo!"
Lois awoke just as Mxyzptlk vanished. Clark stood by her bed. "Superman?"
"Apparently," Clark sighed.
She was wearing that satin nightgown. The one that just seemed to cling to her body by sheer imagination. She rose from the bed, her eyes filled with *that* look he had seen so often before she fell in love with Clark. That 'do I eat him here or wait till I get him home?' look.
Clark swallowed. She looked so gorgeous… and his entire body strained to sweep her up in his arms and make love to her all night on the ceiling. But he couldn't. He was in the Suit, and she didn't know he was Superman, and she was in love with Superman, not Clark, and he had to make her love him as Clark, or… or else…
Or else, knowing Mxyptlk, some dire consequences would follow.
He clenched his fists, using his thoughts of the dire penalties he would exact from the fifth-dimensional imp when he caught up with the little… *nuisance*… as a means of cooling his libido. He couldn't afford to allow Lois to see that Superman was attracted to her, and that Suit was so… so *revealing.*
Thanks, Mom, he thought ironically. I think I'd prefer Lois to be looking at my face right now, rather than anywhere else!
He sighed. What was he doing here, anyway? Okay, that impudent little dwarf had deposited him in Lois' room. But he needed an excuse, and one of the 'I just wanted to see how you were' kind would not do here.
Deliberately rearranging his features into his trademark stern Superman expression, he fixed his gaze on a point just behind her left shoulder. "Miss Lane. I wondered whether you remembered anything of the events before you ended up in the hospital? I'm assisting the police with their investigation."
He saw her face fall, her soft brown eyes look wounded. She reached out a hand towards him, touching his arm lightly. He took a step backwards, and saw the wounded look grow even more hurt.
She swallowed. "Superman…? I thought… well, I was told we were friends…?"
Oh, great, thought Clark. One further little detail that leprechaun didn't choose to share with me. "Well, we've helped each other from time to time — I give you interviews for your paper, and you and your partner — Clark, you remember? — sometimes pass on information which could help me."
That should help, he thought. He saw Lois take a step backwards and sit on the bed. Drawing her robe around her shoulders, she glanced upwards again. "Superman… Clark says he's my friend as well as my partner…"
Better, thought Clark. "Yes, the two of you are… close," he ventured. Looking over his shoulder then, he added crisply, "I need to go, Miss Lane. There's an emergency… someone needs me."
With that, he flew quickly out of the window, heading straight back to his old apartment. He needed to think, to plan his strategy. Obviously this… annoying little troll was not going to make things at all easy for him. He had to keep Superman away from Lois, but he couldn't do that if that gnome was going to cheat all the time.
If she was already in love with Superman, then getting her to love Clark *couldn't* be all that difficult, surely? He'd lost that particular conceit, that she had to prefer one to the other, a long time ago.
So if she loved Superman, he could show her that Clark possessed all the qualities in Superman which she loved. He just needed to ensure that she saw enough of Clark to make sure that she realised her partner's true nature.
Which was fine… he just had to find a way to get around that darned hobgoblin's tricks first!
Clark was fed up! Every time he got close to Lois as Clark that nasty little toad, Mxyzptlk, would interfere. A moonlight stroll was ruined by an inexplicable downpour. A quiet lunch was interrupted by false alarms for Superman. And those were just the ones he could recall without swearing. This had gone on for two days now, and Clark wasn't going to take it anymore. He flew to the top of a mountain and shouted for the little minx.
"You don't have to shout, Supes. My fifth dimensional ears can hear you practically before you speak. Non-linear time, and all that, you know." He grinned in a superior fashion, and flicked imaginary dust from his gold cape.
Clark got down to business. "I thought we had a deal."
Mxy was surprised. "Deal? I suppose so, but there was nothing in the deal about keeping things interesting. Or maybe there is. I'll have to check the fine print." He pulled a hefty contract out of thin air and began to leisurely scan it.
"Look, you said I had to get Lois to fall in love with me … Clark, but how can I do that if you won't let me get near her? You made up the game, but you're not letting me play it."
Mxy didn't appear to have heard a word Clark had said. Instead, he pointed to the contract. "Wow, look at this! It says here on page 4987 that if you lose, I get all your copies of Lethal Weapon."
Clark lunged for him, but was left holding an armful of papers with incomprehensible script on them. Mxy was hovering just above him, holding copies of Lethal Weapon in his arms.
"Just checking out my future holdings, Clarkie."
"You can have every video I own, if you like. All I want is one hour of uninterrupted time with Lois."
Mxy tossed the videos into the air, where they vanished into glittery sparkles. "One hour?" he asked, tilting his head to one side, as he pantomimed serious thought.
Clark looked at his tormentor, trying to think of all the angles, and knowing that Mxy could easily change the rules again just to suit himself. "One hour should do it. Provided," he asserted firmly, "that you don't interfere in any way … shape, or form," Clark added, as an afterthought.
"Sorry!" Mxy shouted with unholy glee. "Time's up! You've got your hour, blue boy. Make the most of it." He began to fade away, starting with his feet and working up to his head.
"Wait," Clark cried. He didn't like how this had turned out.
"No, can't. Lots to do, you know. A fifth-dimensional imp's work is never done, you know." By now the only thing visible was his face.
Clark tried one more time. "You didn't promise that we have a deal."
All that was left was Mxy's obnoxious grin. "All right, literal boy. We have a deal. And just to show you that I have a heart, I'll take you to your honey."
The air around him shimmered once again, and Clark found himself standing outside Lois's room, flowers in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other.
A voice laughed at him from the general direction of the ceiling. "Good luck … lover boy."
Clark took a deep breath. Just before he knocked on the door, he noticed his attire.
"That low-down, good-for-nothing, scum-sucking… Get a grip, Kent." He spun into Clark, and knocked on Lois' door.
She answered it and his breath caught in his throat. "Lois, we have to talk."
"What, Clark? Clark? Clark?"
He just stared at her, and finally he was able to speak again. "Lois, you'd better sit down. I haven't told you this yet because I didn't want to hurt you, but there is something you need to know."
"What? I'm not dying, am I? Oh my God, I knew it. I'm going to die. Do I have cancer…MS… what— ?"
Clark silenced her babble the only way he knew how. He kissed her. Hard. With all of the passion he had had building inside since he'd missed his New Year's Eve kiss.
"Lois, we're engaged. I love you more than life itself. You aren't going to die, but I can't live without you."
"Clark, I wish I could say the same thing, but-"
Clark kissed her again. "Lois, I've never told you this before, and I will never tell you this again, but shut up. Just feel."
He proceeded to kiss her, and touch her in ways her husband knew she enjoyed immensely. He caressed the soft skin behind her ear, and she felt a moan rise in the back of her throat.
"Clark, that was definitely more than friends and partners, but-"
"But you need to think about it, I understand."
"You do?" She looked at him like he had two heads. She was obviously surprised.
"Lois, I know everything about you. I know how you love bodice rippers, but hide them in your closet. I know how you love to be kissed, and touched. I know that you never felt you were good enough, no matter what you achieved. I know your favorite colored clothes are brown, you like cars to be silver, and that you tanked your geometry final on purpose."
"How did you know that? I never told anyone about that."
He looked at her and grinned that mega-watt grin of his. "You remember?"
"Yeah, I do. Clark, I love you. Jeeps are much cooler than Fords. I love you. Tunstall High could never win a football game. I love you. I'm the greatest reporter in the country. I remember a lot."
He looked at her hopefully.
"I love Superman, too. How can I love two men at the same time, Clark?"
"So, what else do you remember?"
"A little bit here and there. Not much, but something tells me you know."
"Yes, but, Lois, it's very important that you remember on your own. How about some chocolate?"
Clark did know her… He knew her well enough to know that he'd pushed as far as he could go. He handed her the box, watching as she nudged through to find the dark chocolates.
"I think I knew I loved you the first time I saw your eyes," she murmured absently. "Same color as this," she smiled, showing him the small square before she took a bite. "The thing is, I'm not 'in love' with you."
Clark's face fell, but he tried not to push her. She was talking, and that was a start.
"I mean, I feel comfortable with you, and safe, and you do seem really sweet. I even remember bits and pieces of seeing you… I don't even know. I just know you're there a lot, and that means so much to me." She chewed one of the chocolates thoughtfully as she looked at him. "And you're a great kisser," she grinned.
"Same to you," he smiled, wondering if there had been a breakthrough.
"But the feeling isn't the same," she went on. "When I look at Superman, it isn't just comfort. It's excitement and awe and… something I can't define. He makes me fall head over heels, and I know that he feels the same way. He has to. It's in his eyes, Clark. I can see it when he turns away from me… he doesn't want to. He loves me."
Clark couldn't find a way to argue with that statement. He'd always known that he was unable to hide his feelings for Lois, with the suit between them or not. It had been the hardest part of being a split personality.
"If you're in love with Superman," he finally said, his voice strangely quiet, "why did you accept this?" Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew the ring he had picked up among her other personal effects. He looked at it a moment, twirling it to see the glints off the diamond, then showed it to her more closely. "You loved me," he said solemnly. "You accepted the ring, and all that went with it. You forgave me for stupid lies and times when I wasn't there when I should have been. You loved *me*.
Lois looked at the ring, then reached forward to take it from him. She looked at it carefully, a memory pulling at her, making her head hurt, but it wouldn't surface. "I'm sorry," she finally whispered. "I want to feel it. I hate the way you look, and knowing it's because of me. I know you're my friend, and I *do* love you. I want to be in love with you, Clark… I want to…" She broke off, tears streaming down her face.
Clark sighed, wrapping his arms around her. He'd forgotten how hard this was. He'd forgotten why he hadn't pushed, why he had let Deter mislead him in the first place. He wanted nothing more than to bring her peace, and if leaving the matter alone was all that would do that, then he know he would have to comply.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, his hand coming up to cup her cheek and turn her face to his. "Tell you what," he said with a false brightness. "Maybe we can go for a walk, or something. If you aren't ready for more, then maybe you're ready for a friend."
"I'd like that," she whispered through tears. "But I've got a killer headache. I really want a nap, if you don't mind."
He did mind. He had so little time. How could he do it? he wondered. His kiss hadn't brought it back, his ring hadn't… nothing had. He didn't know where else to turn.
Giving in to the fatigue and desperation on her face, he kissed her gently. "I'll pick you up for work in the morning," he said softly. "The best way to get your memory back is to get back to normal. You and me, Lane and Kent, out getting the bad guys. That's normal."
"I write the story, you fight the bad guy," she murmured softly. "That's right, isn't it?" she asked quickly and with a smile.
"That's it," he grinned.
After a final kiss goodnight, he stood and left Lois' room. Once in the hallway he found himself face to face with a smiling fifth dimensional prankster.
"How'd it go, Supes?" he asked brightly.
"You know," he grumbled.
"Giving up?" Mxy asked with a grin.
Clark thought a moment. He needed help getting Lois to remember. Clearly, Deter wasn't an option. But… that wasn't what had helped her remember in the first place. With a grin he managed another idea, trying to keep it blocked by random thoughts so Mxy wouldn't see it, and use it.
"I've got work to do," Clark said, spinning quickly into the suit. "If that's okay with you?" he asked sarcastically.
Mxy gave a deep bow, indicating for Clark to go on. With a swoosh, Superman hit the skies in hopes of locating a certain nerdy inventor before he could do any harm. As he recalled, it was his one chance to save Lois and get things back to normal.
In the hospital room, Lois reclined on the bed and tried to get comfortable. She stabbed the button to call the nurse, hoping for some pain medication, and looking forward to getting out of here tomorrow.
This place was just depressing, and she didn't have nearly enough control over what she did and who came into her room. Like tonight's visit by Clark Kent, just to pick a random example.
As she waited for the pain reliever to take effect, she replayed tonight's strange visit in her mind. How could she have been *engaged* to Clark? She remembered bits about him, and they were mostly good things, but… she couldn't have loved him like *that*, could she? Although … that kiss … In retrospect, she was furious at him for invading her space, and for the life of her she couldn't figure out why she hadn't tried her martial arts on him. Not that she really remembered the moves very well, but she was sure she could have come up with something… but her initial, instinctive reaction had been nothing of the sort … she'd *welcomed* that kiss! Those kisses!
How could she betray Superman like that?
She *loved* Superman, she really did, she assured herself, huddled on the hospital bed. She wouldn't cheat on him so easily. And if her body reacted, well … that was just physical. It didn't have to mean anything.
She turned to the other side of the bed, sighing in confusion. She desperately wanted to see Superman again, but how could she face him? And what if he was as cold as he'd been last time? Come to think of it… why *had* he acted that way? Memories stirred, and reporter's instincts perked up. There was something going on here, she *knew* it, but it was just beyond her grasp. And Clark had confirmed that there was something going on, hadn't he? Well, if he wouldn't tell her, she'd just have to work it out for herself.
She was suddenly looking forward to returning to work tomorrow. If she'd spent as much time there in the past few years as she suspected, there had to be clues all over the place. She WOULD figure this out.
That decided, she was finally able to relax, and drifted off to an uneasy sleep, interrupted by nurses offering a sleeping pill, and strange dreams in which Superman wore glasses and Clark could fly… Waking from her dream, she made a firm vow to *never* take another sleeping pill; they obviously did *very* strange things to her brain.
Clark sighed for what seemed like the thousandth time as he approached Lois' room at the hospital. His attempt to find Herkimer Johnson and the vibro-whammy as a short cut to restoring Lois's memory had failed. Thanks, no doubt to Mxy's interference.
And he could have kicked himself for coming on so strong with Lois last night. As much as he loved and needed her, he should have known that the direct approach never worked well in their relationship. Beginning with his unsuccessful proposal when Luthor bought the Planet.
Clark stopped his musing when he caught sight of Lois standing in the corridor outside her room.
"Hi" he said shyly.
"Hi." Lois replied in a manner that mirrored his.
"I guess you're ready to head to the office?"
"Yep, I'm chomping at the bit."
"Great… Look, Lois, before we go… about last night…"
"What about it?" Lois said nervously.
"I just want to apologize for what happened. I shouldn't have pushed you the way I did."
"That's all right, Clark-"
"No it's not, you're my best friend, Lois, and I should have been more considerate of your feelings."
"And I just wanted you to know that no matter what happens I'll always be your friend"
Lois smiled warmly. "I like that idea."
"Then let's start over."
"What do you mean?"
Clark extended his hand. "How do you do? My name is Clark Kent," he said as he gave Lois his warmest smile.
Lois' smile grew even larger and she grasped Clark's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Clark, my name is Lois Lane."
The trip across town to the Planet was uneventful. So Clark used the time to fill in some of the gaps in Lois's spotty memory.
Clark stepped out of the elevator and glanced around the news room. Lois looked a bit anxious, but willing. It must seem overwhelming to her. Like the first day of school. "Okay," Clark said, placing his hands on her shoulder. "Mind if we start with something small?"
"Yes, please," Lois replied and sounded relieved.
"Good," he smiled and ushered her to the refreshment area and poured her a cup of coffee. "Now, what do you put in your coffee? Do you remember?"
Lois looked around at the choices. "No, sorry."
"That's okay," he said, noticing her stressed expression. Clark lifted a small, pink packet. "Pick up one of these and hold it by a corner."
Lois complied. "And?"
"Shake it? Why?"
"I don't know, hon… Lois, but that's what you do."
Lois shrugged and shook the packet. "Now what?"
"Rip it open and pour it in your coffee."
"Clark, I appreciate the lesson, but…"
Lois sighed and emptied the contents into the cup. "And now I drink it?"
"No, you put this non-cream stuff in it."
"Boy," Lois smiled, "I'm a wild one."
Clark handed her a stirring stick. "This I can figure out." She stirred the coffee and began to set the stick aside, but Clark put his hand over hers.
"Open your mouth."
He nodded an encouragement. Lois looked suspicious, but opened her mouth. Clark moved her hand holding the stirring stick to her mouth. "Now close your lips and pull the stick out." Clark swallowed as he watched. It always gave him a slight twinge.
"Remember?" he asked, but could scarcely speak.
"No … but, I definitely could get used to it."
Clark cleared his throat. "Good … let's take the coffee to your desk." Lois walked right to her desk. "Great, you remembered!"
"Well, it does say Lois Lane on it."
Clark drew a hand through his hair. "Right," he said, and pulled out her chair. "Your computer is password protected, but your password is …"
"Superman." Clark sighed and nodded. "Oh, I'm sorry, Clark. I mean that must… the way you feel…"
"No, no, it's okay, hon…Lois."
"That's the second time you said that. I guess you call me honey."
"Yeah, but don't worry, it won't happen again."
Lois placed a hand on his arm. "There's all kinds of nicknames friends have for each other. Honey is better than shrimp or stinky," she said, trying to lighten the awkward moment.
He smiled and playfully ruffled her hair. "We'll get through this, stinky."
Lois smiled at him warily. "Stinky? Just because I happened to use it as an example didn't mean you had to call me by it… chumpy!"
Clark did a double-take. Chumpy? Did that mean she… remembered? Forcing himself to remain calm, he smiled back lightly. "Where did you get that one from, Lois?"
Her expression became puzzled. "I… I don't know. It just… came to me." Pausing before she sat in the chair he was holding for her, she eyed him questioningly. "That's a word we… use? You and me, I mean?"
"Well, sort of. You used it to cheat at Scrabble," Clark replied easily, taking great care not to imbue the moment with any great significance.
"I do not cheat at Scrabble!" she retorted, clearly offended; then she clapped her hand over her mouth.
Clark allowed himself to expel a slow breath. It was working! She was remembering; slowly, it was true, but… "Well, you have been known to stretch the rules a little at times," he teased gently.
She continued to watch him for a moment, then shook her head. "Nah. Nothing. So what do we do now? Show me what we're working on right now."
This was a tough one, thought Clark, since he had been sent back nearly three years in time and he had no idea exactly what stories they were working on at the time. He'd actually spent very little time at work at this stage in their history, thanks to the wrecked wedding, Lois's kidnap and her subsequent memory loss. But he wasn't going to tell her any of that. He leaned across her to switch her computer on, and while they waited for it to boot, he reacquainted her with the rest of the items on her desk.
Once the computer was up and running, Clark encouraged her to check her directories and moments later they were reading through the notes for an investigation on a series of unexplained murders in the city. "So how do we work together?" Lois asked. "I know we said last night that you catch the bad guys-"
She stopped abruptly, her breath catching in her throat. "You do, don't you, Clark? But… something's telling me that maybe you don't in the way I think… oh, it's all so hazy!" she finished, frustratedly.
He swallowed. "Lois, there is more I could tell you. But trust me, it's far better that you remember on your own. Now, how about this," he continued. "When we're writing up a story, I usually stand behind you like this and read over your shoulder…" Matching action to words, he assumed his normal position, his hand on her shoulder as he gestured to something on her screen.
She turned wondering brown eyes to him. "Why does this all seem so familiar, Clark? Why do I feel I *know* you… oh, I know you said we were more than friends, but it just feels so wrong when I know I love Sup-" She broke off, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, I said I wouldn't mention him."
"You can mention him if you want," Clark said softly. "Tell me what you love about him."
Quietly, she began, "I love his *goodness,* his kindness and decency, his… ethics. He never lies to me, and he's always there for me — and for everyone else. He's so honourable, and he's just the most wonderful man I've ever met."
"That's quite a character reference," Clark responded softly. "How would you describe me, Lois?"
He watched her closely, his heart in his mouth as her gaze raked over his face. Her expression was briefly bewildered, then a dawning realisation seemed to creep over her face. She was about to speak…
…when the scene changed completely.
He was standing in his apartment, again dressed in his Superman costume, and that irritating little *goblin* was floating in the air in front of him, wagging his finger in the air.
"Naughty, naughty, Supie-boy!"
Clark was furious. "Why did you do that?"
"My game, remember? I can do whatever I want. Besides," he added, with a goofy grin on his face, "I've still got popcorn left." To prove his point, he snapped his fingers, and a tub of popcorn as tall as a golf bag hovered next to him.
"Popcorn! You interrupted me … Lois and me, because you wanted to finish your popcorn?"
Mxy looked surprised. "Of course," he said, as if anyone else would have done the same thing.
Clark eyed his diminutive opponent appraisingly. How could he possibly beat someone at their own game, if the game kept changing from one minute to the next?
Change the game.
Where had that come from? Clark wondered. At the moment, he didn't care. It was worth a try. Lord knows, he'd tried everything else.
"Okay," Clark said. Casually, he floated up to where Mxy sat, munching on his popcorn. Clark dipped his hand into the tub and grabbed a handful of the snack for himself. "Not bad," he commented, "but it needs more butter."
Mxy snapped his fingers to make the tub disappear. He was practically sputtering. "Wha—? You—! How—?"
"If you do that a lot," Clark commented calmly, as he licked the salt from his fingers, " you might want to seek professional help."
"Help!" Mxy practically shrieked. "I'm not the one who needs help, superstupid! What about your girl? What about winning her back?"
"Oh, I've decided that you're right," Clark replied. He was carefully drying each finger with his cape, and taking his time about it. Mxy, watching him, was turning a deeper shade of purple than the M on his cape.
"I can't win, so I'm not going to play anymore."
"Not play!" The imp's voice covered two octaves in the space of that short sentence.
"Nope. I figure, I can just hang out here … no worries … no obligations … just me and Lois. She likes me as Superman, too, you know."
"Oh, no you don't. You can't get out of the game that easily."
Clark felt that familiar shimmer, and suddenly he was back at the Daily Planet.
Lois was looking into his eyes as he leaned over her desk. "Well, Clark … you're kind, and good, and decent…"
As he watched, her eyes widened a bit.
"Omigosh … Clark. You're … him, aren't you? That's why it feels like I love two men. Isn't it?"
Clark heaved a huge sigh of relief, and his heart felt like it could fly. "Yes, my dearest Lois. That's exactly why."
Off in the distance, Clark thought he could hear the sounds of a very spoiled imp having a very loud temper tantrum, but he barely paid it any attention.
Lois was rising up out of her chair, her eyes drinking in every line and curve of his face, and her arms reaching for him, her mouth getting closer to his …
"One! Happy New Year, everybody!"
What? Clark looked around, stunned. In place of the Daily Planet, he was back home on his couch, with his lovely wife curled up beside him.
"Happy New Year, Clark," she whispered to him, then reached up to give him his first kiss of the New Year. He kissed her back with enthusiasm, holding her tightly. She was a bit surprised by what she could sense in his embrace, and pulled back slightly. "Clark, is something wrong?"
He looked down at her, thinking about how her love for him, both of him, made his life complete. "No, Lois, everything is just right."