By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2002
Summary: When Lois and Clark break up, she decides to prove to Clark she can take care of herself…even if it puts her in more danger than usual.
Author's note: I've written a lot of birthday stories this year, and they've all tended to be short and largely WAFFy. But then it was Yvonne's Connell's birthday, and as anyone who's read her fics will know, she's not exactly a fan of WAFFy. <g> I mean, just take a look at Purity, or her soon-to-be- on-the-archive fic, Misery. I figured that sweet 'n' WAFFy would be wasted on the kind of author who enjoys putting her characters through unbearable torture before giving them an (eventual) happy ending. And so this story is the result. Don't worry: it's a LOT shorter than Yvonne's angst-fests!
Many, many thanks to Sarah Luddy for beta-reading at very short notice, catching goofs and making me laugh with her wonderful comments. And many thanks too to Kaethel, who BRed the first half and, likewise, was enormously helpful, before RL took over and she was unable to read the rest.
Continuity note: this story is set around the same time- frame as Contact, or perhaps just a little later, but it assumes that the last five minutes of Contact didn't happen.
All rights in the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers, and no infringement of these rights is intended by this fanfic.
~ Breaking Up Is Hard To Do ~
- a birthday story for Yvonne -
"…so I think what we should do next is go right over there and demand —"
Lois broke off abruptly as she noticed that she'd lost her partner's attention. He was staring off into the middle distance, his expression attentive and distant. One hand was already on his tie. She really needed to warn him about the way he acted when Superman was needed, she noted absently…
…until she remembered that she had no right to discuss Superman at all with Clark. Not any more.
"I need to go," he muttered, and she noticed that he was avoiding her gaze. Again.
"Okay. I'll see you later," she said with a faint shrug, as if his departure in the middle of an important discussion didn't at all matter. "Bring us back a story," she added carelessly, deliberately trying to make it clear by her tone that the fact that he was going and not telling her what he was having to deal with was of no concern to her. That she had no interest in what Superman was up to, other than the possibility that it might lead to a story.
That the fact that she used to be Superman's girlfriend wasn't even a distant memory.
She and Clark weren't a couple any more. She'd barely had time to get used to being part of a couple, to being in a relationship where she felt loved and cherished and respected and needed, when suddenly it had all been over. They weren't together any more. They weren't in love any more.
Except that she still loved Clark, and always would…
She was trying to get on with life, to make the best of things. Carrying on working with Clark as her partner, assuring Perry that just because things hadn't worked out between them on a personal level there was no reason why they couldn't still be a team at work. And anyway, she knew, just as Perry did, that the two of them did their best work when they were partnered. The fact that she knew now about Clark's secret abilities meant that he could use them openly in front of her where it helped in their investigations, though these days there were none of the secretive glances and shared, amused grins when he did so. As he'd done ten minutes earlier when they'd had a 200-page report which needed to be read and analysed, he just did what he had to do without comment.
They were still partners. But no longer in love. And, it had felt this last week, barely friends either. She hadn't seen Clark other than when they were working, either in the newsroom or out, hunting down information. He hadn't once suggested that they go together to grab a sandwich at lunchtime nor, when they'd been working late on a couple of evenings, had he asked if she'd like to get a pizza or share takeout — even in the newsroom. It was as if they meant no more to each other than two colleagues who worked together yet had no interest in each other's personal lives.
And yet it wasn't quite like that; after all, Clark was still protective of her. She was conscious, when they were out and around the city, of him moving into protective mode when in unsavoury areas of town. Once, she'd tripped on a broken flagstone, and his hand had been under her elbow even before she'd realised that she'd lost her balance. He still expressed concern if he thought that something she was planning was dangerous — only now he didn't try to talk her out of it. If she insisted on doing it, as she'd done only the previous day in what she'd recognised afterwards as a — futile — attempt to test him, he simply nodded, shrugged and said, "If you think it's necessary."
He wasn't trying to control her actions any more. And she missed it — the very thing she'd yelled at him for, the reason she'd told him that he wasn't welcome in her life any more — she would give anything to have him on her case again, telling her what he thought she should and shouldn't do.
And she was playing her part too; no asking questions about what he did as Superman, no demanding to be taken with him. It had been torture to hold back that first time he'd given her an awkward look and said that he needed to leave. The words had been on the tip of her tongue: <I want to go. Take me with you> But she'd bitten them back. She had no right; not any more.
According to Clark, she'd never had that right.
And yet, despite the distance, despite the coldness, the absence of anything which could remotely be called friendship between them now, she was still protective of him. She knew his secret: that he was Superman, that under the exterior of an ordinary reporter he hid extraordinary abilities. And that was something she would never, ever tell anyone, no matter how upset she got, how angry she became with him. She supposed that he understood that; at any rate, he'd never actually asked her to keep his secret. If he had, she'd probably have slapped his face, no matter how much it would have hurt her physically. If he'd asked, it would have been a greater insult even than those he'd thrown at her that dreadful night…
So she kept his secret, and what was more, she covered for him. Made up excuses for him, pretended to Perry and anyone else who asked that his absences were all related to work and that she knew about each and every one of them. She'd even, a couple of days ago, written up a story entirely in Clark's style and submitted it to Perry under his byline, pretending that Clark had emailed it to her. He'd been very taken aback at that; while he'd thanked her awkwardly, not meeting her gaze, she'd got the impression that he'd wanted to ask why and to express his appreciation more deeply. She'd waved away his thanks and changed the subject.
It wasn't as if there was exactly an etiquette book for Superman's ex-girlfriend. She had to make up the rules herself, without Clark's help, since he either didn't want to talk about it, or just couldn't bring himself to discuss anything remotely personal with her. It was as if anything at all to do with Clark Kent the man — or Superman — had suddenly and irrevocably been labelled out of bounds since that night.
Yet he needed her help, even if he wouldn't admit it; that was why she still did it. Superman was essential to the city — to the world, in fact, and if Clark couldn't escape his everyday responsibilities to become Superman when necessary, people would suffer. That was why she was covering for him, she told herself. For the greater good. Not for Clark, nor for her own comfort — the fact that she was still in some small way able to do something for the man she loved had nothing to do with it.
Not at all. He'd hurt her badly, worse than any other man had ever done. He'd been harsh and dismissive and uncaring, riding roughshod over her needs and making her feel unwanted, interfering and a mere plaything, to be tossed aside when finished with. She should hate him. She certainly hated what he'd done; she was still furious with him for it.
And yet, if she could go back in time a mere eight days, she'd never have let it end the way it had. Even now, if Clark came to her and offered her another chance, asked her to put it all behind her, she'd take it like a shot.
Or would she? Could she ever trust him again?
If she'd been asking that question in respect of any other man she'd ever known — Paul, Claude, even Lex Luthor — she knew very well what the answer would be: a resounding, unequivocal No. No man was ever given a second chance to hurt Lois Lane.
But then, Clark wasn't like any of those others. She'd never loved them as she loved Clark…
And therefore, not one of them had had the power to hurt her as badly as he had. To leave her feeling as if she'd been ripped apart inside, left torn and bleeding and exposed to further painful lashes and burns every single day. Every day she saw him, spoke to him, spent time with him and they pretended to act as if they'd never meant more to each other than co-workers was another day when she was in the greatest of pain.
Why should she forgive him?
But then, which was more important? To have the man she loved almost more than life itself, even knowing that she couldn't trust him not to hurt her, or to be alone but with her pride intact? Lois didn't know the answer to that.
All she did know was that soon — and probably very soon, judging by the way a number of the Planet's women employees had been eyeing Clark up once the grapevine had informed them that he was free again — Clark would be dating someone else. Someone else would become the close, intimate friend that she had once been. Someone else would have the exclusive right to his embraces, his kisses… his love. He'd let another woman in on his secret. He'd take her flying, talk to her about what he did as Superman and look to her for comfort when times were bad.
And protecting his secret, covering up for him, would be another woman's responsibility.
<The sooner it happens, the better!> Lois thought savagely, then had to make a quick dash for the bathroom as fresh tears started to fall unchecked.
~ Eight days earlier ~
"Lois, what the hell did you think you were doing?"
Clark didn't even wait until he'd lowered her to the floor before letting rip. She'd expected it, and he even had a right to complain, she admitted. She'd interfered, and someone had almost got killed as a result. *She* had almost got hurt. And he'd had to take his attention away from the gunman he was trying to deal with and disarm, in order to make sure that she was safe.
"I'm sorry, Clark. I know I shouldn't have done it. I'll be more careful in future," she said instantly, contrite.
"You won't get the chance!" he retorted, his expression tense, furious. "That's the last time I give in to you and take you with me. From now on, Superman works alone, which is how it always should have been. Why I was ever so stupid…!" He broke off, breathing heavily, and took several steps away from her.
She almost snapped back at him in a tone just as angry as his. But then she caught herself. He was upset. He'd come close to losing control of a situation, and it had been mostly her fault. She knew that, and accepted that his anger with her was justified as a result. She also knew Clark well enough to know that the anger masked other emotions — such as fear and shock, and certainly reaction.
She'd do her best to apologise and convince him that she'd learned her lesson and wouldn't be so careless again, and then they'd hug and kiss and try to wipe away the painful memories of what could have happened, and of this fight.
She would prove that she had learned from the two years they'd known each other. That Lois Lane was no longer as quick to lose her temper as she'd once been; that *she* could be the peacemaker in a dispute.
"Clark." Taking the steps to bring her to his side, Lois placed her hand gently on his arm. "I am sorry, really. I know I should have stayed out of it. I'll never do anything like that again."
But he pulled away, turning his head to give her a glance full of blazing anger. He hadn't calmed down one iota since they'd left the scene, she realised; in fact, he'd been simmering with rage the whole time during the flight home. "Didn't you hear me?" he hissed. "You'll never get the chance again!"
She stared at him, shocked and hurt at his withdrawal, at his refusal to take her cue and sort this out. Clark almost never lost his temper, and to lose it with *her* suggested that he was very angry indeed — at the end of his tether, even. All anger? Or was at least part of it genuine fear and shock because things could have been so much worse than they were in the end? Because they'd had such a narrow escape? It was so hard to tell from his expression; all she could see was anger, but Clark was good at suppressing other emotions, whether it was voluntarily or not. Could one incident, however dangerous, really have resulted in all this?
He cut her off. "Lois, what I do as Superman I do *alone*. You're Clark Kent's partner, not Superman's. My biggest mistake was forgetting that," he added grimly.
Staggered, Lois bit back the retort which immediately sprang to her lips. He was deliberately shutting her out of a major part of who he was — a part of him she'd only recently adjusted to knowing about. He'd insisted, ever since the truth had been out in the open between them, that he wanted her to be a part of his whole life, not just one section of it. And now he was going back on that?
He was angry, angrier than she'd ever seen him before. This wasn't like Clark, this cold, furious manner, the physical distance he was maintaining between them, the rejection of any attempt by her to make amends. Now, she was starting to be scared.
"Clark, please," she said, trying again. "I know I was wrong. But can we just sit down and discuss this, please? This… this hostility isn't going to get us anywhere."
"What is there to discuss?" He was standing now in his classic intimidatory Superman pose, legs slightly apart, arms crossed over his chest and his entire body drawn up rigidly to its full height. He was frowning, looking down at her. And, it suddenly dawned on her, he was still wearing his Suit. Unlike his usual habit, he hadn't spun out of it into normal clothes once they'd got safely inside.
He was using Superman to intimidate her, and to distance himself from her — or her from him.
She had to get through the armour he was cloaking himself with, somehow…
"There's nothing to discuss," he added curtly. "You just have to understand that you can't always do what you want to do. You have to stop taking *stupid* risks and assuming that I'm always going to be there to save you. And you have to stop and recognise that when you do stupid things you're not only putting yourself at risk — you're endangering other people's lives too! If you hadn't been there tonight, I wouldn't have had to take my eye off that gunman, and he'd never have had the chance to shoot. Because of you, that gas station attendant almost died! He's in intensive care, which *never* would have happened if you hadn't been there. I'm warning you — I won't let you do anything like that again!"
Now she was angry. She'd admitted that she was at fault. She'd apologised. She'd promised that it would never happen again. Yet instead of accepting her apology, he was trying to start a fight. He was making ridiculous accusations — did he really think that she recklessly put herself in danger knowing that he would always be there to save her? And, even worse, he was trying to control her.
"And you never make mistakes?" she threw at him scornfully. "Don't answer that. We both know that you do. Superman's not so perfect. And don't you dare, Clark," she added coldly. "Don't you dare tell me what I can and can't do — and don't you even *think* of trying to control my actions! I was looking after myself when you were still a wet- behind-the-ears rookie writing about geckos! I'm a professional, Clark. Don't tell me how to do my job!"
"*You* don't tell me how to do mine!" he snapped in return. "And I mean *this* job -" He pointed to his Suit. "You work with Clark Kent, Lois. Not Superman. And in future, by the way, when you want a Superman story, you get it the same way any other reporter would. I think Superman's got too closely associated with you."
"Oh, you do, do you?" Lois was fuming with rage now. "Any time you want to stop being associated with me, Clark, that's fine with me!"
"I said *Superman*, not Clark," he said stiffly. "You saw what happened tonight! That guy recognised you. And he knew that Superman wouldn't let Lois Lane get harmed in any way. He used you against me! I can't have that happen," he finished tersely.
"I know, Clark. But it wouldn't have happened if you hadn't yelled at me to stay back!" she exclaimed, defending herself over the incident even though she'd resolved not to. "I bet he didn't even know I was there before then! And that told him who I was — and that I mattered to you."
"You shouldn't have been there at all," he told her, stonewalling. "And I'm telling you that it's not going to happen again."
"You're *telling* me, are you?" Sarcasm took over from anger. Even amidst her hurt, Lois knew full well what they were doing to each other. Neither was prepared to back down now, and they were in full fight mode, each determined to say something which would increase the pain level and ratchet up the odds still further. It was a vicious circle, yet neither of them seemed willing to step out of it. Sure, Clark had started it by his manner and his refusal to listen to her — but now she was into it in full flow. And she just couldn't stop herself.
"You have no right to tell me anything, Clark!" she yelled at him. "You're my boyfriend — that doesn't make you my keeper. And just because you're — " She broke off abruptly, conscious of the neighbours, and mimed "Superman" before continuing. " — that doesn't give you any right to order me about and control what I do!"
"I thought the fact that I asked you to marry me gave me some right of consideration!" he fired at her, anger dripping from every word. "But then, you never did say yes, did you? What was it? Keeping me on a string? Trying to keep *Superman* — " and he too dropped pitch to say the name. "- for your own personal property, even if you didn't want to actually stand up and say I do? To promise to love, honour and obey me?"
"Obey you? If you actually thought I'd promise that — " Lois retorted incredulously.
"Oh, believe me, I know better now," Clark said sarcastically. "You always want to be in charge, Lois. You really believe that no-one could possibly know better than you, even when you're wrong. And I'm just a sidekick. Well, I've had enough of it!"
"Oh, yeah?" Furious, hurt, Lois aimed to wound in return. "And I've had enough of your he-man, macho, I-know-best control freak tactics too! You do *not* tell me what to do! And if you don't like the fact that I'm your equal, at work and in this relationship, you know what you can do!"
There was silence in the room for several seconds. They stood, both breathing heavily, watching each other; neither moved a muscle.
Then Clark took a step towards the window. "You're right, I do know. And if you don't like my 'control freak' behaviour, you're just as free to walk away as I am."
"Fine!" she yelled without stopping to think.
"Fine," he echoed coldly, with finality.
And, without another word, he stepped onto the windowsill and flew away.
Lois slept terribly that night. The argument, those horrible, painful words they'd thrown at one another, reverberated over and over again in her head until she just couldn't shut it out. As soon as Clark had left, of course, she'd wanted to call him back, but pride wouldn't allow her to: he'd been the one who'd refused to accept her apology and make up in the first place. It was his fault that the fight had continued, and it was up to him to make the first move.
That was what she told herself. It still didn't stop her calling his number half an hour after he'd left, when there was still no sign of a red cape fluttering outside her window, or an apologetic knock on her door.
There was no answer, and she couldn't bring herself to leave a message. He wouldn't hear her beg.
And yet, alone in her apartment, she cried for hours.
The next morning, exhausted and with dark rims around her eyes, she dragged herself into the newsroom. Clark had been and gone, she discovered; the lukewarm coffee left on his desk told her that she hadn't missed him by all that long. He'd sent her a draft of the story about the gas station hold-up, both of their names on the byline, for her to check. There was no note with the email, just a curt line:
"Send this to Perry if it's okay. Back later. C."
There was none of his usual affection in the note. It was stark and impersonal, and it struck a dagger into her heart. Even before they'd started dating, he'd usually signed off his emails with a "take care" or "see you" or "thanks!", and he frequently added a 'smilie' after his name. Once they'd openly admitted their love for each other, he'd taken to writing "love, Clark" or "I love you".
This was cold. It was final. It was telling her that whatever they'd had was over. Whatever he'd once felt for her was gone.
Later, when he returned, he barely looked at her as he went to his desk. Chilled further by that, Lois gave up her half-conceived plan to go and ask him if they could talk. Shortly afterwards, he came to her desk, but only to update her on what he'd been doing; his manner was impersonal and distant.
It was over.
~ The Present ~
It was over. And not a moment had passed ever since that awful night that Clark hadn't wished that he could go back in time and undo it all; unsay what he'd said to her, crawl on his knees and apologise to her, tell her how much he loved and needed her.
He still felt chills run through him whenever he thought about the incident which had caused the fight. He'd come so close to losing her — and someone else had almost died, too. Despite Superman being on the scene, two people could have been killed. *Lois* could have been killed.
It had been a hostage situation at a gas station; one thief was holding an assistant with a gun to the man's head while the other was getting the money out of the till. Clark had been amazed, afterwards, to discover that there was only about three hundred dollars involved — they'd been prepared to kill for so little money. Drugs, the police had explained.
He'd already immobilised the second thief and had been trying to talk the first one into dropping the gun — but the guy was young and scared and had held onto his captive. The safety catch had been off, and so Clark had been proceeding extremely carefully… until out of the corner of his eye he'd seen Lois emerging from the dark, deserted side-road where he'd left her and told her to stay. No doubt because she hadn't been able to see things clearly enough from where she was, he'd realised.
She'd been walking into potential danger by coming out — she probably hadn't realised just how jumpy the gunman was, but that still hadn't excused what she'd done. And, terrified for her safety and worried that the situation might explode out of control, he hadn't been able to stop himself yelling, "No! Lois, get back!"
And then the gunman had seen her, and he'd shifted and fired wildly in her direction. If it had been anyone else but Lois, Clark would probably have recognised it as a desperate attempt to distract Superman so the kid could get away, and he'd have noticed that the guy's aim was way off. But it was Lois, and so he'd instantly flown over to her to protect her and get her safe. She'd been fine, but he'd still scooped her up and left her behind a parked car before turning his attention back to the gunman. And, as he'd done so, a shot had rung out. Frantic, crazed, trying to escape, the kid had shot the assistant in the stomach.
Naturally, bare seconds later the gunman had found himself in a grip of steel and being handed over to the police. But by then the damage had been done.
And he'd been furious, blaming it all on Lois for not doing what she was told. In retrospect, he knew that his anger had been a cover for fear; the kind of fear which sent his entire body into icy tremors of terror. If the young drug- addict's aim hadn't been careless, if the bullet had gone a few feet to the right, if he'd changed his mind and decided to take Lois for a hostage instead…
He could have lost her. He could have lost her!
And, of course, because he'd been unable to forget how terrifying it had been, and stem his anger, he'd lost her anyway.
It had been his fault. If he'd only swallowed his anger and accepted Lois's apology and olive branch when they'd got to her apartment… It had been clear that she'd recognised she'd been in the wrong. But, no, he'd had to keep on chastising her and flinging his anger at her. Until, unsurprisingly, she'd got angry too.
They'd both said some dreadful things, things which Clark wanted to believe that neither of them meant. But he couldn't be certain about that, and that was one of the reasons why he hadn't gone to Lois, hadn't begged her to forgive him. After all, hadn't he meant some of what he'd said? He did think that she was reckless, that she sometimes took crazy risks — and he was very sure that she'd increased her risk-taking once she'd learned that Superman was around and seemed somehow attuned to her when she was in trouble.
But there were other things he hadn't meant. He'd never meant to imply that his Superman persona was out of bounds to her, that she had no part of that side of his life. No, Superman didn't have a partner — but he did have a best friend and, yes, a girlfriend. He couldn't separate himself out like that and decide that she was *Clark's* girlfriend, not Superman's. He hadn't meant to imply that she was selfish and that she could never admit to making a mistake — apart from anything else, how could he when she'd begun the conversation by apologising for a mistake?
He'd never meant to give her the impression that he expected to be the dominant partner in their relationship, either — whatever form their relationship took. If she had married him, he'd never have wanted or expected her to promise to obey him. Obedience had no place in marriage, to his mind — his mother had trained him well there, he thought wryly.
But it was too late. After a sleepless night, he'd hoped that maybe, somehow, when he saw Lois the following day it would all be easy; they'd both somehow manage to tell the other, simultaneously, without any aggression or accusations on either side, that they'd said things they regretted deeply and they wanted to forget it and make up.
But first Lois hadn't been in work when he'd arrived, and he'd had to go out to disentangle a freeway pile-up. And then when he'd got back, she'd barely looked at him. He'd had to make the first move to talk to her, and then she'd been abrupt and distant. Clearly, she hadn't regretted their break-up.
The odd thing was, even though they weren't a couple any more, even though she clearly didn't have any feelings for him any more, she still looked out for him. He'd noticed that with some confusion the first time he'd rushed out of the newsroom on an emergency only to hear her say to a colleague, as he left, that he was late for a meeting with one of their sources. She'd given Perry explanations for his absence several times. And then there had been that story which she'd given him credit for, and on which she'd even done a very convincing imitation of his style.
He'd expected to regret the fact that Lois knew his secret, once he'd come to accept that their relationship, and their friendship, was over. After all, he'd kept the truth about who he was secret all his life, intending only to reveal it to the woman he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, once he was sure that she felt the same way. Now, he and Lois were never going to sail off into the sunset together, and if she ended up hating him, who knew what she might do with the information?
And yet, in the very second his thoughts headed that way, he stopped himself. He knew Lois. She was almost fanatically loyal, and in the more than two years since Superman had arrived in Metropolis she'd unceasingly supported and helped him. There'd been times when she'd had even more faith in Superman than he himself had. He'd found himself wondering once or twice, in his darkest moments, whether it was Superman or Clark she'd been more interested in. She'd fallen in love with Clark — but had had to give Superman up to do so.
Whichever of them she'd wanted most, the fact remained that Lois was loyal to Superman — more loyal than she should be, given her job as a journalist. And so he could trust her not to betray him.
The trouble would come some time in the future, when she started dating someone else. And that could happen even sooner than he'd bargained on, Clark mused bleakly; only that morning he'd overheard someone in the DA's office mention that the DEA was sending an Agent Scardino back to Metropolis to testify at one of the many Intergang trials. Dan Scardino had been seriously interested in Lois, and she'd dumped him for *him* — Clark. But she was free now…
Would Lois feel comfortable about withholding such a secret from someone important in her life? A man she married? And even if she tried to keep it secret, wouldn't it become obvious after a while, especially if she kept covering up for him or writing Superman stories, that she knew more than she was revealing? Would she, ultimately, feel forced to tell her husband what he wanted to know? Would she tell him willingly?
He'd have to face that problem if and when it happened, he told himself grimly. He'd never exactly thought of how to handle the question of ex-girlfriends who knew his secret. The closest he'd ever come to that before was Lana, but fortunately he'd never actually told her everything about himself, and the little he had told her could be put down to teenage exaggeration.
He shouldn't be flying around Metropolis brooding, anyway, he told himself. Right now he should be flying back to the Planet, back to Lois and their story.
Yet that was the last place he wanted to be. It was torture being in the same room as Lois, catching sight of her all the time — and frequently in her company — and not being able to touch her, hold her, kiss her, tell her that he loved her… or even slip back into their old relationship of teasing banter.
That was gone. Those days were over, and could never be recaptured. And what was left was too sterile, too bleak to bear.
They hadn't spoken about anything but work in over a week. Even though they spent time alone together occasionally, such as when they were in her Jeep en route somewhere or other, the conversation never departed from safe topics. And they rarely made eye contact.
If only she would, just once, look at him; give him even the faintest sign that she still cared, that she wanted him back, he wouldn't hesitate. He'd grovel, do whatever she wanted, whatever he had to do to get her back.
But what if 'if only' never happened? Once before, he reminded himself, he'd thought that he had all the time in the world to resolve things with Lois; to tell her that he loved her and reveal himself as Superman to her. And then all hell had broken loose; his parents had been kidnapped and the only way to save them had been the very risky strategy of freezing Lois.
He'd almost lost her. She'd almost died.
And after that, he'd told himself that he would never again wait for some mythical 'perfect moment' which might never happen. His motto, where his life and in particular Lois was concerned, should be Carpe Diem, he'd determined. Seize the day. It was so easy to make excuses, to wait and wait, and then suddenly before he knew it his opportunities had all slipped away.
Seize the day. Don't wait. Don't plan. Don't hope that she would make the first move. Don't wait until she looks less unapproachable. Just do it.
Just do it.
That was what he had to do. His decision made, Clark made a sudden U-turn in mid-air, startling a flock of seagulls, and headed back towards the Planet — and Lois.
Lois answered the phone absently, continuing to type while balancing the receiver under her chin. "'Lo? Lois Lane."
"I heard that the Planet would pay for information about Superman," a clearly-disguised male voice rasped down the line.
The mention of Clark's alter ego made her flinch. Lois caught the receiver before it fell from its precarious position and said warily, "What makes you think that?"
"You're not interested in finding out Superman's secret identity, then?" the voice asked, sounding as if he was just about to hang up.
Lois's heart skipped a beat and she sat, frozen, trying to pull herself together. After a moment, she said, deliberately disparagingly, "What secret identity? Superman said that was all nonsense!"
"And you believe him?" The voice was scathing.
"You have proof that he was lying?" Lois challenged.
"Do you want to know or don't you?"
Of course she wanted to know if this bozo was lying, or if he really did have evidence that Superman had a secret identity… even worse, if he really had some grounds to link Superman with Clark. Of course he could be lying. But was that a chance she wanted to take?
To protect Clark's secret, she had to follow this up. And, to protect his secret, she had to do her best to ensure that if her mysterious caller had anything at all to link Superman with Clark Kent, he'd have no way at all of proving it.
She was protecting Clark, yet again. Would that be part of her job for the rest of her days, even when Clark was no longer any part of her life? She supposed that once she'd been Superman's girlfriend it was never really possible to forget, to put that part of her existence out of her thoughts.
And where was Clark, anyway? Okay, she knew where he was: dealing with another Superman emergency. If he'd been here, she could have discussed this with him, asked his opinion, what he wanted to do about it. She could have set up a proper sting, with the two of them going along. Or with her going to meet the guy and him watching from overhead.
Or, at least, that was what they would have done before their break-up… Would he even want her involved now?
Well, he didn't have any choice: she was involved. And she had every intention of seeing this through.
"Yes, I want to know," she said crisply. "Where and when?" He'd want to meet in person, she knew; they always did.
"Uh-uh," he said instantly. "Not before we talk money!"
Money. Right. And, of course, the Planet didn't pay for information — not that Lois had any intention of going to Perry to ask for a cash advance for information on Superman!
"How much?" she enquired boredly; the more interested she sounded, the higher the price, in her experience.
"Fifty grand," he announced.
Lois laughed aloud. "You have to be kidding," she exclaimed. "We wouldn't even consider a tenth of that!"
"The Star will," he said quickly — too quickly, she thought.
She decided to take a gamble that her instincts were right. "Take it to them, then."
Her caller was silent for several moments, and she was getting worried that he might be about to hang up. But then he said, "Okay. Five grand and the info's yours."
"Done. Now, where and when?" Her voice was deliberately cool.
"Tenth and Anderson," the voice said quickly. "Around the back of the old Costmart warehouse. Make sure you come alone, and bring the moolah!"
Lois quickly jotted down the details, tearing the page off the top of her notepad. "I'll be there." She took one more look around the newsroom, half of her hoping that Clark would return in time to come with her, and yet the other half hoping that he wouldn't. He'd only tell her to stay out of it, wouldn't he?
"And make it quick, or I'm calling the Star!"
He wouldn't, she knew; if he'd intended to take the information — assuming that he had anything at all — to another paper, he'd have done it when she'd baulked at his first price. All the same…
She grabbed her jacket and headed to the elevator.
There was no-one in sight when she arrived at the appointed meeting-place. Lois walked around carefully, her senses and instincts on full alert. She'd kept up her Tae Kwon Do practice, of course, while she'd been dating Clark and even after she'd learned that he was Superman — just another way in which he'd been wrong to claim that she took stupid risks with her own safety, she reminded herself frustratedly. She was well aware that there were times when she needed to be able to defend herself; that she wouldn't always be able to rely on Superman coming to the rescue.
The area around the warehouse was in silence. The building was apparently deserted, its windows covered with steel plates and doors securely bolted.
Or were they? One door, she noticed suddenly, had a padlock which looked considerably newer than the others. It was shiny and rust-free — and it was loose.
It could be a trap. On the other hand, she wasn't getting anywhere by standing outside in a freezing-cold wind. Cautiously, listening carefully, she edged towards the door and, keeping her body back from the opening, kicked at the door with her foot. It swung open, to reveal a man wrapped in a heavy overcoat and with a woollen cap pulled low over his head, sitting on a tea-chest.
"Do come in, Ms Lane," he invited. The voice was the same as her caller's, only less muffled.
Still cautious, though outwardly giving the impression of confidence, she took the few steps which brought her inside.
Then a loud slam and a crunching sound told her that there'd been someone else inside the warehouse — and he'd just shut and locked the door behind her.
She wasn't there.
After all his thinking and planning and his final determination to talk to her and apologise — after mentally gearing himself up to talk to her, Lois wasn't there.
Frustrated, Clark looked around for any sign that she might just be away from her desk for a minute or two. But her coat was gone, and her purse was nowhere to be seen.
"Hey, Jimmy!" he called after a couple of minutes, spotting his junior colleague nearby. "You didn't see where Lois went, did you?"
"Uh… Oh yeah, I remember she got a phone call," he answered, frowning. "And she left pretty much immediately after she hung up. Don't think she told anyone where she was going."
Following up a lead or a call from a source, most likely, Clark thought. The timing could have been better — he wasn't sure if he'd still have the nerve to talk to her by the time she got back.
Still, there was nothing else he could do but wait. Sighing, he returned to his own desk and got back to work.
"Okay, you got me here, though, you know, the third-rate thriller movie act is kind of overdone," Lois drawled, deliberately casual in her dismissiveness. "Was there something you wanted?"
"Smart, lady," the man behind her drawled. "But you're wasting your time. You're here because you're going to help us."
"I am?" Lois turned slowly and raised one eyebrow in a sceptical expression. "Last I heard, neither one of you had said please."
"Quit the funny stuff. We want Superman. And you're going to get him for us."
Lois sighed; really, she should have expected something like this. "Oh, that's so two years ago!" she exclaimed, her tone bored. "Look, you want Superman, you get into some sort of danger and yell "Help, Superman!" And he flies in. That's what he does. So why do you need me?"
"Because if he's going to rescue anyone, it'd be you, Lois Lane," Woollen Cap, the man who'd called her, said. "So if you yell for him, he'll be here before you can say Man of Steel."
"Maybe, maybe not. But you haven't given me any reason why I should call for him yet. Perhaps I won't bother," she told them, stalling for time while she tried to figure out what her captors were up to and what her best way out of the situation was likely to be.
The door was locked, that was true, and there was a tall, well-built man between her and it. But that might not be the only way out of there — and anyway, she didn't know yet whether either of her captors was armed. Or what they wanted, apart from Superman.
Though she had no intention whatsoever of calling for Clark. It wasn't that she wouldn't welcome his help; first, though, she needed to find out why these goons wanted him and what danger they presented to him. They sure as heck didn't want Superman so they could present him with Concerned Citizen of the Year award!
"Oh, you'll bother all right," Woollen Cap announced menacingly. "That is, if you want to stay alive."
"Oh, not *another* death threat!" Lois drawled. "You know, this is the third one this month. They're getting to be so passe, you know. Can't you try to threaten me with something more original?"
"You won't be laughing when your throat's been cut!" the bruiser near the door said with a snarl, walking up to her. "Either you yell for Superman now, or you'll be lying on that floor with a gaping hole in your neck." He reached inside his coat, producing what looked like a knife for gutting fish. "What'll it be?"
Lois felt her heart skip several beats, but she forced herself to remain outwardly calm. "You still haven't told me what you want with him. And I thought you knew his secret identity — if that's true, then surely you can just walk up to him any time you want? Unless, of course," she drawled, "there is no secret identity."
"It got you here, didn't it?" Woollen Cap said derisively. "As to why we want him… well, Big Blue's being kind of a nuisance lately," he announced. "We just want to reintroduce him to a little souvenir of home."
And from a pocket he produced a glowing green stone, which he proceeded to toss lightly up and down.
Clark looked at his watch yet again; the time was less than one minute later than it had been the last time he'd checked. He was finding it impossible to concentrate on any work; all he wanted was for Lois to come back so that they could talk. It had been twenty minutes and there was still no sign of her.
Finally, he sighed and got up. He wasn't getting any work done anyway, so he might as well see if he could figure out where she'd gone.
There were no obvious clues on her desk — but a closer examination of her notepad showed that she'd scribbled something down on a sheet and then torn it out. He had no idea, of course, whether the notes had been there earlier in the day, but when he thought about it, he was pretty sure that she'd been doodling something on the top sheet of the pad when they'd been working together awkwardly at her desk. Yes, he remembered; an abstract pattern, vaguely resembling leaves. And that sheet was gone.
A quick application of Super-ability, and he could read an address in the imprint on her pad. But then the question arose of what he should do. If he followed her, would she assume that he was checking up on her? Playing the over- protective role which she'd complained about the previous week during their break-up fight? Would he only make things worse?
But maybe he was just going after her to find her, to drive back with her from wherever she'd gone — he'd already X- rayed down to the parking garage and seen that her Jeep was gone. Maybe he could tell her that he'd wanted to talk, and thought they might do it more comfortably away from the newsroom.
It wasn't as if he was going after her to rescue her or anything, after all. It wasn't as if he thought she needed rescuing! He just wanted to find her. He just wanted to be with her.
He just wanted to talk to her, to tell her that he loved her and he was sorry, and that he wanted them to get back together.
He was going to get his girlfriend back.
They had Kryptonite! And for some reason they were very pissed off with Superman. Lois sighed, frustrated and very worried. Of course, plenty of people wanted Superman out of the way, so these goons could be working for anyone; of course, they could also be acting completely on their own. Just because she didn't recognise either of them didn't mean that they couldn't have a grudge of their own against Superman.
The question of where they'd got the Kryptonite was another matter. Clark had told her, not long after he'd flown her home from Spencer Spencer's island, that he was pretty sure that there couldn't be too much more out there and unaccounted for. There was the piece Luthor had acquired and turned into a cage. Clark had managed to track down the piece sent by Wayne Irig for analysis: it had been stolen by the Vales from LexLabs, and in the end it had passed into Jason Mazik's possession. And the large piece Irig had kept had been destroyed in the pond in Smallville.
A dim memory came to Lois… Clark had told her that he'd managed to escape Mazik's prison when his father had thrown the piece of Kryptonite through a vent which he'd frozen. The vent had shattered, and the Kryptonite had vanished.
But had Clark or his parents ever tried to find it again? Was it possible that a lethal stone had lain around some alley in Metropolis, waiting for someone to find it and realise its significance? It was possible, Lois realised.
Possible or not, the guy in front of her had what looked like genuine Kryptonite. And so no matter how much the sight of that knife his companion had was scaring her, she was not going to yell for Clark. She'd get out of this on her own.
It was almost a good thing, right now, that they'd broken up, she thought a little wildly; if they'd still been together, then Clark would probably have been with her. And he'd have been hurt… he'd be writhing on the floor in pain. Or he might even be dead!
Even if he hadn't come with her, he'd have gone looking for her when she hadn't returned. And that would also have put him in danger.
Yes, it was just as well that they weren't together. There was no way that Clark would come looking for her now. And so he'd be safe.
"Well, Ms Lane? Ready to make a decision, or do I have to prove to you just how sharp this baby is?"
The taller man came right up to her, seizing her by the hair. One swift movement, and a large hank of ragged hair fell to the ground.
Lois gasped and tried to pull away, but he held her in a painful grip, the knife hovering close to her chin. "Make your mind up! Call Superman, or this beauty gets more closely acquainted with your throat. Comprende?"
Lois swallowed, her gaze fixed on the knife, her heart thumping ferociously. But she wasn't going to call for Clark. She wasn't. She *wasn't*!
"I think she needs a little more convincing," Woollen Cap drawled, still playing with the Kryptonite.
"Yeah, I think you're right," her captor agreed. The knife- point bit into her neck. And Lois saw a speck of red appear on the man's hand, just before the pain hit her.
Clark found the warehouse easily enough, although there were several similar buildings around the Tenth and Anderson area. The old Costmart logo was still on the roof, mostly rusted away now, but it still drew him like a beacon to the building. Now all he had to do was find Lois, figure out what she was doing there, and wait for her to emerge.
He hovered above the warehouse and engaged his vision powers… and then froze with fear and what felt like physical pain. She was being gripped from behind by a guy twice her size, doing her best to throw him off despite the fact that he had a knife to her throat. And the fact that she was already bleeding. He could see drips of blood on her clothing and on her attacker's hands.
There was another man inside the warehouse as well, and suddenly the pain Clark was feeling was explained. Kryptonite. In instinctive reaction, he shot several feet further into the air, out of range.
He had to get in there and rescue her. The fact that there was Kryptonite was totally irrelevant; Lois was his love and his life, and if she died…
If she died, there would be nothing left in life to care about. He would merely be existing, in a painful universe in which all that was bright and wonderful and loving had been extinguished.
If he'd thought that the past week had been painful, a future without Lois would be far, far worse.
But there was no point simply barging into that warehouse like an avenging Super-hero. He needed a plan of action first, and quickly, and before he could decide on that, it would help if he had some idea of what those — he muttered some unprintable descriptions to himself, then censored his thoughts — wanted with Lois. They wanted Superman; that was obvious. But would they let her go if Superman turned up? No, he answered himself immediately. Of course not. She could identify them, even though the guy with the Kryptonite had most of his head covered.
So they wanted Superman, and they'd probably made up their minds to kill Lois too.
As he listened, the guy wearing the woolly hat spoke angrily. "You have one last chance, lady. You yell for Superman *now*, or Tiny here carves you up into little pieces. Let's see… an ear first? Or a finger — your right index finger. Yeah?"
Clark could see Lois's fear, but he could also tell that no-one who didn't know her well would realise that she was scared. She was doing an amazing job of keeping her cool in what had to be a terrifying situation. Even now, even with the knife trailing around her ear, she was struggling and kicking out, trying to get free. She'd inflicted what seemed to be several very painful kicks on Tiny's ankles; he was grunting and protesting, and gripping her more tightly — and painfully — as a result.
"I thought you were going to cut my throat if I refused," she gasped, her tone sarcastic. "Lose your nerve, did you? It finally occurred to you that if you kill me you lose your bargaining chip?"
The knife moved. And Clark gave up trying to finalise a plan. He had to get Lois out of there *now*!
He plummeted to the ground, ignoring the pain of the Kryptonite. Gritting his teeth, he spun back to his street clothes and ran to the door of the warehouse. It was locked.
<Lois… hang on, Lois, I'm coming…>
One quick run and push dealt with that. In under a second, he'd burst the door open, and the effects of the Kryptonite intensified as he charged into the warehouse.
"Let her go!" he yelled.
Clark! That was Clark's voice!
The door being rammed had taken Lois and her captors by surprise. She'd tried to use the brief confusion as an opportunity to escape, but the knife had stayed at her throat and the grip around her chest had become even more painful, despite the suddenness of the external sound.
What was Clark doing here? She saw him in her peripheral vision; he was dressed as himself, not Superman. Not that it made any difference — Woollen Cap still had Kryptonite. And that meant that Clark would already be in pain. And… and with the Kryptonite in the warehouse, he wouldn't be invulnerable if he tried to rescue her. He'd be losing his powers. He'd *die* if he didn't get out of here soon!
"No, no… Clark, don't! Get out!" she yelled, terrified for him.
At the same time, Woollen Cap threw the Kryptonite aside and charged over to Clark. Lois watched as Clark side- stepped deftly and then stuck his foot out in a manoeuvre he could only have learned from her. Woollen Cap went sprawling to the floor.
And Lois noticed that Tiny's attention was entirely on his co-conspirator. She lunged and bit down hard on the hand which was holding the knife against her ear. Tiny yelped and the knife fell, scraping against her neck and landing with a clatter on the ground.
Almost simultaneously, Lois launched into a Tae Kwon Do move, levering herself free of Tiny, spinning around and kicking out at him. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Clark struggling with Woollen Cap; to her relief, he seemed to be in control of the fight. Despite the fact that he had to be in pain and he was clearly weakened, he was managing to get the better of the fight. But that was Clark through and through: she well knew that even without his powers he was a super man.
Tiny was trying to grab hold of the knife again; she reacted quickly and kicked it towards Clark, who caught it with his foot and bent to scoop it up in one smooth movement. Almost as if they were mentally in tune…
Her perfect partner.
<Oh, Clark, I love you so much…>
Tiny was advancing on her, but she was prepared with more skilful movements. And suddenly Clark was standing beside her, the knife in his hand. She wished that she could study him properly, find out just what state he was in, but she didn't dare take her attention off Tiny even for a fraction of a second. Was Clark okay? He was in pain, she knew that, but was he holding on? Was he in immediate danger of collapse? Why wouldn't he just get out and away from the Kryptonite? Though she knew he wouldn't. He wouldn't leave without her.
She wondered what had happened to Woollen Cap, but then noticed that he was lying over near the door, carefully trussed at his hands and ankles and tied to an old heating pipe. He was cursing loudly, but no-one was paying any attention. Clark had been very thorough despite his incapacitation, she thought.
"I'd stay very still if I were you," Clark said to Tiny, his voice quiet but very dangerous. "I don't take kindly to anyone who hurts my… partner."
Was there a pause before he'd said 'partner'? Lois asked herself. And what did it mean? He still thought of her as more than a partner?
Tiny shrank away. "I didn't hurt her…"
"No? And that would be why she's bleeding, would it?" Clark asked menacingly.
He seemed perfectly in control of the situation; a Superman, even if dressed as Clark Kent and suffering, she knew, from Kryptonite exposure. She could see the tiny white lines of pain around his eyes and mouth…
<Oh, Clark, my love, please, you shouldn't be in here!>
She darted over to the crate where Woollen Cap had been sitting. The green stone lay on the ground, glowing in its poisonous wrath. Lois snatched it up, wishing that she had some lead to shield it with.
"Lois… find a broken pipe!" Clark called to her.
He was right, of course; most of the paintwork in buildings as old as this was lead-based. It was better than nothing… And there was a piece of broken pipe, she noticed, rushing to it and ramming the Kryptonite inside. She stood on the open end of the pipe, closing it off as far as possible. She glanced at Clark as she finished; he almost seemed to gain strength before her eyes.
Then, seeing that Clark was still holding Tiny at bay, she reached inside her purse and grabbed her cellphone. Time to call the police.
The police had been and gone just seconds earlier, and taken Woolly Cap and Tiny away with them. Clark and Lois had agreed to go down to the precinct later to make formal statements. Lois had refused to hand over the Kryptonite, on the basis that Superman should be the one to decide whether he was willing to allow the police to have it — even if it meant that possession of a weapon deadly to Superman couldn't be used in the rap sheet; reluctantly, the police had agreed. She was burying it in the trunk of the Jeep. And Clark was leaning against the outer wall of the warehouse, breathing heavily, his eyes closed.
Fighting Woolly Cap when he'd been aching all over and severely weakened from the Kryptonite hadn't been easy — though he'd have done it half-dead to save Lois. And she'd been wonderful, too; escaping from Tiny and getting the knife away, thus making it easy for him to help her. If Tiny had still had the knife to her throat, he couldn't have done anything.
And she'd been quick-thinking enough to get rid of the Kryptonite while he was dealing with Tiny. Not fully; the paint had been flaking off the pipe, so he could still feel the meteorite's effects, but it had been better. The pain had receded and he had begun to feel a little stronger, no longer fighting through a haze of agony. And now that he was outside in the afternoon sun, he was recovering.
A hand touched his arm lightly. "Clark? Are you okay?"
He opened his eyes, turning slightly to see Lois standing next to him, a concerned expression on her face. And he longed to pull her into his arms.
Quietly, he said, "I'll be fine. But what about you? That bastard… he cut you!"
Lois shrugged. "It's nothing. Just a scratch."
He reached up a hand and traced the cut on the side of her neck, below her ear. The blood which came away on his hand was still fresh. Wordlessly, he dug into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, using it gently to wipe away the blood from her neck. Lois's hand came up to cover his. "Clark… I was so scared when I saw you… the Kryptonite…"
"You were scared?" he exclaimed incredulously. "How do you think I felt when I saw you with that guy holding a knife to your throat? I thought… I really thought I was going to lose you permanently this time…"
"Oh, Clark…" she exclaimed, and he could hear the sob in her voice.
"Lois… Oh, Lois, come here!" And he wrapped his arms tightly around her, the way he'd been wanting to do for more than a week; the way he'd wanted to do even during that terrible fight, when he simply hadn't been able to get beyond the fear and the anger and just love her.
She came into his arms, her head falling to his shoulder, and her own arms coming around his waist. "Clark… Clark," she murmured, then simply let him hold her.
He had Lois in his arms again. For now, anyway.
Being in Clark's arms again felt as if she'd come home after a long, miserable time away. And right now, Lois didn't care whose fault their break-up had been; she just wanted Clark back. Wanted him to love her again, and this time never stop.
She stirred, drawing back to search his face with her gaze. He was looking down at her, an expression of such longing on his face that she caught her breath.
"Lois… I love you so much. And I'm so sorry," he said earnestly, quietly. "Is there even a chance… I mean, could you ever forgive me?"
Her heart leapt. These were the words she'd wanted to hear for an entire week, a week which had dragged so slowly it felt like a year. And yet, even as her lips formed the words which would tell him that she loved him too, she hesitated.
Was he only saying it because they'd been through another traumatic situation? Because she'd almost been killed? Would he, once he was calmer, remember all the reasons he'd broken up with her in the first place? If he'd changed his mind, he'd had all week to tell her — and yet he'd maintained complete silence on the issue. He'd treated her, most of the time, as if they were bare acquaintances. Would he regret his plea once the trauma had passed?
She bit her lip. "Clark… what, you're not going to tell me off for stupidly getting myself into yet another dangerous situation and relying on you to rescue me?" she asked him softly, wryly… and dreading his answer. But she'd had to remind him of his arguments of a week ago. She wouldn't have him back under false pretences.
But he looked stricken. "Lois, I can't tell you how much I wish I could take back everything I said then," he told her, his tone penitent. "I didn't mean it… I wanted to cut out my tongue when I flew away and the whole conversation replayed over and over in my head. I… I'm just so sorry."
She wanted to believe him. She wanted to take his word for it, to accept that he'd been speaking from sheer terror and nothing more; that his angry accusations hadn't been based on something he genuinely believed subconsciously. But this time too he was suffering from shock and reaction. How could she know that what he was saying now was any more genuine than then?
"Clark, I got myself into trouble again," she pointed out, slipping from his arms. He didn't stop her, and she stood, less than a foot between them.
"I know." His jaw was taut, and she knew that he was imagining what could have happened to her, and shaking inside with the fear of it. "And… Lois, you didn't shout for me!" he added suddenly. "Oh, god… you didn't… tell me you didn't think that I wouldn't come?"
"No!" How could he think that? "Clark, I didn't call for… Superman because they had Kryptonite!" she told him. "How could I? You could have been killed!"
"And you could have been killed because you didn't call me!" he choked out. "Lois, you *know* that, surely?"
"Of course I know! They said they'd kill me if I didn't yell for Superman!"
He nodded then, his face ashen. "Of course. I heard them say it."
Yes, she remembered; just before Clark had come barrelling in, Woollen Cap had threatened to start dismembering her if she didn't comply. And she'd reminded him that the original threat had been to kill her… And then Clark had come…
*Clark* had come. Not Superman. Clark.
"Oh god!" she exclaimed, horrified, staring at him. "You knew!"
"That they had Kryptonite! That's why you came as… as you. Not…" She drew a hurried S over her chest.
He nodded. "I thought we'd have a better chance if they didn't know that it affected me."
He'd risked his life for her… knowingly. But then, she thought instantly, this was Clark. He would have done nothing else.
She dearly wanted to give in and tell him how much she loved him and wanted them to be together again. But she still had to be sure. If he still wanted her back later, or that evening, even…
To distract him, at least temporarily, from the subject of their relationship, she asked, "Clark, how did you know that I was in trouble?" That was something which didn't make sense yet.
But his answer surprised her. "I didn't. I was looking for you because I needed to talk to you… I… I've been trying to find the right opportunity all week to beg you to forgive me, and this morning I admitted that it wasn't an opportunity I was looking for. It was courage. I came to look for you… to ask you to forgive me and to take me back. If you can. If you even want to," he finished, sounding very unsure of himself.
Then it wasn't just what had happened here — he wasn't just saying he wanted her back because he'd almost lost her permanently! The sense of relief which filled Lois almost made her knees give way. He really did want her back.
Allowing herself to hope, properly, for the first time in a week, she still hesitated. There was one other question… "Clark, if we do get back together… who am I having a relationship with?"
He leaned towards her, his expression intent. "Me, Lois. Me… Clark *and* Superman. If I can't separate one from the other, why should I expect you to?" he asked rhetorically, raking a hand through his hair. "I tried to do that, and I was wrong. If I want you to be my girlfriend — and more — then I have to want you to be part of my *whole* life, not just some of it. That's the lesson I've learned this week."
And she'd learned a lesson too. "But when you're Superman," she began, speaking softly, "I have to remember that there are things you can do that I can't and that I have to let you be in control of situations."
"And *I* have to remember that you're a highly intelligent woman with great instincts, and that it's worth listening to you from time to time," he added wryly. "Even Superman doesn't know it all. And I couldn't have got out of this situation today without you."
"Clark, I love you," Lois told him, meeting his gaze directly with her own, a lump in her throat. "I never stopped loving you… this week's been pure torture, working with you but never talking about anything personal, not able to touch you… thinking that I'd lost your friendship as well as your love…"
"Oh, Lois!" His arms came around her again as a tear fell from her eye. "If it's any consolation, I felt exactly the same. Worse, maybe, because I knew it was all my fault. You were right," he said heavily. "If I hadn't drawn attention to you, there wouldn't have been any danger. I was angry with myself as much as you, and I let all that get in the way of the fact that the most important thing is that we need each other. We love each other."
"I got mad too," she told him guiltily. "I told you to leave first."
"And that should have been my wake-up call," he said, shaking his head. "Lois… are we okay?"
"I… think so," she answered, still a little unsure.
"What do you need? What will it take?" he asked, frowning in concern. "What can I do to make it up to you?"
"Kiss me. I need you to kiss me…"
And he obliged. As his head came down to cover hers in a kiss which spoke of contrition and passion and adoring love, Lois slid her arms up around Clark's, neck, burying her fingers in his hair. It was a kiss which melted away pain and which reaffirmed their love, and which left her feeling secure once more in the love of the man who meant most to her in the whole world.
A kiss of healing.
And a kiss of molten desire, making her cling to him and bury her face in his neck when it ended.
"Later," he promised, and she knew that he felt exactly the same as he did.
Later. After work. When their time was their own again, and they could make up for a wasted week and do their best to ensure that making up would erase the painful memory of their break-up.
"Come on," Clark said then. "We'd better go." But instead of moving, he kissed her again.
"…so I think we should avoid all mention of the Kryptonite and just say that they somehow thought they could hurt Superman," Lois was saying.
But Clark had to stop listening; his Super-hearing had cut in and he was hearing screams for help. An attempted suicide gone wrong, it seemed; a man was stranded hanging — securely, but painfully and inaccessibly — from a mast at the side of a skyscraper and needed help. A job for Superman.
Lois had noticed that he was distracted. "You have to go?" she murmured.
He nodded. "Coming?"
He saw her eyes widen. "You mean it?"
"Yes!" he murmured emphatically. "Yes, I mean it. I'd like you to come."
He ushered her towards the stairwell and, once inside, guided her up towards the roof. "There'll be some times when I can bring you, when it'll be safe enough and when you can get a good story. There'll be other times when I can't, and I guess we both have to learn when those times are. But you *are* Superman's partner, as well as Clark's. Even before you knew who Superman was, that was true. I could never have done it without you. And I won't ignore that again."
He was rewarded for his promise when Lois stopped, pushed him firmly against the stairwell wall, grabbed his tie to pull him down to her, and kissed him. Hard.
"I love you, Lois Lane," he told her breathlessly when she released him.
"And I love you, Clark Kent. And I love you, Superman," she said, giving him a smile of such intensity that his heart skipped a beat. "Now, come on — we have a life to save!"
And they did.
(c) Wendy Richards 2002 <firstname.lastname@example.org>